Adam Portrait 2013

Guest Post: Historical Fiction Writer Adam Haviaras

I’ve had Adam Haviaras on the site before and I always jump at the chance to have him visit. Adam is a historian and a writer of historical fantasy. This week, he’s releasing a new book in his Roman Empire series, Eagles and Dragons. Please have a look at the series if you are interested in Roman history or tales of politics, prophesy and adventure. (Look here for the Kobo version) The new book will be called Killing the Hydra and I’ll have a link as soon as it is published. Today, he talks about the research and travel when writing historical fiction.

Get thee to a Castle (if you can)! – Historical Fiction and Site Visits
One of the things I love about historical fiction is that it transports you to another time, place, and way of life. All from the safety of a cozy arm chair.

However, the challenge for the writer of historical fiction is to make the story as realistic and accurate as possible. This involves a lot of research, and hey, if you love history, that part is fun!

I’ve lost count of all the hours I’ve spent in libraries or my own stacks of books at home, sifting through primary and secondary sources. I’ve done the slow museum walk until my back ached and all I wanted was a glass of wine in a sun-drenched café. I’ve been all over the internet until my eyes bled from looking at photos, maps, Google Earth and Street View.

Amphitheatre of Thysdrus

And those things are extremely useful, but not so much as one thing in particular: site visits.

I love to travel, but for my fiction, it isn’t just for fun, it’s essential. I’ve found that I’m in the writing ‘zone’ when I’m describing a place I’ve actually been to. It isn’t just about what you see in a place, it’s about what you smell, and feel with your hands and feet. When you visit the actual place where your story is set, you get the sensation of the wind on your face and what it sounds like blowing through the trees and over the rocks.

You can’t get that from the internet. Not yet, anyway. Not until someone to creates a real holodeck.

Adam, about to lick the Saharan sands

I was once told by an author of historical fiction that when researching his novel on the Templars, he visited sites in the Holy Land and “licked” the stones to get a sense of their texture, shape and taste. He said this helped him a lot, though the locals looked at him strangely.

I don’t recommend licking stones, but touching them with your hands definitely helps.

In the past months, Roberto (our gracious host and slayer of spiders) has shared many pictures from his own travels to sites that figure largely in The Scourge. I’m curious what he has to say about his site visits…

Roberto? Did your site visits add a lot to your understanding of the world of The Scourge?

(Roberto: Absolutely Adam. I was reading your first few paragraphs nodding my head madly. You gain so many intangibles when you visit a place. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a site visit is worth a hundred-thousand pictures. I find my best scenes are the ones that take place in the sites I have been to the most.)

The streets of Thugga

Those were great photos by the way. They really help to root the story in reality, even in the face of a zombie plague.

In my own research for Children of Apollo and Killing the Hydra, one of the most important things I did was go to the Sahara and walk barefoot over the dunes. The desert itself is a character in the books and being able to feel the sand underfoot, to pick it up and let it fall through my fingers, was fantastic; it was smooth, like sifted flour.

The archaeological sites I was able to roam through allowed me to map my story out, street by street. In Thugga (in central Tunisia), I walked with my character to the Capitol to make an offering, then to the forum where we purchased provisions, and then to the brothel where, well… you get the picture.

Actually, those site visits were worth eighty thousand words, easily!

Thugga Brothel House of the Cyclops. Where Adam . . . um . . . researched.

Of course, travel to a site is not always possible. Parts of my novels take place in what are now Libya and Algeria. Not really holiday destinations.

Apart from the fact that many ancient sites now lie in war-torn countries, the cost of getting to places is often inaccessible to most writers’ meager budgets. Sadly, travel isn’t cheap.

When I lived in Britain, it was much easier to fly to Italy from Bristol, than it is from Toronto. How about a £60 return special to Venice for the weekend? Fantastico! But now that I live on the other side of the Atlantic, those prices are not available to me.

As writers we must always find a way to put ourselves in the places we are writing about, be it in person, via the internet, books, documentaries, or by speaking with others who have been there.

The Sahara

If you are writing an historical fiction series, it’s definitely worth your while to save and make at least one trip to the place where your story is set. If you ever get the chance to go, do it. You won’t regret it and the sites and sensations you experience will carry you and your writing for a long time afterward.

The good news is that there has never been a better, more exciting time to write historical fiction than now, when so much information is at our fingertips.

Until you can get on a plane, however, keep on researching and writing, and allow your longing to get to a faraway place to fire your imagination and enrich your story.

Adam Alexander Haviaras is an author of historical fiction/fantasy set in the ancient world. He has studied history and archaeology in Canada and the United Kingdom and his both his Eagles and Dragons and Carpathian Interlude series are available from Amazon and Kobo. Adam blogs weekly on his website, Writing the Past, about ancient and medieval history and historical fiction. You can Tweet him at @AdamHaviaras or find him on Google+. He loves to hear from readers, writers, and fellow history-lovers, so don’t be shy. Contact him!



Guest Post: Adam Haviaras on Historical Fantasy

Adam Haviaras is *the man* when it comes to history. A medieval history scholar with a background in archaeology and creative writing. Adam writes historical fantasy. Awesome historical fantasy. Well researched, well written and highly entertaining. He’s been kind enough to honor my blog with a guest post. If you like history, please have a look at his site — it’s a fascinating collection of history and writing. And pick up one of his books. You won’t regret it.


Reasons to Love Historical Fantasy
By Adam Alexander Haviaras

We all have a favourite genre of fiction, something that just feels like home. For some it’s detective stories. Other people might prefer romance novels. I remember working at a major bookstore in Toronto  and having some of my usual customers come in to buy $250 worth of romance novels they had already read because they wanted mint condition volumes as keepsakes. Very loyal indeed, to the genre and the author.

I love historical fiction, historical fantasy in particular. I write it, I read it and if I could, I would probably live it! Well, the fun parts anyway.

There are many reasons why I’m devoted to historical fantasy. Here are my top 5:

One: Each new iteration of a story or tradition keeps history and legend alive and breathing. The Arthurian cycle and the Trojan War are good examples of this. Every successive generation needs a new, revived version of a story and as a result, it persists.

Two: You can bring to life and come face to face with beasts or other beings that have always been considered mythological. Pit your heroes against, or team them up with, a chimera, a hydra, a minotaur, elves, fairies and of course dragons! Love the dragons.

Or how about the Undead? Zombies are great adversaries for protagonists to face off against. In IMMORTUI, the first novella in my Carpathian Interlude series, I wrote about a Roman legion of the Emperor Augustus battling zombies beyond Rome’s Danube frontier. Of course I’ve tried to ensure that my history and setting are accurate but the fantastical elements allowed me to get really creative within an historical context.

Three: historical fantasy can open the gates to an interest in history, especially at a younger age. We all know that young men are a tougher demographic to crack when it comes to reading books and going to a library. Like an historical movie, a good work of historical fantasy will certainly peak interest and could lead someone to read other books on the period or subject. I’ve always been an advocate for the study of history for broadening our understanding of so many aspects of the world we live in.

Four: Historical Fantasy is free from the constraints of academia. Sadly, many scholars frown upon historical fiction, especially historical fantasy. I agree that it’s possible for an author to take too many liberties when it comes to the history – when they do so, it should be revealed in the Author’s Note of the book. Gross inaccuracies are jarring and ruin the story. However, if the historic and legendary aspects of a book are well-researched, if they are well-pieced together, the story can still teach readers about history in a more interesting, accessible way. I’m a firm believer that every high school and university history class should have some historical fiction/fantasy on the reading list. I think it would be brilliant!

And Five

Historical fantasy makes ancient religious practices and beliefs easier for modern readers to accept and understand. This is important as this allows for the more ‘esoteric’ elements of historical fantasy. Things that were common and every day in the ancient world now seem fantastical or unbelievable to a modern audience. Who are we to judge the ancients whose religions lasted far longer than many ‘modern’ belief systems have existed to date? The ancients believed that the gods played a role in every aspect of their lives and this can make for some great storytelling. You can get closer to the gods, so to speak, and get right into their loves and hates, their compassion and jealousy, everything that made them, well, almost human.

This is something I explore in the first two books of the Eagles and Dragons series, Children of Apollo and the forthcoming sequel, Killing the Hydra. I’ve found in a lot of historical fiction that ancient religious belief and ritual (pre-Christian) is often shied away from, dismissed as quaint. It is not taken seriously. But why would I avoid something that would have been such an integral part of my characters’ daily lives, a force behind their thoughts and motives?

For me, the inclusion of religious beliefs, polytheistic or monotheistic, in fiction only makes the tale more fascinating and has the potential to add much greater depth to the story’s characters.

Historical fantasy allows for this and much, much more.

So, those are my top 5 reasons to love historical fantasy, or at least give it a try. I’m sure many of you who love the genre could come up with your own reasons. Let’s hear them! Or perhaps you have some historical fantasy recommendations for the rest of us?

Some great examples of historical fantasy that I have enjoyed reading are Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia, Glyn Iliffe’s Adventures of Odysseus series, Gene Wolfe’s Latro in the Mist, the late David Gemmell’s Troy series, Steven Pressfield’s Last of the Amazons, Alice Borchardt’s Legends of the Wolves series and, of course Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon.

There is also a recent release that takes place in medieval England but instead of the bubonic plague it has zombies. It’s called The Scourge, that’s it! I think you must know the author if you are reading this. If you haven’t read it, do so. It’s awesome!

With hope, there will be many more such stories so that there is no end to this fantastic genre of historical fiction.


Adam Alexander Haviaras is a writer and historian who has studied ancient and medieval history, archaeology, and creative writing at the University of Toronto, Canada and the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. He is the author of the Eagles and Dragons historical fantasy series set in the Roman Empire as well as the Carpathian Interlude series of novellas. He currently resides in Toronto with his wife and children.

Visit his blog at www.writingthepastblog.blogspot.com to read about ancient and medieval history and historical fiction.
Or, visit the Eagles and Dragons Facebook page for interesting information about the ancient world.
You can also ‘Follow’ Adam on Twitter @AdamHaviaras