Ben Kane is born in Kenya. He grows up there and in Ireland. Later he has traveled around the world. Before he became fulltime writer he was veterinarian. He is married and have children. He lives in England. You can read more about him on his website, http://www.benkane.net
1. Why do you choose to write about ancient Rome and not about any other historical period in time?
Why I choose the Roman period as the setting for my novels and the storytelling possibilities this provides.
There are a number of reasons that I chose the Roman period as a background for my novels when I set out to become a full time author. I knew that I wanted to write military historical fiction, in the style of such great authors as Bernard Cornwell. I was particularly drawn to the Romans and the Vikings, as I had been since childhood. Although the legions never came to Ireland (where I grew up), the iconic YA book, The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, cast me under its spell when I was about nine or ten ― and it never let me go.
In 2001/2, I spent a year working on the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak as a veterinarian. I was posted to Northumberland, in northern England. This is the county through which most of Hadrian’s Wall runs. Little was I to realise, but this would reawaken the interest I’d had in Rome more than twenty years previously. I took the chance to visit the wall frequently, and could not help but imagine Roman soldiers standing on it, living in the forts there and serving out their careers wondering how in hell they had come be there, at what must have seemed the ends of the earth. I decided to write a book about such men. My first novel (begun in 2003 and never published) was about a real life rebellion in AD 181, on/around Hadrian’s Wall.
I also thought that Rome would be interesting to write about because it has such a long and glorious martial history. There are more than a thousand years of wars, politics, battles and tragedy to pick and choose from. Unlike other authors who write about Rome, I found myself drawn to the Republican period. Initially, I thought that was coincidence, but I think there’s more to it now. Coming from a republic, I disagree fundamentally with the idea of monarchy. I therefore find myself instinctively disliking Roman emperors, which means that I find the idea of novels set after the Republic’s fall less appealing. Still, that doesn’t confine me. I’ve been working backwards since my first trilogy, writing novels about Spartacus and currently, a second novel about the Second Punic War, which took place between 218 and 202 BC. There’s plenty more Roman history before that too, so I hope not to run out of material any time soon.
2. How do you make the inquiries into the subjects of your books?
Research is an intimate part of writing historical fiction. It’s the foundation upon which each good story rests, and as such, it needs to be robust and well-laid. In my opinion, without a good basis in reality or fact, historical fiction becomes either historical fantasy or alternate history. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with those genres ― I’m fond of them myself, especially the latter ― but they fall into a different classification to the books I write.
Research can take many forms, but the methods that I find most useful are reading textbooks, studying the information on relevant websites, visiting museums and/or historical sites, and attending re-enactment events, where I can soak up the atmosphere and talk to the men and women who work so hard at helping us to understand how life was thousands of years ago. I like to buy small items that have been made as they were long ago. The bookshelf over my desk has a whistle, a bone hairpin, a little oil lamp, a brass whistle, a blue glass and other Roman trinkets on it.
Some textbooks can be very dry, full of details that tell us much about the structure, politics and customs of ancient society but which reveal precious little about the real people who lived so long ago. Nonetheless, there’s great enjoyment to be had ― for me at least! ― in soaking up some of the huge quantity of information to be found inside the covers of textbooks. At times, the knowledge doesn’t always seem relevant, but it often becomes useful at a later time. There is also a guilty pleasure in spending a few days in a café, reading texts and making notes. Somehow, it doesn’t seem like real work, although of course it is!
I’ve learned to be careful about which historical websites I trust enough to use information from. There are literally just a handful, which are generally run by academics, universities or re-enactors. Sadly, an awful lot of other sites just cut and paste articles that have been posted elsewhere, which means that inaccurate information is perpetuated. As a rule of thumb, if the historical information isn’t referenced, don’t believe it!
3. If you could choose, who would you like to be, Hannibal or Spartacus?
My goodness, what a question!
Neither one had a good death, so I’m not sure either! If I had to choose, however, I would pick Hannibal, because he was the general who so nearly beat Rome. For all that Spartacus’ achievements were considerable, he did not beat the massed might of Rome’s entire army, as Hannibal did at Cannae, nor did he fight them on their own ground and win more times than he lost, for sixteen years.
4. Are the books of Spartacus and Hannibal going to be published in Dutch?
The Spartacus books are, yes.
As yet, the Hannibal one has not been purchased by my Dutch publisher, but I hope that that will change soon!
The questions and answers are also in Dutch.