While David Dunham was writing one story, a totally different one came to him in the form of a quietly intense character. This took him back to the early 1900s where he takes readers through the Great War from the homefront's perspective and tells a love story in a deep way. As our author of the day, Dunham tells us more about The Silent Land, the inspiration behind it and his fascination with the Great War.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Silent Land is about
It is 1904 and Rebecca Lawrence, a shy young woman tied to the village she was raised in, is taken by her father across England and placed into a society that will bring her confidence and conflict, and set her on a path to falling in love. When years later the First World War threatens the life she has built for herself, she is faced with the choice of either protecting those she cares for, or revealing a great secret that will destroy them.
Why the early 1900s? What is it about that time period that drew you?
The original book was called The Catesby Committee and was set in 1939 England around the relationship between two young men, James and Sebastian, and how one became compromised in his patriotism. I began to write the novel, but after a chapter or two I became more interested in their mother and what her story was so I took the story back many years to when she was a young woman. The chronology of her life couldn’t ignore the First World War, hence my involvement of a relatively unknown battle in the narrative; a battle I had once researched as a reporter.
The story ends in 1919, leaving James and Sebastian awaiting their turn for their tale to be told.
The Silent Land is your debut work. What has the experience been like so far?
There were moments early on when it occurred to me that a male writing his debut novel using third person limited point of view, from the perspective of a young, middle-class woman living in early 20th Century England, and one who speaks in an ever so slightly diluted form of Edwardian English, was being a little ambitious. But that doubt soon passed and I, and this may sound strange, talked to Rebecca as much as I could in my head. Whenever I felt I was losing her, I would go for a walk and ask her what she would do or say, or how she would act. And then I wrote the second sentence and so on.
Have you always known you wanted to be an author?
As a child, I wanted to write stories. The interest left me for a while, and then returned many years later when I was in a better position to articulate my thoughts.
How much research went into this book – to make the history part of it ring true? What was the most interesting aspect of your research?
Many trips to libraries and record offices, plus hours spent going through military archives, were required. Fortunately, I was able to access the locations as I grew up in them. This was the best part - accessing memories of years gone past, just to ensure that a place was how I wished it to appear on the page.
Tell us more about Rebecca Lawrence. Why did you pick her to be your main character?
I’m drawn to quietly intense characters in literature and so I wished to create one of my own. The First World War was so horrifying upon those left at home, that I intended from the beginning to be as authentic as I could, without replicating what other writers have done.
Some say the book has a Downton Abbey feel to it – are you a fan of the series?
I have watched it and believe it has tremendous merit, particularly in the dialogue and characterisation. All those involved should be tremendously proud of their work.
In which way is The Silent Land a coming of age story?
In that grief and love can make one mature, irrespective of age. There is, in my view, no set age for this growth. For Rebecca, in The Silent Land, grief and love are thrust upon her.
The Silent Land is not your typical passionate romance like other books in the genre. Why did you take a different approach?
A quiet love can be just as passionate as a loud one. And I didn’t believe I could add anything to what others have already produced, so I took my own path in mood.
The Great War features prominently in this book. Why did you find it important to explore?
It has fascinated, saddened, and angered me since I was at school. It does so to this day. Early on, I considered writing from the viewpoint of a soldier, yet felt the story of grief from another victim, that of a spouse, to be equally powerful.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I’m rather competent at throwing a ball for my dogs in the park, cycling on busy roads, and drinking strong coffee and tea.
Tell us about your writing habits – how did you make time to write, what is your favorite writing spot, where do you find inspiration?
The Silent Land is set in the early 20th century and so I was to write as if I was in the early 20th century myself - with paper and pen. A good pen, mind you, not a Biro or one of those in the stationery aisle of the supermarket, a proper pen, one that had a nib with a crest, a sleek barrel and required cartridges (I prefer long, not short) that when changing deposits ink on your fingertip and gives you a little buzz as you push it down and you feel the subtle click. I still follow the same process for my current novel. I write by hand on paper, then type it up, then edit on screen, then edit on printed paper, then return to the screen and edit again. Then at some point I let it go.
What are you working on right now?
The Legend of Caradoc is my current project. It is the story of Jack Caradoc, a sixteen-year-old Cornish boy who travels to a different world to destroy the evil his ancestors had defeated centuries before.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I am more than approachable on Twitter @ddunhamauthor and on my website: daviddunham.co.uk or at goodreads.com