C. Westcott writes about Ancient Rome

Today, Chris Westcott, author of In the Shadow of Tyranny – A Novel of Ancient Rome, has agreed to answer a few questions about his writing. Many thanks, Chris.

What is it about ancient Rome that fascinated you enough to write a book on it?    When I was about five years old my parents gave me a book that had belonged to my Dad, it was a children’s book describing the history of Romans in Britain.  The illustrations were incredible and, as children tend to do, I read the book a hundred times.  Agricola, a key character in my novel, was prominent in this children’s book and I guess this must have stayed buried at the back of my mind.  In 2005 I read Conn Iggulden’s Emperor series and it was literally a life changing event, from that moment I wanted to understand as much as I could about every element of life in ancient Rome.  Later as my new found passion lead me to history books I learned about the incredible events in Judea and I realised I wanted more people to know about that often overlooked piece of Roman history, when I discovered I could combine that with telling some of Agricola’s story I couldn’t grab my laptop quick enough!

How much of the book is based on fact and how much is fiction?    All the key events in the book and the majority of the major characters are based on real people albeit I have imposed my own take on their personality and character.  The main character is a fictional creation that I have placed in that world to tell the story.

Tell us something surprising about ancient Rome.    I have always been fascinated by how much ancient Roman history impacts on us today – the calendar we use, the names of the months of the year, the legacy of Roman architecture and engineering, the influence on our political and legal systems to name but a few examples.  Learning about ancient Rome has allowed me to view the world around me today with a fresh pair of eyes.

Tell us about the main character.    The main character is fundamentally a good man who is caught up in the events around him.  I deliberately gave the character an unusual upbringing as I wanted him to view Rome and the Empire with a naivety that would both endear him to the reader and to allow me to describe the emotion of someone faced with loss, love and achievement.  As much as possible I wanted to create a character a reader could engage with albeit in the context of a story set 2000 years ago.

How do you research your novels?    Initially my research consisted of reading as many fictional and non-fictional books on the time period as possible.  As the story began to solidify in my head I started to target the research to the specific time periods and geographical locations.   I find it challenging to tread the fine line between having enough detail to create the world of ancient Rome for the reader and disrupting the pace of the story with description so my research tends not to be overly detailed.

Do you write about any other periods of history?    Not at present but I am fascinated by the idea of a series of novels based around the exploits and achievements of Sir Francis Drake , Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Richard Grenville.  It was an age of exploration, conquest, heroic military achievement and political intrigue – in short all the ingredients that make for great historical fiction.

Who are your favourite historical fiction authors? Who is your work influenced by?    There are a few but the legend that is Bernard Cornwell for me stands head and shoulders above all others.  His ability to educate on a specific time period while creating the most captivating characters and storylines is nothing short of genius.  With regards to ancient Rome, Conn Iggulden, Simon Scarrow and Steven Saylor are the real standouts.  It was Conn Iggulden’s Emperor series that first sparked my interest in Rome and from there I haven’t looked back.  I must also make mention of David Gemmell.  Although primarily known as a fantasy writer his trilogy based around the stories of Troy were some of the finest historical fiction novels I have ever read.

What are you working on next?    I am currently finishing another novel set in ancient Rome. This will be the first in a two-part story of brothers caught in opposing factions in the ‘year of four Emperors’.  The time period is similar to my first novel but this new series allows me to really explore the incredible events that took place in what is arguably the most eventful year in the entire history of the Roman Empire.

Inspiring thoughts, Chris. I wish you lots of success with In the Shadow of Tyranny. Your research process must be so much more difficult than mine which focuses primarily on WWI.

In the Shadow of Tyranny by Chris WestcottWhen the Emperor Nero causes the death of his parents, Gaius sees his future dreams and aspirations brutally shattered. Unexpectedly thrown a lifeline by Vespasian, his father’s closest friend and a celebrated military leader, an offer of a role in the campaign for Judea, finds him playing a pivotal role in the epic battle for Jerusalem. Summoned back to Rome by Domitian, the new Emperor and his lifelong friend, Gaius finds his friend a changed man, a man capable of cold-blooded murder, and Gaius is swiftly dispatched to distant Britannia with orders for the island’s legendary governor, Agricola. 
Forming a mutual respect with Agricola, Gaius embarks on a campaign that will end in triumph and terror, as with the opportunity to expand the Empire within their grasp, Gaius will find himself facing a choice on which the lives of his family and the fate of an Empire will hang.

Available on Amazon.

Reader Interview Series – Ken L.

Man Reading - John Singer Sargent
Man Reading – John Singer Sargent

Please welcome Ken, the second of our reader interviews. In addition to reading, Ken has wide-ranging interests and many author recommendations to tempt other readers. Ken is a Facebook friend.

Tell us a little about yourself  –  I am male, 68 years of age and live in a small village in an area designated as an area of outstanding beauty which is in the  county of Somerset in the UK. I am now retired.

I trained as a design draughtsman in the Nuclear Power Industry, later becoming a site engineer helping to supervise the construction of Nuclear Power Stations, the latter part of my working life was spent in Sales and Marketing working for a Danish Pump Company.

My Favourite pastimes are reading, generally historical novels, spend a lot of time walking our two Giant Schnauzer dogs, gardening, we have a fairly large garden. Have done a lot of research on my family tree and through the National Geographic Genographic project have become very interested in the DNA aspect of finding out who and where our ancestors came from. Other interests are Folk Music, Art, drawing and painting, collecting  antique drawing instruments.

Please tell us about your reading habits and preferences – Generally read about one book per week so 50 to 60 per year, tend to read when I have free time, but mostly in the evening. I prefer a printed book rather than an ebook, although I have a number of ebooks on my iPad, this preference is probably an age related thing, although my daughters prefer printed books.

I generally only read one book at a time, and the majority will be historical novels set in Ancient times, Roman,Viking, Medieval, have not read many set in more recent times other than War Horse and just recently a novel set in the civil war period (England) mainly because I had read a number of the author’s books set in the Viking period.

Does not matter how long or short the book, I decide to read purely on subject matter. Mobile devices such as the iPad have only changed my reading habit insomuch as it is now far more convenient when going on holiday just to take my iPad.

How do you decide which books to buy, what influences your purchases? –  I generally decide by the author and time period of the novel, however I have bought books that have intrigued me by reading the brief synopsis of the story on the book cover, three come to mind, Labyrinth by Kate Mosse, The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury and Times Tapestry by Stephen Baxter – all of these books are historical type mysteries and I really enjoyed them.

What do you like about historical fiction what don’t you like? – I just like Ancient History and reading historical novels especially the really good ones, can give you an insight into a world long gone. You can also learn lots of interesting facts about the period and the people. I can’t say I dislike anything about historical fiction.

What types of historical fiction do you prefer? – As I have said earlier the main areas of historical fiction I prefer are Roman, Viking and Medieval period.

Do you have historical books or authors you would recommend to other readers, can you tell us why? – I have quite a large list of authors I would recommend such as Bernard Cornwall, Ben Kane, Anthony Riches, James Wilde, Simon Scarrow, Robyn Young, Jack Whyte, Stewart Binns, Angus Donald to name but a few. A few outstanding books for me come to mind, these are books I really could not put down  – Conquest by Stewart Binns, Requiem by Robyn Young, Hereward by James Wilde, Outlaw by Angus Donald.

In today’s world, there are so many opportunities to talk and learn about books – blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, book clubs – can you tell us about your experiences, where you go to talk or learn about books, why you enjoy discussions about books?  The only discussions that I have regarding my reading material is really within the family, particularly my brother. We tend to meet up every month for lunch and much to our wives’ disgust, we generally spend a lot of the lunchtime discussing the historical novels that we are reading or have recently read. My brother is actually having a go at writing an historical novel set in Roman times, he has done a great amount of research and finished a couple of chapters, really look forward to reading it.

What advice do you have for writers of historical novels?  – The only advice I would give is keep those novels coming, the greatest thing at the moment for me, is that we have such a healthy number of good historical novelists writing novels set in the periods I love. Long may it continue.

Is there anything else about reading historical novels you would like to comment on? – Discovering new historical novelists is always exciting, you can find them in the most unusual places. We were visiting a craft centre at one time, very near to where we live that exhibited all manner of things made from willow, in the showroom they were displaying a novel written by a local author, the title made me pick it up, “Warrior King”, a story about Alfred the Great. It was a really good read and I emailed the author to tell her how much I had enjoyed it.

Many thanks, Ken, for sharing your views. I’m interested in your point about ‘discovering new historical novelists’. Do you use features such as the one offered on Amazon ‘customers who bought this book also purchased …’ ? I think discovery is one of the biggest challenges facing authors, particularly those who are self-publishing.


Men have their say on favourite historical fiction authors

Last week I published the 2013 Favourite Historical Fiction Authors list which drew over 5000 people to the blog and resulted in more than 1000 Facebook shares. An awesome result!

This week I want to follow up as I did last year with the male perspective. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to discover that men have different favourites. Quite different, in fact. With a healthy does of military adventure and war, many set in medieval or Roman times.

Subtracting the men’s numbers from the overall tally gives us the women’s favourites. In both cases I’ve listed the top twenty – all authors tied for twentieth are included.

Men's Favourite HF Authors

Completing the picture: 319 men offered at least one favourite author. A total of 301 different authors were chosen as favourites.

What do you think?

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is available in paperback from Amazon (USCanada and elsewhere), and in e-book formats from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and on iTunes. Mary can also be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.