The Copper Road by Richard Buxton - "Gripping Read" - Interview
"This might be one of the best American Civil War novels that I have read. Richard Buxton writes with passion for his subject and his characters, bringing both to life with detailed research and superb writing skill." —Amazon Review
The Copper Road
Shire is far from home, his old life in Victorian England a fading memory. He’s battled through war-torn America to keep a cherished promise to his childhood companion. Now she’s pushing him away, while the war won’t let him go. Fighting for the Union, Shire must survive the brutal campaign for Atlanta and try to imagine a future without her.
Clara is free from her husband but not from his ghost. After a violent end to an abusive marriage, she struggles to keep her home in the Tennessee hills as the war steals away its treasures and its people.
Tod, a captured Rebel, escapes in Pennsylvania. His encounters on the long road back to his regiment cast the Civil War in a different light. He begins to question his will to fight.
Three young lives become wrapped in the Rebels’ desperate need for copper. Friendships, loyalty and love will be tested beyond breaking point. Shire has new promises to keep.
The Copper Road is the second novel from award winning writer Richard Buxton. Book one of Shire’s Union, Whirligig, was shortlisted for the Rubery International Book Award.
In the author's words . . .
Q&A with Richard Buxton
Books & Benches: It is a pleasure to welcome Richard Buxton to Books & Benches to share his newest release, The Copper Road. From what we've read, readers are enthralled with the level of detail in the book, especially because they feel they are right there in the midst of everything with the characters. Let's go behind-the-scenes with the author to learn more about The Copper Road . . .
Will you tell us a little about Shire and Clara, and what makes them tick?
Shire and Clara carry through the Shire’s Union series. Both are English, but steadily transforming into 19th century Americans. They were childhood sweethearts, but Clara is from wealth and privilege while Shire is not.
Shire was once a homeboy with no particular desire for adventure. But he kept a promise and trailed Clara to America to rescue her from a doomed future. That done, in The Copper Road he is struggling to survive in the Union Army. He’s very much in love with Clara, but doubts that she’ll ever truly feel the same way. The war is turning him into a hardened soldier. Above all Shire is loyal but has to choose between his fellow soldiers and Clara.
Clara came to America to marry, but also to escape what she saw a predictable and safe life in England. She wants to make her own decisions, plot her own course. Her actions in The Copper Road are driven by her desperate need to recover after a brutal and cruel marriage. She loves Shire, but can’t quite see past the little boy she bossed around when they were children.
Tod Carter is based on a real historical captain in the 20th Tennessee who escaped while being transferred between Union prisons. We follow his odyssey from Pennsylvania back to Georgia. Tod wants to get back to his regiment, but what he sees in the old Union, and the people he encounters on his journey, begin to make him doubt his will to fight.
What makes The Copper Road special or unique to you? Can you give us a little story behind the story?
The Copper Road still exists today. If you head to the Ocoee Whitewater Center in Polk County, TN, you can still walk a stretch. Most of the road is now underwater after dams were built on the Ocoee River early in the 20th century. I was looking for a home for Clara, my female protagonist, and didn’t want a stereotypical ‘Gone with the Wind’ plantation, and it had to be somewhere in the south-east corner of Tennessee as the great battles for Chattanooga formed part of my first novel, Whirligig.
While researching, I discovered the Copper Road which was built in the 1840s to take wagonloads of supplies into the hills and to the new copper mines at the wonderfully named Ducktown. Smelted copper was hauled back out. It was a two-day trip for the muleskinners to the railhead. I became entranced by old tales of the road, Appalachian folk law that told of moonshine and murder. There was also a dark civil war history. Here was somewhere remote and lawless, a great setting for me to mix history with my imagination.
I visited from England several times and wrote short short-stories about the road to help me understand the history. When it came to my second novel, I wanted to explore it still more. The adventures of my three main characters become entwined with the armies’ need for copper, so the title works to describe the road they are on metaphorically as well as physically.
Do you remember the moment when you first considered yourself a writer?
When I was in my mid-forties, my father passed away. He left me a little money, enough for me to take timeout from my IT career and study for a masters in creative writing at Chichester University.
I wanted to write novels but crafting short stories was a great way to learn. My tales tended to fit in with my interest in America and the civil war. A theme emerged. My stories would typically be set after the war, often a long time after, and explored the war’s long shadow on people’s lives. Sadly, that shadow reaches right up to today.
One story was born out of a day’s visit to Perryville, KY. It was set in the present day and, through the perspective of a young female student brought up in the town, tried to illustrate how the events of the terrible battle fought there in 1862 had left the town’s psyche forever scarred. I called the story Battle Town (available on Amazon).
I submitted the story to the Exeter Story Prize. Several months later I was shocked to be announced as the winner and invited onto the prizegiving stage. To have been picked out of several hundred stories by the judges made me realize I could entertain people with my writing. In the following months I also won the Bedford International Writing Prize and the Nivalis Short Story Award, but walking off that stage in Exeter was the moment I first considered myself a writer.
Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?
My favorite chapter is one where Tod has recently returned to his regiment in Georgia. He’s sorting the supplies as he’s the quartermaster. It’s spring and the fighting has yet to start up after the winter. Nearby, his woeful assistant Waddell sits carving a walking stick.
As a writer you’re often looking to achieve a number of things in a single scene. In this one there’s a certain ‘before the storm’ feeling. The Union Army sits just over the blossom covered Rocky Face Ridge in the distance. The nearby regimental camp of the 20th Tennessee has been made into a sort of cozy soldier village through the winter. There’s a pleasant mix of inner and outer world. Tod is trying to assess how he feels to be back in the army and reminiscing on his adventurous route home including a romantic riverboat encounter with Clara. Something has changed in him but he’s not yet quite worked out what.
The heart of the chapter is the introduction of Waddell as a new character through Tod’s eyes. Tod examines a batch of walking sticks that Waddell has made. Waddell does little else. They are all carved so darkly, full of swamp creatures and death. Waddell isn’t much cheerier himself. I love my cojoined description of Waddell and his sticks. I love the overall balance of the chapter. I felt more there than in any other chapter. At the end, the guns sound from the ridge.
What is your favorite motivational phrase?
Progress not perfection.
This sounds like it could have been said to me from some wise uncle when I was twelve, but it actually came from a New Zealand work colleague about ten years ago. It speaks to me in all sorts of ways and not only about writing. It seems to say that if you can leave the day better than you found it, then that’s not half-bad.
It takes away the pressure of making something 100% perfect and instead allows you to make things better by degrees. That really fits with my approach to writing. The Copper Road went through seven full drafts as did its predecessor, Whirligig, and in some full drafts a given chapter might get multiple passes, each one hopefully leaving it better than before.
I love creating but enjoy editing and improving just as much. Layering in the emotion, sharpening the description, tightening the dialogue. You can’t get it all right first time.
The down side is that with a progress not perfection approach it’s sometimes hard to know when you’re done, but then that’s not so different to real life. It’s a continuum. Just head off in the right direction and try to make it better.
Books & Benches: Congratulations, Richard, on the series, and thank you for sharing with us some fascinating insights into the history behind The Copper Road.
Richard lives with his family in the South Downs, Sussex, England. He completed an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University in 2014. He has an abiding relationship with America, having studied at Syracuse University, New York State, in the late eighties. His short stories have won the Exeter Story Prize, the Bedford International Writing Competition and the Nivalis Short Story Award.
Richard’s first novel, Whirligig, was published in 2017 and shortlisted for the Rubery International Book Award. To learn more about Richard’s writing visit richardbuxton.net. You can also follow Richard on Facebook and Twitter.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: Shire’s Union #2
Content Note: Depictions of war
Richard Buxton is giving away 2 copies of Copper Road!
By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old. Void where prohibited by law. Ends October 19, 2020. This giveaway is sponsored by the author and hosted by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.
Good luck everyone!