Carlos Almanzor has been the ruler of his country for 37 years. Now in his seventies, he is feeling his age and seeing enemies around every corner. Meanwhile, Carlos’ estranged and imprisoned wife Juanita recalls the revolution that brought him to power and how, once a liberal idealist, he changed over time into an autocrat and embraced repression as the means of sustaining his position. In time, as Manuel makes his own bid for power, Juanita will find herself an unwitting participant in his plans.
Hello, Tony, and thank you very much for inviting me onto your blog.
Since I’m the guest of a historical novelist today, I thought I would talk about the different ways in which my own novels have been informed by history.
My first, Zeus of Ithome, is what you would call a historical novel with a capital ‘H’, since it was inspired directly by historical events and aimed to bring them to life, albeit through the personal stories of mostly fictional characters. Thus the novel is not only placed in a historical setting, but structured by the history itself, with the lives of the protagonists woven around the real-life events.
The events in question are the struggle of the Messenian people in southern Greece to free themselves from three centuries of slavery under the Spartans, and the wider power struggles between the Greek States in the fourth century BC which created the conditions for their last and greatest revolt. When I read about all this (ironically, in a book about Sparta) the story of the Messenians seemed to be crying out to be told.
I took as my central character Diocles, a runaway ‘helot’ slave, who falls in with, Aristomenes an ageing Messenian rebel and travels towards Delphi to seek advice from the oracle. There, Diocles meets Epaminondas, a (historical) Theban general, who also has no love for Sparta, and follows him to Thebes to learn political and military skills. As war brews between Sparta and Thebes, the conditions finally become right for Diocles and Aristomenes to return to Messenia and begin their revolt in earnest.
My second novel, Revolution Day, has a very different relationship with history. It deals with fictional events involving fictional people in a fictional country. Nevertheless, it is also, in its own way, inspired by history – in this case, the downfall a few years ago of a string of dictators (Hussein, Mubarak, Gaddafi) in the middle east. That was the core around which some rather vague pre-existing ideas about the fleetingness and corrupting nature of power coalesced.
Having decided to write a dictator novel, I settled on Latin America rather than the middle east, to allow more space for a strong, politically active female character: Juanita, the estranged wife and former colleague of ageing dictator Carlos Almanzor. She is writing a memoir in which she chronicles his rise to power and his regime’s descent into repression. The third key character is Manuel Jimenez, the Vice-President, who is frustrated by his subordinate role and decides to make his own bid for power. Lacking military support, he must do so not by force but through intrigue, manipulating the perceptions of Carlos and those around him to drive a wedge between him and Angel, the head of the Army. As Manuel begins to pull the strings, Juanita will become an unwitting participant in his plans.
Whereas with Zeus of Ithome I had been quite meticulous in getting the period details right and in making sure that the events described in the novel are consistent with the known facts (though I felt at liberty to fill in gaps!), with Revolution Day I could be much more free in borrowing from history. Carlos is not based upon any particular individual, but I drew on a variety of dictators in imagining him and the history of his regime – his look, for example, owes something to Augusto Pinochet of Chile. Similarly, though the character is not directly based on her, there is a hint of Eva Peron about Juanita. The ups and downs of Carlos’ regime (recalled in Juanita’s memoir) take place against the background of changing relations between the superpowers during the Cold War, as he seeks help from first the Russians and later the Americans to prop up his troubled government.
I have always loved historical fiction and have plans for a sequel to Zeus of Ithome in due course but my experience with Revolution Day has taught me that history can be a valuable and enriching resource not only for historical novels in the strictest sense, but for any fiction which explores timeless issues, like the effects of power, that have played out time and again in human society.
T. E. Taylor
T. E. Taylor
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About the Author
Tim was born in 1960 in Stoke-on-Trent. He studied Classics at Pembroke College, Oxford (and later Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London). After a couple of years playing in a rock band, he joined the Civil Service, eventually leaving in 2011 to spend more time writing. Tim now lives in Yorkshire with his wife and daughter and divides his time between creative writing, academic research and part-time teaching and other work for Leeds and Huddersfield Universities. Tim’s first novel, Zeus of Ithome, a historical novel about the struggle of the ancient Messenians to free themselves from Sparta, was published by Crooked Cat in November 2013; his second, Revolution Day in June 2015. Tim also writes poetry and the occasional short story, plays guitar, and likes to walk up hills. Further information on both of Tim's novels is available on his website and e-book editions are currently reduced to 99p or equivalent until 15 August as part of the Crooked Cat Summer Sale. You can find Tim on Facebook and Twitter @timetaylor1.