The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Ben Kane

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Ben Kane

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Summary: Bookbag loved Ben Kane's first two novels, which bring Roman times to vivid life. He mixes history and emotion beautifully, making for a sometimes disturbing, but always entertaining read. After being fortunate enough to meet him at an evening at our local library recently, he was delighted to be put to the sword in Bookbag style.
Date: 12 August 2009
Interviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear

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Bookbag loved Ben Kane's first two novels - The Forgotten Legion and The Silver Eagle, which bring Roman times to vivid life. He mixes history and emotion beautifully, making for a sometimes disturbing, but always entertaining read. After being fortunate enough to meet him at an evening at our local library recently, he was delighted to be put to the sword in Bookbag style.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Ben Kane: That's a difficult one to answer. I did initially think it would mainly be blokes, but I see from my reviews and the people who log on to my website that substantial numbers of women are reading my books too, which is fantastic. I guess now that I see everybody, people like me who love a good historical story - hopefully written in the style of Cornwell and Scarrow et al.

  • BB: Given that some of your themes (eg, politicians out solely for their own benefit, not that of the people) are very current, what led you to write about Roman times?

BK: Nothing much changes, eh? To prove this, recently translated tablets at Vindolanda fort on Hadrian's Wall recount the story of officers fiddling their expenses. What drew me to Roman times was my love of all things Roman. Since I was a small boy and read Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliffe, I've been fascinated by them and their incredible achievements.

  • BB: Was history a favourite subject at school? What would your history teacher make of you writing historical fiction now?

BK: History was indeed one of my favourite subjects. In Ireland pupils take 6 subjects to the end of school rather than the 3 A levels here in the UK, so it's possible to do science and arts subjects as well as Maths and English etc. all the way through. There was no way I was going to drop History. In fact I put it on my university application course after veterinary and medicine, but didn't take it as I got my first choice.

What would my history teacher make of my novels? I've no idea! I must find a way to send him a copy and see.

  • BB: Having done all the research to make your books as accurate as possible, do you ever find yourself wishing you'd written non-fiction instead?

BK: Absolutely no way. I couldn't bear to spend so much time writing a textbook. While I have the highest admiration for the scholars who write the texts I use, I wouldn't have the patience, or talent, to do the same job.

  • BB: You said recently that many TV shows and films portray Roman times inaccurately. Do you ever find yourself shouting at the TV when you spot a factual mistake?

BK: Yes, lots! Stirrups being used by Roman riders is one of the most common reasons. So is the premature use of the lorica segmentata, the plated armour worn by legionaries after AD9.

  • BB: With such a diverse range of characters in your stories, who do you most readily identify yourself with and which would you most like to be?

BK: An embarrassing question! I suppose Brennus is my favourite, given that he's the big strong warrior. Tarquinius is not like me really.Overall, Brennus is still the one I'd like to be though.

  • BB: How has your research into ancient Rome affected how you view modern Rome as a tourist?

BK: Very much so. I first visited Rome in 2002, before I had really started writing, and found it a real struggle to imagine and visualise the city as it might have been two millennia ago. When I revisited it in 2008, with a wealth of knowledge under my belt, I saw it in a very different light. I knew the layout of the city, and where temples and other buildings should be, so I was able to imagine them much more vividly. I really hope that experience continues to grow each time I go back.

  • BB: Although the factual side is done by research, how are you also able to so vividly depict the sounds and sights of battle, or get under the emotional skin of your characters so well?

BK: Thanks for the compliment. Having never been in the military, I have never been in combat, but I have always identified with soldiers - of every race and creed - and enjoyed reading about battles of all types, from Roman times to Vietnam. Perhaps this has given me some understanding of battle, I don't know. Then there's my wife's theory, which is that I was a Roman soldier in another life! As for the emotions of my characters, I do my very best to imagine what I would do in each situation, as well as what the character would do. Thus the final result is a mix of the two, I think.

  • BB: How do the highs and lows of being a writer compare to the highs and lows of being a vet?

BK: Good question. Like any change in vocation, there are some things which are better and others which are not. The real highs of being a writer include getting 'in the flow' and being able to write an entire chapter in less than a day, when such an amount might take a week normally. The lows include not being able to write more than a few hundred words in a whole day, or reading an awful review of one of my books somewhere. The highs of veterinary include saving an animal's life, and seeing it recover over a few days when one might have thought it would die. The lows include working for 18 hours without a break, and being on call at night and at the weekends. Overall the lows of veterinary far outweigh those of being a writer, while the highs probably pip slightly the highs of writing. However the overall picture, of being my own boss, and working from home mean that writing wins out easily.

  • BB: What's next for Ben Kane?

BK: Well, I'm nearly finished the first draft of The Road to Rome, the third book in the Forgotten Legion trilogy. Once that's done and dusted in the next 2 months or so, it'll be straight onto the first book in my new trilogy. Soldier of Carthage concerns Rome and Carthage during the time of the second Punic war. It will be published in summer 2011. The second and third books, entitled Legionary and The Final Battle, will follow in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

  • BB: Thanks a lot, Ben - we can't wait to read the new book!

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