Today I’m lucky enough to be visited by Tim Taylor, who, like me, is published by Crooked Cat Publishing. He has a new book out in five days.
I’m afraid not, though it’s a city I’d like to see some day. I love places that are steeped in history. Thank you for the opportunity to make a virtual visit, though I’m sure it would be even better to come in person!
Tell us about the new novel.
Revolution Day will be published by Crooked Cat on 30 June. It follows a year in the life of Carlos Almanzor, the autocratic ruler of a Latin American country. Now in his seventies, Carlos is feeling his age and seeing enemies around every corner. And with good reason: his Vice-President, Manuel Jimenez, though outwardly loyal, is burning with frustration at his subordinate position. When his attempt to augment his role is met with humiliating rejection, Manuel resolves to take action. But how? Since Angel, the Head of the Army, is loyal to the President, he must be patient and cunning if he is to find a way to undermine Carlos’ position.
Interspersed with the main narrative are excerpts from a memoir being written by Carlos’ estranged and imprisoned wife Juanita, in which she recalls the revolution that brought him to power and how, once a liberal idealist, he changed over time into an autocrat and embraced repression as the means of sustaining his position. In time, as Manuel makes his own bid for power, Juanita will find herself an unwitting participant in his plans.
That sounds very interesting. Unfortunately, it’s a plot that rings very true. Does this novel have any connection with your first novel – Zeus of Ithome, published by Crooked Cat in 2013?
There is a connection in that both novels involve a revolution. But in most respects, they are very different novels. Revolution Day is set in the present day – albeit with some reflection on previous decades – and in a fictional country. Zeus is set in a real place (southern and central Greece) in the fourth century BC. It describes actual historical events – the struggle of the Messenian people to free themselves from three centuries of slavery under the Spartans, and the wider events that formed the backdrop to their final revolt – albeit through the lives of (mostly) fictional characters. Diocles, the central character, is a seventeen year old helot slave at the start of the book. Forced to flee his home, he falls in with ageing rebel Aristomenes, who still cherishes dreams of revolution and wants to seek advice from the oracle at Delphi. Later, Diocles’ travels take him to Thebes, where he meets Epaminondas, a historical Theban general who also has no love for the Spartans. As war brews between Thebes and Sparta, the conditions at last become right for Diocles and Aristomenes to return to Messenia and begin their revolt in earnest.
Have you visited Greece? Can a visit help in any way with a novel set so long ago?
I had been to Greece in my teens – a good while ago! – and visited some of the places that feature in the novel, such as Delphi (and more recently to Crete, which doesn’t). I think those rather distant memories were of some help in giving me a feel for the landscape. For example, there is one scene where Diocles crosses the Gulf of Patras in a small boat and is impressed by a mountain looming above the shore behind him. I remember admiring that same view myself – albeit from a car ferry!
Where else did you get background information from?
I already had a good background knowledge about ancient Greece, having studied Classics at university. I read the ancient sources for the period and some books by modern historians, and did lots of internet research, for example about details of clothing and authentic Messenian names. I made extensive use of Google Earth in tracking the topology of the places the characters travel through. I was delighted (and relieved!) when readers who had been to places in the novel I have never visited – such as Mount Ithome, the ancient sanctuary of the Messenians – verified my description of them.
How did you manage when you had questions that couldn’t be answered?
One of the fun things about writing historical fiction – particularly when it’s set in ancient times – is that where evidence is lacking you can make things up, provided that they are plausibly consistent with the known facts.
I see we have at least two other interests in common: music and walking. Where has music taken you?
Hmm. Well, in my twenties it took me up and down the motorway to such exotic places as Dover, Northampton and, um, Stevenage! Nowadays I play mostly for fun, but I do still play in public once in a while.
You said somewhere that you like walking up hills. I’m not sure I do. I like the feeling of accomplishment when I reach the top and the knowledge that I can now walk downhill. What do you like about walking up?
When walking up I am buoyed by the expectation of reaching the top where I will experience that feeling of accomplishment, which I agree is often the best thing of all (sometimes the view may be even more rewarding). There is a certain satisfaction as you reach prominent points on the route and see lower hills drop below your line of sight, knowing that you are that little bit closer to your goal. On the way down, although there is the afterglow of that sense of achievement, you no longer have the same sense of purpose. Also, if the hill is steep, I find walking down very hard on the knees and toes – I do genuinely prefer walking up!
What’s the next novel going to be?
It will probably be a follow-up to Zeus of Ithome, taking in the early career of Philip II of Macedon. As a teenager he was in Thebes, where he came under the influence of Epaminondas, shortly after the time when the first novel ends. I am doing some research on this right now.
So you’re doing what I’m planning: to write a novel that’s very different to the first and then write a sequel to the first.
Thank you so much for coming, Tim, albeit abstractly. And lots of luck with your new book.
You’re welcome, Miriam. And thank you very much for hosting me!
Revolution Day on Amazon US
Zeus of Ithome on Amazon US
I’m taking a break until the beginning of August. Have a great summer (or winter if you’re in the other hemisphere).