Author: John Timbers
Authors website address: email@example.com
Published books by the Author: Caesar’s Tribune – first in the series of five (see below)
Books in Process: Master of Gaul – waiting to go to press; Albion Ablaze – nearing completion; A View to a Death – in outline; Road to the Rubicon – in outline.
When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing my first novel back in ’93 as an exercise to keep my brain active during a spell of redundancy. I was in my mid-fifties and there were no jobs to be had in those age-ist days. Writing was something I had always enjoyed but, apart from letters, I had really only ever written essays, business reports and analyses. I have scribbled out poems for years – mostly the purest drivel – but I had never tried my hand at fiction.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I was looking for a challenge and found it in Latin translation. That sounds pretentious but the fact is that I studied Latin at school. After my final exams I never opened a Latin text book again. I found a copy of the Loeb Library Classics version of Caesar’s Gallic Wars – Latin on the left-hand page and English on the right – cheating? Yes, but it had been forty years! I became engrossed in the story Julius Caesar was telling the people of Rome over 2000 years ago. I had only read enough as a boy to pass my exams – life was too short at seventeen to read and enjoy history.
How did you approach writing your first book?
The English in which the Loeb translation was written must have been dated when the book was published way back in 1917 … some of the translation was so literal as to be almost unintelligible and some was just plain wrong. I started translating into the modern idiom but, fascinating though the story was, I soon realised that it wouldn’t grab the imagination of modern readers. It needed some serious spicing-up. Yet it was a great story from the pen of a man who has consistently been given a bad press.
I read everything I could find about Rome and the Romans and particularly Julius Caesar, comparing sources, delving ever deeper into the ‘why’s and ‘wherefore’s. His enemies hated him so much that they eventually managed to get him assassinated – not such a rare occurrence in ancient times but still pretty drastic stuff. However, the ordinary people of Rome and Caesar’s legionaries loved him. To them, he could do no wrong. The scenes at his funeral could perhaps best be compared with those at Princess Diana’s. People were distraught … and they really did make him a God afterwards!
Having steeped myself in the life and times of Rome and the Romans in the first century BC I set out to re-tell Caesar’s story through the eyes of a modern man, a man who could tell modern readers what it was like to be alive and live in the shadow of such a man. That required a bit of imagination and a borrowed sci-fi twist.
Who or what influenced your writing?
I read a lot and from a very wide range of material, from so-called childrens’ books – like Philip Pulman’s ‘Dark Material’ trilogy – humorous stuff – like Bill Bryson’s travelogues – to tomes like Vikram Seth’s ‘A Suitable Boy’, plus a lot of history, both social and military … oh, and a whole raft of sci-fi, as well as real science fact. I daresay I have picked up bits from every one of a long list of authors along the way but I cannot point to any particular source of influence. I do try … and fail significantly most of the time … to keep Winston Churchill’s apology in mind: "I do apologise for this long letter but I did not have time to write a short one." – Or words to that effect.
Why do you continue to write?–
I love doing it. It’s that simple.
What do you hope to accomplish through your writing?
I would like to get people to see Julius Caesar in a different light. One should not try to judge the great men and women of history against a modern set of criteria. They did what they did against a very different backdrop. They had standards of behaviour set by the society of their time – many of which we have abandoned to our detriment. Just because they lived a long time ago doesn’t mean that they were any the less intelligent than our modern greats. Caesar hated the inequalities in society that he saw around him. He wanted to drag the corrupt and creaking Roman Republic into a forward-looking, modern meritocracy, in which men and women of all colours and creeds could succeed, not because of their status at birth, but because of their ability.
What has been your experience as a published writer?
I don’t think I’ve been one long enough to comment.
How do you promote your book(s)?
So far the answer is "with difficulty".
What advice would you like to share with other writers?
Develop a thick skin and get out there and promote your book. I wish I could!
Any other comments you would like to add?
There are very few situations in life that don’t have a funny side. Try and find it and use it when you can. People pay good money for a smile.
Thank you, John, for sharing your time with us.
Interviewer: Kaye Trout - May 7, 2006 - Copyright