When I started writing fiction I was given some good advice: if you can stop, you probably should. Problem was I was already addicted. Almost twenty five years later, I landed a book deal for my historic novel Liberty Bazaar, which will be published in 2015 by Aurora Metro.
I'm a journalist with a media career spanning more than 30 years. I've reported on major events and interviewed front-line politicians, including John Major, Michael Portillo and Jeffrey Archer – and I’ve been on a bender with Screaming Lord Sutch, founder of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.
But I’ve never done anything as difficult, demanding and ultimately rewarding as getting a novel published.
In the eighties, my career in journalism seemed to fulfil my writing ambitions, but by the end of the decade my lifestyle as a hard drinking hack finally tipped me off the rails. I knew I had to quit and began writing fiction in the nineties as part of a strategy to replace a destructive habit with a constructive one. As well as novels, I got hooked on reading and writing short stories - nicely described by William Boyd as a bomb and by AL Kennedy as a bullet.
In 2007 I started an MA in creating writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, which resulted in me writing Liberty Bazaar. The decision to do a historical novel sprang from my undergraduate days when I studied history and politics at Queen Mary, University of London. In a sense this had brought me full circle.
I picked the American Civil War because it has captivated me since childhood when I collected packets containing bubblegum, picture cards portraying explicitly gory battle scenes, and replica Confederate currency that was sufficiently authentic to prompt a federal investigation.
The War between the States gave me my broad canvas but I still needed a specific aspect or event that might have produced a different historical outcome. As I looked more closely into diplomatic aspects of the conflict, I became increasingly intrigued by the efforts of both the North and South to court British public opinion.
Nowhere was this activity more intense than Liverpool, the scene of illicit ship-building ventures, espionage and public relations campaigns such as the real Liberty Bazaar. This raised £20,000 ― an astonishing sum by contemporary standards ― to help destitute families in the South. It was fascinating to imagine how this cash might have been subverted and this became the fulcrum of my narrative.
Liberty Bazaar was conceived with four point-of-view protagonists, but an early decision to write in two first person voices proved to be a key that opened more doors than I expected. The creation of different registers for the two narrators (Trinity Giddings and Jubal de Brooke) produced a substantial shift of focus: the big dramatic question of winning the war in Liverpool receded as Trinity and Jubal came alive with personality and purpose. Liberty Bazaar was becoming less a story about political conspiracy and more about the moral struggle between these two central characters.
Soon after I started writing I experienced hearing their voices in my head, which is often the point at which a character really comes alive for the writer.