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: Sci-Fi Author Anne Charnock

Anne Charnock is a fellow 47North author and a wildly interesting person! Her debut novel, A Calculated Life, will be released on September 24. The novel is set in the later 21st century amid a dystopian culture of class-separation and corporate power. Please do yourself a favor and pre-order it as I have. It will be a wonderful addition to 47North’s science fiction catalog. And now, here’s Anne:

If you put Roberto’s novel The Scourge alongside my novel A Calculated Life you’d think they had nothing in common. The Scourge is clearly set in medieval days whereas my story is set in the near future. But there’s a surprise connection between our novels. My main character Jayna works for a mega-corporation that predicts social and economic trends (okay, so far we’ve no common ground). But in an early key scene, Jayna has a meeting with her bosses – Olivia and Benjamin – in the company boardroom, and a large poster draws Jayna’s attention:

 “Jayna’s eyes were flicking between Benjamin and the image on the wall behind him, a large poster of Jesse Recumbent; a rare and monumental, oak sculpture from the medieval age, of immense significance according to Olivia. Jesse lent gravitas to the boardroom, Jayna thought, even though he was lying down. She wondered what he’d make of Mayhew McCline and its world of trend forecasting and economic modelling. Jayna changed the subject. ‘Any news about Tom?’” 

Why did I want to include Jesse Recumbent? Well… I’ve always felt that when we look at very old photos of our hometowns, we usually spot something familiar. Often it’s just the surfaces of things that have changed– rough tracks and cobbled lanes have become asphalt roads, shop signage has been modernized. Likewise, I feel that if we time-travelled to the future we wouldn’t feel totally lost — the past would be visible if we looked closely. In other words, the past and present co-exist. And I wanted to emphasise this point not only in the way I described details of Jayna’s city, but also by showing that people still held a fascination with their very distant histories. Hence… Olivia and her amateur interest in Medievalism.

Recumbent Figure of Jesse, Tate Britain, Image and Idol: Medieval Sculpture, 2001

During my art studies, many moons ago, I researched early Italian painting (and that entailed forays to Italy to see the frescoes in Florence, Siena, Padua — such a hardship!) What really upset me was the knowledge that our own art heritage in England and Wales had been systematically destroyed. This happened between 1540 and 1650 in repeated anti-Catholic assaults on religious artefacts. Only a few paintings and sculptures escaped – Jesse Recumbent being one of the very finest survivors!

In fact, Richard Deacon, who curated an exhibition of medieval art at Tate Britain in 2001, described Recumbent Figure of Jesse (its full title) as “sensational”. This massive oak sculpture normally resides at St Mary’s Priory in Abergavenny in North Wales. (Roberto’s note: There’s another link. Edward, in The Scourge, sees signs of the Virgin Mary everywhere he goes.)  At one time, the sculpture had a bough ‘growing’ from Jesse’s chest with small sculptures of his ancestors. And of course Jesse would have been brightly painted. There are still traces of paint — gold on the angel’s hair, and green on the bough.

The period of greatest destruction fell in Henry VIII’s reign and according to Phillip Lindley in the Tate Britain catalogue, Image and Idol: Medieval Sculpture:

 “By the time of Henry VIII’s death in 1547, the monasteries had been dissolved, the shrines and saints smashed and pilgrimage statues destroyed. Within a few years, almost the entire population of medieval religious sculpture was to be devastated by the evangelical politicians who formed Edward VI’s council. Evidence of a powerful, pent-up desire for change came in outbreaks of unofficial iconoclasm.”

I get a lump in my throat whenever I think of these lost treasures so I guess it’s not too surprising that Jesse Recumbent found its way into my writing.


Anne’s debut novel, A Calculated Life, is a near-future dystopia. It will be published by 47North on 24 September and is available now for pre-order.


Anne Charnock’s writing career began in journalism; her articles appeared in The Guardian, New Scientist, and International Herald Tribune. She was educated at the University of East Anglia, where she studied environmental sciences, and at The Manchester School of Art. She travelled widely as a foreign correspondent and spent a year trekking through Egypt, Sudan, and Kenya.

In her fine art practice she tried to answer the questions, What is it to be human? What is it to be a machine? And ultimately she decided to write fiction as another route to finding answers.

Visit her blog at http://www.annecharnock.com to read her many reports on other writers and their novels.