A taste for blood

A taste for blood

In 2011 Steve Robinson became an online bestseller with his genealogy thriller novel, In the Blood. He now has three books and more than 100,000 sales under his belt. He talks to us about his work.

Interview, Discover Your Ancestors


Discover Your Ancestors

Steve Robinson
Steve Robinson

How did you first become interested in genealogy?

I became interested in genealogy in stages really, through my intrigue around the broken branches of my own family tree and TV programs such as Who Do You Think You Are? and Heir Hunters. Then when I was made redundant from my job in software and telecommunications and sat down with the hope of beginning a writing career, I turned to genealogy as a means to tell the story of my debut genealogical crime mystery, In the Blood. I’ve been fascinated ever since.

Your second book, To the Grave, was inspired by your own family history. Can you tell us more?

For the purposes of my books, and for To the Grave in particular, it raised many questions for me and I began to do what I’m sure most writers tend to do, which was to create numerous possible scenarios – those ‘what if’ questions that usually lead to all kinds of imaginative answers. To the Grave is essentially based on one such ‘what if’ scenario and although much of it is fiction, there is also a good deal of fact – but I can’t really go into the details without spoiling the story.

To the Grave came directly out of not knowing who my maternal grandfather was. As I was growing up, all I knew was that he was an American GI who had gone back to America soon after World War Two, leaving my grandmother and a young family of two behind. It was only later, when my great-grandmother died, that I learnt that there was more to what happened than I had at first thought.

What sort of research did you do for your third book, The Last Queen of England?

As with all of my books, I put myself in my lead character’s shoes and became a genealogist for a time. It’s the only way I feel I’m able to get to the answers my protagonist Jefferson Tayte needs to find, the only way my writing can be accurate and authentic, and the only way I can really feel the frustrations genealogists face when arriving at those inevitable brick walls. As an example, early in the book JT is at The National Archives learning about a group of condemned men who were hanged at Tyburn for high treason. Prior to their execution they would have been detained at Newgate Prison, so my own research delved into the Ordinary of Newgate’s accounts, which is how JT finds out more about them. Also, as the book has much to do with the Royal Society of London, I spent a lot of time researching the society and its members and looking at the society’s Philosophical Transactions, which were published by the society during the time of the executions. I’ve often considered that writing and genealogy go very well together because both are largely dependent on solid research.

As a storyteller, what are the records and archives you’ve found to be richest for bringing people’s lives and stories from the past to life?

Photographs are of course another rich resource in terms of finding out how people dressed at any given time in history.

Newspaper archives and letters would have to be at the top of my list. You can get such a feel for the language and events of the time during which they were written, as well as getting a good sense of the social history. I read many letters while researching for To the Grave, from soldiers during WW2 and from their families and loved ones. Many left me close to tears, especially when I came to learn that some of the letters I had read were written by men who never came home again.

What can you tell us about your next book in the series?

Not much at all, I’m afraid. I tend to plot quite extensively and I’m in the plotting phase now, which usually takes a few months. Sometimes a storyline fails at this stage and I have to start over again. During this time just about everything is subject to change, so I wouldn’t like to say what it’s about, only to find that the finished book is something quite different to how I currently see it. I hope to have it ready by next spring.

The Last Queen of England is available as a paperback (£7.99) or Kindle e-book (£2.49) from Amazon.co.uk – see the author’s web page at www.steve-robinson.mefor more information.

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