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On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author David Blackmore describes the inspiration behind his new historical fiction book series, Wellington’s Dragoon.

David J Blackmore, To The Douro, The Table Read
David J Blackmore

Written by David Blackmore

https://djblackmore.wordpress.com/

The inspiration and motivation to write To The Douro, and to plan the Wellington’s Dragoon series, came from two main sources, my reenactment background, and the local writers group. I started reenacting back in 1973.

Historical Reenactments

From 1989 to 1995 I was Lord General of the Roundhead Association. That was followed by running various cavalry groups, the last being B Troop, 16th Light Dragoons, who I commanded, along with all the British Light Dragoons, at the bicentennial reenactment of Waterloo in 2015.

Getting that right involved a huge amount of research, and culminated in my last non-fiction book, So Bloody A Day, the 16th Light Dragoons in the Waterloo Campaign. What that gave me was the technical knowledge of the cavalry that was necessary to write something that had an authentic feel to it. Writing So Bloody A Day also left me feeling that I knew the officers and men of the 16th.

What reenactment also gave me, which no amount of reading can do, was some, albeit limited, experience of what it is like to ride in a cavalry charge. At Waterloo in 2015 we were on the original battlefield, and galloped through standing corn that was high enough to brush our feet as we rode.

At times I could see right across the battlefield, upwards of half a mile, at other times less than fifty yards as thick smoke obscured everything. I have charged French infantry with about 120 others, a squadron strength, across a quarter mile. I can remember the smell of the smoke, and the noise of musket vollies. It was an awesome experience. Yes, it wasn’t for real, but it felt like it at times, and with a little imagination it has been a great help.

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Writing

The writing group spurred me to make use of that knowledge in a work of fiction. Back in May 2019 we challenged ourselves to write the first page of a novel. That resulted in the first appearance of Michael Roberts. The group said they wanted to know what happened next, so I went on to complete a short story. The encouragement that I got after that led me to develop the idea for a whole series, and get on with writing the first book.

Having previously written four non-fiction books, including my PhD, was both a help and a hindrance. It meant that I was no stranger to research and getting the facts right using reliable sources, and I already had a fairly extensive library of books dealing with the Peninsular War and cavalry in particular.

As a result of doing my PhD I also had a pretty good idea of what 80,000 words was like, it’s a lot, and I knew that writing can be a long, slow, laborious business. The hindrance is that writing a work of fiction requires a very different style from writing an academic work. I frequently had to remind myself that I was telling a story, not writing an academic narrative.

Wellington’s Dragoon Series

That probably covers the background to how I came to write the first book of what should be a series of eight, culminating in the aftermath of Waterloo. Without that knowledge and experience I don’t think I would have been able to do it, at least not convincingly.

As for writing, planning has been everything. Michael Roberts’ adventures take place within a well known series of real events. Everything he does has to fit within a fairly rigid framework of chronology and established facts. Making him an officer in a real cavalry regiment added further restrictions on when and where he could be at any time. Furthermore, the 16th has one of the best contemporary journals to come out of the war. William Tomkinson gets quoted in any decent history of the war.

I recognised, however, that a simple, fictionalised account of what the 16th did would not be enough. After all, why read a fictional account when there is a very good contemporary account. More was needed than purely military events. I decided that I wanted him to be involved in the secret side of the war, the intelligence war, but the question was, how to do that realistically? I wrote a brief biography that has him being born and raised in Lisbon, so he spoke Portuguese like a native, making him useful.

What I had at that point was an idea for a story that would have three strands to it, a story of the war from the viewpoint of a junior cavalry officer, his developing involvement in the intelligence war, and his personal story as his character develops. I took that and sketched out a rough outline for the whole series, which continually develops with new ideas and with each book.

To The Douro, David J Blackmore, The Table Read
To The Douro

Then I started a plan for the first book, it ran to four pages. The next step was outlines for each chapter, or at least notes to keep the history right.

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Writing Process

Then I started to write. My approach is to get down the narrative first, get it right, make sure a chapter ends up where it is supposed to. Then I leave it for a while, go on to the next chapter, do the same again. Eventually I go back to beginning, and start again, adding what I call the period colour, ironing out the inevitable glitches.

A few times I decided something simply wouldn’t do, and out it went. For instance, in the earliest versions of To The Douro, Michael takes a long coach trip from Falmouth to London where he is interviewed for admission to the regiment. Eventually I concluded that it added nothing to the story, and out went several thousand words based on a lot of research about travel by coach in Regency England.

On my PC I have nineteen drafts of To The Douro. Some are more different from the previous one than others. I was terrified of changing something, wishing I hadn’t, but not having the earlier version. I didn’t really need to do that, but it was a comfort. With the second book, Secret Lines, there was more planning, I had learnt as I went along, and only five drafts. It will be out later this year. In some respects it got easier, but what got harder was keeping up the quality of plotting without it getting silly.

If I was to describe the process, I would say it is one of layering, of laying down increasing detail, and then polishing it, reading it again and again until you can’t see the wood for the trees. Then getting a trusted friend to read it and point out all the typos and glitches. Then polishing it again.

Of course, this is the way I do it, you have to find what works for you. The most important thing is that you should enjoy it. It’s hard work, and unless you enjoy it you will fail.

Finally, the greatest influence on my storytelling? Dave Allen.

Find more from David Blackmore now:

On The Table Read: https://thetableread.co.uk/author-interview-david-blackmore-to-the-douro/

Published by Brindle Books, To The Douro (ISBN: 1739864867) is available on Amazon as follows:

Hardcover (£20.00) – https://amzn.to/3PpLDTx

Paperback (£8.99) – https://amzn.to/3a8VvkF

Kindle format (£3.99) – https://amzn.to/38BDR8q

Amazon Author Page; https://www.amazon.co.uk/David-Blackmore/e/B08QN8CCH2?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1655131230&sr=8-1

My Blog;  https://djblackmore.wordpress.com/

My Publisher; https://www.brindlebooks.co.uk/

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