21 January 2014

My Tuesday Talk Guest : David Ebsworth

David Ebsworth is the pen name of writer, Dave McCall, a former negotiator and Regional Secretary for Britain’s Transport & General Workers’ Union. He was born in Liverpool (UK) but has lived for the past thirty years in Wrexham, North Wales, with his wife, Ann. 

Since their retirement in 2008, the couple have spent about six months of each year in southern Spain. Dave began to write seriously in the following year, 2009. His debut novel, The Jacobites' Apprentice, was critically acclaimed by the Historical Novel Society as "worthy of a place on every historical fiction bookshelf." He is here today to talk about his new novel: The Assassin's Mark.

Over to you, David.

Thanks very much for inviting me to the blog. It's great to be here. And especially, as you say, to have a chance to chat about Assassins. It's set in 1938, towards the end of the Spanish Civil War, and follows the trials and tribulations of left-wing reporter Jack Telford, stuck on a tour bus with a very strange mixture of other travellers as he tries to uncover the hidden truths beneath the conflict – and about his fellow-passengers, of course.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I was researching a novel about the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War and came across a paper on the Battlefield Tours that Franco launched – mainly for British tourists – before the war was even finished. It was too good a story to ignore.

I hadn’t heard of battlefield tours during an actual war before. How bizarre! Is that true - or made up for story-telling?
It is perfectly true. Tourists took part in large numbers – from Britain, Italy, Portugal, France, Germany – even some Australians. It’s thought that there were around 42 tours in 1938 and 88 tours each year between 1939 and 1945. Estimates of participants vary between a minimum of 6,670 and a maximum of 20,010.

So what genre does your book fall under?
Historical and political thriller with a generous amount of Agatha Christie and a splash of Rick Stein, seasoned with a pinch of the picaresque.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I always picture actors in my main character roles anyway so, in this case, British actor Christopher Eccleston as Jack Telford and Rachel Weisz as Valerie Carter-Holt.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
It is a Christie-esque thriller set on a battlefield tour bus towards the end of the Spanish Civil War.

Is your book self-published or represented by an agency?

I spent a long time looking for agents and "traditional publishers" when I wrote my first novel, The Jacobites' Apprentice. A lot of people that I respect were very supportive about it but the agents I contacted were either too rude to even acknowledge me, or told me it wouldn't fit their lists, or liked it but weren't taking on any more new authors.
Also, in meeting many other wordsmiths, I realised there's a huge mythology about "traditional publishers". It's generally thought that, first, they pay their authors a generous advance; second, that they get your work automatically onto bookstore shelves; and, third, that they do all the marketing for you. It's a load of nonsense for all but a tiny minority. So, being passionate about my writing, and having market-tested a bit, I decided to go "independent", publishing with the help of SilverWood Books and using their high quality professional backing (registrations, typesetting, design, proofing, etc.) but using my own editor (the inimitable Jo Field) and jacket cover graphic designer (the indefatigable and innovative Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics). I’ve found it a fantastic way for a new writer to get published and I love the buzz of doing my own marketing.


How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I started to write in February 2011 and finished the first draft (180,000 words) in October that year – then travelled with it through all its locations in Northern Spain to check the “feel” and complete the first re-write (168,000 words). The final version is 152,000 words.

You write every day?
Yes. Every day! I normally start about 7.00 in the morning, word processing my last set of hand-written pages from the previous day. Then I just carry on typing from wherever I’d left off, and stop around 9.30. After that I walk to the local Pool, swim for a while and mull over whatever I’ve written earlier. Next it’s time for a decent coffee (usually at Caffè Nero) while I revise the morning’s work and hand-write for maybe another hour. Afternoons or evenings are usually reserved for marketing or planning later sections of the novel.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
C J Sansom’s Winter in Madrid; Dave Boling’s Guernica; Rebecca Pawel’s Death of a Nationalist; Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
Long list, I’m afraid. Old colleagues from the trade unions like Jack Jones and Frank Deagan from whom I first learnt about the “real” experience of the Spanish Civil War. Spanish family friends who lived through the war and Franco’s repression that followed it. Wonderful historians like Antony Beevor and Paul Preston who’ve never lost sight of the Spanish Civil War’s significance for all of us. Professor Sandie Holguín who introduced me to the bus tours that feature centrally in the story.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

The Spanish Civil War is badly neglected by English-language fiction writers so, at one level, I wanted the novel to be informative as well as entertaining. I’d like it to be a “must” for all those who already have an affection for Spain and maybe want to learn a bit more about the country’s history and culture – while still being able to sit on a beach with a good pot-boiler and need to keep “turning the pages.”

But it’s almost a travel book too, isn’t it?
I’ve followed the route described in the book twice already, taking the back roads of Northern Spain that the tour buses would have taken during the 1930s. Remarkably, lots of the hotels mentioned in the novel are still open for business. And I’ve had people contact me to say that they took Assassins with them and read it while touring the area. I’m really pleased about that – and it’s a fabulous part of the world.

And the next big thing?
The third novel is due to be published later this year. It’s called The Kraals of Ulundi and it’s set during the second half of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. In a nutshell, it takes up where the Michael Caine film, Zulu, leaves off. After that... well, at the moment I’m working on a novel about the Battle of Waterloo, though it specifically tells the tale of women who were actively involved in the 1815 campaign.

For more about David's previous novels and other relevant information, you can visit his main website... www.davidebsworth.com.

He also circulates an entertaining monthly e-newsletter for supporters, friends and readers, and you can ask to be included by dropping him a quick e-mail at...  davemccall@talktalk.net

Dave speaking in Nottinghamshire

author Karen Maitland, Dave, & me


  1. Hey Helen. Thanks for posting this - and great pictures! I'll be around to answer any questions or comments from your readers :)

  2. Been fascinated by Spanish Civil War for a few years... well decades... after reading one of Paul Preston's accounts. This has to be a must read. Thanks Helen for bringing Dave & his books to my attention. Also as a North Wales bound writer - Harlech - great to know there are such inspirational people there.

  3. Hi Roland. Paul Preston's books are all stunning - and so is Antony Beevor's "Battle for Spain". Wonderful that you're in Harlech too. If you get around to reading Assassins, please let me know what you think. We had a great compliment recently when an American couple got in touch to say that they'd taken the book with them on their trip to Northern Spain - and used it as a guide book, going from place to place and only reading the relevant chapters as they got to each of the plot's locations. Wonderful! What are you writing???


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