THANATOS: Death and the Carpathian Interlude

Today I’m very excited to announce that Thanatos, Part III of the Carpathian Interlude, is finally out in the world!

I know this novella has been a long-time-coming, especially for those of you who have e-mailed me to say that this series is your favourite of all my books.

It feels rather strange to finish this trilogy. It’s the end of a journey that began as a bit of fun, but then quickly turned into something a lot more serious, gruelling, and frankly…painful.

I have a confession to make to you…

The first draft of this book was finished over two years ago.

Yes, you read that correctly.

I regret that I’ve left fans of this series hanging for so long since the release of Lykoi (Part II). However, I wasn’t ready to deal with Thanatos for some time after typing ‘The End’ on it.

This is where I get very personal with you, dear readers.

You see, when I was about half way through writing this story, my father passed away very suddenly. He was alone, away from his family, on his way to work.

The event hit my family like a Dacian raiding party in the dead of night.

I was floored…paralyzed.

But I knew that if I did not finish Thanatos then, while I was in the flow, I never would. So, a few days after this sad occasion for my family, I sat down for hours one night and fought my bare-fisted, bloody way to the end of the novel.

People say that when times are tough, writing can be one of the most cathartic activities you can undertake.

And you know what?

It’s true. Despite the brutality of that writing session, and the darkness of the story itself, it did help me in a way.

When it was done, when I finally typed ‘The End’, my grief poured out and the fog I had been caught in began to lift.

For a long time, I wondered how bad the story might be, that I might have just dumped my chaotic grief onto the page. That’s another reason this took so long to get out.

But this past fall, I finally handed the manuscript to my editor, dreading the feedback I would get and the sight of red all over the paper like vicious sword wounds.

It seems however, that pain and brushes with death can indeed give life to creativity.

When she returned the manuscript of Thanatos to me, my editor told me she thought it was perhaps one of the best things I’ve written yet.

Mithras

Now for a bit about the story itself…

As I mentioned, The Carpathian Interlude series was originally intended to be a bit of fun, but it quickly became serious.

Despite the fantastical elements of the stories with zombies (Immortui) and werewolves (Lykoi), a fair amount of research has gone into these novels, and Thanatos is no exception. As always, I have striven for accuracy when dealing with the historical parts of these books.

Mithras and Mithraism, which was an important religion among Roman soldiers, are a big part of these books. Thanatos really delves into ancient Zoroastrianism, of which Mithraism is a part.

The historic event that these books revolve around is the Battle of the Teutoberg Forest in A.D. 9, in which Quinctilius Varus lost three of the Emperor Augustus’ legions in the forests of Germania. It was a time of terror in the Empire.

I also did a great deal of research into Dacians, their gods, and the Dacian capital of Sarmizegethusa for Thanatos; it was a fascinating rabbit hole to fall into.

For those of you who like the follow the history and research of my novels, never fear, for later this year I’ll be posting a blog series called The World of The Carpathian Interlude. Stay tuned for that.

Some of you may also be wondering about the title of Thanatos.

‘Thanatos’ is the Greek word for ‘Death’. This is deliberate on my part, and directly tied to the Carpathian Lord in the stories.

However, that is where the ties to the ancient Greek image of ‘Thanatos’ ends.

Thanatos

In ancient Greek tradition, Thanatos was a winged god, the twin brother of Hypnos (Sleep). In Hesiod’s Theogeny, Thanatos is the son of Nyx (Night) and Erebos (Darkness).

Thanatos was the personification of Death, and to the ancient Greeks, it was his duty to usher the spirits of the dead to the appointed place, a role later more associated with Hermes. To the ancient Greeks, he was a dreaded god, but not wicked or evil.

In Part III of the Carpathian Interlude, Thanatos is a much more ancient evil, an enemy of the gods in the battle between Light and Dark.

As I said, there will be a blog series about all the research for the Carpathian Interlude trilogy coming out later this year.

In the meantime, I do hope you enjoy this new story, and that it gets you thinking, even in the darkest of places.

Thank you for reading, and may you walk in the Light…

 

To get a copy of Thanatos, or read the synopsis of this final part in The Carpathian Interlude, just click the link below to go to the book’s page:

http://eaglesanddragonspublishing.com/books/thanatos-carpathian-interlude-part-iii/ 

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The Hero’s Journey in Ancient Myth and Storytelling

Today I want to talk about a book that all writers and lovers of history and mythology should have on their shelf: The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

Every time I pick up this book, I’m struck by the truth of what Campbell says. I think of all of the stories that have struck a chord with me over the years, and the things they have in common. Campbell says:

“The archetypes to be discovered and assimilated are precisely those that have inspired, throughout the annals of human culture, the basic images of ritual, mythology, and vision… The hero… has died as a modern man – he has been reborn. His second solemn task and deed therefore… is to return then to us, transfigured, and teach the lessons he has learned of life renewed.”

(The Hero with a Thousand Faces; Joseph Campbell, Third Edition, 1973)

Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed (by Alan Lee)

If you stop to look at storytelling, past and present, you can indeed see the recurring themes and archetypes of myth. They’re everywhere. And this applies not only to western literature, but to storytelling across time, across cultures.

In studying Greek, Roman and Celtic literature and mythology, medieval and Arthurian romance, I’ve noticed that I’m drawn to certain elements. It’s not just because of the way these stories are told, or the language the writers or poets used. Let’s remember that the beauty of language is often lost in translation.

No. What draws me into these stories are common elements that appeal to something deep within my psyche, the blood in my veins, the fibre of my muscles, the dreams at the back of my mind. My inner youth, adventurer, lover, warrior, and wise man, all yearn for the stories that are food for the soul.

Without that food I begin to starve.

Such is the power of storytelling.

Sir Galahad upon his quest

The Hero with a Thousand Faces takes you into a world of great depth, of ideas and examples. There is too much to be able to do it justice in one blog post. However, in the book there is a chart of the Hero’s Journey that I believe can be infinitely useful to a writer and lifelong student of history and mythology.

Oftentimes, writers can get stuck, feel as though they’ve written themselves into a corner and are not sure how to get out of it. Perhaps they’re not sure where to turn next, which path their protagonist should take. Other times, a writer will wonder whether a certain path in the story will appeal to the reader, or else put them off so much that they go off in search of another adventure.

Campbell’s chart of the Hero’s Journey is an excellent point of reference, a tool or weapon to help a writer to get out of the traps that can halt the creative process.

(The Hero with a Thousand Faces; Joseph Campbell, p.245-246, Third Edition, 1973)

I think it prudent here to quote Campbell on what the journey entails:

“The mythological hero, setting forth from his commonday hut or castle, is lured, carried away, or else voluntarily proceeds, to the threshold of adventure. There he encounters a shadow presence that guards the passage. The hero may defeat or conciliate this power and go alive into the kingdom of the dark (brother-battle, dragon-battle; offering, charm), or be slain by the opponent and descend in death (dismemberment, crucifixion). Beyond the threshold, then, the hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces, some of which severely threaten him (tests), some of which give magical aid (helpers). When he arrives at the nadir of the mythological round, he undergoes a supreme ordeal and gains his reward. The triumph may be represented as the hero’s sexual union with the goddess-mother of the world (sacred marriage), his recognition by the father-creator (father atonement), his own divinization (apotheosis), or again – if the powers have remained unfriendly to him – his theft of the boon he came to gain (bride-theft, fire-theft); intrinsically it is an expansion of consciousness and therewith of being (illumination, transfiguration, freedom). The final work is that of the return. If the powers have blessed the hero, he now sets forth under their protection (emissary); if not, he flees and is pursued (transformation flight, obstacle flight). At the return threshold the transcendental powers must remain behind; the hero re-emerges from the kingdom of dread (return, resurrection). The boon that he brings restores the world (elixir).”

(The Hero with a Thousand Faces; Joseph Campbell, Third Edition, 1973)

As I read this, all the stories that I’ve ever loved flash through my mind. I see heroes such as Arthur, Frodo and even Luke Skywalker, taken from their quiet worlds and cast into the unknown with the aid of such legendary characters as Merlin, Gandalf, Obi-Wan Kenobi and others.

Luke Skywalker receives his father’s sword from and Obi Wan Kenobi

Often, a hero experiences an event that thrusts him into the adventure. I think of Odysseus being ordered to go to war at Troy and leave his wife and baby behind, or in the Mabinogi when Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, goes into the otherworld of Annwn. Jason confronts Pelias and ends up on an expedition to find the Golden Fleece, the proposed price for getting back his father’s throne. There are so many examples. And often times, there is a sword: Arthur’s Excalibur, Luke’s father’s lightsaber or Bilbo’s sword, Sting, which goes to Frodo.

The tests are often what make up the bulk of the story which takes place in unknown realms. There are helpers in the form of other people, gods or animals along the way. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo has the help of Aragorn (a hero on his own journey – a journey within a journey) and the rest of the Fellowship – elves, dwarves and others. Arthur has his knights who each have their own adventures. Theseus has Ariadne whose aid provides him with the key to the labyrinth. Jason gets aid from the blind prophet Phineas who tells him how to reach the Golden Fleece.

Calypso and Odysseus by Sir Wiliam Russell Flint

When the hero reaches what Campbell calls the ‘nadir of the mythological round’ there is an ordeal and reward. Odysseus passes through death in the form of Scylla and Charybdis to be washed up on the shore of the goddess Calypso’s island. He spends time there, loved by the goddess, and regains his strength before embarking on the final stages of his journey.

Jason and the Golden Fleece

Other themes at the ‘nadir’ are the attainment, by theft or gift, of the elixir that is sought by the hero. This could be the Golden Fleece, the Holy Grail, or the promise of a return home in the case of Odysseus. The promise of a healing of the land, of body, of spirit, is in the hero’s sights. But the journey is not yet over.

More challenges emerge before the hero can cross that threshold once more to get back into the known realms. Arthur must face Mordred, Odysseus must still reach Ithaca before destroying the suitors and taking back his home. Luke must escape the Death Star to destroy it in a final battle.

Arthur receives Excalibur

Once the final confrontations are overcome or dealt with, the hero achieves peace for himself and his realm, an overall healing of wounds and righting of wrongs that gives way to a golden time. If the hero dies in the attempt, he goes on to a better place and his example will be one that inspires future generations (e.g. Arthur going to Avalon).

You can take almost any story from any culture and apply the elements Campbell mentions.

The elements of the hero’s journey are universal.

Because these archetypes, these themes, are a part of our storytelling tradition, we often include them automatically in our writing without thinking about it.

Frodo and Gandalf (picture by Alan Lee)

But a writer often is the hero on a journey, and doesn’t always know where the road will lead. We need helpers, a sword (or pen!), and certainly divine help and inspiration from the Muse should not be shunned. (Just read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art for more on that!)

Sometimes writers need a guide like Joseph Campbell to put one back on track. And that’s ok!

Odysseus and Arthur, Luke and Frodo – they all had help. So did Pwyll and Yvain, Herakles and Jason. It’s not cowardly to receive aid. The true test comes when one decides what to do with the aid provided.

Whether I’m writing the first words, or flipping the first pages, of a new story, I relish the adventure to come, the trials and tribulations, learning from the unknown, and gathering the courage to slay my own dragons.

I like to think that that is what being human is all about. If you look at it a certain way, you’ll see that our stories are more a part of us than most people think. They’re not whimsical flights of fancy that have no real relation to us as human beings. They’re a deep part of us, and if we ignore or forget those stories, we lose a bit of ourselves.

Sir Percival and the Grail

Thanks for reading!

If you would like to find out more, here are a few places to start:

The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

The Power of Myth – A conversation between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers (filmed at Skywalker Ranch). This is also available as an audio book or DVD.

Star Wars: The Magic of Myth – This is a fantastic book, not only for Star Wars fans but everyone with an interest in mythology. George Lucas was friends with Joseph Campbell and adhered closely to the ideas of the hero’s journey in the creation of his brilliant story ‘A long time ago… In a galaxy far, far away…’

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield – in this fantastic book, historical fiction author, Steven Pressfield, talk about writing, Resistance, and doing the work of the Muse. A must-read for any creative person!

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Living Abroad – A Guest Post by Author Caterina Novelliere

I meet a lot of people on-line as an author, historian, and blogger. The great thing about it is that sometimes you get to meet people with whom you click right away, people who have the same interests, similar experiences, and the same hunger to learn more about the world, and about history.

Today, I’m pleased to post a guest blog by just such a person.

Caterina and I met on-line (was it Twitter?) when I was posting about Tunisia and the Roman sites there which are part of the setting for Children of Apollo, and Killing the Hydra.

When she told me that she used to live in Tunisia, as well as in Italy, I asked her if she could write a post about her experiences that I could share with all of you.

So, without further ado, over to Caterina to talk about what it was like to live abroad, and how that shaped her imagination, art, and interests as a young child.

Living Abroad picture

Adam was kind enough to invite me to share how living abroad at a young age influenced my writing and shaped my life over the years. As a child, I lived in Tunisia for two and a half years. My family frequently traveled around the country. I also had the pleasure of visiting Algeria. My time in North Africa significantly shaped my academic and personal interests. Tunisia is the place where I fell in love with Antiquity, North African history, and Middle Eastern culture. I study all three in my academic pursuits.

One of the first places my parents took me in Tunisia was Carthage. The ruins, especially the large columns of carved stone, fascinated me. At the time, I wondered who exactly were these people living in stone houses? Seeing elaborate mosaics in the remains of the baths and villas, I concluded they all had to be amazing artists. Each new twist and turn through the site prompted more questions. What was life like for the Carthaginians and Romans? What would the children who once lived there say if I could speak to them? What games did they play? The adults seemed so focused on banqueting and bathing, which were totally boring subjects to a young child.

Statue

Statue and Mosaics at the Bardo Museum, Tunis

I met my first archaeologist at Carthage. He took a few minutes out of his day to show me what he was doing, explain the finds, and answer some of the crazy questions that my five year old self had in addition to those of my parents and a few others who went with us. I can still vividly recall his face and the patient way he’d smile and elaborate on life in Antiquity. I thought he had the coolest job. At that point I was hooked by the past and longed to explore it further. Who wouldn’t like a job that allowed you to play outside in the dirt and discover such wondrous things? It was like recess all of the time! Little did I know how hard that work is nor how meticulous an archaeologist or historian needs to be when excavating or developing the narrative of a people that lived long ago. I passed Roman ruins in the city every day on the bus ride to school and swimming lessons afterwards. We frequently took field trips to the remains of Roman sites and El Djem (a Roman amphitheater in the area). I would stare out the bus window daydreaming about what it would be like to sit in the stands watching men fight lions and each other. Would the crowd be loud? Would the men all wear decorated armor and carry swords on their sides? Did the women faint or cry from the gore or their favorite fighter dying? Needless to say, I had a very Hollywood vision of Roman life. The thirst to learn more about Roman North Africa and the mighty empire began in those years spent in Tunisia. It has been unquenchable since. After hitting my early thirties, I decided I needed to formalize my education in the fields I enjoyed so much and began the journey of becoming a trained historian and cultural heritage professional.

The Amphitheatre of El Djem (Roman Thusdrus)

The Amphitheatre of El Djem (Roman Thusdrus)

An important piece of culture frequently taken for granted or overlooked by the average joe is food. Food history fascinates me. Studying food from both a commodities and cultural perspective gives us unique insight into a region, the development of trade, and social practices of various civilizations. Food is a fantastic historical subject if one is searching to form connections between the past and today. There are many dishes and drinks like wine, coffee, or tea that significantly shape a region economically, socially, and from an identity perspective. I subtly sprinkle traditional meals and beverages in any novel of mine you pick up. As my characters dine and move on their various adventures, dinners and drinks frequently reflect the location they are in. In my travels, you can routinely find me eating local dishes off the beaten path. My passion for food arose out of childhood trips to Tunisian vineyards, markets and cafes. My mother emphasized it was important that I tried everything on my plate anytime an invite came to go to someone’s house or we went somewhere new. I remember watching her learn to cook local meals along with a wide variety of Middle Eastern and French dishes due to the many nationalities that made up our circle of friends abroad. I am guilty of being drawn to any restaurant offering tagines, couscous, shwarema, and other North African delicacies. One of the first dishes I learned to cook as a child was a lamb, vegetable and couscous stew. It is definitely one of my go to comfort foods when I am feeling down. Fresh mint tea is a treat anytime of the year. Pomegranates, blood oranges, figs, almonds, and tangerines are some of my favorite snacks after discovering them in Tunisia.

Troglodyte Dwelling - Matmata

Troglodyte Dwelling – Matmata

My fiction writing contains more than just the gastronomical flavorings of North Africa. Locations like Dougga, Carthage, and Hippo appear in storylines. There is something incredibly romantic about the places bordering the Mediterranean that fuels my imagination. One particular event I attended stands out in my mind as the most captivating culturally in all of my Tunisian and Algeria adventures, The Douz Festival. The races, celebrations, and traditions one witnesses traveling to the Saharan extravaganza further reeled me into the world of the Bedouin and Berber. The Douz Festival is an annual celebration of the harvesting of the dates and the nomadic way of life. Many Arab, Bedouin, and Berber clans come together to compete in horse and camel racing, trick riding, and overall merriment. The festival was so different from any circus or fair I attended in the states. The excitement in the air each day was contagious. Camels moved faster than I thought they could in intense matches. My pulse raced watching Arabians decked out in traditional saddles and bridles fly down the desert track. My heart was stolen by one of the trick riders one night. He rode a black horse whose saddle and bridle were decorated in red, green, white and black plumes. I was transfixed in place watching him stand in the saddle as his horse cantered past along with performing other amazing feats. If there was such a thing as a knight or fearsome desert warrior, it certainly had to be him. When he finished his act, he rode over to my family and spoke with us. Allowing me to pet his horse and the smile he offered before riding off had me completely smitten with my first crush on a stranger. No doubt my parents would laugh if I told them for a few years afterward, I wanted to marry a desert prince with a black stallion. From that day forward, I wanted to learn to ride like him and the others we saw at the festival. My parents knew a riding instructor in the US and three years later I learned to ride and vault. Needless to say time reshapes our perspective on romance, but I have never forgotten my Tunisian Horseman. Phantoms of him, a love for horses, and the euphoria of desert life intermingle in a few of the tales I craft. All three of these left their lasting mark on me.

Douz Animal Market, Tunisia

Douz Animal Market, Tunisia

Perhaps the two most precious gifts North Africa bestowed on me consist of language and a willingness to be open to new things. In school, it was mandatory we study French, Arabic and English. Not many American children receive the opportunity to start working with three languages in elementary school. By the time we left Tunisia, I had a fluency and working level well above my age in all three. It was strange to come stateside and not use the French or Arabic any longer. I periodically revive my French and Arabic as they do fade without use. My studies with them provided a foundation to learn Italian and Latin later on in college. One day I hope to add Greek, Berber (Tuareg or Tamazight), and Turkish to my list of languages.

Learning to interact with an international community, sampling a variety of cuisines, and seeing the various lifestyles from living in modern cities, Bedouin tents, or underground homes in Matmata (think Luke Skywalker’s house in Star Wars) helped me start to appreciate and embrace diversity at a young age. This exposure continues to help me approach topics and people from a more curious and open perspective versus a judgmental one. Undoubtedly, North Africa firmly rooted my willingness to try just about anything once.
Caterina Novelliere author photoCaterina is passionate about history, music, romance, old languages, and travel. She regularly intertwines these subjects in her writing. She holds a degree in Music Management with a minor in Vocal Performance from Old Dominion University in Virginia and a second B.A. in History with a minor in Italian from the University of Texas San Antonio. Ever a glutton for punishment and a believer in life long learning, Caterina is completing a M.A. in Public History from Texas State University. She was fortunate enough to receive awards that enabled her to study abroad in Urbino, Italy and Chester, England. She took full advantage of these opportunities to explore Italy, Jersey, England, Scotland, and Wales; conducting boots on the ground research for her coursework and literary works. While she is a fan of all history, her heart resides in Antiquity. She enjoys studying time periods up through the Renaissance. Modern history is just not as fun as gladiators, emperors, caliphs, queens, knights and kings. An obsession with cappuccino and Greek coffee started her down a path of researching commodities and gastronomy history in her free time.

When not traveling or studying, Caterina finds time to sing classical music, act, write, paint and fence. She is always up for trying something new so the list of hobbies is ever expanding.

Caterina is a social media junkie who enjoys meeting new folks. If you would like to contact her or learn more about her and future works, you can find her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and on her Blog.

A big ‘Thank You’ to Caterina for taking the time to write this wonderful post for us and, for myself, digging up all the great memories I have of my own visit to Tunisia and the Sahara. Don’t forget to connect with her so you can stay apprised of her historical research, and future travels.

Also, be sure to check out her novel, Mark of the Night, to see how her experiences have affected her fantastic storytelling!

Mark of the Night cover

Cheers, and thank you for reading!

 

 

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Writing an Ancient Boxing Scene

Hellenistic bronze boxer from Rome shows wounds and lascerations to the fighter's face

This week I thought I would share a little something about my research for, and writing of, my upcoming book Heart of Fire.

As mentioned in the last post, I’m getting close to the end of this book, and it’s going to be fantastic. I can feel it in my bones.

I wanted to touch on a particular scene that I wrote last week.

Without giving anything away, the scene in question is a climactic boxing match set during the Olympics of 396 B.C.

Now, I’ve written more fight scenes than I can count in my stories, some very realistic, others fantastical, some ugly, some inspiring. Most of the time they have been fought with weapons.

However, boxing is a more visceral sport, especially ancient Greek boxing.

I knew I needed to make this fight count, to put the reader ‘ringside’ so that she/he can taste the sweat and blood, and feel the impact of every hit.

I’m not a boxer, and though I’ve taken part in some martial arts, I had to admit that I had no idea how a man, or his body, would react during an ancient Greek boxing match.

You see, ancient boxing was not like modern boxing.

Himantes - from Hellenistic bronze of a boxer

Himantes – from Hellenistic bronze of a boxer

First of all, the ancient Greeks did not cover their fists with soft gloves. Instead, they used something called himantes. These were thick strips of leather, rawhide, or sometimes lead, that were fastened to a fighter’s fists with linen or leather straps. The fingers were not covered, but left free to grab, to poke and jab, as well as punch.

In modern boxing, there are basically four punches: the direct or straight punch, the upper cut, the jab, and the hook. Combinations of these are used variously.

ancient Greek boxers

In contrast, ancient boxing included many more types of hits, including slaps, hammer punches, backhands, chops, pokes, elbows, swipes and many more.

Truthfully, ancient boxing was more like Wing Chun Kung Fu arm techniques than modern boxing. It differed from the pankration mainly in that there were no holds or grappling, and perhaps fewer intentional bone-breaking moves.

Before writing, I had to dispel with my modern ideas of boxing and what it should look like. Also, there were no ‘rounds’ in ancient boxing. The two fighters went at each other until someone was knocked out, or until one of the fighters surrendered. If neither of those two things happened, and if no one died, a fight could go on all day.

When writing an ancient boxing scene, in addition to being accurate, each fight also has to propel the story forward. I started by looking at some famous movie fights, and what better boxing match to look at than the last bout in Rocky I. Click on the image below to watch the fight scene:

Rocky I - Rocky vs. Apollo Creed

Sure, this seems a bit dated now, but it’s one of the most famous modern boxing scenes in movie history. This showed me how the story can be told without speech, but rather the actors’ bodies, how the strain and struggle tell a story without words. It illustrates the all-important, ancient idea of ponos, the toil and passion of an athlete or warrior.

So, Rocky helped me visualize the storyline of my fight scene, and how it would move the characters forward. Next however, I needed to visualize how ancient boxing might look mechanically.

Of course, I can make some pretty good guesses and get creative – that’s the joy of writing after all – but I wanted to find at least a small demonstration to help it sink in. Luckily, I found a video from the Historical European Martial Arts Coalition (HEMAC) conference in Dijon France, demonstrating the art of ancient Greek boxing.

CLICK HERE to watch the HEMAC demonstration!

This is a short video but I found it very helpful. The men sparring are holding back a little, as it is a demonstration only, but you can easily imagine what it might be like with the rawhide, or lead pieces inserted in the himantes, and the fighters hitting one another full force.

It would be brutal, and oftentimes, quick.

If you’ve seen some of the top 20 boxing knock-out videos on YouTube, you’ll know that with one hit to the head, a massive, strong man can crumple like a rag doll. It’s not pretty.

Take off the modern padded gloves, and substitute them for ancient himantes, and you’ve got yourself a genuine ancient bloodsport.

If you want to learn a bit more about the sorts of injuries that might occur in an ancient boxing match, CLICK HERE to read a fascinating article.

The Diagorids of Rhodes were boxing royalty in Ancient Greece ... as Degeorge, Diagoras porté en triomphe par ses fils, 1814

The Diagorids of Rhodes were boxing royalty in Ancient Greece – painting by Degeorge, Diagoras porté en triomphe par ses fils, 1814

The men who emerged victorious in boxing at the ancient Olympiad trained hard, as if for war, and if they walked off the skamma, the sand, as the victor, they were able to achieve the sort of immortality reserved for demi-gods and heroes.

As the year wears on, and I get closer to releasing Heart of Fire, I’ll share more of the story, including some excerpts.

For now, I’ll press on toward the novel’s finish line, bringing this exciting event of the ancient world to life.

Thank you for reading.

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Writing the Past – A.D. 2015 to 2016

winter light

Happy New Year, dear readers!

I hope you all had a lovely holiday season, whatever you are celebrating.

I enjoyed myself, though the celebrations were all too fleeting.

Oddly enough, I received some complaints on social media for saying ‘Happy Holidays’ in the photo I posted, instead of ‘Merry Christmas’.

I would just like to say that, even though I celebrate Christmas, I know for a fact that many of my Eagles and Dragons, and Writing the Past, readers are of different faiths, and that is a wonderful thing.

My readers here, and across social media, are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Pagan, Wiccan and more, and I am honoured that each and every one of them should take the time to read my words and interact with me during their busy schedules.

This time of year is sacred to many faiths, so whether you celebrate the Winter Solstice, Yule, Hanukah, Saturnalia, Christmas or another celebration of life and faith, these are indeed Holy Days for many of us.

So, a heartfelt Happy Holidays to you and yours.

Looking ahead to an exciting year!

Looking ahead to an exciting year!

I wasn’t going to do a post about the year to come at the beginning of 2016, but I reconsidered. It’s a good thing to review what has gone before, and set goals for what is to come. And all of you will keep me accountable!

To be honest, 2015 got off to a rough start for me. It was certainly a year of contrasts.

In mid-January, my father passed away suddenly and that plunged me into realms of despair that I had never experienced before. I know losing a loved one is a trial that we must all face, but I had expected to face that trial much later in life.

It was a difficult time, but we banded together and got through it. I also discovered that my writing was a big part of the healing process, and that the plumbed depths of those difficult emotions did indeed enrich my storytelling.

Then there was the History Channel.

Yes, that History Channel.

At the end of November 2014, a New York casting director contacted me to ask if I would be interested in screen testing for a show on ancient ingenuity for the international H2 Network. She said they were looking for an ancient history expert, and that they had seen my books and this blog, and thought I would be a good fit to be the host of the upcoming show.

I said yes right away. Then I panicked.

After a lot of prep, I did a half hour screen test over Skype with the casting director asking me about twenty questions. It was fun and nerve-wracking all at once. She then asked me to send loads of photos of me from my travels around the world so that she could put together a package for the executives at History Channel.

For a couple months I waited, but then in mid-January I got the call that even though the folks at the casting agency liked me a lot, the executives wanted to go in a different direction.

I have no regrets about that though. I left everything I had in the arena, so to speak, and had a fantastic new experience. When the casting director asked me if I would be interested in future projects, I said ‘Yes!’ and I meant it.

Ready for Writing!

Ready for Writing!

I reviewed my post from last New Year to see what I said I wanted to accomplish in 2015. Of course, I didn’t know the year would start the way it did, but I did get a lot done.

I came, I saw, and even though I didn’t necessarily conquer, I certainly put up a good fight and won a few battles in the war of art.

I did manage to finish the first draft of Thanatos (Third and final part of the Carpathian Interlude) which will be going to the editor very soon.

I also finished a prequel novel to the Eagles and Dragons series. It is with the editor now and is called A Dragon among the Eagles. That should be out this winter, so stay tuned.

Warriors of Epona (Eagles and Dragons Book III) is still being edited but I absolutely want to have that out in 2016. I’m afraid I didn’t meet my rewrite goals on that this past year, but it has turned out to be a gripping story!

I said that I wanted to write more in the Mythologia series, and I have outlined a couple of stories, but not yet set them down on paper. They are coming!

The big project in 2015 was Heart of Fire: A Novel of the Ancient Olympics. Reading back over my post from a year ago, I said that I probably wouldn’t finish that book in 2015, though I did think (perhaps in a delusional way?) that I would finish that during my five weeks in Greece. Seems like my original prediction was more accurate, as at the moment, I’m nearing the end of writing Heart of Fire, and it promises to be a great read! I’m really excited about it, and hope to have it out before summer 2016.

The Holy Thorn in Glastonbury Abbey blossoms only around Christmas and Easter

The Holy Thorn in Glastonbury Abbey blossoms only around Christmas and Easter

Two other things I did not get to this year were Isle of the Blessed (Eagles and Dragons Book IV) and the final two thirds of the Killing a God series about Alexander the Great’s campaigns in the east. I have mass of notes on both, and a lot of first draft material, so they are coming. I hope to get back into them both later in 2016.

In hindsight, I think I was probably overly optimistic as far as my writing schedule for 2015. But that’s ok! We roll with the sword thrusts.

This year I also made some changes in my process that have allowed me to be more efficient as an author and publisher.

The first thing is that I stopped writing first drafts long-hand. Even though this felt good as far as creativity, it was really slowing down my production, so I’ve started writing on my phone with a wireless keyboard. It’s making a world of difference!

Piles of Books on the Way!

Piles of Books on the Way!

I also started creating much more detailed outlines of every story and chapter before I start writing. Whereas before, I was more of what they call a ‘pantser’, now I’m outlining, and it’s helped me to move quickly through my stories without leaving any gaps. That’s not to say things don’t change along the way. Of course they do! The outline is not chiseled in stone, but it does provide me with a reliable guideline and sketch of the story arc.

The great thing about this year, and something which I really needed after last winter, was my trip to Greece.

I hope you all enjoyed the photos I was posting on Instagram. It had been six years since I’d been there to see family, friends, and the historical sites that have inspired me for years.

I had almost forgotten how important a part of my creative process the travel, research, and inspiration of site visits are.

Yes, I did set an unrealistic goal of finishing a full-length, historical novel in just a few weeks. It was more important to reconnect with the people and places that mean a lot to me. I even went to an all-night Greek wedding where I made my best attempt at Greek dancing. Opa!

The pressure I did put on myself to get writing done actually held me back from the relaxation I needed for the first half of the trip. But, once I let go and began to absorb and chill out, I felt a lot better. I enjoyed myself more, and in the background of my creative brain, the ideas were percolating more smoothly than ever.

Next time, I’ll be sure to relax from the get-go and let inspiration seep into every one of my senses so that I can use it later when I sit down to write. Needless to say, I’m not waiting another six years before I head overseas!
IMG_3902 (1)2016 is going to be the year of publishing.

In the coming months I hope you and others will follow along with the releases of Heart of Fire, Thanatos, A Dragon among the Eagles, and Warriors of Epona, as well as a discussions about a lot more history here on the blog.

Who knows what the future will bring?

Whatever happens in 2016, I want to thank you all for following, and for taking the time to read, comment, and review.

I hope that 2016 is a year of brilliance, peace, and inspiration for all of us.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

Thank you for reading.

 

What are your goals and aspirations for 2016? Any new books you want to read, or periods of history you want to explore? Are there any historical places you want to try and visit this year?

Be sure to share in the comments below!

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End of a Summer Odyssey

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Greetings readers and fellow history-lovers.

Well, I’m back from my adventures across the sea, and I had an amazing, blessed time.

I tried to keep you all up-to-date via the Instagram feed, but my Peloponnesian connectivity was a bit dodgy.

Needless to say, I’ve got a tonne of pictures and some video which I’ll be sharing with you over the coming months.

The ancient theatre of Epidaurus

The ancient theatre of Epidaurus

I didn’t get to all the sites I wanted to see, but I did manage to visit the ancient theatre and agora of Argos, which I’ve wanted to see for years. I also made return visits to the theatre of Epidaurus, as well as the Sanctuary of Asclepios there. In Athens, I made a return visit to the Acropolis, and the new museum which was amazing.

Feeling good after lunch by the sea

Feeling good after lunch by the sea

Normally, I would have taken in many more sites, but this trip was more about family and friends for me. That said, just driving across the landscape in Greece, or swimming in the turquoise sea, is not only inspiring, it’s also a form of research. This ancient landscape, especially in the Peloponnese, remains relatively unchanged, from the incredible light and colour, to the flocks of goats and sheep bounding up mountainsides, to the whirring of cicadas in the dry, pine-scented heat. You step back in time in rural Greece.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, as seen from the Acropolis

The Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, as seen from the Acropolis

 

I’ll share my experiences of the sites and more with you in future blog posts.

As for the book I had planned on finishing, well… let’s just say that the goal I had set myself was unrealistic. I managed to finish about a third of Heart of Fire, and I’m happy with that. Here’s why:

For the first half of the trip, I was getting up at about 7 am every morning to write outside for a couple of hours, but, as the ‘schedule’ began to fill with visits from dear friends and family I hadn’t seen in a long time, it became harder to squeeze in the writing time. Worse, I began to stress about getting that writing time!

Theatre and agora of ancient Argos

Theatre and agora of ancient Argos

That’s when I had an epiphany.

I realized that my vacation was slipping by, and that I was wasting my precious time worrying and not relaxing. After all, isn’t that what vacations are for?

I also remembered that, in the past, I wasn’t trying to squeeze in writing while on vacation. I was always absorbing the history, the sights, the smells, and the feel of the world around me.

The Wine-Dark Sea

The Wine-Dark Sea

The writing was always something that came afterward, when I was missing the places I had been to, reviewing my mental tapes of the entire odyssey. I forgot that I would have an acute case of the ‘Aegean Blues’ after my trip, and that this would be something I could use well after the fact.

So, about half-way through my trip, I stopped worrying and began to absorb and enjoy much more. I wrote when I could, but I just let it go if the day was not conducive to it – plenty of time to write afterward.

Detail of the Erectheion on the Acropolis of Athens

Detail of the Erectheion on the Acropolis of Athens

I’m happy with what I’ve written of Heart of Fire so far, though as often happens when writing historical fiction, there are a few research gaps I need to fill in. That’s fine, as it keeps me immersed in the period.

This was a wonderful holiday and it reminded me what a lovely country Greece is, the land, the sea, the history, the people. I miss it already, and I can’t wait to go back.

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Sunset in the Olive Grove

I’m struggling now, back in my cubicle. Honestly, who wouldn’t? But I’m writing full speed ahead.

On Friday, I finished the first draft of an Eagles and Dragons series prequel novel which I have kept secret till now (more on that to come!). It’s called A Dragon among the Eagles.

Now, I’m going to stay put in the year 396 B.C. and Heart of Fire, until the story is completed.

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That’s the update for now.

Thanks for following along, and thank you for reading!

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Quiet and Contemplative – Essentials for Writing Historical Fiction

Olive Branch

There is a truth which I have forgotten lately. With the day-to-day workings of my modern, connected life, I’ve been missing out on something essential, something that in the past has always helped me to nurture my creativity, and better my historical fiction. What is it?

Quiet.

Yes. That illusive modern-day grail, that has the power to slow us down, to help us think, to regroup and empower ourselves.

Now that I write that, it really does seem obvious, not ground-breaking at all. But it is, and I’ve found that without taking some calm time to contemplate the past, my fiction suffers.

Like many, I suspect, my days are pretty full. All the tasks and to dos that are swirling around me feel more numerous at times than the number of arrows raining down on the Spartans at Thermopylae, blotting out the sun.

Now, I’m sure there are a great many people who have much busier days. We all have our own threshold.

There is a distinct lack of quiet time, and by this, I mean time in which I sit away from a computer or device, not doing any sort of task, and actually think about history and historic places, the things that I love and that fascinate me.

Greece 2006 091

Of course, I think about history throughout the day, but contemplation of the sand seas of Roman North Africa, or the city streets of the Forum Romanum doesn’t come as easily on a crowded subway car when one is trying to ignore some anonymous person’s flatulence. So gross.

Lately, I’ve ‘forced’ myself to set aside all computers and devices when I have some spare moments (even 5 minutes!) in favour of sitting down with one of my favourite, big, coffee table books about ancient Greece and Rome, or the Middle Ages.

I’ll look at anything from architecture to landscapes, artifacts and archaeological sites, to artistic recreations of places and everyday life in the past. It all helps, it all inspires.

If I can sit in a sunny spot with a cup of coffee and some of my favourite soundtrack music on, even better.

I’ve found, or rather, I’ve remembered, that when sit quietly and allow my mind to wander calmly through some part of history, I am more in touch with it. When I do that, I am better able to bring that world to life when I’m writing about it.

For me, historical fiction is highly dependent on setting.

Nemea countryside

You can have the most wonderful three-dimensional characters ever, but if you don’t have the historical setting to transport the reader, or place those characters firmly in the past, then your book could be taking place at any time in history.

I don’t know about you, but when I pick a work of historical fiction, I pick it largely for the period. If I’m not transported to that period in history, I’m disappointed.

I’ve had a lot of readers tell me that they loved my books because they learned a lot about the ancient world, or about the Roman Empire. That makes me very happy, as it has always been my goal to make history interesting and entertaining.

Without having taken the time to be Quiet, and to contemplate the physical world of those distant eras, I know I would not have managed to pull it off.

I’d like to share with you a very special book about the Roman Empire that has given me no end of inspiration. It is Splendours of the Roman World, by Anna Maria Liberati and Mario Bourbon.

Splendours of the Roman World

This book was a gift from my parents who bought it at the Roman Bath museum, in Bath. Ever since I first flipped through it, I was rapt, sucked into the ancient world.

I have many other books that do this for me, but this is one that I continue to go back to again and again.

Are there any books that you like to flip through at a leisurely pace, or that inspire you and fire your view of an historic period?

Or, do have a favourite work of historical fiction that you felt really did a good job of transporting you as a reader?

Share your favourite book titles in the comments below.

While you do that, I’m going to step away from the computer, sit quietly, and immerse myself in the ancient world.

Thanks for reading…

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Writing the Past in 2015

Janus, the two-faced god of doorways. Give him a thought as we step from one year into another.

Janus, the two-faced god of doorways. Give him a thought as we step from one year into another.

Happy New Year to all of you!

Yes, 2015 is here. For an historian especially, I think the passage of time is all the more acute. Maybe that’s because we are a bit more aware of dates and periods in history.

We’ve had a very enjoyable holiday in my house. Lots of food and drink, family and friends, movies, music and of course, reading. The Wassail and mulled wine were especially big hits with the adults! There was definitely a lingering feeling of magic in the air. 

Wassail Feast.  Wassail!

Wassail Feast
Wassail!

However, New Year to me is always a mix of excitement and melancholy. I find it bitter-sweet to let another year go by, but then there is so much more that I want to do, that I look forward to doing, personally and professionally.

For this first post of 2015, I thought I would go over some of the big things I have on my ‘To Write and Publish’ list.

First of all, I’m just about finished the first draft of Thanatos, Carpathian Interlude Part III. This will be the last part of the trilogy and it has definitely taken some unexpected turns, thrusting Gaius Justus Vitalis into realms of darkness and despair.

Secondly, I want to write a prequel novella to the Eagles and Dragons series. This will take readers through Lucius Metellus Anguis’ first years in the Legions and the Parthian campaign in which Emperor Septimius Severus conquered the Parthian Empire and sacked Ctesiphon. It is in this campaign that Lucius comes to the Emperor’s attention and this story will show how Lucius came to be in Alexandria and what led him to be made a tribune in charge of the patrol across Roman North Africa which is where Children of Apollo begins. I’m really looking forward to going back to Lucius’ early, idealistic days.

Third, I’m in the middle of working on the second draft of Warriors of Epona (Eagles and Dragons Book III). This book will be out, I hope, for next summer at the latest. Because I write my first drafts long-hand, I need to type the manuscripts out. This is good for revision but it does slow the process down. So, related to that, I want to try and type directly onto the computer if I can work something out as far as technology. I do most of my writing away from my computer, so, we’ll see how that goes. Writing long-hand, I find, helps me to think and formulate my thoughts as I go. Change is good, however, so here’s to improved processes in 2015!

Salve 2015!

Salve 2015!

Fourth, I now have an idea for the second instalment in the Mythologia series. I’m not letting that beast of the bag just yet, suffice it to say it will be full of intrigue and an epic battle that only a great hero can come out of alive. It will not be something you will expect. 

Fifth, my research for the tentatively titled ‘Heart of Fire – A story of the Ancient Olympics‘ has begun, but I want to get even more stuck into it. I probably won’t finish writing this book in 2015, but I do want start it. I’ve got a great story idea for this stand-alone novel!

Sixth, after having let it languish for over a year, I’m determined to get back into the Killing a God series about Alexander the Great. With the Amphipolis discovery in Greece over the past several months, the time certainly is ripe for this story. Of course the series is not finished, but I have a few hundred pages which I will probably serialize. This is going to take a good deal of planning, but it will be well-worth the wait as I think I’ve developed a great storyline and take on the Alexander story from a very different point of view.

Seventh, once Warriors of Epona is out, I’m going to jump right into book IV of the Eagles and Dragons series. I’m developing the story more precisely and doing a bit more research, but I do know that it’s going to be a beautiful and intense follow-up to book III.

Those are my writing goals at the moment. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t daunted by all this work, but in truth my biggest challenge is not writing. After all, I love writing about the past, and it’s always a great joy to me that (Thank the Muses!) comes relatively easily. Time, and my lack thereof, is where I need to strategize. Hopefully 2015 sees an abundance of Roman Legion efficiency for my part.

Time to get down to some serious writing!

Time to get down to some serious writing!

I’m curious about your own goals for 2015. Do you have any places you would like to travel to this year? What are your reading goals? Do you have your own writing  or research goals? Are there any historical films you’re looking forward to this year? Please do share in the comments below!

Whatever you do, or aim to do, I hope that 2015 is a brilliant year for all of us!

I’d like to close this post by saying Thank You to all of you for the e-mails and various other interactions in 2014. I love sharing the past with you all, and look forward to writing more of it.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

Thank you for reading.

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The World of Children of Apollo – Part I – The Desert

Matmata

Matmata

For this series of posts that I’m calling The World of Children of Apollo, we’ll be taking a brief look at the Roman Empire at the beginning of the 3rd century A.D. Not to worry, this will not be an exhaustive history lesson but rather an historical and modern tour, guided by fiction. I’ll post photos and little anecdotes related to my travels and research over the course of writing Children of Apollo.

In this first entry, I’m going to look at the desert. From my very first glimpse, first smell and touch, of the North African Sahara, I knew that the desert itself would be a character. I had always wondered how something so plain could be such a draw. However, I immediately fell in love with the landscape. It’s unlike any other place, a sand sea of undulating dunes and scattered oases. In some areas, the sand is literally as soft as sifted flour.

Saharan Dunes

Saharan Dunes

Children of Apollo (you can read an excerpt HERE) begins with a Roman cohort marching through the desert in the provinces of Cyrenaica and Africa Proconsularis, which included modern Libya and Tunisia. I was not able to visit Libya but, when I was in the Tunisian Sahara, the image of a marching Roman column in the heat of the bleak but mysterious landscape was something that stayed with me. This was the southern frontier of the Roman Empire, from Egypt to the Atlas Mountains of Mauretania province. The II Traiana garrisoned Alexandria and small auxiliary detachments were stationed at settlements along the coast. The only other full legion in North Africa at the time was the III Augustan stationed at Lambaesis, to the west, in Numidia.

Troglodyte Dwelling

Troglodyte Dwelling

In Tunisia or, what was Africa Proconsularis, the Sahara is not only made up of soft, sandy dunes that lend themselves to a meditative, barefoot promenade. The terrain toward the coast can be quite green at times. Other areas are covered by great salt lakes where the crystalline formations reflect the sun with diamond-like fascination. There are also the rocky, desert regions, such as Matmata and Tataouine, where some people live in troglodyte dwellings. Star Wars fans will be interested to know that Owen and Beru’s farmstead was filmed in one such dwelling in the same area. Basically, these are caves below ground level where the walls are painted white so that the people can stay relatively cool even in the intensity of the summer heat. I was there in January, so I experienced no such discomfort.

Salt Lake of Chott El Jerid

Salt Lake of
Chott El Jerid

At one point, we pushed on to some of the southerly Tunisian settlements. Our 4×4 bounced along through olive groves, through rocky passes and on into the dunes as our driver, Sami, grooved and ululated to a cassette called ‘Couscous Beats’. The writer in me was absorbing all of the stimuli and one such place was the Douz Saharan market where I could have bought a camel or donkey, if that was my inclination. The market had vintage radios, tin jewellery with Berber designs, fezzes and mounds of fragrant spices. But watch out for the pickpockets! One of our group had her purse sliced with an exacto knife and she was none the wiser. Luckily, she was a birder and her binoculars blocked the thief’s hand from grabbing anything from that side of the purse.

Oasis

Oasis

Watching the sun set on the Sahara was a peaceful, awe-inspiring experience that I will never forget. That is, until three Berber horsemen wielding rifles pounded up toward us. My French came in handy as I explained our presence and our admiration of the beauty of the desert. I don’t know if they actually gave a toss or not because they just circled us a couple times and galloped off.

Sahara near Tozeur

Sahara near Tozeur

The next day we visited the Mos Eisley set of Star Wars (Episode II at that time) near Tozeur (guarded by a couple of Berber men, their camels and two really long rifles). For me this was a real thrill and though the main part of the set was blocked off, there were other, smaller set pieces that could be visited. It was a beautiful spot and difficult to imagine what it might have been like with the entire cast and crew of Star Wars there. Somewhat less peaceful, I imagine.

From there we headed north along the Algerian border. We asked our guides if we could go into Algeria, which seemed much rockier, and they said that if we approached the boarder we would be shot at. I tried to imagine Lambaesis, in the distance, where an entire Roman legion was based so long ago. I knew it had to be a part of my story, but at that early stage I wasn’t sure yet how big a part it had to play.

Douz Animal Market

Douz Animal Market

In the next instalment of The World of Children of Apollo, I will look briefly at some of the towns and larger settlements of Roman North Africa.

Wine, olives and gladiatorial combat are optional!

Thank you for reading.

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