The first draft of my fantasy sequel has been placed on hold. I am unsure as to what has come over me but I have had an insatiable urge to read and cover history. My goal for my next work is to open the series of my “Memoirs of the Veturii” series with a novel set in Roman Britain.
My aims in this project are to produce works between novella and novel length which are unique unto themselves. So, like any genre, Roman HF has its tropes to avoid:
- Sword and Sandal ‘boy novels’ – I do not wish to gloss over historical facts and write pointless and repetitive action scenes full of gore and dialogue littered with modern colloquialisms. Instead, even though the first novel takes place in the Boudicca uprising, I wish to portray the protagonist, Gaius Veturius Drusus as a believable and relatable human being.
- It’s not 100% relatable – One must bear in mind that my characters are a mix of Stoics, Roman Pagans and British Pagans among others. Their rituals are alien, different and perhaps something more akin to fantasy novels; HOWEVER these were real people and I find the ancients and their ways of life quite fascinating.
- Info dumping – Still, despite the copious amounts of history books which I am delving through on a nightly basis, it is important to avoid TMI / History information dumps. It just has to somehow be part of the story. So, in my quest to avoid the stereotypical image of thousands of Legionaries (no auxilia) armed to the teeth and equipped with flashy segmented armour as they hack through hordes of barbarians without sweating or getting covered in blood, I have to show mid- 1st century Romans, getting together in their mail suits and doing their thing… BUT WITHOUT IT BEING ANOTHER SWORD AND SANDALS AFFAIR.
- Women!? – This is a hard one to work on in a war novel as Romans were not very PC by modern standards. In contrast, they were very patriarchal, therefore in a novel about Roman soldiers, most of the characters would be men. The sequel (which I think is probably more original than this first work) shows the aftermath of the Boudicca Rebellion through the eyes of an Iceni woman taken as a slave. So, for this particular work, there are female characters but the male characters take the lead. In later works, I intend to diversify the characters in terms of gender and culture within the narrative in order to show a wider variety of different perspectives from the ancient world.
- Characters – Too many people, too many names. Some characters go by more than one name (their praenomen by their wives, nomen by their superiors and cognomen by their mates) and I have to figure out how and why to simplify the elegance that is Roman nomenclature. Bringing in lots of characters can help set the scene for future books, but one should not overdo it.
- Historical Characters – It is best to avoid these because a) it is overdone with people speculating on how famous historical figures behaved and b) it is more my goal to show readers a world through the eyes of the regular folk and not exclusively through the perspectives of the rich and famous.
- Historical events and Plot Structure – Yes, I know that there are all sorts of ways and plot structures to follow like every other novel HOWEVER, the beauty of HF is that I want it to be Historical FICTION and not FANTASY. I will not be changing the timeline of the Boudicca rebellion in the hopes of creating a richer plot, instead my characters will have to fit in with the tragedies as they unfolded within the grander historical context.
- Language – My protagonist, Gaius Veturius Drusus is an educated son of the Veturii (plebeian branch) whose father owned property in the Aventine Hill and in Ostia. He may not have gotten as far as being able to afford to educate his sons in Rhetoric, yet Gaius studied from age 6 with a Literatus and from age 11 with a Grammaticus named Demetrius. Gaius speaks Latin quite elegantly and is well versed in Greek, having studied works in both languages in his youth and still being a scholar of the Stoic philosophy of life. Gaius, being married to Brigid, a woman of the Dobunni tribe, at the time of the story (by right of connubium) and having served most of his adult life in Britannia is fluent in the Dobunni Dialectic of Brythonic. Sorry then to any swords and sandals fans who expect more modern and colloquial jargon from my MC. NOTE: Swearing in Latin (rusticitas) will be evident in the book as the Romans had it down to an art form. I do not believe that I can truly show people the full picture of Roman culture by excluding their magnificent array of creative profanities.
- **For example: The dreaded F- you in English was more of a jibe with Romans, yet to say to another man ‘pedicabo ego vos’ (lit. bugger you) is tantamount to fighting words. Gaius will swear on occasion, yet he often succeeds in maintaining his composure under duress. Other characters will be less conservative when using the more colourful elements of Latin vernacular (as accurately translated as possible of course)
Lastly, I need to touch upon the tense. After reading Atwood’s “A Handmaid’s Tale” I felt that the best way to portray trauma and anxiety is actually through the first person perspective. I believe that this will help create a certain empathy with the narrator – thus allowing readers to see him as more than just a generic Roman soldier in a novel. I choose to write in the present tense because I want to expose my readers to the G. Veturius Drusus – Centurio Primus Ordinus et Pilus Prior, Cohortes Evocatus, Vexilatium Veteranorum, Legio XX, Valeria Victrix, Anno 813 Ad Urbe Conditum – as accurately as possible without losing them in the lingo, jargon or lost culture that was Roman Britain.