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Author Interview: Andrew Ashbee

Author Andrew Ashbee discusses his journey through self-publishing, researching his biography and how, after 18 years, he’s finally published Zeal Unabated: The Life of Thomas Fletcher Waghorn (1800-1850)

‘For some twenty-five years before his early death in 1850, the name of Thomas Fletcher Waghorn was constantly in the public eye. His obsession was to speed communication between England and India and in this he had considerable success. But his temperament was extremely volatile and he often fell out with those in authority as he strove to promote his cause…’

Intrigued by the story of Thomas Waghorn, author Andrew Ashbee decided to delve deeper into his history and write a biography about the extraordinary man. Here’s our author interview with him, where we find out more about his publishing journey.

1. Tell us a little about your background leading up to writing the book.

I was educated at Maidstone Grammar School and the Royal Academy of Music, where I took the teacher’s graduate diploma GRSM. At the same time I also took an external music degree at the University of London and went on to complete a PhD.

Between 1963 and 1990 I was Head of Music at two Kent schools. I was also an honorary Research Fellow at the University of Leeds, 2007-2012 and currently hold the Honorary Research Fellowship at the University of Durham in the department of English.

2. So, who was Thomas Waghorn and what was it about him that made you choose to write a book about his life?

A fascinating element in the story is the continual tension between his energy and explosive temper and the caution of the government and the East India Company. Waghorn’s story is a vivid and fast-moving one and, in spite of his obvious faults, he had the good of his country at heart. I hope my account will show this and somewhat ameliorate the negative and disparaging view of him recently presented in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 

Thomas Waghorn is relatively well-known locally. His maternal antecedents lived in Snodland, where he later built a house. He is buried in the churchyard and there is also a memorial to him in the church. There is a large statue of him in Chatham where he was born and road is named after him in each town.

No one locally had properly looked at the records and the general view was that he was the founder of the so-called overland route to India but had met a sad end because of the failure of authorities to back him. Was this true? This is what I explore in the biography.

3. Did you find out anything that surprised you?

It was the wealth of small details that intrigued me: the unveiling of a mummy, the teaching of Egyptian urchins how to play cricket and so on. They colour the story so well.

4. How long did it take you to research and write the book? And did you have any kind of writing routine to help you stay focused?

The original pamphlet I produced had no room for footnotes so my decision to release a book was so it could hold more of the research I had undertaken. It has taken 18 years of intermittent work. In overall planning I very much relied on other biographies and also talked to family members who have been very helpful in providing some details and documents.

The growth of the internet has contributed enormously to research. In the early days I could just search The Times and use the printed index, but now the growing British Newspaper Archive enables an electronic search and brings together far more pieces of information.

I submitted the manuscript to a colleague for criticism and he advised that some of the detail should be pruned or omitted, which was done. I am always writing and this project surfaced from time to time within that. I don’t have a routine, as such.

5. Why did you choose to independently publish your book rather than submit to publishing houses?

I have self-published before and I decided to stick with what I know. I decided that going down the CreateSpace road with Amazon was not for me as I found the process too technical and preferred to work with people directly.

6. What were your biggest obstacles in writing and producing the book?

The writing ebbed and flowed depending on what else was in hand. I always found the discovery of new documents and articles helped to spur the writing on. Access to online University Library databases has enabled me to stay motivated with the project.

7. How much knowledge about self-publishing did you have before you started?

I had already written five books which were self-published before Waghorn, but technology is ever changing and I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to update things, such as my ISBN numbers.

As with all previous work, my book on Waghorn was supplied to TJ INK. I was pleasantly surprised how quickly my files were reset and how the original 188 A4 pages made up 326 pages of the finished book. Technology is far more developed today, so much more is possible now.

8. What things were important to you in terms of service and how the book looked?

I hoped and believed that production would be relatively quick but I have been really pleasantly surprised by how quick. My aim was to have copies available by the beginning of July and I was sent the books from TJ INK at the end of May. I did not expect my typesetting to be revamped before printing so efficiently and elegantly. I am delighted with it. It was good also to have proofs during the production process.

The cover TJ INK created is far superior to the draft which I sent them. It is eye-catching and the way the portrait has been recreated on the back cover has already sparked appreciative comments.

Take a look at the book here.

9. Where can people buy your book from?

I have circulated local newspapers, bookshops and archives, so hopefully some of these will publicise it. Medway Archives are already selling it in their shop and the local studies librarian has bought copies for three libraries. Baggins book Bazaar in Rochester has arranged a book signing on the 18th of June and copies will also be sold at Snodland Museum.

I hope the book will appeal to the ‘general reader’ as well as to academics.

10. And finally, what would be your ‘desert island book’?

The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village by Eamon Duffy. It’s an inspiration for anyone researching history.

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