Thursday, February 5, 2015

Ten Questions from Tara: Interview with David Ebsworth

Tara: Welcome. You’re here to promote The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour, a historical fiction novel. Tell me, please, what was the inspiration behind this story? How did it come to you?

The Last Campaign of Marianne TambourReaders, here is a blurb:
On the bloody fields of Waterloo, a battle-weary canteen mistress of Bonaparte’s Imperial
Guard battalions must fight to free her daughter from all the perils that war will hurl against them – before this last campaign can kill them both.

“Superb! David Ebsworth has really brought these dramatic events to life. His description of the fighting is particularly vivid and compelling.” – Andrew W. Field, author of Waterloo: The French Perspective and its companion volume, Prelude to Waterloo: Quatre Bras
Praise for David Ebsworth’s novel, The Jacobites’ Apprentice, critically reviewed by the Historical Novel Society, who deemed it “worthy of a place on every historical fiction bookshelf” and named it as a Finalist in the Society’s 2014 Indie Award.

David: This is my fourth novel and I had already decided to write a book about the Battle of Waterloo. This year is, after all, the 200th anniversary of that turning point in European history. But from what angle? I always to tell the stories that I wish somebody else had already written but which don’t yet exist. I studied all the fiction written about Waterloo since Stendhal first published The Charterhouse of Parma in 1839. And, surprise, surprise! Nobody else has ever written about women on the battlefield itself. And there were plenty of them. The French army had adopted the use of cantinières very early – women sutlers serving with each battalion and usually in the thick of battle. And, in the more equal aftermath of the French Revolution, there were always women soldiers who served in the front lines. They became my inspiration.

Tara: We focus a lot on heroines here on Book Babe. Tell me what makes your heroines strong. This does not necessarily mean she’s running around with a sword. A woman has many different types of strength. Though running around with a sword rocks too. LOL

David: Well, in truth, one of them does run around with a sword. Her name is Liberté Dumont and her character is based on the real-life exploits of a woman called Marie-Thérèse Figueur who fought in her own right, as a French Dragoon, all the way through those wars from 1793 until 1814. Then there’s Marianne Tambour herself. Based on another real woman, Madeleine Kintelberger, a cantinière of astonishing bravery who went into the thick of the Battle of Austerlitz with her three small children when she was, herself, eight months pregnant. These women survive on a negligible diet, rise at 4.00am, then march 9-10 hours each and every day, look after the soldiers in their battalion, care for their own kids, then find themselves plying their trade (selling brandy, mostly) in the front lines of the battles themselves. And yes, of course, on top of all these things, they carry all the normal attributes of female strength too – always taking charge of their own destiny even in the midst of tears, pain, despair and heartbreak.

Tara: Did any particular woman in your family or life help inspire some of their traits?

David: Yes, of course. My mother survived the Second World War and raised her family despite being blitzed three times. She lost three homes and every single possession and stitch of clothing in three different British cities (Plymouth, Liverpool and Glasgow) over not much more than a single year. My wife, Ann, was a tough union organiser in a local factory and fought her way through a serious cancer. And I worked regularly with feisty women who had struggled against repression and adversity in many forms, both in the UK, and also in Spain, Nicaragua and Colombia.

Tara: Wow! Are you going to write or have you penned a novel about your mother? She sounds amazing.

Was there any particular part of this story that was the hardest for you to write? Tell me why.

David: There’s the scene in which Marianne has to deliver a baby while the army’s on the march – well, in truth, on the edge of a battlefield. This was based on several real-life incidents that I’d read. But I found that describing the birth from such a close perspective, and in the detail it deserved, was a bit harrowing. Marianne took it all in her stride, of course – well, more or less! After all, she had to keep one eye on the progress of the battle at the same time, watch out for her daughter too, while also guarding against attacks by some pretty nasty rivals.

Tara: What kind of research did you do when you penned this novel? Did anything surprising come up in your search? Perhaps something you had no need to put in the book but stayed in your mind nevertheless?

David: For historical fiction, the “big” things – the settings and historical backgrounds – are relatively easy to research. It’s the smaller details that lend them authenticity and, generally, are more difficult to track down. In this case, for example, I had to think a great deal about armies on the march. So their boots, of course, became a feature. What did they do when (it happened frequently) they would lose just one of them in a quagmire? How did they get a replacement? It took a lot of searching before I found that, until well into the 19th century, boots weren’t made with left or right feet, and came only in three sizes – small, medium or large.

And then there were the teeth. It was the teeth that have stayed in my mind. They say that, on the day after the battle, you couldn’t find a pair of pliers for love nor money. Not for fifty miles around. The new fashion - in London, Paris, Berlin and St. Petersburg – was for dentures fitted with real teeth. And there, on those few square miles of Belgian soil, lay no less than 50,000 potential donors, most of them dead, the rest so close to it that it didn’t much matter. There was real money to be made for local citizens, hundreds of them – if only they could find a pair of pliers!

Tara: Now that's an interesting tidbit about the boots. I had no idea. I imagine their feet hurt not having properly fitting shoes.

What would you like readers to gain from reading your book? Is there a strong moral? Do you hope they will laugh, learn something about a particular subject/person, ponder a point?

David: Entertainment, above all, is the thing I hope readers will gain. This is a work of historical fiction, and I’m sure that when folk pick up a copy in the bookstore, or browse it online, they’re mostly just hoping for a “good read” – and I therefore have a duty to provide one. But within that I also think it’s important for any of my stories to have measures of laughter, happiness and all the other sentiments that fill our lives. If they didn’t, the stories wouldn’t be very realistic. Similarly, the characters have to possess whatever moral viewpoints might also be important for the tale. That’s very different, I think, from authors imposing their own moral viewpoints on a novel. So what are the morals that spring from Marianne? Human fortitude in the face of terrible and repeated loss, perhaps. The futility of war naturally but, more importantly, the realisation that wars might ostensibly be justified on moral grounds but, in practice, for the past two hundred years and more, have actually been driven in general by international bankers and the arms industries.

Tara: Your book takes place in Belgium. If I were a tourist, what would you recommend I see in this country?

David: When I’d finished writing the first draft for Marianne, I needed to visit the battlefields to check them out. So we followed the route that Napoleon’s army would have travelled during the campaign – and then wrote a short travel guide that would help readers and travellers to follow that same route. It appears at the back of the novel. So, starting in Paris, the most fabulous of all European capitals, and then heading up towards the Belgian borderlands. Beautiful countryside along the River Sambre. Then the rich countryside north to Brussels – also a wonderful city to visit. But the highlight, naturally, is the Waterloo battlefield itself. It is remarkably little changed since 1815 and a series of tracks allows visitors to walk all the key areas along and between the ridges on which the opposing armies formed for the conflict. The visitor centre there is currently being renovated in time for the bicentenary celebrations but it contains a very beautiful and impressive panorama – similar in size and style to the equally famous cyclorama at Gettysburg. Well worth a visit!

Tara: Moving on to personal things...if you could time travel to absolute any time and place in history, where and when would you go and what is it that draws you to this time period? What would you do whilst there?

David: No question about this one. It would be 6th Century Britain (the subject of my fifth novel). It’s the start of what we call the Dark Ages – normally because it’s traditionally been thought that Europe was, during this time, plunged into barbarity. We now know that this is incorrect, so the Dark Ages now signify, far more, our own ignorance of this period of history. And in that general ignorance, nothing is more shrouded than the history of Britain from 500-600 AD. There is only one contemporary chronicler, a monk called Gildas, and clearly selective in what he wrote. After that, it’s a couple of hundred years until anybody else puts quill to vellum and, by then, “Chinese whispers” have set in and the “records” completely confused. So I’d take my iPad and chronicle the whole period properly. And resolve once and for all, of course, whether there was (and this is highly unlikely!) ever a “real” King Arthur.

Tara: Oh no! I'd rather just go on believing he really existed, as did Lancelot. LOL

What’s the one thing you hope to accomplish before you die? Your main goal?

David: Oh dear, that’s a tricky one! To be honest, I’m fairly content with my life and accomplishments to-date. My main goal is simply to see my family continue in good health and for Ann and myself to see our kids, grandkids and, now, our first great-grandchild, grow and prosper in a world where the politics of hate will, hopefully, be less prevalent.

Tara: I’m a dog mom, so I always ask this. Do you have pets? If so, tell me about them and do provide pictures.

David: No, no pets, I’m afraid. We live a fairly nomadic life, one way or the other – so caring properly for pets would be difficult, to say the least. And, to be honest, I’m more comfortable with animals in the wild than in the home. Some of my happiest moments have been while sharing sea-room with porpoise and dolphin, pilot whales and gannets. Or out on the mountains with red deer, buzzards and the occasional golden eagle. Or on the South African veld with giraffe, cheetah and Cape buffalo. I think it’s important to keep wildlife in the pages of my books. It’s just as important as keeping sounds, smells and colour in descriptive writing. And authenticity too. After I’d been to KwaZulu-Natal to check out the locations for The Kraals of Ulundi (my third book), I realised there was something missing. Then remembered that, wherever we’d visited during the trip, there’d always been the raucous cry of the Hadeda Ibis. It gets its name from the noise it makes and anybody reading my book in South Africa itself would have said that the settings weren’t authentic if there’d been no Hadeda in some of the scenes. So these have all become some of my “pets”, I guess. But my real pets? My books, naturally!

Tara: Thanks so for joining us today, David, and good luck!


David Ebsworth is the pen name of writer, Dave McCall, a former negotiator and Regional Secretary for Britain's Transport & General Workers’ Union. He was born in Liverpool (UK) but has lived for the past thirty years in Wrexham, North Wales, with his wife, Ann. Since their retirement in 2008, the couple have spent about six months of each year in southern Spain. Dave began to write seriously in the following year, 2009.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the interview, Tara. Happy to pick up any questions or comments, of course!