Congratulations on The Eagle’s Vengeance! In this novel, we return to Britain. What made you decide to take the Tungrians back to the Antonine and Hadrian Walls?
Unfinished business, for the most part – there’s a captured eagle, and the head of a murdered legatus out there somewhere. And the war in Britannia rumbled on well into the middle of the decade, making it likely that the Tungrians would have been shipped back to Dacia.
What is it about the Tungrians that makes you want to write about them? And what is it about this period towards the end of the 2nd century AD that fascinates you?
Good question. When I was looking for a unit to hide Marcus in book one I decided that it ought to be the one that was in possession of Housesteads – The Hill – at the time. And that was the Tungrians. Add to that the fact that they were from nearby Germania, which felt like it had a book in it (The Leopard Sword) and they just felt like the right choice. And why the late 2nd century? Simple – it’s dripping with good history for a novelist, a deranged emperor, a three sided civil war, barbarian uprisings, bandits preying on the helpless. Need I go on? I’m happy to leave the 1st century with its more recognisable characters to my august colleagues, who do a great job between them of fleshing out the history of the Julio-Claudian and Flavian dynasties, leaving me to mine a rich vein of relatively unknown events.
One of the elements that I have really enjoyed about this series is the focus on, and insight into, the different units – the archers, the infantry, the cavalry and the British tribes fighting with the Romans but slightly apart from them. What kind of research do you do to make these military and historical details so authentic?
Lots of reading, obviously, and I go to talk to people who re-enact seriously, like Comitatus, when it comes to interesting subjects like archery. I also buy equipment and wear it on long distance walks – each one accompanied by mutterings of “never again” – which serve to remind me just how bloody hard these guys must have been! That said I’m not much of a joiner, so I’ve managed to resist ‘joining up’ any of the re-enactment groups to be shouted at by a modern day centurion!
You say that you’ll be following the Tungrians through the next 25 years of their story. How many books do you envisage writing?
Twenty five. At a guess. Just read a history of the period and you’ll see the rich depth of events that will form a compelling back story for Marcus and the Tungrians.
Reading your novels, one can never be too sure that all the heroes will survive to fight another day. Do you find it hard to kill off a main character or is it liberating?
Both. The first time I did it (no spoilers!) it was as much of a shock to me as it probably was to that book’s readers (one of whom berated me on Amazon for the heinous crime!). I believe that if the reader is to approach my books with an appropriate uncertainty as to what will happen on the next page then they have to know – to fundamentally believe – that no character is safe from harm. I don’t do it very often, but when I do it the moment tends to come upon me unexpectedly. And I embrace that moment, because it makes room for new characters to be introduced. Ask any gardener – you have to prune to encourage growth.
I love the way you name things – people, forts and places. Where do the ideas come from?
I like to understand the origin of names, if it’s possible. Of course the Romans often used – or bastardised – the existing place names, which were often to do with local gods. but on Hadrian’s Wall they were often building on ’empty’ land with no pre-existing settlements, coming up with names like Cauldron Fort where the North Tyne bubbled over stones like boiling water, and Badger Holes for the obvious reason. As to character names, I tend to trawl through lists of historical names looking for something that fits the nature of the person in question, or which just sounds right. A name like Lugos, heavy and brutal in my mind, suits a seven foot slab of muscle just right in my mind!
Your novels contain spectacular and memorable battle sequences, whether on a lake of ice or in a forest on fire. Are these taken from history or created by you?
A bit of both. The burning forest was my own creation, but the battle on the ice really happened (or at least it was described by the Roman historian Cassius Dio (Book 72 – 7). If history provides me with a great idea I’ll grab it with both hands!
Do you visit the places you write about?
As much as I can. I roamed all over northern England and southern Scotland for the first three books in the series (Wounds of Honour, Arrows of Fury and Fortress of Spears), and I went to Tongres in Belgium (ancient Tungria) for The Leopard Sword. They have an excellent museum with a lovely restaurant! I wanted to go to Romania for The Wolf’s Gold, but I just ran out of time, what with the day job, and in truth the internet maps are now so good that while I would have loved it the trip wasn’t absolutely necessary. Of course going to Rome for book seven was a necessity – but that’s another story!
Do you think you could write about another period of history?
Yes, I absolutely could, but I’m going to focus on the Empire series for the time being. I think the secret of a successful series is to keep the books coming, and the readers engaged with your characters, and I fear the risk of getting caught between two series and consequently doing neither of them real justice – so not yet!
What kind of novels do you read to relax and do you have a favourite book of the year so far?
I like thrillers and sci-fi, and read a surprisingly small amount of historical fiction (perhaps for fear of being influenced by someone else’s work, and running the risk of plagiarism), but as it happens my favourite read so far this year has been Christian Cameron’s The Ill-Made Knight. I hoover up everything the man writes – I think he’s the exemplar of military historical fiction, and the man whose work I would be the proudest to call my own.
Reviews of Anthony’s Empire series
Empire I: Wounds of Honour
Empire II: Arrows of Fury
Empire III: Fortress of Spears
Empire IV: The Leopard Sword
Empire V: The Wolf’s Gold
Empire VI: The Eagle’s Vengeance
A report on the launch of The Leopard Sword.
You might also want to take a look at this article about what Anthony and some other Romani authors got up to this spring.
SJA Turney posted another fascinating interview with Anthony Riches this week. Do take a peek.
Wonderful interview to read. I love historical fiction. Have you had a chance to read The Camulod Chronicles by Jack Whyte? It’s another story, set in ancient Rome, centered around the sword Excaliber.