Interview with Richard Feltoe, author of A Crucible of Fire

Interview with Richard Feltoe, author of A Crucible of Fire thumbnail

Interview with Richard Feltoe, author of A Crucible of Fire

Posted on July 23 by Richard Feltoe
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Caitlyn: Tell us about your book?

Richard: A Crucible of Fire is the fifth part of my Upper Canada Preserved, War of 1812, series of books and deals with the Battle of Lundy’s Lane. This action took place almost within sight of the Great Falls at Niagara on the night of July 25th 1814 and was probably the single fiercest battle that took place during the entire war on the Northern frontier. Like the other books in this series, it is intended to be released in conjunction with the 200th Anniversary of the actual event and documents the period leading up to the battle, the course of the action and the aftermath in the days following.

Caitlyn: Tell us a little about the overarching theme of your work, and why you felt compelled to explore it.

Richard: For the past thirty-plus years I have been an avid Living History reenactor, participating in the recreation and portrayal of the events that related to the War of 1812-1815 between the United States and Great Britain. What I learned through my research into developing my hobby was that more fighting took place in Upper Canada (today’s Ontario) and in particular, on the Niagara frontier than across the whole of the rest of North America combined.  However, I also discovered that while there were plenty of books in publication that either told the story of the war across the entire scope of the conflict and on all fronts (and thereby failed to provide much detail), or concentrated on a single battle (and thereby divorced the event from the context within which it took place); there were no books readily available telling the interconnected story of how the war developed and took place within the region where most of the fighting actually occurred. I therefore took my various Living History-related researches that I did at the National Archives of Canada, the Ontario Provincial Archives and a host of related museums and historic sites and began to compile a library of original references and accounts that really brought the story to life for me.  After a while, people within the reenacting community and even museums began to come to me with questions or asking for details that I had discovered in my research. I therefore decided that as the Bi-Centennial of the War was approaching, the level of interest in these historic events would rise and the stories that I had uncovered were too good to just sit on a shelf or be casually passed on. I therefore came up with the proposal for a series that would recount the course of the war on what was known at the time as the Northern frontier in a clear and interconnected story, and include as many images, maps and original quotes as I could pack into the limited space that was allowed for each publication.

Caitlyn: What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Richard: There were three distinct elements that caused me the greatest difficulty in producing my end works. The first was sifting through and in some cases literally deciphering the numerous original (over two hundred year-old) handwritten documents, which included individual accounts, official and personal letters, journals, combat reports, military ledgers etc. etc.  

The second was collating and reconciling the sometimes contradictory “eye witness” accounts with the official reports and subsequent histories; not to mention the maps that subsequently appeared in various histories of the war that claimed to accurately depict the events but in fact bore little or no resemblance to the accounts related in the original documents. Clarifying and rectifying this discrepancy in particular became something of an obsession with me and one that eventually  led me to the realization that the only way I was going to be satisfied with any maps I used in my series was if I created an entirely new series of cartographies that correctly depicted the landscapes within which the events took place and then use my experience as a Living History reenactor and of having done it “for real”, coupled with my in-depth knowledge of the original drill manuals, formation maneuvers and battlefield tactics of the time,  to then go to my maps and place the troops, along with their formations and movements, within that landscape in such a way as to correspond with as many of the accounts as possible and conform to the military tactics of the time .
As a result, I compiled an entire library of contemporary and post-war plans and maps for numerous battle sites and campaign regions. This was then supplemented by using modern satellite and aerial photography images, official government and community landform and property maps and searches at the appropriate land registry offices (to determine who actually owned which properties at the time of the events and where the relevant roads, pathways and fence lines would have been located).  Putting all this together naturally took years, but it also gave me an entirely new “eye” for picking up on details within the written accounts that provided vital clues on the actual location of individuals and units within the now more accurate landscape that I had created.

The third difficulty I came up against was restricting myself from putting in numerous additional quotes and editing those I did choose down to focus only on the point under consideration. I have always believed that there is far more authority and interest in “hearing” the words of those who were there at the time than any subsequent account I, or any other author could hope to achieve by providing a second-hand account, no matter how diligently or accurately researched or presented.  I was therefore repeatedly forced to edit out entire pages of what would  otherwise be fascinating and entertaining reading of the people involved, in favour of material that was essentially relevant to the topic at hand.

There were, of course other issues and challenges, but I think these represent the principal ones.

Caitlyn: Who did you read as a young adult?

Richard: My reading interests naturally changed over time and during my teens and younger adulthood   included the classic works of C.S. Lewis, J.R. R. Tolkien, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Thomas Costain.  While In the realm of science fiction/fantasy, the works of Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Andre Norton, Katherine Kurtz, and many others have helped pass the hours.  As to historical subjects, while the works of Rosemary Sutcliff were certainly fond “reads” in my early years, it is by far and away the books written by Ronald Welch that played the most significant role in my passion for history.   Welch’s series of historical fiction books about the multi-generational  line of the “Carey” family  must stand highest in my memory of how to tell a good adventure and drama story set within an historically ‘accurate” setting ( that in the various volumes included the  Middle Ages, the Wars of the Roses, The Elizabethan , English Civil War, Marlburian, French and Indian, French Revolutionary, Napoleonic, and  Crimean  war periods, the Indian Mutiny and finally World War I) I therefore have no embarrassment in saying I have either kept or subsequently sought out copies of these books and still re-read them with enjoyment today. Curiously, it was not until relatively recently that I found out that Welch was only a pen name and that his real name was Ronald Felton, a curious parallel to my own Richard Feltoe.

Caitlyn: What is your new project?

Richard: In the immediate future there is the sixth and final book in the Upper Canada Preserved series to finish up. This being The Ashes of War, which is due out in August 2014. After that, there are a couple of projects that have been on the back burner for the last few years that I want to get back to. These include:
-An illustrated training manual for Napoleonic Era Living History reenactors  that  makes a comparative analysis of the multitude of British military drill manuals that were published between 1795 and 1820 under the  prospective title The Old Sodgers Companion.
-An edited compendium of  articles and illustrations drawn from  Rudolph Ackermann’s  Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashion and Politics between 1809 and 1815.
- An Atlas of the War of 1812 on the Northern frontier, derived from the maps and illustrations produced for the Upper Canada Preserved series of books.
-A series of historical fiction books written for young adults that follow the inspirations provided in the stories of Ronald Welch and making extensive use of original factual documentation provided by or drawn from the real-life accounts, diaries, letters  and experiences of British soldiers from the Napoleonic Wars between 1810-1812, the story of the Luddite protests and sabotage  in England between 1810 and 1812, Napoleon’s plans to bring about an uprising of French prisoners of war in England in 1811-1812, the assassination of the British Prime Minister Perceval in 1812, and the War of 1812-1815 with America.

Richard Feltoe

Posted by Kendra on October 30, 2014

Richard Feltoe

Richard Feltoe was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and holds a degree in economics from the University of London. He is the curator and corporate archivist for the Redpath Sugar Museum and is active as a living history reenactor, re-creating the life of a Canadian militia soldier from the War of 1812. His other publications include The Flames of War and The Pendulum of War. He lives in Brampton, Ontario.