I am delighted to welcome Ben Kane on the same day as his latest novel HANNIBAL: FIELDS OF BLOOD is being published. Set in Roman times, Ben’s novels are known for their dramatic action, realistic battle scenes and suspenseful plot turns.
Novelist is a far cry from veterinary science. What prompted the change and why do you choose to write novels set in ancient times? Complete and utter desperation about being a vet. It’s a strange thing, because most people think that being a vet is the best job in the world. Well, it’s not, and once you’ve had a bellyful of late nights and weekends on call for no extra pay, it’s hard to know what to do with oneself. I naively decided to write bestselling novels! I decided to set them in ancient times because I have long been fascinated by those periods in history.
What ingredients do you think make for a top historical fiction author? Gosh, I feel a bit embarrassed being asked that! An absolute focus on the end target would be one. Attention to detail. The ability to learn from others and from one’s mistakes would be others.
Have other writers of historical fiction influenced you and, if so, how have they influenced you? Rosemary Sutcliff, for her iconic children’s novel, The Eagle of the Ninth. She awoke in me a love of Roman times, and of Hadrian’s Wall. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, for his little known novels, Sir Nigel and The White Company. Those two books transported me to the 1300s, but they didn’t just do that. I loved them so much that I really wanted to read more about soldiers in other times and places.
Do you have a particular approach to research and writing? Yes. Before I start a new book, or a new series, I spend a long time researching the time period, and writing the plot outlines of each book. When I’m done, I start writing, but textbooks are never far from my keyboard, and I refer to them regularly. Sometimes a bit too regularly!
How difficult is researching times like ancient Rome and the time of Hannibal? To some extent, it’s very difficult. Understandably, far less material survives from ancient times than it does from say, World War One. Also, what survives cannot be relied upon in the way more recent news reports can. (Clearly, even modern news agencies have agendas, but 2,000 years ago, they were far more partisan.) It’s also very frustrating that no Carthaginian records survive. In other words, the victors (the Romans) wrote the history of the Punic Wars, and we have no other material to work on. All this being said, these massive gaps in our knowledge allow an author huge amounts of freedom!
You’ve created the Forgotten Legion trilogy, two books about Spartacus and now two books about Hannibal. How do you balance these different series? I wrote the Forgotten Legion trilogy first, so to some extent it was done and dusted before I began another series. I then decided to break up the Hannibal series by writing the two Spartacus books before I’d written the second Hannibal novel. This annoyed a few readers, I know, but it wasn’t meant to do this, and it felt like something I had to do. It’s been a good experience, and it will therefore be a tendency that I follow. After the third Hannibal novel, I’m going to write a book called Crécy, set during the Hundred Years’ War.
What advantages do you think come from writing a series? Any disadvantages? It’s much easier to write a series of books about the same characters than it is to start a whole new novel with a brand new set of people and/or a different time period.
What brand are you trying to create for yourself? That of an author who writes incredibly exciting, page-turning, blockbuster novels about people and soldiers in ancient times.
What do you do to connect with readers? I have a website, where I blog infrequently and people comment. The traffic there seems to have moved to Twitter and Facebook, where I am very active. I also reply to the many emails that I receive. You can find me at: www.facebook.com/benkaneauthors ; @BenKaneAuthor and firstname.lastname@example.org
What do you know about your readers? That they’re great people whose custom allows me to lead the career I love, and that they are interesting and fun to interact with, via email and social media. They’re from all walks of life, and from all over the world from the UK and Ireland to the USA, South Africa, Australasia and South America.
What data do you collect about your readers? When people check out my website, they are asked if they’d like to register. If they do, their email address goes onto my list for sending out my regular newsletters which include competitions and book giveaways.
What strategies guide your writing career? Phew. Things are very different now to when I started writing, and even from a year ago. Success breeds success, and it also breeds more things to do that aren’t writing. I now have to leave at least a day to a day and a half a week just to do housekeeping and reply to emails.
What would you do differently if you were starting again? I don’t know that I would change anything. My path to becoming a full-time writer has been an amazing one, and although it’s been hard, I have loved it.
Do you have any advice for writers of historical fiction? Read lots of historical fiction – as much as you can. Learn from every book that you read.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you? That in 1992, as a veterinary surgeon ― having walked on an unapproved crossing (minor road) into the Irish Republic, late at night, to do a calving ― I was pursued upon my return to Northern Ireland by a car full of armed police, and soldiers.
Many thanks for appearing on A Writer of History, Ben. I’m intrigued that of all the writers I’ve interviewed, you are one of the only ones who has articulated a brand for your work. I’m sure readers will be interested to know that you are going to write about the Hundred Years’ War – quite the change of venue and time period.
Hannibal: Fields of Blood by Ben Kane is out NOW in all good bookshops or here: www.bit.ly/BenKaneBooks
Hannibal: Patrol, an accompanying digital short story is available here: www.bit.ly/BenKanePatrol
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