Ahead of the launch of his latest novel, The Caspian Gates, we caught up with bestselling author Harry Sidebottom to chat about the sites that inspire his books, his favourite historic destinations and his desire to avoid the wrath of Boudicca…
The Caspian Gates is available from 7th July 2011.
Q: What’s your favourite historic site in the world and why?
A: Ephesus in Turkey. It was the first site I really felt I had gotten to know, having done both the library work in Oxford and spent a long time clambering over the site. Large parts of my second novel, King of Kings, and my new one, The Caspian Gates, are set there. You can walk literally in the footsteps of Ballista and other characters.
Q: If you could go anywhere on the planet tomorrow where would it be?
A: Aldeburgh in Suffolk – the sea, big sky, dressed crabs from the longshore fishermen, my friends Peter and Sara`s Lighthouse Restaurant. The ideal place for a family holiday - it is like going back to 1950s, but with good food.
Q: What’s the most interesting city break you’ve been on?
A: I am not a big fan of city breaks – you are just finding your feet when you have to leave. However, recently I spent five days in Istanbul. All the obvious east meets west stuff, but for me the highlight was about four hours looking at, photographing, thinking about, and discussing with a friend the `Alexander Sarcophagus` in the Archaeological Museum.
Photo: The Blue Mosque, Istanbul
Q: What’s the most eye-opening ‘hidden historic site’ you’ve visited?
A: Priene. Unlike Ephesus (not much over an hour`s drive away), there is next to no one there. You can walk in peace through an almost complete Greek city. Not for nothing is it known as `the Pompeii of the east`.
Q: If you could meet one person from history who would it be?
A: Alexander the Great. At school Robin Lane Fox`s biography started my fascination with the Classical World. The dinner parties might be a bit dangerous, but that in itself would add an element of excitement.
Q: What tips would you give for someone seeking sites on a budget?
A: Do not eat at cafes on site. Walk until you find somewhere full of locals.
Q: Beachside reading: historical fiction or historic fact?
A: Both fact and fiction. I seldom read historical novels, and hardly ever ones set in ancient Greece or Rome – I want my vision formed by the ancient sources and modern scholarship. On my last holiday I took four books: L. Jorgensen et al (eds.), The Spoils of Victory: The North in the Shadow of the Roman Empire (2003); P.J. Casey, Carausius and Alectus: the British usurpers (1994); J. L. Burke, The Neon Rain (1987); and G.R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones (1996). I read some of the first and all of the last.
Q: What’s your favourite period of history?
A: The Roman empire from the last century BC to the third AD – the fall of the Republic, the establishment and development of the rule of the emperors, and the `crisis` at the end.
Q: Have you ever dressed up as a Roman?
A: No, but if Helen Mirren asked…
Q: And finally…Catherine Howard / Helen of Troy / Boudicca: Kiss, Marry, Kill?
A: Marriage to Helen of Troy would have its pleasures – Menelaus was about to kill her, but the sight of her breasts overcame him – but you would always be worried about her and any male guests. Boudicca sounds too dangerous, and I do not know enough about Catherine Howard to form a judgement.
Dr Harry Sidebottom is a Fellow of St Benet's Hall and lecturer at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he specializes in ancient warfare and classical art. He has an international reputation as a scholar, having published widely on ancient warfare, classical art and the cultural history of the Roman Empire. Harry is also a presenter on ‘Ancient Discoveries’ for The History Channel.
About The Caspian Gates
AD262 – the Imperium is in turmoil after the struggle for the throne. Furthermore, Ephesus, Asia’s metropolis, lies in ruins, shattered by a mighty earthquake. Its citizens live in fear as the mob overwhelms the city, baying for blood to avenge the Gods who have punished them.
Yet an even greater threat to the Empire advances from the North. The barbaric Goth tribe sail towards Ephesus, determined to pillage the city. Only Ballista, Warrior of Rome, knows the ways of the barbarians, and only he can defeat them.
The Goth’s appetite for brutality and destruction is limitless and before long Ballista is locked into a deadly blood feud, with an enemy that has sworn to destroy him – and the Imperium – at all costs.
The views and opinions expressed in Time Travellers are those of the interviewee concerned and do not necessarily reflect those held by Historvius.