Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Defender of Rome

You wait six months and suddenly two come along at once.

This is the cover of my new G. Valerius Verrens novel, Defender of Rome, which will be published on August 18. Yet again, the designers and Simon my editor have done a fantastic job of producing a package that really adds impact to the storyline. Brilliant!

The story: Valerius reluctantly agrees to hunt down the leader of a mysterious sect which could undermine the whole social foundation of the Empire. But in Nero's court nothing is what it seems and he's soon drawn into a web of conspiracy, intrigue and betrayal that threatens not only his own life, but that of his family and friends.

As hunter becomes hunted the story races to an explosive climax on the shores of the Bay of Naples.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Castles, forts and the Jackson family tree

I was seething into my cornflakes this morning while I was reading this article Mystery of lost Ninth solved in the Mail on Sunday. It's a shameless plug for a new TV show, which itself is shameless piggyback on The Eagle, the second Roman film out this year based on Rosemary Sutcliff's novel Eagle of the Ninth. I've never read so much rubbish about the Romans in my life.

I don't mind any historian jumping onto the back of a movie to publicise himself, but this is about as relevant to history as a Kellogs advert. It's full of stuff we either knew already, has been disproved or is just waffle. Rubbish!

Historian Neil Faulkner, of Channel 4’s Time Team, said: ‘My guess is that the Ninth Legion was destroyed in a carefully executed ambush by northern tribes.'

Well my guess is that they were abducted by aliens and it's based on the same amount of evidence.

It almost makes me pine for Neil Oliver.


On a more pleasant note I spent four hours getting soaked, muddy and freezing while I was down in the Borders at the weekend. I had a walk round Lanton Wood, which covers the hill overlooking Jedburgh from the north. It was an old stamping ground of my dad's who lived on the farm at Monklaw when he was a boy.

It's an eery place full of muddy tracks and old logging trails and I hadn't realised it was quite so extensive. I was looking for what was supposed to be a Roman camp, but among the trees I came across an old hill fort I'd never even heard of. Then on the far side of the hill I noticed Timpendean Tower, which I've only ever seen from the Hawick Jedburgh road in the valley below. It's not much of a ruin, but when I went to investigate I discovered it's actually part of a much larger defended complex. Some of the banks and ditches even put me in mind of the Romans.

The tower is sixteenth century and belonged to the Douglas's, who held extensive lands around Jedburgh, where Sir James, the Black Douglas, had a stronghold at Lintalee. The earthworks are a lot earlier, probably from around just after the Norman conquest, but a Greek coin of the second century BC was found nearby, so the Romans were probably around here at one point. It was burned down numerous times during the Border wars, most notably by the Earl of Hertford in 1545 during the Rough Wooing, but always rebuilt until it was abandoned in the eighteenth century.

I love hanging about places like this, but eventually I had to move back into the forest, because I had something special I needed to find. Every family needs a family tree. The Jackson family tree is in Lanton Wood. In an act of tender environmental vandalism my dad carved the name of each of his grandchildren and great grandchildren in the bark of a beech tree. It was a long time since I'd visited it and I wasn't sure how I'd feel when I saw it. When I reached the part of the wood where I knew it was, I wished I'd brought a knife to carve his name in it. It was only when I finally found it that I discovered one of my brothers had been there before me.

The Jackson family tree
And finally, anyone who has been on my Facebook author site will already have seen this, but this week I got my first look at the front cover if my new thriller, which will be published under the name James Douglas (no connection to the above Black Douglas - my mum had me christened James Douglas Jackson). The subheads will be updated, but I think it's a real winner.

Some people find it odd that I should write across two genres, but the simple answer is that it keeps me fresh and provides a completely different challenge from historical fiction. The Doomsday Testament  is available for pre-order on Amazon and will be published on August 18