(See my other Author Interviews) – I read the WWII spy novel Winston’s Spy late last summer and published a review of it in September 2020. Since then I have been able to contact the author Robert Webber. He graciously agreed to an interview.
Myself: When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer?
Webber: I think I have always felt that I had a book inside me.
Myself: What is the first piece that you remember writing?
Webber: When I was about ten-years-old, I won a competition in a local newspaper for a short story about the Zulu wars and then started writing a novel called ‘Death Defying Death’ which, of course, never saw the light of day!
Myself: Your writing career began a lot earlier than most authors. What is your academic and work background?
Webber: I spent much of my life in sales and marketing but entered the world of academia whilst I was living in Finland… I am now working at a University in England as a senior lecturer of business strategy. I hold a doctorate.
Myself: We have somewhat similar backgrounds. I was not fortunate enough to earn a Phd, but I was an instructor in Computer Science at St. Edward’s University. What part of the world do you currently live in?
Webber: Northamptonshire, England.
Myself: Do you think that living there has affected your writing?
Webber: Not especially, my current writing was more influenced by the time I spent living in Finland.
Myself: Why do you think Finland influenced your writing?
Webber: In Finland, there is a word “SISU” that defines the Finnish attitude to life. The term does not directly translate into English but is loosely explained as bravery, resilience, hardiness. The Finns are justifiably proud of sisu and often use it to describe their national character. When I was living in Finland, this trait fascinated me – I met many Finns who, despite physical or social handicaps, were determined to live life to the full and succeed in whatever they attempted. I became fascinated by Finland’s heroic achievements in their “David and Goliath” struggle in the Winter War, as this truly epitomised sisu.
Myself: I have not heard of the Finnish term sisu before. Your explanation is very interesting and I can see how it motivated you for your book series. How do you relax? What are your hobbies?
Webber: A moment to relax… that would be nice! Actually, I relax by writing, but am also interested in photography, cookery and the theatre.
Myself: What else would you like to share about yourself?
Webber: I regret not having come to writing earlier.
Myself: What’s the earliest book you remember reading for yourself?
Webber: The first book I remember was either A A Milne’s ‘When We Were Very Young’ or ‘Now We Are Six’ – I loved the simplicity of the rhyme and the wit of the writer. I think it a shame that youngsters today do not bother reading poetry.
Myself: Did you read much growing up?
Webber: Yes, I was an avid reader.
Myself: What book that you read as a child stands out in your memory?
Webber: The Jennings books by Anthony Buckeridge, in later years ‘Reach for the Sky’ by Paul Brickhill.
Myself: What have you read recently?
Webber: Mainly research for my own writing, but the occasional dabble into Michael Dobbs or Peter Mayle.
Myself: What is your favorite genre? book? character? author?
Webber: Political, espionage, humour, I have a wide range of genres that I enjoy.
Myself: Where is your favorite place to read?
Webber: Bed mainly, although when researching, mainly at my desk.
Myself: Do you prefer paper or eBooks? Do you listen to audiobooks?
Webber: I’m old school, I’m afraid… paper, and much to my wife’s chagrin, I do not throw books away!
Myself: I have amassed quite a few books myself, though most of those I’ve read in recent years have been ebooks. What books do you recommend to others? Give as gifts?
Webber: At the moment, my own… but also cookery books.
Myself: What type of cooking books? Do you favor a particular cuisine?
Webber: It depends on the recipient and how skilled they are in the kitchen, but my true love is French cuisine. My mother taught Cordon Bleu cookery, so my tastebuds became accustomed to the flavours of France from an early age,
Myself: What makes you sit down and want to share your stories?
Webber: Relaxation and a desire to inform about the least remembered aspects of WW2
Myself: I am glad you chose the WWII era for your novel. What are your ambitions for your writing career?
Webber: Retirement from my day job… yes, I would like to make money from my writing, but also leave a legacy for future generations.
Myself: Why do you write? What makes you sit down and want to share your stories?
Webber: I enjoy writing, I enjoy researching what I write, I enjoy the creativity.
Myself: Is there anyone who has influenced your writing?
Webber: Not especially, none of my family wrote, but we did have an English teacher at school who wrote novels under a pen-name, but I never found out what it was (and he was not allowed to say!)
Myself: Why did you set your first book Winston’s Spy in WWII era Europe?
Webber: In honesty, Winston’s Spy was always going to be the precursor for The White Rose, which I have been mulling around in my mind for nearly twenty years. I needed an introduction to start writing about the Winter War in Finland, so I developed the main characters in Winston’s Spy for the later books in the series.
Myself: I don’t think many people associate the war between Finland and Russia as part of WWII. I doubt there are many who have even heard of the Winter War. I look forward to learning more in your next novel. How did you pick the genres for your stories?
Webber: I grew up at the time when WW2 was still remembered, and I was fascinated by the courage and determination of the era. I agree that not many people have heard of the Winter War (before living in Finland, I certainly had not!), which is a shame – but I can’t entirely agree that it falls outside WW2. Quite apart from the timeline, the war with Finland influenced Russian strategy both in its pact with Nazi Germany and later coalition with the Allies. Post-WW2, Finland became a crucial, if passive, player in the Cold War.
Myself: I think you and I are much of the same generation. Where do your story ideas come from?
Webber: My books are always grounded in historical fact, but expanded into fiction by an overactive imagination.
Myself: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just to see where an idea takes you?
Webber: The main plot is invariably set by historical fact, but of the fiction element is initially quite well planned out, but allowed to develop as the writing happens, so quite often I do not end up where I thought I would!
Myself: Where do you do your writing? Why there?
Webber: I converted the garage at my home into an office and writing space… mainly so that I could get some peace and quiet to develop my thoughts.
Myself: What is your schedule like when you are writing?
Webber: Haphazard at the moment, as it has to fit around my ‘day job’, but when I am writing more intensely (weekends and holidays) structured… I am definitely a morning person.
Myself: How do you fit writing in to your daily schedule? (i.e. balance work, writing and family)
Webber: Ever since I wrote my thesis for university, I have been an early riser… I am responding to this email at 3.30am, and that’s when I tend to do much of my writing so that I can fit day job, and family around my writing ambitions. If I ever get to retire, I will focus on writing in a more structured way.
Myself: About how long does it take you to complete a first draft? How long do your revisions take?
Webber: Usually, about three to four months.
Myself: How much research do you put into a novel?
Webber: A lot! I am typically researching my next book while I am writing the current one
Myself: What tools (software?) do you use in your writing?
Webber: MS Word, and I have just bought Grammarly to see whether it improves my writing.
Myself: I have been using Grammarly as well. I think it has helped me improve my own writing. What are the hardest and easiest things about writing?
Webber: Hardest? Remembering what I had thought was a good storyline the next day, and scheduling sufficient time to hit my personal deadlines, and the easiest, is really allowing the book to flow from brain to paper.
Myself: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Webber: Enjoy writing… if it becomes a chore, give it up!
Myself: What novels/works have you published?
Webber: I have had several academic papers published, plus a textbook ‘An Introduction to Franchising’. Winston’s Spy and The White Rose have been published. The third Carlton Chronicles novel Teddy’s War is due out in the summer.
Myself: What are you currently working on?
Webber: Carlton Chronicles IV, The Stockholm Protocol is nearing completion. I anticipate it will be out around Christmas 2021. I am researching the fifth book in the series.
Myself: What else would you like to share?
Webber: I really do regret not having started writing earlier… I seriously wonder whether I shall ever get all the books that I would like to write finished before I drop dead!
Myself: How should your fans follow you or get in touch?
Webber: Email is the best option firstname.lastname@example.org, although I do also have a Carlton Chronicles FaceBook page (https://www.facebook.com/carltonchronicles) and a website (https://www.robwebber.co.uk)