I hope you had a great weekend. I'm very excited and honoured to say that today's author interview is with Harry Sidebottom, one of the world's most popular historical fiction authors. If you haven't read his 'Warrior of Rome' series, you really should. It's exhillerating stuff. I can't wait to start reading his new novel, The Lost Ten, which is released in paperback on October 30th. So, without any further delay, let's meet the man himself.
PB: Hi Harry! Welcome to pjbermanbooks.com. Tell us a bit about your background.
HS: Hello. My background is academic. I have taught Classical history at the Universities of Liverpool, Reading, Warwick, and Royal Holloway, London. Now I am Lecturer in Ancient History at Lincoln College, Oxford.
PB: What made you decide to become an author?
HS: It was not a conscious decision. I have written fiction since I was a child, in lots of different genres. When my first novel, Fire in the East, was published in 2008, I destroyed every previous bit of fiction. For the very good reason that the early stuff was not very good.
PB: When did you first start writing?
HS: Probably about aged four!
PB: What was the first story that you can remember writing?
HS: I remember writing a spy novel set in Berlin, when I must have been about twelve. Odd choice, as I knew nothing about espionage, and had never been to Berlin.
PB: When you begin writing a new novel, do you always know the ending?
HS: Very much so. I always plot out the first few chapters and the last couple very carefully. Where it goes in between just kind of happens. Which often means I have to go back and rewrite the beginning, and sometimes the end.
PB: Tell us about your latest novel, The Lost Ten.
HS: The Lost Ten is a novel that I have wanted to write for many years, since I first read in Procopius of the Castle of Silence, a remote Persian prison-fortress. Once a man was condemned there to mention his name carried the death sentence. The Lost Ten is my homage to the classic adventure novels, like The Guns of Navarone, that I read as a child.
PB: If you could meet one of your own characters, who would you meet, and what would you say to them?
HS: That would have to be Ballista, the hero of my seven Warrior of Rome novels. Just to say sorry for all the things that I have put him through.
PB: I’ve just had the pleasure of reading Fire in the East, the first novel in the Warrior of Rome series. Where did the idea for that series come from?
HS: I was researching a big history book called Fields of Mars: A Cultural History of Greek and Roman Battle, working on the chapter on siege warfare, when I came across a photo of a skeleton in a siege tunnel at Dura-Europos. That gave me the idea for Fire in the East, and straight away I knew I would write many more novels featuring Ballista. One day I will return and finish Fields of Mars, although the chapter on sieges, much rewritten, appeared in The Encyclopedia of Ancient Battles (2017), which I edited with Michael Whitby.
PB: What is your preferred method of research?
HS: I am obsessive about research. Usually I take six months researching a book, and about five actually writing. Apart from working in a university library, I try to visit every location.
PB: Of all your achievements, which are you most proud of?
HS: Probably renovating the farmhouse in which I grew up.
PB: What is your favourite book series to read and why?
HS: That has to be Patrick O`Brian`s Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin series. O`Brian created a complete world, both externals and mentalities, and transcended the genre of historical fiction.
PB: What are your long term ambitions career-wise?
HS: Ambition comes in different forms. I want to write a literary novel that covers the whole of the twentieth century. At a more mundane level, four of my novels have gone Sunday Times top five, but the top spot has eluded me.
PB: If you weren’t an author, what career would you be in?
HS: When I was young I had four ambitions: to be an Oxford Don, a published novelist, a professional actor, and a top class rugby player. I managed the first two, but it is a bit late for the others.
PB: What’s the next target for you?
HS: I am just finishing a proposal for a non-fiction book on Rome. The success of Mary Beard shows that there is an appetite for well-written and well-researched books on Roman history. Then it will be time to copy-edit the novel that will be published next year. In The Return a veteran of the sack of Corinth goes back to his small community in Calabria, and the mutilated corpses start appearing on the hillsides. Think historical fiction meets Scandi-noir!
PB: Tell us a random fact about yourself.
HS: I am very scared of heights. Just writing a scene with a rooftop chase makes me sweat.
Don's forget, The Lost Ten is out in paperback on October 30th. You can also find out more about Harry and his work via the links listed below:
Than you again to Harry Sidebottom for talking to us today!
Until next time, all the best!