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Why start writing novels?

History fascinates me, and although the Romans have always held a special place in my heart, the era of Wellington and Napoleon comes a close second.  I have also always liked historical novels.  Many are simply good stories, but the very best also bring a period to life and give a real flavour of an era - sometimes more readily than a conventional history.  They also remind us that famous events, the wars and politics of the past, are shaped by the many individual human beings living in those times, some of them famous and many obscure and forgotten.  Good history should be about people's lives, and historical novels can give a real sense of this. 

The first of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe Series came out when I was at school, and I devoured it and all its successors, feeding a deep love for the real history and characters of the era of Napoleon and Wellington that has flourished alongside my passion for the Romans.  Unlike the ancient world, sources - many of them personal diaries or letters - are abundant and we can know far more about the everyday things.  While I have enjoyed many nautical adventures stories set in Nelson's time, none of them have come close to the wonderful sense of a real world and real people drawn by Patrick O'Brian in his Jack Aubrey books.  Naval adventures continue to multiply, but there is next to nothing about Wellington's army.  True Soldier Gentlemen and its sequels come from my own desire to explore more of the world of the redcoats, and try to bring their experiences to life.  As much as anything else, this is the sort of book I like to read.

Why write novels set in this period rather than the ancient world?

In part the answer is the same. Having enjoyed Richard Sharpe's adventures so much, I wanted to read more stories from the same era. Bernard Cornwell has now moved onto to other slices of history. Allan Mallinson's series about Matthew Hervey began at the end of the Peninsula War, and apart from a few flashbacks, is largely about the world after Waterloo.

The ancient world still fascinates me every bit as strongly as it has ever done. I am currently working on a major, non-fiction biography of Augustus, which means that I am doing a lot of research for that. It makes a refreshing change to go off and read about the campaigns of Wellington in detail. I have done my best to get all the facts right in the novels, and most importantly to get the feel for the period. On top of that, there is the fun and freedom of making up a story. The two styles of writing and research complement each other, in a way that would be less true if I was writing Roman fiction. (As an aside, there is also tons of that on the market these days, so perhaps there is more room for something different).

Maybe one day I shall have a go at an ancient novel, but it will not be for a good while because I am enjoying True Soldier Gentlemen and its successors so much. I really want to know what happens to these characters. I have got a fair few ideas, but there is quite a bit that I do not know yet, but cannot wait to find out.

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