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Another book, this time Napoleonic
This next recommendation will probably have more appeal to those who like the novel. Before too long I plan to add pages to the website looking more at the historical background to the stories, and listing the sources I have used for each book, adding to it as the new ones are released.

For the moment, I would like to bring Carole Divall's Inside the Regiment: the officers and men of the 30th Regiment during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (Pen& Sword 2011) to everyone's attention. This is a companion to the author's earlier Redcoats against Napoleon. This time the structure is thematic rather than narrative. It is a book about the day to day life, the rules, rituals and society of the regiment and gives a marvellous picture of one part of the army in that period. So we read about the backgrounds or both officers and men and their careers. One especially interesting theme is discipline and punishment, and the author has gone into records of courts martial in great detail.
There is a lot of information in the book, but at the same time it is a lively read. Some individuals remain shadowy, simply because we do not know enough about them. Others come vividly to life.
I know that I will be using many of the incidents in future novels. An especially intriguing episode is the court martial for drunkenness of Ensign John Herring in 1810, and a similar episode involving Captain Leach a few years earlier. In each case, some or all of the key witnesses were NCOs.
Carole's website is well worth a look. Personally I find this sort of day to day detail absolutely fascinating. As an aside it helps to understand any army - including the Romans - if you have an idea of how other armies have worked and work today.
Not too long ago I read Stephen Dyson's Rome: a living portrait of an ancient city (Baltimore, 2010) and have been meaning to write a blog entry recommending this ever since. A lot of studies of architecture in ancient Rome focus purely on building styles, or stay with just one period. This is a lot more interesting, as he does his best to relate successive constructions to the political and social changes. So it is not simply a question of who built something and when, but looks at why they did so and how the city changed as a result. It is the sort of book where you really need a good background knowledge of Roman history to get the most from it. If you have that background, then I think it will make you think differently about quite a few things. It is certainly shaping my own understanding of Caesar and Augustus' building programmes.
Long time, no see
I knew it had been a while since I last added an entry to the blog, but confess that I was a little shocked when I looked and saw that it has been five months. Ah well, I did warn everyone in my original entry that I was unlikely to update very regularly. It has been a busy year and the time has flown. The last entry was about True Soldier Gentlemen. It is now only a couple of months before the sequel Beat the Drums Slowly is due to be released. I finished the first full draft of the third novel a week or so ago, and hoping to tidy that up and have it ready to go off before too long. A week or so ago I appeared on BBC Radio Four's Open Book programme, as part of a discussion on the relationship between history and historical novels. Last Monday I did something more local, and went on Radio Wales' Roy Noble show to talk about the novels. Both were a lot of fun.
In the meantime, work continues on the ancient history. The rest of the year will be devoted to working on the biography of Augustus. I have spoken at a few conferences and festivals in the last few months, so there has been plenty of ancient history alongside the novels. The Rome Unwrapped series has also been broadcast on National Geographic and I have managed to see a few of them. Still have not caught the one about Vespasian and the Roman army, although saw a little bit and reckon they have cut most of the stuff we filmed at Colchester. As always, far more is filmed than actually used.
My first novel
TRUE SOLDIER GENTLEMEN, my first novel, will be published in the UK by Weidenfeld and Nicolson on the 27th January 2011. It is the first of a series of adventures set in the Regency era, telling the story of a group of young officers fighting in the Napoleonic Wars.

For much more information, check out the new Fiction pages on the website.

This is a new venture for me, and has been a lot of fun to write. There is a great freedom in making up a story, and this period has always fascinated me, almost as much as the Romans! However, the historian in me is still strong, and I have done my best to make all the historical detail in the story as accurate as possible.

To find the book on amazon, go to:

True Soldier Gentlemen

By the way, although I am looking forward to writing more novels - the sequel BEAT THE DRUMS SLOWLY is released in August 2011 - this does not mean that I am quitting writing ancient history. I am already working on the biography of Augustus, and looking forward to dealing with plenty of other aspects of the ancient world in the future.
Mostly books

I have been back from my trip to Australia for a month now. However, things have been busy and that is my excuse for failing to update the blog. This week I went up to Newcastle for a friend's inaugural lecture as Professor of Roman Archaeology. The week before I spent a couple of days in Lisbon doing interviews for the release of the Portuguese translation of my Fall of the West/How Rome Fell. When I was barely back from Down Under, I went up to Oxford to give a talk to the undergraduates of the Russell Society in my old College. All three have been very pleasant occasions in their different ways, but all the travelling has taken a lot of time. On the other hand, many an hour spent on trains, following on from the long flights and relaxing time on holiday in Australia, has given me a chance to do a fair bit of reading and so I thought that I would mention a few of the books.

William Dalrymple's The Last Mughal. The Fall of Delhi 1857 was recommended to me by a reader who e-mailed the website, and had anyway long been in my 'I must get round to reading that someday' list. Having finally got the chance, I have no hesitation on passing on the recommendation. It is a very good read and the author draws on many sources for the day to day life of the court and wider population of Delhi which have rarely if ever been exploited. The focus is quite narrow, and it has made me want to go and read more about some of the events and people who are treated in less detail or with a fairly broad-brush. A good history book always makes you want to read more about the period. Quite a few of the reviewers quoted on the jacket and inside note the author's often angry tone. It's always hard to tell from the selections chosen by publishers whether this was meant as compliment or not. Personally, I believe an historian should strive to be anonymous in their work, but that is a matter of taste. However, in this case, the story of the Indian Mutiny was itself so full of passion, fear and anger, that the author's mood at times almost reduces the very human - if often extremely brutal - mood of the participants. There is a danger that in condemning some of the acts and actors you make it harder to understand them. This is only a minor gripe with a excellent book.

Another enjoyble and provoking take on a familiar topic is Nick Foulkes Dancing into Battle: a social history of the Battle of Waterloo, which again I had been meaning to read for some time. Once again, it's very readable, and draws on a quite a lot of sources that have rarely been exploited. It's well worth reading if you like the period, or are simply a fan of Thackeray's Vanity Fair. For something more Australian in theme, I read and enjoyed Michael Molkentin's Fire in the Sky. The Australian Flying Corps in the First World War, which tells a less well known, but very interesting story and does it extremely well.

I have not read much new fiction recently, but did pick up Bernard Cornwell's The Fort. As expected this is a very good read, telling of an episode in the American War of Independence and featuring both a young John Moore as well as Paul Revere. Unlike his other books, there is not really a single, main hero, and instead it's a lively and vivid account of a campaign where an expedition sent up from Boston somehow managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory through some lacklustre leadership. It may not be quite what fans expect, but I don't think they will be disappointed.


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