Monday, 30 June 2008

Countdown to Caligula

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 and read my review of The Wall at
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.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Countdown to Caligula

Another of those wonderful one-off moments when I came home from work tonight. I hold in my hot little hand the first hardback copy of Caligula. It's heavy and shiny, with that menacing gladiator glowering from the front, and the title and the sign off 'Can a slave decide the fate of an Emperor' in Romanesque writing of Imperial purple. It has my name on it, not only on the front cover, but also on the spine of the inner book in silver against dark blue. It is, in short, a proper book.
It also has Manda Scott's wonderful endorsement on the back cover and when I read it, I still couldn't believe she was talking about me.
The invites for the book launch are out. It turns out I know a lot more people than I thought, and quite a few of them have already said to me that they'll be there, so I won't be on my own.

Twenty days and counting!

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Countdown to Caligula

Today is June 14; in exactly one month's time Caligula will hit the shops, and what a relief that will be. It seems like a lifetime since I started this blog and it's exactly a year to the day tomorrow that Stan called me to say that he'd accepted the offer from Transworld and that I was about to become a published author.

Things picked up speed this week and I did my first full length newspaper interview. I wasn't too nervous, because I know the interviewer, but it was still a strange and strangely exhausting experience. You have to dig very deep to come up with the motivations for something that you actually started writing about four years ago. I didn't realise there were so many versions of The Emperor's Elephant/Caligula until I tried to explain the chronology of its development and tied myself in knots. You also have to give a lot of yourself, and for someone who is naturally reticent that can be difficult. There is so much to tell that I found myself going off at tangents,which is something I'm going to have to correct for my radio interview in a couple of weeks time.

This blog is about the downs as well as the ups and I have to record that my first published review was a bit disappointing. It was in our local paper and the reviewer seemed more interested in showing how clever he was than actually getting into what the book is about. Then again, maybe I'm expecting too much. He liked it well enough, and said he was involved enough to want to know what happened next to Rufus, the main character. He signed off by saying 'This book won't change your life', which is true, it isn't the Bible. But you could argue that any book that really involves you and draws you in does change your life for the hours you spend reading it. And one thing I know for certain, it has certainly changed mine.

The date and time has been set for the book launch party. If anyone's going to be around Edinburgh on Tuesday July 15 let me know and I'll put you on the invitation list.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Countdown to Caligula

Just a very quick update before I head for the train. I got an e-mail yesterday from Radio Scotland's Book Cafe programme asking if I could do a live interview about Caligula at the end of the month. Scary, but exciting. There'll be guest presenter on that day, a guy called Alistair Moffat, who runs the Borders Book Festival. He's also an author of some fascinating historical books on the early Celts - and his latest is about Hadrian's Wall, so he knows his Romans. I'm a big fan and we're from towns about 10 miles apart so it should be interesting!
Also doing an interview with The Scotsman's literary editor next week, which will run the Saturday before publication.
Sent Brothers in Arms to agent Stan on Tuesday. When I hit the button I had a huge sense of anticipation. I think the latest version sizzles, and the characters are people you really care about.
Spent yesterday putting together information for my web site (where do you start with setting up a web site?). Today I'll start on the final book of the Rufus trilogy.
Got to go. Have a great weekend.