Today, I’m delighted to welcome Nick Macklin to the blog to talk about the research he undertook to write his new book, Bloody Dominions.
Your book, Bloody Dominions sounds fascinating. I’ve recently been enjoying a great deal of Roman era historical fiction. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.
Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life?
Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?
I have always had an interest in the ancient world and especially the Roman empire. I studied history at college, which in addition to satisfying my thirst for knowledge of the past, helped stand me in good stead during the extensive research I conducted whilst writing Bloody Dominions.
I knew when I set out that I wanted to set the story against the backdrop of a significant period in Roman history. I spent some considerable time immersed in the central and university libraries in Exeter, looking to narrow that down to something offering the potential for meaningful character and plot development, that hadn’t already received exhaustive coverage. I eventually settled on Caesar’s tumultuous occupation of Gaul, in part because I was struck by just how heavily the Roman psyche was influenced during this period by the scare they’d received 50 years earlier, when Germanic tribes invaded their territories and defeated their legions. Seeing references to the veterans of that war watching their sons and grandsons enlist for a similar campaign, I started to think about developing that link on both sides of the conflict. The prolonged clash of cultures that spanned 8 years, offered ample opportunity for the kind of dual perspective from which I was hoping to tell the story. Whilst the violent conflict provided a wealth of material to explore the changing fortunes of war and its impact at a personal level. The switching of allegiances; nations fighting for and against Rome, also provided the potential for intriguing plot lines. And so, the idea for the Conquest Trilogy was born.
Fortunately, Caesar was an almost unique example of a great general who was also a prolific writer. His ‘Commentarii de Bello Gallico, ‘Commentary on the Gallic War’ is a first-hand account of his invasion. I was grateful for the many translated versions now available as I have yet to perfect my Latin. One of the things on my to do list. It was important to recognise that this autobiographical account had a political purpose, Caesar’s audience was the Senate and the people of Rome and he wanted to justify his actions, reinforce his reputation and portray himself as a commander of courage, flair and success. As a consequence, I took some of the estimates of enemy warrior and casualty numbers with a pinch of salt but at its heart the Commentary is a straightforward narrative of the campaign Caesar fought in Gaul. As such it was an invaluable resource, providing key details in respect of the order and timing of events, the legions involved, battle plans etc. as well as some of the incredibly useful but more mundane detail that helped me to gain a sense of just how far the legions marched during a campaign season!
Whilst my three protagonists are entirely fictitious, I wanted the framework against which their stories unfold to be entirely accurate from a historical perspective, to feature actual participants in Caesar’s campaign and draw on real events as they occurred. In that respect the Commentaries also offered some intriguing opportunities to weave fact and fiction. For example, Caesar describes an ultimately unsuccessful peace conference between himself and the Germanic King Ariovistus prior to the battle of Vosges in 58 BC. He outlines how Ariovistus insisted that each side should be accompanied by mounted troops. He probably made this a condition because he knew that Caesar’s cavalry was composed mainly of Aeduian horsemen, whose loyalty to Caesar was questionable. Indeed, Caesar may not have trusted them himself. As a ruse Caesar ordered a group of his Gallic auxiliaries to dismount and had legionnaires from the Xth Legion ride in their place and accompany him to the peace conference. The incident earned the Legion its nickname ‘Equestrius’. In Bloody Dominions I took the liberty of having Caesar call for experienced riders to join his guard, hence Atticus’s involvement, a pivotal moment in the novel as this is when he and Allerix meet for the first time.
Thereafter, as I plotted the journeys of Atticus, Allerix and Epona I consulted a variety of additional book and web-based resources to supplement my knowledge and research particular points of interest. Old enough to remember researching before the web, I never cease to be amazed at the wealth of information available at our fingertips, although I still prefer to do the bulk of my research using physical resources and pen and paper! I did however find the excellent web based military history encyclopaedia, www.HistoryofWar.org particularly helpful when looking to visualise how the battles in which my characters feature played out.
Finally, one of the earliest pieces of research I did when Bloody Dominions was still very much in its infancy, was to complete a ‘field trip’ to Europe. I can’t pretend that this visit was entirely conducted for research purposes, I had always wanted to travel around Europe by train. A nod I suspect to the inter-railing visit I never made as a teenager! However, I did make a number of detours along the way to visit museums, monuments and battlefield sites (wherever possible) in Italy, France, Germany and Belgium. I never get over the sense of standing where so many have gone before, never more so than when standing on the Ponte Pietre Bridge in Verona, recognising that it had been ‘crossed by Caesar and all of the legions travelling to Gaul. Including of course those in the XIIth on their way into the pages of Bloody Dominions.
This is me, quite literally at the start of the Bloody Dominions Journey as I prepare to leave Exeter at the start of that European ‘research’ trip:
Thank you so much for sharing your research journey with me. It sounds fascinating, and I wish you luck with your new book, and the rest of the books in the trilogy.
Here’s the blurb:
Journey with those at the heart of the conflict as Caesar embarks on the tumultuous conquest of Gaul 58-51 BC. Book One 58-56 BC.
As Caesar’s campaign begins, tests of courage and belief will confront the three protagonists, shaping them as individuals and challenging their views of the world and each other:
Atticus – an impetuous but naturally gifted soldier, whose grandfather served with distinction in the legions;
Allerix – a Chieftain of the Aduatuci, who finds himself fighting both for and against Caesar; and
Epona – a fierce warrior and Allerixs’ adopted sister.
Experiencing the brutalities of conflict and the repercussions of both victory and defeat, Atticus, Allerix and Epona will cross paths repeatedly, their destinies bound together across time, the vast and hostile territories of Gaul and the barriers of fate that have defined them as enemies. In a twist of fate, Atticus and Allerix discover that they share a bond, a secret that nobody could ever foresee…
Violence, attempted rape.
Meet the Author
A history graduate, Nick enjoyed developing the skills that would stand him in good stead during the extensive research he conducted prior to writing his novel. Whilst the ancient world unfortunately didn’t feature to any extent in his history degree, (the result of failing miserably to secure the A level grades that would have permitted greater choice) he maintained a lifelong and profound interest in ancient history and especially the Roman Empire, continuing to read avidly as he embarked on a career in HR. Over the next 30 years or so Nick occupied a variety of Senior/Director roles, most recently in the NHS. Unsurprisingly, writing in these roles was largely confined to the prosaic demands of Board papers but Nick never lost the long-harboured belief, motivated by the works of writers such as Robert Fabbri, Robyn Young, Anthony Riches, Simon Scarrow, Matthew Harffy and Giles Kristian, that he too had a story to tell. When he was presented with a window of opportunity c3 years ago he took the decision to place his career on hold and see if he could convert that belief into reality.
Nick always knew that he wanted to set the novel against the backdrop of a significant event/period in Roman history. Looking to narrow that down to something offering the potential for meaningful character and plot development, but that hadn’t already received exhaustive coverage, he settled on Caesars tumultuous occupation of Gaul. Spanning 8 years, the prolonged clash of cultures offered ample opportunity for the kind of dual perspective from which he was hoping to tell the story, whilst the violent conflict provided a wealth of exciting material to explore the changing fortunes of war and its impact at a personal level. The switching of allegiances, nations fighting for and against Rome also provided the potential for some intriguing plot lines. As his research unfolded, he was also struck by just how heavily the Roman psyche during this period was influenced by the scare they had received 50 years earlier when Germanic tribes invaded their territories and defeated their legions. Seeing references to the veterans of that war watching their sons and grandsons enlist for a similar campaign, he started to think about developing that link on both sides of the conflict. And so, the idea for the Conquest Trilogy was born.
In Bloody Dominions Nick has sought to produce a novel in which unfolding events are experienced and described from the perspective of protagonists on both sides of Caesar’s incursion into Gaul. Conscious that the role of women in Roman fiction, Boudica aside, is largely confined to spouse, prostitute or slave, Nick wanted to ensure that one of his lead characters was female and a prominent member of the warrior clan of her tribe. The novel is driven by these characters but the framework against which their stories unfold is historically accurate, featuring actual participants in Caesar’s campaign and drawing on real events as they occurred. As such Nick is genuinely excited about his characters and the story they have to tell.
Nick lives in Exeter with his two daughters and is currently juggling work as an Independent HR Consultant with writing the second novel in the Conquest Trilogy, Battle Scars.
Connect with Nick: