Wednesday, 21 January 2015


Welcome all to Paula's People, my very own spot on The Review Blog where I get to talk to some of the most interesting people. Today I would like to introduce you to the winner of our Book of the Month Award, Dave McCall who writes as David Ebsworth. This month it was my turn to choose the first winner, The Jacobites' Apprentice, and it means that this book has been chosen to win for its high standards of excellence. 

Hello, Dave, I am so thrilled to announce you as my Book of the Month for The Review. When I thought about this award and chose the first slot, I did not even have to think twice about which book I was going to choose. The Jacobites’ Apprentice just popped into my head straight away and I was like YES! That’s the one! So I’m glad to be in this position now to present your book to our readers and to present you as a shining example of why being an indie author works.

Thanks, Paula, and it’s a great privilege to be first up for Book of the Month – and among so many old friends, of course! So thanks for thinking so highly of Jacobites' and also for giving me this chance to talk about it.

The Jacobites’ Apprentice is your first novel and is such a roller coaster ride of an epic tome. How long did it take to research and write?

In truth, I wrote it twice. I spent two years researching and writing the first version, but that was while I was still working full-time – as a union negotiator, you may remember.  I had no real intention of publishing anything then. It was just a hobby, really. Then I retired, but still wanted a new challenge, something that would feel like a work routine. So I went back to the manuscript of Jacobites', realised that the background story was OK, but the writing and plot detail was abysmal. So it went in the bin. Every page. And I started again. It was easier this time, of course, because the basic research was mostly complete. It still took me more than a year to finish the first draft of version two, though. It’s a big book – over 300,000 words. And then there was all the editing and polishing. Another six months. So I suppose I spent two years on the version of Jacobites' that was eventually published early in 2012.

What inspired you to choose this subject and how did your characters develop?

I was working in Salford at the time, and doing lots of meetings in Manchester. I’m from Liverpool really, so it felt a bit like foreign territory. But as I was going from place to place, I started noticing the various blue plaques that linked the city to events in 1745 and the Bonnie Prince Charlie rebellion. It was one of the periods of history that’s always fascinated me, though I think I had a fairly romantic view of the story. It intrigued me, I suppose - that little-known fact that Charles Edward Stuart only enjoyed minority support from Scotland in his bid to reclaim the throne for his exiled family, and was tempted to march south on the promise that England was full of sympathisers who would flock to his banner if given half a chance.

He should have known better! In practice, only Manchester provided any substantial numbers of additional troops – three hundred, in total. Well, I thought, I’d like to read a novel about that. But there wasn’t one. I searched for ages. So there was really only one solution. And the characters simply walked out of the walls wherever I found those blue plaques. Manchester in 1745 was a town divided. Right down the middle. Not by football but by its politics. Those Manchester merchants, clergymen and citizens loyal to the ruling Hanoverian George II – the Whigs, and their mainly Catholic opposite numbers who felt marginalised by the Hanoverians and wanted a return of the exiled Stuarts – the Tories. So I needed three or four fictional characters from each faction who would stand for the real-life personalities of the time.

My favourite characters are definitely Maria-Louise and Titus Redmond. As a couple they work tremendously well together despite their dysfunction. Maria-Louise, for example, is painted by you so vividly, that I could hear her, see her and almost feel her jumping out of the pages. Titus I just adored, and even though he is flawed and not a saintly man, I couldn’t help but have a soft spot in my heart for him. Did you base these characters on anyone in particular or did they develop naturally – or did they turn out a lot different to what you’d had in mind when you started?

Titus was easy. It had occurred to me that, although the main supporters of each side were middle-class merchants, they were up to their necks in intrigue and also some illicit operations – tea smuggling was rife at the time, for example, as a supplement to more honest trading. So they must have been ‘rough diamonds’ for the most part. And I wanted to portray them accordingly. I cheated a bit, however, since I’d recently seen the series Deadwood and knew instantly that I wanted Titus to be a Manchester equivalent of that great Ian McShane character, Al Swearengen. Maria-Louise, on the other hand, wasn’t based on anybody specific. I wrote up a character sheet for her and then just let her loose on the story. That was exciting because, until almost the final chapter, I didn’t know how her story would end.

What are your writing methods? Did you plan the book from start to finish? Or did you have a starting plan which you developed as you went along?

I have to admit that I didn’t do much planning for Jacobites'. As a result (though I suppose I shouldn’t admit this!) the story rambles a bit. But actually I quite liked that. I’m not a great fan of today’s trend that requires all books to be trimmed to their absolute minimum. On that basis, I doubt whether Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy or Victor Hugo would ever have been published. I enjoy putting a bit of effort into my reading. Most of the time, anyway. So I suppose that’s also reflected in the way I write. And then there’s the fact that I like writing historical fiction. That helps because the history must be as accurate as possible. The history therefore sets its own framework through which my invented characters must travel. If their characters are sufficiently developed, they should be able to react to the historical events or background in a way which, basically, writes its own plot.

One of the things you state about yourself is that you write the books that no one else has thought of. Looking at the novels that you have written, I would say that was true. Is this a conscious thing? Can you explain more about this? How do you look for extraordinary subjects and is it a challenge?

In truth, I think I’ve said that I write the books which I wish somebody else had written for me to read, but which don’t yet exist. With Jacobites', it was really just accidental. I’ve already explained how the story came about. But once I had this concept in my head, I found it hard to escape. I normally have an idea of the period I want to work on next – and I enjoy having to research different historical eras for each book. Once I know the period, I start looking for the 'untold tales' that surround it. I normally begin with any local links to the story. Almost always, that triggers some unusual aspect or viewpoint. And, if I search beyond that again, there’s normally a pearl waiting for me.

What other books have you written? Please tell us what they are and a little about them and why you wrote them?

So, for the second book I wanted to write about the Spanish Civil War, partly because of my politics and partly because of those friends, both in Spain and in Britain, who had fought in that awful conflict, the prologue to the Second World War. I wanted to tell the story from a whole new angle and eventually came across the extraordinary story of the battlefield tourism that took place in northern Spain while the war was still raging. So The Assassin’s Mark was born – a Christie-esque political thriller set towards the end of 1938.

For the third, I was drawn by the Zulu War – but thought that it had been done too many times already. And then I realised that every single novel on the subject only dealt with the first few weeks of the war – the territory most famously covered by the two films Zulu Dawn and Zulu. Yet the war lasted for another six months and some of the most intriguing stories simply hadn’t been told in fiction. Ever! Like the strange death of the French Prince Imperial, Louis Napoleon, which now lies at the heart of The Kraals of Ulundi.

My recently published fourth book is The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour – a novel about the Battle of Waterloo told mostly through the eyes of two incredibly feisty French women whose exploits are based on those of real-life characters who served in the front lines of Bonaparte’s battalions.

Indie publishers work very hard to publicise their books and I know that you for one have been very successful in your endeavours. Do you have any tips for us other authors who are trying to make their way in the world of publishing?

The first big thing, I reckon, is to take almost pedantic care of the editing processes. Several re-writes and plenty of polishing, then work by a good professional editor. Traditionally-published authors seem to get away with any number of typo errors. But for indies, the slightest mistake is picked up as a sign that we’re not really professional. And if we haven’t got that credibility, we’ll never succeed with the publicity and marketing. But once the editing’s sorted, the book is published, and you’ve got a decent author website, all the hard work begins.

At last year’s London Book Fair, some of the world’s best-selling indie authors talked about the key things that had made them successful. Interestingly, they all said more or less the same things. First, that they concentrated on ebook sales more than the frustrating process of trying to get on bookstore shelves; second, that they had only begun to earn real income with their fourth or fifth books; third, that while it was important to have a working knowledge of all the social media formats (Facebook, Twitter, blogging, Goodreads, Linkedin, Pinterest, etc., etc.) it was crucial to concentrate on no more than two of them. So, for me, I like to focus on just Goodreads and Twitter – otherwise, I’d never have enough time to reach books numbers five, six and seven.

In addition, it’s taken as read (isn’t it?) that you’ve got the right cover for your book – since (fairly obviously) an ebook requires a very different cover image than one destined for bookshelves.

Do you think that if a big publishing house offered to take you on that you would ever accept it, or are you happy being independently published?

Oh, heavens, I think that’s really difficult. I am happy being independently published but that’s because I’m resigned to finding most of my new readers online, regardless of whether they’re buying paperbacks or ebooks. But part of me would like to make it onto mainstream bookstore shelves at some point – and I think that’s really difficult without a big publishing house behind you. But that’s just a vanity thing.

What next is for David Ebsworth?

Book number five is set in 6th century Britain. Its working title is The Song-Sayer’s Lament and I’ve dubbed it 'the antidote to King Arthur stories.' It should be published early in 2016.

At the same time, I’m working on a sci-fi novella that’s been floating around in my head for far too long. That too should appear early next year under the title Kunlun: Post-March Millennium and, as the title suggests, it’s set in the year 2936. I’ll be writing that one under a different pen name, however – as Robert M. David.

But that, as they say, is another story.

Thank you, David, for being such a fabulous guest and bringing all those brilliant answers with you!


Readers: Just so you know, there is still time to get your name in the hat for the giveaway draw of The Jacobites' Apprentice. Just check this link for details.

David's website is

Stay tuned for tomorrow's guest post when David talks about his new novel The Last Campaign of Marrianne Tambour.


  1. Wonderful interview and my favourite period in British history.

  2. I so enjoyed this interview. Fabulous questions, and really interesting and insightful answers.

  3. And thanks from me, Paula, but coming up with some challenging questions. It was a real pleasure to do the interview and I'm happy to answer any other comments or queries from readers.