As many of you know, I love reading historical fiction. The reason? I love learning about history through the eyes of people who experienced it. History comes alive, if well-researched and well-written. I first met Rob Shackleford a few months ago and was instantly intrigued. I convinced him to sit down with me for an honest interview. I’d ask some pretty tough questions and he’d have to answer them. It’s my great pleasure to introduce Rob Shackleford to the POTL Blog. Please give him a warm welcome. Take it away, Rob:
What is your writing process?
Perhaps the most important part of my process is research. My story involves detailed descriptions of the English Saxon world of around 11th Century. It also involves the Special Forces troops who are sent there. This has meant intensive research into both areas, ie History and the military. When it came to the 11th Century Saxon community, I had to learn what they ate, what were their attitudes to religion, what their homes were like, how they dressed, even their attitudes towards sex. Everything had to be researched to make the story stand up to any sort of scrutiny, especially scholarly scrutiny. Only then can the story be told with any degree of reliability.
Once the research was completed in the areas I targeted, the story could unfold. Many times I discovered I was writing the narrative in a direction I didn’t realise it would take. That then required more research. In my attempt to make the story as realistic as possible, the story involved some surprising developments, that is, it was surprising to me.
Once the story was told, I went back to rewrite, to improve grammar, description, and then develop speaking parts, which allowed for more character development and fine tuning of the events in the story.
Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you?
I have always enjoyed the mind-broadening aspects of great science fiction works, so some of the classic authors such as H. G. Wells, Arthur Clarke, Robert Heinlein and Frank Herbert are just a few of the many who allowed me to submerge into bold new worlds and ideas. I have grown to better appreciate the difference between great storytelling from authors such as Stephen king, to true wordsmiths who paint a portrait with their breathtaking language, one who comes to mind is Yann Martel for the Life of Pi.
Other inspirations are found in islands of Robert Louis Stevenson, the humour of Mark Train, the insight of George Orwell, the razor-sharp social commentary of Jack Kerouac, to name but a few authors who changed the world.
I would be remiss not to mention J. K. Rolling and her epic Harry Potter tales, a legend in market adaptation and commercial success.
While I feebly aspire to develop my own creative writing skills, I opt to be a story teller, hopefully a great one. One day, I hope the two will merge.
What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
Being an author is a tough gig. It takes time and lots of dedication. Most of all it takes belief in yourself, which can be the most challenging task of all. Think of it as a professional sportsperson. Sometimes one is discovered and shoots to the top of the charts, but most of the time any success is through the good, old fashioned hard slog. Even then, luck, or shall I say good fortune, is a part of being discovered.
Like most of the arts today, such as the music industry, or art, the process is so much tougher, so much longer. The days of million-dollar first book contracts are long gone.
With today’s technology we are so very fortunate to see the emergence of great authors, whether they are best sellers or not. The biggest challenge is to get your work out there, make it shine, and then do the marketing and get exposure. But don’t despair. Write your novel or your poetry. Give birth to your dream, and then learn and go through the process that the world requires of you. Even if you bring delight and inspiration to only one other, it will be worth it.
Are you a plotter or a pantster?
It seems I am a bit of both. I have the book’s broad structure in my head and then I develop the characters and chapters one step at a time. I need the broad structure so as to not ramble, but sometimes the story heads in a direction that surprises me. I don’t think it’s ghost writing. At least I hope it isn’t. It’s just describing the responses of humans placed in challenging situations.
What are you working on now? What is your next project?
Traveller Inceptio – which means “Beginning” in Latin, as spoken by the clergy in 11th Century England, lends itself to a sequel.
I have almost completed the first draft for Traveller Probo, which means ‘to inquire or prove’. All I can suggest is that the success of the English Traveller missions receives intense international attention and envy, causing nations to compete to engage in their own missions to send their own Travellers 1000 years into the past. It’s like a space-race, only a lot cheaper and easier.
But is this a wise course of action? Who can say?
Traveller Probo examines the social and political consequences of the English Saxon mission, and how more missions are planned to send more Special Forces historical researchers to the world of 1000 years ago.
What is the biggest fib you’ve ever told?
Once when working for the media they wanted someone who had driven racing cars to participate in a media race event. Though I was never any kind of media star, I fibbed and said I had the experience and was given the gig. On race-day, I couldn’t even change the gears, but once I was shown I did quite well, as none of the other media participants dared drive fast. I did bounce off the walls a few times and won the race, though the car owner wasn’t pleased as there were bold, new scratches down the side of his nicely painted yellow race-car.
It was, I must say, a worthwhile fib.
Didn’t hurt a bit – after having my teeth ground without anesthetic for caps by a dentist in India. I aged 5 years and dropped 2 kilos from sweat.
Do you drink? Smoke? What’s your vice?
Crystallized Ginger, and Licorice (the British type). If you bring that stuff around, don’t expect me to share.
What literary character is most like you?
As a kid I was a bit like Tom Sawyer in that I managed to get things … done. When I was about 8 years old I recall being picked on by a kid, so I enlisted the abilities of a big, not too bright kid I barely knew to go into battle for me. They both got into trouble for fighting on the parade ground just as school parade was about to start. I was never picked on again.
My Teacher saw what had happened and, without me knowing, had a chat to my parents. Years later they told me about it. My dad thought it was the funniest thing ever.
If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
A cat owned by my partner. She spoils that creature rotten. All I would have to do is avoid being gelded at the vet.
What’s on your bucket list (things to do before you die)?
Here’s a few: See a tornado, Scuba dive with sharks – me in a shark cage that is, climb a live volcano, hike a glacier.
Title: Traveller Inceptio
Author: Rob Shackleford
Genre: Science Fiction, Historical, Action
Publisher: Book Baby – E Publishing only.
If you were sent a thousand years into the past, would you survive?
With the accidental development of the Transporter, university researchers determine that the device sends any subject one thousand years into the past.
Or is it to a possible past?
The enigmatic Transporter soon becomes known as a Time Machine, but with limitations.
An audacious research project is devised to use the Transporter to investigate Medieval Saxon England, when a crack international team of Special Services soldiers undergo intensive training for their role as historical researchers.
The special researchers, called Travellers, are to be sent into what is a very dangerous period in England’s turbulent past.
From the beaches of Australia to the forests of Saxon England, Traveller – Inceptio reveals how Travellers soon learn that they need more than combat skills and modern technology to survive the trails of early 11th Century life.
Michael makes a chance meeting upon a lonely monk in the depths of the English forest.
The monk stood before Michael and wept in an open-mouthed cry that looked unlike grief or fear but looked more like … joy? He didn’t appear to be as afraid for his life as one would have thought when confronted by an armed man in the depths of the forest.
To make matters even more disconcerting, he moved forward until his face was but a hand’s breadth away from Michael. There was an impression of rotten teeth and bad breath, an almost a physical assault from which he immediately recoiled. Many of the monk’s teeth were missing. Obviously, he rarely shaved as his face was covered with stubble that could have been blonde or grey, so the man’s age was almost impossible to determine. Thick, grey hairs and pocked blackheads decorated the end of his bulbous nose as pale grey eyes gazed adoringly up at the newcomer. As the monk wept, Michael froze uncomfortably.
Without warning, the monk moved as if to give Michael a hug and it was all he could do to fend the smaller man off with raised hands. Thankfully the small man stopped at the last moment. There was no desire for any close contact with the damp wool that stank heavily. Quickly Michael scanned his surrounds as he realised this monk would be a perfect distraction for brigands, for he was completely immobilised by the man’s emotional reaction. As he watched aghast, the sobbing monk sank slowly to his knees while his tearful eyes never left Michael’s face. Tears poured down his weathered, whiskered cheeks and soon the childlike weeping began to distress. Michael had seen weeping in many places; weeping of mothers for sons, of fathers for children, but nothing quite as mysterious as this. He crouched in front of the monk and reached to touch the man’s grubby hands, his other hand still on his short-sword, just in case.
As he reached out, his hand was grasped and held by the monk’s hard, heavily veined hands with swollen arthritic knuckles, hands obviously aggravated by a life of hard physical labour. Before he could react, the monk kissed his hand passionately. He felt the bristly face and a damp slobber of snot and his initial reaction to pull away. He uncomfortably patted the monk’s shoulder and made soothing noises before he retrieved his hand and stood as he encouraged the other to rise. More kisses were threatened, so he hurriedly addressed the monk in Latin, supposing he could speak the lingua franca of clergy throughout Christendom. “Peace be unto you brother,” he said as he gave his slobbered hand a tactful wipe on the seat of his breaches.
“And to you” was the automatic sobbed response. There was an accent and the words were understood though, at first, difficult to decipher.
“What is your name?” asked Michael.
“My name?” the monk asked in a daze as if stunned at such a question. “Oeric, Lord, Brother Oeric,” he replied quietly as he briefly averted his eyes.
“Oeric. Greetings Brother Oeric my name is ..” and he paused. He knew it was best to provide his name in a format best suited to the local language. “My name is Michael.” He pronounced it ‘Meekal’ to give the pronunciation that he assumed would suit.
At the name, Brother Oeric wailed loudly and again placed his trembling, worn hands over his face. Before Michael could react, the man again fell to his knees and bent to place his face on the leaf litter. Michael again scanned the surrounding forest uncomfortably.
Indeed, they were alone.
He knelt and awkwardly patted the prostrate Brother Oeric on the shoulder. “Oeric, Brother Oeric, is something wrong? Why do you weep? Come now, stand and tell me, what is the matter?”
After a titanic struggle, Brother Oeric managed to retain some control. Rising to his knees he wiped his freely running nose and eyes on the cloth that hung over his chest, a simple square of wool with a head hole that was his scapula, designed to protect his long brown tunic. Michael noted the silver line of snot and decided that if another hug was attempted, that was good enough reason to keep the monk at arm’s-length. Brother Oeric wore a simple, one-piece robe of rough, raw, dark-brown wool that enabled him to blend effectively with the forest. Attached to his scapula was a cowl or large hood to offer protection from snow or rain in a fashion similar to the hood Michael wore on his own cloak. Michael watched the small man clutch his shaking hands together in a moment of muttered prayer before he looked up again. “Lord I give thanks that you are here”, he said with eyes that were again downcast. He paused and gazed adoringly at Michael, a look that was supposed to be a quick glance but which ended in a stare akin to wonder.
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An English-born Australian, Rob Shackleford has lived in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, with a varied career that has included Customs Officer, Scuba Instructor, College Teacher and management roles in too many places.
With degrees in the Arts and Business, he is mad keen on travel, Scuba diving, Family History, martial arts, astronomy, and playing Djembe and Congas.
Rob is father of two and lives on the Gold Coast.
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