The Illustrated Boatman's Daughter
Today I would like to welcome Thomas Durwood. Thank you for spending some time with us. This one is close to my heart as I too am a middle school teacher and love history. Can you tell us a little about yourself and what led you to start writing?
I am an English teacher with an interest in history. I taught at Valley Forge Military College, where I developed the ideas for an ambitious series of “The Colonials’ is part of a ambitious series of teen adventures set at turning points of history. So far I have five titles available to readers: “The Illustrated Boatman’s Daughter” and “The Illustrated Ulysses S. Grant in China” along with “The Illustrated Colonials” trilogy.
Like all historical-fiction writers, I can easily get lost in the sauce – falling in love with describing the times. Endless explanations, horrible stuff, deadly to any reader. . . So I try to stick to conventions of coming-of-age stories. . . Once I can convince readers that the characters are real, then I can introduce some of my ideas. It’s a way to scaffold or support a story despite my lack of storytelling talent, really.
My writing these stories was never a choice – I always felt that the stories already existed, and that my job was to carve them out and give them a fair treatment.
The inspiration for my latest project, “The Illustrated Colonials,” came from my growing feeling that the American Revolution is much more than what we think it is. We have placed a handful of familiar narratives at the forefront of that era – Paul Revere’s ride, Washington crossing the Delaware, the Boston Tea Party. The truer, fuller story starts a lot earlier than 1776 and involves global perspectives.
“The Illustrated Colonials” is a trilogy following the epic adventures of six young friends who become enamored of the Colonial cause. They learn that there can be harsh consequences for taking such a stand, yet they each manage to make a contribution to the global fight for liberty.
What are your hobbies and do they ever play into your writing?
Not a hobby so much as my other job – teaching. Teaching has changed my writing. My Valley Forge cadets were always sleepy but always game for a critical-thinking challenge– but only if I could explain myself super-clearly and vividly.
What is the best advice you have ever been given as a writer?
My colleague Pat Murray, a World War II historian, said that he makes extensive notes on every chapter -- and then puts them in a drawer. His prose is better when he is writing straight to the page, not referring to his notes.
This is particularly good advice for me. Like all historical-fiction writers, I can easily get lost in the sauce – falling in love with describing the times. Endless explanations, horrible stuff, deadly to any reader.
So I try to stick to conventions of coming-of-age stories, enough so that a reader feels they are on familiar ground. Once I can convince readers that the characters are real, then I can introduce some of my ideas. It’s a way to scaffold or support a story despite my lack of storytelling talent, really.
Can you provide us with a small excerpt?
Yes!! Here you go – this is an early version of a story from the collection
“Ulysses S. Grant in China and Other Stories.”
The Jade Necklace
Five of the palace guards had pinned a struggling girl against the stone walls.
With a low laugh, he stepped into a pool of torchlight.
“Come, brothers,” he called. “Here is better sport.”
In a tavern earlier that night, the adventurer had overheard a drunken Scythian describe the treasure in Lord Ek’s trove, in particular a necklace of jade ovals. The man had detailed the necklace’s ancient origins and its present location, until he was distracted by a green-eyed serving girl. The young mercenary now stood directly below the chambers where the necklace lay.
He rushed the soldiers.
The blade in his hand flashed: he gutted the largest member of the guard. Before that body struck the stone floor, his sword severed the second man’s head: the third he grabbed by the neck and, lifting a corded arm, snapped the man’s thick neck. The fourth and fifth guardsmen held back. He motioned for them to advance. They fled.
The girl struggled, coughing, to her feet. For a long moment, the adventurer studied her face and the heaving surface of her torn tunic.
“Come with me,” he said. “We’ll raid the palace trove.”
“Come with me, boy,” she said, leaning her body close against him. “We’ll enjoy the night.”
He paused, as though trying to place her. Then the white of a smile appeared beneath his shaggy black mane. He kissed her and laughed, a vibrant sound rich with youth and the promise of life lived to the brim. He disappeared into the dark palace corridors.
Her green eyes watched him go. The girl paused.
He will only find a hornet’s nest …
She touched the smooth jade of the necklace draped low around her waist.
She turned and trotted towards the portal that led to grassy paths to open plazas and the mountains beyond.
That is great. And for our readers, I'll share you provided me with a ARC (advance reader copy) to peruse. I didn't feel at liberty to share here, but will definitely say that it is worth investigating and purchasing, even if just for the illustrations. You should be very proud of this work. Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Here are links to my web sites – lots of free content.