What's your most lasting impression of growing up in Lincolnshire?
Definitely the amount of space, particularly green space. I grew up in a pretty rural bit, which had good and bad points, but one of the good ones was being able to roam around fields and woods and not be hemmed in by buildings or people. I recall the summers being quite hot and dry (hotter than I really like, to be fair!) and the days a big longer than we get here in Scotland, but the compensation was whole days exploring pretty deep woods. Even in the area around the house had lots of interest, and only slightly further afield there were abandoned 2nd World War airfields and stately homes with huge grounds open to the public.
I think I actually pictured you in Lincoln, maybe because I’ve read you’re into steampunk and they have the most amazing event there every year. Have you taken part in it?
I'm from a bit further south that Lincoln, in what I like to call deepest darkest Lincolnshire - near Grantham. We did visit Lincoln occasionally - I mostly remember how steep it is though that may be because I was quite small, and the Imp of course. I've not heard of the Steampunk festival there, though that sounds pretty cool. I enjoy steampunk literature, roleplay games and wargames but aside from a bit of Mediaeval re-enactment at university I've never really done a lot of costumed hobbies. Sounds like a good reason to take a trip to the ol' home county though.
I’d recommend it. Do you think your hobbies feed into your writing? I know The Frost Fair has both steampunk and tech angles.
Absolutely. First off, I find it really helps to have things beyond writing and the day job, to get me away from a keyboard and a bit more physically active. I also think being a roleplayer in particular helps me be a better writer. Plotting games isn't very different to plotting books (though I'm more of a pantser for both...), being around other very imaginative and creative people is great for sparking my own thinking, and I have been known to test scenario ideas with unsuspecting gaming groups or run games set in the worlds I create for my writing. I've done this with both my steampunk and science fiction world and find it very rewarding - the players seem to enjoy it as well. Tabletop wargaming gives me something quite different but also still linked to creativity and to the periods of history I find interesting.
That’s so interesting – what a great way to indulge your passions and foster your creativity. I understand your first book for Sapere will be an historical spy thriller. Can you tell me a bit more about it?
Happy to. It's a historical naval adventure, and in the fine tradition of that genre has a certain element of 'intelligencing' involved. It's set during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904/5, during which a Imperial Russian squadron sailed all the way from the Baltic, around Africa and to eventual defeat not far from their destination of Vladivostok. It's a fascinating conflict - in many ways a pre-cursor to the 1st World War but also involving ships with sailing rigs and being settled by the only really major pre-dreadnought fleet engagement in history.
It also had huge long-term ramifications in terms of the development of naval technology and geopolitics, particularly given that it really put Japan in the map as a global power. It's also not terribly well known - I got interested in it because of the Dogger Bank incident, where the Russian ships accidentally attacked the Hull trawler fleet thinking they were Japanese torpedo boats (pictured), but the more I read about it the wider events interested me. The book follows Marcus Baxter, a down on his luck former Royal Navy officer who gets drawn into the murky world of naval intelligence and ends up aboard an old Russian cruiser on her way to the Pacific. He finds himself drawn into intrigues aboard and getting closer with the crew along the way, as they head towards the Straits of Tsushima. And that's all I should say in case I say too much - loose lips and all that.