Talking with Angus Donald and James Wilde

Here are extracts from two more of my talks with writers.

First, Angus Donald, author of the Outlaw series about Robin Hood.

Martin: How do you research your novels?  Do you do it before you start to write or do you research on an ongoing process?

Angus: Both. I start with a vague idea – for example, in King’s Man (book 3, out in paperback on July 5th) the story is loosely about Blondel, with Alan the trouvere rescuing Richard the Lionheart from imprisonment in Germany. I read a lot about Richard’s time in prison, and his ransoming by the English under the direction of his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine. Then I visited the part of Germany that was relevant to the story, near Frankfurt. Then I started writing. But I do research online along the way. I suddenly realised 40,000 words into the story that Alan (Blondel) would not travel to Germany on horseback as I had originally supposed. Everybody travelled by water on long journeys, if they possibly could, as it was so much easier and safer. So I had to research boat travel on the Rhine a third of the way through the book: what kinds of boats did they go on? How were they propelled? What did they transport as cargo. As I say, it’s a bit of both – there are always details that you need to find out while you are actually writing the story. What day was Easter in that year? What did people do when they had a cold? What colour robes would the monks in this particular monastery wear? That sort of thing. I do that in libraries and online while I’m in the middle of the book.

What would be a typical writing day for you?  Do you have set times, spaces, routines or rituals?

I write best in the morning. So my routine is geared to that. I get up around 7-ish, grab a cup of tea, and go up to my study, which is at the top of our very decrepit medieval house. I work in my dressing gown until mid-morning then shower, have breakfast and get dressed. I try to go for an hour’s walk in the Kent countryside before lunch at 1pm with my wife and baby son, Robin. (The other child Emma is usually at school then.) In the afternoons I read, and sometimes take a nap, and I write/edit again from about four till six pm, when I come down and rejoin the family and have tea, or a drink and begin cooking supper for my wife Mary. That is the basic structure of my day – but the pleasure of being self-employed is that I can change it as and when I like.

Next James Wilde: author of Hereward and Hereward: The Devil’s Army.

Martin: Which authors have had the greatest influence upon you?

As a child, Alan Garner changed the way I thought about books.  The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath were phenomenal works of imagination and showed me how the deep past still affected the present.  Later I consumed just about everything by the sadly-missed Ray Bradbury, as well as Lord of the Rings.  John Steinbeck, Thomas M Harris and Umberto Eco, particularly Foucault’s Pendulum, have all been big influences.

What would be a typical writing day for you?  Do you have set times, spaces, routines or rituals?

I’m a disciplined writer.  I don’t believe in this airy-fairy, waiting for the muse to arrive.  That’s usually an excuse made by people who don’t know how to work for a living.  I try to achieve a set word count every day, probably around 2000 words.  I remain flexible on the times.  I like to begin around 8-ish, but sometimes I feel I’m more productive at night so I tend to go with the flow.

I don’t have set spaces – quite the opposite.  Sometimes I’ll write in my study, sometimes in a pub or café, sometimes outside somewhere.  I find breaking up the routine minimises boredom and allows for greater concentration which is the key to productivity.

Rituals – I write on a MacBook Pro and always listen to music on earphones when I’m working because it keeps the world at bay.


 You can find the rest of the talks by clicking on the links below.
Next post: extracts from the talks with Gordon Doherty and yours truly.


About Martin Lake

Martin Lake lives in the French Riviera with his wife. After studying at the University of East Anglia he worked as a teacher, trainer and company director. A serious accident shattered his arm and meant that he had to rein back his work. He decided to concentrate on writing and is now writing full-time. He writes a wide range of fiction. His main interests are historical fiction, short stories and fiction for young adults. Martin has a series of novels 'The Lost King' which are set in the years following the Norman Invasion of England. They concern Edgar Atheling, last representative of the ancient English royal dynasty and his fight to regain the throne from William the Conqueror. Martin has also published 'Artful' the further adventures of the Dodger and 'Outcasts' a novel about fall of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. His latest novel, 'A Love Most Dangerous' is about a maid of honour who becomes the lover of Henry VIII. Martin’s work has been broadcast on radio. He won first prize in the Kenneth Grahame Society competition to write a story based on 'The Wind in the Willows.' You can get the collection, 'The Wind in the Willows Short Stories' from Amazon.
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2 Responses to Talking with Angus Donald and James Wilde

  1. I loved these interviews. I love Angus’s routine especially and I do agree with James, no airy fairy just be disciplined. I had to be in a routine to write my Edith Swanneck , The Handfasted Wife because it was part of a phd submission. I worked from five to eight. And in the early afternoon generally.

    • Martin Lake says:

      I guess that some writers are more disciplined than others while others have more demands upon their time. I try to be disciplined but don’t always succeed. I don’t think I could write all day long, I’d dry up. I tend to alternate research and writing. Your routine sounds the sort of thing I do.

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