History and Revolution with author T.E. Taylor

I'm delighted to welcome fellow historical fiction author, T.E. Taylor. Today, Tim chats about historical research, linked to his novels, Zeus of Ithome and Revolution Day. Each is set in an entirely different era, but both make equally gripping reads.

Over to Tim...

Hello Cathie,
                          
   Thank you very much for inviting me to visit your blog. As one historical novelist visiting another, I thought I’d talk today about the different ways in which I have drawn upon historical people and places in my two novels for Crooked Cat, Zeus of Ithome and Revolution Day. Both novels are reduced to 99p/$0.99 until 15 August in the Crooked Cat Summer Sale. 
                 
  Zeus of Ithome is a historical novel in the fullest sense of the word: inspired by real events (the revolt of the Messenian people against their Spartan overlords in the 4th century BC, and the wider power struggles in Greece that made it possible), set in real places – the landscape and some ancient cities of southern and central Greece – and including real (as well as fictional) people among its characters.  

  Although for some of those historical characters we know little more than their names, others – in particular the Theban generals Epaminondas and Pelopidas – are quite well documented.  There is a surviving biography of Pelopidas, and Epaminondas was a widely admired figure in the ancient world. That meant I needed to do some research, to make sure that the characters as they appeared in the novel – and indeed, my retelling of the events in which they participated – were consistent with what we know about them. With almost any person, and any event, in the distant past, that still leaves a fair amount of room for the imagination. One of the joys of historical fiction, for me, is putting flesh on the often dry bones of what we know to make living, breathing, believable human beings.

  To an extent something similar is true of the places that feature in the novel, at least insofar as the surface of the landscape is concerned: the patterns of cultivation on the land have changed a great deal since then and the ancient buildings are either gone entirely or leave only ruins behind. So there is scope to recreate these places in imagination on the bones of what is left. The body of the landscape itself is another matter: its shape will have changed little in two thousand years. I had visited some of the places that feature in the novel, such as Delphi, and still had memories of the views. Others, however, I had never seen, yet still needed to take my characters to these places and see them through their eyes.  Here, Google Earth was an invaluable resource.  If I couldn’t visit these places in person, I could still place myself within a 3D virtual landscape and see more or less the views my characters would have seen.


   Revolution Day, by contrast, is about an entirely fictional set of events: a year in the life of ageing dictator Carlos Almanzor, during which his vice-president, Manuel Jimenez, makes a bid for power. He does so not by force but through intrigue, seeking to manipulate the perceptions of Carlos and others in order to turn the Army against him. The novel is peopled by fictional characters and set in a fictional country, so there was no need to be true to any particular people or places.

  Nevertheless, I was not writing in a vacuum.  Like Zeus, the novel was inspired by real events, albeit rather more indirectly. In this case the events concerned were the fall of one dictator after another during the Arab Spring. What interested me was not the specific causes of these events, but the general issues they raised about the nature, effects and ultimate fragility of autocratic power. So I was not tied to the Middle East as the setting for my novel – instead I settled on Latin America, with its long history of dictatorships.  

  Nor was Carlos based upon any particular historical precedent. However, to be believable, he needed to have similarities to various actual dictators. He has the classic fetish for military uniform (he looks a bit like Augusto Pinochet of Chile, but with a beard). 

(c) Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional
  Like Gualberto Villaroel of Bolivia, he began as a reformist but adopted repressive measures to suppress dissent. And like Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay, he faces his greatest threat from someone who has long been his closest ally.  His estranged wife, Juanita, who is writing a memoir of his regime and their marriage, has her feminism, her glamour and her early political career in common with Eva Peron of Argentina. Unlike Eva, however, she has had a disastrous personal and political split with her husband. She will also be unwittingly drawn into Manuel’s plans as he makes his move. 

  Similarly, the locations needed to feel right for Latin America. So it’s hot, and from the capital city in which most of the action is set you can see both mountains and the sea, which is true of a good few capitals in Central and South America.  And Carlos lives in the kind of grandiose presidential palace that you find in many of those cities.

  So although Revolution Day is not a historical novel as such, it is both inspired and informed by historical people and events, and real places. 

You can find out more about Revolution Day (and read extracts):
http://www.tetaylor.co.uk/#!revday/cwpf
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About Tim Taylor:

Tim was born in 1960 in Stoke-on-Trent. He studied Classics at Pembroke College, Oxford (and later Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London). After a couple of years playing in a rock band, he joined the Civil Service, eventually leaving in 2011 to spend more time writing.  

Tim now lives in Yorkshire with his wife and daughter and divides his time between creative writing, academic research and part-time teaching and other work for Leeds and Huddersfield Universities.


Tim’s first novel, Zeus of Ithome, a historical novel about the struggle of the ancient Messenians to free themselves from Sparta, was published by Crooked Cat in November 2013; his second, Revolution Day in June 2015.  Tim also writes poetry and the occasional short story, plays guitar, and likes to walk up hills.
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