Celebrity Interveiw: Gripped By History

PUBLISHED: 11:27 30 June 2011 | UPDATED: 21:35 20 February 2013

Celebrity Interveiw: Gripped By History

Celebrity Interveiw: Gripped By History

A Saxon hero has been given a new lease of life by Winsham-based author and television producer Stewart Binns.

Winston Churchills grand-daughter Celia Sandys says that her grandfather would have loved Stewart Binns historical novel.

Her book review describes Conquest as a gripping page-turner beautifully written, which enlivens one of the most important periods in our history.

And I would not argue with her glowing praise. I freely admit that, browsing in a bookshop, I would not normally have reached for an adventure story set in the 11th century complete with legendary warriors and their bloody battles. But having been sent a copy of Conquest I found myself hooked on this compelling tale.

Its hero is Hereward of Bourne, a figure some may recall from school history lessons, but about whom little is really known. The author has written him into the Battle of Hastings and this noble outlaw becomes the champion of the English people.

Speaking in the study of his home in Winsham, a village near Chard, Stewart Binns says he was looking for a hero on whom to base his first novel.

I wanted to find an English hero and I thought there was a gap. We have Alfred the Great, Drake and Raleigh, then Wellington, Nelson and Churchill, but there are not many. I was watching Braveheart for the umpteenth time and thought that William Wallace was a great Scottish hero and I wondered why we English dont have one like him. Then I remembered Hereward and started to read about him and thought, wow, this is a great story about someone who is wronged, fights his way into acceptance and becomes leader of his people.

Conquest tells the story of how many in England refused to surrender easily after William, Duke of Normandy, defeated King Harold. Much of the story is based on fact and local references include Harolds stronghold in Glastonbury.

Although he now lives in Somerset, Stewart is passionate about his roots in Burnley, Lancashire and the Pennines, where a significant part of Conquest is set.

Brought up by his single mother and his grandfather in a poor part of town, Stewart struggled at school until he went to St Theodores Secondary Modern where a new headmaster was determined to pull the school up by its boot straps.

I blossomed there and when I got to college I did my A Levels in one year and was only the second boy from that school to go
to university.

After completing several degrees, Stewart did a stint in the army, spent a year as a researcher at the BBC and became a school teacher. He was on the brink of a headship when the opportunity arose to work in television.

Following his training in documentary features and current affairs at the BBC, including time on Panorama, he spent 20 years at TWI as Director of Special Projects. His long career includes a list of definitive sports programming and he conceived and launched the ground-breaking Trans World Sport.

Stewart led TWIs diversification into factual programming, and original productions include the In Colour series of historical documentaries, like the critically acclaimed Second World War in Colour. He has won numerous awards including a BAFTA and more than 30 international awards. He was recently elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and he is the author of several non-fiction books.

In 2006 Stewart and his wife, Lucy, formed Big Ape Media International and Stewart still makes programmes. But having spent 10 years writing a novel (during any downtime from his day job), Stewart needed a publisher. It was a chance mention to fellow Burnley football fan Alastair Campbell that led to a break-through. Alastair agreed to read it and helped him make the vital link with Penguin.

Conquest became the highest debut novel in the book charts and within eight weeks from release had sold over 40,000 copies. It has also been a great success locally, with the Winsham village shop and Hooked on Books in Chard selling dozens of signed copies.

Stewart and Lucy and their twin six-year-old boys, Charlie and Jack, have lived in the county for more than four years. But the couple each had their own ideas about the move from London. Lucy wanted to be in a village because she likes being part of a community, whereas I would rather be in the middle of nowhere. We have found the best of both worlds here.

This is a beautiful part of the world. However, I cant say that Somerset is Gods Own Country, because thats Lancashire. Lets say its Archangel Gabriels!

Conquest, published by Penguin, is available from all good book stockists and www.Amazon.com or a signed copy can be ordered direct from Hooked on Books in Chard (01460 67925).

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