Books Letters from Elsewhere

Letters from Elsewhere: Diocles

Letters from ElsewhereIt’s been seven months since I interviewed Tim Taylor. Today I’m delighted to welcome him back to introduce a special guest, who has travelled all the way from Messenia. Not to mention the number of years he has traversed to get here. Hello Tim!

Tim TaylorHello Miriam!

Many thanks for inviting my character Diocles, from the novel Zeus of Ithome, onto your blog today.  Before I let him get on with it, I should give your readers a bit of context.  Diocles is a runaway ‘helot’ slave from Messenia, a country conquered by Sparta centuries before.  He took up with Aristomenes, an old Messenian rebel who still dreams of throwing off the Spartan yoke, and travelled with him towards Delphi to consult the oracle.  Aristomenes was injured on the journey and had to rest at the house of a friend, so Diocles continued to Delphi alone.  Here he met the (historical) Theban general Epaminondas and, after agonising over what to do, became convinced that the cryptic advice he had received from the oracle meant that he should go to Thebes with Epaminondas.  This is a letter he later writes to Aristomenes.

To Aristomenes, in the house of Nicomedes in the town of Naupactus, from Diocles son of Dotades, in the house of Epaminondas in the city of Thebes.

Aristomenes, I hope you can read this letter.  It is the first one I have ever written in my own hand – Epaminondas is teaching me to read and write!  I have had some help from Manes the scribe, who is very rude about my spelling and made me write it several times before I got it right.

I hope you are well and that your wound has healed.  Please give my greetings to Nicomedes and Ianthe – I shall always remember their kindness. Thank you for sending me your sword.  I was very glad to see it, because I thought you would be angry that I had not come back to Naupactus after I left Delphi.  I still feel bad that after you entrusted me with the task of going to consult the oracle, I did not return in person to give you her advice. 

As I said in the letter Manes wrote for me before, I believe the oracle’s advice meant that I was fated to meet Epaminondas in Delphi and to travel with him to Thebes.  And now that I have been here for a while, I am sure that I did the right thing.  Epaminondas is the cleverest man I have ever met, and he is an important person in this city.  The Thebans hate Sparta as much as we do and Epaminondas has plans to break their power over Greece.  And there are soldiers here who are as good as – no, better than – even the Spartiates themselves.  The Sacred Band, they are called, and they have already beaten a Spartan force in battle!  Their leader, Pelopidas, is a friend of Epaminondas and he has agreed that when I have finished my basic hoplite military training, I will be allowed to drill with his men.  So I shall learn the arts of strategy from the wisest man in Greece and those of combat with its best soldiers! 

Zeus of IthomeThat is not all, Aristomenes.  War is coming between Thebes and Sparta.  Everyone knows it.  I shall be needing that sword of yours quite soon.  I believe that these Thebans will win this war, and when they do, that will be the moment for Messenia to rise up.  I have told them all about our struggle and they will help us, when that time comes.  Epaminondas has given me his promise, and he is a man I trust. 

So I shall return to Naupactus and to Messenia.  When I do, I shall no longer be the runaway helot you took under your wing, but a trained warrior.  And you and I shall complete the task to which you have devoted your life.

Until then, my friend, fare well.


You can read more about Zeus of Ithome (e-book currently on special offer at 99p/99c for one week only!) here.

Tim’s Other Links

Facebook author page





Tim was born in 1960 in Stoke-on-Trent. He studied Classics at Pembroke College, Oxford (and later Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London). After a couple of years playing in a rock band, he joined the Civil Service, eventually leaving in 2011 to spend more time writing.

Tim now lives in Yorkshire with his wife and daughter and divides his time between creative writing, academic research and part-time teaching and other work for Leeds and Huddersfield Universities.

Tim’s first novel, Zeus of Ithome, a historical novel about the struggle of the ancient Messenians to free themselves from Sparta, was published by Crooked Cat in November 2013; his second, Revolution Day in June 2015.  Tim also writes poetry and the occasional short story, plays guitar, and likes to walk up hills.


Thank you, Tim and Diocles.

In the meantime, I have been interviewed by Margaret K Johnson about challenges I’ve had to overcome in order to write.

Books Interviews

A Couple of Revolutions: Interview with T.E.Taylor

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.

Tim TaylorHello Tim and welcome to Jerusalem. Have you ever visited Jerusalem in the flesh, as it were?

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

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?

Zeus of IthomeThere 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 UK

Revolution Day on Amazon US

Zeus of Ithome on Amazon UK

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).


Blog Hop, Stage 8

The last stop in my blog hop is at the blog of Tim Taylor, who lives near Huddersfield. I had to look up Huddersfield and found it between Manchester and Leeds, in other words, for this ex-Londoner, “Oop north.” Tim is the author of Zeus of Ithome, a novel set in ancient Greece.

I talk about setting a novel where you live, and about setting a novel in a place you’ve never been to. Here.

So here is the complete hop:

18 June Catriona King My Route to Publication
20 June Cathie Dunn The Background to my Novel
22 June Sarah Louise Smith Arranged Marriage
22 June Jeff Gardiner Life-changing Decisions
6 July Nancy Jardine Closed Communities
11 July K B Walker On Emigration from Britain
22 July Sue Barnard Who Writes about Place?
8 August T.E.Taylor Writing about the place you live in and places you haven’t been to