Today I want to introduce you to author Stephen Begg, who I have worked with several times wearing my critiquing and copy-editing hats. We have a shared fascination with history and the idea of traveling back in time to see what things were really like. He very kindly sent me a copy of his new book recently, and I thought my followers might like to hear more about him and his writing.
Congratulations on your new novel Becket Bramble and the Mary Rose. Both that one and the first in the series (Becket Bramble and the Princes in the Tower) are timeslip stories, with the first book taking Becket to the fifteenth century. Are you a bit of a history buff, and are you drawn particularly to that period era?
My mum was always keen on historical dramas, but my interest was piqued when I read Josephine Tey’s ‘A Passage in Time.’ It smashed all the preconceived ideas of Shakespeare’s villainous Richard III. I was fascinated by the machinations of the War of the Roses, all the in fighting and grasping for power. I sort of did a chronological reverse and read about all our monarchs stretching back to Edward I, Braveheart and all that. Been hooked ever since.
One of the main things that I’m intrigued by is how life was for the everyday folk. There is so little chronicled; you can research and study but at the end of the day you have to let your imagination take over. Not sure I would have liked to live in those days.
Had you written anything before Becket Bramble came along?
No. I worked in the City for many years, trapped in numbers and finance. But I always had a fat history book at hand to take my mind to more interesting times. I retired a few years ago and although a bit daunted, I thought I’d try my hand at writing. Luckily there is now a lot of help out there for blossoming authors. It’s important that you don’t take the criticism to heart and keep reading. I would like to thank you for the help you have provided. It’s been invaluable, as has the support of people like Hilary Johnson and TLC (The Literary Consultancy).
You’re welcome! Can you remember how you got the inspiration for Becket Bramble and his travels back in time?
Many years ago, I visited York Minster and was transfixed by the Quire Screen. It seemed so spooky, moody and coupled with my historical bent, Becket or at least the time-slip idea was spawned.
As a kid, I was always reading. The usual Enid Blyton, but also Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Series. I recall being so upset when I’d come to the end of the latest book in the series, always hungry for more. The love of reading has never left me. I always thought how cool it would be to inspire youngsters, share the wonders of reading.
I loved the Lone Pine books when I was a child! Tell us a bit about your main character and the general idea behind his adventures.
Becket first and foremost is just a schoolboy grappling with the enormity of time travel. At first, he finds it fantastical, unreal, that perhaps he is losing his mind, but the horrific situations he finds himself in become too tangible, too frightening not to fight back.
Becket travels back in time to events in history, which are well documented but also maintain an element of mystery. The central theme is his on-going battle to
protect his ancestors from his nemesis, the malevolent force, Margret Beaufort, as she seeks to alter history to her own ends. The stories feature his mystical Templar pendant coupled with The Quire Screen, the portal that sends him back in forth on his terrifying missions.
Becket’s character has evolved. Originally I saw him as a bit of a loner, detached, a stoic in the face of his tribulations. But like any boy, as he faces adversity his character grows. He softens; his fondness for his aunt, his unrequited love for Maisie, his inability to come to terms with the death of his parents. But he has a tough resourceful streak that comes to the fore when he needs it most. Like any developing teenager, who knows where he goes next?
Your books seem to be historically very accurate and I loved the authentic period feel of both – did that involve a great deal of research?
To be honest, I must be a bit dull as I read history books for fun. I’m particularly interested in the period between 1400-1600. Some of the finer details do require a bit more studied research and the odd visit to the Tower, Netley Abbey etc. But early on I was given some very good advice: do not let the research get in the way of a good story and don’t let it distract you from sitting down and writing.
As someone who is all too easily distracted by historical research and getting details right, I’d say those are wise words! Period dialogue is always a tricky issue for writers. If it’s too modern it can sound jarring, yet too many ‘gadzooks’ etc can leave you open to ridicule. How hard did you find it to get the balance right? (Which I believe you did, by the way!)
The odd ‘mayhap,’ ‘perchance,’ and ‘Fie’ does help the tone of the novels. I find it much easier to sprinkle some period dialogue throughout the novel. It is much harder to refrain from using modern phrases and words. I’ve spent way too much time researching when and where current sayings originated.
Do you have any future episodes line up for Becket? Have you planned some kind of timeline for further periods and adventures, for example?
The series will be five or six books culminating in a Victorian mystery. I’m currently working on ‘Becket Bramble and The Gunpowder Plot’, which will be available late summer.
Might you venture beyond Becket Bramble in the future? Any ideas for completely different stories or characters?
I have a grand idea for a series of crime fiction novels. The seeds of the idea have been growing for some time and that will be my first foray in adult fiction. I’m probably going to regret saying this, but the thought of writing for adults feels quite liberating, perhaps an easier prospect than entertaining youngsters.
I also have an idea for a Christmas short story, which I need to get cracking on as soon as The Gunpowder Plot is complete.
I’ve taken to my new life tapping out stories and inventing characters. I find my writing is improving steadily, but I’m always happy to receive constructive criticism – apathy is far worse. The literary world is not so far removed from the City in many ways. The core – about how sellable your product is, is the same. But we live in a very lucky period. Self-publishing is on the up, more people writing and reading than ever before. It can only be a good thing. After all, buffering is the curse of the young.
I now have a website for those that are curious: stephenbegg.uk
Thanks Stephen, and good luck!