Steven Veerapen – Q&A with Paisley’s historical crime novelist
Ahead of the Abbey Books Summer Book Festival, organiser Brian Hannan interviews historical crime novelist Steven Veerapen
What attracted you to the period of Henry VIII – the setting for Of Judgement Fallen?
I’ve loved reading about this period since childhood – from Horrible Histories to the old 70s drama series on Henry and his wives. I enjoy it so much that I even did my PhD in Tudor-era literature. So much about it is colourful and engaging – the iconography, the personalities and wild events, and the disagreements about why certain things happened the way they did.
I understand this is the second book of a series following on from Of Blood Descended. What are the challenges you faced when setting out to write a series?
That’s an interesting question. The main thing is that you can’t, in the first book, tell the entirety of your character’s journey – but you still have to give them a character arc. You have to know going in that you’ll tell a complete story (in this case, solve a murder mystery) but leave room for the character to develop further. It helps creating a pretty young character for the first novel!
How long did it take to write?
The first draft took about five weeks (writing every day). But that was only the first draft – for months after that there are periods of rewriting, editing, and the most boring part: proofreading (which I’m okay at – but still an external editor is needed to catch things my eye will just slide over, even after the hundredth reread).
How easy was it to find a publisher?
It wasn’t too difficult – my agent had an existing relationship with Polygon, so I was lucky that they were willing to contract me to two books in the series. I did write a previous Anthony Blanke book, which was rejected by another publisher, though. Maybe one day I’ll release it as a prequel!
When did you start writing?
I started writing non-fiction during my PhD. It taught me that I could write at length. I’d never tried any sort of creative writing then, though – I began that in about 2017 (as a hobby at first, to see if I could, and if I liked it).
Are you from Paisley?
I am. I live in Hawkhead and attended St Charles Primary in Lochfield and St Andrews Academy.
What was the hardest part of writing the book?
Editing and proofreading. It’s easy to get too close to your own stuff, and so you start reading what you think you typed rather than what you actually did.
Your research is fascinating. How did you undertake that?
Luckily, because of my existing work on this period, I’d read stacks of books on Tudor history, customs, laws, etc. I also knew how to research: when to go to primary sources (such as state papers) and which secondary-source authors to trust on certain political//historical moments. It helps that the period is so well documented; you can find online state papers, legal records, endless biographies and histories of culture, and even maps and floorplans of palaces.
What was the most unusual thing you discovered when writing the book?
It was probably the early Tudors’ interest in the King Arthur legends. There was a blurry line between myth and history in those days, and Henry VIII really did spend money trying to convince people that he was descended from King Arthur. And, as I show in the novel, he did indeed have the famous round table at Winchester repainted in the early 1520s. .
I understand you also write non-fiction. What is the difference between writing that and fiction?
With non-fiction, the facts are there; history has written you a storyline and you only need to research it, shape it into an interesting narrative or journey, and make judgements about why things happened. It’s a bit like being an investigator, weighing up evidence and drawing conclusions. The downside of course is that it takes a long time to read all you can and even longer to reference everything. Fiction, on the other hand, requires you to construct the storyline yourself. The upside is that you are therefore freer and not limited to going where the sources take you. There is crossover, though – ultimately both involve thinking through motive: why did people (fictional or non-fictional) do things? What drives or drove them? Why did they make certain decisions and react in certain ways?
What are you writing now?
I’m hoping a third Anthony Blanke novel will be warranted (this one involving Thomas Cromwell as a supporting character!) and I’ve just reviewed the proofs for my upcoming biography of James VI and I (due out in September).
The Official British Book Launch of Steven Veerapen’s Of Judgment Fallen takes place on Sat Jun 10 at 3.30pm at Abbey Books in Wellmeadow Street as part of the inaugural Abbey Books Summer Book Festival (Jun 8-Jun 11). Steven is also hosting a creative writing workshop on Sun Jun 11 at 2pm. The launch/signing is free – just turn up – but the writing class costs £10 (plus booking fee) from Eventbrite.