image: House of Zeus

Honour, heroism and home: ‘A Winter War’ by Tim Leach Review and author interview

A Winter War by Tim Leach is a gripping novel, truly immersing the reader in the world that the author has built. This historical fiction novel’s central themes include loyalty, shame and honour, in a story that is truly fascinating to read.

The plot mainly follows the perspective of warrior Kai, who is forced to lead the Sarmatian army after suffering a brutal defeat. Along this journey, he reconnects with his sister as well as having to admit his shameful acts from the past. This is not really a story of self-growth or healing, but rather one of coming to terms with actions that cannot be undone, and trying to navigate life despite that fact.

The writing style of this story was very easy to follow, which made the reading experience more enjoyable

The description in A Winter War is incredible. Leach effectively paints a picture of each scene that is enthralling and captivating. At no point whilst reading the book was I confused about exactly how a character was feeling, or what the scenery looked like. I feel that this allowed me to picture the scene the same way that Leach pictured it, and this made for a pleasant reading experience. 

The writing style of this story was very easy to follow, which made the reading experience more enjoyable. Sometimes with historical books, it can be easy for the story to get convoluted and difficult to follow. However, A Winter War managed to tell a complicated story in a way that is easy to understand, and this also increases the accessibility of the novel, so no one is held back by unnecessarily long words and sentences. 

I would rate this book four-and-a-half stars out of five, as it really did keep me entertained, and I managed to finish it in three sittings over the course of two days. I don’t read much historical fiction, but Leach’s book has made me want to explore the genre more, and the vast array of stories that can be told through it. I see this book as being perfect as a stand-alone or as a part of a series, as I would be interested in seeing where the story goes further, but also, I feel it ended at a perfect point that does not require much more explanation. 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for their next read.

Amazingly, I had the opportunity to interview Leach to try and understand his writing process more, and to explore his experiences of being an author. Being able to gain insight into the context behind the book really allowed me to see it in a new perspective. 

Interestingly, Leach said he is “pretty happy with historical fiction as a niche” as it allows him to write about a “diverse” range of topics and areas of interests

What was your inspiration for writing A Winter War?

Leach’s response to this question was very insightful. He was inspired by “a collision of several different elements”. This included a British museum exhibition on Scythians, which allowed him to explore the lives of nomadic people, who would soon make the protagonists of A Winter War. He mentioned that he found the “nomad lifestyle fascinating” and felt that it was a good contrast from Greeks and Romans, which people tend to be more familiar with. Alongside this, he also wanted to do something that connected to Heroic myth, which is what brought him to discovering the Sarmatians. It was an “irresistible opportunity” to write about these people. 

It’s always interesting to find out specific inspirations for writing, as it shows that you don’t have to be inspired by grand or ground-breaking moments, but rather that it’s about perspective instead. This is the beauty of reading – every plot was brought about by unique experiences, that as readers, we may never find out about, unless we get to speak to the authors.

Aside from historical fiction, are there any other genres you would like to explore writing, and if yes, which ones?

Interestingly, Leach said he is “pretty happy with historical fiction as a niche” as it allows him to write about a “diverse” range of topics and areas of interests. He even mentioned how his next novel has more of a “spy novel influence” to it, which is intriguing, and a book to look out for. This is very understandable, as historical fiction is only really limited to the past, but since it is still fiction, there’s no pressure to stick to specific historical events.

The first piece of advice was to have “a genuine and curious interest in what might be exciting for the reader”

How long does it take you to plan the plot of your books, and do you have any specific routines to aid the creative process?

We all know that process of writing a book or embarking on any big project can’t be simple, so it’s always nice to know how individuals go about completing these tasks, especially since there’s no singular method that works for every person. 

Leach’s writing process is one that is evidently very effective for him, he says that he’s “not much of a planner”, but he likes to have a “strong idea” of what the beginning and the end of the story will be as well as thinking about the “most pivotal moments in the middle of the story”. By having the most important parts of the story thought out, it allows him to fill in the gaps around the story and bring it all together and do some research and plan as he writes. 

What I found the most interesting is that he told of how he aims to write 500 words a day, six days and week, and dropped in a tip from Hemingway, “which was to stop writing for the day when you knew what was going to happen next” so that you have less difficulty picking up where you left off from the next day. This technique sounds very useful, a method I’ll have to employ during my academic career. 

What advice would you give to aspiring authors and writers?

The first piece of advice was to have “a genuine and curious interest in what might be exciting for the reader”. The aim of this is to write according to what will entice your readers, instead of forcing your readers to read what interests you as a writer instead. However, he notes that this still allows for writers to develop unique styles, you just have to find what your “particular charm” is. This is a very lovely piece of advice as it gently reminds you that the audience for your work is a lot bigger than yourself. This is not to say that you can’t write about your passions, but rather that you must write about them in a way that is interesting to others, and not just yourself.

The second piece of advice that Leach gives is to have a “gritty habitual persistence when it comes to drafting”. He emphasises the importance of working regularly and setting yourself deadlines in order to get the work done “whether you feel like it or not”. This is advice that I feel is useful to everyone regardless of whether you are a writer. Self-discipline can be hard to achieve, but looking at the great work that comes out of it makes for great motivation. 

The final piece of advice that Leach gives is to have “an absolute ruthlessness when it comes to editing”. He mentions how we must be open to revising our work and being “willing to radically cut” our work in order to have room to improve it. By having a rigorous editing process, it allows us as writers to really focus on and decide what is and is not worth keeping instead of hoarding all the words we have already written.

A Winter War by Tim Leach was published on 5 August 2021 by Head of Zeus. It is available from all major book retailers. More information can be found here.



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