The Romance Reviews

The Romance Reviews

A Spell in Provence

A Spell in Provence

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Welcome to Tom Williams and BACK HOME


I am delighted to welcome fellow Áccent Press author Tom Williams on the blog today. Tom's latest historical  novel 'BACK HOME' was released on April 14th. Welcome, Tom, and thank you for being a guest today. What inspired you to write your John Williamson stories?
Historical novels come in all shapes and sizes. Many are pure escapism – whether they are tales of love and romance, or of battle and adventure. Many, though, use the past to comment on the present. Sometimes it is easier to talk about the 21st century by writing about events that seem safely in the dead past. Even in my straightforwardly escapist adventure story about the British expedition to Argentina in 1806, the whole question of when a liberation becomes an invasion does rear its ugly head. I was in Argentina researching this soon after the Iraq invasion and some of the documents the British produced, which promised the locals freedom from Spanish tyranny, look remarkably similar to the promises we were making to the Iraqis at the time. You can enjoy Burke in the Land of Silver without knowing or caring that the whole ‘invasion or liberation’ argument had happened almost two hundred years earlier, but if you picked up the reference it might have given you food for thought.

The John Williamson stories, set against a background of Victorian colonialism, were always going to be more political. As ‘colonialism’ has become a bad word, the question of what Britain was doing ruling so much of the world and whether this had any positive aspects has become a very sensitive one. My answer is that the history of colonial rule is more complicated and morally ambiguous than we often see it these days, although colonialism, in the end, seems to damage both the colonialists and the people they colonise. I’ve tried to reflect this in Williamson’s first two adventures, The White Rajah and Cawnpore, where his efforts to improve life for the natives in the Far East both end in bloodshed.

In Back Home the political issues are central to the story. After a lifetime in the Far East, Williamson returns to London to find a city where the gap between the ruling classes and the poor reflects the gap between colonisers and colonised in Borneo and India. The London of 1859 faced many of the same challenges as we see today: mass immigration, political unrest, the threat of political violence, and rapid expansion of the city which stretched its infrastructure to breaking point – all this against foreign policy concerns and the fears of Britain being drawn into a new war in Europe.

Would our rulers today respond to political unrest with surveillance by government agents, blackmail, police brutality, unlawful detention and even murder? I couldn’t possibly say. But John Williamson discovers that the authorities in 1859 can be very ruthless indeed.

Enjoy Back Home as a tale of crime and adventure with a Dickensian backdrop or as a comment on London today. It's entirely your choice. I hope it’s a good read either way but I hope, too, that there is stuff in there to make you think about 2016 as well as 1859.
 Author bio
Tom used to write books for business. Now he writes about love, death, and adventure in the 19th century, which is much more fun. It also allows him to pretend that travelling in the Far East and South America is research. Tom lives in London. His main interest is avoiding doing any honest work and this leaves him with time to ski, skate and dance tango, all of which he does quite well.

You can find Tom at



Twitter @TomCW99

Excerpt:

John Williamson has arranged to meet someone in a public house in Seven Dials, a slum near Covent Garden.

  The triangular shape of the building, occasioned by the peculiar arrangement of the streets, meant that the interior was well lit, despite the grime that covered the windows. Twenty or thirty people sat about the place or lay slumped over the tables, apparently sleeping. A couple of fellows were standing at the bar. They were being served not beer, but a clear liquid which, from the prevailing smell of the place, I recognised as gin.

As I watched, the men at the bar upended their glasses, downing the contents at a gulp, before making their way uncertainly to a space at one of the tables, where, regardless of the mess of crumbs and pooled liquor that stained it, they settled their heads upon the wood and promptly fell into a stuporous sleep.

Watching the scene, I paused, uncertain of whether or not to remain. The landlord, though, called across while I hesitated.

‘What’s your pleasure, sir?’

He spoke with a distinctly Irish lilt to his voice and I stepped hesitantly forward. ‘A pint of beer?’

‘We’ll serve you beer willingly, sir.’ He made his way to the beer pumps that lay at the farther end of the bar. ‘We serve Wood Yard’s here, sir, a fine beer and local. Do you know the brewery, sir?’

I confessed that I did not and he insisted on explaining exactly where it was. It stood, indeed, nearby and if the pervasive stench of the place was not so strong I would probably have smelt the distinctive aroma of beer being manufactured, but the brewery lay a little to the South and out of my way. ‘It’s a fine beer, sir, you must admit it,’ he said, passing over a glass of some cloudy liquid which, once I sipped at it, I had to admit tasted a great deal better than it looked.

‘You’ll be wanting to sit with that,’ he said.

I glanced around, but the two men who had been at the bar when I arrived seemed to have taken the last convenient seats. This did not worry the landlord, though, for he stepped from behind the bar and walked to one of the nearer tables where he proceeded to shake awake the man who was slumped there. ‘It’s time you were awake, Higgins. Will you have another glass?’

Higgins shook his head, gazing blearily around. He reached toward his trouser pocket and then, as if recollecting himself, shrugged. ‘No money,’ he mumbled.

‘Then you’d best be on your way,’ the landlord said, not unkindly and, taking Higgins firmly by the arm, he escorted him to the door.

I took the place he had vacated and concentrated on my beer, trying to ignore the stentorian snoring of the men on either side of me. I sipped slowly, anxious that I should not have finished before Harry had the chance to join me.

I need not have worried. Barely ten minutes after I had started my pint, Harry Price appeared that the door.

I beckoned him over, calling for the barman to provide another drink.

The barman poured Harry’s beer and brought it to our table, nudging one of my neighbours awake and evicting him, as he had the unfortunate Higgins.



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