Launch: Ethan Bale’s Hawker and the King’s Jewel

INTERVIEW BY M.N. STROH

Originally a defense journalist in Washington and London, Ethan Bale spent much of his career writing about modern military technology. Yet, his passion veered to ages past, the Renaissance and early modern Europe in particular. For many years he even donned full medieval armor to take part in fighting tournaments in both the US and UK.

This zeal eventually led him to pen historical novels, nonfiction, and short stories. In his own words he professes that he’s ‘been flung about in military aircraft, trained in 17th century rapier, fired flintlock pistols, messed about in boats, and ridden both horses and motorcycles. These days he is usually found wielding a pen and not a sword.’

With such a wealth of experiences to pour into his literary work, Hawker and the King’s Jewel  is sure to immerse readers in a rousing adventure.

How would you describe your book’s premise in two sentences?

What happens when you suddenly end up on the losing side of history? One grizzled knight from Richard III’s army must decide where his fortune and future lies after the debacle of Bosworth Field and the rise of Henry Tudor.

How did you decide on the setting for Hawker and the King’s Jewel?

My intention was to write not so much a novel about the Wars of the Roses, but rather, a late medieval thriller with spies, intrigue, mystery, and even a romantic backstory for the main character. The novel begins with King Richard’s last battle at Bosworth but the action and plot swiftly moves across Europe on a quest that leads to Venice. My characters are a conflicted bunch, carrying secrets and holding dubious loyalties. But I think that John Hawker is particularly compelling. He epitomizes a late middle-aged man having to cope with stark realities once the world he knew is turned upside down. How far do you honour old loyalties before making new ones? What do you do to survive?

Apart from your book’s beautiful cover, the first thing that catches a reader’s attention is that endorsement from Bernard Cornwell. Could you share a bit about that?

It’s a tremendous honor to have an endorsement from an author of Bernard Cornwell’s standing. My publisher reached out with an advance copy of the novel and no one was more surprised than me to learn that not only did he read and enjoy it, but that he was happy and enthusiastic to support Hawker with a few words for the cover.

What attracted you to switch from defense journalism to historical fiction?

It wasn’t really a conscious decision as it was something that happened over time. More a case of the hobby overtaking the day job, much like the race between the tortoise and the hare. I’d been writing short stories for years and my first published book – a non-fiction work about an 18th-century New England pirate – I wrote when I was still writing about military technology. Eventually, writing fiction won out for sheer enjoyment. I’m sometimes asked why I write historical novels and not techno-thrillers like those of Tom Clancy. I usually answer by saying that particular genre is too much like my day job used to be. I love time-travelling through my writing.

As far as writing goes, what part of the process would you say is your favorite?

Probably easier to list the non-favorites, such as endless rewrites! But there is a special joy for a writer when they craft a sentence or a passage that is not only beautiful but also conveys exactly the sense of place, mood, and tone that they had in mind. Painting a picture with words. It doesn’t happen on every page but when it does you sit back and smile.

Has your experience fighting in US and UK tournaments dressed in medieval armor added insight and authenticity to your story?

It’s been an incredible experience for me over the years and it has translated directly into my writing of battle scenes and duels. Until you find yourself fighting in a shield wall in full armour with just an eye-slit in your helm to see the world, you really can’t understand the limited vision, the stuffiness, and the added weight you must shift as you move around. All of that you can adjust to of course, but it takes training and exercise. The experience really gives one an insight into what our ancestors dealt with in medieval combat.

Did you face any particular challenges with research?

There is rightly an expectation on the part of the reader for an author to make an effort on the historical detail in his or her work. For me, it’s been a challenge in finding some of the more quotidian aspects of late medieval life, such as the cost of food, lodging, or clothing as well as wages. For instance, it took some time for me to track down how much a suit of armor cost in the 1480s. And moreover, the quality and maker of that armor would greatly influence the price that was charged. Rather than just invent a figure, I felt it was important to make the effort to find out the truth and was lucky enough to track down some valuable information online.

I see Hawker and the King’s Jewel is slated to be the first in a series. How many more are planned to follow?

Canelo Adventure has commissioned an initial series of three novels and we will have to see where it goes from there. Each of the three conclude without cliff-hangars but there is definitely a continuing story arc to them all. I think readers will be eager to find out where Sir John Hawker and his companions are next headed.

What is the last great book you read?

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.

 

HNS Sponsored Author Interviews are paid for by authors or their publishers. Interviews are commissioned by HNS.


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