Historical author Tim Walker likes his fiction to be set in Roman Britain, so where did his interest in times long past come from?
Coming from a career that includes journalism, mineral exploration and rugby, how did you end up writing historical novels?
I developed a love for history and literature at school, and my first job after school was trainee reporter for a local newspaper, The Woolton Mercury, in South Liverpool. I jumped at the chance to research and serialise the history of a Grade One listed building in the area, Woolton Hall, and spend many hours in Liverpool libraries doing the research in the days before the internet. I went on to have a career in the back rooms of news publications – marketing, sales, editing, management – and went to Zambia to do voluntary work in educational books development, before ‘living the dream’ and starting my own publishing and marketing company in Lusaka. I returned to the UK in 2009 and then came onto creative writing when I got into my fifties and started to slow down. My love of history gave me a route into writing short stories based around local history and legend, leading to my first book in 2015, Thames Valley Tales.
Did you set out to write a series with your ‘Light in the Dark Ages’ books, or did it happen naturally?
It happened naturally. I visited the nearest Roman ruins to where I live, Silchester (formerly the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum) on the Hampshire-Berkshire border, and felt the call of history! I started to reflect on what it would have been like for the locals after the Romans left on or shortly before the year 410 AD. Once home, I started reading articles on life in Roman Britain and what was known about their withdrawal from their most northerly province. The story of part-Roman part-Briton auxiliary cavalry commander, Marcus, started to formulate in my imagination, and soon I had a long short story/short novella of about 18,000 words that I called Abandoned. The e-book sold well on Amazon KDP for 99p, encouraging me to write a follow-up. I spent almost a year researching and writing what became my first historical novel, Ambrosius: Last of the Romans. Then the following year I pushed on with Uther’s Destiny, before extending and revising Abandoned in 2018. Then I took a deep breath and formulated my imagining of a ‘real’ historical King Arthur with Arthur, Dux Bellorum, published in March 2019. This takes my Arthur from teenager to late twenties, so I’m now working on part two of my Arthur story, and hope to have it completed for a March 2020 launch. Yes, the series evolved, and I can now look back over the past four years with a sense of surprise mixed with pride at my achievement.
How much research goes into producing one of your novels?
I typically spend three months reading, making notes and formulating the scope of the plot before starting to write short scenes to develop a feel for the story. The reading and research continue when I start writing, as I look for period detail to bring scenes to life. I have no deadlines, except self-imposed ones, so I can take my time and enjoy reading history and historical fiction books.
Do you write to please your readers or to please yourself?
Primarily, I write to please myself. My creative writing journey started as a distraction tactic to take my mind off my cancer battle and associated health problems. I often wake up with ideas and this gives me the motivation to get up and start writing. I often begin by reviewing what was written the day before, then continue with new material. I’m thrilled to have sold over a thousand e-books and paperbacks in the series so far, and it’s both humbling and motivating to receive positive feedback and good reviews. I enjoy the self-publishing process and organising my launch blog tours.
Are you a fan of social media, and how do you use it to promote your books?
I am a fan of social media and have built up followings on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I also have developed my own website and do the updates, and have started a monthly newsletter that is distributed via email through Mailchimp, and is repeated as a blog on my website. All good fun, although I recently had to spend over £100 on ‘cleaning up’ and security for my website!
Have you taken any courses to help with the writing process, or to help tackle the many technical aspects of being an indie author?
In 2012 I saw a voucher offer for an online creative writing course and decided to give it a go. I’m always one for a bargain! The course originated in the USA and was well constructed, with an emphasis on writing short fiction initially before attempting a novel. I completed the course and it gave me the confidence to start writing the stories that now comprise Thames Valley Tales. I can recommend this approach to getting started as you can learn a structured approach to planning your creative writing, in addition to useful background information about the online writing industry – and the difference between traditional and self-publishing that can guide you in your decision-making.
Do you have many unpublished novels/stories?
Very few. I’m currently working on putting together a collection of very short prose (a ‘drabble’ is a 100-word story, and I have a few of those) and poems. I started writing verse and drabbles for an open mic spoken word evening at a local pub, and am slowly building up a collection.
How many hours a day do you write, and do you stick to a set schedule?
I tend to have a three month break after publishing a book, to concentrate on promotion and sales. Then, I’ll start planning the next book, and often take six months to write it. Typically, I will write for 3-4 hours a day on composition, and spend 1-2 hours on edits and re-writes.
How do you approach cover design?
I pride myself on being creative in a visual sense, and often come up with my cover concepts. But I am not a trained graphic designer (and am partially colour blind!), so I need help here. I started out engaging designers ‘on the cheap’ through ‘Fiverr’ sending them a rough sketch to work from. My early covers were done this way. But after an unsatisfactory first cover for Abandoned, I decided to find a dedicated cover designer. Through a Facebook group, I found Canadian cover designer, Cathy Walker (is it a coincidence that she has the same name as my daughter? Perhaps this influenced making the initial contact), who has designed the covers for my four-book historical series, A Light in the Dark Ages. She also designed the cover for my second book of short stories, Postcards from London. I believe she has added great value to my author brand. Check out her covers on her website.
If you could go back in history, would you enjoy living during Roman times?
I would love to time travel back to the final years of Roman Britain, to get a sense of transition from the Roman Empire to an independent Briton society, and gain a feel for how pleased/concerned the native Britons would have been to come out from almost 400 years of Roman occupation. Not sure I’d be willing to swap the comforts and technology of my contemporary world for the grime and danger of Roman times on a permanent basis!
As well as novels, you also write short stories which sometimes deal with more contemporary themes. Have you any plans for novels to explore these ideas further?
In addition to contemporary and futuristic-themed stories in Postcards from London, I wrote a post-Brexit dystopian tongue-in-cheek novel in 2016, Devil Gate Dawn, and would love to write a sequel after I finish with the historical series. We live through a time of rapid change, both technological and social, and I enjoy exploring how I feel about the world around me, particularly in short fiction and verse. I see a close relationship in terms of approach and style between historical and dystopian fiction – one looks back and the other projects forward, often reflecting contemporary themes. I am quite content reading a good dystopian novel (not so much straight sci-fi), and aspire to write another darkly humorous novel to keep Devil Gate Dawn company.
What’s next for Tim Walker?
More of the same. I started writing a children’s book series with my daughter, Cathy, based around a fictional girl detective, Charly Holmes, and we plan to write a third adventure this summer. Then in the autumn and winter I shall lock myself away and write the (possibly) final book in my A Light in the Dark Ages series, before a spring launch next year. I say ‘possibly’ because I may come up with a storyline for a ‘Son of Arthur’ book and keep it going! I can’t plan any further ahead than next year, as my options are limited by my ongoing health problems.