March of the Sequels – Tom Williams

Today author Tom Williams is joining me for March of the Sequels. Please tell us a little about your historical fiction series.

My series is ‘James Burke, spy’. All the books are stand-alone adventure stories about a British spy during the Napoleonic wars. James Burke was a real person and his first adventure (Burke in the Land of Silver) was very closely based on his real-life activities. The idea, though, was to develop the character into a series of books. What exactly the following books would be about, I didn’t know. There’s very little known about the real James Burke, so his later adventures are fictional. So far, though, there have been six and I could keep going for a while yet.

I’ve just published the latest, Burke and the Pimpernel Affair. It’s a fun spy story where Burke has to free prisoners from a gaol in the centre of Paris. I had thought that because the story (unlike most of the others) doesn’t centre on a specific historical event (like the battle of Waterloo in Burke at Waterloo or Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in Burke and the Bedouin) it would be easy to research. I was wrong! I ended up researching everything from famous French jailbreaks to the weather in Paris in the autumn of 1809.

Because the stories all stand alone, I think that people have joined the series at different points. The most popular is the first, but readership has held up quite well across the series and by now I know there are people out there waiting for the next one to come out. There’s no doubt that a new book increases sales across all of them. It’s important for authors to be aware that the most effective marketing you can do for a series is to write a new sequel. I think new books draw people to a series because readers like the reassurance of knowing they have enjoyed one book and they think that they are probably going to like the others. Also, James Burke and William Brown (every traditional hero needs a sidekick) are interesting people with personalities that develop outside the storylines and I think readers enjoy seeing how they change through the series. It’s a bit of a nightmare for me as the stories are told out of chronological order, so it isn’t until the fifth book (Burke in Ireland) that we read about Burke’s introduction to the world of espionage. It’s the darkest book in the series. He arrives as a very naïve young man and his experiences in Ireland account for his cynical approach to espionage work that we see in the other books. It’s fun for a writer, though, growing with a character and occasionally delving into his backstory for new insights.

The stories are spy stories first and foremost, so rather than modelling them on something like Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, I looked to Ian Fleming’s Bond. This means that there are a couple of recurring characters (the ‘M’ figure who sends him on his missions and Molly – the largely unseen wife of William) but otherwise (with one notable exception I’m not naming because Spoilers!) the characters are different in each book. So far, every adventure has taken place in a different country (as with most of the Bond series) so that has made that easier. There can be the odd problem about existing relationships. When I wrote Burke at Waterloo, I had Wellington suggest that he had only met Burke once before (in Cork, as he actually did). That meant that in later books set before Waterloo, I can’t have Burke ever report to Wellington. Fortunately, other senior British officers are available.

One big advantage of a series as far as historical fiction goes is that you become increasingly familiar with the period. I feel very comfortable in the early 19th century now and I have to check fewer of the details. You also become more familiar with the characters so that I don’t have to think so much about how they would react to a particular situation. I have noticed that I can write much faster than I used to, but hopefully I’m maintaining a reasonably consistent quality across the books.

Sadly, writing faster does not mean producing books more quickly. The time that I save in writing is absorbed by marketing. I’m really bad at marketing, but nowadays any writer (even if they are traditionally published) must spend a lot of time marketing. This is one huge advantage of a series. Every Burke book sells every other Burke book, so they sell much better than other books I have written outside the series. I’d love you to read my mid-19th century books (the Williamson Papers trilogy) or my Contemporary Urban Fantasies, but in the end you’ll probably go for James Burke. The extended series creates more of a buzz and much greater awareness than I can expect from a single novel – or even a trilogy.

When I started writing my wife went out to buy me all of the Top Ten best-selling books in WH Smith so I could see what worked. And what worked was series fiction. It’s easier to write, it’s fun to read and marketing is less onerous than with other formats. Just as cinema is dominated by sequels, so the grip of the series on the best-selling fiction lists is unlikely to loosen any time soon.

Buy the Burke books here:

Burke in the Land of Silver
Burke and the Bedouin
Burke at Waterloo
Burke in Ireland
Burke and the Pimpernel Affair

More info about The Williamson Papers: The Williamson Papers | History and books and dance and stuff (

 About the Author

I used to write books for business. Now I write historical novels and books about vampires that are generally described as fiction but which are often more realistic than the business books. The stories have given me an excuse to travel to Argentina, Egypt and Borneo and call it research. 

I live in London where my main interest is avoiding doing any honest work. In the days before covid I used to ski and skate and dance tango. Now all that is left is dancing tango at home with my wife, which is more fun than it really ought to be. Otherwise I read old books and spend far too much time looking at ancient weaponry.

You can read all about me (if you really must) and my books (yes please) on my website: I also have a Facebook page (AuthorTomWilliams) and I tweet as @TomCW99

4 thoughts on “March of the Sequels – Tom Williams

  1. Pingback: March of the Sequels Hub | Sue's Musings

  2. Pingback: Challenge 3: Leave Comments On Ten Book Blogs #BookBloggerSupport22 @pagesunbound | Rosie Amber

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