top of page

Guest Post and Author Interview with Johnny Stonborough, author of "Wild Field"

Updated: Jan 25, 2022

Guest Post:

TOME ALONE - Johnny Stonborough 24 January 2022 (US)

Caitlin Moran, she writes brilliantly in the London Times, said that nobody wrote a book during lockdown or learned a foreign language.

Well, I did! And if you did too, then congrats on joining me and the global cohort of (failed?) authors.

Cool your jets. Failed does not mean failure, failed does not mean bad. – Far from it, you are a good author, the golden eagle of soaring prose, the assassin of weak characterisation, the Guy Fawkes of plot development and you have all the grit ‘Tome Alone’ demands. Darn it, you’ve got 100,000+ words in a .docx to prove it. You sir, you madam have gone all the way from carpal tunnel to writer’s block and back countless times. Incredible.

My irritable book-itch began with what the French call a ‘coup de foudre’ (like love at first sight but on steroids) – I stumbled over something, it pricked my curiosity and I thought ‘I should write a book about that.’ I tried so hard not to. Cold showers, even lying down in a dark room with a packet of fruit-free Gummy Bears. It did no good. Had somebody told me how hard it is to write a book, how long, how slow, how impossibly draining, how boring, I would have said ‘ pooh pooh and fiddle sticks’ – And the funny thing is, I’ll bet a pound to penny (as we Brits say), even when you have read this, you still won’t be put off writing. Some itch eh?

I am proud of being an author. Wild Field is my first published book – check my drawers for others - and I live in hope that my status will flip from Worst to Best Seller. But deep down, who am I kidding? It’s not going to happen. The statistical reality is that I will not make any money, only my nearest and dearest will read it (er, maybe), it isn’t the next Game of Thrones series and I’m not going to a guest speaker at a fancy lit festival.

Writing is just the half of it. Let me cheer you by telling you what happens after you’ve finished it. Till then, few know about the master-piece, but there comes a moment where you have to step into life’s headlights and hold the MS up for inspection.

Editors are an interesting bunch – you waft the book past their expert eye. Speaking personally, avoid anybody with an Eng. Lit degree. Life is too short to be mortified, humbled, chastened and humiliated however nicely they do it. I am however, a huge fan of editors who don’t reply to my life’s graft with ‘Hmmmm, have you ever thought of approaching it like this.’ I jokingly call it the yokel response – you know, the one where you ask how you get to X and the answer is ‘I wouldn’t start from here.’ Run! You must never work with this person. You need intelligent moulding, constructive nudges, patient encouragement. They are out there.

You think you need an agent. Everyone has an agent. (I don’t have an agent). You read their websites and their boasts about the diverse cadre of authors they represent. That could be me, you say. No. It matters not one jot if its Milton or Mills and Boon. They want the one thing you haven’t written; psycho-suspense, young adult crossover fiction, middle grade fiction, and another popular non-fiction genre, ‘we are currently not open to submissions.’

Agents come in various shapes. Most numerous is The Secret Agent, you write, you call but like Macavity the secret agent isn’t there, despite submitting the most crafted resume and precis (and lots of other French words with accents.). Or the Cleaning Agent. ‘Thank you for contacting us. We don’t hear your authorial voice, but we do run a £1000 writing skills course near ….…’

Then there is the Infectious Agent – never caught it, and the Binding Agent, who (if you swallow it) will tie you into a contract from which you can never escape. Sometimes these agents are Vanity Publishers. Be very suspicious of people who say they can get your book published for ‘just a small marketing fee’. Oh, how they flatter you! ‘Wake up! Wake up! Danger! Danger! It’s not true – and you don’t need to spend thousands of the hard-earned to find out.

You can see where this is headed. I had honed the tome, spell-checked it to hell, re-punctuated and de-adverbed, dodged the cowboy publishers, and (still) failed to find my Central Intelligent Agent. Then one day I stumbled exhausted, onto the banks of the mighty Amazon (KDP -Kindle Direct Publishing)

DIY or Die. Self-publish. It’s all on their website. Copy ready, tick, Dedication to Mum, tick, Chapter heads, tick, Book Cover. Whoops! forgot about that. (Google graphic artist/starving/garret) Well she wasn’t starving, and I don’t know if she lives in a garret or basement – never met her. It was all done on-line. I supplied a brief, genre, topic, deadline etc and back came her concepts. So talented, so undervalued. So far, so good. Next, hunt the typesetter. They can be anywhere in the world, but they do have to know their ISBN from their Bembo. Its slow, its painstaking, it’s not cheap (‘Oh you can do it for a hundred bucks’ is nonsense). Then suddenly you have both the ePrint (Kindle version) and the paper-back-ready document. You will look at it in awe. A real book. By YOU. All you have to do is upload your real book to KDP to be a real published author.

Last word: You have something to show for the pain, the blank sheets, the drops of blood on your forehead. Something that will live long after you. One day a grandchild will take it from a shelf and marvel – and for that split second in the great continuum, your name will be remembered.

1000 words


Wild Field audiobook narrated by Victoria Brazier is on

Twitter & Instagram: @stonbo_rough

Author Bio:

Johnny Stonborough lives in London with his beautiful American wife Jane. Wild Field: an 11th Century Love Story has already been short listed as a 'must read' in two top US magazines Du Jour (winter 2021 edition) and Town and Country (Dec 2020 edition). He is now working on a second love story, drawn from his fascination with the untold lives of great women in medieval Europe.

Interesting fact: His great uncle was the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

You can chat to him on, and find him on Instagram @johnny_stonborough

Book Title: Wild Field - An 11th Century Love Story

Book Blurb:

From the life of Gytha of Wessex and her marriage to Prince Vladimir. This untold 11th century love story, plucked from the mosaic of English medieval history, is about a young woman’s triumph in a man’s world. Gytha is 13 years old when her father King Harold of England dies at the Battle of Hastings in 1066AD. Her adored mother Edith ‘Swan-neck’, crazed with grief, is lost to her. She and her brothers go on the run from William, the Conqueror. In this lyrical tale of true love and real evil, Gytha first travels west to Exeter, where she is to marry a painted Celt Prince. She flees to Denmark. But with no dowry, no parents and no country to call home, she is bartered to a wicked bride-trader and taken to the farthest edge of Christendom to wed Vladimir, a prince of Rus; only to find he is promised to another girl. You will love Wulfwyn, Pig-Boy and the scented Swetesot, fear and admire the handsome river prince Vladimir, hate Oleg and the Cold Trader and all those with dark hearts who seek to harm Gytha in the Wild Field. ‘Behold the Wild Field, where the sky neither ends nor the earth begins, where a million flowers bloom and riders steer by heaven’s unweary stars’ Facebook – Please join the Gytha of Wessex Group for chat and updates.

Book Buy Link:

Author Interview:

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

The pilgrimage into my own head. Half-forgotten memories stir. People I’ve met. Conversations I’ve had. Places I’ve been. Things I’ve done. Books read, films watched. Ideas come out of nowhere. And to kick-start the process, nothing works better than fresh air.

Tell us the best writing tip you can think of, something that helps you.

If it isn’t written down, it isn’t ever going to be a book. Write anything, just write. You can sort out the jumble, some good, mostly awful, later. ‘

What are common traps for aspiring writers? Advice for young writers starting out.

Don’t give up your day job. Contrary to the popular trope of starving artists in Parisian garrets, poverty and rejection are not medically approved.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Ignore people who say dreadful hurtful things. This is what they say to me:

‘You’ve still to find your authorial voice = you write like sh*t.’

‘I would have approached it differently.’ Really! so how come you haven’t written a book?

‘Have you ever thought of taking one of our writing courses?’ = happy to take your money (Don’t care if you write like sh*t.)

‘We are not accepting (x genre) now.’ = you are a privileged middle class middled aged white European male.

Don’t listen! Keep writing.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

I’m not and they don’t. Sorry, I don’t hang out with mesmerising arty types. Just businessmen, accountants, bankers and lawyers.

Can you give us a quick review of a favourite book by one of your author friends?

Not a friend. Never met him. The second half of Edmund de Waal’s ‘The Hare with Amber Eyes,’ blew me away recently.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

The moment I saw my book Wild Field in print, the horny years of toil were forgotten. And, I found out the very same day that people treat ‘authors’ with er, awe, which is kind of cool.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Persuading Vicky Brazier, actress and English Lit scholar to narrate Wild Field for Audible. She is brilliant. You will love it.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

Ludwig Wittgenstein is my great uncle.

What’s the best way to market your books?

Keep trying for long enough and one day Johnny, one day you will be an overnight sensation.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

Google Google Google. Covid arrested my travels to Denmark, Russia and Ukraine. The London Library sends me books and gives me access to JStor and the OED. Yes, I love researching. Google Google Google. I have to stop myself.

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?

Yes, definitely. Characters that write themselves, a solution to a plot block, a cascade of dialogue are prayers answered. Be it God or my trusty dusty brain left to its own devices, who knows, but thank you.

Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

All too often. When I read something so beautiful, so lyrical, so poignant, so perceptive, so painful, so funny, I give up writing immediately. Then confidence returns. I put Shakespeare, de Waal, Runyon, Toklas, Woodhouse, Twain, Tolstoy, Austen, Hardy, Lampedusa, Le Carre, Amis back on the shelf. ‘Nice try chaps.’ I say. ‘Nice try.’

What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?

Hmmmm ethics? I think about that a lot. Stories should be rooted in truth and do justice to their age. My historical figures are not ‘just like us but without the internet and a dishwasher’ nor did they inhabit some brutish other-world beyond all comprehension. I see my job in Wild Field to portray the choices and values of people, as Karl Marx said acting ‘not of their own free will, but under the given and inherited circumstances with which they (were) confronted.’ It is not for me to moralise, to make history fit my world-view founded in the prejudices of my era. I hope I am not that arrogant or ignorant.

I write about the 11th Century. It is hard to distil fact from fiction, but that is liberating too. The historical figures are mine to shape. I stuff the gaps between real names of real people set in real time with my actions, words, thoughts, likes and hates. In this book about Gytha’s journey from England to Kiev, I have added significant fiction. To remedy it I have included an essay with the few facts we do know, plus a bibliography of primary and secondary sources. It’s at the back.

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

Of course I read them, then I quote Kipling.

‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,

And treat those two impostors just the same.’

If that doesn’t work I quote Sondheim

Boy, boy, crazy boy, Stay loose, boy. Breeze it, buzz it, Easy does it, Turn off the juice, boy.

And if that doesn’t work, I have a beer and quote Rhett and Scarlett.

‘Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn / After all, tomorrow is another day.’

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Trying to get published. First, second and third.

Tell us about your novel/novels/or series and why you wrote about this topic?

I am an investigative TV journalist (or I was when I still had hair). I get this kind of prickly-neck feeling when I stumble on a new never-been-told story. Stumbling on Gytha, the eldest daughter of King Harold of England (d. Hastings 1066) was very prickly indeed. It started with a passing mention of an un-named English princess in a coffee-table book about Russian church architecture. (I know – don’t ask). So I rang a college professor friend and said;

‘What’s this about an English princess going to ‘Russia’?

‘Yes. King Harold’s daughter.’


‘Married off to some war-lord.’

‘That’s it?’


What is your favourite line or passage from your own book?

On Page 377.

‘Prince,’ she began. She paused. Then, suddenly, she knew what to say. ‘Prince, I know your words of love to be a passing truth. The vodka moulds the meaning of your breath.’ (Somebody said it’s an iambic pentameter. Just came out that way. I had nothing to do with it.)

What was your hardest scene to write?

The raid scene when the scented Sweetsot, Daughter of Horses leaves Gytha and returns to the Wild Field. I cried. I didn’t want her to go, but she had to.

Tell us your favourite quote and how the quote tells us something about you.

May I have two please!

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. (John Adams – US President)

‘In magnis voluisse sat est.’ (Propertius) Which roughly translates as ‘in great things to try suffices.’ I found it on a noble-man’s grave in Austria – he was murdered by Nazis for defying them. I have never forgotten it.

Johnny Stonborough – London

23 January 2022


Wild Field audiobook narrated by Victoria Brazier is now on

Twitter & Instagram: @stonbo_rough


bottom of page