He served in a range of operational roles including warfighting, counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, and humanitarian on the ground in the Middle East, South Asia, and Northern Ireland, plus a number of diplomatic posts overseas.
It was following intense operational postings in Iraq that Charles began to write, exploring his creative side to balance soldiering and incorporating his passion for history. His debut novel was 17 years in the making; he started writing in 2006, took a five-year break, and picked it up as he prepared to transition out of the Army in late 2020. Less than two years on, the book has been published. God’s Vindictive Wrath has already received some great endorsements, not least from X-Forces Enterprise’s Patron, Lieutenant General Richard Nugee, who described it as, ‘a fast-paced read that brilliantly captures the fear, confusion, and luck of battle for the soldier.’
“I started to write in a period of frustration – after almost back-to-back operational tours and as my Army career hit a speed bump. I looked for something else I could do, something different. I think it was good to have an alternative, creative focus – not just the Army. I have always loved history. I think good historical fiction can be a great way to reflect on our own situation, as well as a great way to learn a chunk of history.
“I looked at a number of ‘proper’ jobs after leaving the Army, but my heart was not in them. I managed to finish my first book and wanted to know if it would fly. I wanted to know if I can write.”
Charles’ historical novel is set in the first three weeks of the English Civil War, opening with the carnage of the Battle of Edgehill and ending at the Battle of Turnham Green on the edge of London. As well as a true historical depiction of the conflict, Charles explains that it is also a reflection of tribalism, ‘culture war’, and extremism today.
“Initially, I thought I would just write a commercial novel. I told myself I did not need to worry about the history. But the more I got into the period, the more I felt I had to do justice to it. There are so many extraordinary stories from the British Civil Wars. They just need to be told. In the end, I found I had to be true to the history and the story is as accurate and authentic as I could make it. This involved a lot of research, but I loved it. There is a danger of getting lost in research and never really writing. I hope I found the right balance. I also got up from the desk and walked the battlefields. This was one of the best bits, matching first-hand accounts to the ground. More recently, I had fun firing a cannon – absolutely brilliant.”
The novel has no single hero, in fact, there are no real heroes or complete villains. The story is built around ordinary men and women and how they face each other in the chaos of Britain in civil war. Much of the writing draws on Charles’ own experiences, particularly operational deployments. Charles explains that the novel is about war, and how and why we fight.
“The writing has been described as brutal. It is realistic. I don’t believe in trivializing violence. The British Civil Wars were the bloodiest in our history – worse than the Great War of 1914-18. I have also drawn on time spent in overseas posts tackling extremism. The more I studied the 17th Century, the more I realized I was seeing the same issues and situations driving conflict today. Rapid population growth coupled with climate change, the Little Ice Age, led to collapsing living standards and decreasing life expectancy. People searched for answers, turning to more and more extreme political and religious ideas. Ultimately, the 1640s were the most violent period in history.”
Charles describes his transition from military to civilian life as a steep learning curve. He wasn’t decided on his second career path, writing or consultancy. The Career Transition Partnership (CTP), the official provider of resettlement support, suggested that he undertake some training with X-Forces Enterprise (XFE) to consider if self-employment would be right for him. XFE’s Self-Employment Awareness Workshop informs service leavers about what starting up a business means and what to consider if they wish to explore this path.
“XFE’s one-day Self-Employment Awareness Workshop really opened my eyes to the possibilities of going it alone, as an author, and how self-employment could work. I came away from that workshop enthused and determined to try. I went back to CTP and explained that I wanted to write full-time. I asked to take my Graduated Readiness Time upfront, at the beginning of my transition period to finish writing the book. It was a risk, but I had to prove to myself that I had a product I could believe in. I was surprised and impressed that CTP found a way around this and allowed me to take my GRT as business research time.
“While I was editing the book, I attended XFE’s more in-depth two-day course. It helped me pin down the business status and strategy that was right for me. Roger was an inspiration. I walked away from the course with my business plan and the confidence to go it alone. Soon after, I began pitching to literary agents and publishers.”
Taking his novel to market has not been easy for Charles, an experience common for new authors. It took almost a year of grueling work pitching his book to agents and publishers before he received an offer from Myrmidon Books.
“For an outsider, the literary industry is frustratingly opaque. It is shrouded in misconceptions and contradictory advice. It has not been easy, and I would implore anyone thinking of entering it to do their research first and understand the risks. The average author earns surprisingly little and huge numbers of very good writers don’t get published. Many good books receive no marketing support and go unread. Ultimately, there is a great deal of luck involved. I feel very fortunate to be published. I only hope that enough readers find, buy, read, enjoy and post positive reviews for God’s Vindictive Wrath. If not, the chances of continuing to be published are slim.”
Since the publishing deal was signed in February 2022, and the launch date of 12th July was set, Charles has been caught up in a frantic whirlwind of final edits, typesetting, and print deadlines. He has focused on learning new marketing skills to promote his book, including a website and a readers club called Divided Kingdom Clubmen to offer exclusive content and keep in touch with followers, and social media profiles for his professional persona. He credits the self-discipline and determination he developed as a soldier for the book getting to the shelves.
“An author requires a mix of art and craft, to write and edit a manuscript. I think successful writers need a high degree of empathy and probably a dose of business acumen. However, I have found that plotting historical fiction can be a bit like intelligence analysis and a reversal of operational planning. Ultimately though, I think I draw hugely on the self-discipline and determination that we develop as soldiers. Without them, I might have fallen by the wayside long ago.”
Fiction writing is not a common retirement route for military personnel; indeed, Charles is the first historical fiction writer that XFE has supported. The literary industry is full of risk for a new entrant and, on the surface, entirely different from the Army, yet Charles sees parallels in his new profession.
“My new life as an author is a crazy mixture of quiet and manic days, not unlike soldiering. There are long, sometimes lonely, periods of research and writing at the desk. But these are broken by madly busy days giving book talks, signings and battlefield walk – all great fun. When I am writing, I like to be at the desk by about 9 am. I am not someone who writes before dawn. The problem is tearing yourself away when you are on a roll. It can be difficult to stop. I do sometimes have to get up in the middle of the night when an idea has come to me.”
The writing in God’s Vindictive Wrath has been described by literary agents and editors as ‘excellent’, ‘strong and vivid’, ‘impressively rendered’, with descriptive prose of ‘exceptional quality. Following a launch event at The Cromwell Museum, Huntingdon on 13th July, Charles is scheduled to give talks, signings, and battlefield walks at historic sites and re-enactment events throughout the summer.
“My new career as an author is what I’d hoped it would be. I have a contract, my first book is being published, and I’ve been tasked to write the second. I could have dropped the whole idea on several occasions, but I’m relieved I persevered on what has been a grueling but exciting journey. I feel extraordinarily lucky.”
Charles plans to pen a number of books in his Divided Kingdom series, following God’s Vindictive Wrath and is busy writing the second, which should be published early in 2023. In the meantime, he is close to finishing a short story that will bridge the gap between the two.
God’s Vindictive Wrath is available in-store and online from Waterstones, Blackwells, WHSmith, and good independent bookshops. It is also available online via Amazon, Bookshop.org, Book Depository and Booktopia. Charles Cordell has pledged 2% of his royalties to be donated to Armed Forces charities.
God's Vindictive Wrath is coming – at the printing press pic.twitter.com/PsxpDr3gG7
— Charles Cordell – Author (@CharlesCordell) July 10, 2022
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For more information about Charles’ writing, visit: https://charlescordell.com/