Last year I really enjoyed Gideon’s Angel, Clifford Beal’s first novel with Solaris. It was a swashbuckling historical fantasy that pushed all the right buttons for me. I was also fortunate enough to meet and chat with Clifford at World Fantasy in Brighton. Thus, when his prequel to Gideon’s Angel called Raven’s Banquet was released just when I was doing a month focused on historical fiction, I knew I had to ask him for an interview. Clifford graciously agreed and today I get to share the results with you. I hope you enjoy them and look for a review of the book soon.
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Clifford Beal?
He’s a former defence and security journalist who after 25 years decided it was far more fun to write stuff about unreal worlds rather than write anymore about the real one.
How would you introduce readers to your protagonist, Richard Treadwell?
Colonel Treadwell is a very jaded and world-weary career soldier who has seen it all in the service of the crowned heads of 17th century Europe. He carries a fair amount of baggage due to his unwelcome proclivity for finding otherworldly trouble wherever he goes. He’s a conflicted character, and not always good, but he still has a strong moral core that helps him make the right choices (most of the time). The new Treadwell novel gives the reader a bit more of his backstory as to why he is the way he is.
Gideon’s Angel was set during the Protectorate, the strange republican interlude in Britain’s royal history. What drew you to writing in this era?
I was drawn to the 17th century many years ago and have studied and read about it since I was at university. It’s an amazing period of European history as it sits at the twilight of the medieval world and the dawn of the modern age. There’s so much overlap between old and new thinking, magic and science, that it provides a writer with huge scope for drama.
Monsieur d’Artagnan just walked into the room and got the part without an audition! I don’t think he was there at the onset but as the opening chapters of the novel are set in the Paris of a young Louis XIV, I thought he would be a great companion/antagonist for Treadwell. My d’Artagnan is modelled on the real man and less so on Alexander Dumas’ musketeer. I think most people assume he was just a creation of Dumas. In actual fact, he was a superspy for Cardinal Mazarin, a great soldier, and every bit just as heroic as the character of fiction.
Your new book, Raven’s Banquet is set in Germany in 1626, which is smack-dab in the middle of the Thirty Years’ War. Like the conflict between Cromwell and the crown, this war had its roots in religious disagreements. What is it about this dynamic that draws you? Is it just its ubiquitous presence in that era or something else?
Well, if truth be told, Raven’s Banquet was started long before I wrote Gideon’s Angel. The idea came to me as I watched the horrors of the Bosnian war on TV and thought how it reminded me of the terrible outrages and massacres against towns and villages during the Thirty Years’ War. I wanted to write about such a descent into hell from a young soldier’s viewpoint. What resulted still works as a standalone novel but it is a perfect prequel and ends exactly where Gideon’s begins. It tells how Treadwell began his soldiering life as a very naïve youth, signing up as a mercenary in the Danish invasion of Germany and expecting to instantly become an officer and get rich on war booty. The reality for him is shocking and he soon sinks into the amorality and immorality that is war. And if that weren’t bad enough, there are the ghosts of the recently killed and some strange goings-on in the Harz Mountains to deal with. I have to say, the novel is in many ways far darker than the sequel as it delves into the weaknesses of the human heart and conscience.
Will Raven’s Banquet have another famous literary cameo?
I’m afraid not, but there are a few characters who appear in both books.
What’s next for you? Are you working on another Treadwell book or on something different? Do you have any appearances or conventions planned?
I do have an outline for another Treadwell adventure, this time set in a wonderfully dystopian New England of religious fanatics, crusty settlers, and very discontented natives. But for now, Colonel Treadwell is taking some needed R&R. My latest project is an epic fantasy series set in a secondary world reminiscent of renaissance Europe but with some rather big differences. More on that to be announced very soon by the publisher. I’m planning on being at LonCon in August and also FantasyCon in September and looking forward to both.
Is there something else you’re passionate about other than writing and books?
Well, as you probably know I used to practice renaissance sword skills but now I’ve moved to more mundane sports like country walks and tennis, befitting my advancing years but not half as much fun.
As a book reviewer, I’m all about the book enabling; I can’t help but want to make people read all the good books out there. But I can always use help. What are your top recommendations of books we should look out for in the coming months?
Sticking with historical fantasy, I’m planning on picking up Mark Alder’s Son of the Morning. And later this year we’ve got Michael Moorcock’s new “Whitefriars” series to look forward to, the first book entitled The Whispering Swarm. And last, but not least, fellow Rebellion author Sarah Cawkwell’s Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising out from Abaddon next month.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
As someone who worked in university libraries and even a bookshop I’m ashamed to say my system is a shambles. It is ingenious in that since only I can find anything on the shelves it discourages burglars looking to steal something specific.
Bio (taken from the author’s website): Clifford Beal, originally from Providence, Rhode Island, worked for 20 years as an international journalist and is the former editor-in-chief of Jane’s Defence Weekly in London. He is the author of Quelch’s Gold (Praeger Books 2007), the true story of a little-known but remarkable early 18th century Anglo-American pirate. But he’s also been scribbling fiction from an early age: his seventh grade English teacher nicknamed him “Edgar Allen” undoubtedly due to the gothic subject matter of his extremely short stories. His debut novel, Gideon’s Angel, was published by Solaris Books in March 2013.
For recreation, Clifford used to don plate armour and bash the tar out of people in the Society for Creative Anachronism before moving to more civilised pursuits such as 17th century rapier and dagger fighting and motorcycling (though not simultaneously). Today, he is more likely to be found at the seaside or the Savile Club in London, sharing good wine and conversation in a place where the sparring is usually only verbal.