16 October 2020

Special Guest Interview with Steven A. McKay, Author of LUCIA: A Roman Slave's Tale


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

This standalone novel from the bestselling author of The Druid tells the tale of one woman's life against a richly woven backdrop of love and hate, revenge and redemption.


I'm pleased to welcome author Steven McKay to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book 

Well, I’ve just published the third book in my Warrior Druid of Britain series, The Northern Throne. That’s been out a month or so and getting lots of really great reviews which is always nice. Hot on the heels of that, though, will be my standalone Roman slave novel, Lucia. This was actually bought by Audible, who produced the audio version themselves and put it out on their platform exclusively for the past twelve months. Now it’s time to take it to a wider audience on Kindle and paperback!

Lucia came about after a conversation with fellow author Matthew Harffy. He mentioned that his publishers would like a standalone novel from him (I believe this became the fantastic Wolf of Wessex) and, the next day I was out working my day job and the thought of a single book, not part of any series, began running through my mind. I’d recently listened to the Audible versions of Rebecca, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and things like that. Books I would not normally read, as I didn’t think of them as ‘my genre’ – but I loved Jane Eyre and the Du Maurier novels and they are rightly revered as classics. Yet they are standalone stories so…maybe I could do something like that?

As if a lightning bolt came out of the sky and hit me, pretty much the entire idea for Lucia came to me right at that moment, in the middle of a wet street in Glasgow. I literally ran back to my car right then so I could jot it all down in my notebook. It was really strange, and the only time I’ve ever experienced anything like that. Maybe some real Roman slave was telling me to write it, to get their story out there after all these generations…It certainly felt like the idea came from outside myself. I guess that’s what people mean when they talk about their ‘muse’. 

Anyway, I started researching the lives of Roman slaves and it’s really horrible the things they went through – we all know they were badly treated, as slaves generally are, but some of the stuff I learned was really difficult to process. If I was going to tell Lucia’s story, however, I had to put it all in there, while trying to balance it with lots of lighter moments. Basically, the novel charts the life of a young girl captured by Romans and taken to Britannia as a slave, where she spends her entire life working in a villa. It’s not like my usual books, which tend to have lots of adventures in forests, and battles, and men drinking ale around campfires and so on, but I’m really proud of Lucia and I hope it makes readers think, as well as entertaining them.

I don’t believe there’s any other books like Lucia – not now, and certainly not written in the Roman period, since no-one cared enough about slaves to ask them how they felt or what their daily struggles were like. Would you ask the horse drawing your cart if it had hopes or dreams? Of course, that’s not really a good analogy, since many Romans valued their horses more than their human slaves!

Lucia is a dark story, but renowned historian Sharon Bennett Connolly said it was by far the best book she’d read this year which was truly amazing to hear. 

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research 

When researching Lucia I discovered lots of things I’d never thought of before. I mean, yeah, we’ve all seen movies where the likes of Spartacus are treated like animals or worse, but even so, some of the things I read about were difficult to process. Nowadays we kind of glamourise the Romans – and I’m as guilty as anyone of this, having a former centurion in my Warrior Druid of Britain series – but their entire empire was built on the bent, whip-scarred backs of slaves. The hardest thing for me was reading about a villa that was excavated right here in Britain, and the archaeologists discovered the bodies of over a hundred babies which had just been abandoned to the elements. That’s in one villa! 

What was the hardest scene you remember writing? 

Well, continuing on from the previous question, I have a couple of scenes that touch on the birth of children and, as someone who suffered the pain of stillborn child myself, it was extremely difficult to write something like that. But it had to be done if I was going to be true to Lucia and tell her story realistically.

However, on the flipside of that, what I found inspiring and hopeful was the fact that the slaves didn’t just kill themselves after suffering something as terrible as a newborn being abandoned to the elements. They continued with their lives. How could they do that without going insane with grief or hatred for their masters? Those were the questions I wanted to answer with the novel – I wanted to humanise these poor people, and show the power of their spirit even in the face of truly awful treatment. They were downtrodden of course, but they must have had hopes and dreams, right? Of freedom, or of starting a family, or just of bettering their lot within their masters’ households. 

And people change, don’t they? A man who buys slaves when he’s a young army officer might have viewed them quite differently by the time he was a middle-aged country gentleman. So, all these different viewpoints and relationships were quite hard to write since you’re trying to get into the head of people quite alien to yourself and to our society as a whole.

Whether I managed it or not, well, you’ll have to read Lucia and make up your own mind. As I mentioned before though, Sharon Bennett Connolly liked the novel and said this about it: “Lucia is a story that is at once desperate and uplifting, a story that touches you deep in your soul. If you only read one more book this year, it should be Lucia." High praise indeed, from someone who reads a LOT of great historical fiction!

What are you planning to write next? 

I’m just about finished a novella that’s part of my Forest Lord series, called Sworn to God which is essentially a sequel to 2019’s Faces of Darkness. Novellas don’t sell anything like as well as novels in my experience, but I enjoy writing them and it’s a great way to take a break from crafting a full-length, 100,000 word novel, although I did put in a fair amount of hours researching medieval heretics, just to get the background clear in my head. So Sworn to God is based on the bizarre case of a real religious cult from around the 1980’s that I heard about on a podcast, but the book is set in the 1320’s and sees our heroes Friar Tuck, John Little, and Will Scaflock fighting for the forces of good! My readers really like those characters and I think they’ll enjoy this when it comes out around Christmas – publishing a novella in the winter is starting to become something of a tradition for me and I’m happy with that. I love Christmas and, after the year we’ve all had, it’ll be good to bring some cheer into readers’ homes with this tale!

Steven A. McKay

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About the Author

Steven A. McKay was born in Scotland in 1977. He says, 'I enjoyed studying history – well, the interesting bits, not so much what they taught us in school. I decided to write my Forest Lord series after seeing a house called “Sherwood” when I was out at work one day. I’d been thinking about maybe writing a novel but couldn’t come up with a subject or a hero so, to see that house, well…It felt like a message from the gods and my rebooted Robin Hood was born. My current Warrior Druid of Britain series was similarly inspired, although this time it was the 80’s TV show “Knightmare”, and their version of Merlin that got my ideas flowing. Of course, the bearded old wizard had been done to death in fiction, so I decided to make my hero a giant young warrior-druid living in post-Roman Britain and he’s been a great character to write. I was once in a heavy metal band although I tend to just play guitar in my study these days. I’m sure the neighbours absolutely love me.' Find out more at his website https://stevenamckay.com/ and find him on Twitter @SA_McKay.

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