I’m very excited to have authors Gordon Doherty and Simon Turney on the blog today. Check out the interview I did with them, and the information on their new, historical fiction novel, Sons of Rome!
Interview with Gordon Doherty and Simon Turney
Congratulations on your new novel, Sons of Rome! What was it like co-writing a novel?
Simon Turney: Actually tremendous fun and a wonderful learning experience. The novel grew as we alternated our writing, sending it back and forth, each picking up on everything the other person had said and incorporating it into our next chapter. It was all written to a grand plan, but it changed and grew organically as we worked, because it had to flow from what had come before. In some ways the story unfolded before our eyes as we wrote.
Gordon Doherty: It really helped me grow as an author. For years I had spent my writing time locked away in a room, alone, conjuring up ideas and then analysing them for suitability. That’s all well and good, but nothing beats the rigor of having another writer to challenge my assumptions and enhance my ideas. It was great to get an insight into Simon’s writing process as well.
What was the inspiration behind Sons of Rome?
Simon Turney: Actually things started a different way. Gordon and I already knew one another as writers and were friends online. We met up for a big history event that was called off because of rain and ended up in the pub. Sons of Rome was born more out of sheer interest in the question “can this be done.” We wondered whether two writers could take on two characters and tell a single story. I think we’ve proved you can.
Gordon Doherty: Yes, it was a really tantalising challenge. Equally, the characters whose mantles we each donned were quite meaningful to us individually. Constantine was the man who ushered in huge changes to the Roman Empire, and largely set the scene for the Later Roman Empire about which I write in my Legionary series. Maxentius was more of a dying breed, in the tradition of the old emperors from the early days of the Principate – not too far off from the era in which Simon’s Marius’ Mules saga is set.
How long did it take to finish Sons of Rome?
Simon Turney: We started work on the project back in 2012 I think. The year the Kelmarsh festival was rained off. The last word written on the third book in the series was only in 2019, so the drafts of the trilogy took 7 years, though the editing process is ongoing leading up to release of each book.
Gordon Doherty: I still pinch myself when I think about it. It honestly feels like yesterday that we sat down with blank pieces of paper (and beer) and addressed the big “so where do we start?” question. The time has rocketed past… too fast. Part of me yearns to be back in the mix of it again, to be honest.
If you both could choose a character to have dinner with, who would it be and how would that go?
Simon Turney: Naturally, I would want to have dinner with my character from the book, the emperor Maxentius. History tells us he was a usurper, a despot, a brutal character and a hater of Christians. Actual evidence, when you brush aside the more obvious character assassination, suggests that Maxentius was a much more noble, reasonable and traditional man. I would hope that on a state dinner with him, I would be close enough to talk to him, though. Position at such events is based largely on one’s status, after all.
Gordon Doherty: Constantine the Great, for me. I’d have a fair few questions to ask him because he’s misunderstood too, with people usually holding one of two polarised opinions of him: the Christian world views him as a great man and he is considered a saint by the Orthodox Church; others insist that he was in fact an ambitious political monster, with no scruples about manipulating religion and spilling blood to achieve his goals. During the Research for Sons of Rome, I found out some very interesting details about his life which shed a telling light on the middle ground between these two extremes. The book explores these matters and – hopefully – will offer readers a more nuanced and realistic take on this giant of history.
You both have an impressive number of novels out. Do either of you experience writer’s
block? If so, how do you overcome it?
Simon Turney: I rarely get writer’s block. What I have is more stories than I have time to tell. Terry Pratchett likened inspiration to particles sleeting through the universe which miss some people entirely and hit others constantly. I am that poor wretch. But oddly, I have just recently put the finishing touches to a tale I abandoned eight years ago because I couldn’t work out how to finish it, so it does happen. Sit back, some times for eight years (!) and reassess. Walking the dog also helps, I find.
Gordon Doherty: I get bored and distracted, but never stuck. Any time I’ve felt any hesitation, I revert to the “Laura said” technique – rather than agonising about how to begin a scene with perfect prose, I just start typing those words and then continue with “Laura” introducing the scene. Obviously I have to strip out “Laura said” later, but it gets the words flowing onto the page. It’s the kick-start that has never failed me.
Are there plans to co-write together again?
Simon Turney: There are a few things getting in the way of any such plan at the moment, but Gordon and I have been tossing around ideas of potential new series since before we finished the current trilogy. Quite simply it was far too much fun doing this, and neither of us wants to pull the curtains over this partnership.
Gordon Doherty: Definitely. As Simon mentioned in the previous question, time is an issue, and life has a big habit of getting in the way too. We’ve never stopped talking about the next joint project, and it’s been really fun to be able to play with ideas and leap to wildly different points in history. When the right idea hits, we’ll know.
What is the research process like when writing a historical fiction?
Simon Turney: Everyone has different processes. I like to have as much accuracy as is humanly possible, and cover every historical source text in preparation. For me the heart of it, though, is location. When I write a tale, I really like to visit the locations first. I feel you can only truly describe a place if you’ve experienced it. Not just how it looks, but the feel, the smells, the sounds and the heat. I’ve stormed hillforts with a pack on to see how it felt.
Gordon Doherty: You can’t beat a good adventure. Two summers ago I journeyed across Turkey – a land riddled with history. Climbing hills and scrambling up rock faces to find old Hittite ruins and reliefs layered under Roman and Byzantine walls and defences. There’s something quite magical about being so close to the ancient past.
Is there a time in history you haven’t written about yet, that intrigues you?
Simon Turney: Several. I have the plans for a renaissance Italian whodunnit and for a WWII prison camp novel. But the one that I would really like to write is a tale of something few people know existed: female Samurai. The Onna Musha. The 13th century Tomoe Gozen, for instance is a semi-mythical woman warrior at the highest level of political and military power in medieval Japan.
Gordon Doherty: So many that I actually get anxious thinking about it. I live in Scotland, so I have had a long-running desire to write about the Caledonians in the time of Agricola’s Roman invasion. Since childhood, I have been fascinated by the civilizations of Mesoamerica – the Mayas, the Olmecs and the Aztecs. What an incredibly different culture they had! I’m also currently listening to an audiobook about the beginnings of WWII, and the political fabric of the time is incredible. My grandfather fought in that war and spent much of it in a German prison camp. Hold on… Simon, have we struck upon an idea for our next joint project?
What was the publishing process like? Is it different when you co-write?
Simon Turney: I’ve been through various different publishing processes from traditional hardback releases through smaller house, digital only publishers and to self-publishing. The interesting thing about this one, though, was the sharing. The work was no different really, but the publicity, as you can see right here, is co-dependent, so that Gordon and I continue to work together on the book far beyond its writing.
Gordon Doherty: My writing career has involved everything from self-publishing to traditional “big 5” publishing. I have to say though that this project has been the most focused and driven in terms of publicity and marketing – which is great. It is yet another valuable learning experience too.
Do either of you have any advice for new writers?
Simon Turney: Perseverance and a hard skin. I spent seven years and enough money to buy a car trying to sell my first manuscript before the self-publishing boom. The publishing world is a whirlwind of polite rejections. I got to the point where if I saw the words “We are sorry but” I was going to blow my top. But I persevered and found other ways. I self published at the right time and made enough of a name for myself that I became noticed.
Gordon Doherty: If there’s anything that the Sons of Rome project has taught me it is the value of friendship. Simon has helped me countless times over the years and has been an invaluable and sympathetic ear. So that’s my advice: go forth and meet fellow writers. You can’t fail to learn something, and you might just make a friend for life.
Four Emperors. Two Friends. One Destiny.
As twilight descends on the 3rd century AD, the Roman Empire is but a shadow of its former self. Decades of usurping emperors, splinter kingdoms and savage wars have left the people beleaguered, the armies weary and the future uncertain. And into this chaos Emperor Diocletian steps, reforming the succession to allow for not one emperor to rule the world, but four.
Meanwhile, two boys share a chance meeting in the great city of Treverorum as Diocletian’s dream is announced to the imperial court. Throughout the years that follow, they share heartbreak and glory as that dream sours and the empire endures an era of tyranny and dread. Their lives are inextricably linked, their destinies ever-converging as they rise through Rome’s savage stations, to the zenith of empire. For Constantine and Maxentius, the purple robes beckon…
Praise for Gordon Doherty and Simon Turney:
“A page turner from beginning to end … A damn fine read.” —Ben Kane, author of Lionheart
“The Rise of Emperors series is first-rate Roman fiction. Doherty and Turney each breathe life into their respective characters with insight and humanity.” —Matthew Harffy, author of Wolf of Wessex
“A nuanced portrait of an intriguing emperor.” —The Times (on Turney’s Commodus)
“A meticulously researched and vivid reimagining of an almost forgotten civilisation.” —Douglas Jackson, author of Hero of Rome (on Doherty’s Empires of Bronze)
“Sons of Rome is an intriguing and highly polished piece of historical fiction.” —James Tivendale from Grimdark
SIMON TURNEY is from Yorkshire and, having spent much of his childhood visiting historic sites, he fell in love with the Roman heritage of the region. His fascination with the ancient world snowballed from there with great interest in Rome, Egypt, Greece and Byzantium. His works include the Marius’ Mules and Praetorian series, as well as the Tales of the Empire series and The Damned Emperor series. www.simonturney.com @SJATurney
GORDON DOHERTY is a Scottish author, addicted to reading and writing historical fiction. Inspired by visits to the misty Roman ruins of Britain and the sun-baked antiquities of Turkey and Greece, Gordon has written tales of the later Roman Empire, Byzantium, Classical Greece and the Bronze Age. His works include the Legionary, Strategos and Empires of Bronze series, and the Assassin’s Creed tie-in novel Odyssey. www.gordondoherty.co.uk @GordonDoherty
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