S.E. Morgan is a Celtic history enthusiast and the author of the frankly marvellous novel, From Waterloo to Water Street, which chronicles one old Welsh soldier sharing his memories of the Napoleonic Wars with his grandson against the backdrop of the Rebecca Riots.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Morgan about her debut novel From Waterloo to Water Street which is available to buy now on Amazon.
How did you get into writing?
Retiring from a busy job that I loved was harder than I anticipated. I needed to put structure into my day and decided to fulfil a lifetime’s ambition and write a novel.
From Waterloo to Water Street is probably the best book I’ve read in months. You have expertly woven together the story of a young man living through the Rebecca Riots with an old soldier’s memories of the Napoleonic Wars into one hearty and thoroughly enjoyable novel. Where do you even begin trying to craft something so intricate?
I was naive. I had no idea how hard writing was. This was a story I need to write. After all, no one else can tell your tale, only you.
The key elements are taken from my family history. My ancestor was that Waterloo veteran, and the carpenter’s apprentice, my great-great-great grandfather. The events are factual and taken from contemporary accounts. My ancestors, like most other working people in west Wales, had to fight for social justice their livelihoods were being destroyed by tolls and taxes. I have even seen signatures on petitions.
Were there any particular themes you were keen to explore in this novel?
The fight for social justice in early Victorian Wales, but also the how people with mental illness and learning disability were treated before the asylums. My characters experience survivor guilt and PTSD, depression, and Down’s syndrome. Learning disability in particular is often written out of history and ‘madness’ is not necessarily treated as much more than an artistic device in fiction.
Who was your favourite character in this story?
Cantankerous, curmudgeonly Gu, the Waterloo veteran is in many ways the hero of the tale, although he has feet of clay. He’s riddled with guilt for all sorts of reasons. His journey across the Iberian Peninsular and through the Low Countries and on to Waterloo was fascinating for me. I’d never have dreamed of reading about it as a pacifist, but of course had no choice.
What’s your writing routine like?
I’m a morning person. Unless the sun is shining when I may take a walk instead, I try to write one thousand words each day. I think you have to write at a time and in a way that works for you but be disciplined. Whenever works do it regularly.
In reality though it’s the editing that takes the time and more often I plough on revising polishing and correcting.
You’re obviously a very skilled author. Where did you learn to write?
I realised it was a craft I’d need to relearn almost from scratch. I considered studying for an expensive OU degree but was worried I might have nothing to write about at the end of it. How do you know you’ve even got a novel in you until you try? I use books, websites and blogs like Penstricken for motivation and encouragement.
I also joined my local writers’ circle. They are a great bunch and what I love is that members range from 18-80’, there aren’t many groups that are as inclusive , whatever their age or background. Writing binds us together. We each read extracts and give supportive constructive advice to strengthen work. Identifying what people get right and wrong, what works or doesn’t, in all genres and poetry is illuminating. Emotional support and encouragement also important, writing can be lonely if you’ve no one to share the challenges with.
Any research tips for budding historical fiction authors?
Rather than the usual ones, I say join your local library. I have saved so much money and time by looking for research materials on line in my library’s search engine. A click of a button and a couple of days later I can walk down and collect them. I’ve been amazed how often Cardiff libraries have the books I need in their back catalogue. They have some old ones from the turn of the century, which are particularly useful in historical fiction, that I couldn’t possibly have bought even if I’d wanted to. Searching by key word tends to throw up books you’d not find or think of otherwise too.
What do you think is the most important element in good story?
I’d always thought it was an exciting plot, but since starting my journey have learnt unless you can inhabit your tale with people readers care about and settings they can imagine, even a brilliant plot is empty.
Can we look forward to any more books soon?
Like many doctors, I’m probably going to have to return to work during the coronavirus crisis, so I won’t have as much time for a while.
I’ve finished a second novel, The King over the Sea, set in 5th century Wales and Ireland. It’s a romp, and looks at the lives of early Welsh saints like Dwynwen, patron saint of lovers in Wales, but it is based on historical, archaeological facts with some legends thrown in. I wrote it for fun really, it’s not serious fiction.
I’m also 33,000 words into a sequel for From Waterloo to Water Street. It’s about education, the battle for the vote, and emigration in the 1860’s and 1870’s.
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Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlight, drop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.
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Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.
You can check out our previous interviews here: