Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently, we interviewed Iain Stewart, about his writing and his recently released Knights of the Air Book 4: Exile, a skillfully written tale, full of moral ambiguities, high tension, and spine-tingling scenes of air action. and the series finale in the Knights of the Air series (Read the review here.)
Iain Stewart was born and raised in East Africa. Time spent at Kenton College in Nairobi, Fettes College in Edinburgh, and Christ’s College, Cambridge was usually enjoyable and often educational. His feeble qualifications as an author of this tale include a childhood fascination with The Romance of King Arthur, and obtaining his pilot’s license at seventeen. Armed with these, he ventured forth to fly Tiger Moth biplanes and pretended to be Biggles. Who was basically Lancelot in goggles. However, earning a crust at HSBC for over twenty years delayed this book. Nowadays, he staves off reality by living in Miami.
How often do you base your characters on real people?
A lot. The way my mind works, it is like a child’s colouring book. I dream up a role that needs a character of a certain sort, and then that character becomes an amalgamation of real people I have known who are strongly like my character, as well as characters I have read about over my life who made a strong impression on me. That fills out the crayon outlines of the character, and then my subconscious and the story itself fill in the colouring that rounds out the character. I really do find that some characters take over and starting writing themselves a different role or voice from the one I originally imagined for them.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing a novel?
Publicising it. I don’t mind too much if the book does not sell on its merits. It is a Darwinian world. But I hate the thought that a solid book that people might enjoy could disappear without trace due to lack of exposure. With self-publication, this “giving the book a chance” is tough- there are so many books out there and the readers are deluged with choice. Finding the ones who might like your genre and your voice is tough. For me, it was a tough learning process. There are too many people who take your money and throw out “marketing’ at your expense, who don’t know how to mine those seams of potential. They just follow a cookie cutter approach. So best to do it yourself.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Purely as a writer, finding a first-rate story editor. Someone who is tough enough to call you out but encouraging enough to leave your voice and your instincts intact. I thought my 4th book was the by a country mile, that I had cracked this writing lark, but once my coach pointed out the flaws, I found I had to lot to work on. I still think my 4th is the best, but now there is a more solid foundation to the story structure.
As an author, finding someone who could make Facebook marketing easier to understand and profitable to execute.
What are your favorite books?
For most of my life, it has been historical novels that are well written, well researched, and gripping. Wilbur Smith’s first five books were brilliant. Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series was his best, even better than the Arthurian and Viking ones. George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman was a revelation in the way he had fun with history.
More recently, I have enjoyed what might be called historical based fantasy like RR Martin and Joe Abercrombie. I adored Game of Thrones long before it became TV, helped perhaps by being ill when I started reading and suffering from high fevers, I kind of lost [temporarily] my grip of what was reality and what was fantasy. How Joe Abercrombie is not one of the biggest names in literature, I have no idea. Maybe Hollywood is crawling up his driveway, begging him and he is turning them down, but if they are not, they should be. Although I would demand that they keep his utterly distinctive voice.
Who and what ultimately inspired you to become a writer?
I always wanted to write books that I would want to read. I found some books too slow, some too fast, some badly researched, some unbelievable with the twists, and thought maybe I could do better. From
the Amazon and Facebook comments, it seems that I am not the only one and there are those like me out there- thank Goodness!
Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
For me it was the female POV characters, because I did not have any personal experience of being one. But it was fun imagining myself into that, although I don’t think anyone will be championing my female understanding. In my defence, the book is primarily a guy book and intended as one. I had two lady Beta readers and they liked the female parts, so I relaxed a bit after that.
What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
I hope that anyone finishing the stories will have felt compelled to finish them and to have experienced a full gamut of emotions. If I have done my job, they will be awed by the young men who flew during the dawn of military aviation, and come away with a new understanding of the challenges these men faced. Some folk have enjoyed the Arthurian themes of the series, and said they came away with a new slant on those relationships between the main characters.
What makes this book important right now?
The book involves a lot of war. I try to balance the fact that I believe sometimes people need to stand up for what they believe in, that might should not be right, and that war can bring out the best [selflessness, sacrifice] in some men, and the worst in others. But at the same time war is brutally destructive, incredibly wasteful, and tragic. Not something to be entered lightly. Ukraine suddenly made these things relevant today.
Where do your ideas for this story come from?
Research, reading of all sorts, life experience and imagination, all thrown into the pot and blended.
What sort of a relationship exists between you and the characters you created in this book?
I didn’t realise it while I was writing, but when I finished, I found I missed communicating with them. In my reading and my daily life, things that occurred often found a way into the story, and I was still experiencing those things–but no longer had a vehicle in which to use them. For example, one rainy day I watched a man and a dog walk through the rain, the man hunched against the elements and the dog happily prancing through the puddles. A week later, I found I had written it into a scene. Entirely subconsciously. It wasn’t until I was re-reading the chapter that I realised the link between my scene and my experience. I love that.
Categories: historical fiction