A sit-down interview with David Lawrence to dig into some history – both his own and that of his book. What makes him tick? And what inspired him to write about the era of “John Wilkes and Liberty!”? David tends to insist the book was written by his great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather Sir John Carleton, but we eventually made some headway…
So, why did you write Hugh? I hold John Carleton responsible. While doing genealogical research in Yorkshire, I came across Carleton in my family tree and saw that he also went by ‘John of Beeford’ – rather a grand title for a man from such a small village. This amused me and after that he just wouldn’t get out of my head.
Yes, David. But why did you sit down and compose this story? To write an unusual hero into this era I adore – the book I wished so much to find in the library growing up. Once Carleton took up residence in my head, he started sifting through about 20 years of my reading experiences which, though not exclusively, have centered somewhat obsessively on anything published 1740 – 1820. Over the course of 9 months the information was organized into a coming-of-age. After John was done, I took over and worked another two years shaping it into the present novel.
And what precisely did John have to sift through to create that first draft? My first love: the works of Jane Austen. After Austen I moved back in time. First to Henry Fielding, then I discovered my favorite Georgian novelist, Tobias Smollett. His The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle is, without question, my favorite novel of the era and the one I read most while working on Hugh.
Where did the subtitle come from? Vanity Fair, by W.M. Thackeray. I like puns, plays on words, inversions. So Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero became…
Any non-fiction influences? Too many to list regarding life in Georgian England and London in the 18th century. Those were primarily for the nuts and bolts of daily life, although special thanks to Mother Clap’s Molly House by Rictor Norton, a wonderful queer history 1700 – 1830, and John Wilkes: The Scandalous Father of Civil Liberty by Arthur Cash. Also London Journal 1762 – 1763 by James Boswell – an invaluable contemporary account of a young man living in 1760s London. Hugh shares Boswell’s delusional ambition of petitioning for a commission in the military. Then there is the incomparable Horace Walpole, both his personal letters and his Memoirs of the Reign of King George the Third. Emily Dickinson once said she knew something was poetry if she felt as if the top of her head had been taken off – that is how Walpole’s non-fiction reads. Prose so exquisite it can bring tears to your eyes…and one of the funniest writers you will ever read.
You omit Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of The Sublime and Beautiful. Is that intentional? Not intentional – it was John Carleton who first read it then pushed it in my face. Once he did I understood Burke’s concepts of Pleasure, Pain and Indifference were ringing bells for me. Then, more accurately, Beauty, rather than simply Pleasure, and the Relief from Pain (The Sublime) rather than simply Pain – with a dose of terror and awe of course. Indifference remained, and so put Hugh’s three primary relationships into a framework I found helpful as a writer.
I heard a rumor you are an American. You heard correctly. An American who has always been fascinated by the differences, and the similarities, between England and America. The novel’s pre-revolutionary era of 1768 – 1771 is not an accident. I think of Hugh as an American as well as an English story.
Have you English roots beyond John Carleton of Yorkshire? Yes, I have English relations all over. I am also Scottish and Scandinavian.
And you have spent some of your life in Europe? I have lived and travelled in Finland, Sweden, and Great Britain. I also lived with a French family for one summer while I attended a language school in Paris.
But you were born and raised in the American Southwest? I’m West Coast-ish. Primarily California and Nevada, and now I live in Montana.
Does Hugh have a theme? Or is that a question for John Carleton? John wouldn’t know, but yes, there is a theme: the burden of Liberty.
What can we expect next from David Lawrence? I’m not sure, but if readers wish to hear more from me that will be my motivation next time, rather than John of Beeford scurrying around putting thoughts into my head. On a serious note, I hope very much to provide readers a fun and unique experience. Laughs, a bit of history, a bit of poetry, whatever I need to do to paint a canvas. If I can do that successfully and make my readers smile this will be all the motivation I need to continue. Then I will simply see where that leads me next.
Broadbound Publishing, August 2021