James Heneage


James Heneage is the author of The Towers of Samarcand (Quercus, 2014) volume 2 of The Mistra Chronicles, and co-founder (with fellow author James Holland) of The Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Festival. 

Here, James gives us an insight into his life as a writer, and revealed why rising early is the secret to success…


Q: What is your typical day as an author like?

A: I like to have clear days devoted to just writing, so I try and bunch everything else in my life into others when I don’t write at all. On writing days, I’ll write for three hours, then walk for two (when I can think through plot or character issues that need resolving), then write for another two hours. I try to complete 2,000 words in those five hours of writing. The rest of the day I’ll spend reading and researching for the rest of the book. I read or watch box sets in the evening to relax.


Q: How did you first get published?

A: I took the manuscript for a novel to three literary agents, and chose one to represent me. However, before the manuscript could be sent round to publishers, Susan Watt of Heron Books read it, liked it and offered a three-book deal (she thought the manuscript should be split in two). I wanted to work with Susan, so I accepted.


Q: What is the secret to good writing?

A: I’m still learning that secret, but I think it has to do with focusing everything –characters, description, events, writing style – to the imperative of compelling narrative.


Q: What advice would you give people trying to get published?

A: Be aware that writing is lonely and, except for a few at the top, very badly paid, so, when starting out, have another job to pay bills and meet people.

Present your idea to publishers as either a full manuscript or an excerpt plus plot summary. If going for the latter, try to include sketches of all the main characters. Be clear of the audience you are writing to.


Q: Which writers do you most admire and why?

A: Dorothy Dunnett; Philippa Gregory; Hilary Mantel; Sharon Penman; CJ Sansom; Patrick O’Brian and Sarah Dunant. All of these writers have, in their different ways, brought people from history (real and unreal) to vivid life and contemporary relevance.


Q: What are your top writing tips?

A: Rise early. Say nothing to anyone, read no paper, drink no coffee… and for two hours just write. The trap door to your unconscious is still slightly ajar, and you might be surprised by what comes out. You can always clean it up later.


To find out more about James Heneage, visit www.mistrachronicles.com

Are you a budding historical writer? Then enter our Inspiring History Writing competition


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