Remington Blackstaff was born in Nigeria and moved to the United Kingdom with his family at a young age. He was bitten by the martial arts bug in childhood and studied several disciplines into adulthood. Despite his obsession with fight choreography, he set aside any dreams of becoming a stuntman to study medicine at Royal Free and University College Medical School. Remington currently practices medicine in London, where he lives with his wife and son. He remains obsessed with martial arts, rugby and cinema. The Durbar’s Apprentice is his debut novel.
Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?
A painting in my living room of Durbar horsemen that my son used to stare at while I held him as an infant. I held him in one arm while writing a completely different story, based on my mental health work, on my iPhone with my free hand. I thought “Wouldn’t it be cool if he could grow up and read a book from our heritage based on that picture?” The Durbar’s Apprentice is a love letter to my Nigerian heritage and to my son.
What came first the characters or the world?
The world. It had to be the world because the massive canvas that inspired the novel is striking but you can’t make out the faces of the horsemen. So I knew there would be warriors on horseback, conflict, royalty and I knew the locations before I knew the protagonists.
How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?
Bloody hard! I had 41 rejections from literary agents and RIZE, an imprint of Running Wild Press based in California, finally said yes to The Durbar’s Apprentice. I’d written two manuscripts before it without success so I’d developed a thicker skin by the third attempt. As you grind on and get less emotional with disappointment, the fatigue of sending your work out, with very little in the way of feedback (the copy and paste responses become very obvious) is the most frustrating part.
How long did it take to write?
About a year.
Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?
I don’t. I can’t concentrate as well with music on in the background. I also can’t focus watching tv lying down either. If I do happen to listen to an original motion picture score like Tenet, The Mandalorian or anything by Hans Zimmer, once the music stops, I realise I haven’t written quite as well as I thought. I will say that listening to film scores does inspire thought processes/scenes and dialogue, it’s just a bit too distracting for putting thoughts on the page. I actually get my best inspiration while shaving.
How many publishers turned you down?
My luck was so bad with agents, I only tried one publisher. Back then, I didn’t know much about submitting an unsolicited manuscript to an independent publisher. Like a few things when you don’t come from a creative writing background or have never been to writing workshops, you learn things the hard way.
What kind of reactions have you had to your book?
Overwhelmingly positive. Most surprisingly from work colleagues who I’ll sheepishly mention the writing to in passing. When I next speak to them a couple of days later, they either bought the paperback version or are listening to it on audible. Apart from being lucky enough to receive such kind words, it does go some way to inspiring you to continue on that writer’s journey. Persistent rejections can be brutal and dim that enthusiasm to get your work out there. Kind feedback does vindicate that perseverance required for publication. It’s also a middle finger to those people that never actually read your submission properly or copied and pasted their feedback.
What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?
“I can so imagine this as a film!” “It reminds me of that Woman King film.” “I cried at the end.” These make me smile because it means (at least I hope it does) that readers are vividly visualising what they read. It means they’re absorbed and emotionally invested. If you’ve given someone even a modicum of escapism as a writer, you’ve done your job. Also, I wrote each chapter like an episode of bloody good tv, a Netflix episode for want of a better analogy, where the reader would be compelled to come back for more.
What can you tell us about your next book?
Book two of the Durbar trilogy. No spoilers. Watch this space.
Do you take notice of online reviews?
Not any more, it’s not worth it. When the book first came out, I read all the glowing feedback….until I got to that one 2-star review from some who actually gave faint praise and had no problem with the writing but listed all the things I hadn’t done, like write a history text book. The thing about reviews is that the work is done. It’s out there, fully exposed, naked, flapping in the wind and the barn door is wide open. The horse has bolted. What people may or may not realise is the hours, the late nights, the months of work you’ve put in when they chew up your baby and spit it out in a few lines. Don’t get me wrong, reviewers don’t owe you anything and they’re entitled to their opinions but if feedback isn’t in a professional capacity or from someone I trust that might help improve my craft going forward, it’s of little use to me.
Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?
Absolutely, I have done. I wrote another novel while trying to get this one picked up. It’s still doing the rounds. Some writers recommend staying in your lane and I understand the logic but I don’t necessarily agree with it. Why confine yourself to your comfort zone?
What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?
I’m a general practitioner and independent doctor in mental health. I’ve also been a prison GP and have worked as a doctor in professional, disability and amateur sport.
Which author(s) inspire you?
Any author who’s gritted their teeth and has persevered with getting published. I don’t think it’s fair to name one or two as I’ll invariably forget another five or six that I love.
Which genres do you read yourself?
Probably everything including non-fiction with the exception of romance.
What is your biggest motivator?
The desire to entertain, to grab someone by the scruff of the neck and drag them into my world, into my imagination, with periods of respite until we’re done. To put it more succinctly, to tell a bloody good story.
What will always distract you?
Social media. It’s a necessary evil of the modern writer. It’s a very useful necessary evil, dare I say it essential evil (a part of me just died writing that), especially when you’re just starting out. My problem with it is that it can take up so much time with little to show for it.
How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?
I had quite a bit of say in The Durbar’s Apprentice but didn’t really need to as such a good job was done.
Were you a big reader as a child?
I was a voracious reader as a child. I was even a librarian at one point in my first year of secondary school from very hazy memory. We also had a mobile library near our house when I was in primary school so many a Saturday afternoon were spent perusing its contents. This was also pre-internet so there was even less distraction than there is now.
What were your favourite childhood books?
Any Doctor Who, The Hardy Boys, Stephen King, Tom Clancy.
Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?
Not at the moment. There’s definitely been a slow killing off of local bookshops in my area, which is a crying shame. I do love visiting bookshops abroad or out of London though, especially the independent ones. They often have a kooky charm to them. The last one I went into was called ‘INDIE, not a bookshop’ in Cascais, Portugal.
What books can you not resist buying?
Anything by Ray Celestin or Jo Nesbo.
Do you have any rituals when writing?
No. I write on my iPhone, usually horizontal at home or sat upright when at work or on the move.
How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?
Four or five that I bought or that were gifted. Another ten that are lying around our bookshelf at home.
What is your current or latest read?
On Writing by Stephen King.
Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?
The Year of the Locust by Terry Hayes. I Am Pilgrim was phenomenal.
Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?
Get the second Durbar novel out then I can start work on part three of the trilogy.
Any events in the near future?
Thank you for asking, where are we going?
and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?
A desire to entertain but entertain with something rooted in my heritage, set in a time that isn’t talked about much in this part of the world but lends itself to action/adventure in a pure old-fashioned way. Historical fiction is perfect for this.