With the arrival of PATHAN RISING: Jihad on the North West Frontier of India 1897-1898, we thought we’d get to know author Mark Simner.
Where were you born? Where did you grow up?
I was born in Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire, England although I spent most of my time growing up in Walsall in the West Midlands. However, in recent years I moved back to Staffordshire and now live in the beautiful city of Lichfield.
Could you tell us a bit about any history of military service in your family? In what ways was the military part of your life from an early age?
My father served in the Royal Air Force during the 1960s in the now famous 617 Squadron, better known as the ‘Dambusters’. Although he wasn’t a pilot he did work on the aircraft and even got to fly in an Avro Vulcan, the bomber that the squadron was equipped with at the time. My grandfather on my mother’s side of the family was in the British Army during the Second World War and served in the Royal Artillery. He was posted to an anti-aircraft battery at ‘Hell-Fire Corner’ in Dover during the Battle of Britain. My grandmother was in the RAF at the same time, working as a telephonist.
What kinds of books did you read growing up? Which had the greatest impact on you?
Since I can remember I have had a love for history, and the vast majority of books I read when I was young were history related. However, I always found military history of particular interest, possibly due to many in my family having served in the British Armed Forces. I remember watching the movie Zulu as a teenager, which got me hooked on reading books about the Zulu War.
When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer? What is it about writing that appealed to you?
I love to read and have long wanted to write a book of my own. However, it was not until 2013 that I actually began work on Pathan Rising, which has now finally been published in 2016. The writing of this title was delayed a little as I was approached by a publisher to write another on the Battle of Waterloo in time for the 200th anniversary. As a result, my first book to be published was actually the second one I wrote.
How much research did you do for the book? Can you give us some tips on this?
Very little has been written about the North West Frontier risings since the time, and there is not an abundance of readily available primary or secondary source material for it either. As such, I had to search far and wide to obtain even the briefest of details. However, there were thankfully a number of key official documents and eyewitness accounts that enabled me to piece it together in far more detail than ever before. The research for the book took about two years. My advice would be to find as much quality material as you can, and, crucially, primary sources! I Cannot emphasize enough how important primary sources are in writing history books!
Why did you decide to write this book? What prompted you to put this story down on paper?
I read several period accounts of the risings but found hardly anything had been written about it since the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. Yet the subject was so fascinating and I felt it a shame no in-depth up-to-date study of the conflict really existed. It was a hole in modern literature that needed to be filled.
Have you read anything lately that you’d like to recommend to our readers?
The Second Anglo-Sikh War by my friend Amarpal Singh is an excellent read, and another in-depth study of a conflict that has not been covered much in recent decades.
How do you relax? Do you have any hobbies or interests?
I read a lot, which is always a great way for me to relax while learning something new. Sometimes I like to go to my local country club to drink a pint or two of ale while reading. I also love to visit historical places and attend events such as air shows with my partner, Lisa.
What are you working on at the moment?
Since writing Pathan Rising I have written another book that examines Kitchener’s re-conquest of Sudan between 1896 and 1898, which will be published in 2017. I am now putting the final touches to yet another book, this time looking at the siege and relief of Chitral in 1895.