Recently I spoke with fellow author and historian Amarpal Singh. This is what he had to say about his fascinating work:
Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Hi Mark, I’m 53 years old and live in London with Mandeep, my partner and two sons. I came to the UK when I was 6 years old so I’ve spent most of life in this country. We lived in Gravesend, Kent for quite a while but I have lived in the London area ever since my college days. By trade I’m a Computer Software Engineer although I started getting a little bored with writing software about a decade ago. I’m pretty much into writing now although I have a few software projects that I am working on as well.
How did you become interested in military history, and are there any aspects or periods that interest you most?
When I was a kid we had the local library quite nearby and I remember going there to pick up some new books every couple of weeks. I’m pretty sure my interest in History developed at that point and its stayed with me ever since. I really think we need to keep our libraries going for precisely that reason – as that’s the first contact many children have with a vast amount of books of all types and genres, fiction and non-fiction. You simply can’t get that with Amazon or other online book sites. I have quite an eclectic taste myself. I enjoy late Roman period, Byzantine, Ottoman, 18th and 19th Century wars with a bit of WW1 and WW2 thrown in for good measure. I have Hugh Bicheno’s book ‘Elizabeth’s Sea Dogs’ sitting beside me at the moment which I’m relishing starting this weekend. It looks pretty good!
Tell us a little about your Sikh Military History Forum and why you created it?
Since I was researching the Anglo-Sikh Wars I thought it might be a bit of fun to have a Facebook group on that subject as well. There wasn’t another one that tackled this issue in a serious way so its become a big success with nearly thirty thousand members. You get all sorts. Some members are very knowledgeable and others less so – I guess that’s part of the fun of being in a group, everyone learning a little from each other.
Although Britannia Magazine has a number of contributors, the idea to set it up was yours. Please tell us how you came up with the idea and how it has grown since you founded it?
It was really a ‘self-improvement’ idea Mark. I found I was reading and researching less as the years went by due to work and family pressures and of course there was time spent researching and writing my books. I’d love to get back to reading about all sorts of history topics – and also writing about them. I thought about starting my own blog initially but I realized I probably wouldn’t have the discipline to write something on a regular basis as there would be nothing to push me along. However with similar minded people (like yourself) it’s more interesting and fun as you get to plan and write on a shared platform. So I suppose there’s a social angle to it. I do find I’m reading and thinking on varied subjects more now so I think its working on me! The Britannia Magazine page was started seven months ago and is ticking along nicely with over a thousand followers and steadily going up. As ever these things are long term propositions but its looking good.
Your first book was published in 2010. How did you decide on the subject of the First Anglo-Sikh War?
Well it was really a subject that I thought hadn’t been addressed properly by Military Historians in recent times. The last good book was Donald Featherstone’s work ‘At them with the bayonet’ which was released in the late sixties. That was also dealing solely with the first war. So I thought it was high time another work came out. Of course being a Sikh and a Punjabi helped decide the topic as well 😉
Tell us more about your new book, recently published in June this year?
It’s a sequel to the first book really. I covered the first Anglo-Sikh War in the first book and I though I may as well cover the second while I was at it. I thought I might get bored doing both wars back to back but it was actually quite interesting. There are different characters involved and the second war has quite a different nature to the first being more of a rebellion than a war between two states. My only regret is not being able to take some interesting images of the major battlefields and other landmarks for the book. These places lie in Pakistan now. I’ve been allowed into the country before but was refused twice for a visa this year to go back which was very disappointing. But overall I’m very happy with the book.
Apart from your books, have you done any other military history related work, such as magazine articles or TV interviews etc?
I’ve been on BBC programs several times talking about Sikh history but regrettably haven’t been very active writing articles for History Magazines. That’s something I need to rectify. I suppose this is where Britannia Magazine comes in really useful as I find I’m now writing on issues and subjects that I have had an interest in but haven’t written anything on previously. But I will be targeting conventional printed magazines and newspapers/news sites for future articles as well and am also planning write-ups and commentaries on current affairs.
What are your future plans, and have you decided on a subject for your next book?
I’d love to cover early British expansion in India between Plassey and the Battle of Buxar (1757 to 1764) in a comprehensive way. Its an interesting period of North Indian history, what with the Afghan invasions of North India by Ahmed Shah Abdali and the battle of Panipat in 1761. There was certainly plenty of turmoil and game changing battles in that time! I’m currently mulling over doing a book on Aurangzeb and the English at the moment. Aurungzeb was Mughal Emperor of India between 1659 and 1707 and there was quite a bit going on at the time. The Mughal Empire was at its height but the reign of Aurangzeb introduced weaknesses which led to its decline and fall during the first half of the eighteenth century. He had somewhat mixed feelings about the English and other Europeans and I think this would make a fine book.
Thank you Amarpal for kindly taking the time to tell us about yourself and your interesting work!
You can follow him on Twitter @amarpalsidhu