Dr. George Oliver Randall is the principal character in my new novel The Devil At My Heels (read the Prologue and an excerpt here). Dr. Randall is in his late fifties, and is an eminent historian, specializing in ecclesiastical history with particular reference to the medieval period and the monastic movement in Britain and Europe. He has written many books and articles, and is a sought-after speaker at conferences and scholarly symposia. This blog site, Times Past, (TP) interviewed him at his home in the UK, and the first part of that interview is presented below..
TP: Dr. Randall, thank you for allowing me to talk to you today.
GR: It’s a pleasure, and please call me George.
TP: Thank you George. Perhaps we could begin with you giving us an idea of your background. Tell us a bit about yourself.
GR: Well, I was born and brought up in Surrey and attended a boarding school on the Lincolnshire coast from age twelve to eighteen. A penal colony called Weldon School for Boys. It closed shortly after I left ending a two-hundred-year history. I detested it at first, but eventually I became accustomed to life there, and as it turned out it was where I acquired my love of history and writing. After Weldon’s I took a gap year and traveled in Europe before going to University. I got married and we had a daughter, Megan. Jennifer, my wife, was killed in a car crash when Megan was twenty. That was a hell of a time for both of us, and I probably would have jumped off a bridge somewhere if it hadn’t been for Meg. She got me through it while all the time dealing with her own grief. I owe her a great deal for that. Actually, Megan met her partner, Tony, through the investigation of Mike Stuart’s murder and I met my present wife, Katherine, the same way. Mind you, we nearly didn’t get married, but that’s a long story.
TP: I want to come to that whole business of the murder, the investigation and your search for The Haunted Gospel a bit later on, but tell me a little more about yourself. Have you any hobbies? What do you like to do in your spare time?
GR: Well, if I have a hobby, I suppose it would be growing roses. I don’t have a large garden, but I have quite a variety of different roses; some of them quite rare. I enjoy puttering about looking after them. I’ve been Chair of the local Rose-Growers’ Association, and I flatter myself that I’m a bit of an expert by now.
TP: Changing the subject a bit, what sort of music do you like?
GR: Classical mainly, but I’m not an aficionado by any means. Handel is one of my favorite composers, but I enjoy Elgar a lot, and Mozart, who’s Katherine’s favorite. And Katherine and I both enjoy opera, but not the heavy stiff too much. I find a little Wagner goes a long way. Megan introduced me to jazz, and I do like that, but only some of it. I don’t care for the stuff that shrieks and hammers at you. I mean some of it sounds like a bucket being kicked down the stairs. Still, one man’s meat is another man’s poison I suppose.
TP: You mentioned you love reading, George. What do you like to read? Historical fiction, I imagine.
GR: Absolutely, but I like a good spy novel and a good thriller. I like Frederick Forsythe, Jeffrey Archer and Sidney Sheldon in particular. I like speculative fiction as well, if it’s not too futuristic, but I’m not into horror or wild fantasy.”
TP: What about historical fiction, then?
GR: Yes, that’s a real pleasure for me, especially when it’s well researched. A good historical novelist can give the reader a real sense of what life was like during the time in which the story is set. A scholarly work of history doesn’t do that—doesn’t even try to do that. The academic historian is concerned with analysis and interpretation. Explaining the why’s and how’s. Historical fiction has an artistic purpose and justification. It can educate, of course, but it also aims to entertain. I grew up on Horatio Hornblower and that sort of thing, and I really enjoy the work of people like Patrick O’Brian and Bernard Cornwell. And one of the best today is Anne Easter Smith, in my view. Her work is so well researched and presented. I’d recommend her to anyone interested in historical fiction. Ellis Peters is wonderful as well; her stories of Brother Cadfael combine history and mystery, and since they’re set in the 1100s in the Abbey at Shrewsbury, they’re right up my street.
TP: I know you’ve written and published many articles and books on history, but have you ever tried to write fiction?
GR: Well, since you ask, I tried to write a thriller once. I spent about two years on it in my spare time, and then in high hopes I sent it off to several publishers.
GR: Instant oblivion, I’m afraid.
TP: Well, I think that’s a good place to stop for now, George. Next time I want to talk to you about the murder of your colleague, The Haunted Gospel, and other aspects of the story documented in The Devil At My Heels.