Last month I reviewed David Churchill’s first novel The Leopards of Normandy: Devil, which I enjoyed very much. I say first novel instead of debut novel, since it’s a public secret that David Churchill is a pseudonym for thriller writer and journalist David Thomas. I really enjoyed Devil and I’m looking forward to the rest of the books. So I was stoked to be able to be part of the blog tour for the book and host a guest post. Today David reveals his top five historians, who fed his love of history.
Top Five Historians
1. Everyone should have at least one truly inspirational teacher during their time at school and David Evans, universally known as Dave, was mine. He had a floppy mop of curly black hair and spoke with an extreme lisp that made him the subject of much mocking impersonation … until he taught you. Then you realised that he was a man who made history come alive. He didn’t just tell you what had happened, he explained why, and did so on a very human level that made perfect personal sense. He took my A-Level history group through two compete syllabuses and one of them was medieval. I’ll never forget his one-man re-enactment of the French knights advancing towards the English army through the mud of Agincourt, nor his insistence that almost all relations between kings and their aristocracy could be understood by asking the simple question: ‘Cui bono?’ or ‘Who stands to gain?’ One Sunday afternoon in the autumn of 1976, with the Cambridge entrance exams due to begin on Monday morning, I realised, as if in a nightmare, that I had done absolutely no work that term. In a panic I dashed to Dave Evans’ rooms. He sat me down and talked me through all the basic economic, social and above all personal principles that govern virtually any government decision or human action. So long as my answers encompassed them , he said, I would be all right. The following morning the exams began. In the New Year the results came through, along with letters from the respective colleges to the school. My letter from King’s regretted that I had not got a single date right in three entire papers. But they gave me a place anyway. Thank you, Dave.
2. Robin Middleton and David Watkin taught me Architectural History as part of my History of Art course at Cambridge. I had gone up to study Philosophy, hated it and, sick of being a swot decided to switch to the most fun, frivolous subject I could find. History of Art got the vote. In fact it was a wonderful subject for a would-be writer because it taught me to look at and analyze the world around me: I learned to see, in other words. Robin Middleton was cool, looked a bit like a retired Sixties rock star and wore a snakeskin jacket. David Watkin was a prototype Young Fogey, always besuited and had political views on the very far side of the spectrum from Middleton. Both, however, were masters of their subject and in their hands a subject taken as a joke became an absolute joy.
3. Tom Wolfe may not seem like an obvious historian, but The Right Stuff is surely a work of contemporary historical research. Writing around 15 – 20 years after the events he described Wolfe told the story of America’s space programme in a way that – like a Dave Evans history lesson! – brought it completely to life. His research was as wide ranging as that of any PhD student – probably more so, given the time and money he could devote to the task – so the factual underpinnings are all there. But Wolfe is not just an academic but a wonderfully perceptive observer. In all his best journalism he has a real ear for the way people talk and the attitudes they express, sometimes unknowingly. His eye for detail – the clothes, hairstyles, cars, homes and consumer goods, just as much as the rockets and the planes – is so acute that I’m sure his books will be poured over by historians as yet unborn as they try to understand 20th century America. From the Eisenhower Fifties to the Reaganite Eighties, absolutely nobody caught the spirit of that age and place better than Tom Wolfe.
4. Elisabeth van Houts is professor of Medieval History at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. More importantly to me she is both the translator of the ‘Gesta Normanorum Ducum’ (the deeds of the dukes of Normandy) and the editor of The Normans in Europe, a collection of contemporary writings from the 10th to 12th centuries. It is a statement of simple truth to say that I could not possibly be writing The Leopards of Normandy without the work that Professor van Houts has done.
5. Roger Moorhouse is a historian who specialises in modern German history. He is also the author of a book with the self-explanatory title of Berlin at War. I was reading a review of it in The Sunday Times when I saw a passing reference to a serial murder case that gripped Berlin in early 1941, which mentioned that one of the detectives involved in the case had later become an indicted war criminal. I was struck by the unnamed individual’s transition from the heroic figure of homicide detective to the arch-villain status of a Nazi killer. The result was Ostland, a novel published under my own name – David Thomas – in 2013. Roger gave me a huge amount of help with the historical background to Ostland. He also read the early drafts, after one of which he gave me some absolutely invaluable advice. ‘The history is fine. Now go off and be a novelist.’ I’ve lived by those words ever since.
Bio: David Churchill is the pseudonym of an award-winning journalist, who has conducted several hundred in-depth interviews with senior politicians, billionaire entrepreneurs, Olympic athletes, movie stars, supermodels and rock legends. He has investigated financial scandals on Wall Street, studio intrigues in Hollywood and corrupt sports stars in Britain, and lived in Moscow, Washington DC and Havana. He has edited four magazines, published seventeen books and been translated into some twenty languages.
The Leopards of Normandy trilogy reflects his lifelong passion for history and his fascination for the extraordinary men and women of the past who shaped the world we live in today.
You can learn more about The Leopards of Normandy on David’s website.
A Fantastical Librarian is only one of the stops on this blog tour. Be sure to check out the other stops linked below!