Author Interview with Vaughn Entwistle
Hi Vaughn, welcome over at The Book Plank and for taking your time to answer these few questions.
BP: First off could you give us a short introduction as to who Vaughn Entwistle is? What are your hobbies, likes and dislikes?
VE: I grew up in the seaside town of Blackpool in northern England. My parents shuttled us back and forth between England and the US (Michigan) for most of my childhood. After attending University in the US, I wound up living in Seattle for many years (which was wonderful). However my first love has always been England. I finally moved back for good in 2013. I currently live in the Mendip Hills of Northern Somerset, an area of outstanding natural beauty. The part of southwest England is incredibly rich in history, and when not writing I’m typically out with my camera and the dog, walking in the countryside and exploring ruined castles, bronze age stone circles, and visiting the many gothic piles, churches and cathedrals. In addition to our Brittany spaniel, my wife and I have two pedigree cats, a Somali and a Siberian who spend most of the day walking across my keyboard whilst I am trying to work.
BP: Angel of Highgate was your first self-published book, The Revenant of Thraxton Hall is your first published book by a big company, did you approach writing The Revenant of Thraxton Hall in a different way with this in the back of your mind?
VE: The short answer is no. I wrote Angel of Highgate back in 2008 and managed to land a top New York agent with only my fifteenth query letter. She was super excited about the novel and was talking up a major publishing deal with a six-figure advance. She was about to begin submitting to publishers when the banking crisis hit. Soon after, the publishing industry imploded and my agent went AWOL. Publishers basically stopped buying books by new writers and most agents were not looking for new clients. So after a year without landing an agent, I decided to self-publish.
BP: If you would compare self-publishing with being published, how do you look at this? Would you prefer to self publish or through a big publishing house?
VE: At the moment I am turning cartwheels after being signed to a big publishing house. I have to say up front that I would rather write than do all the marketing that self publishing entails. I did very little to promote Angel of Highgate. Consequently, although the book received terrific reviews from Kirkus and the Historical Novel Society, sales were tiny.
By contrast, being signed to St. Martin’s Press has been a mind-blowing experience. The book is being published on March 25th, 2014. If you Google The Revenant, it shows up on book selling sites from North America through Europe to Asia and South Africa. As well as eBook sales, all these outlets will also be selling hardcover and paperback versions. I don’t know how I could have achieved that kind of global coverage through self publishing.
In addition, St. Martin’s has gone on to sell the UK and Commonwealth publishing rights to Titan Books (UK) and to a Russian publisher. Traditional publishing also means library purchases and my novel is already showing up in library catalogues across North America and the UK, further broadening my reader base. I know there are many highly successful self-publishers, but it’s hard to compete with the massive footprint enjoyed by traditional publishing.
And to bring things full circle, Titan Books just acquired the rights to The Angel of Highgate (slightly retitled), which they plan to publish sometime in 2015. This will make another of my novels available in bookstores and online stores across North America, the UK and Commonwealth.
BP: Crime knows many faces but one that jumps most often to the forefront is Sherlock Holmes. The Revenant of Thraxton Hall however focuses on the mind behind Sherlock, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his friend Oscar Wilde. What gave you the idea to steer into this direction?
VE: A few years back I read a writing book writing that challenged the writer to identify his/her personal heroes. After ruminating on the question for a month, only one figure sprung to mind: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Why? As a writer, he was amazing. Aside from creating the most successful fictional detective of all time, he also penned ghost stories, science fiction tales, and historical novels. He was also an amazing human being. Liberal and tolerant in his personal views, he fought against injustice and through his efforts helped exonerate two men wrongly convicted of crimes. He also ran (unsuccessfully) for political office, popularized the sport of alpine skiing, and volunteered in the Boer War. The epitaph on his gravestone reads: “Blade Straight/Arrow True; an apt description for this singular man.
And like all English majors, I am a huge fan of the wit and wisdom of Oscar Wilde. Conan Doyle and Wilde knew each other and were friends in real life. Early in the writing process I wrote a test scene in which the two met up at the Savoy. It was like mixing gin and vermouth and producing the perfect martini. At that point, I knew I had struck gold.
BP: The Revenant of Thraxton Hall is out this March, if you would have to sell your book with a single sentence how would it go?
VE: Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde team up in The Revenant of Thraxton Hall, a Victorian romp that reads like a volatile cocktail of Sherlock Holmes-meets-the-X-Flies with a dash of Steampunk and a whiff of London fog.
BP: The crime genre in itself is represented by a lot of books and not only the aforementioned Sherlock Holmes’ stories. Where do you think your book draws its strength from that separates it from the others?
VE: The novel has a defining whimsical element. It is part mystery, part ghost novel, and part suspense story, with Oscar Wilde providing comic and sartorial relief. Readers looking for noir or a gritty crime procedural are likely to be disappointed.
BP: Writing a prose novel is a difficult task and even though it is your second book, did you still encounter any specific problems? Were you able to use any experience from having written Angel of Highgate?
VE: Between the two novels, I have spent the best part of four years living in the Victorian age. I had to do extensive research on Wilde and Conan Doyle to write The Revenant, but extensive research on Victorian London I undertook to write Angel of Highgate was of huge benefit.
BP: What was for you the hardest part when writing The Revenant of Thraxton Hall?
VE: Most mysteries begin with a prologue in which the crime is committed. Usually the sleuth or sleuths are then introduced in the following chapter. However, I didn’t want to start my novel with a prologue. As this was to paranormal murder story with a psychic Medium as victim, I thought it would be more interesting to have my sleuths attempt to prevent a murder yet to happen. A novel conceit, but a concept fried a few brain cells while plotting.
BP: besides the hardest part, which part of the book did you enjoy writing about the most?
VE: I most enjoyed writing any scene with Conan Doyle and Wilde interacting. I’d like to say I came up with Wilde’s witticisms, but the truth is I didn’t. I just had to wind him up and drop him into a situation and I it was obvious how he would react. At times it was like taking dictation.
BP: With the publishing date nearing, if you would still be able to make one final last minute adjustment to the story of The Revenant of Thraxton Hall, would you do so? And if yes which part and why?
VE: I can honestly say no. For me, it is almost as if the first book never ended. I just finished writing the second book in the series: The Dead Assassin, so I have never been out of the company of Wilde and Conan Doyle. I already have a killer concept for the third book in the series and can’t wait to start plotting it.
BP: Do you have any other projects that you would like to pursue in the future now that The Revenant of Thraxton Hall has found a publishing date? Can we expect more books from you?
VE: I literally have book ideas falling out of me. I could happily go off in a million different directions writing in lots of different genres. But if The Revenant is successful, it is likely I will be writing more Paranormal Casebooks for the foreseeable future, which is not a bad thing. That said, I have two previously written novels that my agent, Kimberley Cameron, will soon be submitting. In my spare moments (what spare moments?) I am also working on a collection of ghost stories.
BP: Everyone enjoys reading fantasy and science fiction in their own way, what do you like most about reading and writing it?
VE: The wonderful thing about these genres is the freedom they give writers to explore ideas, bend genres, and combine tropes in and new and totally original ways. It used to be that writers were admonished to decide in what section of the bookshop their book would be shelved before they even began writing. I believe that Golden Rule has subsequently been trampled into the dust. Look at all the new genres that have been spawned in recent years: Steampunk, Cyberpunk, Gaslight, Timeslip, Epic Fantasy, Urban Fantasy . . . the list goes on and on. With this in mind, I think that self publishing has played an important role in freeing writers to go wherever their imaginations take them. Self publishing often trailblazes new avenues where traditional publishing then follows.
VE: In no particular order
· The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Like a chocolate box with lots of different yummy centres. Go on, gorge yourself.
· Riddley Walker by Russel Hoban. Published in 1980, this has to be one of the most original dystopian novels ever penned. The unique pidgin English of the narrator can be difficult to get into, but readers who stick with it are rewarded by a truly mythic experience.
· The Journal of Albion Moonlight, by the American Poet, Kenneth Patchen. A surrealistic odyssey written in a pen dipped in napalm.
· Ghosts and Grisly Things by Ramsey McDonald. McDonald is generally acclaimed as a master of the modern ghost story and with good reason. This book collects together some of his best.
· The Hollowing by Robert Holdstock (And all the Mythago series. A brilliantly imagined mythopoetic world that I want to build a house in and live there.
BP: Thank you for your time Vaughn and good luck with your future endeavours!