My first encounter with James Burke, the elusive spy-extraordinaire, was when I read the first book in Tom Williams’s series Burke in the Land of Silver. Last Friday, Burke returned in the fifth instalment of his historical adventures, and Tom is here to tell us about it and share an absolutely hilarious snippet from the book. Over to Tom –
“Burke in the Peninsula is just about to hit the shelves – or at least Amazon’s Kindle store. This is the first full-length novel that I’ve self-published. As the publishing world has changed, so it seems that the best person to publish a book is the person who is most committed to it and that’s likely to be the author.
It’s hard work though. There are covers to commission, formatting issues to sort out, editorial decisions to make and proofs to check – all the stuff that I used to leave to other people. At least now I know what publishers do to earn their money.
Then, of course, there’s the whole issue of promotion and that includes writing about your book so that bloggers can spread the good word on their blogs. I’ve been writing a lot of these pieces just lately. I noticed that I generally write about a thousand words, which seems to be longer than a lot of blogs. How can I cut down on unnecessary verbiage?
Perhaps the trick is just to say: buy Burke in the Peninsula; it’s really very good.
Do you want more than that?
It’s the fourth book featuring the adventures of James Burke a spy for the British during the Napoleonic Wars. He was a real man but his adventures here are loosely based on the exploits of Sir John Waters who spied for Wellington in the peninsula. He once escaped the French disguised as a ghost – a story which is supposed to have hugely amused Wellington when he heard it and which features in Burke in the Peninsula.
Well there’s a girl, of course, but one who is least capable of rescuing Burke as the other way round. There is an evil villain, who meets a suitably unpleasant end and (at least if you read the historical note) you will learn some interesting things about the explosive power of custard powder. And you’ll find yourself in the middle of the battle of Talavera – ostensibly a British victory, but in reality a particularly bloody defeat. Keep your head down and you may be one of the lucky ones who survives.
In the end, I think all you really need to know is: buy Burke in the Peninsula; it’s really very good.”
It may seem like Tom is blowing his own trumpet here, but judging by the extract below, I would certainly agree with his assessment.
James Burke has just arrived with the British Army in Spain. He is to reconnoitre ahead of the army, disguised as a Catholic priest. But first, he needs a cassock. His sergeant, the resourceful William Brown, suggests that he can probably have one made by one of the camp followers.
“The area that the camp followers occupied was, as usually seemed to be the case, remarkably well ordered given the bad reputation of the women inhabiting it. In fairness, Burke knew the reputation to be often undeserved. Many of them were the wives or, at least, common-law wives of men in the Army and all the women contributed to the welfare of the troops by helping with cooking and cleaning and, indeed, occasional sewing. It was true, though, that many – if not most – of them helped keep body and soul together by providing, for consideration, the companionship that men on the march would be unable to get elsewhere.
Burke was hardly a prude but, as he stood by listening to William negotiating with the women, he found himself blushing at their conversation. He was pleased that he had left this part of the business to his sergeant who was all too clearly comfortable with this badinage.
Soon things were settled. William introduced Burke to Sofia, a comely wench who had attached herself to the Army somewhere in Portugal. “She’s from these parts, you see,” explained William, “so she knows what a Roman cassock should look like.”
“So she can start now. We need the wretched thing by morning.”
Burke did not like the sound of that ‘ah’.
“We need the cloth.”
“She doesn’t have it?”
“Be fair, sir.” There was the slightest tone of exasperation in William’s voice. “You can hardly expect her to be carrying a bolt of cloth with her just on the off chance.”
“Well that leaves us in something of a quandary, doesn’t it, sergeant?”
“Don’t you worry, sir. You can rely on me.”
Burke nodded. He suspected that he could. William’s abilities as a scavenger were second to none. Burke settled down to wait, ignoring the half heard jokes of the alleged seamstresses around him, while his sergeant vanished away into the camp.
He was starting to worry when, half an hour later, William returned with the cloth.
“Well done, William. Where did you find that?”
“Best you don’t ask, sir.”
Burke looked at the cloth, looked at William, and decided not to ask again.
It was very good cloth and Sofia turned out to be a very good seamstress. She used a knotted string to make some measurements and then told Burke that he could leave her to it. “It will be ready for you in the morning.” Burke rose to return to the officers he was to mess with but William showed no sign of leaving.
“Don’t worry, sir. I’ll bring it to you first thing.”
“You don’t have to wait here, William. We can collect it in the morning.”
“I’m happy to wait, sir. It will be my pleasure.”
Burke caught Sofia’s eye and she nearly burst out laughing. He pretended not to notice and made his way back to where Jenkins had left him.”
Burke in the Peninsula is published on 25 September. It is available on Kindle at £3.99 and in paperback at £6.99. And it really is very good.
Tom Williams writes regularly on his own blog, often at much greater length than this. You can find it at http://tomwilliamsauthor.co.uk/blog/. Or, if you want his words of wisdom 480 characters at a time, he tweets as @TomCW99.