Mastodon The Writing Desk: Special Guest Post by Robert M. Kidd, Author of The Walls of Rome

24 April 2021

Special Guest Post by Robert M. Kidd, Author of The Walls of Rome

Book one of The Histories of Sphax series
Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

218 BC. Sphax is seventeen and haunted by the brutal murder of his parents at the hands of Rome. After ten years of miserable slavery he will make his last bid for freedom and go in search of Hannibal’s army and his birthright. He will have his revenge on the stinking cesspit that is Rome!

It began with an image of an old man sitting in a courtyard garden, staring out at the desert. Behind him, snow-capped mountains towered in the distance. It was an image of fire and ice. By the time I’d free-flown to the bottom of the page, I realised I was writing about a Numidian noble who’d led a long and eventful life. And I knew his name.

Once I was strong. Once I could race the wind. Once, the merest mention of my name would strike fear into the heart of any Roman. I have slain consuls of Rome and ground their legions into dust. I have stormed their cities and mocked their gods. But now I am old … I will be forgotten. No silver-tongued Greek will write my history.

It was not the sort of prose that would win the Man Booker – free flow writing rarely is – but I was intrigued, and wanted to know more about this old man I’d named Sphax. That hand-written page still sits on my desk, and I might use a line or two from it on the last page of the last chapter of The Histories of Sphax.

I’ve spent a lifetime reading history, mostly ancient and classical history, but when I came to writing and fictionalising it, my perspective began to change. Who was this old man who might have lived at the time of Hannibal? Was he a real historical character, or a fiction? Everything changed when I decided he was a fiction, but grounded in real historical events and figures.

In my search for Sphax I became fascinated by those liminal worlds in the hinterland of fact and fiction, those gaps, contradictions, and yawning spaces that leave recorded history behind and invite invention. I’m reminded of the story about that old reprobate, W. C. Fields, asked by a friend shortly before his death why he was reading the Bible so avidly. ‘Lookin’ for loopholes,’ Field replied.

I know what he meant – not about the Bible – but those loopholes. Perhaps a better word for them might be wormholes – those theoretically unproven phenomena beloved of sci-fi writers – for they take the imagination into an unknown space and into an unknown future. My search for Sphax began with the story of Navaras and Similce.

In Numidian history (Numidia covered where Algeria, Tunisia and parts of Libya and Morocco are today) there’s a wonderful story about one of its princes, a colourful character called Navaras. After the First Punic War (264 – 241 BC) and an outrageous claim for indemnity from Rome (3,200 talents of silver!), Carthage was strapped for cash and couldn’t pay off its mercenary armies, who promptly mutinied and began what is known as the Truceless War. 

At first, Navaras sided with the rebels, but on witnessing at first hand their atrocities, he sought an honourable way to switch sides. He did this by riding alone into the enemy camp and pitching up miraculously unscathed outside the pavilion of his arch-enemy, Hamilcar Barca. There he pledged his Numidians to the cause of Carthage. As in all good fairytale endings, such reckless audacity was rewarded with the hand in marriage of Hamilcar’s daughter.

To my delight, Navaras and his Barca bride then conveniently disappeared from history. Not a single classical historian can tell me what happened to Navaras and – I’ve called her Similce – after this one recorded historical event. There’s the wormhole.

Now I’m free to invent a future for them. Did they have children? A son perhaps? At last Sphax is beginning to come to life! Hamilcar Barca is none other than Hannibal’s father; which means Similce was his sister (Hannibal had two – but we don’t know their names), and Sphax’s his nephew. This just gets better and better …

Sphax is seventeen when The Walls of Rome begins, and has spent the last ten years as a miserable slave in Rome. Somehow, I had to get a seven year old taken into slavery around 229/228. In 229 BC Rome declared war on Queen Teuta of Illyria. She’s another colourful character, often referred to as the ‘Pirate Queen,’ and after losing her disastrous war with Rome when her lover (probably?), Demetrius, betrays her, conveniently disappears from history. Another wormhole? Definitely … and the dates fit perfectly.

Now it’s just a matter of joining the dots. I’ve got a sinking feeling Sphax’s imaginary parents are going to come to a sticky end somewhere off the island of Corcyra (Corfu, where Demetrius surrendered his Illyrian garrison to Rome), and he’ll be taken into slavery and sent to Rome. That would explain his loathing of Rome, his desire for revenge and motivation for joining Hannibal’s army. Sphax’s genes also point to an innate recklessness, intelligence and culture. Not bad from one wormhole, and the Pirate Queen offers up even more opportunities in the future.

This is how I began thinking about The Histories of Sphax; juggling dozens of tiny jigsaw pieces, fragments of history that would tell the story of Hannibal’s war with Rome through the eyes of a young Numidian with powerful connections to Carthage. Exploring these liminal worlds is why I took up writing in the first place. So essentially, I write fiction not historiography. For me a novel is an exercise of the imagination, but at the same time, I never play fast and loose with real history: names, dates, places, battles etc. These are sacrosanct. But wormholes are free game!

Robert M. Kidd

# # #

About the Author
Robert M. Kidd (it’s a pen name) studied composition at UCNW with William Mathias. His music has been broadcast and widely performed in Britain, Europe and the U.S. In 2006 he received the prestigious Creative Wales Award to enable him to write orchestral music, and recent work has been premiered by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. CD recordings are available on the Prima Facie (ASC), Meridian, Metier and Composers of Wales labels. Six years ago he felt he’d painted himself into a creative corner and needed a way out. Writing a novel was his escape, and since then he hasn’t looked back. Now he divides his time between writing music and words. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales, and when he’s not waging war on Rome, enjoys hill walking, is a keen amateur naturalist, and like his hero Sphax, loves horses. Find out more at and find him on Facebook and Twitter @RobertMKidd1

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for commenting