Somewhere to review books I'm reading without giving away any spoilers!
This is a much longer post than normal – because there’s so much included in it! I’m sharing with you an author interview, information about the author and his book -and your chance to enter an amazing giveaway!
To begin, I’m very pleased to be able to share with you the replies given by author Robert M Kidd to my questions. I found his answers great reading and especially enjoyed the comments he makes about characters, both real and imaginary! Read on to see if you agree . . .
Where did you get the inspiration for the book/series?
I think I can explain this with a few facts.
After a three year siege, in 146 BC the Romans razed Carthage to the ground, sold 50,000 into slavery, and had oxen plough the ground where the once great city had stood so as to erase all memory of the place and its people from history. To add insult to injury, Romans – with the help of a Greek – then re-wrote the entire history of its wars with Carthage. So what we are left with is nothing more than dubious Roman propaganda.
So I’m on a bit of a mission! I wanted to fictionalise a complete history of Hannibal’s war with Rome from a Carthaginian standpoint, just as Bernard Cornwell tells the story of King Alfred’s struggles with the Vikings through his hero Uhtred.
But my hero, Sphax, couldn’t be more different! He’s a seventeen year old Numidian, a horse whisperer and trainer, who’s spent the last ten years of his life as a miserable slave in Rome. Numidians have a special affinity with horses and ride without saddles, bits or reins. Sphax’s one aim in life is to escape slavery and join Hannibal’s army that’s about to cross the Alps and march on Rome.
That was my starting point.
What is your writing process?
I studied music at university and for years I’ve written classical music – orchestral music, string quartets, piano music, etc. But it’s so technical and intensely tied up with form, structure and formulaic principles. Every bar of a piece needs to be pre-planned before the first bar can be written. Six years ago I’d painted myself into a creative corner and needed a way out. I yearned for the challenge of a blank page and the simplicity of a good story. Writing a novel was my escape, and I haven’t looked back since.
As a writer of historical fiction I do have a factual trail of events to follow, and this becomes the spine of the narrative. But there’s so much disagreement, error and confusion in the classical sources, which leaves plenty of room for invention and imagination. That’s what I love about storytelling, even I don’t know what’s going to happen next! My hero, Sphax, has a life of his own. I often hear his voice in my head: ‘Another fine mess you’ve got me into … but I think I know how you can get me out of it.’
In one of your blogs you talk about ‘wormholes’ for historical fiction. Can you explain?
Wormholes are those theoretically unproven phenomena beloved of sci-fi writers that take spaceships into unknown worlds in unknown futures. I’ll briefly tell you the story of Navaras and Similce as an example of what I mean by a wormhole.
In Numidian history (Numidia would have covered where Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria are today), there’s a wonderful story about one of its princes, a colourful character called Navaras. He and his Numidian cavalry come to Carthage’s aid during a civil war. As in all good fairytale endings, his courage and valour is rewarded with the hand in marriage of Hamilcar Barca’s daughter. Presumably, they lived happily ever after.
To my delight, Navaras and his Barca bride then conveniently disappear from history. Not a single classical historian can tell me what happened to Navaras and – I’ve called her Similce – after this one recorded historical event. There’s the wormhole.
Now I’m free to invent a future for them. Did they have children? A son perhaps? My hero Sphax, desperately needs parents and a backstory! Hamilcar Barca is none other than Hannibal’s father; which means Similce was his sister (Hannibal had two – but we don’t know their names), and that makes Hannibal himself Sphax’s uncle. This just gets better and better … too good to pass up!
Do you write using pen and paper or on a computer?
I write on the computer. It’s easy to hit the delete button so I don’t waste paper. Believe me, I would waste a lot of paper … But most importantly, it’s got a spellchecker – my spelling is appalling and embarrassing!
Beside your hero, Sphax, which character fascinates you and why?
It’s got to be Hannibal. Sometimes it’s the little known facts about him that make him so extraordinary. For example, he had a caste in his right eye (probably opthalmia), and lost the sight in that eye before the battle of Lake Trasimene. So, his physical appearance must have been odd, perhaps even disconcerting. I make quite a lot of this …
Only a general as eccentric and remarkable as Hannibal would take on campaign with him a Greek historian and his teacher, a Greek philosopher. Sosylos and Silenos both wrote eye-witness accounts of Hannibal’s war. What I would give to read these histories! Both conveniently lost to history, of course. Rome covered its tracks thoroughly.
My favourite fact about Hannibal is that he was a master of disguise. A year into his campaign against Rome he suspects there’s a plot by the Gauls to assassinate him, so he begins to wear a selection of wigs and outrageous outfits he changes every day. He’s so good at it that he even fools the people closest to him!
How important is historical research to you?
It’s absolutely vital, but it’s not research. Over the years I’ve devoured most of what has been written about Hannibal’s war with Rome, including the original classical sources of Polybius and Livy. This was before I started to write novels about it. It’s simply a slice of history that fascinates me. I take to heart what Hilary Mantel says about writing historical fiction: “… a writer should know ten times more than they tell.” I think this is sound advice.
If you were a character in your story, which would you like to be?
My hero’s horse, Dido. Seriously! To me she’s a real character and gets my hero out of more scrapes than I care to remember. Besides, the mare (Numidian cavalry only ride mares, which they call their ladies) is a sleek African jennet, the size of a pony, and she can do amazing tricks. Watch ‘barrel racing’ on YouTube to see what ponies can do when handled by a brilliant rider – it’s quite extraordinary!
Where have you got to on Sphax’s journey?
I’m now writing the third book in the series. Sphax is currently seasick on a vessel in the middle of the Adriatic Sea and about to face a dreadful storm … but that’s enough spoiler alerts for now.
I hope that’s got you as intrigued as I am by this series of books! Read on to discover more about ‘The Walls of Rome’, its author and the opportunity to enter the great giveaway associated with this tour.
I am definitely intrigued – and hope others reading this post will be, too! Thank you so much for answering my questions and allowing me to share your responses.
Read on to discover more about this book and its author as well as the opportunity to enter a very special giveaway….
218 BC. Sphax is seventeen and haunted by the brutal murder of his parents at the hands of Rome. After ten years of miserable slavery he will make his last bid for freedom and go in search of Hannibal’s army and his birthright. He will have his revenge on the stinking cesspit that is Rome!
Destiny will see him taken under the wing of Maharbal, Hannibal’s brilliant general, and groomed to lead the finest horsemen in the world – the feared Numidian cavalry that would become the scourge of Rome.
From the crossing of the great Rhodanus River, Sphax’s epic journey takes him through the lands of the Gaul to the highest pass in the Alps. This is the story of the most famous march in history. A march against impossible odds, against savage mountain Gauls, a brutal winter and Sphax’s own demons.
This is more than a struggle for empire. This is the last great war to save the beauty of the old world, the civilized world of Carthage, Greece and Gaul. The world of art and philosophy – before it is ground into dust by the upstart barbarity of Rome.
When Cato the Censor demanded that ‘Carthage must be destroyed,’ Rome did just that. In 146 BC, after a three year siege, Carthage was raised to the ground, its surviving citizens sold into slavery and the fields where this once magnificent city had stood, ploughed by oxen. Carthage was erased from history.
That’s why I’m a novelist on a mission! I want to set the historical record straight. Our entire history of Hannibal’s wars with Rome is nothing short of propaganda, written by Greeks and Romans for their Roman clients. It intrigues me that Hannibal took two Greek scholars and historians with him on campaign, yet their histories of Rome’s deadliest war have never seen the light of day.
My hero, Sphax the Numidian, tells a different story!
When I’m not waging war with my pen, I like to indulge my passion for travel and hill walking, and like my hero, I too love horses. I live in Pembrokeshire, West Wales.
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