First of all thank you Simon for agreeing to this interview. It was such a pleasure to read your book and to be able to speak to you today.
I wanted to ask you a few questions today about your book and your experience as a writer.
Tell us a little about your book. Where did the idea to write such a fascinating novel come from.
- The Sins of Soldiers is a story about the lives of men and women caught up in the dangers of the Western Front in France in the First World war, a time when friendship and love and hate were every bit as deadly as the risks of fighting. Although it’s a book set in wartime and much of it is in the front lines, I didn’t want to write a book about war itself, but about what it actually felt like to be there, at that exact time, living through the extremes of fear and danger, when every emotion was amplified and heightened and any relationship could become very intense.
- I suppose the effect I was trying for was something like listening to your favorite music – something that makes your pulse race and the shivers run up and down your spine at the same time as it brings tears to your eyes. Whether I succeeded or not, I’m probably the least able to know.
- Where did the idea come from? Originally from a visit to one of the greatest, most affecting of the First War memorials in France, when I formed an image in my mind of a scene at the inauguration of the memorial in the 1930s. In the middle of all the ceremony, a man is trying to avoid a woman he hasn’t seen for years, someone who he desperately needs to see to explain what had happened during the war, whilst at the same time being terrified of how she will react to that explanation. And that’s how the story of Anson Scott, David Alexander and Beatrice Tempest starts in Sins.
Do you have any experience or special knowledge with the military in general?
- Only that like many teenage boys, I had a keen interest in military history, although back then I was more into nineteenth century wars.
How much research and time did you spend into writing this book?
- Many, many hours researching and reading contemporary accounts of life in France during the First War – I’ve collected quite a library of memoirs and diaries on the shelves in my writing hut. Because this is a huge issue for any author setting stories in the First World War. While the context gives a fantastic opportunity for anything to happen – because almost anything imaginable really did happen – it’s important that the facts are correct as there is a huge number of First War enthusiasts who will immediately pick up anything that is not accurate.
- From my own point of view, I was particularly keen to get a feel the real emotions and attitudes of the time. It’s too easy for a writer to make the mistake of looking at past events through modern-day eyes, and come to modern value judgments: really good historical novelists truly make the past come to life as it was.
What sparked the idea for your main character and him being who he was as a person?
- To tell the story, I really needed an outsider, someone who could stand apart and make comments on the situation without being biased, which took me to an American with no previous exposure to British social structures. Actually, Anson Scott is one of my characters who is firmly based on a real individual – one of my teachers at school in Connecticut, where I was lucky enough to spend a year away from the UK.
What was the hardest thing about making your story come to life on page?
- Probably, restraining my natural tendency to long sentences and elaborate wording. While I guess that might suit some novels, it really doesn’t work well in this era. Happily, my most severe critic – my wife, who reads all of my first drafts – is very skilled at pointing out when I’m going off the rails with some long-winded description.
And the easiest?
- Like all authors, I’m sure, there are occasions when the pictures in your mind are so clear and convincing that putting them into words seems very simple and time flies along. That makes up for the many times when you seem to be chiseling every word out of solid stone and the shortest sentence takes minutes to write badly.
Do you have plans for future installments in this type of setting or maybe a spin off following other characters?
- Altogether, I have fairly detailed plans now for the next four novels in the sequence. The sequel to Sins is due to appear at Easter 2017, which takes Beatrice Tempest’s story further In The Sorrow of Nurses. Early next year, I’m hoping to be able to release the next novel (the Drivers and the Driven), which largely features a character that any reader of Sins has already met, but might not have taken too much note of. However, he’s my wife’s favorite of all my characters, so keep a watch out for him!
Do you hide any secrets or fun little tidbits in your book that only a few people will find?
- One of the great joys of planning out a series is in planning how the books relate to one another. While they are all completely free-standing, and don’t require a reader to know any of the others, anyone who has read the other books will get a kick out of knowing something that they otherwise wouldn’t. I can’t say more without spoiling some of the fun, but anyone who reads Sorrow having read Sins first will know something significant which is otherwise hidden. However, reading the books the opposite way round – although maybe not ideal – has the same effect. That probably sounds very complicated when it’s not really, but as a reader, I always enjoy a novel sequence that surprises me when I go from one book to another.
What scene was the hardest to write?
- (Partial Spoiler Alert!!) The most difficult scene to write – emotionally at least – was the death of one of the main characters. I’d had that scene in my mind’s eye for years, almost before starting the book, but it didn’t make it easier to actually set it down
Has publishing your first book changed your process as a writer?
- No- only it means that I have even less time to write, because I have to look towards the marketing and promotion side of the business: I guess that’s one of the biggest surprises to the whole novel writing game. You know the writing side of things is going to take time, but you don’t realize
How long did it take you to write this book?
- This one? About eight years! No, seriously. This is the book I started on, so there were many false starts and previous versions before it came to this final book. Although in the course of those years, I also put down the foundations for the next three books in the series, so it’s not quite as bad as it sounds.
Looking back now did you dream it possible to be able to publish such a fascinating book?
- Realistically, no. But at the time when you are promoting a book, you can never let yourself doubt that it will be a success sooner or later.
What part was the hardest after writing your book when it came to getting it published?
- I guess the hardest element for any aspiring author occurs once they’ve finished their first book and start to send it around to agents and publishers. Unless you’re very lucky, you have to get used to rejection very quickly. I wish I had a pound (or dollar) for every time I read the phrases “It’s very well written but somehow I just don’t really love it enough to take it on.”
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
- How much time do we have? I think that I would have liked to be more organized and to have got on with the promotional aspects of the book business much sooner.
Do you have any advice for any aspiring writers?
- Don’t be afraid to talk about your writing.
- I spent years being so embarrassed about trying to write that I wouldn’t talk to anyone about it – mainly because of the fear of failure, I suppose: Suppose what I’m writing is boring rubbish?
- That fear is probably common in fiction writers – it comes with the personality type of would-be novelists, I suppose – but once you recognize that it’s there, you can move on more easily.
If anybody would like to find out more about you or your book Sins of Soldiers, where is the best place for them to do so?
- The best place is www.simonhardmanlea.com.
- All apologies if I’ve been too long winded. Sometimes, there is so much to think that my enthusiasm gets me carried away. Many thanks indeed for your interest.
Once again thank you for this interview! It has been such a pleasure to get to know you!
If you would like to see my review of Sins of Soldiers you can do so by clicking Here!
Thanks again all for stopping by and thanks again to Simon for stopping by my blog and letting us get to know you better! It has been a wonderful experience!