Mary Anne: A huge congratulations on your fabulous series, Caractacus. As a skilled journalist and economist could you tell us what drew you towards writing Historical Fiction?
David Boyle: I’ve always loved history and, although I can see the world of policy looks like it is the exact opposite—I have also always regarded myself as being opposed to anything that looks too technocratic and which downgrades the human element. So perhaps it wasn’t quite the leap that it seems to be… When I wrote historical non-fiction it was often to find those stories which seemed to be at least half missing—like the friendship between Columbus and Cabot (Toward the Setting Sun) or the journey by Richard the Lionheart through Europe in disguise (Blondel’s Song). And with stories like those, you had to fill in some of the gaps. Still, I’m not sure that quite explains it does it!
Mary Anne: Caratacus, the protagonist in your series, is not someone who many people are familiar with. Could you tell us a little about who he was and why you felt inspired to tell his story?
David Boyle: Caractacus was the high king of Britain in 43 AD when the Romans invaded and all we really know for definite about him was that he was related to Cunobelinus, Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, and that he frustrated the invasion for nine years. He was then captured through the queen of the Brigantes and sent to Rome in chains—what happened next to him is in Book 3, which I haven’t written yet! In fact, all we know of him or our country at the time is via a few Roman writers who were probably biased.
I wondered whether it might be possible to go back behind those texts by Caesar and Tacitus, and work out what kind of country could have kept the Roman army at bay for nine years—a civilised nation, possibly also a Christian one, not with tribes but with nations with clear boundaries—and using some of the knowledge that radical archaeologists now believe the celts and the druids knew (like the curvature and dimensions of the earth). I wanted to write the kind of book that could maybe challenge those classicists who regard the Britons as ‘them’ and the Romans as ‘us’.
|Nor Shall My Sword Sleep by David Boyle.|
Mary Anne: What were the challenges you faced in researching this period of history and were there any unexpected surprises?
David Boyle: Well, the main problem has been just how little is known and you have to plump for rival stories, like Caractacus/Caradoc’s older brother Togidumnus. That was his Roman name; I’ve called him Togod. I’ve gone with the story that he changed sides in 43 AD and backed the Romans, and therefore identified him with Cogidumnus, who appears to have ruled a small Romanised kingdom from Fishbourne.
But the reason I wrote the book really was reading a strange book by a Canadian historian and planner, now dead, called George Jowett called The Drama of the Lost Disciples, which got me thinking about Caractacus for the first time. He argued that, according to the Vatican archives, it wasn’t just Joseph of Arimathea who came to Britain in 38AD, as legend suggests—it was the Virgin Mary and many of the surviving disciples of Jesus who took refuge in Glastonbury that year, joined later by St Peter and St Paul. Jowett’s plea was that, given that the medieval church recognised this claim by giving British bishops precedence at the great councils of the Church—we ought to take this more seriously. Or at least as seriously as the flawed and compromised memories of Roman writers with axes to grind. If this was right, Jowett suggested, then it may provide a different interpretation to the Roman invasion five years later. It may also be that Caractacus, as those archives suggest, was not a backward pagan type, but a Christian king battling the pagan Romans and desperately trying to hold back their tide of brutality. I have written Caractacus’ autobiography as if Jowett was right.
The other source of information I have used is the latest scholarship about the druids—who were not the brutal fanatics that Caesar portrayed, but were wise and civilised types who believed for example in the equality between men and women—and who made the great mistake of not writing things down (or of being on the losing side).
Mary Anne: What do you think is the most challenging aspect of writing Historical Fiction?
David Boyle: Getting the background right. It was easy for me with Caractacus because nobody has much idea what life was actually like in those days. I tried quite hard to include a sense of magical numinous authenticity, but purely because I felt that would be right, and I found a huge amount of information in John Michell’s books and others about ley-lines, for example. I like the idea that often these were also mysteries to the protagonists.
But with previous historical fiction—like with the stories about my Enigma spy heroine Xanthe Schneider in the 1940s - I really wanted to be able to evoke a little of the period if I possibly could. That also involved trying to evoke Ludwig Wittgenstein, which was a challenge in itself.
Mary Anne: What advice do you have for aspiring Historical Fiction authors?
David Boyle: Well, as an aspiring historical fiction author myself, I feel the best way is to immerse yourself in the period if you possibly can before you start to write. It is a huge privilege to be able to travel in time in this way…
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David Boyle is a thinker and a writer on a range of issues from localism to public service reform. He is co-director of the thinktank New Weather, policy director of Radix UK, an advisory council member of the Schumacher Centre for New Economics in Massachusetts, and a fellow at the New Economics Foundation.
He has been at the heart of the effort to develop co-production and introduce time banks to Britain as a critical element of public service reform. He was the government’s independent reviewer on Barriers to Public Service Choice (2012-13).
He is the author of a number of books about history, social change and the history of ideas and the future – most recently Tickbox (Little, Brown, 2020). His book Authenticity: Brands, Fakes, Spin and the Lust for Real Life (Flamingo, 2003) helped put the search for authenticity on the agenda as a social phenomenon. Funny Money: In search of alternative cash (Flamingo, 1999) launched the time banks movement in the UK. His work on the history and future of money has also been covered in books and pamphlets like Why London Needs its own Currency (2000), Virtual Currencies (2000), The Money Changers: Currency reform from Aristotle to e-cash 2002), The Little Money Book (2003) and Money Matters (2009).
He has stood for Parliament, and written a number of well-received history books, including Blondel's Song: The imprisonment and ransom of Richard the Lionheart (2005), Towards the Setting Sun: Columbus, Cabot, Vespucci and the race for America (2008), Alan Turing (2014) and Before Enigma (2015).
Historical fiction series include Theerlin Affair (2018) and other Enigma books about Xanthe Schneider and his Caractacus series which began with Nor Shall my Sword Sleep (2020).
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See you on your next coffee break!
Mary Anne xxx