Sunday, 29 March 2009

Countdown to claudius

I've just come back from a trip that allowed me to combine research into Roman goldmining techniques with a visit to my daughter, who's at university in northern Spain. Our base for the week was the lovely city of Leon about 250 miles north of Madrid. It was founded by the Seventh legion in the first century AD and you can still see the walls they built around their fortress and the original street pattern in the grid of alleys and streets near the wonderful cathedral, which is a stopping place on the Camino, the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The Seventh, along with the Sixth legion, were only there because of the gold which was mined among the hills around nearby Astorga, which was the administrative capital for the area.
The weather was fantastic, sunshine and glorious blue skies, clean, clear air that allowed you to see the snow-capped mountains to the north.
We stayed in the Hotel Plaza Mayor and I'd recommend it to anyone. The rooms are individually designed and the one we had looked out onto the plaza, the staff were friendly and always willing to help. It was also just a few hundred yards from Nikki's flat and what a relief it was to have an interpreter on hand in a country where you don't speak a word of the language beyond 'dos vasos rioja, por favor'. Leon's a great place; the buzz from the tapas bars on a Saturday night would power the whole place for a week and we had a fantastic time before heading south again for a couple of nights in Madrid.
On the book front, I'm now working on the typeset book proof of Claudius, which is basically the last step before publication. So two or three more reads and then it's gone for good and fingers crossed again. I'm at page 102 and loving it, which must be a good sign!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Countdown to Claudius

Looking back on my last blog I was overly excited about the new book cover (the number of superlatives is a bit embarrassing). But see for yourselves and let me know what you think. I still think it's great!
I don't think Simon will mind if I also give you a sneak preview of the jacket cover words.
The year is 43AD . . .

In Southern England, Caratacus, war chief of the Britons, watches from a hilltop as the scarlet cloaks of the Roman legions spread across his lands like blood.

In Rome, Emperor Claudius, newly risen to the imperial throne, dreams of taking his place in history alongside his illustrious forebears Caesar and Augustus.

Among the legions marches Rufus, keeper of the Emperor’s elephant. War is coming and the united tribes of Britain will make a desperate stand against the might of Rome. The emperor has a very special place for Rufus and his elephant in the midst of the battle – as a secret weapon to cow the Britons with the visible manifestation of Rome’s power.

Claudius is a masterful telling of one of the greatest stories from Roman history, the conquest of Britain. It is an epic story of ambition, courage, conspiracy, battle and bloodshed, and confirms Douglas Jackson as one of the best historical novelists writing today.
So there you are. I'm not sure I recognise the writer, but it can't be bad. can it?
Spring is definitely here. I've just been out for a run in the sunshine and it was great. There's an area outside Bridge of Allan called the Carse of Lecropt, which is basically the flood plain of the Forth and the Teith. It's dead flat and about five miles of lovely countryside surrounded by hills and Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument.
I've been beavering away at book 3, but still no word yet of a new deal. In the odd spare moment I've also been reading another Roman novel, Ship of Rome. It's very educational, both in a historical sense and as a writer. The author has gone into huge detail about Roman ships, armour and units and for someone who's interested in that sort of thing it's a good read. When I was writing Caligula and Claudius I took a decision not to go into the kind of detail too often where you give the Latin name of say a piece of weaponry and then describe it, it's use and its manufacture, because I thought it slowed the book down. Reading this book has made me wonder whether maybe I was wrong and there's a judicious case for a bit more. Something to think about.
I'm still wondering how the paperback of Caligula is doing, but I refuse to be drawn back into the Amazon game. There seems to be a steady turnover in the WH Smiths at Waverley Station and Waterstone's in Stirling were sold out the last time my wife Alison was there, but we'll just have to wait and see.
Thanks again for your kind words, Lexi, Andrea and Shirley ... and Shirley, you'll have the first copy I can lay my hands on.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Countdown to Claudius

This was going to be one of those snatched blogs just to keep things going i.e. not much happening, still waiting for this that and the other. Instead, it's a snatched blog (I'm late for the train) about another momentous step forward.
I've literally just received the front cover design for Claudius and it looks fantastic. It's even more powerful than Caligula. The theme is similar, but the dominant colour this time is red and the main figure is an incredible image of a Roman legionary.
Simon sent me the words for the back cover a few days ago and along with the artwork they make a superbly strong package that just might move things to a new level.
Still working away on book three of the Rufus series. Early days, but the elements are beginning to come together.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Countdown to Claudius

Just a quick update on my 'gig' at Waterstones in Stirling.
It went really well. There were only about ten people there, plus the staff, but everyone seemed to enjoy my talk and we had a good question and answer session afterwards that was great fun. Lots of good stuff about history and the Romans and about writing. I generally stuck to the script, but found that because I was quite relaxed I was able to divert from it at times and go into a bit more depth about the points I was making. That made it a lot more spontaneous than it had been when I was doing it in the house in front of my long-suffering son Gregor and his pals.

Although it wasn't a huge audience, the way it went was a big boost for my confidence and I'm looking forward to the next few months and my various public appearances.

One last comment about the review I highlighted in my last entry. The thing that saddened me most was that when I looked on the website to see what reaction there'd been to it, about three people said they thought it might be as bad as she said because of the cover. They also said they wouldn't read it because of her review. It concerns me that people are prepared to write off a book - any book - because of someone else's views, which might be biased for any amount of reasons. By all means be critical, but please make up your own mind. If you don't want to buy it, get it out of the library, but read it yourself before you condemn it.