Today I just started my ‘About the Author’ profile on http://www.abouttheauthor.co.uk – but there’s so much I can’t quite put down there for a while, so I thought I’d put it here instead! One of the things I hear often seems to be a recurring question amongst lovers of military history; “Who the hell is Ricky D Phillips?” – I guess it’s a form of flattery…
Actually it isn’t the world’s most ridiculous question, and there have been quite a few, so I thought I would answer some of the most common questions in a ‘get to know me’ kind of way, and of course invite anyone to ask me pretty much anything by reply. I don’t have any ‘off’ subjects, so feel free.
Here are what we might term the ‘FAQ’s’ about me and my work:
Who am I? – Born in Whetstone, North London back in the deepest, darkest 1970’s, the second of identical twins, I spent fifteen years in Engineering & Technical Recruitment, won a stack of recruitment awards (which gather dust in a cupboard full of books) and moved to Edinburgh in late 2008. I owned my own recruitment company for a while before moving on to my passion of writing military history…does that cover it?
Why the ‘D’? – Google ‘Ricky Phillips’ and find out…he’s a middle-aged hairy bass-player for the band Styx! The name started back in my early recruitment days; one of the senior guys said I sounded about twelve with a name like ‘Ricky’ (and yes that is my name, I’m NOT a ‘Richard’!) so he told me to put the ‘D’ in which he said sounded better. It has sort of become the differential between my personal and professional status!
How did you get started in Military History? – Two people are to blame for this; Bernard Cornwell and my Mum. I was about fifteen and was ranting to my Mum about the latest girl in my life (I think we had broken up after a long and serious relationship, which when you’re fifteen is about a week and a half!) and after half an hour she hadn’t looked up from her book, contenting herself with conciliatory mumbles and ‘making the right noises’. She was engrossed in ‘Sharpe’s Enemy’ by Bernard Cornwell and in the end I gave up ranting and asked her what was so interesting…she gave me the first book in the series; ‘Sharpe’s Rifles’ and I was hooked from there. I guess you could say that I write Military History because my Mum wouldn’t listen to me!
What have you written? – I actually have a few books and other pieces to my name, including a day-by-day account of everything that happened in the Peninsular War (it is hand written and would take a year to type up!), several articles and a local history of my new home-town of Stockbridge Edinburgh. I did try my hand at some fictional work and produced three books but it was all a bit well….a bit ‘Sharpe’. I also write my blog with some dedication! My only real published book so far has been a book on the Recruitment & Employment industry, but it sold quite well, though things have moved on and it needs an update…I’ll get around to it one day.
What are you writing now? – Currently I have several projects on the go at once, including the modernisation and republication of a World War Two autobiography which was written by an Admiral – but only for his family’s consumption. I read it even though WW2 isn’t my pet subject, but it was one of the most fascinating books I have ever read, so I really want to bring it to a new audience. I also have a book in the final draft stages on Caesar and have undertaken a new commission to write a short book covering Stockbridge’s own recipients of the Victoria Cross. All of this takes a back-seat to my ‘main book’ which is a seven-volume history of Napoleon and the art of war, which is in the editing stage right now. That’s the one I am ‘most famous’ for, even though it isn’t out yet!
Tell us about that last book again? – As I say, my main focus is this seven-volume history. It takes Napoleon as its central theme. He is my icon and, at least for me, the greatest military commander of all time. Don’t get me wrong; he wasn’t perfect – far from it indeed, but I suppose that’s why he is so fascinating: True perfection is imperfect, or so they say! The book discusses Napoleon and his art of war, looking at his influences, his plans, his battles and campaigns, his subordinates and more, but in the final stages of the first draft, I made a huge new discovery which turns the whole of history on its head. Sadly, this forced endless re-writes and searches for new information to make it fit nicely. The book grew into something it was never intended to be, but hey, that’s history for you! So here I am sitting on a two-hundred year-old secret which now has the experts begging to know…hence I am ‘famous’ for a book which nobody except me has ever read!
Have you ever been on TV? – Yes and no. I have done talks and lectures which have been mentioned on STV News, but my sole TV work has been a local history which was shown on Japanese TV! It was very hard to do, as I had to present to a plastic cat on a stick (I kid you not!!) and when it aired there was all that funny cartoon stuff going on and a strange man doing my voice (I was dubbed, obviously) – it was a surreal experience, but then that’s Japanese TV! At least it wasn’t ‘Endurance’!!
Did you study history? – No, completely not. History as a subject – or at least as it was taught on the curriculum, was boring. I loved the subject, but the lessons were dull. British history in particular is very self-deprecating these days, and we like to paint ourselves as the big evil bad guy finally humbled but turned into a nice guy at the end as our reward. I don’t buy that. I wanted the ‘evil’ stuff and the action, not some recital of the crimes of the past judged by the ethics and moral standards of today, but that’s all you got. Recently I found and contacted my old History Teacher and he felt much the same about what he was forced to teach us. A ‘one sided’ history is no history at all – I hated the lessons but I always wanted to know more and see what was on the other side of the hill.
Why do you write? – I started writing as a way to order my thoughts. As I say, my Mum was a great military history buff and really got me into it. When she became ill in 2003 I used to write at her bedside as she slept and would read it out, just to keep myself going, but one of the last things she told me was to take up writing professionally. It turns out she could hear me still, and was enjoying what I wrote. I suppose it’s that which fires me, and which also makes me strive to get it right and still make it entertaining…anything less and I always think Mum might still be watching!
What do you write? – My main ‘thing’ is 1800’s history, but I have covered swathes of time in my work and my study and in planning future works. Military History goes back to 1469BC and the battle of Megiddo and it ends today with whatever is happening. Generally I avoid the World Wars; I’m good on them, but I’m not an expert, and there are many real experts. My expert subject really is Napoleon.
What’s your writing style? – I got into Military History through Bernard Cornwell and the Sharpe novels, and that has never really left me. My particular ‘bent’ is towards great heroes and great battles, so it doesn’t differ much in subject matter either – except that my heroes lived and Sharpe did not. In that sense, I always write with a fast-paced narrative which rockets the reader through the action. I want them to instinctively flinch as a cannon goes off or to feel themselves swept up in the charge, and ultimately to feel as if they were there, as we do when we read Sharpe or Flashman or Jack Lark. So I write pure history with no fiction, but it reads like a story, which I think is much more entertaining. Without good narrative, a history book reads just like a shopping list: “And then this…and then that…” – Who would read that??
Do you have a website? – Not yet, no, though one is in the works. Right now my best ‘touch points’ are my professional Facebook page “Ricky D Phillips – Military History Author” and my LinkedIn group “British Military History” of which I am a main contributor.
Any advice for aspiring writers of military history? – Absolutely there are some things I wish I had known before I started. The first is to know where you’re going. Plan the book as well as you can and know the point you are trying to make. There is endless scope for deviation in any tale, so keep it relevant and learn to cast out that which is not ‘core subject’. Secondly, keep an open mind and remember to shun the idea of bias. Just because it’s what you think, or think should have happened, remember that the facts are the facts. Don’t omit evidence because you don’t like it, or it doesn’t fit, and never try to be someone’s apologist. I am a self-confessed ‘Napoleon worshipper’ but I am also the first to say that he could be a bastard, a megalomanic and something of a fantasist at times – without the whole picture, all you have is opinion. Finally, research is key. Learn to write down everything you have used, be it a website or a book, and ensure that you credit it as a source. Sadly, I have used so many that I can’t go back and do this as well as I would have liked. Remember anyone can write anything, but be prepared to back up what you say.
Any other questions for me? – Readers of this blog can comment and ask me questions about myself, my work or pretty much anything else, and I will answer!
N.B – Please feel free to ‘Like’ Ricky D Phillips – Military History Author on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rickydphillipsauthor or why not join the ‘British Military History’ group on LinkedIn – the biggest and still fastest-growing military history forum on the web.