Sunday, September 13, 2015

March to Destruction - a Napoleonic era adventure novel by Art McGrath

In a page-turning sequel to his debut novel Emperor’s American set during the Napoleonic era, author Art McGrath continues the adventures of his Franco-Scottish protagonist Pierre Burns. In March to Destruction Pierre fights in the Grande Armée while dodging assassins.

MJN: One reviewer likened your work to Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventurers of Gerard".  Was it a comment on the merit or the technique? I would be more inclined to compare your work to that of Rafael Sabatini. I believe, the sub-genre is called picaresque?

AM: Well of course I hope it was on the merit though certainly the comparison in part came about because of the subject matter. Historical fiction from the French perspective of the Napoleonic Wars is pretty rare, at least in English. I'm flattered by the comparison to Sabatini, Marina—we should all be so fortunate--though I wouldn't say it is a picaresque novel, as it only bears one or two of the seven traditional elements of a picaresque novel. I would call it military historical fiction.

If I had to name an author as a model it would be Bernard Cornwell, who is the current standard by which all Napoleonic military historical fiction is measured, at least for land combat. He has a formula, with each novel ending at a major battle. Others in the genre of military historical fiction, Goldsworthy, Gale, have taken up the formula because it works. I didn't end book 1, The Emperor's American, at a major battle because there were none in 1804 and I wanted to acclimate Pierre—and the readers—to French military life and the period. Book 2, March to Destruction, does end at a major battle and book 3 will end at Austerlitz, the greatest of Napoleon's victories. I hope to have that completed by the end of the year.

MJN: Your protagonist, Pierre Burns, is an American born to a French mother and a Scottish father.  Historically, there has always been a Franco-Celtic link, as the French and the Scottish (and especially the Irish) had suffered a common enemy - the English. Was your choice of the protagonist's heritage deliberate?

AM: Absolutely. I wanted to give him personal and familial motivation and decided that his grandfather had fought at Culloden and that he was Catholic. Culloden was in some ways the last gasp of Scots Catholicism, and the Highlanders largely remained Catholic until after Culloden in 1745, something I was unaware of until I began researching the first book in this series. I experimented with a number of Scots names and regions in Scotland where his family would be from. I also considered making him Franco-Irish but eventually settled on making him Franco-Scots, though a major supporting character is Irish. I am of French and Irish descent and didn't want it to seem semi-fantastical-autobiographic.

And of course I wanted him to be an American because that gave me a window into this world so as Burns discovers it, so do the readers. The idea started with an American joining the Grande Armée long before I decided on his ethnic background.

MJN: Pierre's arrival in Europe is purely accidental. It's a common technique used by many great authors to have a down-and-out character plunged into an adventure against his volition and then find the experience to be incredibly stimulating and invigorating. In a sense, Pierre is not totally in control over his fate, but he capitalizes on his own misfortune. Under different circumstances, do you envision your protagonist choosing this path deliberately?

AM: You are right that it is a very specific set of circumstances that led Pierre into the French Army, an option he would never have considered otherwise. I would say he is already disposed to do this and just needed the right alignment of the stars. After all just before he was stranded in Europe he was already fighting the English on what was for all intents and purposes a pirate ship.

Would he have crossed the Atlantic to join the French army? That is unlikely, though if he ran across a French soldier returning to the wars perhaps he would have accompanied him.

MJN: Having "a price on one's head" in 1805, before photography or social media, was a little different than it would be now. We have all this technology to track people down, making it harder to flee from your enemies.  What kind of clues did assassins have to rely on in 1805 to make sure they got the right person?

AM: In the case of Pierre Burns, he is not exactly an anonymous figure. He is an aide-de-camp to a marshal, which means he is in a conspicuous uniform and is well known. As an aide-de-camp he works and travels alone quite often. He is a far easier mark in some ways than if he were an infantry officer surrounded by his men. And let's just say the assassins might have help from within the French army identifying him and his movements.

MJN: Let's talk about the cover. Many historical novels with a predominantly female audience feature female models in period costumes with their heads partially cut off, leaving just the mouth and the chin visible. Historical novels with a Napoleonic setting often feature tall ships.  Were you and your cover artist deliberately trying to deviate from the tradition?
AM: I have to give full credit to Christine Horner for the cover. My thought was initially to go with part of a painting from a battle but she insisted that marketing research shows that partial close up shots of people and equipment draw readers in. I was skeptical until I saw the cover and was blown away. I have no idea whether it was her intention to deviate from the tradition but if it works I will not argue with success. Everyone who has commented loves it.

As for why there were no tall ships, the novel takes place hundreds of miles from the ocean. Ships would be out of place but I can see why people might think tall ships and the Napoleonic era. Fiction about the era is dominated by seagoing yarns—Patrick O'Brian, Alexander Kent, Dewey Lambdin, to name but a few. Getting away from that stereotype is one reason I wrote these novels.

A ship might have worked on the cover of the first book, The Emperor's American, since the novel opens in the middle of a sea battle but not after that. In fact artist Tal Dibner, who does many paintings of historical events and people, did draw a proposed cover for The Emperor's American which my publisher did not use but now is the cover picture on my Facebook author's page.

1 comment:

  1. I've read both the first book and its sequel and was most impressed. I'm really looking forward to the next one!