David Wilkin has been a historical re-enactor for twenty-five years. Most of that he has taught the dances of those past times to other re-enactors. With a degree in history and a passion for writing he has turned his hand to penning several novels about the past. A member of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, today I interview him to tell us a little bit more about his work and the time periods he specializes in.
Where did you grow up, and where do you live now?
I am a Los Angeleno. Born in Los Angeles California. Went for two years of college at UC Santa Cruz before coming back to town and finishing at UCLA. I have spent the rest of my life here in Southern California.
You majored in History. How do you use that in your daily life?
In my daily life I have been a manufacturing executive for 20 years. History comes into play only when I relate stories to the workers about how we did it in the old day. Or an idea on how to counsel the employees. Citing how other companies in the world (I am an avid reader of business history) have overcome an obstacle and gone on to success. Talking about a Regency Dandy like Beau Brummels, or about Prinny, does me little good on the shop floor.
How did your interest in writing begin?
I liked creating stories when I was a child. Then in college I actually submitted an article and it was published. When I graduated, after my first out of college job ended, I tried my hand at writing stories. I find in comparison to what I create now, there was a lot more editing at the end of my drafts when I started then now.
How long have you been writing now?
Over thirty years. But the last ten have been the most fruitful period. And of that, two and half years ago we had to close my own company, Aspen Interiors. We made the woodwork found in the Cheesecake Factory restaurants. That was a blow, and so I turned to writing every day after sending out the resumes. I have written 9915 pages in the time between closing Aspen and reentering the work force. Lots of first draft material, some second draft, and some items actually now in print.
Where did your interest in the Regency Era come from?
That is a tale, and bear with me, I shall lead you to the end of the trail. I liked history enough from High School to make it my major in college. I specialized in Pre-Modern Asian history while getting my degree which is pretty far from the study of Regency England. But History, I have always found, is stories. I like stories and even before college I wrote some, but after, I started my quest to be a novelist. I also became an Historical Re-enactor.
I joined groups where we made the costumes of the era we were Re-enacting. I learned the dances from those times, and then actually taught well over 1000 people how to do them. Running regular dance practices. My early main focus was Medieval and Renaissance, but one day a friend said, 'Have I got a girl for you to meet,' and dragged me to a Regency Dance. Well, not that girl, but several years later, I met my wife, Cheryl at a Regency Ball.
To woo her (she was very far away), I wrote her a regency romance, a few pages a day, that turned into a novel. When taking a class to further enhance my writing, I resurrected the story and worked on it more. Then over the last ten years, found that a good third of my output was Regency Romances.
When did you first begin to think about writing a novel, and what motivated your
As I mentioned, when I left college I got a job right away. But six months later, nepotism and diminishing revenue meant cuts. I was out. So then I turned my hand to a science fiction, a tongue in cheek western, a fantasy. All have potential, but they need another edit based on all that I have learned about the craft. When unemployment ran out, and I only had rejection slips to show for it, I went back into the workforce.
Did you study the Regency when you were at University?
Not at all. I studied a little on the English Victorian era. I had a class on the American Revolutionary era, but otherwise I focused on premodern asian history, and then european, before Napoleon. The Regency era did not hold any interest then. I was college age and a guy. The medieval and renaissance had a lot of battles that appealed to me and the many stories such as King Arthur (whose time period is before the medieval era of course, but all the movies come out with medieval armor and fighting) or Richard Coeur de Lion.
What do you think is the hardest part of writing?
The middle is often hard. To keep everything energized when the Boy is struggling to redeem himself for the Girl, or to capture her interest. I have it plotted but often by the time I get there, secondary plot lines are coming into play and what I had originally glimpsed as interesting when I first thought to write, is now eclipsed by other better ideas. Then the true hard part is editing. Somedays I would rather take a catnap while reading my own words. I of course pretty much remember what they say and where it is going. (Not that I think so highly of my work knowing that it does need editing. But somedays a nap seems very appealing.)
Do you find it easy to choose character and place names
I cheat. I look up in the long list of peerages names and change a thing or two to get them right. Then for place names, I look for an area I want to put the action at, and if it needs to be fictitious I think up something. Using @@@@ford, or @@@@ ton often works. There are a lot of fords and tons in England.
Please tell us about your books.
I’ll just talk about the Regencies if that is alright. By far the most popular is Colonel Fitzwilliams Correspondence. It is a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Originally I envisioned that the Colonel would emerge and have a romance, but I quickly put Kitty into the scene. With Lydia gone, I found Kitty torn between wanting to be a better young lady, than she had been while her more boisterous sister led her about, but also still a person of fun. I knew that the growth that occurs in all of us over time could be telling for one such as Kitty moving from being a girl to a woman.
I also knew that the war lasts for years, and a woman, if not married before her lover goes to war, most likely would not wait and appear to be on the shelf. When I placed the first letter in the story as a device to appease and contain the ever flighty Mrs. Bennet, I had no realization that would become the device I could employ for the entire story, but the truth is that England was growing closer by virtue of the post. Look to the original and the post between Jane and Lizzy telling of Lydia's flight. Look at the missive Darcy places in the hands of Lizzy to explain himself. There is a great deal of letter writing occurring.
I believe that carries my book. That it is also the change in our hero, who becomes a great correspondent and uses his connections back in England to keep him sane amidst the battlefields of Portugal and Spain. The crux of both his growth, and that of his love interest occurs when he returns from the war. I attempt to place my own use of language, as did Heyer, into the story. I think this is a dividing point for my readers. Some have related that they find this works for them, while others expecting this book to be our current use of language can't get past that.
The last caveat of a work based upon another's writing is that many have their own ideas of what should be happening to the characters the original author created after writing The End. I of course take all those characters in the direction I chose. I used the last few paragraphs as a guideline, and I used Aldous Huxley's view of Pride and Prejudice's Catherine de Bourgh portrayed by Edna May Oliver for mine more than some of the others. Austen says that Lady Catherine and Elizabeth will make amends in the final paragraphs of the novel. The Olivier movie (1940) I think shows that clearly. (Edna May beats Judi Dench in this portrayal, hands down-IMO)
My other two Regencies are a little more of the typical pieces one finds with my twist. I try to emulate as best I can Georgette Heyer. So I don’t write to a Harlequin formula but my own. In each I tried to evoke certain parts of the history that is occurring. In The End of the World the location is Cornwall. At this time the first railroad track was laid, without a train, to transport the copper from the mines to the ships that carted it to wales. My fictitious mine is the site where this is first adopted. Not that it plays a central point to the entire tale, but it is there as background. Something our hero brings to the story.
In The Shattered Mirror we have a story that evolves around the true end of the war. It ended twice of course, since Napoleon came back. And when it ends a second time, our heroine, who wants a hero, is going up to Town (London) for her first season. When in Town, she meets, runs into, a man she played with as a child. He, however, is now crippled from an injury sustained in the war. I think that is a side we forget about and I find that most of my heroes have some sort of PTSD. They have seen demons and have to confront them and come to terms with them. I think a great many other heroes in the genre are not beset by such problems. None I have read at least.
Mr. Wilkin writes Regency Historicals and Romances, Ruritanian and Edwardian Romances, Science Fiction and Fantasy. He is the author of the very successful Pride & Prejudice continuation; Colonel Fitzwilliam’s Correspondence.
His work can be found for sale at: David’s Books, and at various Internet and realworld bookstores including the iBookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords.
He is published by Regency Assembly Press.
And he maintains his own blog called The Things That Catch My Eye.