Author Interview: Antoine Vanner / The Dawlish Chronicles



JMR-Welcome to the Books Delight, Antoine. Tell our readers where you live, what you do for fun and what does the perfect day look like?

AV- We live in a rural location in England’s beautiful East Somerset. We’ve got ten acres divided into paddocks, and extensive stable facilities, as my wife breeds horses. Including our dog, Rufus, we currently have nine four-legged friends on site. There’s a lot of work involved but it’s endlessly rewarding. I’ve got my own separate hut for writing in – it’s important to be mentally and physically distant from other activities. Reading, movies and walking represent the best fun for me. My perfect day is one in which one of the mares foals – the delight of seeing a foal struggling to its feet a half-hour after birth is indescribable. And I’d hope to write a thousand words that day, have the birds singing outside my hut’s window and a walk with Rufus in country lanes. Plus settling down with a good book afterwards, of course!

JMR-What’s your favorite historical time period? Why?

AV- It’s “The Long 19th Century”, 1815 – 1914. The rate of technological, scientific, medical social and economic change was unprecedented. The balance of power changed dramatically – Britain’s Empire approaching its apogee (though overstretched), France struggling not to fall behind, steady weakening of the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empire. The new – and militarily and industrially powerful – German Empire was on the rise. And, almost unnoticed by Europe, so too were the United States and Japan.  There were few direct conflicts between these great powers but colonial and other ambitions led to frequent “wars by proxy”. Seen in retrospect, there is a terrible sense of tragedy about the later decades of the period as, blindly, unthinkingly, these nations drifted towards the hecatomb of 1914.

For me personally the era is especially interesting for being “the day before yesterday”. All my grandparents came to maturity before 1900 and they brought that period to life for me in their reminiscences.

JMR-Who is your favorite historical figure? Why? If you could ask them one question, what would it be?

AV- No hesitation – Abraham Lincoln. He towers above all others in terms of integrity, courage, compassion and pragmatism.  Power neither tempted nor spoiled him, he made hard decisions unflinchingly, he never let personal tragedy deflect him and his compassion and humanity never wavered. Self-educated, with only a few months of formal schooling, he went on to write and speak words that will live on, and inspire, as long as the English language endures. What would I ask him? For his advice for young people on preparation to live worthy, generous and courageous lives.

JMR- After a long career in business, how did you come to be a writer of historical fiction?

AV- I’d been writing off and on all my life (least said the better, as regards early efforts!), but it was only in the two years before retirement that I forced the discipline on my self of writing six days a week, to the exclusion of all other free-time pursuits. I worked 50 to 80 hours per week for most of my business career but all while the ideas for books were maturing. After a half-century of intensive reading, primarily on the era from the Reformation to our own time, and especially on the Long 19th Century, historical fiction was my inevitable choice of genre.

JMR- Your books, The Dawlish Chronicles, are based on the life of Nicholas Dawlish. Tell us about him.

AV- He’s a British naval officer, born 1845 and dying in 1918. He’s a contemporary of real characters like Admirals Lord “Jacky Fisher” and Lord Charles Beresford. Like them, as a boy, he joins the Royal Navy still commanded by veterans of the Napoleonic period, in which sailing warships, carrying steam machinery mainly as auxiliary power. Like them, he coped with massive change – armour, turbines, torpedoes, submarines and – ultimately – aircraft and radio. He helps forge the modern navy that will fight WW1. From a modest background, he’s intensely ambitious, and is therefore prepared to take on difficult assignments in places as diverse as Denmark, Turkey, Cuba, Paraguay, East Africa and the Sudan. And the challenges are often as much ethical as physical.

Equally important in the series is Nicholas’s wife Florence (1855 – 1946), whom be meets in Turkey in circumstances that stretch their courage to the limit. She is the love of his life, as he is of hers. Clever, courageous and loyal, she is a significant presence, active or passive, in all the books. In two of them she is the main player, facing challenges in Britain while Nicholas is absent in service overseas.

JMR- Have you traveled to /visited sites connected to Nicholas Dawlish? Where do you feel closest to him?

AV- All the books are inspired by cultures and events in places I have lived and worked in, or have visited. I’ve worked in eight countries long-term (two to six years) and I’ve had shorter-term assignments in a dozen more. My academic, post-business, career involved work in six countries and I also provided planning support, pro-bono, in developing countries. I felt closest to Nicholas in Turkey, a county I loved and whose people I came so much to admire – just as Nicholas did. That inspired Britannia’s Wolf.

JMR- Your books span the globe; how much research goes into each book? What was the most interesting thing you’ve learned about that time or about Nicholas?

AV- The most important research is that done over decades – the wide reading that gives an understanding of the political, social, economic, technological and cultural factors that define an era. Thereafter, more focused research is needed as regards the actual plot, including tracking down first-hand contemporary accounts where possible. Sometimes specific site-visits are needed – e.g. walking the Mill River in New Haven and visiting the Fenian Ram preserved in Paterson, New Jersey for Britannia’s Shark. Memory is very powerful in conveying the “feel” of locations such as the Nile and the landscape of East Africa or of experiences such as being at sea in a small vessel in extreme weather. Minor but essential details (days of the week, phases of the moon, details of dress and weapons, etc.) can be found “on the fly”. Each book demands about 1200 hours, from idea to publication. I reckon that 100 to 150 hours of this is devoted to research.

And what have I found about Nicholas and Florence? That they’re decent, honourable people but in many areas they view things in very different ways to which we do. It’s inevitable – they’re real people for me, and they have minds of their own and are not 21st Century people in re-enactors’ costumes.

JMR-What projects do you have in the pipeline? Anything other than The Dawlish Chronicles?

AV- I’ve written one “serious” novel based on direct personal experience and it deals with some very raw issues. I’ve held it back but may publish at some time in the future.

JMR- Tell our readers how to find you on social media and the web.

AV- To find out more about the Dawlish Chronicles check

My Author Page is:

Facebook: Dawlish Chronicles    Twitter: Antoine Vanner

Mailing List: Sign up for six free short stories for your Kindle:

JMR- What question were you hoping I’d ask but didn’t?

AV- “Is it’s all worth the effort?”

        And the answer is “Definitely! The pleasure in writing “The End” is indescribable!”


JMR- Thank you, Antoine, for stopping by. Your horses sound amazing. Readers, I know you’ll be wanting to check out Antoine’s’ books, so I’ve included a link below.

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  1. Weldone Antoine, brilliant and informative interview, very impressive the travels and experience you have had in your life and wish you many many years of health and happiness with family and four legged friends.

    1. Many thanks! Writing is a rather lonely business much of the time (especially in lockdown!) and feedback like yours boosts my morale no end! You're sending me well-motivated and enthused back to the keyboard this morning. Best wishes to you and yours for coming well through this difficult time. Antoine


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