Today I’m thrilled to have Colin Fisher stop by for a chat. Last week I reviewed his first novel, A Republic of Wolves. A City of Ghosts. We have a lot in common, including a passion for history. It’s not surprising that his novel is historical fiction about the Spanish Civil War. So let’s get started.
The main character in your novel, A Republic of Wolves. A City of Ghosts, is a middle-aged woman. Did you find it difficult to write from her perspective? What type of research did you do to get to know her character?
Funnily enough, María was the least troublesome character to write about. In some ways she wrote herself. You could say that I got to know her as the novel progressed, perhaps in a similar way that a reader would. In terms of getting inside her head, I always worked on the assumption that she was a square peg in a round hole. The fact that she was a middle-aged woman, although important, came second to that. Having said that, her backstory was often more enjoyable for me to write than the scrapes in which she found herself. As for research, I suppose it was a case of observing people around me or drawing on memories of people I knew and keeping my fingers crossed that I had got it right.
Why did you decide to have a female as the heroine of a war novel?
Although I had decided that I wanted to write a war novel, and put at the centre of it a secret, I knew from the start that a woman would be the heroine. I couldn’t have said much more than that at the time. I knew that I wanted it to be in many ways a traditional thriller but with a difference. So, it made sense to make a woman the central character. Michael Furst writes fantastic thrillers but the protagonist, I think, is always a man. Having written the novel, I can now see that I find writing about a woman much more interesting than writing about a man. Men, for me, are black and white. Women, on the other hand, in the same situation as a man, have a much wider range of reactions, thoughts, ideas and feelings. However, I wouldn’t say that I’ve got any psychological insight into either men or women.
What made you decide to write a historical fiction novel about the Spanish Civil War?
My mum told me years ago that you should write about what you know. But like any simple truth it can take you a long long time to assimilate it. I was living in Spain when I decided that I was going to write a historical novel so it made sense to base it on the Spanish Civil War. Also, it’s something that has interested me for years. The role played by British volunteers in the International Brigades is relatively well known in the UK (the death of the last Scottish volunteer was covered widely in the press) so it wasn’t a great unknown for me.
I imagine that the research about the war took some time. How long did it take you to do the research and how long did it take you to write it?
I already had a good background knowledge of the main events in the Spanish Civil War. But what made all the difference was being able to visit many of the places I describe in the novel. I still remember the walk I took through the City University piecing together the physical evidence (the bullet holes are still there, although no one but me seemed to notice them) to make it into a narrative. I reckon there was about two years of these walks before I got down to writing the novel. Writing it took three years.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered when you decided to self-publish?
Advertising it. It’s by far the toughest challenge I’ve faced. You spend years writing a novel, you believe that it’s good, people close to you who have read it tell you they like it; but how do you promote it and get people you don’t know to take a risk on an unknown author? That’s why a blog like yours is so valuable. It gives writers like me the chance to raise their profile and get in contact with new readers.
Are you working on a new novel? Can you share a little about it?
Yes I am. It’s about the theft of a library book and how it affects the lives of people who are, in different ways, linked to it. It’s also allowing me to write about something I know a lot about, Scotland circa 1974!
You have lived in Spain for ten years. What do you love about it? Do you dislike anything?
There is a spirit of generosity here that never ceases to amaze me. It can sound very clichéd but people do say “My home is your home.” People who were strangers to me when I moved here are now very close friends because they were happy to share what they could with me. As a result I’ve always felt completely at home here even when I spoke next to no Spanish. What do I dislike? When the temperature reaches 38 degrees centigrade during the day but only drops to twenty two degrees at night!
I’ve never been to Madrid. If I go, what three things should I do?
You have to visit the Prado and see the Velasquez and Goya paintings; go out for a night of tapas in the bars around the Plaza Mayor and watch the sunset from the steps of the Temple of Debod.
About the Author
I’ve lived in Spain for ten years and I never fail to be fascinated by its people, culture and history. The book grew out of my interest in the history of the Spanish Civil War and also having the chance to visit most of the main locations. Of course, having the chance to travel around Spain meant I could indulge in another of my interests – enjoying Spanish food and wine. One of the highlights of a visit to Granada was sitting in a terrace bar, looking across at the Alhambra palace and drinking a glass of chilled manzanilla.
How to Find Colin Fisher and his book: