Author Interview: Derek Birks
Stephanie: I would like to welcome Author Derek Birks to my blog today! So delighted he has taken the time to chat with me today.
Derek, congrats on winning the BRAG Medallion for your novel, “Feud.” Historical Fiction is my all time favourite genre and I’m happy to say I have your book on my kindle waiting for me to read! I can’t wait! Please tell me about your story?
Derek: Feud is basically a story about a family, the Elders, who are caught up in a feud over land with their neighbours, the ambitious Radcliffes. Because it takes place during the Wars of the Roses, they are also embroiled in a war.
The Elder family comprises: Ned, a young swordsman; Emma, his serious, but conventional sister who has run the household since her mother’s early death and her sister Eleanor, a beautiful redhead who knows few social boundaries and is more than a match for most men.
At the start of the book each of the three is thrown into a frightening and unfamiliar situation. The book traces their separate paths towards a resolution of the feud as the war itself reaches a point of climax on the battlefield of Towton in 1461.
Stephanie: You write about one of my favourite periods in history. How long did it take you to write your story and what was some of the research involved?
Derek: Feud has been a long time in the making, partly because when I started to write it I was still in full time work as a teacher. Once I started to concentrate on writing, I finished the book in 2 years. In that time I wasn’t just writing one book, I was also developing the characters and storylines for a whole series of books.
I did a lot of research during that time as well as site visits of castles, battlefields and towns. So it was slow going, absorbing all the detail, but a fascinating experience.
Stephanie: What do you personally think of, Wars of the Roses and that period of time? Say it didn’t happen. How do you think things would be different for England today?
Derek: Well it’s a period that has always interested me but it was also a period of time that had a great impact on English history. It was an unstable time with the throne changing hands several times and only by accident did it end up with the Tudors.
So there’s no doubt that the Wars of the Roses changed the course of English history. If the succession had followed its natural course there would have been no Henry VIII or Elizabeth I! Would the Reformation have occurred in England? Or a Civil War in the seventeenth century? Who knows?
Stephanie: I completely agree with you. Is Ned Elder a fictional character or was he a real person?
Derek: Ned Elder and the rest of his family are wholly fictional but the situation in which they find themselves would have been familiar to landed families of the period. Land meant power in the fifteenth century and unscrupulous families would use every means in their power to acquire more land. Local disputes and feuds were common but mostly the law held them in check. The lawlessness of the Wars of the Roses allowed some families to pursue their ambitions by violent means. Ned’s enemies, the Radcliffes, are one such family.
Stephanie: This might sound a bit redundant considering your answer above but what are some of fictional aspects to your story?
Derek: The fiction is centred around the two families: the Elders & the Radcliffes but the situations in which they take part, for example the battles, are real. They also interact with actual people such as Edward IV, the Earl of Warwick and Queen Margaret of Anjou. Where that
happens the events I have described in Feud are as historically accurate as I could make them.
I have not deliberately twisted events to suit the narrative.
The fiction comes from the characters and I’ve had great fun creating the three Elder siblings and their adversaries. Having created the characters they tend to have a life of their own!
Stephanie: What is the most single thing about writing Historical Fiction and what advice would you give about writing in this genre?
Derek: When I first thought about writing I considered the maxim: ‘write about what you know.’ Having taught History for many years I thought it might be an area I would have a few clues about. Also, much of my own reading has been historical fiction.
I love the history but if you are writing fiction of any genre the most important elements are the story and the characters that deliver it. You cannot allow your interest in the history to overwhelm the story. Equally, your story needs to give an impression of the period in a way that is accessible to the modern reader.
The bottom line is: there’s no point in being historically precise if your story does not capture the imagination of the reader.
Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?
Derek: I was looking online for sites interested in self-published writing and stumbled across it! A lucky break for me!
Stephanie: When do your best ideas for stories come to you?
Derek: I find ideas come most easily when I am walking or swimming which I do fairly frequently. I suppose at those times my mind is free from other clutter. I work out scenes and story development in my head and then later I start to write wearing music headphones which cut out distractions and help my concentration.
Stephanie: What book project are you currently working on?
Derek: It’s a great time for me as I’ve almost finished the sequel to Feud: A Traitor’s Fate. This is due out in September and it moves the story on 3 years to 1464 when the new King Edward IV is trying to stamp out the last few Lancastrian rebels. Against this backcloth, the Elders find themselves at odds with one of the King’s leading nobles and of course that can only lead to trouble…
Stephanie: Thank you, Derek!