Today, I’m delighted to be joined by Tim Taylor, to talk about his writing and current releases.
Hi Tim, tell me a bit about your current release, Revolution Day.
My second novel, Revolution Day was released this summer. It recounts a year in the life of fictional Latin American dictator Carlos Almanzor. Now in his seventies, he is feeling his age and seeing enemies everywhere he looks. This is not without reason: Manuel, his Vice-President, is burning with frustration at his subordinate position. When his attempts to raise his profile are met with humiliating rejection, he resolves to take action. But lacking a military power base, he must further his bid for power not by force but through intrigue.
Meanwhile, Carlos’s estranged and imprisoned wife, Juanita, is writing a memoir of his regime and their marriage. She recalls the revolution that brought them to power and how, once an idealist, Carlos came to embrace autocracy and repression, precipitating the catastrophic split between them.
As Manuel begins to make his move, manipulating the perceptions of Carlos and those around him to drive a wedge between him and the army, Juanita and others will find themselves unwittingly drawn into his plans.
What first attracted you to the historical eras and themes you’ve written about?
My first novel, Zeus of Ithome, is set in Greece in the 4th century BC. I’ve been fascinated by ancient Greece since I was a child, and studied Classics at university. It’s the birthplace of western civilisation, the starting point for so much that is central to our culture. But it’s also a rich mine of memorable people and events, fertile ground for storytelling. The historical events featured in the novel – the revolt of the Messenian people against their Spartan overlords and the wider events in Greece which precipitated it – fell outside the period I’d previously studied, so there was a nice mix of freshness and familiarity.
With Revolution Day, what drew me to write the book was less the period (it’s set in the present day, and looks back over the last four or five decades) than the themes it explores. For a long time I had been toying with the idea of writing a novel about a person who has had great power but is beginning to lose his grip; and about the different ways in which power corrupts people. The central character could easily have been a king, but after the Arab Spring I thought ‘why not a dictator’. I decided on Latin America because I wanted a strong female character (Juanita), which would have been more difficult in a middle eastern setting.
What sparked your first foray into historical fiction?
I was aware of the Messenians from my earlier studies, but didn’t know very much about them. When I learned more (in a book about Sparta, ironically), and in particular the fact that after 300 years of domination and slavery they never gave up on their sense of nationhood and desire for freedom, it struck me that their story was crying out to be told.
Tell me a bit about your research process – are you able to stay focused, or do you find yourself distracted by new, interesting snippets or stories?
I tend to do research in chunks rather than all together. I’ll start by reading the key sources for the period, and then look into specific things where necessary as I go along. I enjoy research, though I it is a general failing of mine that I am easily distracted.
Which is your favourite of any real historical characters who have appeared in your writing?
I am a great admirer of the Theban statesman and general Epaminondas, who appears in Zeus of Ithome. He seems to have been of unimpeachable personal character, and was a very skilful and innovative tactician who achieved some notable victories. He also had a strategic vision, seeing beyond the incessant petty squabbles between the city-states to the possibility of a Greece united under a federal system. Sadly, he was a few decades ahead of his time. After his death Greece would be unified in rather less benign fashion by the Macedonians.
If you could visit any historical event or period (as a witness only, no changing things!), which would it be, and why?
I think it would be Athens in first half of the fifth century BC. The energy of the newly-created democracy was astonishing, and this relatively small city-state seemed to get more history and culture into that fifty years than many much larger countries manage in their entire lifetimes. The battles of Marathon and Salamis, the Parthenon, Pericles, Pheidias, Socrates, Aeschylus, Aristophanes – so many memorable people, so much achievement!
And how about ‘rewriting’ the history books? If you could change any single event, which would it be, and what would be your preferred outcome?
What a great question! I think I would time-travel to 1066 and help the Anglo-Saxons drive the Normans back into the sea. That said, I have no idea what the subsequent history of England would have looked like if the Battle of Hastings had gone the other way. Our language would certainly be rather different.
Finally… You’re allowed a whole afternoon to yourself with anyone from history. Who would it be, and what would you want to discuss?
Hmm, I am spoilt for choice. There are so many people it would be wonderful to have the opportunity to talk to. However, I think I would choose a great writer or artist who was not fully appreciated in their lifetime, just to let them know that they did not toil in vain and cheer them up a bit! Someone like Keats or Van Gogh.
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.