My Writing Life: David Ebsworth
I’ve dabbled with writing for most of my life but never had the confidence to attempt a full novel until I was coming up to retirement, back in 2008. It seemed like a great chance to challenge myself and fulfil a long-term ambition at the same time. Since then I haven’t been able to stop!
What’s your favourite book? What was your favourite book as a child?
My favourite book of all time is Great Expectations and, as a child, it was definitely Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword at Sunset.
Where do you get your story ideas?
I like to write stories that I wish somebody else had already written—but which don’t yet currently exist. So I look for angles on more familiar tales that have been neglected. With The Jacobites’ Apprentice, for example, I took the 1745 Rebellion but told the previously untold true story of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Manchester supporters. Assassins is a thriller set against the background of the bizarre battlefield tourism that took place during the Spanish Civil War. Kraals picks up the story of the Zulu War where Michael Caine left off. And Marianne tells the well-known story of Waterloo but from the viewpoint of French women on the battlefield— so that it feels like an entirely fresh story.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received as a writer?
I love Stephen King’s book, On Writing, which gives some stunning advice about the editing process and, specifically, about the importance, once your first draft is finally complete, to set it aside for at least a couple of months, then go back to it with fresh eyes, and then cut 10% (yes, 10%) of the content to get a polished final version.
Do you believe in Writer’s Block?
No. The important thing is to write every day, without fail. Even if you write rubbish, it’s better than not writing at all. But I also think it’s about having a decent writing routine. So, after my swim each day, I sit in a coffee bar and hand-write for an hour or so. Then I put that away until the next morning. I start each morning by word-processing my hand-written notes from the previous day and, by the time I’ve done that, I’m back into the story and then just carry on typing. It flows that way. Then I take the morning’s typing to the coffee bar later, edit a bit, then carry on hand-writing the next section. Rinse and repeat!
What’s your favourite literary genre? Any guilty pleasures?
Historical Fiction without a doubt! And a guilty pleasure? Not really. Well, not a guilty one. But I spend part of each year driving between the UK and Spain—and I wouldn’t dream of making the journey without one of the amazing audio-books of Patrick O’Brian’s brilliant Aubrey and Maturin series.
What made you decide to self-publish?
Well, I’d tried to get Jacobites published through a more traditional route and realised that niche stories like my own are unlikely to ever be commercially viable enough to be picked up by a trade publisher. They simply wouldn’t take the risk. On the other hand, I received a lot of independent encouragement from folk who loved the story, and then discovered self-publishing. To be honest, I’d now be reluctant to work any other way. There’s a lot of mythology about traditional publishing. For example, advances tend to be miserly for new writers. Royalties are minimal once the publisher and agent have taken their cut. And new writers are expected to do most of their marketing themselves. As it happens, I enjoy all the marketing work—but, if I’m going to have to do it myself anyway, I might as well self-publish. It gives me much more control over the content, the title, the cover, etc., etc.
Are there any self-publishing tricks of the trade you’d like to share? What rules of craft or promotion do you live by?
The big thing for me is that, regardless of anything else I might do myself, I would always employ a professional editor. This isn’t particularly to do with self-publishing alone, and I’m astonished how many books I read (including trade-published books by well-known authors) that are riddled with errors. Astonishing! Apart from that, I think the main trick is to keep writing. All the evidence shows that self-published authors are more likely to start selling larger numbers of books after they’ve got four or five novels under their belts and available to the reading public.
You can also find David:
On his website: http://www.davidebsworth.com/