Posted on

Throw Back Thursday: Clifford Beal

Writing Gideon’s Angel

 Just what the hell was I thinking about? I had a straightforward outline for a historical novel set during Oliver Cromwell’s republic in mid-17th century England. It was to be a thriller—a la Frederick Forsyth—in which a disgruntled Royalist officer in exile returns to assassinate the Lord Protector in his own rogue operation. But someone (and you know who you are) put a flea in my ear. Why not, they said, inject a supernatural element into this plot to add a whole new level of interest? After all, magic was not unheard of in this era nor was it unusual for superstitious beliefs to co-exist with puritanical godliness.

Now, as sceptical as I was, I did not dismiss this notion out of hand. After all, reeling back to my days of misspent youth, when I was not engaging in underage drinking I was devouring genre fiction everywhere I could get it. Sword & sorcery, epic fantasy, Lovecraftian horror, space opera. You name it and I was shelling out 95 cents for a paperback down at College Hill Bookshop in Providence. My first forays into creative writing also involved horror or fantasy (trope-laden as they were replete with requisite diminutive folk and magic swords). So, upon reflection, the idea of injecting the fantastical into my historical novel became more and more appealing. A way I could satisfy both itches as it were.

So, Gideon’s Angel took a hard left turn, waved good-bye to Dumas, Bernard Cornwell and Patrick O’Brian, and entered the realm of historical fantasy. And if truth be told, I had already written a manuscript several years earlier with the same lead character, Colonel Richard Treadwell, in which this very unreliable narrator tells us that he sees the dead with alarming frequency while he fights in a horrific war in northern Germany in the 1620s.. The trouble is, no one else sees what he is seeing. The reader is left to decide whether he’s clairvoyant or just barking mad. Now, with Gideon’s Angel, a direct sequel, I could nail my colours to the mast and bring not just Colonel Treadwell but his comrades too, face-to-face with the demonic.

I hugely enjoyed writing Gideon’s Angel and letting the reader share in the knowledge of the otherworldly threat that Treadwell and his friends have to combat while trying to convince others to help them. Because in the novel, whether the characters believe it or not, demons do exist in the backstreets of London town and they’re the advance guard of an “end of days” occupation. I also had great fun injecting real people—famous or infamous—into the story whether they are d’Artagnan, John Milton or Cardinal Mazarin, and making them part of the “conspiracy”. Although these two novels form a duology, I’d love to return to Treadwell at some point in the future. Both are written such that one does not need a knowledge of the time period to enjoy them and the reader is given just enough background to float the story being told. So no worries if you failed A-level English history. Here’s your second chance.

While the Colonel takes his well-deserved rest, I’ve moved on to writing an epic fantasy series for Solaris that debuts next February. The first book is called The Guns of Ivrea, set in a world with similarities to our own renaissance Italy—but with mermen. And basilisks.  Think of it as the sort of epic fantasy that Cesare Borgia or Leonardo daVinci might have written if they were into genre fiction. Ah, I can already hear the sails snapping taut on the spars and smell the salt tang of the azure sea …

 Order: UK | US | DRM-free eBook


Posted on

Throw Back Thursday: James Lovegrove

Throwback Thursday: your favourite writers go back

Welcome to our new Throwback Thursday blog series, every other week we’ll be taking a peek behind the curtain of some of your favourite author’s earlier works, and we couldn’t think of a better author to start the series with than NYT-bestselling author James Lovegrove:

Writing World Of Fire

 I can usually rely on it taking me four to five months to complete a full-length novel. The period of time depends, of course, on the word count and the quantity of other demands I have simultaneously. A sudden spike in the level of journalism commitments, for example, can add a couple of weeks to the total. I slow down somewhat during the school holidays, too. It’s distracting when the kids are home and doing their best (but often failing) to leave their dad alone in his office to work.

Four to five months may seem fast but it’s nothing compared with the rate at which the Golden Age pulp fiction writers wrote. Some of those guys could turn out a novel in a week. Even the slower penmen among them were managing a book a month.

They had to. They were living hand-to-mouth, surviving from contract to contract, and unless you were one of the big names working on one of the prestige character titles, the pay rate wasn’t great. For every Lester Dent (Doc Savage), Maxwell Grant (The Shadow), or Norvell Page (The Spider), there were thousands of lesser-known hacks hammering desperately at their typewriters, rushing to meet deadline.

What emerged from this frenzy to fill the ravenous, ever-hungry maw of the pre- and post-war story-magazine industry was often some very bad prose. Also, some very hackneyed and ill-thought-through plotting.

Equally, however, the pulp writers produced work with an unrivalled energy and urgency, tales that reflected the breakneck speed and brain-wracking ferocity of their creation by becoming compelling, page-turning masterpieces––the kind of thing you can’t stop reading once you start, skating over the infelicities of the writing and the often clunky characterisation just to see how it all turns out.

I don’t consider myself a pulp writer, but I bore the example of these long-gone pace merchants in mind when I sat down to begin World Of Fire. I was keen to capture some of the propulsiveness they brought to their storytelling. I wanted to re-create some of the spirit they imbued their tales with, that flinty fire and flash. I hoped to evoke that sense that the next action scene was never far away, the hero was only one step ahead of the villain, a reversal of fortune could come at any moment, and a long ladder of advances and setbacks must be scaled before victory was achieved.

I can’t say that I managed to complete the manuscript in a week, or even a month. It was closer on three months, from January to March of this year. But I belted through it all the same. The only novels that have taken me less time were my debut, The Hope, and my first Sherlock Holmes, The Stuff Of Nightmares (six and seven weeks respectively). Interestingly, in each instance the book was my maiden attempt at something, be it just plain writing a novel or writing a mystery novel––or, in the case of World Of Fire, writing a pure, outer-space action-adventure novel.

World Of Fire is the opening salvo in what I hope is going to be an intensive, long-running bombardment of volumes which will propel its hero Dev Harmer – stretching the artillery metaphor a bit here, but forgive me, it’s nearly Christmas – into all kinds of dangerous situations as he strives to keep the intergalactic peace between humankind and the artificial intelligence race known as Polis+ and not get himself killed in the process. The sequel, World Of Water, is on its way, and I’m managing to replicate the great blaze of creativity that drove me through the first one.

Write it quick and people will read it quick. If that wasn’t the pulp fictioneers’ motto, it should have been. If the author doesn’t hesitate or lose focus, neither will the reader. If you want to make something unputdownable, don’t pause, don’t think twice, just tell the story, and keep telling it until it’s told.

– James Lovegrove

Order World of Fire here: UK | US | DRM-free eBook