Recently we had a giveaway for Rory Clements‘ debut novel, Martyr, and many of you said you enjoyed the twist of an Elizabethan novel that included a mystery. I agree. I enjoyed the book and couldn’t wait to talk to Mr. Clements and find out more about this wonderful debut. Enjoy this interview.
I’m always a sucker for historical fiction about the Tudors, so I was very intrigued by your book Martyr. How did you become interested in writing this book?
I love the period. It’s rich, extravagant and full of real-life characters who scarcely need any embellishment by me. Just look at Richard Topcliffe, a fiend so ghastly that he makes the shark in Jaws seem like a pet goldfish. The Tudors themselves were little better than a family of gangsters, though they did enjoy the finer things in life, too – like the theatre. But then Don Corleone was pretty keen on an aria or two when not machine-gunning his enemies, wasn’t he? So with a backdrop like that, and the added intrigue of the religious wars (which are not so different from the war on terror today), I thought I had a good, exciting story to tell.
The series has been fifteen years in the making because there has been a lot of research involved and I like to get my historical facts right (of course, it’s a novel, not a history book, so there are invented people and scenes, too). There was also the small problem of doing my day-to-day job as a journalist, which kept me from putting in the hundred percent effort a book like this needs. Eventually, when we moved to the countryside and I gave up full-time newspaper work I had the liberty to devote myself to Martyr.
I like that you have taken the time to create John Shakespeare’s world on your website. Which character from this time period is your favorite to write about?
I just love Sir Francis Drake. What a man! Boastful, arrogant, greedy for money and not an ounce of fear in his body. At a time when no other sea captain had circumnavigated the globe (Magellan, personally, never made it, though one of his ships did), Drake sets off for the Pacific and beyond, not because he wants to make history – but because he wants to give the Spanish a bloody nose and grab their gold. Then he comes home and beats the Armada, the greatest invasion fleet the world had ever seen. I really like his relationship with Diego, the slave he freed and counted as a friend.
Did I read that Martyr was the first in a series? When will the next book be out, and can you give us a glimpse of the story?
The second book is called Revenger and is scheduled to be published in the US in September. It has a strong American theme, with the central story focusing on the early Roanoke settlement in which more than a hundred English men, women and children, simply vanished without trace. In my story, one of them is spotted in London – very much alive – and John Shakespeare is commissioned to find her.
What are you reading now?
I have just finished Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham, which has to be one of the finest novels ever written. It is so alive, so fresh, so modern – and its tale is so engaging and simply told – that you really could believe it was written yesterday, not a hundred years ago. I am about to read The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, because I was entranced by the film.
It’s always great to find a new author’s work. Who are some of the authors you enjoy reading?
I like Cormac McCarthy, a great talent. I have always had a soft spot for Graham Greene (particularly The Heart of the Matter) and John Fowles. Brian Moore (Black Robe and many others) is someone who doesn’t get enough recognition. Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong is a remarkable depiction of the First World War. I am a big fan of Robert Harris (The Ghost, Fatherland). Lord of the Flies by William Golding was one of the books that made a big impact on me when I was a child. As a teenage boy (I guess kind of strangely) I became fascinated by the very romantic historical fiction of Anya Seton and Georgette Heyer. I loved the brutal, almost poetic, honesty of Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. Of the oldies, I greatly admire the 19th century French writers Zola and Flaubert. James Ellroy is king of the mystery writers.
It’s always a big treat for me to read a novel (something I tend to do on holiday) because most of my time is spent with my nose in a history book, which is a joy but also my work.
What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?
That is a really difficult question. I have read so many incredibly interesting history books. Ones that stand out include The Reckoning by Charles Nicholl and The Life of Robert Southwell by Christopher Devlin. But if I’m pinned down to one I’ll go for The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck. Though it is a novel, it describes a time in history better than any non-fiction book could do. And what a heart-wrenching, extraordinary ending.
Where can we find out more about you?
My website – www.roryclements.com. You can email me questions through it and I’ll be more than happy to answer to the best of my ability. And my thanks to Cherie Burbach for allowing me the chance to share these thoughts on this excellent website. [Editor’s note: You’re welcome! Good luck with this book and the series!]