Hi. I’m Simon Hardman Lea and describe myself on my author pages as a cynical romantic who tries to write novels. (My day job is as a hospital based doctor). The background to my books is France during the years 1916-1922, the characters are a mixture of British, American and French, and although the whole sequence (The Lost Intensities novels) is set in and around the First World War, I don’t write war stories, or even historical novels really. I think of them as being stories about how men and women act under the extremes of pressure and danger, living in a time when history, heartache and high emotion meet.
The first book in my series – The Sins of Soldiers – was published in 2016, with the second – The Sorrow of Nurses – due to appear at Easter 2017. There is another four at various stages of research, preparation and writing. (I’ve also put out a collection of short stories about the same characters – First Encounters – which is available as a free gift on my website.)
When and why did you start writing?
When is easy – about ten years ago, although I started by taking a couple of years to read books about how to write books.
Why is much more difficult. I think it has always been at the back of my mind that I should be trying to write and I arrived at the point when I either had to give it a go or stop kidding myself.
What inspires your writing?
Pictures. Either pictures in my own imagination or, literally, pictures I see. There’s a series of paintings by Fortunino Matania who worked during the First World War itself. The detail is incredible and always centres around people – men and women caught up in all aspects of life in wartime. His picture “The Hospital Train” was the inspiration for my new novel The Sorrow of Nurses.
What has been your worst moment as a writer?
That would be eight years ago, on getting the first draft of my first novel assessed by an editor and being forced to realize that I really wasn’t that good at writing novels. It was a bit like picking up a tennis racquet for the first time and suddenly finding that you aren’t the amazing naturally gifted champion athlete that you’d assumed you would be.
Do you have any writing rituals to get you in the mood for writing?
I always bribe myself to start writing by cranking up my playlist on iTunes: it starts with Let Me Entertain You, which never fails to cheer me up and at the same time, it reminds me of what I’m actually trying to do.
If you could, what would you go back and tell yourself as a writer starting out?
Get organised. Start promoting now.
What do you believe make for great writing?
An intriguing story, well told. Something you put down with regret at the end, knowing you’ve been properly entertained.
How do you measure success as a writer?
For me personally, I’m one of those ridiculous people who won’t be ever happy unless they get as far as they can possibly go, in whatever field of life. It doesn’t make for a settled, comfortable existence, but I can’t stop until I’ve reached the top. Or at least know that I’ve given it my best shot.
What’s your biggest fear as a writer?
That would be if my wife actually agreed with me in one of my periodic phases of self-doubt and told me that I should give up. (Instead of her usual approach – telling me that I’ve been doing it too long to quit and that I’ve just got to man up and slog on.)
Describe your latest book to our readers
The Sorrow of Nurses tells the story of one night on a hospital train travelling across France in 1916. Beatrice Tempest – a nurse who has lost her reason for living – has been assigned to care for a wounded soldier who is held prisoner, chained to a Military Policeman. Together with an army priest, they are locked into a single compartment for the trip. But on this journey, maybe not everyone is as they seem; maybe not all of them will survive the drama of the night.
Part historical thriller, part romance, part mystery, The Sorrow of Nurses takes the reader on an emotional journey that will leave the question: is any human weakness really what it first appears to be?
What would you like readers to take away from your writing?
You know, that is the most important question anyone could ask me. Because I’m really trying to produce novels that are entertaining and informative and well written, but at the same time, they should wrench at your emotions, really put you through the same wringer as my characters undergo.
So if you come away from one of my novels without having been moved to both joy and tears, I’ve failed.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Take all the advice you can get, read everything you can about writing before you start, think about promoting yourself and your books as soon as you can.
What’s next for you?
I’m coming to the end of writing the third novel in my series, which I’m really enjoying. It’s entitled The Drivers and the Driven and mainly concerns the volunteer ambulance drivers of the American Field Service – real heroes, who drove their little Ford ambulances right up into the front lines, and this was before the US joined the war – they didn’t even need to be there! Look out for this one next year.
And then after that, a real challenge: something I can’t even tell you the title of although I’ve known both that and the plot for the last three years – it’s a novel I’ve been planning for that long, even when writing the others. This one is a proper rocket – the book I’ve always thought would be my best shot at making it right to the top. Now if only I can get the story told properly…
“All I needed to do was tick off the list of the old sins – lust, greed, anger, laziness, gluttony, and pride. At least three of those were going to cause trouble. And then, of course, there was the seventh, the most destructive of them all. Envy. We’d come to that one before the end.”
It is 1916 and the war in France is hot and about to get hotter. Embedded undercover in a British infantry regiment on the Western Front, Anson Scott, an American newspaperman, watches, waits and writes his articles in secret, sending them out uncensored for his readers in the USA. But life in the trenches is far from what he had first expected. While the soldiers are raring to fight, the commanding officer is antiquated and the officers themselves are divided into factions. Only Scott’s friend, the elegant, dandified David Alexander is impervious to the murderous rages of the Company Captain Tollman, a monstrous man who victimises anyone who dares oppose him. And when the battalion is on leave away from the front, there is Beatrice Tempest – the most beautiful woman Scott has ever laid eyes on, but who is engaged to Alexander.
As the regiment readies itself for battle, Scott is in ever greater danger. If his real occupation is discovered, he will be shot as a spy. If he antagonises Tollman, he risks his own life. If he allows himself to become close to Beatrice, he will lose his one great friend. But then there is also David Alexander himself, who is pursuing his own highly dangerous obsession. Soon the opposing forces of love and hate are every bit as dangerous as the enemy gunfire, and the great battle on the Somme grows ever closer. Finally, the intensities of hope and fear cannot be evaded…
The Sins of Soldiers is a captivating tale of love, loss and the First World War. It will particularly appeal to those interested in the period and the human impact that occurred as a result of war.