08 January 2012

Guest Blog: David Gaughran, A Storm Hits Valparaiso

This week, we're welcoming best-selling author David Gaughran, whose debut historical, A STORM HITS VALPARAISO, is set in South America during the 1800's. It's an epic story of the quest for freedom in colonial Argentina.  David is here to talk about the book and give away a digital copy. Here's the blurb:

In 1810, José de San Martín deserts the Spanish Army and returns home to Buenos Aires to lead a bloody revolt against his former masters. Struggling with an increasing dependence on opiates, San Martín forms a secret army of thieves, mercenaries, slaves, and prostitutes to free Argentina from the Spanish Empire.

A Storm Hits Valparaíso is an epic, 400-page historical adventure with a huge cast of characters whose stories gradually interweave, including: two brothers torn apart by love; a slave running for his life, a disgraced British sailor seeking redemption in a foreign land; an Indian trapped in the death mines of Potosí; and a Spanish general who deserts the army to raise the flag of rebellion against Madrid.

Q&A with David Gaughran

We don’t see too many historical novels set in South America. What was the thinking there?
I’ve been fascinated with that part of the world since I was a child: all those stories of the Amazon, the Incas, and lost cities of gold. When I was a little older, I found 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez on my father’s bookshelf and the lyricism of those opening lines had a profound effect on me. I finally got an opportunity to travel to South America in 2005, after quitting a good job in Dublin with a plan to see the world and write a book. I spent nine months backpacking around the continent and came across a story from the independence wars which burrowed into my brain and wouldn’t give me a moment’s peace until I wrote it. I returned there in 2008 for another nine months – ostensibly for research, but really just to walk down those streets again and hear people yammering in Spanish while I drank wine and scribbled in a notebook.

What kind of reader will A Storm Hits Valparaiso appeal to?
Some historical fiction readers prefer certain time periods such as the Tudors, Ancient Rome, or the Civil War; I can understand that, they are rich with fascinating characters. However, some readers are more adventurous and are looking for something a little more unusual. I’m quite surprised how little historical fiction has been set in South America. There is so much material there for an author to work with. Researching this book never once felt like work. Some of the historical figures were like comic book characters: swashbuckling, larger than life, adventurous souls who continually cheat death with outrageous feats of derring-do while being impossibly romantic but always carrying a kernel of tragedy around in their hearts. I think there is something in the water there. A Storm Hits Valparaiso has an epic scope – there are seven main characters whose journeys commence in different parts of the world, all unfolding with the backdrop of a bloody, twelve year war aimed at extricating South America from the Spanish Empire. It’s a meaty novel – over 400 pages – but I like to keep things clipping along at a good pace, with the action switching from one exotic location to another as the reader tries to figure out how all these diverse strands will come together. I suppose it’s the kind of book I’ve always liked to read, and I draw heavily from my heroes: Gabriel García Márquez, Louis de Bernières, and Mario Vargas Llosa. It’s an adventure story, a love story, and a war story, and, while there are several historical figures in the novel, I was also keen to tell the story of the ordinary people who lived (and died) during these extraordinary times. And that was part of the attraction to me: shining a light on a period of history which is little known (in our part of the world).

It took you five-and-a-half years to write this book. What took you so long?
I started this book in 2006 and finished it in 2009, and there was a year in the middle when I walked away from it, thinking I was done. I had taken on an incredibly complex project, and, there were plenty of times it got the better of me. But I persisted, kept improving it, and eventually got it over the finish line. I spent the next 18 months sending it off to agents and publishers, and rewriting the novel over and over based on their feedback. Ultimately, I hit a brick wall. While they enjoyed the writing, they felt there wasn’t a big enough market for historical novels set in South America. I think that readers are a little more adventurous than that. If you talk to them, one of their primary complaints is that books are too similar, stick to existing tropes or formulas, or the same old settings. I think readers are crying out for something a little different.

So we won’t have to wait five-and-a-half years for the next one?
Definitely not! And I was writing other stuff in that time. I released several shorts and a non-fiction book. I’m really not that slow. I should have a follow-up later in the year. It’s not a sequel, but it will be set in Latin America at the start of the 20th century. And there are more planned after that which should take us up to the present day. It’s not strictly a “series”, rather a collection of historical novels covering major incidents in modern South American history. The characters will be different but the voice and style should be quite similar. At the same time I will also be writing more shorts, some novellas, and working on South Americana.

Can you tell us a little more about South Americana?
It’s a new blog I started towards the end of last year which will gather together all the curious stories I picked up in two trips around the continent, little vignettes from history. There are a few articles up there already which will give readers an idea of what to expect – tales of shipwrecked emigrants, slave rebellions, romantic heroes, and historical mysteries. But mostly it’s an excuse for me to spend a lot of time thinking and talking about South America.

South Americana: SouthAmericana.com
Publishing Blog: Let's Get Digital

Thank you, David, and best of luck with A Storm Hits Valparaiso. Remember, please leave your comment to win a free copy of this exciting book.