[Interview, Part 3 of 3] Brian Wainwright, author of ‘Within the Fetterlock’
Historical novelist Brian Wainwright is a full-time author.
In this, the last of three interviews, Wainwright speaks about how his books evolved; how he got published and about his plans for the future.
How did The Adventures of Alianore Audley come about?
I wrote quite a lot of comedy when I was young. It got me into trouble at school where there was a lot to parody and ironise. It took me a long time before I realised there was no reason I couldn’t put comedy and historical fiction together.
Believe it or not, Alianore was originally going to be a serious novel about Richard III. I did some calculations to see whether Constance of York could have had a (fictional) granddaughter active at the time of the Wars of the Roses. (I didn’t want to use a real person for this one.) I found that by taking on a youngest daughter to the Audley family, it would work. I wrote about five lines, and they lay untouched on my computer for about four years, like a seed waiting in its packet.
Then Alianore found her voice! A very unusual voice at that. Normally I write and rewrite, and then edit, but Alianore is pretty much an edited first draft. I’m not sure that I wrote the book at a conscious level. It seemed to stream out, page after page, day after day, until it was finished. If Alianore had been a real person I’d have suspected that her spirit was channelling through me, but as it is I must suppose it came from whatever deep crevice of the unconscious mind creates stories.
It was great fun playing around with the stereotypes of historical fiction, using whatever crazy idioms came into my head, and allowing Alianore to do what she liked, poking King Edward IV in the balls, dressing up as an archer, vaulting onto warhorses — you name it.
How easy was it to find a publisher for the book?
Originally I self-published, because the book was for myself and a small group of friends who shared my weird sense of humour. I didn’t expect it to have general appeal, but I got rid of the rest of the print run through an advert in the Richard III Society magazine, and was surprised when the odd enquiry arrived from booksellers when it was out of print.
After some prodding from people who had read it, I had an agent lined up for the book, but ultimately it wasn’t taken any further. I suspect it was hard to place an eccentric novel by an eccentric and unknown writer. I decided to try again and submitted it to Jacobyte, who were inviting direct submissions. As it happened Meredith Whitford at Jacobyte was interested in Richard III (and indeed has written a Ricardian book of her own) so I suppose the seed fell on fertile ground.
How has Alianore Audley been received by readers?
I’ve seen the book categorised as everything from Historical Romance to Fantasy, but I suppose it’s really a parody or spoof of historical fiction. I hope it’s an affectionate parody of a genre I love.
I’m surprised it’s sold so well, and obviously very pleased that it has. It’s been quite a success in the USA, which I suppose nails the old English canard that Americans don’t ‘do’ irony. Inevitably some people don’t get the joke, and someone even asked me if it was a translation from a real chronicle! On the whole though people seem to love it, so maybe my humour isn’t as weird and twisted as I thought.
Part of the success is probably down to Richard III — people still want to read about the guy, and my version is very different from the rest.
The Adventures of Alianore Audley has been re-issued or re-published by BeWrite Books. How did this happen?
Bewrite took over from Jacobyte the titles it was most interested in, including mine. As a result, a completely new edition was prepared, with a new cover that was a great improvement on the old one.
Bewrite has certainly managed to achieve a greater level of publicity for the book, and they have a very effective marketing strategy, which means that it is available from a much wider range of outlets. This has led to far better sales, so the changeover has been very positive as far as I am concerned.
How did you choose a publisher for your second book?
Constance is a relative unknown in English history but I found her fascinating and so I had to write about her. It took at least ten years to write, including research, though the truth is I re-wrote it several times and the published version is something like Mark VII.
The novel was released in 2004 by Trivium Publishing in the USA. The publisher chose me!
What challenges has this presented?
Trivium is a small outfit and the main problem is that they don’t have a massive advertising/publicity budget. I have had to learn to publicise myself to some extent, though it’s not an aspect of authorship with which I am particularly comfortable, being naturally reclusive.
What was the most difficult aspect of the work that went into Within the Fetterlock ?
The research for the book was simply huge. I probably did far too much, but I kept being intrigued by new snippets that came up. In fact I was still putting in new facts as the manuscript was being edited.
It was hard work to reduce this into a manageable novel that would be of reasonable length. I cut out massive chunks before submission and working with Tamara Mazzei at Trivium, there was some fairly drastic editing of what remained. All this made the work stronger, but to be honest, I think if I were doing the job again, I’d want to be even more drastic.
Paradoxically, I did enjoy the research. It almost became an end in itself, which is a danger for writers of historical fiction.
The greatest thrill, though, was seeing the book come to life, through the final editing process — it was something I’d never experienced at that level of complexity, and it gave me a tremendous buzz.
In what way is Within the Fetterlock different from the other things you have written?
It’s very serious, very intense, with more tears than smiles.
It’s similar to the others in that, well, it’s historic, and I do try to research my novels, even the funny ones.
What will your next book be about?
I have got three projects in hand, as well as a couple of whimsies, and it very much depends on where my mood takes me as to which will be completed first. If someone comes along and says they want X, and here’s Y pounds as an advance, then that will get precedence. Otherwise, I’ll just go muddling along in my own merry way until something pops out.
The likely winner is a novel about Richard III, as quite a few people have said they want to see my take on him. The problem is that I want to come at the subject from a different angle to all the previous novels on this subject and because of my deep interest in Richard, I want the book to be worthy of him.
This article has also been featured on Conversations with Writers.
- [Interview, Part 1 of 3] Brian Wainwright, author of ‘The Adventures of Alianore Audley’.
- [Interview, Part 2 of 3] Brian Wainwright, author of ‘Within the Fetterlock’.