It is my pleasure to introduce to you a person who has eagerly accepted my invitation to guest post today! Many of you may already know Colin or have read one of his many books, yet I thought this might be a wonderful way to get to know the intellect of this most interesting man.
Though he now resides in the land down under, his roots actually stem from jolly old England, north London to be more specific. Colin has done many things in his life. He has worked in TV and radio and free-lanced for many of Australia’s leading newspapers and magazines. But what he’s most proud of is being the father of his two beautiful full grown daughters. Although I thought I remembered spotting him with a gorgeous blonde at his side!
It seems that Colin is quite the daredevil and is willing to risk life and limb when it comes to doing research for each of his novels. He’s been known to run with the bulls in Pamplona, pursue tornadoes across Oklahoma, and has been seen cage-shark diving off the coast of South Africa. Our man Colin really knows how to get around!
But since he is such a well seasoned author, writing more than twenty books spanning over the last twenty years, I thought this would be great opportunity to get some incite as to what prompted Colin to immerse himself into the historical fiction genre that he is most widely known for.
So without further ado, may I please introduce to you, Colin Falconer!
Thank you Karen.
I thought I would write a little history lesson about my love/hate relationship with history and how I came to be an author of historical fiction. I hope you all will enjoy it.
I hated history at school. All I remember of my last year is that the teacher’s name was Sheldrake, so his nickname was Bomb-duck. History was first thing on a Monday morning so the class was an excuse to sleep off the weekend. I still made pass grades. All you had to do was memorize the dates and some names and I could do that with a bit of cramming the night before the examination.
So if someone had told me back then that I was going to become an historical novelist I think I would jumped under a train. I couldn’t have imagined anything worse. I wanted to play for Manchester United.
The one lesson I loved was English, which is surprising, because we were reading Shakespeare and most sixteen year olds find Shakespeare hard work. Not us. Our English teacher, with the more normal-sounding name of Mr. Briggs, was a revelation.
He didn’t just make us read Hamlet; he described the stage for us (this was long before Sam Wannamaker rebuilt The Globe); he explained about the hawkers moving through the crowd selling pies and nuts while the play was going on; he gossiped about Marlowe getting murdered; he explained all of Shakespeare’s dirty jokes – and there are plenty, because Shakespeare was a filthy, filthy writer. (He had to play to the whole crowd, from the blue bloods to the hoi polloi in the pit.)
He told us that Shakespeare was bald, had an affair with a woman in Oxford, and built a fancy house in Stratford on the proceeds of his career. He explained how he made up words or used words that no one in London had heard of. (Like there’s a word in old Warwick dialect that describes the shadow made by the round of earth thrown up by a plough at the end of a furrow. As if the Anonymous Edward de Vere would know that!)
In other words, he made Shakespeare sound like one of the boys. What I didn’t realize was that Mister Briggs was teaching us history as well as Hamlet.
Still, when I started my career as a novelist I was not moved to write history. I wrote thrillers and then did a couple of crime novels that did reasonably well. But it was when I wrote Harem that my London agent rang me out of the blue and said: you have to do this. I sold around 180,000 copies of that novel in Germany alone.
Harem was the book that taught me how to research; for instance, if you are going to write about eunuchs you better know about castration, and all the different ways it can be done, no matter how excruciating it is. I also had to learn about the Ottoman system of government, which was worse than one of Bomb-duck’s history lessons. But as a novelist, it is essential that you know these things and then slip them into the narrative when it’s needed in a very un-Bomb-duck-like manner.
But most of all I never forgot what Mr. Briggs taught us; the play’s the thing. History is the background; the story is the star. And more than any other genre I believe historical fiction has the canvas to paint a big, beautiful story. It always has, from literature long past (War and Peace, The Red Badge of Courage, Ivanhoe) until more recent times (Shogun, Doctor Zhivago.) The movies I love are Last Samurai, Dances with Wolves, Gladiator. These are the kinds of stories that I want to write, and there are not enough of them out there for me as a reader.
So in the end, Mister Sheldrake, I have to admit that I have come to love history. That sixteen year old never knew what he was missing. But still – at least he remembered the dates.
Oh, and by the way. I got a B minus.
Thank you everyone,
No, thank you Colin Falconer!
A ‘B’ minus? Well that’s not bad Colin Falconer. Not bad at all. Thank you so much for sharing this with us Colin. You may now go to the head of the class!
So tell me, what do you think? How many of you have jumped into something head first only to find out that you’ve just stumbled upon the right thing? You hadn’t planned on it, but by pure happenstance you fell into what you were meant to do! They say that if we do what we love, success will follow. Are we willing to follow our dreams?
Be sure to hit the follow button for future posts! And thank you so much for your thoughts and salutations.
A big shout out to Kristen Lamb and all my new classmates in my #WANA1011 class and all others that may grace my presence by visiting this post. Take care and make it a great day!
It’s funny how we change, isn’t it? But perhaps if they’d taught us about harems in high school I would have paid more attention!
That last reply was meant for Jeanette … don’t know what happened there … but thanks to everyone for your comments and thanks Karen for allowing me to guest post. Glad you all liked it!
Thank you Colin! It was my pleasure to have you and we’ll do it again!
Hi Karen and Colin,
Wow! Research on castration. Ouch! Loved the idea that the play is the thing even in novels. Since a novel is such a large canvas for storytelling, I think authors often lose sight of the story itself in their rush to put us in the world of the story… As for me, I am known to work harder for others’ dreams than my own, but I’m learning!
Hi Kecia! Writing historical novels is a tough balancing act – I only use about 10% of my research in the end. As for working harder for other people’s dreams – I think it’s good to try and do both if you can …
Cool post! Y’all, just finished reading Harem last week – GO GET IT! Great book…and yeah, Colin, the castration….makes me squeamish. 🙂
Myndi Shafer recently posted..LEAVE A CAPTION SATURDAY
Hi Myndi – yeah, the hardest part about HAREM was Eunuchs 101. The things you learn in research!
Everyone should have a teacher as inventive as your Mr. Briggs, Colin. School would certainly be a lot more fun. 🙂
Thanks for the post. It was great getting to know you a little bit better.
Never appreciated Mr Briggs at the time and never found out what happened to him. One of my regrets – I would like to have found him later in life and thanked him. Teachers can have such a huge influence on our lives and never know it.
It’s nice when teachers get wonderful feedback years later about how much they influenced their students’ lives.
Lynn Kelley recently posted..The Circle Game & Thanksgiving
Thanks for having Colin as your guest, Karen. Great intro!
Colin, fascinating to hear about your journey. Mr. Briggs is an awesome teacher. Wow! I hated history at that age, too. Now I love it. I really enjoyed this post!
Lynn Kelley recently posted..Star Wars Mashup
Thanks Lynn. And I loved your Star Wars Mashup. Never thought Barbie would be his nemesis though.
LOL! Thanks for stopping by my blog!
Lynn Kelley recently posted..The Circle Game & Thanksgiving
A teacher who enjoys the material and the students can make a real difference. I envy you that teacher.
Oh yes, I’d give you an A+ for this post. Great stuff!
Prudence MacLeod recently posted..Ten Random Things
Thanks Prudence. And you’re so right about teachers. I really believe you can’t teach someone to teach – it’s a gift.
Such a great post! Your teacher had the rare gift of making the words come to life! I really enjoyed this and your point about research. That is something I will definitely keep in mind!
Susie Lindau recently posted..It Ain’t the Easy Way… 100 Word Flash
Research is always tricky. It’s so tempting to throw things in because they’re interesting – but will it slow the story down? There’s show don’t tell – but sometimes it’s also know don’t tell …
Wow, Colin’s story on Shakespeare with his teacher’s perspective added to it says a lot about the need to delve into the/your story. Every nut and bolt, nook and cranny, so to speak, makes the read come alive. Great post.
Thank you so much for your insightful comment Keaton! Thanks for stopping by. See you soon! 🙂
You’re right – the thing about Mr Briggs (and he’s still Mister after all these years – he was one of those blokes who could silence you with just a look) was that he gave us the HUMAN nuts and bolts, rather than facts. I think they’re the little things that really make the difference in books too.
What a fun story! Thanks for sharing it with us. The closest I can come is math. I always hated it, and one of the best things about being an art major in college was no math! However, when my graphic design career started heading toward web programming instead, I went back for an associates degree in computers. Which required math. And I loved it! As an adult, those statistics problems that had been drudgery in high school were more like puzzles.
Jennette Marie Powell recently posted..Time Management Tip: Make a big task fit your life, rather than the other way around