The last time I was live on the radio was about 25 years ago when I used to get up at 6.30 in the morning to do a sports bulletin for the then thriving BBC Radio Tweed. So it was a relief to discover that the thought of appearing on Scotland’s top books programme to promote Caligula didn’t have me completely stressed out - only nearly.
I was fortunate that guest presenter Alistair Moffat, who counts among his day jobs successful author and boss of the Borders Book Festival, is also an accomplished broadcaster and interviewer. He made me completely at ease during the countdown to BBC Scotland’s Book Café and was extremely complimentary about Caligula, which is just what a nervous author about to do his first interview plugging his debut novel needs. We chatted about our shared love of the Borders and about the festival, which was an outstanding success again this year despite a downpour that threatened to bring down the main marquee on the Saturday.
Then it was three minutes to go, two minutes to go, one minute to go. We’re on.
It took me a while to get into my stride as we talked about my motivation for writing the book and what attracted me to the malignant Caligula, but Alistair eased me into the interview and I relaxed and began to enjoy the experience. He liked what I’d done juxtaposing Rufus’s gentle love of his animals with the brutality of the relationships in Caligula’s palace, but I couldn’t take the credit for planning that. It’s really just a consequence of the story as most the really clever things I’ve been credited with are. Or are they? When I was preparing for the interview I was struck by how much of the book was written by the subconscious me and how amazing it was that buried somewhere deep was another person capable of achieving something that I didn’t think was remotely possible a couple of years ago. Maybe he/it/we planned the novel while I was half asleep, the same way he/it/we wrote what has been flatteringly described as page-turning narrative. It gives you a real buzz when someone tells you they picked up your book to take a look at it and was still reading it an hour later, especially someone who I suspect is inundated with books throughout the year.
The only point I wasn’t sure whether I’d done Caligula justice was when Alistair asked me for examples of his decadence. I should have talked about the three mile bridge of boats he built from Baiae to Puteoli and then rode across on his chariot, instead I rattled on about his legendary cruelty, which we’d already covered. The interview ended with a laugh as I was asked what my mum thought of the rather graphic sex scenes, then Alistair concluded by more or less telling the listeners to get out and buy it.
Success? That’s for someone else to decide. But I had a great time and I’d cheerfully do it again and I won’t say ‘you know’ half as often.
Alistair Moffat said he enjoyed my book and I have to take this opportunity to reciprocate. By complete coincidence I was given his latest piece of historical non-fiction The Wall, to review for The Scotsman about ten days ago. It’s a must-read for anyone who’s interested about Romans; highly readable and full of fascinating facts and insight it takes an in-depth look at the history of Hadrian’s Wall.
You can listen again to Radio Scotland’s Book Café on http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/aod/mainframe.shtml?http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/aod/scotland_aod.shtml?scotland/radiocafe_mon and read my review of The Wall at http://living.scotsman.com/books/Book-review-The-emperor39s-new.4209001.jp
I almost forgot. Caligula is being published in hardback in Canada in January next year, just a couple of weeks before the paperback version is out in the UK. That’s what I love about all this, there’s always something new on the horizon.