On Writing Historicals ~ by Tim Walker

Tim Walker/Roman town wall at Calleva Atrebatum
My name is Tim Walker and I’m now in my late-50s - a British/Irish man, once again single, living in Windsor, England. Although I can see Windsor Castle on a short walk, I don’t personally know my neighbour, Queen Elizabeth. I have previously lived in Hong Kong, Zambia, South Wales, Liverpool, and London. I once owned and edited magazines and newspapers, so researching, interviewing subjects, editing news items and reporting events is something I’m comfortable with. 

I only tried creative writing in 2013 as a consequence of being unable to work due to cancer treatment and slow recovery. I undertook an online creative writing course that encouraged writing short stories based on familiar themes and locations, and use of the senses to describe settings. There were also helpful tips on narrative structure and drawing your characters. This was a new form of writing for me, and I approached it in a structured way. But once I’d formulated my stories, then the creative process kicked-in and the words spilled into a Word document in a magical and unexpected way. I was soon hooked on telling my story and sharing my interests in fictional stories.

I wandered along the Thames river path, gradually recovering my strength, and thinking up ideas for stories. My interest in history and current affairs channeled my ideas, and before long I had written an eclectic set of stories whose emergent theme was tales reflecting the history, legend and current affairs of Thames Valley towns and places. I had joined a writers’ group in Windsor, where we read bits of our prose to each other and gave feedback. We also invited guest speakers to talk on aspects of writing, such as characterisation, plot, structure, etc. I was introduced to a local author who was looking for copyediting work, and engaged her to proofread and copy edit my first collection of short stories, Thames Valley Tales. She really gave me the confidence to believe in my work and encouraged me to ‘put it out there’. Given my publishing background, self-publishing seemed a natural choice for me. I soon learned to format for e-book and paperback using the Amazon Kindle platform, and organised my own advertising and promotion.



I had to endure health complications that kept me signed-off from work by my doctors, and threw myself into writing during those few hours of the day when I felt up to it. After 12 months, I was retired by my employer on health grounds. Thames Valley Tales, published in July 2015, was soon followed by a short novella, Abandoned, later that year. Abandoned was inspired by a visit to the site of a former Roman town not far from where I lived, now called Silchester, but once Calleva Atrebatum – ‘the wooded place of the Atrebates’. The Romans had built a stone-walled town on the site of the main tribal settlement of the Atrebates tribe, and, having placated them, duly named their town after their new partners. 

The more I read about the history of Roman Britain and in particular, Calleva Atrebatum, the more embroiled I became in dreaming up answers to questions such as, “How would the locals have felt after the Romans packed up and left around the year 410 AD?” Surely, after nearly 400 years of occupation, they would be Romano-British subjects of Rome, and fully integrated into a way of life much advanced to their predecessor’s Iron Age lifestyle. For some, it would have been a moment of opportunity, whilst others would have fretted at the protective shield of the Roman legions being removed. Also, many of their own young men who served in the auxiliary forces attached to legions, were also ordered away to fight barbarians in Gaul (France). It’s unlikely that many, if any, returned. Abandoned centres on the fear that grips the town of Calleva in the months after their Roman occupants left, when a roving warband of Saxons turns up, eying them for plunder.

Little was I to know that Abandoned, originally an 18,000-word short story/novella, was to be the starting point of a book series that now stands at five books and over 350,000 words. Whilst always having the next historical novel bubbling away on the stove, I would occasionally divert my mind to writing short stories and verse, producing a second book of short stories, Postcards from London, in 2017, and Perverse in 2020.

As my knowledge and interest in Britain in the post-Roman years (the fifth and sixth centuries) grew, I continued with book two, Ambrosius: Last of the Romans (2017). A name for the emerging series, A Light in the Dark Ages, came to mind when plotting book three, Uther’s Destiny (2018). Then came the thorny issue of, “Do I want to take on writing about King Arthur, but from a historical perspective?”

I thought about this for a few months and did some more reading.
An article by historian David Ford Nash, gave me a way in. One of the earliest mentions of a real, historical figure called Arthur, is by the monk, Nennius, who published his ‘History of the Britons’ around the year 820 – three hundred years after Arthur had died and his story had passed into legend. Nash takes Nennius’s description of twelve battles in which Arthur was victorious and attempts to locate them, giving his interpretation of the obscure places named. I decided to build my narrative around the likely locations of Arthur’s twelve battles, thus giving myself a toehold in the hazy history of early Dark Ages Britain.
Arthur Dux Bellorum (2019) and now the new book, Arthur Rex Brittonum (2020), outline my life of Arthur – an imagined life of a real figure whose name was later linked to the romantic legend of Camelot by Middle Ages romantics.

I also began writing a children’s book series with my teenage daughter, Cathy – The Adventures of Charly Holme, and we will soon launch the third and final book in our series, Charly in Space. Cathy is now sixteen and embroiled in exams, so I feel it has run its course as a fun, holiday activity. 

We all grow and learn new things, as I am acutely aware, now I’m in my fifth decade. In addition to writing, I help run a local charity called Men’s Matters, and I write a weekly lock-down newsletter and organise zoom meetings for our old men, many of whom live alone.

Never accept defeat – there are always new opportunities around the next corner.

If you would like to keep up to date with Tim's writing, please click on the link below.


**photos are property of Tim Walker and may not be used without permission.

4 comments:

  1. It's an honor having you as our guest today, Tim. Thank you for sharing with us.

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  2. love your story about how you got into writing your books, however this also takes discipline and dedication, as I have been 'writing'! my books ! for a long time now and only completed one little short tale. having read 3 of your Arthur books, I love your characterization plus how you bring the era to life. hope you enjoyed writing them as much as I enjoy reading them. I also have your poetry book also enjoyable.. am about to start your latest 'Arthur' book. thanks......

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  3. Wow, Tim. You've had quite the writing journey. Thanks for sharing.

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