Rob Stuart

Rob Stuart – Historical fiction

Report by Sarah Noon

Best known for his novel “A Place in the County,” a book which features incest, sexual jealousy, exploitation, feudalism (mostly taking place in Hampshire!), Rob has produced 3 works of fiction.  He has had an academic career and now divides his time between travelling and writing.  He specifically explores the idea of the significance of historical facts in relation to particular places.

He introduces the talk by telling us that it will be interactive and that  “… we are going to be doing most  of the work,” and asks us to consider “inspiration:” what is it and where does it come from? He invites us to move the furniture around and discuss with each other where we get our ideas from.  Several lively discussions follow.  Ideas include “life experiences,” something that Rob tells us is “very valid.”  He reminds us of the adage “Write about what you know.”

Rob Stuart’s novels

However, he then goes on to point out that people who have written crime novels, are not necessarily writing what they know “… unless” he says, “you’re Fred West.”  (Rob proceeds to put a grisly quote from a murder novel on the screen).  Several people in the room have written crime stories, but as he points out, no one in the room has actually murdered anyone (as far as we know).

Rob then goes on to talk about where his own inspiration comes from.  He tells us that he was an academic English teacher at the School for Oriental and African Studies. His boss presented him with the opportunity to travel to Libya to tutor Colonel Gadhafi’s son (at this point, a member of the audiences tell him that “…we weren’t expecting that!”). He explains that although this did not actually come to fruition due to delays in visas and other administrative issues, his second book, Appearance and Illusion, is all about a female academic who travels to tutor the son of a dictator in Asia – Rob’s missed opportunity becoming the inspiration for the story.

The inspiration for his second book comes from Rob and his wife driving around Hampshire and Wiltshire with some Dutch friends.  They started to play a game called “If this village name was a person, what kind of person would it be?”  He presents us with some local on the board placenames (e.g., Sherborne St John) and invites us to play along. Rob demonstrates how place names have inspired him in his work, with names such as Farleigh Wallop (a military man) and Stratfield Turgis (a publican).

Rob’s talk was lively and humorous and gave us all something to think about in terms of using what is around us as inspiration for our writing.

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