Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
I’m Ray Burston and I’m fifty-seven years old.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I live in a town called Halesowen in the Black Country – an area of the English Midlands famed for its industrial heritage. They call it the Black Country because of the rich seam of black coal that was once mined there (and which fed that industry). However, some people think it so called because of all the smoke and grime that industry once created (and which, it is said, caused Queen Victoria to close the curtains of her carriage in horror when her train was passing through).
Fiona: A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
I attended Rowley Regis Grammar School. I’m married, and have two grown-up daughters from a previous marriage. I also have three handsome grandsons!
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
I’ve written nine novels – mostly historical fiction, but with one or two psychological thrillers thrown in. I’m currently working on a new novel – THE SNAKEMAN OF SNEYD END: a thriller set against the background of Dr Beeching’s controversial railway closure programme in Britain during the 1960s. The principal character is an eccentric zoologist and railway campaigner who thinks he has the answer to why several people in the small, industrial town in which it is set have mysteriously disappeared.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I began in 1990 after watching a gripping TV drama serial and thinking ‘I could write something like that’. This became my first novel – a political thriller called THE MAKING OF THE MEMBER – which chronicles the fortunes of two young political candidates battling to be elected to Parliament in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain of the 1980s. I wrote several more novels in the years. However – like many struggling writers, I imagine – publishing success would have to await the arrival of Kindle uploading and print-on-demand. When it did, four more novels followed.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I always enjoyed writing stories at school. I enjoy reading history too. I guess there came a moment when I thought it’s time to try writing about history instead of just reading it.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
They say the best novels are written from experience. During the 1980s I observed some of my friends embark upon careers in politics – as well as embarking on one myself. Jeffrey Archer famously said that ‘truth is stranger than fiction’: if so, then many of the crazy personal and political antics that I observed (as well as a few I confess to myself) soon found their way into my books.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
THE MAKING OF THE MEMBER was intended to be the first part of a trilogy covering my two lead characters’ ascent from being lowly local political activists to achieving the most powerful political office in the land. It covers the period 1979-1992. I have since written the sequel – THE MAKING OF THE MINISTER – covering their years in Parliament from 1992-2010. The final instalment – THE MAKING OF THE PRIME MINISTER – will cover the most daunting part of that ascent: from 2010 to whenever the next British general election is called (and one of them will accept an invitation from the Queen to form a government).
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
My novels often feature ordinary people contending with much larger historical forces. In particular, I love tackling some of the more obscure happenstances of history that seldom get a mention. The greatest challenge (for my success as a writer, I guess) is that it can make my output quite eclectic – whereas publishers (and perhaps most readers) prefer their authors to stick to one particular historical genre (for example, the American Civil War; or the Second World War).
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
My most successful book – TO REACH FOR THE STARS – was loosely based around the story of my late mother, who served in Britain’s Women’s Auxiliary Air Force during the Second World War.
I try to write about real events and real places and – as far as considerations of historical accuracy (and libel lawyers!) permit – about real people too. Some of more well-known characters who appear in my books include Admiral Graf von Spee, Winston Churchill, Glenn Miller, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Charles de Gaulle, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
Though hardly a globetrotter, I’m fortunate to have travelled to some amazing parts of the world. So yes, when I write about cruising the freeways of LA, admiring outback of Australia, or trekking the mountains of Albania, then often I’m doing so from experience. My latest novel – THE SUMMER OF ’76 – is set on the Isle of Wight, a British holiday playground that I passed several happy and memorable summers on during the 1970s.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
All my own work! I know, I should think seriously about hiring a professional graphic artist; and maybe one day the sales will take off sufficiently for me to invite one to perform the honours.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
For me, credible characterisation is the key ingredient of any good novel. And because we are all fallible human beings struggling – as one of my characters observes – ‘to do the right thing; and hopefully for the right reason’, readers will find that my ‘heroes’ have grievous flaws. Conversely, my ‘villains’ are sometimes capable of surprising nobility.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favourite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
I tend to read more non-fiction than fiction. However, I’ve read some excellent serialised novels of late by Stieg Larsson, Sarah Sundin and Elle Casey. One of my favourite non-fiction authors is the late British historian, Alastair Horne – a man whose talent for bringing history to life was such that you really do feel like you’re walking in the shoes of the men and women whose deeds he recounts.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
Alas, it’s been a lonely furrow that I’ve ploughed. However, the relatively few book reviews I’ve acquired have been immensely positive. If even a handful of readers arrive at the final chapter of one’s book with a warm glow in their heart then one’s writing career has been worth it.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
It’s the aspiration – although the day job looks set to continue for now.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Not that I can think of. Of course, after you hit the ‘publish’ button you will always come across something that prompts you to think ‘I could have included that in the story too’. However, you just have to sigh and – like Pontius Pilate – defiantly declare that ‘what I have written, I have written’.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Being set in Britain during its famous ‘long, hot summer’ of 1976, I was left marvelling just how fleeting my youth now seems with hindsight. So maybe writing about it has been the prophylactic for not having lived it more while it was going on!
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
There’s a gorgeous American female lead character in the book who sports the famous ‘Farrah flip’ hairstyle of that era. Therefore – notwithstanding that she is sadly no longer with us – it would be an honour to invite the beautiful Farrah Fawcett-Majors to step forward and grace the casting couch.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
There are five key ingredients for good writing:-
- WRITE – Obvious perhaps. But even if it’s just letters to the newspapers, keep your writing skills honed.
- READ – Both to acquire knowledge and to learn from how other writers make a story come to life.
- LIVE – To gain experience. After all – to paraphrase the old saying – what doesn’t kill you gives you something interesting to write about!
- LOVE – As per Ingredient No. 3.
- ENJOY – If writing is what you love, then just do it. An dif someone else enjoys what you have written too, then that’s the icing on the cake.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Just to hope that they enjoy reading my works. And if they do, don’t forget to leave that all-important review!
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
WHITE HEAT: A HISTORY OF BRITAIN IN THE SWINGING SIXTIES.
(Important research material for the novel I’m working on at present).
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
I always loved the ‘Thomas The Tank Engine’ books that were popular in Britain during my childhood (and still are): simple stories featuring lovable characters, they remain a fabulous introduction to the joys of reading for any child.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
I never cease to be amused observing the bizarre quirks and foibles of my fellow human beings – myself included. However, I weep that we human beings seldom ever seem to learn from our mistakes – myself included.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
Winston Churchill: as well as being a titanic political leader born to show greatness at a key moment in my country’s long, illustrious story, he was also the quintessential fallible human being. However, his faults – like his towering strengths – made him the man he was.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
I have always loved buses (and compiling bus passenger information is what I do for a living). Bizarre, I know; and it may explain why these large, rectangular, road-bound objects tend to pit in appearances quite frequently in my novels.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Like my tastes in reading, my TV habits mirror my love of history. Recently, I enjoyed immersing myself in Ken Burn’s moving documentary series about the Vietnam War.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
I devour most things (and sadly possess the moobs to prove it!). Meanwhile, my musical tastes are pretty varied too: from country music to rock-and-roll and classical. For example, I fell in love with American swing music while researching my novel TO REACH FOR THE STARS; and rekindled my love of 70s soul and disco music while doing likewise for THE SUMMER OF ’76.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
What I should perhaps be doing already: spending more quality time with my wife and family!
Fiona: You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time?
Saying thank you to all the many people whose goodness and cheerfulness have made my life worth living.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
“Well done, thou good and faithful servant”.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
My Facebook page…
And my Amazon author page…