I have always loved history, was lucky enough to study it at the highest level, and after teaching for a while have been even luckier to make a living writing non fiction history books. At the same time, I have always loved historical novels. At their best they give a flavour and feel for a place and an era much faster than reading conventional history. So when I came to write historical novels, accuracy was very important to me. A novel will only work if readers get caught up in the plot and want to spend time with the characters, but the world it conjures up has to feel real, at least on its own terms, and that is as true of fantasy or science fiction as it is for stories set in the past. The world of the story has to be convincing enough for readers to visit it in their imagination. Many readers and authors do not care too much if that world bears little or no relation to the reality of the past as long as it is consistent. That is fine, after all, reading should be about pleasure and we all have different tastes. However, I am a professional historian and find it hard to switch off, which makes me an unrepresentative reader, and I only stick with a novel if I feel that the research behind it and the author’s sensitivity for the period are good. Since, like most authors, I write books – whether novels or non fiction – that I would like to read, that is how I try to write my stories. So each novel begins with research. Continue reading
I’m someone who wears a lot of hats.
In my day job, I wear the hat of being a professor of English at The Citadel in Charleston, SC. I teach courses mostly in medieval literature — Beowulf, Chaucer, and such — but I publish far more widely in literature and history. Most of my colleagues refer to me as a cultural historian specializing in the Middle Ages, and that fits well enough — except that I also publish a fair amount on the works of Tolkien and other modern fantasists.
And now, thanks to The Shards of Heaven, I get to add the Hat of Novel Writerness, much to my great astonishment and glee!
Your debut novel, The Shards of Heaven, will be published by Tor this month. It looks rather fabulous: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
The Shards of Heaven is the first novel in a trilogy of the same name. It’s the story of fantasy and history colliding at the rise of the Roman Empire, as the children of Caesar fight to find and control the legendary artifacts of gods both old and new, and a new myth is born in the struggle. Continue reading
Despite my genuine love for historical fiction (I have read so many, but all before I started this blog, really), the genre hasn’t featured much on the site. Well, I’m hoping to address this in the coming months. First up, though, is this interview with Ben Kane, an author of awesome historical fiction.
Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Ben Kane?
A forty-something Irish ex-veterinary surgeon, who naively decided to write bestselling novels after backpacking for nearly three years through more than 60 countries. I’m an avid rugby fun, am too fond of beer, and I love books.
Let’s start with your latest novel, Hannibal: Fields of Blood, which is about to be published. How would you introduce the novel to a potential reader?
It’s set during the second war between Rome, and Carthage, when the great general Hannibal had invaded Italy. There are Roman and Carthaginian main characters, to show that neither side was ‘good’ or ‘bad’. This is not just a story of a war and battle – although there’s plenty of that in there! It’s about soldiers, comrades, families and how hard life was 2200 years ago, not just for men but for women.
What inspired you to write the novel and series?
I’m a lover of history, and always have been. Ancient history strikes a real chord with me, and there are few conflicts or leaders who appeal to me more than the Second Punic War, and Hannibal Barca. When the chance came for me to tell the story of this war, I jumped at it!
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I fantasised about being a writer from about 1999/2000, but I didn’t start doing it regularly until 2003, when, as a vet, I had the weekend ‘on call’ from hell. At about one o’clock on a Saturday night/Sunday morning, I had been called out about six times in the previous five hours. That was after working a whole week, and all day Saturday. The pager went again, and I threw it against the wall and made a vow that I would not do this for the rest of my life. I started writing at once. No, I don’t look back on that moment fondly, but I’m glad it happened!
What’s your opinion of the historical fiction genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I think that it has been going through a bit of a renaissance over the last ten years, which is terrific. For a period of perhaps twenty years before, it had been bit forgotten, a bit neglected. Now it seems that everyone loves it, from Hilary Mantel down. My work fits in somewhere close to Bernard Cornwell’s books ― at least that’s my aim! (Waits to be shot down in flames.)
What other projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?
I’m currently writing Clouds of War, the third book in the Hannibal series. Once I’m finished that, I’m moving 1500 years forward to the Hundred Years War. Crécy will be the first of at least three novels set during the bitter war between England and France that started in 1337 and lasted until 1453. Like all of my novels, I will have characters on both sides of the conflict, and at least one major female character.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I am midway through the third Tyrant novel by the amazing Christian Cameron. If you haven’t read any of his books, please start. He’s one of the best historical fiction writers out there. Any number of Roman texts are on my desk – one excellent one is The Navies of Rome by Pitassi.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
That, having walked on an unapproved crossing (minor road) into the Irish Republic, late at night, to do a calving, I was pursued upon my return to Northern Ireland by a car full of armed police, and soldiers.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Three things. Firstly, my annual one week holiday, without kids, with my wife. Also, finishing the current Hannibal novel and starting the new one on Crécy – a totally different time period.
Thanks so much for your time!
Hannibal: Fields of Blood is published in hardback and as an eBook on June 6th by Preface (UK). An eBook short story, Hannibal: Patrol, is available now. In addition, the latest in Kane’s other historical series, Spartacus: Rebellion, will be released in paperback tomorrow.