Please help me welcome to the interview hot seat a fellow Historical Novel Society author, Mark Turnbull! A quick peek at his bio and then we’ll dive right into the questions. Ready? Let’s go!
After a visit to Helmsley Castle at the age of 10, Mark Turnbull bought a pack of ‘top trump’ cards featuring the monarchs of England. The card portraying King Charles I fascinated him.
Van Dyck’s regal portrait of the King and the fact that he was executed by his own people were the beginnings of Mark’s passionate interest in the English Civil War that has lasted ever since.
In the absence of time travel, he thoroughly enjoys bringing this period to life through writing. He has written articles for magazines, newspapers and online educational sites. He has also re-enacted battles with The Sealed Knot and for several years edited the Historical Novel Society’s online newsletter.
Betty: When did you become a writer?
Mark: I finally published my first book, a historical novel, in 2019. In 2020, I have been lucky enough to sign a contract with Sharpe Books for a series of novellas and have started writing the first. Between my novel and the contract for the novellas, I also completed a non-fiction book and am currently searching for a publisher for that one.
Betty: How long did you work on your writing skills before you became published?
Mark: 33 years, but not continuously! I guess you could say that I started to write when I was around 7 years old and I still have a copy of some handwritten short tales that I penned about a children’s television show I used to watch. My plot and grammar left a lot to be desired, but that was my first stab at writing! What really gave me the desire to seriously attempt to become an author was my fascination with the War of the Three Kingdoms (more commonly known as British Civil War or English Civil War) which I discovered at the age of 10. I first started writing a novel set in this era ten years later and continued writing and editing, and then repeating this process. It was a long road and a steep learning curve, but I kept at it. I then began to exchange chapters with one of my friends who had also started working on a book and expanded my own scope by also writing articles about the civil war. The key, I found, was to keep on writing and reflecting. I started afresh with my novel and began rewriting it in 2009, after ten years of working on my writing skills, and between getting married and having two wonderful daughters, I continued as much as I could. In 2019, I decided to self-publish my finished novel and was extremely pleased and encouraged when it received two awards; The Coffee Pot Book Club Award and Chill With a Book Readers Award.
Betty: What authors or stories do you feel influenced your writing style?
Mark: Many authors have influenced my writing style over the years, but the main one would have to be my good friend, Keith Crawford, who has written a historical fantasy, as well as a Roman novel. For over ten years we held a weekly book club and read each other’s chapters to develop our writing. In the early days, we would adapt a mutual approach towards certain aspects such as scene setting, and then looked at our dialogues, before finally sifting out the clutter; basically, anything that was not needed, or just didn’t further each of our books. We certainly scrutinised every inch of our manuscripts. By writing, editing, writing more, and then further extensive editing, we began to find our own paths and styles. He would read many varied authors in between, such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Ken Follett, and mirror aspects of their style which he appreciated. One of the books that I read was Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost, and I enjoyed how scenes were vividly brought to life, as well as the way he injected humour into his story. I did limit the number of books I read so as not to skew the natural development of my own style and came out of the other end of these book clubs having realised just how personal writing style is – very much a journey of discovery! This prompted me to begin writing my book afresh and to make sure that my head and my heart was part of every chapter. If I couldn’t see it, feel it, and be part of it, then my style would be wooden. Something clicked for me in this rewrite; I felt as if my writing started to flow more naturally and my style came along with that.
Betty: What prompted you to start writing?
Mark: The answer is quite simply discovering my passion for the 17th century, Wars of the Three Kingdoms, at the age of 10. That very quickly instilled in me a desire to one day write about it!
I’d always had a love of history, but the British Civil War spark came when my parents took me to Helmsley Castle, North Yorkshire. Like most children, I couldn’t wait to explore the gift shop and bought a pack of cards that displayed images of the monarchs of England on one side, and some details about their lives and reigns on the other. I must admit that some of the earlier ones with their grey tombstone effigies were rather dull, but above all others, the card of King Charles I stood out. The image was Van Dyck’s Charles I at the Hunt and I was immediately struck by Charles himself, the artistry, clothing and colours. When I read about his reign and found out that he had been executed that really did spur me on to find out more. It was like a historical whodunnit and I was eager to discover how this had come about. The more I learned about the history, the more I wanted to be involved with it and write my own book.
Betty: What type of writing did you start with?
Mark: I started by writing a novel. In essence, this developed over the time into Allegiance of Blood, which I published in 2019, 20 years later. The 17th century and the civil wars in England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland form the topic for all my writing, whether fiction or non-fiction. It’s a very overlooked period of history, but one which was absolutely pivotal and includes momentous events and drama galore. It surprises me that there are only a few films set in the civil wars, and not more novels about it. Perhaps being neighbours in history to the popular Tudors is one reason.
Betty: What do you most enjoy writing? Why?
Mark: I must admit to a preference for reading non-fiction but writing fiction. I enjoy learning from a good non-fiction, and then taking the facts and creating a world which I can visualise and become part of, as well as being able to get up close to the characters of the era and further appreciate what made them tick. It’s as close as I can get to time travel. It’s great to be able to recreate a bygone world that other people can also enjoy, and to keep the history and characters of the past alive in this way. I do like writing short stories, and during research for my books, whenever I come across an event which deserves to be further explored, I write a short story about it based on the historical facts. I’d one day like to publish all of these within one book to further allow study and enjoyment of the wars. Additionally, I have written a non-fiction which examines the opening of the civil wars in every region of England and Wales. Writing non-fiction was very different, but equally enjoyable.
Betty: How did you learn to write? A mentor, classes, conferences, craft books, or something else?
Mark: Apart from the book clubs already mentioned, I have attended the Historical Novel Society’s conferences, where established authors discuss the various aspects of writing with delegates in mini working sessions. Hearing their views and tips was priceless. Many years ago, when I had only just started writing, a few of us set up our own postal book club, where we would mail each other chapters. This meant that our work would gain feedback from three very different readers before returning to us and this was all vital and very helpful with learning to write and gaining critique that was essential to my development.
Betty: What do you wish you knew before you started writing/publishing?
Mark: What a great question! There’s so much I could put here, but I think the main thing would be knowing what I would need to do to be able to write and publish a book. It is daunting not knowing where to start, or where to go to next, so maybe a plan of approach would have helped guide me in the right direction. The other thing would be knowing that it would be ok in the end!
Betty: What other authors inspired you (either directly or through their writing) to try your hand at writing?
Mark: The first non-fiction civil war book I bought was Christopher Hibbert’s Cavaliers and Roundheads. It is a superb book, because the style is very informative, yet it also gives personal snippets and anecdotes, which helped me relate to the history and imagine it. For me, it’s these small, very personal facts, that often bring an entire battle, campaign or era to life and Cavaliers and Roundheads was a book I read many times. At the end, there are mini biographies of the main personalities which explained what happened to them in later life and this showed me just how much more there was to learn about the civil wars and beyond.
The first fiction I came across was at a church jumble sale. Margaret Irwin’s novel, Royal Flush, is the story of Minette, King Charles I’s youngest daughter. The whole style of the novel drew me quickly into that world and helped me begin to understand descriptive writing and storytelling as well as fuelling my growing interest in attempting a book of my own. Of course, it’s now an aged novel of a different style to those available today.
I’m also inspired by all of the other 17th century authors, and especially Andrea Zuvich (‘The Seventeenth Century Lady’) who brings the period to life through her weekly social media themed ‘Stuarts Saturdays’ which generate interest and discussion. Andrea’s latest book, Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain, has just had a fabulous review by Deborah Swift, an author who she had admired even when she was still dreaming of writing her own book. Inspiring, indeed!
Sir Francis Berkeley strives to protect his family from the English Civil War. Aside from the struggle between King and Parliament, the allegiances of family, friendship and honour prove just as deadly. Francis is drawn into a 17th century world of espionage and politics and fights in some of the war’s major sieges and battles. His bid to reunite his family opens up conflicts of a more personal nature. Can the Berkeley’s survive a parliamentarian onslaught as well as their own feud?
She’d cried enough tears to fill the German Ocean and after her second attempt at crossing it, Henrietta Maria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, had finally made it home after a year’s absence. The anchor of her ship splashed into Bridlington Bay on the Yorkshire coast, despite bleak forecasts in both weather and horoscope. But never once was she put off by anything, especially when she had set her mind to it, and more so, when it meant being reunited with her husband.
With quick steps she danced across the deck of the Dutch flagship and ran to the rail to examine every inch of the English landscape. Beneath the scrubbed planking were arms, ammunition, money and men that she had brought all the way from Holland to aid her husband. One year of scrimping, saving and bartering, as well as anxiety and frustration during her war waged against Dutch officials and their government, who were not best pleased at her presence in their midst.
“May you scatter my enemies, Oh Lord, and be both my guide and safeguard.” She fired one of her renowned scowls westward, where in the expanse of ocean her Parliamentarian pursuers lurked.
“Your Majesty.” The Dutch Admiral Van Tromp gave a sigh of one ready and willing to hand a particularly petulant and demanding child back to its parents.
“My thanks for your good care of my person.” Henrietta usually spoke her mind, but in this, the hour of her victory, she put her true feelings aside.
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Thanks so much for sharing your book with us today, Mark! It sounds like quite an interesting tale worth reading. Best of luck with it!
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