INTERVIEW BY LESLIE S. LOWE
Andrew Tweeddale began his working life as a chef and later studied law. He practiced law, dealing with many international construction law cases and writing books on arbitration and construction law. Earlier this year, he gave up practicing law to focus on writing full time. His award-winning debut novel. Of all religions and none is the story of two families in the run up to the First World War. The novel focuses on Castle Drogo, the last castle to be built in England. Andrew is currently in the middle of writing a second novel, which takes some of the characters from Of all religions and none and tells his story from 1917 to the mid-1950s with a focus on the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya. Leslie Lowe spoke with Andrew about his writing process.
How would you describe this book and its themes in a couple of sentences?
The novel is about the relationships of the children of two families and how their lives are destroyed by the Great War. It is a romance that ends brutally because war knows no compassion.
What inspired and attracted you to write historical fiction?
It is a genre that gives the novel a sense of place and truth. I was asked to be exact when dealing with historical events, such as when the Battle of the Somme started and how many people died. However, it is also a genre that allows the author the freedom to develop a fictional story within these historical constraints.
Will this book be part of a series? If not, what are you working on now and is it related to this in any way?
Yes, the intention is to make a trilogy. My next novel will continue the story of Basil Drewe, the youngest of the Drewe children in my novel, from 1917 to the mid-1950s. It is 50% complete. The third novel will focus on Christian Drewe.
Does any part of your own life experiences connect to a character or event in the story? What difficulty did you have writing this?
About five years ago, I had a heart attack and then I went back and rewrote Sir Julius’s heart attack scene. Rather I hope I have nailed that part of the writing.
Is there a key historical event that you found in your research that inspired you to write this story to portray a key message that is now prevalent?
There were numerous historical events that I came across that pulled the story in different directions, however, there was one event that became a central theme in the novel. The Order of the White Feather was a group that was created a few months after the start of the war when the initial rush to enlist ended. While I knew that white feathers were handed out, I didn’t know that it was a coordinated group or that the suffrage movement was involved in it. It was her work for the war effort that ultimately won the women’s vote, and this included shaming young men into enlisting. There was no suggestion that women should fight and the role of women in the military is still something that people have different views on today.
What kind of research did you do for this story?
Since the Great War took place 100 years ago, it was impossible to do any interviews. However, I was fortunate that the Imperial War Museum interviewed survivors of the Great War in their Forgotten Voices series, which I read avidly. I also went to the battlefields in France and Flanders almost every year for a decade. I was on the battlefields and in some of the trenches that still exist. Delville Wood was one of the most disturbing places I visited where the dead were left in the woods and simply covered up.
How do you think the reader will connect with your main characters? Are there any that you feel connected to and why?
The motivations of the main characters are diverse. Adrian Drewe is guided by a sense of duty and enlists on the first day of the war. He constantly wants to make the family proud of him. Christian Drewe doubts that war is necessary and he doesn’t see why he should fight a war he doesn’t believe in. He finds himself facing a sea of opposing views and is considered a coward. Personally, I feel more connected to Christian, whose anti-war views mirror my own. However, the two strongest characters are Celia Lutyens and Rose Hall. The book traces Celia’s development from a fifteen-year-old girl in love with Adrian Drewe to a young woman who is independent and headstrong. Rose Hall is also an independent woman who leaves her husband to go to the front lines to care for the wounded.
Each author has their own editorial journey. Tell me about yours.
I came up with the idea for the novel after visiting Castle Drogo in Devon in 2004. From then on, it took me about five years to complete a first draft of the novel. In 2011 I began the editing process and looked for a publishing agent to take charge of the novel. While I received a lot of positive feedback, the subject matter of the book was not something that major publishers were looking at. When I decided to retire as a lawyer in 2021, I hired two brilliant editors and we worked together to refine the novel for publication. I was also lucky enough to meet an excellent photographer who photographed the young woman’s hand holding her pen and then worked with a book designer to produce the stunning cover.
What advice would you give other aspiring historical writers?
Read the great writers and learn from them. Also, don’t give up. Writing is something you learn, and you only get good at something when you practice.
What is the last great book you read? Why?
testament of youth by Vera Brittany. I am glad that I only read this after I had finished writing Of all religions and none. Vera Brittain’s memoir is wonderful and tragic in equal measure, and I would always have been comparing my book to her if I had read it sooner.
Andrew’s website offers a fascinating insight into the real people and places behind his fiction.