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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Interview with Christian Cameron about the Tom Swan Serial (with comments by Liviu Suciu)

Christian, you are fairly well known for your novels about Archaic and Hellenistic Greece.  This seems like a new departure.  Care to explain?

Sure, Liviu.  First, I’d like to ‘break in’ to the US market.  The format of the Tom Swan stories—that is to say, Conan Doyle like episodes set in the late medieval (or Renaissance, depending on how you define your period) was aimed to be appealing.  And cheap.  I’m not writing Tom Swan to make money, but to reach new readers.     

I chose the period because it’s one that lots of people are familiar with, all of a sudden, thanks to media events like The Borgias, The Tudors,  and Assassin’s Creed.  Leonardo, Cardinal Bessarion, Pius II, Mehmed the Grand Turk; Venice and Florence and the Medici and the Sforzas—the Borgia’s are a little later, and so are Isabel and Ferdinand Of Spain, but this is a time period with many fans.

There’s another reason, too.  Last year, thanks to my sometime fencing instructor, Tom Leoni, I became enthralled with the techniques of the later Italian masters—what we call ‘sword and buckler.’ Literally—swashbuckling (that the sound a sword makes hitting a buckler, BTW.)  After I’d fenced the technique for some months, I had to write about it.  
And a final reason—this is the renaissance—literally, the rebirth of Greek and Roman learning.  So it allows me to explore the chivalric (and less than chivalric) martial arts I love, while dealing with antiquities and artifacts from the ancient world.

Can you talk about some of the artifacts, and why they are central to the stories?

Sure.  First, Tom Swan isn’t a soldier.  He’s sort of thief, and sort of a scholar, and sort of a rogue, and sort of an archaeologist.  I based him, very roughly, on Cyriac of Ancona, an Italian scholar and adventurer of the same period.  The two men might overlap….

The stories will each center on objects—real objects, where possible.  The Head of Saint George was given by Cardinal Bessarion to the state of Venice and is still there, in a church.  There are currently five heads of St. George, and not my place to say which one, if any, is real.   

The ring of the conqueror—Alexander the Great’s signet ring—is probably still out there in a private collection in Italy.  It is a large diamond cut with the head of Herakles, set in rose gold.  As far as we know, it belonged to Alexander and to Ptolemy and then to lots of other famous people and eventually ended in up on the finger of a Venetian galley captain.  And then—well, you’ll have to read the stories!

The stories have a different tone from your Greek books…

One of my favorite authors is George McDonald Fraser, who manages to be bawdy and irreverent and politically incorrect and still teach the reader a great deal of history.  I thought I might aim a little more towards his approach to history.  I like heroes—I love epic and as a former military officer, I think that heroism is, in fact, ‘real’ and a lot of what modern authors call ‘gritty’ is just our cultural distance from the world of violence.  But—not everyone needs to be a pure, idealistic young man, and my sharp and rather greedy Tom Swan seems to be gaining popularity.  And he’s good with girls.

Why are you writing them so short?

I wanted them to be cheap and accessible, and I wanted to write them as a ‘lead in’ to my medieval series (in print) that comes out next spring, starting with ‘The Ill-Made Knight’ about Sir John Hawkwood and his period.  They are a different period, but Ill Made Knight will be more in the Tom Swan style.  I hope that makes sense!  Also, at the moment I’m writing several thousand pages a year, and the project needed to be—er—approachable.

What else are you doing?

I’m writing a series of graphic novels for Neal Stevenson’s FOREWORLD (that’s the Mongoliad world).  The graphic novels are set in about 400 BCE and involve characters like—well, like Plato and Phokion.  My friend Dmitry Bondarenko is illustrating them—he does the figures that decorate the maps in my Tyrant and Long War books. 

 I’m writing the fourth Long War book, about the Battle of Thermopylae and Artemesium, the more important naval battle that was taking place a few miles away.  I’ll try to cover the ground very differently from Steven Pressfield, whose book  Gates of Fire remains one of the finest ever written in the genre. 

 I’m writing the second ‘Ill Made Knight’ which will, I think, be called ‘The Long Sword,’  set in 14th c. Italy and going to Greece and Turkey with the Green Count’s crusade.  The fifth book of my Tyrant series will be out in a few weeks—that’s ‘Destroyer of Cities’ about the siege of Rhodes in 306 BCE and what followed.

Don’t you think you should stop slacking and work harder?

I should, and my house needs a new front porch.  And there’s all this amour I want to buy—and a horse.   Have I mentioned wanting a horse?

You must do quite a bit of research…

Sometimes I feel that it’s all I do.  I love to fence—or whatever word you want to use for sparring with various weapons—so that’s a pleasure all the time.  Reenacting—whether ancient Greece, the Middle Ages, or the American Revolution-is also always a pleasure, so my life isn’t that hard.  And I love to read.  The problem is that if I was allowed, I’d read a steady diet of historical fiction and fantasy with some Space Opera thrown in.   

However, what I actually read is research stuff, so right now I’m reading military manuals—De Re Militare by Vegetius, the Strategikon by Maurikos, Ascham on longbow archery (1545) and a book on the formation of the Greek language.  Next comes a major dose of Central European history, because Tom Swan is going to the Siege of Belgrade, and I need to learn a lot about Janos Hunyadi and medieval Belgrade.

Anything else you would like to say?

I want to thank the illustrator of Tom Swan, Darius Wielec, whose website is full of his art.  Darius is as much of a nutter about authenticity as I am—and a far better horseman, too.  I hope his illustrations help the reader—they certainly inspire me!
And thanks for the pulpit.  I hope you’ll have me on again!


I want to thank Christian Cameron for this wonderful interview and emphasize again how much adventure fun are the Tom Swan books and urge you to try the first if you have not done so. Different from the grimmer Tyrant and Long War series and more in the historical romance tradition of Waltari or Dumas, though with a serious dose of historical realism and grittiness too.

I am also really excited about the author's new series set to debut next Spring and where the 100 Years War comes into focus closer to the beginning than the ignominious end (on the English side) shown in the first Tom Swan installment, while of course the next three installments of this one will be asap buys and reads hopefully in Jan/Feb/March of 2013 with a review after the 6th. 

Not to speak of the author's Greek World novels which are also automatic buy/read on publication! So 2013 should be another great year if you are a fan of Christian Cameron!


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