As the number of people reading my books has increased, I find myself being asked many questions about the stories, the characters, and the reasons why I wrote them. I’m always happy to share my thoughts, and if you write in with a question, I’ll do my best to answer you. I thought, though, that I could answer some here. These questions are perhaps the most common ones I am asked.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

(Book 2 of the Scythian Trilogy)

Your historical books are filled with long names. How accurate are these names, and if they are made up, couldn’t you have chosen ones easier to pronounce and remember?

A good question, and one which crops up fairly regularly. I believe that if I am writing about a particular time and place, the names must reflect those times. If I may offer a more modern example to start with – if you were writing a Regency novel set in England in the late 1700s and early 1800s, you would come across many people called William or George or Mary – but no Jason or Kylie. Modern names would look out of place and detract from the overall realism of the writing. Similarly, writing about the time of Alexander the Great necessitates the use of names common at that time. The protagonist in the Scythian trilogy is Nikometros, son of Leonnatos. Greeks of his day usually had one name, but would sometimes add their father’s name to distinguish themselves from others of the same name. Among the Scythians, his name is sufficiently different that he only has to use Nikometros – though Tomyra shortens it to Niko when talking intimately. Scythians had a slight difficulty pronouncing his name and often said ‘Nikomayros’ instead. The Scythian names used are accurate and derive, for the most part, from actual names in Scythian history. When my well of published names ran dry, I created similar sounding names using the existing rules of construction. As for pronunciation – well, I don’t think anyone really knows how Scythian names were sounded out, so have a stab at it and anything you come up with is probably as likely as anything else.

I will have more to say later as ancient Egyptian names also cause problems for readers. Watch this space!

I thought Scythia was a large grassland. How come there are forests and mountains in your books?

We tend to think of Scythia as sweeping plains of grass, perhaps undulating slightly, but otherwise stretching to the horizon, with the wind carving patterns in the swaying grass. That was only part of it though. If you look at a topographical map of the area, you will see that the land popularly known as Scythia is bordered on the south by the hot, dry, mountainous regions of Sogdiana and Bactria, and on the west by mountains backing onto the Caspian Sea. These were wooded mountains, mostly coniferous, but with stretches of broadleaf forest. Many small rivers ran through Scythia, but the main one that features in the Scythian trilogy is the Oxus River, which empties into the Aral Sea in the north (also called the Mother Sea). This river carves narrow gorges in the southern mountains where it flows rapidly, but slows to become wide and boulder-strewn in its lower course.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

(Book 1 of the Scythian Trilogy)

Why did you write this book?

Lion of Scythia was my first book and I really wanted to write about Alexander the Great. However, my childhood hero, Mary Renault, had written about him brilliantly and I didn’t think I could match her. why write about someone who had already been covered so well? This was in the days before I recognised that two authors could write about the same subject yet turn out finished works that were very different.

Anyway, I conceived the idea of writing about someone close to the great man, and from there to a fictional hero whose life impinged on that of Alexander. So Nikometros son of Leonnatos was born. A young officer, relatively inexperienced, is wounded and left behind by the Macedonian army as it marches eastward. Many men were left behind to garrison the forts that kept the peace in the newly conquered lands, so although the character is fictional, his general situation is not.

Why Scythia?

Partly because it was in the right time and place. Alexander was conquering the Persian Empire and moving rapidly eastward, so there was a need for military garrisons to be left behind to manage the territories. It would not have worked further west among the Greek cities of Asia Minor or in Egypt, nor in the Indus Valley before he turned back to Babylon. Ancient Bactria was exactly right, and Scythia even more so. Alexander had tried to conquer the Scythians, but their forces just melted away into the endless plains of grass in the face of his army. He left them to in and turned toward India once more.

The Scythians in my stories (the Massegetae) live near the Oxus River south of (and around) the Mother Sea (Aral Sea). Scythians moved westward over time, and a few hundred years later, occupied lands north of the Black Sea where most of their later cities are found. In the days of Alexander the Great, they were still found in the east.

Who were these Scythians that Alexander could not conquer? Horsemen - nomadic tribes that wandered the steppes of Asia, living off their herds and fighting whoever they came across. What was their world like? My research revealed tantalising snippets of information that hinted at a simple life, but one that was completely unlike any of their more settled neighbours. They had cities, but were still nomadic or at least semi-nomadic - taking their herds out into the grass plains in the summer and wintering close to their towns and cities. They were cultured, had a rich artistic life, and had a fierce sense of honour. Though formidable warriors, they tended to be undisciplined and needed a firm hand to control them. They followed non-hereditary chiefs and priestesses of the Mother Goddess.

Add a naive young Macedonian officer, of couple of his men that survive the ambush, and mix with a young priestess who is also daughter of the chief. Throw in some factions like an ambitious son of the chief, a few nobles looking after their own ends, and young firebrands seeking to make a name for themselves, and you have a story worth telling.

Why a Lion? Surely lions are African?

Yes, they are, but once upon a time they were found in Europe, the Middle East, and throughout the Persian Empire and beyond. You only have to look at stories like Heracles killing the Nemean lion, Samson wrestling with a lion in the Bible, and the Mesopotamian hero Gilgamesh hunting lions, to see that these beasts were once common in Eurasia. By Alexander's day, they were less common, but a doughty warrior could still be compared to this symbol of royalty. Nowadays, the lion is mostly confined to Africa, though there are some still living in the Gir National Park in India's Gujarat State.