Zack Twamley: a podcasting powerhouse

8 mins read

Zack Twamley has been podcasting since May 2012 and is well known in the history podcasting community as someone who produces a huge volume of podcasts. 

Zack is still a young man and already he has one of the most widely respected history podcasts under his belt. He started his podcast when he was 20 years old and has put out 575 episodes on his main When Diplomacy Fails thread. But that really is just the tip of the iceberg of Zack’s production. He also ran a parallel podcast Poland is not yet lost, that focuses on the dismantling of Poland and is still available on Patreon. 

Zack is already the author of three published books, one hot off the press, of which more below. There is also The Vassal State Blog, which covers an incredible range of subjects and is full of excellent advice for anyone thinking on getting into history podcasting and would like to hear from someone who is now an eminence grise in this world. Zack took this role a step further and went as far as start up the History Podcasters Platform, a grassroots movement for history podcasters. 

All the while Zack has been making his way in academia, both studying and teaching and is now a PhD candidate. 

Zack is a self-confessed history nerd. 

“and I hold my hand up and say that I fully caught the history bug and I’m actually halfway through a PhD in history at Trinity college, Dublin as well.”

Listeners of When Diplomacy Fails have been able to follow Zack on this journey from budding young podcaster, barely out of school, to the soon-to-be Dr Zack Twamley. Zack is about to celebrate ten years in podcasting but is not going to see in this milestone the way he did on his fifth anniversary when he did his Five Weeks to Run Wild releasing at least two episodes a day for five weeks. 

When Diplomacy Fails is not just a question of numbers, it also stands out for the depth of research that goes into it. When Zack tackles a subject, he goes in deep. As, the title suggests, what fascinates Zack is the preamble to war––that failure of diplomacy that happens in one way or another and then results in war.

The lead up to the First World War was something that interested him from an early age––what was it that led the belligerent nations into such a catastrophic war? Zack’s investment in the question can be heard in his voice when he speaks about it; he is emotionally involved in this. 

The podcast has covered a wide variety of conflicts and characters, from the well-known ones like Bismarck, The Korean War, or The Treaty of Versailles––he even created a game, The Delegation Game, based round the Paris Peace Conference. But one of the great things about When Diplomacy Fails is that it covers some truly obscure wars, such as The Russo-Turkish War of 1877. 

But the conflict that plays a starring role in When Diplomacy Fails is the Thirty Years War. Zack has covered the war more than once and there are now a total of 83 episodes about it and for good measure, Zack has also written a book about it too, For God or the Devil.

“I started on the 400th anniversary of the defenestration of Prague. I basically announced that I was going to tackle the conflict again in the kind of level of detail that by that stage, I think had become, if not the trademark of when diplomacy fails, then certainly what people were expecting.”

Zack has recently released his first novel, Matchlock and the Embassy and it is set in the Thirty Years War.

And Zack being Zack, this is not just going to be single volume venture, Zack has got 24 books planned. The series is going to take his characters through the entire 30-year span of the war, with almost a book per year of the war. 

“And I do accept that I write more than what other people would probably consider normal. But for as long as I can remember, I wanted to write stories and I think the kind of the twin interest of history… combined with writing stories has just always appealed to me. And telling those stories on a platform like a podcast has been a dream. So taking it to the next level with fiction just seemed fairly natural.”

He has boldly gone down the self-publishing route, because, well why wouldn’t he? He has never been workshy and seems unfazed by the prospect of not just writing the books but promoting them too. 

It is interesting to hear how the research needed for historical fiction is different from what Zack is used to for his podcast. After having created all those podcasts and literally having written the book on it, one might think that there was little that Zack could still learn about the Thirty Years War. 

But Zack readily admits that it is one thing gaining the sort of knowledge he needs for his podcast and “it’s another thing to know how people cooked, which sounds simple, but actually it wasn’t that simple all the time, especially when there was an army on the march. Really doing historical fiction and having to kind of hone in more on your characters––it made me think more about the human element of war.”

Zack’s love of history is something that he wants to share with the world––that’s the motivating force behind his prodigious output. The Matchlock series is part of this too. He wants to do for the Thirty Years War what Bernard Cornwell did for the Napoleonic Wars with the Sharpe series. For Zack history is one great story and he has obviously relished weaving his own stories into this great narrative.

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