Ben Kane on the Battle of Cannae and his remarkable Romani Walk
Ben Kane is the author of three series of novels about the Roman Republic: The Forgotten Legion Chronicles; Spartacus; and now Hannibal. I caught up with him to ask about his new release, Fields of Blood.
BK: Two of the characters are a Roman brother and sister called Quintus and Aurelia while the third is Hanno, a young Carthaginian. In the first book, they were all thrown together but in this novel, their stories all take different paths. Aurelia remains at home, where she is forced into an arranged marriage; Quintus rebelliously deserts the Roman cavalry and becomes an infantryman; Hanno is serving in Hannibal’s army as the commander of a phalanx. As the war develops in Italy, with Hannibal and the Roman legions playing cat and mouse, the three characters each have to face their own perils.
RL: I jumped in with this book (second in the trilogy) and still very much enjoyed it. What do I HAVE to go back and read in book 1?
BK: It would be useful to go back and see the origins of the war (the second major conflict between Rome and Carthage), and how the characters, who come from very different backgrounds, end up meeting each other. (Also, it’s no longer a trilogy. There will be four, or even five, books in the series. The war lasted for seventeen years – I couldn’t miss out on this!)
RL: Fantastic news! On balance, I think I wish I’d read the first book first (for any of you thinking of cutting into the story as I did, part way through – Ben does a fine job of letting you know all you need to know, but it’s not all you want to know).
You write from both sides of the struggle. What do you prefer in Roman culture? What did the Carthaginians do better?
BK: I admire Roman organisation and efficiency. Their armies were incredibly formidable, and for many centuries, the bane of anyone who came across them.
The Carthaginians were better at trading and negotiation, I think. When the Romans decided that they wanted something, they just took it, using military force. The Carthaginians preferred to achieve the same ends through talking and (perhaps) a little bribery.
RL: What draws you to this earlier Roman period?
BK: In a nutshell, it was still a democracy. Perhaps only nominally so (it was really only the wealthy Romans who could influence politics) but that’s a damn sight better than the autocracy of the empire.
RL: We spoke earlier about the Starz Spartacus series, and you said you wouldn’t watch till your Spartacus novels were finished. Now you have finished, and presumably watched – how different was your vision, your viewpoint?
BK: Totally and utterly different. While the TV series had its highlights (Andy Whitfield as the original Spartacus, John Hannah as the ludus owner, Batiatus, and Lucy Lawless as his wife, and some good storylines in series one), it had too many lows for me (historical bloopers all over the place, action scenes that were pure fantasy, and in series two and three, a complete departure from historical fact).
In my books, I stuck to just about every historical detail that we have on Spartacus; I melded that with my considerable knowledge of first century BC Rome, and wrote the novels. In other words, I did my utmost to remain true to what we know; where there were gaps, I did my best to keep that idea together.
The TV series was sometimes more than an enjoyable fantasy romp through Spartacus’ story, but not enough to carry it off, which I was very sorry about. I had such high hopes for it, but that’s always the way with TV and film dramatisations of things, isn’t it?
RL: It is – essentially they are different media with different aims. I think I’m much keener on your vision than the Starz vision!
Meanwhile, closer to home, I – with many others – followed your Romani Walk with great admiration. (Ben walked with fellow Roman authors Anthony Riches and Russell Whitfield along Hadrian’s Wall. They were dressed in full Roman outfits, and raising money for two charities. It was a fantastic effort, not without personal consequences in terms of battered feet and limbs!)
What were the highlights of that for you, looking back?
BK: Thanks for your good wishes. The highlights were: starting it, after such a long preparation. The fact that it didn’t really rain at all for the entire walk. Finishing days three and four (the ones with most ‘up and down’) in one piece. Walking with the readers who came to meet us on day four. The event that we did in Corbridge, with Forum Books, on the evening of day four. And finishing it!
RL: After Hannibal, I gather you’re writing the 100 Years War (as are Christian Cameron, Mike Jecks, Manda Scott, I believe.) Do you think this will be a permanent time-shift for you? What are you most looking forward to about that?
BK: A permanent time shift? No way! I aim to write at least three books set during the Hundred Years’ War, but there may be more. I will continue to write novels about Rome, however, and also begin new series that take place at other times in history. More, I cannot say!
BK: Without doubt, it’s Hawk Quest, by Robert Lyndon. It impressed me with its writing, its characters, its breadth of canvas (from England to Iceland and Greenland, to Russia and Asia Minor), its descriptions of wildlife. Its sheer scale was amazing.
Ben also has a new short story Hannibal: The Patrol, in ebook only, featuring some of the characters in Fields of Blood.
Ben will be appearing in our HNS Meet the Historians event at Bristol Museum 19th October 2013, along with M.C. (Manda) Scott.
Posted by Richard Lee