Today I’m interviewing Derek Birks, author of “Feud,” a novel of the War of Roses. “Feud” is the compelling story of Ned Elder, his sisters and the girl he loves. As the civil war rages across a snow-covered battlefield, they fight for survival and the bitter feud is played out to its bloody conclusion.
1.Why did you choose the Wars of Roses?
*The Wars of the Roses has always fascinated me. It provides some fantastic characters and situations for the writer. It is a civil war and it therefore provides a lot of opportunities to write about personal and family conflicts. I think the power of the period has been amply demonstrated by the worldwide interest shown in the recent discovery of the skeleton of Richard III.
*From the start of the planning stage of “Feud,” I was clear that I was writing a series of stories based around a family at war over about a 30 year period. Setting it against the backdrop of the Wars of the Roses allows my fictional characters to interact with actual people of the period in an environment which breeds conflict and betrayal.
2.As someone from the United States (where the Native Americans did not often leave much of a trace), I’m amazed by the archaeology that seems to be everywhere in England. How has this helped your writing?
*As an amateur archaeologist myself, I find it very helpful in a variety of ways. New discoveries are being made all the time. It’s not always as exciting as finding the body of Richard III beneath a car park because that doesn’t happen every day but each discovery contributes to our fund of knowledge about history.
*What I like most about archaeology is that it usually focuses attention on what ordinary people were up to, such as what they wore or the tools and weapons they used. In my writing I try to include as many touches of detail as I can to enhance the period feel of the story. My characters are spread across the social spectrum so that we view the events from a variety of perspectives.
3.I was impressed by your sample pages and have ordered your book. What does your team look like—editor, marketer, cover designer? How do you self-publish when that is not in your personality?
*I went into self-publishing with my eyes shut and so I made some mistakes along the way. Like many first time writers I put my book “out there” and waited for everyone to like it! I’ve learned a lot since then and I’m quite relaxed now about the whole process.
*As far as my team is concerned, everything has been kept within the family. This is not blind faith on my part: my son Rob has done a lot of the editing and has received some plaudits for his work. You have to have a critical friend to edit your work: he helped me to discard what was not so good and yet feel more confident about what was. My daughter Katie played a big part in designing the cover for “Feud” which everyone seems very happy with. Aside from that, I do everything else.
*Self-publishing is not for the faint-hearted; you have accept the disappointments and not go overboard when you have successes. You have to take the long view and try to enjoy the experience.
4.What do you wish you had known before beginning “Feud,” either about the time period or about the writing process? Any advice?
*Well, where to start? My ignorance was colossal. I think regarding the time period, I’m still learning and will always be learning about it.
*With the writing process I’m still working on my method but I’ve learned when I write best – in the morning – and how my creative process works. I have to clear my head of all external voices: TV, radio, family chat and so on – anything that shouts words or ideas at me. Then I work out scenes in my head whilst doing some fairly neutral activity such as walking or swimming. When I’m writing I have the headphones on with music gently playing in the background. Basically I’ve learned that you can’t write when you’re trying to do something else!
5.What part of the history was most exciting or surprising? What did you make up that you are most proud of?
*When I do research on this period I am constantly surprised by how violent and brutal it was. This is reflected in “Feud” though I haven’t exaggerated it at all. It’s a brutal age. I found the surge to power of Edward IV very exciting: he’s 18 years old and he wins several battles, showing not only fighting prowess but great charisma as a leader.
*I think I have been a little surprised by how some women were able to play quite influential roles in what was essentially a man’s world. I’ve tried to show glimpses of this in “Feud” without, I hope, creating a false picture of female influence. One of the aspects of the book that I’m most proud of is the range of female characters in it. For an action story it seems to be well liked by many female readers. This is something I wanted to achieve and so I’m pleased about that.
6.Which of your characters would you most like to meet? Any that you’d be afraid of?
*This is a question I’ve been asked several times and the answer is always the same: Lady Eleanor Elder is a feisty young woman – a redhead with attitude. She turns men’s heads, there’s no doubt about that. She can also be very scary indeed, yet she sometimes reveals a softer side to her nature. She had a tempestuous youth where she lived her life as if yesterday was the last day! In “Feud” she is beginning to grow up a little but has lost none of her inner strength and vivacity.
7.Have you tried anything from your books/time periods—riding a horse, sword fighting, cooking that kind of food, or figuring out how to repair weapons?
*Many years ago I was a sword fighting extra for a production of an opera called Rienzi. I managed to smash a ceiling light during practice and shorten an opponent’s nose on stage. My sword fighting career was short-lived! I wasn’t very good at it and I think it is in everyone’s interest that I don’t try any medieval weapons again!
*My only hands-on experience these days is with archaeological digs – there’s no substitute for being the first person to handle an object used by another human being maybe a thousand years before.
8.Tell me about yourself personally. Anything interesting/strange/silly?
*Well my kids laugh at me readily enough as it is without me giving them any more ammunition, so I try to keep silly to a minimum. I’m a keen walker and recently walked a 40 mile stretch of Hadrian’s Wall with my wife. It was an amazing experience to see the sheer scale of this fortified frontier in northern Britain. It was inspiring to stand next to it and imagine that you are standing on the edge of the Roman Empire.
Derek, thanks for your time. And best of success on the sequel.
The sequel is “A Traitor’s Fate,” which is due out in September. Many thanks.
For more information about Derek, check out
Twitter account: @Feud_writer
Order “Feud” at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008ZD9ABO