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Roman Fiction


Adrian Goldsworthy discusses the book.

Why I have written Vindolanda, and why I have waited until now:

Ever since True Soldier Gentlemen and its successors were released, I have often been asked why I wanted to write novels set in Napoleonic era rather than the ancient world. The main reason was simple. The idea for those stories came to me out of the blue and I knew that that was what I wanted to write about. That period has always fascinated me, coming a close second to the Romans, and the sources are all there just waiting to be used. For someone used to the meagre evidence for so much of the Roman period, having so many personal accounts and detailed records of the campaigns, the armies, and wider society is a wonderful luxury. So everything came together and I knew I had to write about Williams, Hanley, Pringle and the rest. Somehow as a writer you just know what you want to write about next, and it is difficult to write well about anything else. A lot of this comes from what I would like to read. Now that Bernard Cornwell has long since moved on to other things, I could not expect any more Sharpe stories any time soon. Mallinson's Hervey series helped fill the gap, but no one else was writing the sort of story I wanted to read about that period, which made me want to have a go.

Another advantage of writing non-fiction about the ancient world and fiction about Wellington's army was that it gave me a really nice break. For a few months each year I could immerse myself in a different topic altogether and research a different period, and on top of that write in a very different style, making up a story, inventing characters and writing dialogue. That is truly refreshing after writing straightforward history, when you do your best to stick to the evidence and not to stretch it too far. From a personal point of view, it meant that I not only faced the new challenge and pleasures of writing novels, but then could return refreshed to writing the history books.

I wanted to write about the Peninsular War so that is what I did. Sometime - publishers permitting - I'll finish off that series of stories, as the 106th Foot still has a long way to go. Yet once you start writing adventure stories, new ideas keep popping up - stories that you would love to write if you get a spare moment. I'm not quite sure when the idea for Flavius Ferox and stories drawing on the Vindolanda tablets started to bubble away in the back of my mind, but when I was approached and asked to write fiction set in the Roman period, I knew that this was what I wanted to do. Somehow the timing was right and the stories were starting to grow almost on their own. This is an odd sensation, and maybe other writers do things very differently and write to clearly made plans. Instead I find that the people, places and some key events take shape first, but then the wider story develops almost on its own. It reaches a point where you have to get this out of your system and put it down on paper.

Looking back I suspect that there was one other thing that deterred me from writing novels set in the ancient world, and that was the worry that I did not really know enough to make the world of the stories convincing.


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© Adrian Goldsworthy 2009