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  • Lynne Shelby

Plotting The Way Forward - Tom Williams - Burke in the Peninsula - This Writing Life #24

Today, I'm delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Burke in the Peninsula - the latest in historical novelist Tom Williams' series of novels about Napoleonic-era spy, James Burke.

Over to Tom with a guest blog about the research that goes into writing a historical novel...

I keep coming across discussions by writers about whether it's better to be a plotter or a pantser: that is whether it is better to plot your novel out before you start or whether you should make it up as you go along (flying by the seat of your pants). As somebody who writes historical novels, I can only dream of the freedom to make things up as I go along. All my stories are based on actual historical events and though the adventures of my hero, James Burke, are largely imaginary (less so in the first novel: Burke in the Land of Silver) the world that he inhabits is as accurate as I can make it. This means that for every day that is spent writing, several days can be spent researching the historical detail and then working out how to fit the story around it. With Burke and the Bedouin, I even had to factor in the moon, because we have accounts at the time which describes seeing things by moonlight. (I know historical novelists who, even when the historical record makes no reference to things like moonlight, check astronomical charts to make sure that they get these details right. I admit to not going so far.)

Research is often the best bit and can even be an excuse to travel to the site of one of the adventures. So far, historical research has taken me to Borneo, Argentina, Waterloo, and Egypt.

Researching and planning books is, in my experience, much more fun than writing them.

I'm a lazy writer. Nowadays there is pressure on writers to produce books quickly (that's the way Amazon’s algorithms like them) so there is a lot of emphasis on the speed at which people write. Many authors produce a very quick first draft and then tidy it up afterwards. Because I plan everything in advance, I prefer to write slowly and sometimes don't actually produce a second draft at all, but this does mean only turning out about one book a year. (There seem to be more coming out this year, but that's because I've saved them up and published them all at once.) I used to write non-fiction for a living and when you do that it's all about word count per day, so now I've retired I have no intention of getting caught in that trap again.

It's a pleasant enough way of life, if not very profitable. I enjoy what I write and I know that there are people who enjoy reading it. I hope you might become one of them.

About Burke In The Peninsula

Things getting a bit messy in Spain. Lots of irregulars. Civilians joining in the fighting. That sort of thing. Wellesley needs all the help he can get. They need a man who can pass for a Spaniard. Someone who can make himself useful with the irregulars. Someone who is prepared to fight dirty if it gets things done.

1809 and Burke has barely returned from South America when he is sent off again, this time to join the war being waged by Spanish guerrillas against the French. It’s not long before he’s fighting for his life, but which of the Spaniards can he trust?

Burke faces new adversaries and finds old allies in a dramatic tale of adventure during the Peninsular War, set against the background of the bloody battle of Talavera.

It's real history – but not the way you learned it in school.

Purchase here (left click + Ctrl) :

About Tom Williams

Tom Williams used to write books for business. Now he writes novels set in the 19th century that are generally described as fiction but which are often more honest than the business books.

Tom writes adventure stories about Napoleonic-era spy James Burke (based on a real man) and rather more thoughtful stories set at the height of the British Empire. Burke in the Peninsula is his eighth book.

Tom blogs regularly on his website, where you can also find details of all his books.

You can follow him on Twitter as @TomCW99 or Facebook (

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