Hadrian's Wall country is a truly special place, a place that has never failed to stir my love of history. Indeed, after a stroll around the ruins at Birdoswald one chill, foggy stories (which I'll get round to tidying up and posting on here one day).
So when Simon Turney - a good friend and surely the leading light in historical indie publishing - and I arranged a get-together to discuss a collaborative writing project, in seemed inevitable that I would be visiting the Wall once more. Sure enough, Simon and the ranks of Legio I Turney advanced in a pincer formation from the south, while Sarah and I descended from the frozen (okay - slightly wet and windy) north...
...I'll dispense with the cheesy battlefield analogies now...
set to work, armed with laptops, ale and two minds brimming with ideas. Prior to this get-together, my writing had been an entirely solitary activity. It probably suits me as I'm a fairly quiet chap (depending on quantity of ale imbibed), but there are times when a long week of writing alone can feel like an eternity. So I approached this meeting of minds with a mixture of excitement and fear of the unknown. Simon and I write in a similar style and share a love of Ancient Rome and Byzantium, so the carrot of a belting historical novel dangled before us. But what if we were poles apart with our ideas? What if there were unable to align our story planning techniques and set down a plot? What if our subject matter was in fact unsuitable for the project we both hoped for?
I needn't have worried. Almost from the get-go, we were eagerly combing through the history, swapping nuggets of preparatory research and posing 'what ifs' against every twist so much so that we were somewhat stunned at the potential for intrigue and brutality in the narrow window of antiquity we beheld. The familiar brain-freeze that halts productivity when working alone was utterly absent, with Simon and I taking up the mantle in turns to drive things forward relentlessly. We made such good progress that, within a few days, we were there, the roadmap complete. The slightly disbelieving grins we each wore at this point were well-deserved. More ale was consumed at this point...then we decided it was time to mark the occasion more formally by following a tradition that has echoed down through the centuries from the legions of Rome...yes, that's right, we applied lick and stick SPQR tattoos!!!
Yes, yes, I know, how cool are we, eh?
The works of SJA Turney
I don't want to give too much away about the project until it is well underway. Suffice to say that we aim to bring each of our strengths to the fore, so readers can enjoy their favourite elements of both writers' style, in an era that bridges the periods Simon and I have previously specialised on. There is much hard work to come before our project sees the light of day, but if we can deliver a tale that lives up to this early promise, readers out there have a gem of a novel to look forward to.
So that was the 'work' side of it. But of course, being at the wall, we also had to indulge in some sightseeing and took in as much as we could of our surroundings, with the Turney Jrs forming an able vanguard. The highlights were Chesters Fort, Greenhead Roman Army Museum near Vindolanda and the remains of the bridge at Willowford. Here are some shots from Chesters:
We discussed going for the authentic look here in the warm room (tepidarium)...however, it was close to freezing and we decided to spare the nearby tourists such a grim spectacle.
Here's me looking like a master of history, perched on the ruins of the bath house at Chesters. In fact I was muttering some nonsense about floor levels before Simon swiftly put me right!
Sarah decided it was time for some impromptu Yoga over the walls of the bath house dressing room (apodyterium).