It is a delight to welcome bestselling historical novellist, Alistair Forrest to the blog today. Not only that, but he has shared some extra special news with me. Of course, I will not keep this to myself! Thank you for your time today, Alistair.
What inspired you to write Sea of Flames?
All of my historical fiction novels are inspired by a eureka moment, like moving to Spain in 2005 only to discover our new home was on the site of Caesar’s last battle, or a friend with a penchant for espionage techniques telling me about the original Caesar Cipher system of coded messages.
These discoveries prompted four of my first five books.
For Sea of Flames, that moment of inspiration came while reading Plutarch. As you do. I was researching the naval Battle of Actium (31 BCE) and came across an obscure reference to a Greek seaman by the name of Eurycles. This was a man so enraged over the murder of his father, Lachares, that he decked out his 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 for Antony & Cleopatra and Burton & Taylor have a classic film to make. However, Plutarch reports Eurycles’ success against a certain other general’s ship, with no reference to the name of the commander in question, and there’s no mention of one Publicola after Actium. This senator was a nasty piece of work, easily worked into a story around Eurycles’ quest for revenge.
There’s the story, right there. Fill in the gaps. Create an almost 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.
And I’m pleased to report I have also found similar inspiration for my next series, this time venturing north to the shores of Britain.
(map from Harry's Greece Travel Guide https://www.greeceathensaegeaninfo.com/destinations-greece-battlefield-actium.htm)
Who is your favourite character in Sea of Flames and why?
His name is ‘Ratboy’. He doesn’t have a real name, let alone a family. He’s a teenager with a screwed-up face and bad teeth. He’s basically cabin boy on Eurycles’ ship, Hera. He is fiercely loyal to Eurycles and all of the crew and he spends way too much energy on the lookout for Mark Antony whose heart he would dig out with a spoon (with apologies to Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves). I had such fun writing every scene in which he is involved (pretty much the whole book).
Seems like an interesting nickname! How so?
I always go for nicknames where I can. This stems from school of course (not telling you mine!).
But it’s a dangerous game. In my first novel, Libertas, the hero is a Spanish youth of Phoenician extraction whose name is Melqart. As a child, his family called him Agapito (‘little loved one’) which was shortened to ‘Pito’, and stuck.
Bear in mind I wrote this book in Spain while learning the language. Don’t tell anyone, but after publication I discovered that ‘pito’ is slang for a gentleman’s appendage! The little prick did well though, growing up to become an inventive and courageous opponent of the wicked suppression of his community.
Do you have another story planned or in progress? When can we expect to see that?
Oh yes. I’ve written about a fifth of the first book in a series about Julius Caesar’s invasions of Britain. The working title is Isle of the Dead and it’s inspired in part by the island where I live, Alderney.
You see, we have an archaeological project just a few yards from my home where we have discovered an Iron Age settlement and burial ground in the shadow of a well-preserved Roman fort. We have already unearthed Iron Age skeletons complete with neck torcs and bracelets. There’s also a Roman settlement, so of course I’m there with every spare moment seeking inspiration.
The lead archaeologist is convinced the Romans settled here from 56BC which is when Caesar’s invasion of Gaul reached Brittany and Normandy – the latter just a few miles from Alderney. Evidence or no, there’s going to be a top-secret meeting of minds here to plot the two expeditions to Britain’s shores. Plenty of intrigue, betrayal, a little love interest and a twisty plot. Expect the first book next year.
Who is your favourite author?
Too many to list here! I can trace my love of historical fiction right back to my first job as a reporter on the South Wales Echo. In between court reporting and ambulance-chasing the editors farmed out the latest books for review. The one that stands out for me was Gateway to the Gods by Mary Theresa Ronalds. Such a rich story of ancient Babylonia and so brilliantly researched. That’s where it started for me, soon to be followed by Mary Renault’s Alexander the Great trilogy.
More recently, Robert Harris, especially his Cicero trilogy. John Le Carré too, such skill in crafting espionage stories. I’ve read Lee Child’s entire Jack Reacher series. And I suspect I’m going to be a huge fan of new historical fiction authors Fiona Forsyth and Jacquie Rogers, both of whom leave me standing with their astonishing research.
What do you like to do when you’re not planning or writing your next book?
I have several jobs. Editor of a natural health magazine, volunteer PR for the Alderney Literary Trust, media support for the island’s government, sub-editor for a Scottish consumer magazine and supporter of my wife’s art, photography and children’s books. So I’m a bit stretched, but writing historical fiction is right up there, usually between 5 and 8.30 am.
Now tell us, what is the news you have to share? We're curious!
I have signed with a new publisher, Sapere Books, for all my historical fiction novels. They will be publishing new editions of all my books soon along with my new trilogy about the first Roman advance into Britain by Julius Caesar. Watch this space.
Alistair has been a journalist for a very long time, working for three UK newspapers and editing several consumer and trade magazines. He also ran a PR company for a decade. Currently, he lives in Alderney in the Channel Islands where he writes historical fiction, assists the States of Alderney and the Alderney Literary Festival with media coverage, and edits New Natural Business, a UK trade magazine.
EXCITING NEWS - NEW PUBLISHER
Alistair Forrest has signed with a new publisher, Sapere Books, for all of his historical fiction novels. New editions of his novels will be relaunched soon along with his new trilogy about the first Roman advance into Britain by Julius Caesar. He assures us we won’t have to wait too long!