218 BC. Sphax is seventeen and haunted by the brutal murder of his parents at the hands of Rome. After ten years of miserable slavery he will make his last bid for freedom and go in search of Hannibal’s army and his birthright. He will have his revenge on the stinking cesspit that is Rome!
Destiny will see him taken under the wing of Maharbal, Hannibal’s brilliant general, and groomed to lead the finest horsemen in the world – the feared Numidian cavalry that would become the scourge of Rome.
From the crossing of the great Rhodanus River, Sphax’s epic journey takes him through the lands of the Gaul to the highest pass in the Alps. This is the story of the most famous march in history. A march against impossible odds, against savage mountain Gauls, a brutal winter and Sphax’s own demons.
This is more than a struggle for empire. This is the last great war to save the beauty of the old world, the civilized world of Carthage, Greece and Gaul. The world of art and philosophy – before it is ground into dust by the upstart barbarity of Rome.
– When and where do you prefer to write?
I’m an owl. For years I’ve written classical music (still do if I’m commissioned) – orchestral music, string quartets, stuff like that – for this I needed absolute silence, so I worked late into the early hours of the morning. Six years ago I got so blocked and bogged down with composition, I decided I needed a creative escape route, so I started writing a novel. I haven’t looked back since then. But old habits die hard, so I still write at night. I live miles from anywhere, and on windless nights can even hear the waves breaking on the beach two miles away. I’m also lucky – I don’t have to get up early! So … I’m Burlington Bertie, I rise at ten thirty!
– Do you have a certain ritual?
Not really. But there are circumstances where I can’t write. For instance, I can’t write if someone else is in the room with me – even if they’re sitting quietly in a corner, reading – for some reason I feel incredibly self-conscious!
The other thing I’m fond of is pacing around the room. It’s just occurred to me I should borrow a fit bit and try it out one night. I’m sure every thousand words costs me a good number of steps!
– Is there a drink or some food that keeps you company while you write?
Absolutely! I really look forward to my midnight feast!! I’m addicted to Carr’s melts – extra thin cheese biscuits with a crunch – delicious with a topping of your choice. I’m particularly fond of gorgonzola, but a slice of cheddar, layer of hummus or slices of tomato are equally recommended … God, this is making me so hungry!
Occasionally (perhaps an understatement …), I’ve been known to indulge in a glass or two of red wine during a writing session. But I’ve noticed the quality of the writing goes down as fast as the liquid in the bottle.
– What is your favourite book?
This is impossible! Can I have two – fiction and non-fiction? No! Sorry … I need two non-fictions!
I read non-fiction constantly. Mostly about ancient Rome and Greece, but I’m fascinated by most histories, so you may well find me buried in a book about the Plantagenets or the American Civil War. This is not research!! I love Tom Holland’s Rubicon and Persian Fire, but my all-time favourite is Shelby Foote’s wonderful three volume history of the American Civil War. It reads just like a gripping novel, it’s a real page turner!
My other passion is nature and wildlife. I’ve recently read George Monbiot’s Feral and Benedict Macdonald’s Rebirding. Not only did I love them, I really believe they are important, must-read books if we are to save the planet.
Leaving a good novel on my desk is like leaving a box of Belgium chocolates around for a registered chocaholic. Recently I devoured Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing in a day. But I didn’t do anything else that day. Novels are a complete binge-fest for me, so they’re strictly rationed! If I had to choose one novel, it would be by the American author Kent Haruf. Oh, God … I’m going on and on …
– Would you consider writing a different genre in the future?
My first attempt at writing was a novel about two women and how their lives intertwined. It did have a strong element of history, because one of the women was an Edwardian, and the other character, her great granddaughter, was contemporary. What I discovered was that I was more comfortable writing about the past than the present. It was a useful lesson!
I adore my hero, Sphax, too much to think about writing about anyone else. Besides, I’m on a mission! The entire history of Carthage was wiped out by Rome and then re-written by Romans. I’s a perfect example of ethnic cleansing! I want to tell their side of the story.
– Do you sometimes base your characters on people you know?
Not consciously. But then again, I suppose all characters in novels are amalgams of traits and behaviours the writer has witnessed in other people over a lifetime. If I based a character on someone I knew well, I would feel I was merely observing, and not inventing. Many of my characters are real historical figures like Hannibal, or his second in command, Maharbal. Although there are no extant historical character portraits of these figures, we know pretty well what they did, and I like the idea of guessing what they might have been like, from what they actually did.
– Do you take a notebook everywhere in order to write down ideas that pop up?
Personally I don’t. But I’ve met several writers who do, and I can see how useful it could be. My partner swears that I’ve borrowed every witty remark she’s made over the last ten years or so!
– Which genre do you not like at all?
Visceral crime novels! Come to think of it … any crime novels, cosy or otherwise. I know Jo Nesbo is a fine writer, but he’s not for me. Strangely enough, it’s not the visceral I object to, just the criminals … I don’t find them at all interesting, and the last thing I want to do is get inside their heads!
– If you had the chance to co-write a book. Whom would it be with?
That’s easy! I would love to write a comedy with Kate Atkinson. I’m a big fan! Her Emotionally Weird is one of the funniest, wackiest, thing I’ve read in ages.
If I could work with a dead author it would have to be Mark Twain – for exactly the same reasons. But I’d settle for working with Bernard Cornwell on a series about the Wars of the Roses, if only to improve my bank balance and the chance to make a Netflix epic staring Alexander Dreymon as Edward IV and Julia Roberts as the White Queen.
– If you should travel to a foreign country to do research, which one would you chose and why?
Carthage, Tunis, Tunisia. After a three year siege, in 146 BC the Romans razed Carthage to the ground, sold 50,000 into slavery, and had oxen plough the ground where the once great city had stood so as to erase all memory of the place and its people from history.
It’s number one on my bucket list!
Thank you, Robert M. Kidd and Rachel’s Random Resources
About the author
When Cato the Censor demanded that ‘Carthage must be destroyed,’ Rome did just that. In 146 BC, after a three year siege, Carthage was raised to the ground, its surviving citizens sold into slavery and the fields where this once magnificent city had stood, ploughed by oxen. Carthage was erased from history.
That’s why I’m a novelist on a mission! I want to set the historical record straight. Our entire history of Hannibal’s wars with Rome is nothing short of propaganda, written by Greeks and Romans for their Roman clients. It intrigues me that Hannibal took two Greek scholars and historians with him on campaign, yet their histories of Rome’s deadliest war have never seen the light of day.
My hero, Sphax the Numidian, tells a different story!
When I’m not waging war with my pen, I like to indulge my passion for travel and hill walking, and like my hero, I too love horses. I live in Pembrokeshire, West Wales.
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