So I was elated when Paul later posted more of his story on Authonomy. It didn't take me long to ask to read the whole thing, which he graciously allowed me to do. It was only a few months after the end of the ABNA contest that Paul was contacted by AmazonEncore, the new publishing division of Amazon.com, whose objective is "to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors". They wanted to publish his book! Paul's and three others had been plucked from the ranks of the ABNA entries. AmazonEncore has since also added several other titles to their lists (some of which were previously self-published).
Without further ado, here's the interview I did with Paul which first appeared over at the Historical Novel Review Blog:
• How long have you been writing and what made you want to write historical fiction?
I enjoyed crafting stories from a young age. Even before I could write I would sketch out stories by drawing pictures. This developed as I got older. I remember going through a period in my teens when I was fascinated by westerns – there’s probably over a dozen unfinished cowboy stories lying around somewhere in my parents’ house. I had always enjoyed historical stories in particular, and I studied history in college. A love of history and storytelling eventually culminated in the publication of a novel.
• What was your inspiration for this particular book?
Some years back I was in the village of Baltimore on the south coast of Ireland, and I came across a pub called the Algiers Inn. When I inquired about the unusual name, I discovered a real-life incident in 1631 where over a hundred local people had been seized from the village and taken to Algeria to be sold as slaves. I was amazed that this had happened in an area so close to where I live, so I did further research and learned of many such episodes where Irish and British people had been taken as slaves for the North African market. It wasn’t an area hugely touched on by historians, and I certainly had never learned about it in school. My interest quickly led to a plot forming itself in my head, which eventually became ‘A Cruel Harvest’.
• What do you hope that readers will carry away from this story?
I hope they will enjoy the adventures, the human dramas, the big landscapes. I would like to think that the reader may find incidents, characters, states of mind, etc, that they can relate to. I think this is true of the Moroccan and Irish characters, as they are similar to each other in many ways. I’ve long believed that, while societies differ hugely, people are pretty much the same everywhere you go. This story hopefully shows that. I also hope it will renew a sense of faith in the resilience of the human spirit.
• Every author has a unique path to publication. Can you tell us a little about yours?
My route to publication wasn’t entirely typical. I tried many times to get an agent to represent ‘A Cruel Harvest’ but I had no luck. In 2009 I entered it into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, admittedly on a last-minute whim. It made the semi-finals in that competition, and some months later an editor from AmazonEncore got in touch with me to discuss the book. This ultimately led to a publishing contract with AmazonEncore in the USA. It has since also been bought by Random House for publication in Germany. All very unexpected in the end, really. I still don’t have an agent!
• What other books have you written? What is your current work in progress?
‘A Cruel Harvest’ is my first published novel. I have others awaiting completion, though I keep warning myself that I need to focus on one only, otherwise none of them will get finished! I’ve been working of late on a story set around the conflict between the British and French in the Ohio River Valley during the 18th century, but before that I am hoping to finish a novel set in Dublin and London during the Anglo/Irish War 1919-1921.
• What authors were your early inspiration and who are some of your favorite current books or authors?
I will read pretty much anything, though I do enjoy historical fiction in particular. Authors whom I read a lot of include Bernard Cornwell, Robert Harris, Wilbur Smith, Joseph O’Connor, Sebastian Faulks. I also love a good detective story, especially anything by Ian Rankin. ‘The Year of the French’ by Thomas Flanagan would rank as my number one favourite novel of all. He’s an American writer but the story is set in Ireland, around the attempted French invasion of 1798. It is, in a word, extraordinary.
• What has been the biggest stumbling block in your writing? Can you share some advice
which may help others get past similar problems?
I guess my biggest problem has always been trying to stick to a routine. Usually once I sit at the desk, the ideas start to flow. The problem is getting to the desk in the first place! It used to be that I would write whenever I had some free time, but that doesn’t really work, not for me anyway, as I would nearly always get distracted by something else. So I try to stick to a rigid routine of writing now, certain days, certain times of the day for certain periods, etc. Writing a book requires discipline, after all. It’s not something I’ve ever had in abundance, but I’m working on it!
• Where can readers find more information about you and your books?
They can find some information about both myself and ‘A Cruel Harvest’ on Amazon.com. I hope to add to the information there over time, and also to develop my own website which will have a lot more incorporated.
• What would you like our readers to know about you and your writing?
I am a reader before I am a writer. I love books, love losing myself into a good story. I also come from a people with a long history of spinning tales and yarns of all kinds, and indeed Ireland has produced a rich literary culture over the centuries and many famous writers. I’m just trying to make my own small contribution to this!
Thanks, Paul! You can find my review of A Cruel Harvest here.