Thursday, 26 February 2009

Countdown to Claudius

First of all thanks to William and Elizabeth for their comments. It's always great to have confirmation that someone's reading your ramblings.

At last something to get my teeth into after a very quiet time. Tonight I'm appearing at my local Waterstone's in Stirling to give a talk and sign paperbacks. Some friends have said they're coming, so at least I know I won't be alone, and the staff have done a fantastic job promoting the night and the book. I've been practising my talk, but until today it felt a bit wooden and I'd seriously considered chucking away the script and flying solo. But I think the thought of standing there wordless has won the battle of the terrors and I'll stick with it. I'll let you know in the next couple of days.

The teeth thing is actually about a review I've just had from a lady who styles herself Trinuviel, from Copenhagen. I suppose there's an argument that you shouldn't advertise these things but this is a blog about the downs as well as ups of being a fledgling novelist and in amongst the excoriation she makes a couple of interesting points.

You can check it out here

Setting aside the mental health issues which she probably knows much more about than me (I mean I think she could be a nurse), the one I think she's fully entitled to highlight is about Caligula's assassination. Yes, various historical sources say the Praetorian commander Cassius Chaerea was responsible for his death, but I think I'm right in saying that none of those sources is contemporary and that there are varying theories about the detail of the event. Who's to say what happened in the underground passage to the theatre (if that's where it happened). The point I'm making is that nobody really knows; there is no was and wasn't, and I didn't 'ignore historical regard', I took the recorded 'facts' and turned them into a work of fiction. I think Trinuviel is making the mistake of mixing up history and fiction. I write historical novels, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion of whether they're good or bad. But I'd argue that a novelist with a slightly bewildered hero and a lethal swordsman on his hands has a perfect right to place them where they can do the most damage in the name of fiction, and that no-one can say with any certainty what truly happened.

The other point I'd like to take up is the one about the dagger. It was quite a small dagger, but not withstanding, I don't think that matters. As a journalist I've seen dozens, possibly hundreds of pictures of young men and women who've walked into hospitals on their own with knives of frightening proportions sticking out of various parts of their anatomy. One guy had a seven inch blade through his head and lived to tell the tale. One thing I've learned from all my readings of military fact is that people in extremity are capable of extraordinary things, things that go beyond the norms of human endurance. So to have Caligula carry on fight for his life is, I think, perfectly acceptable.

That apart, I acknowledge that Claudius speaking to the elephant is a bit strange, but I had a feeling the man would be more comfortable with animals than human beings. And I may have made Rufus a little cleverer than he ought to have been as a Roman slave, but I think that's a small price to pay if it helps you tell a story.

Anyway I'd be interested in your thoughts, either on the critique or the points I've raised. Got to go, I have a public waiting!

Monday, 16 February 2009

Countdown to Claudius

With Claudius almost at the proofreading stage my thoughts are fixed firmly on the next book, or more correctly on the fact that I should be half way through it by now. We're in that limbo period where nothing is guaranteed and where a lot depends on the early sales of the paperback.

I know what the next book is - the final chapter of the Rufus story - and I know exactly how it ends (famous last words), but, like Claudius, I also know I need to take it on to the next level. This is the one where the strength of Rufus as a character had to really kick in. He has to carry the book right to the last page. I've got lots of good set pieces and the historical context is very strong, but I still have to do some in depth research on a couple of interesting characters in Rome.

I also have lots of ideas for the future, but it's a fair old way from idea to book, so we'll see.

Last year I wondered why I wasn't being invited to book festivals. This year I'm wondering how I'll fit everything in. I have a reading and signing next week at Waterstones in Stirling, I'm making a guest appearance at an event in Jedburgh in May, taking part in the Borders Book Festival in June, have two events for the launch of Claudius in July, then festivals in Stirling and Inverness later in the year. There's also been interest from Wigtown, the festival I visited last October. Suddenly I have to get my act together, except I haven't got one yet!