I have a fabulous interview to share with you this week. And, there's something that needs to be shared. I've been posting teasers on social media for the past month, and it's time for the BIG COVER REVEAL! So, after you finish reading this week's interview, scroll on down and you'll find it!
When I first began marketing my Antonius Trilogy on Twitter, I chanced upon meeting a French gentleman who shared my fascination with historical fiction and even put up with my limited French. Baptiste Pinson and I have never met personally, but we are great friends, always supporting one anothers work. But, that being said, Baptiste's work is remarkable. As I share this interview, I know you'll see for yourself that he puts his heart and soul into each of his books.
Welcome back to the Journal, Baptiste! And read ON, everone!
An Interview with Author Baptiste Pinson
BROOK: Baptiste, you’ve undergone quite a transformation in your writing. Several years ago, you were writing about Viking shield-maidens and now you’re in ancient China for the long-haul. Tell us about the journey that brought you to this point.
BAPTISTE: Well, when I decided to start writing seriously, most of the ideas I could picture myself writing revolved around two sets of cultures: Antiquity/Dark Ages Europe on one side, ancient China or Japan on the other. I knew that no matter what, I would write a series about the Three Kingdoms of China at some point, but back then I didn’t know it would be the first series I would publish. At that point, when I made the slightly masochistic decision to become an author, I was going through all the Cornwell, Low, and Kristian’s books on Vikings, so naturally that’s what I wrote first. But I soon faced a choice; publishing in a popular genre but with a fierce competition (Vikings), or a less popular one but with lots of space to grow (China.) I’m a bit lazy by nature, so I’d rather start my writing career with topics I already knew a little about. But as I go I would also love to tackle other cultures and periods, such as the Seljuks, for example.
BROOK: There is an abundance of historical fiction written about the western world. Without getting political, do you think ancient China has been neglected in western fiction?
BAPTISTE: By comparison, yes, Chinese historical fiction has been neglected, but it’s more cultural than political, in my opinion. Historical Fiction already demands a certain effort from readers because they are being sent to a world with different values. At least, with the more popular periods, ancient Rome, WWII, Dark Ages, Victorian, etc, we are still set in a culture connected to ours, with names, events, or a geography that we have more or less studied. Not everything is new.
But when you start diving into a different culture such as China, especially at a time before the West influenced it, it is really a whole new world.
For a writer, it also implies being able to introduce this different culture in a way that is easy to grasp for Westerners. That’s why many examples of stories set in countries like China and Japan have a central character from Europe or the US.
When I wrote Yellow Sky Revolt, I regularly asked myself, “How would Cornwell explain this?” And I believe it has paid off. A lot of reviewers mentioned that it was an easy book to enjoy even without previous knowledge of the era or culture.
BROOK: Now that you’re committed to a series, what components do you think are essential for good historical sagas?
BAPTISTE: Time will tell if I’m right on this topic, but to me, it is a question of balance between what you give to the readers and what remains to be told. If nothing gets resolved until the end of the saga, a certain fatigue sets in for the reader, but if each book sees the end of a quest, it can also become tedious. Basically, it needs to feel like one very long book cut in successive arcs, rather than a series of stories happening to the same characters. That’s why I prefer the Warlord Chronicles to the Saxon Stories (which I still love, of course)
BROOK: In your first book, Yellow Sky Revolt, your main character is a young boy. How were you able to write so convincingly from a child’s point of view?
I’m so happy you find him convincing. This was a challenge for sure. I tend to shy away from stories involving kids as main characters, and I think besides your first novel and Giles Kristian’s Lancelot, I’m never completely convinced by those characters.
Liao Dun, the main character of Yellow Sky Revolt as he is called then, is seven at the beginning of the story. He’s lived all his life on a farm, he hasn’t seen the world, and thus he doesn’t know how small he is. That allowed me to make him a little arrogant and unaware of his limits, something that will follow him for most of his life.
When I wrote this novel, my first son was six, and sometimes I despaired because I couldn’t picture him doing any of the things Liao Dun was doing. But at the same time, I just reminded myself that life was incredibly hard back then and that kids had to mature earlier. The best part in writing a child was to see his evolution as tragic events kept happening to him. The Liao Dun from the first pages is very different from the one halfway through the book, even though only one year has passed.
There was also an eye-opening moment during the early stages of the 1st draft. It was right at the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, and I remember seeing this picture of a child, probably of the same age as my character, who had to flee her home and find shelter from the bombs. She had those very mature and hard eyes as if she had already seen too much. She is the one who made me confident in my character.
BROOK: What resources were especially helpful in your research?
On the human side, several Chinese friends and relatives, including my wife. I had good beta readers with strong knowledge of the culture who could help me find very detailed information.
I also feasted on academic papers, essays, and books related to the topic for a couple of months after the birth of my second son. It was amazing! Shortly after the publication of YSR, I had the chance to get in touch with Rafe de Crespisgny, the greatest specialist of this era. After reading so many of his texts, it was fascinating to speak with him and to receive his praises regarding my book.
BROOK: Have you traveled to any of the places you’ve been writing about? If not, do you plan to in the future?
Oddly enough, I haven’t seen much of this region (the Central Plains). I did visit some places over there, but nothing related to that period. I doubt that much has been preserved, but I absolutely want to visit the cities and museums related to the Three Kingdoms in Central and Eastern China.
The second half of the saga will take place in the western part of China, which I know much better, and I think it will be fun to use my experience there in the text.
BROOK: What were some of the challenges in writing about ancient China that were frustrating, yet helped you grow as a writer?
The research was the most frustrating part. We know so very little about the life of simple folks, soldiers, and the likes of them, while we know a lot about the court and the political intrigues. I had to dig deep into the research dealing with neighboring countries, or surrounding periods to find what I needed. Eventually, I had to face several times the same old choice: historical or fiction.
Another great challenge was my passion for this period. Because I know it well and love it, I was often tempted to put too much. Deciding to remove redundancies, simplifying some parts, and turning beloved historical figures into unlikable characters, all those things were a challenge. But it was fantastic.
There is this character named Xiahou Dun who is quite adored by fans of this period. I truly enjoyed writing him as a bastard, knowing the reactions I would get, and it didn’t fail. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to do so again with more characters as I go.
BROOK: Now that my readers know something about the literary Baptiste, please share a little about your personal life—family, career, and the life-changing move you made halfway around the world!
As mentioned, my wife is Chinese, we have two kids, and live in Tokyo. I spent most of the last twelve years in Asia, except for a two-year stop in France, where I am from. We quickly missed Japan a lot, and since the COVID prevented us from working as we wanted, we jumped back to the land of the rising sun. But during this strange time, we kept busy and created a channel for people interested in learning French and discovering more about my culture. This, in turn, gave me the chance to teach online, which allows me to work from home and focus more on my writing than if I had a 9-to-5 job, or, more accurately for Japan, a 9-to-9.
My friend and fellow author,
BUY THE BOOK!
THE COVER OF WEST OF SANTILLANE!!!
Here it is, readers... the cover to my new novel: WEST OF SANTILLANE, which will launch on Friday, March 8th! I will let everyone know once the ebook is available for pre-order.