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An Interview with Alistair Forrest

It is my pleasure to have historical author Alistair Forrest visit the blog today to discuss his writing journey and his novel, Sea of Flames. Thank you for your time today Alistair. Tell my readers about Sea of Flames.


What inspired you to write Sea of Flames?

It all started in a café-bistro near my home on the picturesque island of Alderney – a chance meeting with a stranger who was enjoying a quiet read. From where I sat, I could see the word ACTIUM on the cover his book. This was a huge temptation to me. I’m not normally so brazen but I’m drawn to ancient history like moth to flame, especially if it involves sea warfare.

Long story short, we had a discussion about the Battle of Actium (31BC) and the mystery of why Antony and Cleopatra fled in their huge warships when the odds had been stacked in their favour. The poor fellow in the café (no longer a stranger of course) promised his copy of Lee Fratantuono’s excellent work The Battle of Actium (Pen & Sword) was mine the moment he finished it.

That was the spark that ignited Sea of Flames.

 


What happened next?

Fratantuono makes reference to all of the relevant ancient historians – Plutarch, Dio Cassius, Appian of Alexandria, the geographer Strabo. I looked them all up and it was in Plutarch that I found Eurycles. A man so enraged over the murder of his father, Lachares, that he decked out his little Greek ship at his own expense and went to war against Mark Antony.

Plutarch has Eurycles pursuing Antony after the general had fled on Cleopatra’s ship, announcing at the climax: “I am Eurycles the son of Lachares, whom the fortune of Caesar enables to avenge the death of his father.”

But (spoiler alert, but you knew this) he didn’t manage to kill Antony. There are messy suicides to follow the escapees’ flight back to Egypt and Burton & Taylor have a classic film to make. However, Plutarch reports Eurycles’ success against a certain other general’s ship, without mentioning his name. I just knew in my water that would have been Mark Antony’s right-hand man Publicola, a nasty piece of work – and there’s no mention of this Publicola after Actium.

There’s the story, right there. Fill in the gaps. Create a piratical crew for Eurycles’ ship, add in some love interest, have the hero and his woman captured and tortured (by Publicola of course), escape against the odds and sail into the heat of a sea-battle.

 


Who is your favourite character in Sea of Flames and why?

Ratboy. I love nicknames, even obvious ones like Ratboy. He’s a disadvantaged kid who doesn’t even know his real name. He’s the cabin boy on the good ship Hera and thinks every Roman in a fancy cuirass and plumed helmet is the man who killed his captain’s father. He’s an ugly little runt with bad teeth, scurrying around in dark places finding out stuff that will help Eurycles’s cause. Everybody loves him and he is in awe of the boss’s girlfriend. He’s the real hero of this story.

What was the first piece you had published?


I wrote a book when I was six. It was called ‘A Little Boy on a Ship’ by A. J. Forrest except the ‘J’ was the wrong way around, as you might expect from a six-year-old. Favourite line even six decades later: ‘The captain spilled his gin’, a nod to my father, a Royal Navy officer. And yes, it took me a few attempts to spell ‘spilled’ correctly. It was published in the sense that I made cardboard covers and passed it around the navy types who frequented our home in Qatar, where we lived at the time.

That success sparked a later career in journalism with three newspapers in the 70s and 80s then group editor of a number of magazines – words, words and more words; loft boxes stacked with cuttings and stunning glossies.

My first novel to be published was Libertas (2009), written when we lived in Spain on the site of Julius Caesar’s last battle (Munda 45BC) which I proudly promoted with an article headlined, Julius Caesar marched through my garden. The publisher went bust within six months and years later the book is scheduled to be republished by Sapere Books sometime this year.

 

Do you have another story planned or in progress? When can we expect to see that?

Yes, a series called The Britannia Conspiracy. I’ve written the first of three novels to be scheduled by Sapere and I’m now on the second. We’ve got Celts, Gauls and Romans jostling for power and two ‘invasions’ of Britain with unexpected consequences around every turn. And the story opens on the small island of Alderney where there’s a priestess cult and a tradition of interring Gaul’s fallen warrior-heroes. I live on the island and as is my wont, I write what I know and make up the rest!




 

What’s special about this island that has so inspired you?


Six years ago, the local electricity company was digging a trench next to the road that leads from my local beach across the middle of the island of Alderney towards the Victorian forts on the north coast. They found stuff they really weren’t expecting.

No, not ancient bodies preserved in the sandy loam. These were found two years later. But the guys with the shovels were smart enough to alert our local museums and the archaeologists who work with them.

These historians already suspected an Iron Age settlement in the area and possibly a later Roman presence in the shadow of the 4th Century fort that still stands overlooking Longis Bay, but until the electricity company conveniently hit the stonework they weren’t sure exactly where to explore.

A series of archaeological digs later revealed several large buildings and an Iron Age burial site. We brought up the first bodies four years ago, complete with neck-torcs and bracelets, before the pandemic struck and we had to call it off while the world got its mojo back.

A full team of eager archaeologists is back on the island in May and I’ll be digging with them in the hope of finding some evidence to justify my story that begins with Caesar’s (fictional) conference there in 56BC to plot his forthcoming adventures in Britain. Enter a Gaul destined to rule Hampshire and Wiltshire, his sidekick Druid and, of course, a beautiful priestess who falls foul of the visiting Roman oiks.

 

What do you like to do when you’re not planning or writing your next book?


I’m embarrassed to tell you I’m a workaholic. I came to Alderney to retire but found I couldn’t give up the UK magazine I edit; neither could I resist a call to arms to assist the island government with their media relations. Then there’s volunteering for the Alderney Literary Trust with its amazing historical writing Literary Festival and other irresistible events with best-selling authors aplenty.

Barely time for the three most important things in my life – enjoying Alderney’s remarkable culinary establishments with my wife, Lynda; walking the dogs on the beach (here’s one of them – the other was napping at the time!); and of course, writing my seventh, eighth and nineth novels…



 

When did you know you wanted to write novels?


My first job was as a cub reporter on the South Wales Echo, and from there I moved to other newspapers to hone my skills using stone age typewriters. Writing novels was ever going to be something ‘out there’ for when reporting politics and crime no longer demanded my time and energy. Right from the time the guy on the next desk at my first job sold a manuscript and became Ken Follett.

As it happens, here’s a joke I’d like to share with you. Two journalists at the bar. One says, ‘I’m writing a book.’ The other replies, ‘Neither am I.’

I like to think both Ken and myself have proved to be exceptions to the rule!

 

Do you write in other genres?


Only once so far. Back in 2011 I found myself home alone in Spain while my wife was in the UK sorting out schools for two of the children who were returning to the UK. I had finished my first two historical novels and fancied a crack at some fantasy. I wrote Cell Wars – An Inside Story at the bar of the outdoor kitchen I had built and because it turned out completely wacky, I renamed myself Adam Fox so I wouldn’t be found out.

Your older readers may remember The Beano’s Numskulls or the science fiction films Fantastic Voyage and Inner Space. This book is about a chap called Brian Davis of The Poplars, Watford, who like everyone else on the planet has a team of minuscule protectors inside him, most of them devoted to keeping him well. Except in this case, his protectors are in a chaotic mess and things could go horribly wrong.

It's bit of Terry Pratchett meets Lewis Carroll – hence the remarkable cover image by Lynda Adlington who is a true believer in angels and the miracles the human body can work in its mission of self-healing. Read it you dare – cheap at half the price!


On that note, Val, thanks for having me here!


The Author


Alistair Forrest writes historical fiction, so far six novels with a new series set around Caesar’s invasions of Britain on the way. As the son of a Royal Navy officer, it’s hardly surprising he frequently dives into ancient sea-faring adventure.


Alistair was brought up in the Middle East, travelling to school in the UK. He began a career in journalism at the South Wales Echo in the same newsroom as the author Ken Follett, later working for other regional daily newspapers. He then chose a career path of editing magazines before becoming principal of a public relations company.


“I’m delighted to have signed with Sapere Books and look forward to seeing my novels join the works of such an amazing family of talented authors,” he says.


Today, his love of writing fiction is only interrupted by his work as editor of a natural health magazine, as a volunteer with the Alderney Literary Trust, and as media consultant for the States of Alderney, the government of the island where he lives with his wife Lynda and two very large dogs.


The Links


Sea of Flames – https://getbook.at/SeaOfFlames 

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