18 April 2021

Special Guest Post by Steven Pilbeam, Author of The Heron Ring


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

 ‘I am Iphigenia. Daughter of King Agamemnon.
History says I died. I lived.’ 

Argive Greece, 1200 BC. Mighty King Agamemnon kills his daughter to save his warships. Or does he? When Iphigenia of Mycenae betrays her father, words of destiny are spoken that hurl her into the path of Aletes. The herdsman must battle his own fate to discover who he is, as he collides with Iphigenia and the armies of Troy. Think you know the great stories of Troy? Unwrite history, undo legend, uncover the truth…

The Story Behind the Story

The trouble with the greatest stories ever told, is they have been told a great deal. With historical fiction set in ancient Troy and Greece, we know the legends, we know the heroes, we know the face that launched a thousand ships. I knew I wanted to write an epic adventure, and I knew I was fascinated by the world of warriors and war of Bronze Age Greece. But I wanted my story to be new. 

Rather like the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, who unearthed the ancient treasures of Mycenae and Troy, I dug up a gem from Bronze Age legend. 

Iphigenia.

Iphigenia was the daughter of King Agamemnon. The niece of Helen of Troy. Yet I was surprised to find Iphigenia’s story thin and contradictory. Agamemnon, Achilles, Hector, Paris – these male figures have been written, rewritten, overwritten. 

But Iphigenia? Like so many women of the past, her truth has been lost. Playwright Euripides, writing in the 5th Century BC, has Iphigenia ordered to death by her father (Iphigenia in Aulis) because the king has offended the gods. To save his warships, the king must make amends by sacrificing his daughter. Yet, Euripides has Iphigenia being rescued by the gods at the last moment in another play (Iphigenia in Tauris).

And so, Iphigenia became the hilt to my sword. Hers, the first words on my page. I had my hero – and she was a woman.  It got me thinking. What if Iphigenia escaped? How would that act of defiance affect politics? Family? Agamemnon’s temper is famous – surely, he would be furious. What about his warships? Would the Trojan War ever happen?

As the prologue of The Heron Ring reads: 

‘I am Iphigenia. Daughter of King Agamemnon. Twice married to dead kings. Promised to Achilles, greatest warrior who ever lived. I defied the most ruthless king to set foot in history. I betrayed my father.’

Iphigenia would need help. Introducing Aletes. He is modest. Happy with his quiet life. Until the Fates weave their work. The herdsman and Iphigenia collide early in the book. The mighty names of legend are there too – Agamemnon, Menelaus, Achilles, Hector, Paris, Helen of Troy – but in The Heron Ring they are supporting cast. This allowed me to create an original story in a genre so well-known. I wanted a theatre of characters in a world of epic proportions to accurately reflect Greece as a superpower of antiquity.  

Another original character is Melampus, a short, bald headed veteran with a voice that grates like bronze tyres on gravel. The men follow him without hesitation – you meet him in the first chapter: 

‘First Spear Melampus ploughed past Aletes, scratching a deep line in the dirt with the bronze point of his weapon, his short, bandy legs braced, swarthy face set like that of a cornered boar.'

The banter between Melampus and Aletes forms much of the humour of the book – or so I ho Now we come to recreating the world of Bronze Age Greece – also known as Mycenaean Greece, after the most powerful of its city states, Mycenae. Research took me years, and I wrote the book over ten years. Little is known because there is archaeological evidence Mycenaean Greece was conquered and destroyed. 

After three thousand years, all that remains are mainly weapons and treasure left in tombs, artwork on pottery, and fragments of frescoes. The written language of the time, Linear B, has been deciphered, but largely documents materials and stocks. In other words, we know the basics. We know what people in Mycenaean Greece ate, that they used swords and shields, were rich in gold and precious jewels. But we don’t know what these people thought. Or felt. Or even, their names. 

What was clear was that people met death in the eye – none more so than warriors. Minds guided by their gods, bodies built muscle on muscle like the stone slabs of their giant fortresses. Epic battles. Glorious courage. Yet the basic aspects of their lives – friendships, family, love – are the same as we face in 2021.

I am not a trained writer or historian, but I’ve written my whole life – to me it’s as essential as breathing. I’ve read and reread every book going on Greek mythology and history. I’ve travelled to the jewels of the ancient world – Mycenae, Hisarlik, Athens, Rome. I came away from each place with another chapter in my mind, another character on my fingertips.  

The test of a good book is if you cannot put it down. My aim for The Heron Ring is to make your arms ache, like the archaeologists digging up history with trowels in their hands. I hope you don’t notice the ache until it’s too late. Until you realise you’ve had the book in your hands so long because you couldn’t put it down.  

Steven Pilbeam

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About the Author

Steven Pilbeam is a retired businessman who wrote The Heron Ring over ten years, so vast was the historical research and epic nature of the story. He would begin writing at 5am every day before work. History-obsessed, he is to be found invariably with a book in hand, documentary on screen, or visiting ancient sites around the world – most of which he has explored ten times before, much to the dismay of his family! Now writing full-time, he is working on an epic set in Rome. The book is based on the true story of an inspirational leader betrayed by his people. Steven has three children: James is a partner in chartered accountancy, Louisa and Katie are television journalists. He describes the luckiest day of his life as the one he met his wife, Wendy. Coincidentally, she counts this as her unluckiest! Find Steven on Instagram: @Stevenpilbeamauthor and Twitter: @StevenPilbeam

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