Guest Interview with Ben Kane
Hi everyone, Petrik from Novel Notions here. Today we have our first ever Guest Interview done by Kyle Erikson. We’re so honored to have Kyle’s enthusiasm to post his interview with Ben Kane on Novel Notions. This awesome interview is a bit long, but it’s filled with many interesting information and answers regarding histories, TV adaptations, and writing. Without further ado, here’s Kyle’s interview with Ben Kane!
Ben Kane is a seasoned author of historical fiction novels primarily set in Ancient Rome. His fourteenth novel, Lionheart, was released last year and is the first of his novels set outside of Rome, kicking off a trilogy detailing the life of English king Richard the Lionheart during the late 12th century. The second book of the trilogy, Crusader, was released on April 29th. His previous works include the indelible Hannibal trilogy, two novels regarding Spartacus’ slave revolt, as well as the Forgotten Legion and Eagles of Rome trilogies. He finished releasing a duology set during the Roman invasion of Greece, beginning with Clash of Empires, in 2019. Kane has been consistently releasing fantastic historical fiction on a yearly basis for over a decade now, and his attention to detail and historical accuracy are boons to his craft, which help make his riveting action sequences all the more engaging while also giving his readers a real sense of the time period. Ben was gracious enough to agree to a Zoom interview with me late last year, which resulted in a fantastic conversation. Originally set for half an hour, the interview doubled in length as we delved deeper into topics such as historical accuracy, the craft of historical fiction and writing in general, depictions of Rome in TV/film, and much more. Ben Kane is a great conversationalist, and I was thrilled by our discussion. Give one of his books a try if you haven’t already!
Kyle Erickson: So you were a veterinarian, and then you wanted to be an author, and you did both for a bit before you became an author full time. What really made you enjoy reading growing up, was there a particular author that inspired you? And as a follow up to that, who encouraged you to start writing?
Ben Kane: Okay well first, thanks for inviting me to do an interview. It’s always good fun. And uh, it sounds a bit weirder now than it did when I was growing up in the 70’s and early 80’s because pretty much everyone has a smartphone now, even my 11 year old daughter does, but my parents didn’t have a TV. So I spent my very early childhood in Kenya, in Africa. So when we came back in 1977 to Ireland, where my parents are from and where I grew up, they decided not to get a tv because they didn’t like how everyone had gotten one since they left and they just sat around staring at a screen. So when you don’t have a TV, you have to find other ways to entertain yourself, and I wasn’t a very sporty child…So I took to reading in a big way. My local library plus pocket money and Christmas money was all spent on books and I would normally read between 2-6 books a week, and I moved into the adult library by age 12. Moving into Westerns like Louis L’Amour, whose sold like 50 or 100 million books, and then Wilbur Smith and Bernard Cornwell. But it’s difficult to pick one author alone. If I had to pick, it’d be Tolkien. And my writing is nothing like his, because his is very lyrical and some of the best writing ever put to paper, but he had a big influence on me. I played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons and read a lot of fantasy at that time. But there were also other books like Rosemary Sutcliffe’s The Eagle of the Ninth, which was made into a complete turkey of a movie called The Eagle with Channing Tatum…you’re laughing, so you’ve obviously seen it. The first half hour is okay, and the rest is completely awful, like pretty much all Roman films. So there was a lot of interest in history. That was probably my second favorite thing after animals, but I didn’t really have any concept of writing for a living for decades. If you’d said to me as I was leaving what you’d call high school, I wouldn’t have had any idea I could make a living doing this, I think I would have laughed in your face. So I went off to study veterinary medicine and did that for 16 years.
KE: When did it dawn on you to try to write professionally? And specifically, when did you decide it was going well enough that you thought you could devote your time to it full-time?
BK: I just got more and more tired with my job, not because of the animals, but because of the hours. They’re very unsociable, and look, it’s a well paid job, so I always have to preface what I say with that, but it’s not actually very well paid considering how many hours you put in, compared to your doctor or dentist or lawyer or stuff like that. It’s actually like third league compared to them. And then most veterinary hospitals are very small businesses, so when you become a partner and buy into the business, which is very costly, you then end up becoming an administrator most of the time. And when I saw that happen up close at two different practices, I was literally having talks about partnership and I had to put the brakes on it and say, do I really want this? Do I want to spend this much money and then be stuck here for 20-30 years? Out of desperation, I looked into many other careers, including carpentry and plumbing and going back to university, and I decided naively that they would all take too long, and I wouldn’t earn any money. So I decided while still working full time as a vet that I would become a bestselling author. And that sounds ridiculous, I still find it ridiculous to say, but that is what happened. So I started writing, and the inspiration at the point when I started was after that foot-in-mouth disease outbreak in 2001 and 2002, I had been working in the area near Hadrian’s Wall in North England. And I was really inspired by that monument and museums and the landscape and I had an idea about Roman soldiers on the wall. I did write a novel set up there, which is truly awful and has never been published. But it was good enough to get me an agent, and my agent suggested I write another novel that was more exciting with a larger story arc, and that was The Forgotten Legion, which got me a publishing deal and I continued writing and working as a veterinary, getting married, had our first child, worked about 100 hours a week between the two for two years, and something would have broken, so I decided to go full-time as a writer and within less than 12 months, as an coincidence, my third book The Road To Rome, the end of the trilogy, that became a Sunday Time’s Bestseller. When that happens, your career changes forever. So the money you can earn becomes quite a bit more as long as you can keep getting bestsellers (laughs). And I haven’t looked back from there. So I gave up Veterinary medicine in December 2008, so it’s nearly been 12 years.
KE: You tend to work in trilogies or duologies, doing two or three books in a subject before moving on, which is in contrast to some of your peers like Simon Scarrow who just released the 19th book in his series. When you set out to start telling a story, do you sit down and decide how many books it will take and cater the story around that, or do you say, “I want to write about Hannibal”, and then just see where the story takes you?
BK: It’s more the former. It’s kinda amusing because the number of books in a series and the length I write is closely related to my stubborn nature. As a voracious reader, I have all through my life tended to get bored with really long book series. So for example, Bernard Cornwell, whose an incredible author, I’ve never finished his Sharpe series. I’ve read about 12 of them, I don’t even know, but I haven’t read them all, because it’s unrealistic for me to read a series about someone who goes through 99 wars and never gets killed. And that’s not just historical fiction, you have people like Patricia Cornwell, she’s a crime writer and I never read all of her books, either. So there’s pretty much no book series other than trilogies or maybe sets of 4 or 5 that I’ve finished. So when I got published, I said to my publisher, ‘I don’t ever want to write a long series’. Now, there are advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantages are, someone like Simon Scarrow, you get this huge core of readers who eagerly anticipate the book every year, and those readers, many tens or hundreds of thousands of them, will go out and buy the book right away because they’re dying to get it. When you don’t write long series, you do lose some of that traction. Not everybody remembers so-and-so is releasing a new book next year, they finish a trilogy, and then they’re not looking for any new ones. One of the things I’ve learned, I’m an author, I want everyone to know about my books being released every year. But as a reader, there are very few authors who I look for their book every year. It’s just if I see it in a bookshop or something, I’ll go, “oh look, I love them!”, but I don’t remember them every year. I’m happy with what I do because one of the advantages to writing trilogies or duologies is look at the massive areas I’ve been able to cover. Simon Scarrow is writing first century AD Roman Empire. He can only operate in about a 25 year period of a man’s military career. I’ve been able to write Crassus’s death in Parthia, the second Punic War, the Spartacus rebellion, the Varus disaster, the invasion of Greece, I’ve covered about five massive events that had a huge impact on Rome and ancient history. Now the Hannibal series isn’t finished, and I am going to go back and finish them, but that’ll be another two or three, so that one will end up being five or six books.
KE: The Hannibal series is my favorite, so I’m glad you’re gonna finish it. I’m reading Clash of Empires now, and I’m liking how, I know your publisher told you not to do the Hannibal ones right away, and you just kinda said, screw you, I’m writing Zama as the introduction to a new series. My question about this is, when you eventually return to that series, is there any chance you’ll bridge the two series together and maybe have Felix and his brother in it, or are you just going to keep them separate?
BK: You know, I hadn’t really thought of that until you mentioned it. I’m sure when I came around to it I’d think about it-yeah, I’d love to put Felix and his brother into it. Absolutely. Just maybe as bit characters. I don’t want to ruin anything for Clash of Empires, which you said you’re reading now, but there’s a character in there from the Hannibal trilogy as well. I did get a real buzz out of writing Zama, because that when I finally write the last Hannibal book, that will be the end. Not the end, because it’s a defeat, so there’ll be a little uplift at the end for whoever’s left alive, and that will be the end of the series, so it was great fun to write it a few years before I get to write it in the Hannibal series.
KE: Yeah, that’s awesome. Hannibal and Scipio are such fascinating historical characters to work with.
BK: Yeah, I get a lot of emails about why I haven’t written a series about Scipio. And the truth is, I feel bad for saying, but he just doesn’t really do it for me. Whereas Hannibal does. You can probably guess from the themes of my novels that I like writing underdogs as well as Romans, because there’s an underdog in every single set of my books. It comes from being Irish, because historically we’ve been the underdogs forever. *Laughs*
KE: One theme that also crops up in your novels are interpersonal clashes within the Roman legions. It’s usually some guy being a huge dick to your main character, which of course makes for good reading because you always want that guy to get his comeuppance. My question on that is do you think that’s probably how the dynamics were in the legions, because we don’t really know how individual legionnaires interacted with each other, or do you think that’s something you do to increase conflict?
BK: It’s mainly to increase tension in the story, because if you have the good guy, whichever side he is, and the only time he’s in danger in when he’s fighting the enemy, you can’t build a story on battles. Some people might like it, but it’s pretty boring, you’ve got to have a story as well. To keep the tension up, it’s a fairly simple device to have an enemy in your own ranks. If you read the Sharpe books by Cornwell, there’s a character named Sergeant Hakeswell, who is literally his arch enemy and he’s in the same army, so I read the first half dozen Sharpe novels several times when I was trying to learn how to write, and I remember sitting there and literally thinking while looking at Hakeswell, ‘right you need a baddie on the good side so the good guy can never sleep easy’. But to go back to your other point, do I think it would have happened? Yeah, for sure. It’s the same in any military encampment or workplace or any part of life, there can be a bully or a nasty person that picks on someone, and that in a fictional setting ramps up the tension, but it’s still real. Now, for evidence as to whether the Romans acted this way in any sort of widespread or common type, I think it probably was common, more than now. The only way you can generally answer any question like that about Rome is to look at fragments of evidence and looking at parallel situations where we have more information. So we’ve got a lot of information from bullying from Vietnam where American G.I.s would roll hand grenades into the latrines where a nasty officer was bullying them and boom, they’ve gone to heaven, and we know that happened since ordinary men and therefore ordinary soldiers were able to record their thoughts, and the first time that happened was in the Crimean war in the 1850s, and you’ve got examples of the fellow soldiers who were treating them badly. And so if you take that evidence, humankind is not going to change that much and you add on 2,000 years of life being extra brutal…I’m sure there were plenty of centurions who were hideously brutal to their men, but at the same time, if you did it too much, you’d probably end up being stabbed in the back in a battle as well. The best evidence we have is mentioned in the Eagles trilogy, it’s a very famous quote that people use for talks on Roman military discipline all the time, it just happens to come from first century AD in German, he was a centurion whose nickname was Cato Altruam, in Latin means “bring me another”. That was because he used to break his vine stick, the symbol of his office, on his soldier’s back and then ask for another stick because he wasn’t finished beating the guy. And when the 4 legions mutinied in 14 AD just after the death of Augustus, he was thrown into the river Rhine, and with his armor, he just went right to the bottom. So he and several other centurions were murdered by their own men because their cruelty. But that’s one of the only instances I know of where it actually happened in the Roman army because so little information survived.
KE: Yeah I guess you’d just have to think of human nature and extrapolate from there.
BK: Yeah and strip away some of the “civilization” that we have, it’s very hard to look at things without the modern lense we have, because so many things about the Romans were deeply human. Like their love of animals, we know from some pet gravestones, they freed slaves and married them, they wrote poetry, they made beautiful buildings or whatever, but they were still misogynistic, racist, homophobic and they crucified people. So all these similarities but massive differences, so the brutality in the military and everyday life would have been extreme in comparison to what anybody would consider acceptable these days.
KH: So what are you currently working on, now that the second Lionheart book is finished?
BK: Yeah, so I finished the second one, and it’s gonna be a trilogy. About to start the third, although I’m probably gonna do a Kickstarter before Christmas that I’ve done for the last three years, get people to vote on who they want me to write about, and I did an Authors Without Border did during the lockdown, so that was, I got as many friends as I could, about 12 authors, and we each committed to writing 500 words five days a week, and posted on Facebook, just to keep people’s spirits up. Instead of clicking on to read a newspaper of whatever, they could click on and read the next installment, the next page or so, of a novel. So it was really short, but we were all doing it in addition to our other writing duties. I did it for 17 weeks, and I ended up with something that’s half the length of a novel, and it’s supposed to be a short story, and the publisher is interested in buying it. So I’m going to put it together with the other short stories I’ve done and it’ll come out in paper for the first time, and it’ll be as big as a novel. So that’s exciting. [Note: Sands of the Arena And Other Stories, the short story collection Ben mentioned, will be released on Sept 16th, 2021]
KE: That sounds really cool, I was hoping you’d eventually do something like that with the short stories. You have, what, five or six floating around?
BK: Well, there are four about Tullius and his men. Eagles in the East and Eagles in the Wilderness are the ones that are released on Amazon, and there are two free ones as well. They’re not on Amazon in the US and Canada, but right now they’re on Wattpad. So those two were published as promos for the Eagles books in the UK, and my publisher here never bothered putting them on any other Amazon sites. So I used to get a ton of emails from readers who could see them but couldn’t download them, so I put them up on Wattpad, so that means people outside the UK could read them. So that’s four. And then there’s a Forgotten Legion one on Amazon called The March which takes place after the series.
KE: That’s fantastic. So tell me about Richard the Lionheart, I know nothing about him. Why did you choose to write about him?
BK: Richard the Lionheart is one of the most famous British kings, he was of the Plantagenet family, one of the first generations of them. So the King and the Monarchy and the ruling nobility of England and Wales in the 12th century was literally, it was only 125 years after the invasion of William the Conqueror, and so there was this great division between the nobility and the working class. The working class were still the English, but the nobility were basically French- Richard the Lionheart did not speak English, he only spoke French. And most of the kingdom was actually in France, so the English king at that time controlled about 70% of modern France. The king of France was quite a weak monarch in comparison. Richard’s father was the man who forged that massive empire by war and marrying a woman called Eleanor and she was one of the most famous women of the medieval period, a very strong powerful woman, who brought this huge territory with her when she married Henry. And they had 8 children survive to adulthood, which is extraordinary because so many kids died back then. And the children were called by Henry ‘The Devil’s Brood’, because he had four sons that survived to adulthood, and they were always rising up in rebellion against him, sometimes with the help of their mother. So this interfamilial politicking was extraordinary, we’re talking 1170s and early 1180s. Now the main character, Richard is one of the main characters, but the main narrator, is an Irish guy. I’ve wanted to write an Irish guy for years and I’ve never felt able to be able to put a guy into a Roman book, because it just felt a bit too fake, because the Romans never invaded there. And that’s not to say there weren’t any Irish in the Roman empire, there would have been, but we’ve got no evidence for it. So during this time, the English invaded Ireland in 1169, so setting the book ten years after that makes it entirely possible to have Irish hostages taken for the good behavior of their families, because a lot of Ireland was still fighting against Britain, they hadn’t conquered too much of it. So I made him from the area where I’m from, and I gave him my sons name, which is Ferdia, an old Irish name, and then I just thought, his nickname was Rufus because he has red hair, and that was a name used by the English at the time. And so I thought I would keep the joke going, so I gave him what my last name would be in Irish, so his name is actually Ferdia Kane. And my son, he’s 14 now but 13 when I wrote the book, he didn’t really get it until I actually handed him a physical copy of the book and it had his name in it, and then he was really pleased. So he’s the main narrator, and he becomes a loyal squire in Richard’s service and then becoming his man. It’s an old story. Canadians came over and fought with the British army in WW1 and 2, and Irishmen joined the British army, you get men of different nations joining the army of another nation all the time and it only takes a while before comradeship with their fellows and they end up becoming a solid, dependable, ally. They don’t think of themselves as, ‘you’re my enemy, because you would be my enemy back home’, they just think of themselves as being on the same side, but it doesn’t change that they’re different. That’s what I’ve tried to do with this guy, in the heart of Richard’s court and a very dependable soldier, but at the same time, he’s an Irishman who wants to go back home and recover his lands that were stolen. Sort of like Uhtred from Bernard Cornwell’s books.
KE: That sounds like a great story. One of the things I love about historical fiction is that there is so much history out there. I mean, I should know about Richard the Lionheart, and the story never reached me. And so getting to dive into that and learn the intricacies and then afterwards, googling what was different from the story, and the author’s notes always help with that, too. It’s a great way of getting invested.
BK: Yeah, I do that time of stuff too. I do that with films as well, if I watch a film based on true events, I immediately want to go read all about it. During lockdown, I read the biography, I dunno if you’ve seen Band of Brothers, but I’ve seen it about 10 times, and I’ve read four or five biographies of the people involved during lockdown because Amazon kept recommending another one (laughs). But yeah, you say there’s gaps in your history but there’s so much history, and it’s very hard to know it all. But good historical fiction, hopefully mine is included in that, is a really great way of learning about history, and it’s a precious thing. The first trilogy I wrote, the Forgotten Legion, I took quite a few liberties with history in those, some of them knowingly and some of them from ignorance, and I really wish I could rewrite that trilogy, because I’m absolutely meticulous with what I put into the books, to the point where since the Eagles trilogy, I find an academic whose period is around that period, and I ask them to read them, to look them over for mistakes. So right now, there’s a professor of Anglican history, 12th century England and the Crusades at the University of Dublin, he’s busy reading the new book right now, he read the first one too. I want to get it as right as I can.
KE: Are there any other really good historical fiction authors out there you’d recommend?
BK: Christian Cameron is just a great writer of historical fiction. He’s American but he lives in Toronto, and he’s a reenactor for both ancient Greece and the revolutionary war. He’s former military as well, and he is the best author of historical fiction I’ve ever read by a mile. If you start with one, it’s not his first book, it’s his fifth or so, and it’s called Killer of Men and it’s set in the 5th century BCE and with that book,nowadays any soldiers can kill but 2,000 years ago, most men were farmers and they had to go fight the enemy because they were trying to steal their cattle or something and they were terrified and they didn’t really want to fight and there would be a few tough guys who would lead them, and those would be the killers of men, and this guy is one of them. And the series encompasses the battle of Marathon, and oh my goodness, this man can write. I got an email about Lionheart this year and the guy said that I’d become a bit like Christian Cameron and I was grinning for the rest of the day. Another great one is Giles Kristian, his book Lancelot is fantastic. He’s a great guy, he’s also got six Vikings novels as well that are really great. The sequel to Lancelot came out this year, loosely linked to Lancelot called Camelot. I did a Zoom meeting with him, it was the first one I did in a series of Zoom chats I’m doing, so I’m gonna be putting that on Youtube in a bit. It was good fun because I’ve known him for like ten years, it was really kinda jokey as well as serious stuff and we got a lot of good feedback about it, which is great.
KE: Have you seen the new Netflix series Barbarians, and if so, what do you think of it?
BK: *Laughs* Yeah, I’ve nearly finished the series and I’ve been getting like 50 e-mails and messages and comments a day since it’s been on, and first thing is, I’ve been worried ever since I heard it was coming that they ripped off my books, because I got approached about a year ago by a German film company who was making a film called Arminius, although now I think it was a different company because my agent has been on this. But they said to me, would you like to be a historical consultant? And I know from Giles because he’s done it, it’s quite well paid. So I said yeah cool, it’d be great to be on a set or even just help out remotely. But my agent said to them, you need to option my books. Now they don’t generally give a lot of money for optioning, it could be like 3k for the trilogy, and then that gives them five years or however long to make a movie and if they don’t, the rights come back to you. So I asked them to option my books just to protect my intellectual property, and they said yeah of course, and we never heard another thing about it. So then Barbarians came out, and I thought it was the same company at first but it’s not. And then Giles was looking on IMDB and it said down at the bottom, “Interesting fact, this series is based on Eagles At War by Ben Kane” and he sent it to me and I was freaking out. But my agent was excited at first, he was like, if they ripped you off, we can take them down. Now, I’ve watched four episodes and it’s nothing like my books, so that’s good. I haven’t seen a single thing that’s similar. What I do like in the series is the portrayal of the Roman soldiers, and that’s thanks to a guy, a Polish reenactment unit 21st Rapax, based on the original name of a Roman legion, they’re the biggest reenactment unit I know of, he has over a hundred legionaries. And they’re all young guys in their 20s, in Britian they’re all 50-60 and they’re fat or bald, so they don’t look great. *Laugh* I’m joking, but most British reenactors are way too old to convincingly play Roman soldiers. So they look fantastic and they’re all very historically accurate. So this guy got himself in as the military advisor, and they’re the best Romans I’ve ever seen portrayed. Most movies do those stupid bracers with fur on their forearms, which is completely historically inaccurate, and not a single one of those is seen in that show. The Germans, eh, they’re not so good. The storyline is okay, I’m enjoying it and I’m liking that the Germans are speaking German and the Romans are speaking Latin. But when they’ve the German priestess in the woods with facepaint on, I’m kinda going, oh goodness sake. *laughs* There’s no evidence of that whatsoever. But the show is enjoyable, I like it better than most of these things. I’ve heard the battle is a little lackluster, but that’s probably a budget thing. The things that are jarring to me with that though is when you have things like Arminius riding through the German villages and Varus comes to the villages and he has 8 riders with him. This is the general in charge of three legions, there’s no way he would go around with 8 guards, because 50 Germans could wipe him out. When he marched, he would bring a full cohort and probably 120 cavalry minimum. It’s like the President of America or Justin Trudeau going to a village in the middle of nowhere with one body guard? I don’t think so. But that’s a budget thing. You keep the camera close, you can’t pan out. It was what the Spartacus series suffered from, even at the end, you could just tell they just didn’t have the budget to the open wide battle scenes with tens of thousands of men fighting. It was great close up, but not when you do the whole thing.
KE: Yeah, definitely. That Spartacus series was certainly not historically accurate, but it hit a vein of pure enjoyment for me.
BK: There were bits that were amazing and I thought their language they invented for it was very effective. It wasn’t modern, it wasn’t Latin, but there was a definite differentness to it. ‘Gratitude’ is one of the things, but it just even the way they changed the sentence structure, sometimes it was back to front. And Andy Whitfield in that first series, he was amazing. Such a pity he died at 36 years old. They made Gods of the Arena, they delayed a full year to keep the part open for him, which when you think of the cutthroat world of business, was a very decent thing for them to do. Then when it was clear he couldn’t come back, they got Liam Mctyre who was very good as well. It’s funny, I did really enjoy that show, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I didn’t know the story so well. I don’t get emails about it much anymore, because they came out 8 years ago, but every so often someone will email and ask how my books compare to the series. And I always say, ‘if you want to know the real history, read my books and don’t believe any of the programs’ because I got sick of people thinking that the stuff in the TV series was real. *laughs*
KE: Yeah, and it’s tough, because you get people like you and I or some of your audience, and we’re pretty honed in on the real stuff. But the average person just thinks, ‘oh yeah, that must be how it happened’.
BK: Yeah, that’s the thing. And that’s why I struggle with inaccuracies in any time period, not just Roman stuff. In the end, it doesn’t matter that much if they’re not telling complete lies, but what is the point of making stuff up when nearly always, the real history is just as fascinating or moreso? Why do you have to change it, because it distorts people’s perceptions? But it’s just the way it’s always been, and I think even when people were just telling stories. The guy that comes home from the war tells the story to his son around the fire 20 years later, and it’s a very different story than what actually happened.
KE: Who would be your favorite 1-3 Romans in history?
BK: I have a very different view of the Romans now than I did when I started writing. I had this very boyish, ‘oh, the Romans were great and their armies were great and they did amazing things!’ and now I know so much about them, and they conquered so much of the world and they were unbelievably brutal. Now, so was everybody else, but the Romans were really good at it, and I’m much less well intentioned towards them than I was. They were people of their time, but I mean Julius Caesar could be called a genocidal general instead of an amazing guy. So who would I pick? They have to be Romans, not just from the period?
KE: They can be from the era, for sure. When I discuss this, I usually instinctively say “Hannibal”, and then I have to correct myself.
BK: Yeah, exactly, so then I would also pick Hannibal, he was one of the most remarkable military leaders ever. Not just his abilities, but even the fact that his armies were made up of about 20 different races, and he led them for so long without being beaten. I’d also pick Spartacus next, I wouldn’t pick Romans at all. If I had to, I mean, I had Marcus Aurelius in my head initially, because they call him one of the Good Emperors, and I always kinda say, can an Emperor, a semi-divine being who can do whatever he wants, how can any of them be genuinely good? But compared to most of the rest, he was pretty good.
KE: What advice would you give aspiring historical fiction writers? What should they be focusing on or not focusing on?
BK: The most important thing is to just write. Most people have probably heard of the ten thousand hour rule by now, so if you want to do anything really well, you gotta practice for a long time before you’re good, and scientists tell us that about ten thousand hours is where people will get very sufficient at something, whether it’s baking bread or flying rockets. So writing is the same. A lot of people say ‘I’m too busy, I got to work, I’ve got my family, how do I find the time?’ and right now, I’ve got a guy painting in my house and he’s writing fantasy, and I just said to him, everybody’s got time to scroll on their cell phones for however many hours a day, you can find time to write.
Let’s be charitable and say it’s only a half hour a day of scrolling, which is low, and I said, ‘if you wrote for half an hour a day with the time you say you don’t have, that you spend on your phone, you’d get into a routine, after a few months you’ll be in a routine and you’ll have learned a lot about writing, and that is the practice that gets you to keep going.’ So it’s really important to get into that routine. What happened with me was, I didn’t take it seriously for a long time. I did a short residential course on writing and I met people who were doing the same thing as me, just writing and writing for six months to a year, and it became a part of my life. I didn’t know what it would become. I wanted to do it because I was in the habit of doing it, like walking the dog every day. Something you look forward to every day. So you can plot and research all you like, but at a certain point, you’ve gotta put fingers to keyboard and commit and give it some time and take it seriously. And when you start doing that, what’s very important is not to edit too much. When you start your writing tomorrow morning, you go back and you don’t edit what you did yesterday too much. That can become a vicious circle, where you’re trapped trying to improve what you’ve written and never expanding the amount of written material. So you can edit a little bit, basic errors and such, but then you must press on with writing. Then you end up down the line with a full length novel, and I always say, when you finish the novel, you can do whatever you like with it for the rest of your life. You can spruce it, you can change it, you can rewrite it, but at least you’ve finished it. But if you’re always critiquing yourself….I have an uncle who has been trying to write a novel for years and he never finishes, because he gets a few chapters in and starts critiquing himself. You’ve gotta be amazingly determined and keep going and going. If you know the story arch, keep it going. I’ve fallen into the trap myself before. But nowadays, I’ll just put a little asterisk or quick sentence in red caps saying I need to change this because I know it’s not quite right, but I keep going and come back when I’ve sorted out the book. I hope that’s helpful!
KE: It definitely is, that’s something a lot of people struggle with for sure. I just want to thank you one last time for chatting with me today, and I can’t wait to dive into the Lionheart series!
That’s the end of this guest interview! Thank you very much once again to Kyle Erikson and Ben Kane for this guest interview on Novel Notions.
One thought on “Guest Interview with Ben Kane”
Great interview, I have jut finished the first Lionheart book and have bought the second and am listening to it straight away as I did not want to lose the momentum. 🙂 good to know that there is a third book as well, will def keep a look out and in the mean time will check out Other Ben Kane books