Interview with author and historian Mark Simner
Last week I sent off a random message to author and historian Mark Simner asking if he would be willing to take part in a short interview for this blog – amazingly he said yes…
Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions Mark, please start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your background?
At the time of writing, I am forty-one years old and from Staffordshire in the UK. I studied criminology at university for my BA (Hons) and MSc, although history has always been my most passionate interest, especially military history. My professional background is in education and law enforcement, but more recently I have become an author, my first book being published in early 2015. I also have a love of coffee shops, real ale, antiques and air shows!
What sparked your interest in Military history?
Many in my family have served in the Armed Forces, and as I grew up both my grandfather and father would tell me stories about their time in uniform; the former having served in the Royal Artillery in World War Two, while the latter served with 617 Squadron (The ‘Dambusters’) during the Cold War. As a result, I have been interested in British military history since I can remember.
Talk a little bit about the two forums you have set up. What drove you to build them and what can people find on them?
I joined the Great War Forum some years ago, which I found greatly enhanced my knowledge of certain aspects of the conflict – there is nothing quite like discussing your interests with other like-minded enthusiasts. I looked around for something similar for the Victorian period, but found nothing existed; I therefore decided to set up my own. The Victorian Wars Forum (www.victorianwars.com) was launched in 2007, and it proved to be more popular than I could ever have imagined. Later, I also founded the Napoleonic Wars Forum (www.napoleonicwarsforum.com) in 2011, which has also gone from strength to strength.
Both forums are free to join and devoid of annoying adverts. Their purpose is to provide a place for people to discuss just about any aspects of the wars fought during the Napoleonic and Victorian periods. The latter forum concentrates on the conflicts involving Britain and her empire, while the former has a much more international focus. Members of both forums include: academics, authors, war gamers, re-enactors, genealogists and just about anyone with a genuine interest.
You have a new book out soon. What’s it called and what’s it all about?
The book is called ‘Pathan Rising: Jihad on the North West Frontier of India 1897-98’. During their time in India, the British were faced with the ongoing problem of the Pathan tribesmen who inhabited the region of the North West Frontier, today known as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan. From 1849 until Indian independence in 1947, the British conducted many operations against the Islamic tribesmen in response to their raiding into Indian territory or the robbing – and sometimes killing – of merchants who were trading in the area, amongst numerous other transgressions. The vast majority of these campaigns were minor and usually involved relatively few casualties.
However, in 1897, the resentment of the Pathan tribesmen towards the British reached boiling point, when they rose up on an unprecedented scale. This resentment – although we still do not know exactly why for sure – was most likely due to British forward policy during the so-called ‘Great Game’ with Russia, and foreign incursions and presence in their territory. A number of religious fanatics went about stirring up the tribes, calling for Jihad to finally drive the British from their lands. What followed was a particularly brutal and bitter campaign that involved the deployment of tens of thousands of British and Indian troops against an even greater number of tribesmen. By the time it ended, some eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded to British troops, as well as many other high-level awards to Indian soldiers.
Why did you decide to write it?
Although I am interested in anything from the time of Marlborough to the early part of the Cold War, the Victorian period has held a particular interest for me for a long time. As you can imagine, I have read a lot of books about the wars fought during Queen Victoria’s reign, but it struck me how little has been written about the North West Frontier, especially the large-scale risings of the late 1890s. I decided a new in-depth study was needed. Indeed, the Pathan tribes reside in an area much in the news over the past decade or more, and so in many ways it is topical and relevant today.
When will the book be launched and where can people buy it from?
As it stands, the UK release date is 21 July 2016, while in the US it is 10 November 2016. It will, of course, be available worldwide, so potential readers should check their local book retailers if they live outside of Britain and America.
Currently the book is available on pre-order from Amazon. It will also be be available from all the big bookshops in the UK, such as Waterstones, Foyles and W.H. Smiths etc.
Do you write full time or do you have other things going on too?
I would love to be a full-time writer, but the realities of life mean I have to work and write in my spare time. That said, I am increasingly being contacted by online blogs and magazines to write pieces for them; I am always happy to consider such requests in addition to writing my books.
What will be the next project/book you work on?
My next book is actually already complete. It is called ‘The Sirdar and the Khalifa: Kitchener’s Re-conquest of Sudan 1896-1898’, and as the title suggests it is a new military history study of Kitchener’s campaign against the Mahdists of Sudan. In many ways it is a partner to Pathan Rising, since it examines the other great Jihad the British fought against during the Victorian period. Again it is topical and relevant to modern day events, since the Mahdiyya was in many ways similar to Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), although there are important differences too! I am currently working on yet another title, but more about that later.
How can people keep in touch with you?