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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Interview with Derek Birks

Today I am excited to welcome Derek Birks, author of Feud here to A Bookish Affair.

1. What was your research process like for "Feud?"

Research for me is a blend of two very different processes: factual research and site visits. For ‘Feud’ I started out with a fairly sound knowledge of the Wars of the Roses period so the factual research was all about the fine detail. Where possible, I did that on the internet but also used libraries to get hold of some sources. I spent a lot of time researching the battles because there were a great many of them between 1459 and 1461! One of the difficulties was often that so little is known about the battles and military historians are still arguing about some of them.

There is no substitute for going to the places you write about. The field visits really helped me to visualise the medieval world of ‘Feud’, especially where I used an actual place such as Ludlow. The fictional manor houses and castles used by the two feuding families are all based on actual sites that I’ve visited, photographed and studied in detail. Walking sites, especially battlefields, is a really useful way of understanding them but sometimes the experience becomes a little too real and I well remember getting soaked to the skin when I visited the site of Mortimer’s Cross.

2. So, I have to ask: what do you think of Richard III being found under a car park recently? Were you surprised that it was him?

I was surprised because from the start it all seemed so unlikely - a king turning up in a car park. It just doesn’t happen, does it? As a keen, but very inexperienced, archaeologist I was fascinated to follow how the dig went. I’ve always had a soft spot for Richard and felt that the “black legend” inspired by
Tudor propaganda must be flawed at least to some extent. Having said that, I admit that I find some apologists for Richard III a little overpowering. The man was no saint!

I don’t think this discovery will make much difference to the debate about Richard but it has certainly increased interest in him all around the world and as a history fan I think that must be a good thing.

3. Who is your favourite character from "Feud" and why?

Ah, this is a tough one because I’m so close to them all. I shouldn’t pick one really, they won’t like it! These characters have a life of their own, you know. When I first started the book Ned was the one who I expected to dominate the whole story - and he still does. But I must say I also enjoyed writing a lot of the minor characters such as Bagot, Mags and Felix.

I suppose if I had to choose one character, it would be Eleanor Elder. She’s not your typical late medieval woman, that’s for sure. She’s more of a force of nature - and she knows it. I love her directness, her courage and her loyalty. I also like the way she interacts with everyone else. She has a certain spark of life about her which sets her apart. She’s a hard character to write simply because she has to be different but yet still a product of her own time period. I’ve come up with many plot lines for her but most of them I discard because they would make her seem far too modern.

4. Can you tell us anything about what might be in store for the Elders in your future books?

Well, I don’t want to give too much away but the next book moves the story on several years to 1464 when the new Yorkist king is trying to stamp out the last traces of Lancastrian opposition in the north of England. The Elders face a new threat and Ned’s quarrel with the Earl of Warwick becomes even more serious. There will be plenty more fast-paced action and a lot of new characters are introduced - this will not surprise readers who noticed a heavy death toll in ‘Feud’! I’m hoping to release the second book in the summer.

After that I have plans for at least another two stories which will be set during the violent power struggle that took place in the crisis years of 1469-71. So there are a lot of ideas milling about for the future.

5. If you could bring 3 fictional characters with you to a deserted island, who would you bring and why?

Well there are rather a lot to choose from! On a deserted island I think I’d need a resourceful bunch so I’d take these three: Lisbeth from ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ for her exceptional survival skills; Hawkeye from ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ for his bush craft and Bilbo Baggins from ‘Lord of the Rings’ not only because he’s a natural survivor but because hobbits value home comforts and I’m sure he’d be able to find some for me.


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