Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Kraals of Ulundi - David Ebsworth - Author Interview

Today I am very pleased to welcome author David Ebsworth to the blog, with an interview as part of his blog tour. David's new novel is The Kraals of Ulundi: A Novel of the Zulu War.

Welcome to the blog David!

Hello Lindsay, and thanks for hosting this stop on the tour. It’s great to be here.

Please could you tell us a bit about your new book The Kraals of Ulundi: A Novel of the Zulu War?

Yes, of course. It’s set in 1879 and tells the story of the unprovoked invasion of Zululand in a South African land-grab that British history likes to call the Anglo-Zulu War. Kraals picks up the story from the perspective of three main characters – the Zulu warrior, Shaba; the English Lieutenant, Jahleel Brenton Carey; and the renegade trader, William McTeague.

How do you decide what you want to write about next - do you look to periods in history or places that particularly interest you and build a story from there?

Well, basically, I like to write stories that, really, I wish somebody else had written for me to read but which, for one reason or another, don’t yet exist. So yes, they’re usually “little known” periods that intrigue me.

What was the inspiration for this new novel?

In the middle of the Zulu War, the British forces were joined by an unusual observer, the French Prince Imperial, Louis Napoleon. He fell into an ambush and tragically died there. It was a story that I’d known for a long time but hadn’t been covered, so far as I could tell, in any work of fiction. So I decided to use this incident as the catalyst around which my three main characters are linked. In addition, I knew that the 50th anniversary of the iconic movie, Zulu, was coming up and I realized, in addition, that there are no novels covering the six months of the conflict that took place after the incidents depicted in the film – the defence of Rorke’s Drift. So I like to say that Kraals picks up the story of the Zulu War where Michael Caine left off.

Do you plan extensively in advance when you write, in terms of plot and character, or do you have just an outline/main idea and then see where the words take you?

No, I don’t plan the plot itself very extensively at all. I normally lay out the bones of the actual historical events, then work a fair bit on outlines for my main characters, with lots of personal detail and background behaviour drivers. Then I really just let them loose and see where their personalities (rather than the words) take them.

How long do you spend writing a novel from start to finish, and does it vary depending on the subject matter?

Last week I finished the first full draft of my fourth novel (about the Battle of waterloo, but from the perspective of two French women) which I started last October. That’s pretty standard for me. 8-9 months for the working draft. Then it will stand for a month before I begin re-writing. During that month, I normally visit the locations to check them out and get the feeling or colour of the settings, and allow my “ideal reader” (my wife, Ann) to have a sneak preview and give me her always critically constructive opinion of the plot. Then I edit, rewrite and polish, until I’m happy with the finished version. The whole process, start to finish, takes me a year.

Do you find the novel-writing process addictive - is it hard to stop once you get going, and how do you find editing and revising your work?

Very addictive indeed! After I retired, I was looking for something that would challenge me and retain my work ethic, producing something useful but without all the stresses and strains. Novel-writing has given me exactly that, though I still write almost every day of the year. I think you have to write every day just to keep the plot flowing and get to the end – even if you’ve got limited daily free time to play with. The same applies to editing and revising. I always follow Stephen King’s advice and cut at least 10% of my first draft. That way, you keep your work tight.

Can you recommend some of your own favourite authors and/or novels please?

That’s a tough one. Without thinking about it too much, one of my earliest historical fiction influences (fifty years ago) was Rosemary Sutcliff, and particularly her brilliant Sword at Sunset. Then Dickens, I think, and Great Expectations. But my two all-time favourites must have been, first, Patrick O’Brian (with his Master and Commander, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin series), and then Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mister Ripley, Ripley’s Game, etc). I’m somewhat ashamed to say that I identify closely with Tom Ripley and I simply adore anti-heroes.

Would you recommend the self-published route having done this yourself?

I’d recommend self-publishing with a few health warnings, I think.  My first novel, The Jacobites’ Apprentice, was critically acclaimed by lots of lovely folk, including the Historical Novel Society, but was never going to be commercially viable enough for a traditional publisher to pick it up. So self-publishing was the obvious option. The intelligent thing would have been to simply self-publish as an eBook but, sadly, vanity kicked in and I decided to go for a print version also. There’s nothing quite like holding a ‘real’ copy of your book for the first time – but that costs money. Especially if you want it to look good. And you’re not likely to make enough sales to get your money back from the publication of one book alone. That’s true. Just look at the statistics for how many copies are sold by most first-time authors. A few hundred, if you’re lucky. So I wrote a second (The Assassin’s Mark, a Spanish Civil War thriller). More investment but better returns. Because guess what? The people who liked Assassins went off and bought Jacobites too. So then I found myself running a small business. As an authorpreneur. Spending almost as much time marketing as writing. The third book (The Kraals of Ulundi) has almost helped me to break even. And the fourth one, due to publish later this year as The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour, will see me making a small profit. Successful friends in the business tell me that, after book number five, it’s all plain sailing. Well, we’ll see! But at least I’m in control of the whole process rather than being at the whim of an agent/publisher. Because your excellent question has another side to it. What happens if you’re phenomenally lucky to be offered a traditional deal? The vast majority of first-timers get paid pathetically small advances by publishers. Most first-timers make buttons in royalties. And most publishers will do little or nothing by way of marketing to help you get your work on bookstore shelves. So self-publishing? Yes, go for it! And if you want to test the water, be sensible and produce an eBook first. You can always go for the print version once you’ve tested the market.

But hey, thanks for the interview, Lindsay. And if any of your readers want to know more, I’m happy to pick up any questions or comments.

Author Links ~ find David on twitter @EbsworthDavid

About the novel ~

1879 – the British army has suffered one of the worst defeats in its history at the hands of the Zulu King Cetshwayo. Now the British seek revenge and a second invasion of Zululand is about to take place.
Within the Zulu regiments charged with repelling the assault is Shaba kaNdabuko − driven by ambition to share the glory of battle, to bring honour and cattle to his family.
Meanwhile, new British soldiers are shipped out to replace those lost in the military disasters, and among them is Lieutenant Jahleel Carey, likewise also hoping that adventure will bring him a change of fortune.
But there are also always those on the sidelines of conflict, profiteers like renegade trader William McTeague.

Three men, three women, will be brought together by one of the Zulu War’s strangest episodes, and their destinies will be changed forever.


  1. Great interview.

    Louis Napoleon fate was something that I had never heard of. It seems to be a fascinating piece of history.

    The step by step explanation of the self publishing book route is very interesting as well as enlightening!

  2. Sounds like another fascinating read from David. Great questions and answers, I especially found the one about self-publishing insightful.

  3. Yes, poor Louis. An impetuous young man but a sad and lonely death. I still can't believe that it doesn't feature anywhere else in historical fiction. There's quite a large French community in South Africa, by the way, and entire websites and organisations over there dedicated to the Prince Imperial's memory. I was lucky enough to meet quite a few of them while we were in KwaZulu-Natal checking out the locations and my badly flawed isiZulu

  4. Oh, and hello to Tracy too. Hope you're OK :)

  5. I see that you do accept awards and I have nominated you for One Lovely Blogger award.


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