Monday, June 10, 2024

Join us as author Richard Buxton shares his inspiration for his gripping Shire's Union Trilogy #HistoricalFiction #AmericanCivilWar @RichardBuxton65 @cathiedunn

Shire’s Union Trilogy

The Copper Road
Tigers in Blue

by Richard Buxton

Shire's Union Trilogy

Shire leaves his home and his life in Victorian England for the sake of a childhood promise, a promise that pulls him into the bleeding heart of the American Civil War. Lost in the bloody battlefields of the West, he discovers a second home for his loyalty.

Clara believes she has escaped from a predictable future of obligation and privilege, but her new life in the Appalachian Hills of Tennessee is decaying around her. In the mansion of Comrie, long hidden secrets are being slowly exhumed by a war that creeps ever closer.

The Shire’s Union trilogy is at once an outsider’s odyssey through the battle for Tennessee, a touching story of impossible love, and a portrait of America at war with itself. Self-interest and conflict, betrayal and passion, all fuse into a fateful climax.

Written by award winning author Richard Buxton, the Shire’s Union trilogy begins with Whirligig, is continued in The Copper Road, and concludes with Tigers in Blue.
Watch the Promo Trailer for Whirligig:

Chasing Tigers

I didn’t set out to write a trilogy, I just set out to write a novel and discovered it was a trilogy. I imagine I’m not the first person that’s happened to and I won’t be the last. Both the name of the novel, Whirligig, and the fact that I would need to write a trilogy, were revealed to me in quick succession during a US research trip shortly after I’d completed the first draft. Before more on that, I’d like to share my inspiration for Whirligig as to a large extent it’s true for the whole trilogy.

Two fiction writers in particular inspired me. I am a big Bernard Cornwell fan, having read all of the long Sharpe series as well as his shorter US Civil War series, The Starbuck Chronicles. I also adore the writing of Charles Frazier, and read Cold Mountain long before it was made into an excellent film. It was so immersive, so gritty, telling the story of a deserting North Carolinian soldier, done with the Civil War and on a perilous journey to reach his home and sweetheart. The odyssey style, a succession of isolated adventures and encounters, was wonderful and the writing such high quality. I wanted to land somewhere in between the two writers, attempt the pacey adventure of Cornwell while trying to stretch my prose toward Frazier.

Picking the Civil War as a subject was easy. I had a fifteen-year interest already and a wall full of thick history books for reference. I also knew I wanted to write about what was called the Western Theatre, so west of the Appalachians rather than the better known battles in the east. I loved the distances involved out west, the armies’ use of the great rivers: the Ohio and the Mississippi, the Tennessee and the Cumberland. And there was a particular battle near Chattanooga that I wanted to be part of the novel. I looked up the regiments that fought there and found the 125th Ohio and its irascible Colonel, Emerson Opdycke.

I think the next decision was to make my main protagonist English. I’d studied at the State University of New York aged nineteen, and then again at Syracuse University aged twenty-one. I wanted my lead to have the same wide-eyed wonder when discovering America as I’d had, bewildered by the energy and the ambition, only he would land in the middle of a civil war. It would also make him an outsider; a useful tactic Bernard Cornwell uses all the time.

As a starting point, I had my father’s help. He’d passed away just a couple of years before but had written about working on the Duke of Bedford’s Estate during the second world war. His school hours had been cut in half because there were so many evacuees from London so my dad helped on the estate farm some days. They still worked a number of shire horses even into the 1940s and he used to feed them and tack them for the plough. I just needed to move the setting back eighty years and I rechristened the estate Ridgmont after a local village. I’d call my hero Shire, both a reference to the horses and the shire counties of England.

So I had a setting, a starting point and a hero, but no plot. The inspiration came from a very unlikely source: Bruce Forsythe (for American readers, Bruce Forsythe was an all-round entertainer and quiz show host for many decades in the UK). I was watching his episode of ‘Who do you think you are’. He had a ne’er-do-well ancestor in Victorian times who’d absconded from his English wife and family, journeyed to the States, married again and started a new family. Reading the banns in the local churches just wasn’t going to catch this sort of transatlantic skullduggery. It set me thinking and my plot began to tumble out before me.

By the time I’d completed the first draft, I’d been given a place at Chichester University the coming September. Before then I headed out on a research trip, starting in Chicago and driving to Atlanta, stopping at all the places in between that mattered to the book. I was just out to enjoy Chicago for the first couple of days as it was a new city for me. Nevertheless, I went to the institute of Art and headed for the folk craft section to look for anything from my period that might be of use. And there was my Whirligig, a colourful and intricate contraption of spinning wooden panels and cogs with a marching soldier atop. All red, white and blue. I think of it as mine. I knew right away I wanted to use it in some way. As I drove down through America in the following days, I passed the same colours on endless oversized flags pitched on lawns, shopping centres, burger bars, even laundrettes. Endless red, white and blue America, always busy and energized, always stretching forward. I began to see my whirligig as a metaphor and how I might use it within the novel to illustrate a broken America in the Civil War. My working title at the time came from the Cherokee name for the creek where a battle featured in the book takes place: Chickamauga (1). Some translations have this ‘River of Death’, a far more dramatic and less enigmatic book title. But I was sold on Whirligig.

Whirligig. (c) Richard Buxton

A week or so south from Chicago I pitched up in Franklin, Tennessee. The 125th were billeted there for a few months in the winter and spring of 1863. They fired their first shots there and it was where everything changed for Shire, old news from home in Bedfordshire finally tracking him down. I had several chapters there and I needed to see the lie of the land. Franklin is a wonderful place to visit and I started at the Carter House, a preserved farm from the time of the war. I was in the basement, listening to the traumatic story told by the guide and coming to understand the critical part that the 125th Ohio, Opdycke’s Tigers, who I’d already adopted as Shire’s regiment, played in events at the end of 1864. That was well beyond the scope of Whirligig, but it was a natural story arc. Just a very big one. The 125th and Shire would return here after two years; from their first fight to one of their last and biggest fights. There were three natural campaigns that could serve as the backdrop to three books; the fight down to Chattanooga, the fight to Atlanta, and the campaign for Middle Tennessee.

Shire and Clara’s friendship and bubbling under love affair was going to have to bubble for a lot longer than I’d thought. They both suffer as almost everyone did, half of the country displaced, families separated or shattered. As in Cold Mountain, the need for home, to return to one or to find one, a place to call home or a home of the heart, is a strong theme in the trilogy, especially in the final book, Tigers in Blue. The Carter House itself was a lovely home to a large extended family. I’ve returned several times since, but from the moment I climbed the steps out of the basement on that first visit, I never doubted that I’d finish Shire’s story and the story of his Tigers.

(1) The name Chickamauga predated the battle, so it seemed to carry some otherworldly foresight from the Cherokee. It’s now thought that actually they named it as it’s where the Cherokee went to soothe themselves from the terrible affliction of smallpox that was sweeping through their villages.


The Copper Road

Tigers in Blue

Shire's Union Series

Richard Buxton

Richard lives with his family in the South Downs, Sussex, England. He completed an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University in 2014. He has an abiding relationship with America, having studied at Syracuse University, New York State, in the late eighties.

He travels extensively for research, especially in Tennessee, Georgia and Ohio, and is rarely happier than when setting off from a motel to spend the day wandering a battlefield or imagining the past close beside the churning wheel of a paddle steamer.

Richard’s short stories have won the Exeter Story Prize, the Bedford International Writing Competition and the Nivalis Short Story Award.

His first novel, Whirligig (2017), was shortlisted for the Rubery International Book Award. It was followed by The Copper Road (2020) and the Shire’s Union trilogy was completed by Tigers in Blue (2023).

To learn more about Richard’s writing visit

Connect with Richard:
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  1. Thanks Cathie and all at the Coffee Pot Book Club for hosting me today. Much appreciated.

    1. It's a great pleasure to host you, Richard, with such a fascinating post. Thank you. :-)