Interview

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Devon based writer, lecturer, & teacher

Derek Gore

The author, Derek Gore, retired as a lecturer in the Department of Archaeology, University of Exeter in 2010.  He started at the University 24 years ago teaching continuing education students before moving into the Department of Archaeology, where he specialised in the Viking Age. He continues to teach continuing education groups, lectures to local history societies and tutors distance learning students.  Discussions with these groups have been the inspiration for his two novels. He takes the little we know of the history and archaeology of the period and fleshes this out with informed imagination. He lives with his wife Anne in Dawlish and regularly looks after his two grandsons.

Derek’s latest novel is Kings, Lords and Warriors, a fast-paced sequel to his successful first novel, Isca, which was set in and around Exeter in late Roman times.  

Kings, Lords and Warriors is a tale of murder, kidnapping and vicious armed gangs active on land and sea against a background of the birth of the Dark Age kingdom of Dumnonia. The action moves between Tintagel and Launceston in Cornwall to Exeter, High Peak near Sidmouth, the river Teign and the hillfort at Denbury near Newton Abbot. The Roman Empire is still a memory and one ruthless family are determined to replace it with a new kingdom, Dumnonia, with the head of the family as king. But for that they need the support of local lords and warriors.  Standing between them and the Crown is Victoricus, grandson of the hero of Isca, who endures life-threatening adventures whilst seeking the love of his lord’s daughter. 

We caught up with Derek recently to ask a few questions about his work.

Can you tell us a bit about why the history of Devon and Cornwall hold such a fascination for you? 

The history and archaeology of the peninsula has similarities to some other areas e.g. Brittany, Wales, Ireland, but it is very much a region with its own individuality. It is a large peninsula, isolated from other areas by its hills and high moorlands. Land communications were difficult until modern times, though use of sea and river routes compensated to an extent from prehistory. So, it is the individual nature of the archaeology of the region which attracts me and the increased interest in its history and archaeology, particularly over the last twenty years or so, is exciting. 

Could you describe your approach to research? How important is factual accuracy to your writing? 

I am writing about a period (late Roman, early medieval), which I have studied generally over more than 40 years.  I have also lectured on the archaeology and history of the Roman and early medieval periods in the South West, to undergraduates and continuing education students for over twenty years. It is this background that informs my fictional writing. I try to be as factually accurate as possible, despite the fact that in both novels I am writing about periods, where not much is known. Inevitably informed imagination has to take over. 

Kings, Lords, and Warriors is your second historical novel, following on from Isca, The Fall of the Roman Empire.  Do you have plans for further books in this series?

I have no concrete plans, as I am currently writing a non-fiction account of the Viking Age in the South-West.  However, it is not impossible that I might attempt to write a novel set in a later period in the future. 

Can you describe your writing environment and practice – do you have a particular place where you write, or a time of day, number of words, for example? 

I had a year off teaching to write the novel and set off trying to do about three hours every morning. The problem I find with novel writing is that it takes over, so some days I was doing far more than three hours, other days I was playing around with ideas and not actually writing very much. It was always written in my study at home word processed directly onto a computer.  I did not aim for a specific number of words per day. 

When you have a germ of an idea for a novel, how do you begin to plan for the writing stage? Do you map events in advance, or simply begin? 

In both cases I started with the factual knowledge we had of those particular periods. In the case of Isca the novel arose from a continuing education class I taught for the University in Plymouth fifteen years or so ago, where we discussed the little that was known of the late Roman period in the peninsula. We agreed that the subject would lend itself to fiction. The students thought we could write it as a class exercise, but the timetable changed the following year and we did not do it.  Eventually I decided to attempt it myself. Planning in both cases involved making a mental list of locations which might form a backdrop to or actually be used in the story and then thinking about the sort of events which might have taken place within those periods. The two key developments were clearly the end of Roman rule in the South-West for Isca and the formation of the kingdom of Dumnonia in Kings. In the first the obvious catalyst was the hiatus left behind by Roman withdrawal and the scramble for power. In the second the practicalities of how kingdoms were formed was the key. Once these were established I got down to writing.  The stories evolved, so were not fully fledged out. I just worked to the schemes outlined above. 

Thank you Derek.