Friday, December 9, 2011

Jonathan Hopkins, Author

Jonathan Hopkins is an accomplished historical author, and his novel, "The Walls of Jericho" is fabulous! Recommended reading! Jonathan's characters jump off the page! I felt every horse stride and galloped with every character. 

What was your inspiration for writing this wonderful historical novel?

Gina, you're very kind, but I don't consider myself accomplished after one novel - maybe after four or five!   I never intended to write a book, and how it came about is a long story which shows how dangerous a thing 'inspiration' can be.   A few years ago, my wife got the grumbles. I'm sure most long-married men have heard the same complaints - about not being romantic anymore, never buying flowers etc etc. And...they were probably warranted. So I had a brainwave. For our wedding anniversary, which was five months hence, I'd deliver her flowers on a 19th century hussar! What could be more romantic than that, thought I?   Unfortunately, I'd reckoned without the difficulty of getting hold of kit. You can't just pop into your local gents outfitters and buy a Napoleonic cavalry uniform and saddlery. As it turned out I found a re-enactment uniform on eBay, but I had to make the saddlery myself and there are no patterns available. It meant I was forced into searching high and low for descriptions and pictures. I hunted through non-fiction books about British cavalry of that time - lots of them. And what struck me most was the amount of criticism leveled at those men from just about every historian and his dog. They couldn't possibly have been that bad, could they? The more campaign histories and diaries I read, the more frustrated I got at what I believed were unfair interpretations of many of the cavalry actions. Someone needed to speak up for the British horsemen who fought Napoleon in Spain and Portugal. But I'm no historian so, for my sins, I wrote a novel. To tell the story of what their lives were really like.   And the wedding anniversary? That went fine, thank you. Especially since I'd also organized a carriage ride to lunch.   

What was your inspiration for character development?    

Georgian society was highly polarized. The industrial revolution, which grew the middle classes, was in its infancy. But the wars against Napoleon threw the very rich and grindingly poor together in a way most had never experienced before, forcing them, in many instances, to endure danger and privation on an equal footing. I was interested in exploring how such relationships worked in real life, and whether it ultimately affected the way men dealt with their social opposites on a day-to-day basis. So my two main characters are a prince and a pauper, so to speak. And to make life even more difficult for them, they are childhood friends, brought together by a shared love of horses.

You are working on a sequel to your novel. When will it be released?

Ah - an awkward question!  Well, the draft is almost finished but I'm one of those people who is never satisfied and will edit and edit and edit. My main problem is the new story has to be better than the first. I'm hopeful it'll be ready in the Spring.

Do you have any suggestions for beginning writers who would like to write historical fiction?    

Don't be put off by those who tell you crime fiction, sci-fi and horror are the only genres that sell. A good historical novel will always find readers, and the market is growing. Try to find a period that interests you and a niche within that period which no-one else has covered. Read as much as you can, both fiction, so you can see what's popular in style and content, and books by 'proper' historians. I buy non-fiction secondhand and on eBay because textbooks are so expensive and specialist works hard to find at the local library.   But most importantly, write about your characters: what they see and hear, how they feel, how they live. The historical backdrop to their lives is important but that's all it is - a backdrop. Readers buy books to find out what happens to the people in them. And if they fall in love with your characters they'll want to read more and more about them.

Do you write everyday?   

No - I should, but I don't. I'll find some reason not to unless I force myself. I've tried sitting in front of the screen and just typing any old rubbish, but I just can't do it. So I don't write for a couple of days and then type madly for the next few.   One thing I make sure of is to do something writing-related every day without fail. Just making a simple note is enough - anything to drive the writing forward. That might be an idea for a new story, a new fact to include, a change or addition to an existing outline; even a line of dialogue for a character. 

How do you keep and maintain ideas and thoughts for manuscripts

I use a really simple system. I just have a file on the laptop with ideas and outlines that I add to or change every day. It gets backed up with the rest of the system so I don't lose it, as I once did with three chapters of Walls of Jericho thanks to a hard-drive problem. You all back your files up, don't you?   But I also keep a voice recorder in the car - just in case I get caught short when I'm out and about!

What is it like to live in South Wales?    

I love this area. We live in the Vale of Glamorgan which is greener and more agricultural than the once-industrialized valleys further north. It's right on the coast so we have countryside and sea in close proximity, but with capital city Cardiff just a few miles to the east we're not too far away from the bright lights either. 

You are an equestrian as well as a writer. Your equestrian abilities certainly shine through in your writing. What is your favorite personal horse story?    

There are loads! The best one's on my blog but it's very long winded, so as a shorter anecdote...I was in a showjumping class and my old horse was having an off-day. He ran out at one fence and when re-presented did exactly the same thing. Both times I came off over his right shoulder but luckily landed on my feet. The commentator announced, "I'm afraid that's elimination for, er...let's be kind and say 'two dismounts'".

Do you currently own a horse? Where do you like to ride?   

I inherited a cast-off from my daughter - he's a nice old stick but she found him a bit sharp for her. Unfortunately, it wasn't until I started riding him we discovered he doesn't like men! One problem with the area we live is the lack of off-road riding. There are a few forestry tracks, and permit-only riding on a sand-dune system to the west of us, but you have to box the horses to get there. Most of the ancient cart tracks were metalled as roads, before the railways arrived, so there are few bridlepaths...hey - maybe there's a novel in that somewhere.

Who are your favorite authors?   

Bernard Cornwell, Clive Cussler (but growing out of love with him), Wilbur Smith, CC Humphreys, the late Dick Francis, MM Bennetts.

What is your favorite equestrian quote?   

"A horse is uncomfortable in the middle and dangerous at both ends." - Ian Fleming

What are your future goals as a writer and a rider? 

As a writer - I want to carry on as long as possible. I have outlines and ideas for a possible fourteen cavalry stories, so increasing my output might be a good idea!   As a rider - I want to carry on as long as possible. No - seriously, it would be nice to get back to competing before my joints and ligaments start protesting too much. I once had ambitions to wear a tailcoat at dressage - that'd be Medium level and above in the UK - but I think it's probably beyond me now. So a few Riding Club One-Day-Events and some showjumping will suit me fine.

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