Author Interview: Graham Williams – The Chichester Diamond

September 2, 2021

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By BRUCE DENNILL

In the summer of 1545, there’s murder in the Cathedral of Chichester. An honest family of stonemasons heads to the city to repair the building, only to find the massive spire is in danger of collapse and they’re walking into a plot to steal taxes from King Henry VIII. The Chichester Diamond is Book One in Graham Williams‘ The Company Of Stonemasons series.

 

When, and under what circumstances, did the idea for your latest book come to you?

My first book came about when I retired after 30 years of work. That’s a story in itself. Only a company back then, not now, would keep a guy on who was dyslexic and going blind, putting me to work in an office and then spending thousands on me in technology and courses, including a course at a dyslexic college in London and a stay at the Royal National Institute of Blind People in Truro for three weeks. It was, once, a people’s company. But in the end, it became just another soulless corporation. So I took a deal to retire early. I was sitting at home with thousands of pounds of equipment, wondering, “What’s next in my life?” I certainly didn’t want to start another job. I was delighted to come to the end of working, as I had disliked it from the day I started at 14 years old. So what to do? You have to understand, I had only ever read four books in my life that had no interest for me. And when I began losing my sight, I could not even read those. However, as a small boy, I loved to be read to. Some of my earliest memories are sitting on the reading mat at the end of the day with my classmates as the teacher read from a book to us before we went home. My school days were painful because I was dyslexic and on the autistic spectrum – another long story I will write about one day. I have always loved the history of medieval times. It’s more real to me than the time I live in, odd though that may seem. So I sat down and started to write a book utilising the equipment I have and found that writing is very cathartic. In book one of the stone masons, Adam, one of the characters, is autistic. I wrote the first book in around six months and liked the experience, so I wrote books two and three as a trilogy. And loved every second of it. This book, The Chichester Diamond, came from my love for and fascination with cathedrals. I do not have a religious bone in my body, but I love history. And my wife and I have been travelling around England visiting these buildings. In Chichester Cathedral, the idea came to me of a medieval family of stonemasons travelling around England repairing cathedrals and mills and buildings. I set about building a family of characters and to write about what I know.

 

How did you conduct your research or other preparation before writing – was it more experiential or more academic or desk-based?

Research is done before and as I write the books. I visited the place, the cathedral and town, and looked at old maps, also reading up on the cathedral’s history. It’s a mix of things that inspire me. But it all happens when I sit down to write and become the characters, and let them take over as they do. It happens that the stories just come about as I write. I am not a planner. I may have a skeleton of a story in mind, but the characters take me places. If I start to dream of them and laugh and cry with them, it’s going well.

 

If resources (money, time, whatever) were no object, what additional groundwork would you like to have completed?

I am writing a new book about a young World War Two fighter pilot and a ghost. The research is from past information, films and books, and I have visited the RAF Museum at Uxbridge and the control bunker there to get the feel of it and the war museum for inspiration. But what I wish I could do before I go completely blind is fly in a Spitfire. As I am into the writing this book and this young character, a Spitfire pilot, the thought makes me cry with emotion for him. I weep writing the book, and I am not ashamed of it. The more I learn, the deeper the respect I have for the boys of that time. My daughter has told me that if I can lose another half a stone of middle age fat, she will pay for me to fly in a Tiger Moth. I am working on it!

 

When considering influence, do you find yourself wanting to write like someone (in terms of their style, tone or use of language) or aiming for a kind of perspective or storytelling approach you admire or enjoy?

I am a realistic person. I am someone that can sit and write, and it comes to me. I am honoured to be among those who stretch back to the dawn of time who can tell a story that some enjoy. I have been told by my editor and those who read my books that I have a simple style of writing. Given my educational background, to have got where I am has needed lifetime of learning how to spell. I still do not completely understand grammar! I do not envy any other writer; I just enjoy their skill and word power. I just do my best and enjoy what I do. It’s only over the past 15 years that I have started to read books. I listened to audiobooks I was introduced to after saying to a friend I like listening to the books read on the radio. I’ve read over a thousand audiobooks. I eat them; I love them and adore them. I love Dickens, but he drives me mad – his stories are so long! I like edited versions – but I have read the full books of his classics. I can’t be something I am not; I can only be what I am and write the way I do.

 

What’s in your to-read pile – and what upcoming book (other than yours!) are you most looking forward to?

I listen to around six or seven books a month. I pick a book at random, then if I like it, I read all the author’s other books and get disappointed when I have read them all. I have many different books I am doing this with, so they’re mixed up. I can’t tell you any names of the writers I read, other than Dickens. This is a dyslexic and autistic thing. It’s all about the stories, not the people who write them. What makes them tick is the same in me; it’s the story. I am fortunate I do not have to write for a living. I would starve to death!

 

Do you have a favourite character that you have created? Or, if you’re writing non-fiction, do you have a specific topic that you find endlessly fascinating?

Let’s face it, a writer’s characters are part of him in so many ways, fictional or from past experiences or things he wished to do but did not. From that place, the subconscious mind and imagination, the characters are all me, or could be. I see Harry and Thomas from my first books all the time in my mind when I pass a place that came from in my books. They will always stay with me like brothers you don’t see much of. Edward and Adam and Merin are my new friends, worrying at me to be set free on another adventure. I think I am most attached to him, being autistic. I am hoping to bring this out more in book three.

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