Today I welcome historical novelist Anthony Riches to the blog. I decided last week to make May historical fiction month and because I have his last three books – The Wolf’s Gold, The Eagle’s Vengeance, The Emperor’s Knives – still waiting to be reviewed I also planned an Anthony Riches week. When I contacted Hodder about a possible interview or guest post, they asked whether I’d like to be part of the blog tour for The Emperor’s Knives with an interview this week and of course I said yes. So please check back in May for reviews of the books mentioned above and enjoy Anthony’s answers!
Let’s start with the basics. For my readers who aren’t as familiar with historical fiction: Who is Anthony Riches?
I’m the writer of the Empire series, which now runs to seven books, telling the story of Marcus Valerius Aquila in his fight to survive and then revenge the murder of his family and his escape to Northern Britannia. Anthony Riches is also a working IT project manager!
How would you introduce readers to your main character Marcus Aquila?
Marcus Aquila is a Praetorian centurion from a senatorial family whose world is turned upside down by the murder of his senator father and the massacre of his family. Trained to fight from his youth by a soldier and a gladiator, he must now find a place with the army of northern Britain, and fight to survive in a brutal civil war.
As you studied Military Studies at university, I can see why you’d choose to write about the Romans, who spawned some of the greatest military geniuses in history. But why did you choose this particular era of Roman history to write in?
When I decided to write about Rome I looked for two things – a villainous emperor and a civil war in northern Britain. The year AD182 stood out to me, for Commodus (the emperor portrayed in ‘Gladiator’, and the revolt that led to ‘the death of a general’. And the more I read about the period from AD182 to AD211, the more excited I became. It’s the perfect period for my story, thirty years of wars, civil war, a two day battle (TWO DAYS!) with 300,000 men on the battlefield, and a military strongman who roams the empire beating down a variety of real or imagined threats.
How much research do you need to do before starting a new novel and how do you go about it?
Not all that much, given I know a fair amount about the empire in the late second century. I tend to research the individual province involved (such as Dacia) and the enemy (the Sarmatae) in some detail, but it’s more of a knowledge brush up than starting from nothing. I use the excellent Osprey books for the purpose, and all the relevant historical material that’s relevant, like a specialist history of Roman mining operations for book five, The Wolf’s Gold.’I also use Wikipedia, which is an excellent source just as long as you validate it’s correctness!
The Roman army had many different types of units: archers, cavalry, infantry, scouts, and artillery to name a few. Do you have a favourite type of unit to write about?
I love them all, they all have different ways to fight and things to do on the battle field, and at the moment I’m loving heavy cavalry for reasons I can’t share (potential spoiler). But my all time favourite has to be the auxiliary infantryman. Thousands of miles from his place of birth (or that of his father or grandfather), a Briton forced to serve in Dacia or a Dacian fighting in Scotland – the Romans moved them around to avoid clashes of loyalty – he has only his sword and shield, and the men on either side of him, to depend on. Brutal stuff, and we can only imagine what that must have been like.
The Emperor’s Knives is the seventh book in the Empire series. Did you always envision writing such a long-lasting series?
Yes. I told my editor it was going to be an eighteen book series, I have since revised that up to twenty five – if the readers keep reading!
It’s off to war again on the empire’s borders – somewhere distant, and warm.
Is there something else you’re passionate about other than writing and books?
Errr….work I suppose. In the job that I do there’s a right way to do things, and doing it any other way costs the client a LOT of money, and may damage their business too. And I hate it when clients who don’t know the pitfalls are determined to put both feet into them! I can get quite bad tempered on the subject. My motto is ‘do it right or just don’t bother (or waste my time)!’
As a book reviewer, I’m all about the book enabling; I can’t help but want to make people read all the good books out there. But I can always use help. What are your top recommendations of books we should look out for in the coming months?
My good friend Ben Kane has Clouds of War out at the end of February, and Giles Kristian is back to the Vikings with God of Vengeance in April. Both books will be excellent!
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
Hah! Me? A system? I just clump them by subject. All my research books in one place, all my fiction in another block, my non-fiction elsewhere, and they co-exist under an uneasy truce with occasional mass rearrangement as one bloc achieves numerical superiority over another. As a writer, life’s too short to be organised to that degree!
Bio (taken from the publisher’s website):Anthony Riches began his lifelong interest in war and soldiers when he first heard his father’s stories about World War II. This led to a degree in Military Studies at Manchester University. He began writing the story that would become Wounds of Honour after a visit to Housesteads in 1996. He lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and three children.