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Writer Wednesday: Tom Williams

Tom used to write books for business, covering everything from the gambling industry to new developments in printing technology. Now he writes about love and adventure in the 19th century, which is not nearly as well paid, but much more fun. It also allows him to pretend that travelling in the Far East and South America is research. Tom lives in London. His main interest is avoiding doing any honest work and this leaves him with time to ski, skate and dance tango, all of which he does quite well.

1. Why did you want to become a writer? 
I have no idea. I won a writing competition when I was about ten years old, so it's been something I've always wanted to do.

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you? 
Actually putting the words on the paper. Simply typing out eighty or ninety thousand words is just horrible.

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing? 
I write historical novels and I love the research. Going to places where the stories are set is great fun too. For 'Burke in the Land of Silver' I went to Argentina and went riding with the gauchos (Argentine cowboys) like he does in the story. And we took horses up into the snow on the Andes too. That was unforgettable.

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why? 
Every so often I come across a book that is just wonderful and it's so frustrating to know I will never write like that. Just after I finished writing 'Back Home', I read Sarah Waters' 'Fingersmith'. In 'Back Home' I write about poverty in London in the mid-19th century and a lot of the scenes in her book are similar to things I wrote about, but she just does it so incredibly well. 'Back Home' has been very well-received, but I wish I thought it could ever be nearly as good as 'Fingersmith'. (Tom's review here.)

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why?
 Some of my characters die. I'm not saying which ones, because that's a major spoiler. But some of the deaths have made me cry. I'd save all of them.

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do? 
When I was a child my father introduced me to Leslie Charteris's 'Saint' books. The first 'Saint' story was written in 1928. The Saint was Simon Templar, an urbane Robin Hood figure who stole from rich crooks and other bad guys and redistributed his booty (less 10%) to the deserving poor. I still read them occasionally: they're the sticky toffee pudding and custard of fiction. Templar was always charming and liked to live well. I'd do whatever he suggested (his friends in the books always did). It would involve a romantic location, fine dining, a beautiful woman and the chance to hold a gun and watch him doing something dangerous and cunning, after which a multi-millionaire would have one fewer yachts and a pension fund for his employees would receive a substantial anonymous donation. It was a simpler world, especially in the vastly superior pre-World War stories. It wasn't really a better world, but it was one I'd enjoy to visit in his company.

7. What can we expect next from you? 
I'm working on another about my Napoleonic spy, James Burke. This time he's fighting the French in Spain. 

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out? 
An agent took me on and I was about to celebrate when I realised that he would drop me if he couldn't sell the book (and drop me he did), so I should not break out the champagne. He said that a writer should celebrate every success in advance and mourn the failures when they came along, because writing gave all-too-few opportunities to celebrate.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you. 
Trying to put off any actual writing (see my answer to your second question). Replying to questionnaires like this is a good way to duck any real work.

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment? 
I usually have several things on the go at once. At the moment I'm reading 'The Making of the English Working Class' by EP Thompson. (I did say I love research.) Unusually for me, I'm also reading a modern autobiography: 'Mr Nice' by Howard Marks, the cannabis smuggler. Generally I read a lot of crime thrillers. I just finished the rather weird 'Double You' by Nell Peters. I read it because I know her (we share a publisher) but it's rather good (Tom's review here) so I've started the next in the series, 'Santa's Slay'.

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