Historical Fiction

My first foray into straight historical fiction was an attempt to do a novel about the eventful life of St. Athanasios of Alexandria.  This didn't work because, as my husband put it, there were 'too many Roman emperors'--in other words, the actual history didn't deliver the big confrontations required for a good dramatic structure.  I recycled most of  the research, however, in Beacon at Alexandria. St. Athanasios has a bit part, but the protagonist is a young woman.

I liked historical fiction and enjoyed the late Roman period, so I went on to write  The Bearkeeper's Daughter, which is sixth century.  Then I did Imperial Purple (UK title The Colour of Power was my choice) set in the fifth century, to round things out.

Horses of Heaven was a very ambitious, and not entirely successful, attempt to set the Bellerophon myth in Hellenistic Central Asia.  The research was fascinating, but I don't think it all comes together, though I did my best.

Island of Ghosts is my first book published by Tor/Forge. It's set in Roman Britain in the reign of Marcus Aurelius (yes, the emperor murdered in the film "Gladiator") I actually wrote it twice, once as it stands, and then again from multiple viewpoints. The different points of view were fun, but I think they lost the headlong momentum which is one of the strengths of the book, so I scrapped them, apart from a few insights into how the other characters felt about events.

The Sand Reckoner broke the rule I came up with after scrapping the book about Athanasios: it, too, is about a real historical figure--Archimedes of Syracuse. Real historical figures usually have too many inconvenient facts about their lives to allow for good fiction, but there aren't that many facts known about Archimedes, so I got away with it.  In a way it's a very personal book, as I drew on the many physicists I've known to portray the man. 


Cleopatra's Heir is also about a real historical figure, albeit one who never did anything of note: Caesarion, the son of Julius Caesar and of Cleopatra.  I enjoyed writing this book immensely, and the central character is, of all the characters I've invented, probably the one I feel the most affection for, probably because of his flaws. 



Render Unto Caesar started life with the title Roman Names, but the publishers thought this was boring.  It is, basically, a thriller, with a hero trying to collect a debt from a powerful man and getting beaten up a lot; it might have been set in Los Angeles, though in fact it's set in Rome, 16 BC.  Hermogenes, the lead character, is a contemporary of Caesarion in Cleopatra's Heir, and sometimes I imagine what would happen if they met. . .but it needs more than that to make a novel.

Alchemy of Fire has been accused of  being a reprise of Sand Reckoner.  It isn't, really, though it, too, has a scientist saving a city.  The main difference is that the lead character is a woman, and her relationship with her daughter is as important as her relationship with the hero.  I dedicated it to my own daughter, who at least enjoyed it.


Dark North (July 2007) is set during the Severan invasion of Scotland (208-211 AD) and is about an African cavalryman serving with a unit of auxiliary cavalry. (In a way it's a reversal of Heart of Darkness: civilized African confronting barbarian Britons.) It was initially a longer book, with two viewpoint characters, a man who got the action, and a woman who got the political intrigue.  However, it was deemed 'insufficiently gripping' and too long, so the woman's viewpoint got axed.  There's probably a moral there somewhere.  

The Sun's Bride (2008) is an idea I had on the back boiler for years and years: a Rhodian sea-captain chasing pirates in the Hellenistic eastern Mediterranean.  The island of Rhodes, in mythology, was a beautiful nymph married to the Sun-god; hence the title.  It is a beautiful island which I've enjoyed visiting several times, and its Hellenistic history as an independent maritime republic in a world dominated by monarchies is fascinating.  I have this daydream that the Rhodian tourist board will invite me to visit to publicize the book, but I suppose I'll just have to pay my way like everybody else.

The next project was an attempt to learn something new and stretch myself: a historical novel set in a completely different period, the English Civil Wars.  For some reason I decided that I wanted to do something with printing presses, and I started researching the 17th C. , this being when people first began printing newspapers and when propaganda really took off.  I thought I'd set it on the Continent, but I got completely swept off my feet by a book about newsbooks during the English Civil War.  (Joseph Frank, The Beginnings of the English Newspaper, 1620-1660)  My father was a newspaperman and a professor of journalism history, which perhaps has something to do with it.  Anyway, it was bloody hard work from start to finish.  I managed to get a couple of days working on a hand printing press (at Blist's Hill Victorian town near Ironbridge Gorge, which I can heartily recommend for a day out!) and met some lovely people from the British Printing Society.  The Civil War history has been a revelation.

  I wanted to call the book 'Seditious Ink', but the publishers preferred 'London in Chains', the title of a pamphlet of 1646.  I originally intended to cover the period April 1647 to October 1649, but the book resolved itself and ended in December 1647, thus leaving me no choice but to write a sequel . . .

A Corruptible Crown is again a title picked by my publishers; the quote is from Charles I's speech from the scaffold.  It's not really appropriate, since the king (unlike Cromwell) doesn't put in a personal appearance in the book, let alone die in it--but it is a catchy title.  It was easier to write, probably because I was now comfortable with the period and could let the history take a back seat to the characters.  It continues the story up to December 1648 with chapters alternating between Lucy, heroine of the previous novel, and her husband.  Despite my initial plan to follow events into 1649, I'm going to leave my protagonists there, happily reunited after the Second Civil War.  I am not quite done with the seventeenth century, though: I think it would be neat to do something with the Glorious Revolution of 1688.