Nov 17

Saturday Six Pack – Robert Carter – Author of Barbarians

This week’s Saturday Six Pack is with Robert Carter, a prolific author who is also an extremely interesting individual. I strongly encourage everyone to take a few minutes to visit Robert’s author page. http://amzn.to/WikmV9

Robert has done some fascinating things up to this point in his life and, fortunately, he continues to take the time to write some great books for all of us to enjoy.

Please join me in welcoming Robert Carter to Saturday Six Pack. (I’m sure he won’t mind if you have a cold one while you’re reading.)

Imagine a civil war that left 150 million people dead. A war waged ruthlessly by the Emperor against his own helpless people. A war continued against all odds by a rebel leader who thought himself the brother of Jesus Christ. The Americans, British and French were caught up in the catastrophe that ensued. Frederick T Ward leads a band of mercenaries against the Taiping rebels. He may find Chinese customs primitive, but that’s no reason not to make money out of them. Harry Lindley is searching for his missionary father. They are on a journey into the interior …

At the heart of the Celestial Realm, the Emperor is oblivious to these ‘foreign devils’. Dazed by opulence and opium, nor does he notice the vicious internecine struggles around him – on one side his ministers, who see no obstacle but a little bloodshed between them and vast fortunes; on the other, swathed in silk and jewels, the implacable figure of the Emperor’s first concubine.

This was an extraordinary period in Chinese history, and “Barbarians” follows the exploits of two real-life figures, one an Englishman and the other an American, in Shanghai, while the politics of the Manchu court are centred upon the extraordinary girl, Yehonala, who rose from concubine to become the all-powerful “Queen Victoria of China .”

Author Quote

My fourth historical epic is “Barbarians.” Set in the China of the mid-nineteenth century, it explores the terrible events that followed the first translation of the Bible into Chinese. The true history behind this novel is stranger than anything a novelist might reasonably invent. Hung, a young Chinese man, broken in spirit and mind by his failure in the civil service examinations, went slowly mad. After exposure to evangelical Christianity, he became convinced that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ.

In fact, Hung founded a quasi-religious revolutionary movement that spread rapidly across Southern China. It took hold with such rapidity because he began to promise landless peasants what they wanted most – land. Within a few years he had gathered an army of a million men around him, and he took the southern capital of Nanking and even threatened to unseat the ruling Ch’ing dynasty.

The second bloodiest war in all history ensued, killing three times as many people as World War One. I was interested in the setting of “Barbarians” partly because no one in the English-speaking world seemed to be aware that this momentous human event had ever happened. This was mainly due to timing: the attention of the British press was taken up by the war in the Crimea , and the United States of America had its collective mind on matters rather closer to home – the civil war.

Welcome to Saturday Six Pack, Robert. Really appreciate you stopping by. You have a number of books out including four historical novels as well as three mythic history/fantasy novels. How would you describe your work to a potential reader coming across them for the first time?

These days anyone with the price of a plane ticket can visit anywhere on the planet, but none of us can go to, say, Hampton Court in 1580, or the Manchu Court at Peking in 1860. My books offer readers the chance to time travel to a vanished world. I stick pretty close to real history, but insert characters and sub-plots which are consistent with what really happened. This, of course, means that I have to do a huge amount of research for each book. Fortunately I enjoy research, which helps. The Internet, old books, museums, travel and talking with experts – all ingredients to ensure that what I write is convincing and correct. I tend to write about periods of violent upheaval because that is where the drama is found and when people can be at their best and worst. Courage and betrayal both emerge when emotions are at their highest, and I’m always looking to create a riveting read.

Your personal bio and background is amazing and, as someone who spent a good portion of my younger years living abroad and travelling, I can sense the wanderlust. Please take a few minutes to hit some of the highlights of that period in your life and share a bit how this has influenced your writing.

The old cliché that “travel broadens the mind” is true. I was taken abroad as a child and that sparked an interest in maps. Later I developed an ambition to travel on the entire Trans-Siberian railway, which I did while it was still Soviet. I spent a good few months travelling to the more unusual parts of Asia, seeing the old ways before they vanished for good, and making it to exotic places such as Komodo, Mandalay and Everest Base Camp.

I worked for a Texan oil services company, which took me to war zones and other places that are generally hard to get to like the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia and the Congo in Africa. Very exciting and rather dangerous at times, but I’m glad I did it.

I like to write about dramatic and exciting events and I feel I owe it to my readers to have had some sort of first-hand experience. When I wrote Barbarians which is set in 19th century China, I had to go and take a look myself. Travelling in Manchuria in the depths of winter was no picnic. I find it’s essential to visit the places I write about to pick up on the local culture and how people behave, to make things authentic.

Could you tell us a bit about what you are working on at the moment and when we might see it launched?

I don’t reveal much about work in progress, but I can say that it will be a series of either four or five novels. The first of these will be out in about a year’s time.

It’s already on my To Buy list. I am sure you get asked questions all the time about your work and how you approach the marathon that is writing a novel. But here’s one I get asked all the time and I’m not sure I have a good answer. When you’re preparing to begin a new book, at what point do you know when you are ready to start writing?

I work in phases. In Phase One I do general research. I learn everything I can about the period in which my story will be set. In Phase Two I prepare a detailed outline regarding story and characters. Then in Phase Three, I do deeper research around the specifics that comprise the story. It’s only when I’ve completed these three phases that I sit down and start the first draft.

As an Indie Author, I’m always interested in how other writers balance their writing time with the requisite marketing and promotion efforts. How does a normal week break down for you with respect to writing versus promotion?

As a print author published by the likes of Penguin, Harper Collins, et al, the publishers used to do the promotion and all I had to do was write. Now I’ve chosen to publish my own work, I’m having to learn a bunch of new skills, like how best to use social media and discovering what works and what doesn’t. The trouble with marketing is that half of it is a waste of time, but you just don’t know which half! Generally I reserve office hours for writing and leave promotion to evenings and weekends. On the other hand, I have been known to get up at two in the morning with what seems to be a terrific idea burning in my mind. Sometimes ideas like that fail to convince in the cool light of day, unfortunately. On the whole I’d recommend regular hours. As a writer, habit is your friend.

Last question, and it’s the one I ask everyone since I’m very interested in how each author approaches their own development, if you could change one thing about yourself as a writer, what would it be?

It would have been way easier for me if I had written in one narrow, specialised genre. Bernard Cornwell and I used to share an agent. He writes about the same character over and over again, I didn’t do that until I embarked on The Language of Stones, my “fantasy” trilogy. As for what I would change about myself, I’d like to have been able to play the harpsichord.

A Led Zeppelin fan who wishes he could play the harpsichord. I told you folks that he was an interesting guy.

Thanks again, Robert. Be well, my friend.


  1. David Prosser

    A really good interview. I’m riveted by the experience you both gained during periods of travel and how you organise yourselves to write. It’s obvious that Robert is a very structured man and it’s what works best for him. Of course this genre lends itself to that because of the enormous amount of research. It seems not many people write by the seat of their pants letting the story go in the direction it wants to.
    Thanks for a very interesting read, great questions and solid answers.

  2. B.R. Snow

    Thanks for the kind words, David. Robert definitely brings a disciplined and rigorous approach to his books. He is definitely worth a look if you have an interest in historical fiction. But even that description doesn’t truly capture what he does. Be well.

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