Monday, January 25, 2010

Interview with Harry Sidebottom, author of FIRE IN THE EAST: Volume One in THE WARRIOR OF ROME Series

Rachael Hannan of 50Connect recently posted this interview with novelist and historian Harry Sidebottom: "Fire in the East is set in AD255 and follows the life of a Roman officer called Marcus Clodius Ballista, who is sent east to defend the city of Arete from attack by religious fundamentalists, the Sassanid Persians. It is an adventure thriller brimming with action, intrigue, love, and betrayal, set in the period known by historians as the 'Crisis of the Roman Empire.’ The novel also raises important contemporary questions about individual political and religious loyalties, and the realities of defending freedom.

The author, Dr. Harry Sidebottom, is a fellow of Ancient History at Oxford University. His interest in all things classical was sparked whilst in his first year of A-levels, when his godfather gave him a copy of Robin Lane Fox’s biography of Alexander the Great.

“I loved it and I decided I wanted to write books like it,” he says.

An enduring fan of historical adventure fiction, he says that it seemed a natural progression to combine two of his life long passions and experiment with literary techniques in a novel - something forbidden in academic historical texts. The history of Rome is very well-documented by the Romans themselves, however, Fire In The East is set in the 3rd Century, a period we know significantly less about, and the period Harry specialises in with his academic research.

“I picked the 3rd century because this is what is referred to by academics, in a rather a Freudian way as the dark tunnel, because there are less records. I picked it quite deliberately because it is a mini Roman Dark Age. The second and fourth centuries are very well known, but the third century isn’t and it was that relative lack of documentation that made me choose it, because it gave me more freedom to make up the stories.”

“The stories in the series of three books are fiction, but the stories rest on a historical background as real as I can make it. “What I have taken as my literary model is the work of Patrick O’Brien and Mary Renault. Apart form the fact they were superb historians and wrote incredibly well, they also had the courage to dare to let their character’s be different from modern people. “Too many novelists have a modern person with modern values dressed up in a toga or a centurion’s outfit. I wanted to get away form that and make my characters think and feel differently in different circumstances from the way we would today. "So I hope a reader who reads it and knows nothing about Rome will have painlessly learnt a lot by the end, and I hope a reader who knows a lot about Roman history will be provoked into questioning some of the things they thought they knew or took as a given.”

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