Next Tuesday, November 4th, A Day of Fire – A Novel of Pompeii will be released. It’s a collaboration between Ben Kane, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Kate Quinn and Vicky Alvear Shecter. I’ve read an advance copy of it and will post my review here at the weekend. In the meantime, I was lucky enough to talk to one of the book’s authors, Ben Kane (I’d love to have interviewed them all, because they all play an equal part in the book’s success but there’s not enough hours in the day!).
Hi Ben, thank you very much for taking part in this Q&A session. I’ve just finished your new novel, A Day of Fire which is a collaboration between yourself and a few other histfic authors and describes the last days of Pompeii. First of all: why Pompeii? It’s been done before, probably most notably by Robert Harris in recent years. Were you confident you’d be able to come up with a story that added something new to the mix?
Pompeii remains one of the most identifiable events in all of history. The attraction of writing about it was too great to resist. I didn’t really think about whether we’d add something new – I was so thrilled to be writing about it that I didn’t care! Hopefully, we will have added a layer of poignancy to the story, by writing about six different characters, and their families/friends/enemies.
There are six of you in total, that have each written a section of A Day of Fire. How exactly did the project come about? Was one person responsible for gathering you all together and driving it along?
It was the brain child of Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray and Sophie Perinot, I believe. They’re all friends. Kate recruited me – when she asked, I said yes at once.
Did you know the other authors before you started work on the book? I have to be honest, I’ve not read any of their other work, but I plan on changing that now!
I ‘knew’ Kate Quinn a little from a couple of internet fora, but I had never met the others. It’s great that you will now be checking out some new authors because of our book.
How was the synopsis worked out? Did one of you take the lead to come up with a basic plan, then everyone throw in their own ideas before you all settled on the outline?
We followed the timeline of the eruption – and weaved our stories around that, being careful not to have them ALL about the crunch event!
Pompeii – Garden of the Fugitives, image by Lancevortex
Obviously you’ve written quite a few of your own novels by now, so how did you find this project? It must have been really strange to try and fit your piece in among the others without it being too stylistically different or losing track of the overall plan.
In this respect, I was lucky. Due to the way the project unfolded, I wrote my story before anyone else, which meant I didn’t need to think of anyone else’s stories. When they had finished their pieces, I had to change a few things so that they all meshed together, but I found that fun and interesting rather than annoying.
Just some of Ben’s books
Your own chapter is different from the others, with the focus on an old soldier rather than a bride-to-be or a prostitute kind of thing. I thought it provided an interesting – and welcome – change from the other pieces and came at just the right time. Was this done on purpose?
Yes and no. I could have written about a serving soldier – those are my usual characters – or a civilian. I decided to go for a mix between the two – a veteran, with a gambling problem. I hope it worked.
Now that it’s about to be released, what do you think of the book overall? Where does it stand in your canon of work, in your opinion? I must admit I found myself welling up at certain points, it’s so powerfully written.
I really like it. At the start, I was a little wary – I hadn’t read the work of most of my co-writers. However, I found their stories to be great reads. I have no idea how it stands in my canon (no one’s ever said that before!) of work. Only my readers can judge that. I’m so pleased it touched you!
Pompeii and Vesuvius, image by High Contrast
And A Day of Fire is self-published too. I find this a big surprise, to be honest. I’d have thought the publishing houses would have been fighting one another to put this out there! Not just because it’s a good book, but because each of you has a ready-made audience.
There’s a story in there…we did have a mainstream publisher on board for a while, but they pulled out for a number of reasons. Rather than continue to waste time looking for another publisher, we decided to self-publish and see what happened…
What’s next for Ben Kane? Any plans to write more books with other authors? You and your mate Anthony Riches could probably come up with something good, eh?
Ha! I would love to write other books with other authors – it’s finding the time. For the moment, I am sticking with my next novel, Eagles at War. That’s set in Germany, in 9 AD, and concerns the disastrous battle in which Rome lost 3 legions. It’s out in April 2015.
Speaking of Mr. Riches, how’s the Romani Walk fund-raising going? You have a new film out soon, isn’t that right? Are you, Tony and Russell (Whitfield) going to do it all over again next year?
(For those of you who don’t know, the #RomaniWalk is a mad event that I’ve done for the last two years, walking silly distances for charity, wearing even more silly amounts of Roman armour.) We raised over £26,500 this year, which is about £7,000 more than last year. Not bad! We had a film made of the walk, yes, which is looking for a home! We may or may not do another walk next year – it depends a little on the TV situation. 2016, definitely!
Ben, Anthony Riches and Russell Whitfield in full Romani Walk mode!
Thanks for talking to me, Ben, I hope A Day of Fire finds a huge readership. It honestly deserves it and, considering the price it costs for the Kindle version histfic fan have no excuse not to buy a copy!
Thanks very much for interviewing me, Steven, and for reading and enjoying the book. Cheers!
A Day of Fire – A Novel of Pompeii is out on November 4th, but you can pre-order your Kindle copy NOW from these links. It will also be available as a paperback on the 4th if you prefer that format. Do yourself a favour, don’t miss this brilliant book, and be sure to check back here over the weekend to read my review!