Today’s guest on What Cathy Read Next is David Barbaree, author of Deposed. An historical thriller set in ancient Rome, Deposed has been described as ‘more gripping than Game of Thrones and more ruthless than House of Cards’. Wow! I can’t wait to read it. In the meantime, I’m delighted to say that David has agreed to give us an insight into his research for Deposed.
About the Book
Publisher’s description: In a darkened cell, a brutally deposed dictator lies crippled – deprived of his power, his freedom – and his eyes. On the edge of utter despair, his only companion is the young boy who brings him his meagre rations, a mere child who fears his own shadow. But to one who has held and lost the highest power, one thing alone is crystal clear: even emperors were mere children once. Ten years later, the new ruler’s son watches uneasily over his father’s empire. Wherever he looks rebellion is festering, and those closest to him have turned traitor once before. To this city in crisis comes a hugely wealthy senator from the very edge of the empire, a young and angry ward at his heels. He is witty but inscrutable, generous with his time and money to a leader in desperate need of a friend – and he wears a bandage over his blinded eyes. The fallen emperor’s name is Nero. But this isn’t his story.
- Format: Hardcover
- Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
- No. of pages: 480
- Publication date: 4th May 2017
- Genre: Historical Fiction
To purchase Deposed from Amazon.co.uk, click here (link provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme)
Find Deposed on Goodreads
‘Research for Deposed’ by David Barbaree
I suspect different time periods present different challenges and opportunities when researching and writing historical fiction. If, for example, the subject matter is 19th century England, there would be – I would guess – an endless amount of material for the novelist to wade through. A reasonable itinerary of, say, Queen Victoria, may be possible. This would be very different to my experience researching a book set in ancient Rome. I found that there was somehow both too much information and too little. Conceptually, I divided my research into three categories: i) facts; ii) events and personalities; and iii) ethos. Whether there was too much information or too little depended on the category.
I considered “facts” to be the well documented aspects of Roman life in the first century A.D. The way Roman’s told time; their manner of dress; the soldier’s uniform. When I first started writing Deposed, I agonized over getting this type of information 100% correct. It paralyzed my writing. Far too often I would stop and chase a fact down a rabbit hole only to emerge days later. It was only after I accepted that I wouldn’t be able to get every single fact correct that I was able to press on and finish the book. I had to remind myself that I was writing fiction, not an academic dissertation. Although I worked very hard to ensure the book was accurate, mistakes inevitably snuck through. Recently, after publication, someone smarter than me, with more knowledge in the area, told me that the book contains a reference to Roman soldiers wearing greaves when at the time they didn’t. Naturally, I was mortified. But not as mortified as I would have been when I first started writing the book.
I had a very different experience with the second category, events and personalities. When I started researching the book, I had a general understanding of the period: Nero was a monster; Vespasian (Nero’s eventual successor) was provincial and cheap – and this was usually reinforced by the modern historical accounts that I started with. But when I finally turned to the ancient sources, I was surprised at how little survived and how flimsy the original sources seemed. For example, the terrible acts the early emperors were accused of were merely uncorroborated rumours written decades after the fact. This led me to think more and more about the reliability of the extant record. I began to prefer the view of the ancient sources as propaganda, at least in part, encouraged by subsequent emperors. This perspective provided me room to manoeuvre as a novelist and the confidence to stray from the ancient sources. The Nero in my book is not Suetonius’ Nero, or Tacitus’. He is my Nero.
The third category was, in my view, the most important. Ensuring that the characters of my book were true to the emotional, moral and philosophical make-up of a first century Roman was vital to ensuring the reader could immerse themselves in the story. Mistakes with this category would be more devastating to the book than any other. Hopefully, this final category is one that Deposed gets right throughout the novel and – fingers crossed – ancient Rome can come to life.
Thank you, David, absolutely fascinating.
For a great review of Deposed by my fellow blogger, For Winter Nights, click here
About the Author
David Barbaree is a lawyer and a graduate of the Curtis Brown Creative Writing School. He lives in Toronto with this wife and daughter.
Connect with David