To celebrate the release of SJA Turney’s latest book, Praetorian I am dedicating the blog to to all things Roman.
Praetorian tells the story of a young and inexperienced legionary, Rufinus. During a battle in the Germanic wars he inadvertently saves the life of a senior officer. As a “reward he is promoted to the elite Praetorian guard, and thrust into the murky and dangerous world of the Imperial Family.
As he tries to adjust to his new role he comes to the attention of the new Emperor Commodus and is drawn ever closer to the Imperial bosom and all the inherent dangers of being that close to power.
Now, without spoilers, obviously I can only go so far, but in very shortened form, Praetorian is the story of a young legionary during that horrendous war at the end of Marcus Aurelius’ reign who through sheer chance saves the life of a Praetorian prefect and finds himself suddenly and unexpectedly promoted to the Guard. When the old emperor dies and his son Commodus comes to the throne, peace is achieved and Rufinus is posted back to Rome where he has to overcome prejudice and bullying which again indirectly leads to him being given an undercover mission: to infiltrate the great imperial villa currently inhabited by the emperor’s sister, who the Praetorian prefect suspects of involvement in a plot to kill her brother. There follows a tense investigation to discover the details and then a race against time to save the emperor’s life.
2). Where did the idea for this book come from?
Really it was born out of the desire to write about one of Rome’s more maligned emperors and to try and portray him in a more sympathetic light. In reviewing Commodus’ early reign, the plot against him that involved his sister leapt to my attention as it has been completely overlooked in both Hollywood treatments of that emperor and rarely written about. I had a plot and a villain. All I needed was a hero. I wanted someone completely different from Fronto, so Rufinus was partially born as an anti-Fronto. Young rather than old, inexperienced instead of a veteran, a nobody instead of a noble officer. The list goes on. Everything just fell into place so easily.
3) Being so well known for your Roman series Marius Mules was it daunting to venture into a different period of the Roman Empire?
To be honest, it felt absolutely natural. I had already forged a path away from Marius’ Mules with a manuscript based on the 22nd legion in Egypt and, though that entire manuscript was consigned to ‘file 13′ in the end, I had nearly completed it, so Praetorian was actually my second non-Marius Roman work. I found it great fun to write, and totally different. The only thing I found daunting was how well it would be received. Marius’ Mules is a solidly military series, and on the occasions I have dipped into politics with it and veered away from the military, it disappointed a few readers. Well while Praetorian has its share of fights, it is a whole different animal – more of an espionage action/thriller. It seems to be being well-received so far. Let’s see how it goes…. *crosses fingers*
4) What is it about the Roman period that attracts you to it?
I think there are several things that make Rome such an attractive proposition. Mainly, it is the sheer scale of it. If you include everything, you’re looking at an empire that begins in 753BC with the founding of an aggressive city and ends in 1453AD with the fall of Constantinople to the Turk. That’s 2206 years of the same empire in various forms. By comparison, England has only been a unified country for less than half that time! In that time Rome was a kingdom, a republic, and two very different empires. It was pagan and then Christian. Stretching from Portugal to Arabia and Scotland to southern Algeria, it encompassed a vast, varied area. The sheer scope of the era is astounding. And yet many people still think of Rome and see that traditional view: a legionary in segmented armour, bearing a shield with lightning bolts on it, or a senator in a toga. The beauty of exploring the Roman world and writing about it is being able to try and shatter that image. Ben Kane often portrays the early Rome, where the army is formed in a different manner and the soldiers far more resemble the Greek army of Marathon or the Macedonian forces of Alexander than anything people commonly picture as Roman. Conversely, Gordon Doherty portrays late Rome, where the nobles look more Persian than Roman and togas are a thing of the past, and the legions have all-but gone to be replaced by mobile field armies of fast-moving light infantry and cavalry and by barbarians serving the empire on a retainer. It’s almost impossible to get one’s head around the scale of Rome. Some of the most intelligent scholars in the world have spent a lifetime studying Rome and still only unearthed a corner of it. And, let’s not forget that Rome is the first culture to be thoroughly recorded in written language throughout most of its time. Greek scholars will, of course, berate me for that comment, but I would suggest that there is far less written evidence for the bulk of ancient Greek culture than for Rome.
5) Ultimate Roman? (not including your own creations 🙂 )
Too much choice! Runners-up would have to include Scipio Africanus, Titus Labienus, Corbulo, Agricola, Trajan, Antoninus Pius, marcus Aurelius, Maxentius, Justinian… oh so many more. But if I had to pick one? It would be Julian (the ‘apostate’). When Julian came to power in 361 (he only reigned for 2 years), the empire had been thoroughly Christianised for half a century. But Julian was the ultimate Roman in the traditional sense. He saw new Christian Rome as a failure. He yearned for the days of the great principate with emperors like Trajan and felt that only a return to the old ways could save the declining state. Sadly, he died of a battle wound before he could complete his reforms and his successor continued the trend that had begun with Constantine. I see it as telling that half a century later Rome fell and the western empire was overrun by tribes. Was Julian right? It would be fascinating to see what might have happened had he lived to a ripe old age and overturned the entire Roman system. he’s also very sadly neglected by history, and I once contemplated a novel about him, but for the fact that Gore Vidal had done just that back in the 60s. Hmmm…perhaps it is time for a new treatment? *Scribbles note in to-do book*
Hmm. Tough question. Not sure what the answer to that is, really. What’s right for one person won’t necessarily work for another. And certainly it’s not the guaranteed pathway to stardom some would have you believe. It can involve a lot of hard work and headaches and a lot of rejection and failure. And despite any success I’ve had through self-publishing, even 6 years down the road, I am still working on securing a contract with a major publisher. So the upshot is that I would always recommend pushing for the full monty before going alone. I would class it as a last resort unless a writer has a plan that specifically requires it (and I know one or two who have done this for very good reasons.)
7) What is a ‘typical’ writing day for you.
Coffee. Coffee. Coffee.
Actually, I rarely ever get started on time. I plan to start by nine, but the kids always edge that up a bit. I tend to admin first thing (correspondence, site updates etc.) Then I lock myself away in the office, crank up the music, switch on the coffee machine, check my plan for the day, work things through in note format and then write solidly, on occasion taking the time to pop downstairs for a bite of lunch. I write until 5, trying to fit in some editing in the meantime. In essence, I write at speed for 8 hours a day, fueled by coffee. In retrospect, actually, I’ll say 7 hours. Internet research and twitter are wonderful distractions, after all. Fascinating to set out with Google to learn the Latin name for a river in central France and end up learning the history of the Muppet Show. Gods bless the Internet!
8) What authors/writers inspired you to take up writing.
Very simply: Guy Gavriel Kay. I have many authors I love to read, but the one who inspired me to try and create my own tale is Kay. Indeed, passing Marius’ Mules by, my other early work, Interregnum, was very much my attempt to emulate that man’s works. I have had it compared once or twice by readers, and that, for me, is the greatest compliment I can imagine.