Please help me welcome author Ben Kane. His newest novel, Spartacus: Rebellion, was released earlier this week. I had the opportunity to ask him some questions about his work – I had a particular interest in this subject as I am taking a Roman Republic and Empire class right now – which is currently his area of specialty. Welcome Ben!
You have written novels about Roman Legions (The Forgotten Legion, The Silver Eagle, and Road to Rome), the Second Punic War (Hannibal: Enemy of Rome), and gladiators (Spartacus: The Gladiator and Spartacus: Rebellion). What is it about this time period of Roman history that inspires you to write about it?
I’ve always been interested in ancient civilizations, but particularly Rome. My first trilogy came about because of the storyline ― in a way, it was a coincidence that it was set during the fall of the Roman Republic. However, once I had become immersed in that world, I came to love it. I think I found myself drawn to the fact that it was still nominally democratic, whereas under the emperors, things were very different indeed. Also, what’s not to love about major historical figures such as Hannibal and Spartacus?!
I’m sure you have read and referred to many, many non-fiction books during your novel writing. Are there any great ones that you could recommend? I have a personal interest in this question as I am currently taking a Roman Republic and Empire class.
The list is as long as my arm. I’ll list a few of the ones that I return to, again and again.
- A History of Rome by Cary and Scullard ― absolutely indispensable.
- The Oxford Classical Dictionary ― incredibly useful for looking up annoying names; great for explaining those details that in larger texts, are so often frustratingly vague.
- Caesar by Adrian Goldsworthy ― just one of the excellent books written by one of the foremost experts on Ancient Rome. I could list a dozen of his.
- Carthage Must Be Destroyed by Richard Miles ― after decades without a new, well-researched text on the Carthaginians, this text was a really welcome arrival.
- Greece and Rome at War by Peter Connolly ― if you are interested in the Roman army in any way, shape or form, you need to have this book. End of story. It has been newly republished too.
Thanks for these! I actually have the Cary and Scullard book as one of my assigned texts for this class – small world! I will have to take a look at the Miles book.
Why military historical fiction as opposed to some other type? Did you have military experience or family inspiration?
I don’t, no! It’s just that since I was a boy, I’ve loved stories to do with men, swords and/or guns. I do have ancestors who served in various wars, but they’re not the reason that I write about soldiers and their comrades.
I have to ask, have you watched any of the Starz series Spartacus? I have not, but have heard it is excellent.
I wondered if I’d get asked this! I have watched all but the final series, and am in the middle of watching that. It’s a mixed bag, to be honest. Some of it is really well done, and much of it is good TV – gripping, fast moving, and with a good storyline. Andy Whitfield, who played the first Spartacus, was great. Sadly, he died, however. There are other parts of the series that are truly awful. I’m sorry to say that the final series is proving to be the latter. It has departed almost entirely from historical fact, and become a sort of kung-fu fantasy effort. Spartacus deserved better.
With regard to future writing plans – do you plan to continue to write about Rome, other Ancient cultures like the Greeks, or something entirely different?
I plan to move to other time periods, yes. Next on the list is the Hundred Years War, between England and France, a conflict which actually lasted for 116 years (1337-1453). The first book will be called Crécy, and culminate with that famous battle.
When you have the chance for leisure reading, what books or authors do you enjoy?
I have to say that I still love historical fiction. My interests range through all time periods. Some of my favorite authors include Christian Cameron, C.W. Gortner and Robert Lyndon, author of the amazing Hawk Quest. After a twenty year hiatus from reading fantasy, I’ve been lured back into the fold by the dark and blackly humorous writing of Joe Abercrombie.
Ben Kane was born in Kenya and raised there and in Ireland. He qualified as a veterinary surgeon from University College Dublin, and worked in Ireland and the UK for several years. After that he travelled the world extensively, indulging his passion for seeing the world and learning more about ancient history. Seven continents and more than 65 countries later, he decided to settle down, for a while at least.
While working in Northumberland in 2001/2, his love of ancient history was fuelled by visits to Hadrian’s Wall. He naïvely decided to write bestselling Roman novels, a plan which came to fruition after several years of working full time at two jobs – being a vet and writing. Retrospectively, this was an unsurprising development, because since his childhood, Ben has been fascinated by Rome, and particularly, its armies. He now lives in North Somerset with his wife and family, where he has sensibly given up veterinary medicine to write full time.
Copyright © 2013 by The Maiden’s Court