Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Blog Tour Q&A with Richard Buxton, Author of Whirligig

Please join me in welcoming Richard Buxton to Let Them Read Books! Richard is touring the blogosphere with his debut historical novel, Whirligig: Keeping the Promise, and I recently had the chance to ask him a few questions about his interest in the American Civil War and the inspiration for his protagonist. Read on and enter to win a copy of Whirligig!

The first novel from multi-award winning short-story writer Richard Buxton, Whirligig is at once an outsider’s odyssey through the battle for Tennessee, a touching story of impossible love, and a portrait of America at war with itself. Self-interest and conflict, betrayal and passion, all fuse into a fateful climax.

Shire leaves his home and his life in Victorian England for the sake of a childhood promise, a promise that will pull him into the bleeding heart of the American Civil War and through the bloody battlefields of the West, where he will discover a second home for his loyalty.

Clara believes she has escaped from a predictable future of obligation and privilege, but her new life in the Appalachian Hills of Tennessee is decaying around her. In the mansion of Comrie, long hidden secrets are being slowly exhumed by a war that comes ever closer.

Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK) | Barnes & Noble

Hi Richard! Thanks so much for stopping by today!

What sparked your interest in the American Civil War?

I came at it a little sideways. In my twenties I read Dee Brown’s Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee, one of the saddest history books you could ever read about the Indian Wars. It’s mainly set in the decade or so after the Civil War.  I spoke about it to my father-in-law, who then gave me Shelby Foote’s classic historical trilogy The Civil War – A Narrative.  I was swept away by the scale of a conflict I knew so little about and by the incredible personalities involved. As an Englishman who had been to University in America, I was already fascinated by most things American, so primed to want to understand its history and how the Civil War related to modern day America. When I turned to writing a little later in life, setting my stories in that period was a natural fit.

Your main character is an Englishman who becomes involved in the War Between the States. What motivates him to join the fight? Did you have any real-life inspiration for him?

I’ll flip the order on those questions, if you don’t mind. My father worked on the Duke of Bedford’s Estate as a boy, before and during the Second World War. Even as late as that, the farms weren’t fully mechanized and my father worked with the great Shire horses, feeding them and getting them into harness. He wrote his recollections in his later years. I wanted an Englishman for the novel. This was a perfect starting point and I had my father’s detailed notes to boot. I had my character, Shire, work with the horses just as my father had. The names of the horses in the book are even the ones my father worked with. Other than that, there is very little of my father in Shire’s character. I wanted Shire to be a bit useless when he first becomes a soldier; a little wide eyed and naive. My father was far more competent and worldly-wise, although of course I didn’t know him in his youth.

Shire doesn’t join the army out of a wish to join the fight. To him it’s a means to an end. He is penniless and needs to go south, so he’s rather cornered into signing up by circumstance. As his story goes on, he builds strong friendships in his regiment and comes to see it as the only home he has left. He starts to understand the deeper meaning of the war, to believe it’s a cause worth fighting for, though he never loses sight of the fact that, war aside, he has a promise to keep.

Can you tell us a bit about the symbolism of the title, Whirligig?

It’s a slightly odd title, isn’t it? I’d already written the first draft when, in 2013, I flew from the UK to Chicago to start a long road trip down to Atlanta, visiting locations I needed to research. Before I left Chicago I went to the Institute of Art and saw my Whirligig, this wonderful piece of American folk art, all sails and cogs in red, white and blue with a marching soldier on top. I knew it was important somehow and as I drove down through Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee, I started to think about how I could use it in the novel.  I saw Shire as the soldier on top, driven this way and that by the fierce winds of the time. I invented the eponymous Whirligig man who takes the Whirligig from town to town and collects pennies from children. The destruction of his Whirligig and its rebuilding later on is intended to be a metaphor for America destroying and rebirthing itself during the Civil War.

This all makes the book sound terribly worthy when it’s really an odyssey come love story, but it relates to my fascination with how the war shaped post-Civil War America. Just last month I was privileged to have an ex-major and civil-war re-enactor from Ohio read the book and he totally got it. He wrote to me and told me how emotional those scenes had made him feel.  It was incredibly gratifying for me to hear that.

You visited many Civil War sites as you researched this trilogy. Do any stand out as favorites?

I would have to put Chickamauga, Georgia, at the top of my list. It’s the main battle-scene in Whirligig and those chapters formed my Master’s dissertation. I spent many days there making sure I understood the geography and looking for believable detail. The park rangers were exceptionally helpful and there were lots of moments of inspiration born on that battlefield. As I said above, I’d already written a first draft before my first research trip. I had a strange experience as a result. I’d studied many history books, but in particular This Terrible Sound, a wonderful and detailed account of Chickamauga by Peter Cozzens. On my third or fourth day, I visited a viewpoint where I’d set a rather epic, panoramic scene. I expected the real world to be at odds with the mental picture I’d built up while writing, but it matched perfectly. It was like some weird form of déjà vu. I stood there for a long time, alone in the Georgia countryside, smiling like a simpleton.

I also love Perryville in Kentucky, partly because it’s a smaller scale and well preserved site, but also because the short story I set there, "Battle Town," won the Exeter Story Prize, which was my first sizeable award.  Gettysburg and Antietam are incredible places too. If I lived in America, I think I’d be driving to somewhere connected to the war every Sunday.

What are you working on now?

Principally, I’m working on the second book in the trilogy, which is called The Copper Road. It’s set in 1864 in the run up to the battles for Atlanta, but as with Whirligig, we spent plenty of time away from the army. Right now, though physically in my study most days, in my imagination I’m deep in the Appalachians with the characters that survived Whirligig. I should have the first cut completed in August but know from experience it will need several more drafts

Alongside The Copper Road, I’ve recently completed a short-story collection. I say it’s complete, but suspect I’ll add to it in time as I like to step out of the novels and write a short now and again. It feels like a weekend away. I’ve also been kept busy writing articles on Whirligig, the historical figures I used, or on the craft of writing. There’s always plenty to do and I’m enjoying it all.


During the Blog Tour we will be giving away one paperback & one eBook of WHIRLIGIG! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules:

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on August 7th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

About the Author:

Richard lives with his family in the South Downs, Sussex, England. He completed an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University in 2014. He has an abiding relationship with America, having studied at Syracuse University, New York State, in the late eighties. His short stories have won the Exeter Story Prize, the Bedford International Writing Competition and the Nivalis Short Story Award. Whirligig is his first novel and the opening book of Shire’s Union trilogy. Current projects include the second book, The Copper Road, as well as preparing to publish a collection of short stories.

To learn more about Richard’s writing visit You can also follow Richard on Facebook and Twitter.

Whirligig is on a blog tour!


  1. Thank you so much for hosting Richard & Whirligig, Jenny! We really appreciate you sharing this with your lovely readers!

    HF Virtual Book Tours

  2. Hi Jenny,
    I really wanted to thank you for hosting the interview. I loved answering these questions. And such a great site!

    1. My pleasure! As a ninth generation Virginian living in Spotsylvania, the Civil War is a topic close to my heart. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  3. Hi Jenny,
    It's a long time since I was in Spotsylvania. Civil War which every path you take from there. Lovely part of the world.
    Your question about inspiration for my lead character stayed with me. There was obviously more to think about, some of it quite emotional, so I wrote a blog post on it. I know it was a simple question to ask but thanks for asking it,


I love comments! Getting feedback on my posts makes my day! Thanks for being here!