Interview with Author Harold Ross Thompson

What prompted you to write that first book/short story?

I wrote my first novel length manuscript when I was fifteen. Ever since I’d learned to read, I’d been scribbling little books, stories, comic books and strips, so by the time I hit high school writing had just become a favourite pastime. So no one thing prompted me to write that first long book, unless I want to be really boring and say it was The Lord of the Rings. That’s not very original, but it’s true. I read Tolkien when I was eleven and quickly decided that I had to write a fantasy epic. After years of carting around a note book and a pen, I finally finished what I thought was a revolutionary concept, a fantasy novel set in a Napoleonic era world instead of an ancient or medieval one. It was awful, the first of five awful books I wrote in a row.

You’re published in historical fiction, what prompted you to write a story about the War on the Crimean Peninsula?

I’d learned a great deal of British Army history by working summers at the Halifax Citadel, a Victorian era fort in Canada (I eventually got a full time job there with Parks Canada). My interest in fantasy had gradually shifted to an interest in historical adventure, and I was reading a lot of C.S. Forester, Patrick O’Brian, Bernard Cornwell and the like. I was still determined to write a good novel, and thought that I probably knew enough history to switch gears, maybe even attempt a series covering the entire Victorian period. The Crimea seemed the best choice for a beginning because I wanted to start with something that was big. The Crimean War was the largest European war until WWI, and its story is full of iconic moments. It also represents a time of rapid technological advancement when the old ways of doing things existed side by side, for a time, with a host of newfangled contraptions. So in the Crimea you have Napoleonic era uniforms and tactics, but you also have massed rifles, trench warfare, rifled artillery, steamships, primitive ironclads, railways and telegraph lines.

Did you have to do a lot of research on the War? And, if so, would you share some of your favorite research books/sources?

I did a load of research that included both primary and secondary sources. I was already well versed in the mechanics of the British Army of the period, its structure, uniforms, equipment, drill, barracks life and so on, from my summer job, so was free to concentrate on the war itself for the most part. I wanted to find a way to create an authentic voice, a real-seeming person who could have existed and lived through those times. To do this I turned to the many memoirs and accounts of the “War with Russia” (as it was called at the time) that soldiers who served there wrote either at the time or years later. My starting point was Sergeant Timothy Gowing’s Voice from the Ranks, which is maybe the best known firsthand account of the Crimean War. Another was Thomas Faughnan’s Life of a British Soldier, which I still have on my book shelf. The third account that I remember was Sir Henry Clifford’s Letters and Sketches from the Crimea. There were others too, but I’ve since forgotten the names. No doubt they’re in a file somewhere.

During your research, did you find an interesting fact/situation that you just had to include in your book?

Many. I’d say that much of what happens to William Dudley in Dudley’s Fusiliers was stolen from real life. I took a philosophical recruiting sergeant from Thomas Faughnan’s account and imported him almost complete. Dudley’s promotion to sergeant on the field after the Battle of the Alma comes from Gowing. There are plenty more, but most of them are spoilers!

Can you tell us a little bit about your latest release?

My latest upcoming release is the sequel to Dudley’s Fusiliers, which is called Guns of Sevastopol. It has Dudley returning to the Crimea to see out the end of the siege of Sevastopol. There he runs afoul of the villainous Captain David Neville. A villainous officer may seem a bit cliché in a book like this, but they did exist and still do. Some of Neville’s villainy is based on historical anecdotes, some on situations I’ve encountered in my own life.

Do you plot your stories out or do you just start writing?

I always start with a complete outline, then break it into a chapter outline. I like to know who the characters are and how the book will begin and how it will end. With an historical this is a matter of choosing two points in time and then weaving the story around them. After I have a chapter outline I then just let the project simmer, jotting down ideas as they come to me. When I’ve built up enough of these ideas, I fill in the complete first draft, letting the characters walk through history, making decisions that I think that they would make.

Which of your characters is most like you and which is least like you?

None of my characters are really much like me. Some people have assumed that William Dudley is based on me, and he does share some of my ways of doing things, but he was designed to be a certain way, to be a naïve optimist who succeeds because he doesn’t understand the situation he’s in. I’m not like that, nor am I willing to stand up in the face of massed musket and rifle fire. So Dudley himself is both most and least like me.

Can you describe your office or where you normally write? Do you have anything in your office that helped inspire you to write the story?

I write from a home office. The current one is in my rec room and has a bathroom right behind it, which is important. I have a massive overstuffed book shelf behind me, and I take inspiration from that, but my biggest source of inspiration has always been music. I like to write with something playing in the background. I don’t actually have a stereo in the office at present, but I miss it and should do something about it.

Which came first the plot or the characters?

When I was writing one crummy novel after another, the plot or concept came first. From Dudley’s Fusiliers on to Yorktown and to now, the characters and their situations came first. That may actually have been the turning point for me, though I’ve never actually thought of it before.

Have you ever gotten stuck while writing a scene or chapter? How did you overcome it?

I get stuck all the time, but I’ve learned to trust my subconscious. I get up and walk away and hope the solution occurs to me later, when I’m doing something else. It always does, usually when I’m in the shower or some other place where I’m nowhere close to a piece of paper and something to write with.

What is the wackiest thing that’s ever happened to you since you started writing?

That’s an interesting question because wacky things have in fact happened. For a while there I kept running into other writers of historical adventure, writers more famous than I. Julian Stockwin, author of the Kydd series, walked into my office one day (not my writing office, my day job office). Bernard Cornwell has come to my home town for two book signings, and in both cases I was involved in the organization of the event. At the first one I was standing there in period costume, adding “colour,” when someone in the lineup looked at me and said, “Hey, you’re a writer too.” I actually looked behind me to see if he was talking to someone else, but he meant me. I’d done a couple of signings myself and he’d seen me before.

I think the king of wacky moments occurred in England, at the regimental museum of the Green Howards, an old British infantry regiment, in Richmond, North Yorkshire. I was on a tour of English Heritage sites with a Parks Canada group, and we were at a reception that was held in the museum. This was just after the first edition of Dudley’s Fusiliers had come out. I discovered a display case of items that had belonged to a Green Howards officer who had served in the Crimea and had later joined the US Army during the Civil War. This was exactly the plan I’d had for Dudley, and I was amazed to see that this real officer had lived a life so close to my fictional one. In my book, Dudley had captured a Russian helmet and overcoat, and there in the display case were those very things. I then turned around to see what was in the cases on the opposite wall, and there, hanging in front of me, was an original watercolour of the Green Howards on parade in 1852. This was the very painting that had been used as the cover art for the first edition of Dudley.

You also have several film credits; what abilities do films and writing have in common?

My first film credit was to write a short screenplay for a young director named Mike Fox. I’ve since written a few more screenplays, one which I then directed and produced as a no-budget feature. Films start with the writing, with the story and characters, which have to be just as well conceived as they do for a novel. However, in screenwriting you have to adhere to the principle of “show don’t tell” completely, because film is primarily a visual medium and every scene is dramatized. In prose you can dramatize key scenes, but a novel should not be all “show,” despite a trend toward that very thing. That’s not the point of prose. There’s still a place for straight narrative to move the story along, give it some sweep, and let us in on the thoughts of the characters.


Harold R. Thompson is from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. During regular business hours he works for Parks Canada, but for the rest of the time he writes. He also draws (cartoons, really) and dabbles in filmmaking. History, in particular military history, is his favourite subject. Though he has written non-fiction for periodicals such as Military Illustrated and Canada’s History, he is also the author of the For Empire and Honor series of novels, which star fictional Victorian hero William Dudley, an officer in the British Army. The first book in the series, Dudley’s Fusiliers, was released in 2010.

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About Linda Andrews

Linda Andrews lives with her husband and three children in Phoenix, Arizona. When she announced to her family that her paranormal romance was to be published, her sister pronounce: "What else would she write? She’s never been normal." All kidding aside, writing has become a surprising passion. So just how did a scientist start to write paranormal romances? What other option is there when you’re married to romantic man and live in a haunted house? If you’ve enjoyed her stories or want to share your own paranormal experience feel free to email the author at She’d love to hear from you.
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