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Interview: Tim Standish

The author of The Sterling Directive

Today I have the privilege of inviting another author to my blog. Tim Standish is the author of The Sterling Directive, a fun alternative history novel set in a steampunkish Victorian London. Disgraced Army officer Charles Maddox is given a chance to redeem his reputation by assisting a shadowy organization in digging out the truth of the Ripper murders. I loved this book, and it was great fun to interview Tim about it. If you want to connect with Tim, you can follow him on Twitter @timstandishUK or check out his website

The Sterling Directive is available at Amazon and all other major retailers.

HI Tim, and welcome to my blog! I’m really excited to talk to you today. Thanks so much for stopping by. 

You are most welcome and thanks for having me along!

Let’s start by getting a bit of info about you. The Sterling Directive is your first book. What prompted you to start this journey of writing? Have you always wanted to write a book, or is this a new ambition of yours? 

I was an avid reader growing up, mainly sci-fi and fantasy but also thrillers, detective stories, that kind of thing.  I think there was always an idea in the back of my mind that maybe I could write a book like that. I had plenty of ideas, and even put some down on paper, but didn’t really get going. And then suddenly I was grown up and really busy with work and life and there wasn’t any time to write. 

Then I went to a book signing that Neil Gaiman was doing for Anansi Boys in the mid 2000s. I was a big fan of the Sandman comics, and he was (and is) one of my literary heroes so I was really excited to see him in person. Anyway, during the Q&A someone in the audience talked about an idea they had for a book and asked for advice on getting published and Neil Gaiman responded “You should write the book.” And he was being polite and encouraging but at the same time it felt like a challenge – “don’t just talk about it, put it down on paper”. That really stuck with me and so I started writing what would become The Sterling Directive. 

What a great cover!

The Sterling Directive is set in Victorian London, which is a very popular setting for historical novels. What do you think is the appeal of this time and place? What made you choose it for your novel?

I think writers like Dickens and Conan Doyle, Jules Verne and HG Wells, and the television and film adaptations of their stories, play a big part. More broadly there is something about the societal, technological and political revolutions of the nineteenth century that make it so appealing to writers and readers. For me it was a combination of being a big Sherlock Holmes fan and knowing London pretty well from having lived there.

Was the mystery of the Ripper murders part of the plot from the beginning, or was it something you added once you decided on the setting? 

It was something that came in later, and I was in two minds about including it because it’s been written about so many times, but it just so clearly fit with the themes and timeline that I went with it. 

Of course, your book is not just a historical novel. It is an alternate history novel, in which you have created a different historical reality than our own. What inspired you to add this twist to your book? 

As a reader I’ve always enjoyed alternative timelines and seeing where authors take them, whether it’s in novels like SSGB by Len Deighton or historians exploring counterfactuals – there is a great series called ‘What if’ that does this. And I really like steampunk!

 What would you say was the hardest part of writing this book?

That’s a tough one. Getting past the first paragraph of each chapter was a struggle. Linked to that, I’d say writing even when I wasn’t in the mood to write – that’s what made the difference between finishing and not finishing the book. 

You have a couple of interesting but very different women characters in your book, Milady and Patience. I’m a bit scared by Milady, but I liked the slightly nerdy but very competent Patience. Did you enjoy writing one of these more than the other? 

Patience without a doubt. She’s probably one of the few characters in the book that made me smile while I was writing her. It’s odd because originally I only included her as a background character but she became much more important as the book went on, and is a real favourite with readers. 

Milady scares me too!

As I mentioned in my review of the book, I loved that you included a bit of a nod to Spring-heeled Jack in your book, one of my favourite creepy Victorian urban legends. How did that come about? 

Urban legends and mysterious tales have always interested me – I’ve been a reader of Fortean Times magazine for years. I always found Spring-heeled Jack odd and unsettling, and the sheer variety of stories surrounding him quite fascinating. I don’t want to say too much about how I reference him because it’s a bit of a spoiler, only that it was a very last-minute inclusion and, once I’d gone with it, I really decided to go with it!   

I’m interested in your method of publication. Tell us more about Unbound books, how you got involved with them, and the process of publication with them. 

Unbound is a relatively new publishing house in the UK that is a blend of crowdfunding and traditional publishing. At the front end it was like any publisher, I submitted a manuscript, didn’t hear back from months, then followed up and eventually got accepted. At that stage they set up a crowd funding page for the Sterling Directive on the Unbound website and I had a time limit to get a certain level of backing. Once that happened it flipped back into traditional publishing – I was assigned an editor, designer etc and the book was published last August. I was introduced to Unbound by a friend who had already been signed by them. I’m really happy with how it worked out – the editorial process was incredibly helpful, not to mention getting an audio-book deal and the profit share is 50/50 which is better than with a traditional publisher. 

What are you working on now? Are there more Sterling books coming (I hope so)? Do you have any ideas for other books outside of this series? 

I’ve mapped out a six-book series for Sterling, Patience and the rest of the Map Room. I have started writing the second book, which takes place in 1898, two years after The Sterling Directive, and is set in the Confederate States of America (as it is called in the Sterling universe).  

I have the beginnings of an idea for a fantasy trilogy but I’m trying not to think about it too much at the moment so I can focus on Sterling. 

Final question, just for fun. Since you have elements of James Bond, Victorian England, steampunk and Jack the Ripper in your book, which movie is your fave? 

From Hell

Casino Royale

A Game of Shadows

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

TLOEG has a great opening scene but goes downhill a bit after that, and I can’t really get on with Johnny Depp’s accent in From Hell (sorry!) so that rules those out, and I must confess I haven’t seen Game of Shadows. So Casino Royale it is! 

Thank you again, Tim, for taking the time to chat with me today. I really enjoyed it.