Thursday, November 29, 2007

Interview with Steven Saylor, author of ROMA

This year, I reviewed Steven Saylor's novel ROMA (St. Martin’s Press. 2007. 576 pgs. $25.95. hc. 0-312-32831-1 .) for the Historical Novels Review. At the time my partner and I were devouring HBO's series, Rome, via netflix and I wanted to learn more about the city that I'd visited several times but actually know relatively little about, before the Renaissance. I'd read the first two books in Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa mystery series, featuring Gordianus the Finder, and was excited about his new venture.

ROMA is an epic novel by every definition, yet also surprisingly intimate, driven by beautifully drawn characters. In my review, I wrote: Steven Saylor, the award-winning mystery writer of the Roma Sub Rosa series, undertakes the multigenerational historical saga in his latest novel ROMA . . . Saylor frames his compelling, fast-moving narrative in elegant prose, using the device of a fictional family whose fates are closely interwoven with the vicissitudes and fortunes of the city. The cast is large and varied, beginning with a salt trader’s daughter in 1000 BC who receives a mysterious gold talisman that will become a family heirloom. Through the eyes of her descendants, the Potitius family, we witness the city’s founding by Romulus and Remus, the struggles and intrigues of plebeians and patricians, Hannibal’s invasion, a mass murderer’s scheme to wipe out a competing dynasty, a vestal virgin’s sacrifice, and the tragic attempt of two sibling politicians to revolutionize Roman society . . . Readers will find themselves in awe of Saylor’s command of his sprawling storyline, his penchant for detail, as well as his evident passion for Rome herself, a city whose complex grandeur and enigmatic allure continue to entice our collective imagination.

Steven Saylor is the bestselling author of twelve novels set in ancient Rome and two contemporary thrillers. He's considered an expert on the ancient world and has been invited to speak on The History Channel and at several international conferences. ROMA is currently being translated into eleven languages and counting; it hit the New York Times bestseller list and is a bestseller in Budapest, where Steven toured this summer. He currently divides his time between Austin, Texas, and Northern California. To learn more about him, as well as fascinating details about his research and commentary on ancient history in books and film, please visit Steven:

Please join me in welcoming Steven Saylor:

1. Congratulations on the publication of ROMA. It's a honor to have you with us. ROMA is a marvelous, epic novel that traces a thousand years in Rome's history. What inspired you to take on such an ambitious project after having found bestselling success with your Roma Sub Rosa mystery series?

I give credit to my publisher in England, Nick Robinson of Constable. A few years ago, when I was in London on book tour, Nick had me to his flat for a serious chat and proposed I write a “big book” outside my crime series. The idea that immediately popped into my head was a Michener/Rutherfurd-style centuries-long epic about Rome, something no one had yet done. Then I talked about the idea with my US editor, Keith Kahla at St. Martin’s Press. Not wanting to bite off too much, we honed the idea down to the first 1000 years of the city, stopping at 1 B.C. From simple conversations come big books.

2. Rome's early origins are steeped in myth. How challenging was it to research the facts behind the myth and create a realistic interpretation of the city's founding? What surprising facts did you discover, if any, about Rome and its beginnings?

The 19th-century historians who laid the groundwork for our understanding of earliest Rome were highly skeptical of the legendary accounts of Romulus and Remus, but more recent archaeological finds in Rome have caused some current historians to revise their thinking. It’s a very fertile, exciting time right now in early Roman studies. In ROMA I try to strike a certain balance between historical “fact” and the more legendary accounts, which have their own validity (and which the later Romans themselves believed). At the outset of the novel I quote an epigram from the historian Alexandre Grandazzi: “Legend is historical, just as history is legendary.” That was a guiding precept for the book.One of the surprises was the sophistication and cynicism of the Roman historians themselves. Livy, our principal source, doesn’t buy the idea that Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf. He notes that the word lupa can also mean prostitute, so he speculates that such a woman raised the twins, and later legend turned her literally into a she-wolf.

3. ROMA traces two fictional families in particular through the years, offering a diverse perspective of Roman society linked by the past and a gold talisman. Among the memorable cast of characters are a mass murderer and a vestal virgin. How did you research the creation of your fictional characters? In particular, did you find portraying a female point of view easy or challenging? Can you tell us about any methods you employ to give your characters authenticity?

The two families, the Pinarii and the Potitii, are historical. In fact, they’re the earliest families we know about in Roman history; both are mentioned in the first pages of Livy.For historical characters, like Coriolanus or Julius Caesar or Cleopatra, we have various sources to draw on, as well as traditions created by earlier writers of fiction, like Shakespeare, who created unforgettable portraits of all three of those people. For my entirely fictional characters, like the Vestal Pinaria in the chapter about the Gallic invasion of Rome, I took inspiration from a comment made by Betty Radice. Writing about Livy’s powers as a novelist as well as historian, Radice notes that Livy “never falls into the error of trying to create atmosphere by lifting pages from Baedeker—George Eliot and Lord Lytton earnestly did their best with Florence and Pompeii, but the dead stones never speak. Instead, he keeps descriptions to a minimum and recreates the spirit of Rome by entering into the feelings of the people of the time....he can make us feel what it is like to suffer a long siege, to lie on a battlefield wounded and dying, to be trapped in a panic-stricken crowd....” That’s the key to creating both atmosphere and character in a historical novel — not to give endless details or descriptions, but to make the reader feel what it’s like to be alive in a certain time and place. So I don’t spend a lot of time describing Pinaria or her family history. Instead I try to imagine what this pious young woman must have felt, trapped atop the Capitoline Hill while the Gauls ransacked her beloved city below. Her religious faith is shattered by the experience; her ideas about the world and about herself are radically altered. What sort of choices would she face? (Here’s a hint: Pinaria remains a Vestal, but not a virgin!)The historical sources are often very scant when it comes to women. Even the most famous woman in history, Cleopatra, doesn’t get her own biography from Plutarch; we have to search for her in the biographies of the men, like Antony and Caesar! So there is a very special challenge to recreating the thought-world of women in the ancient world.

4. Many people are fascinated by ancient Rome but often see it as a Hollywood-inspired version of depraved emperors and blood-thirsty gladiators; your book offers a refreshing perspective that focuses on the equally tumultuous events of the republic, which led up to the imperial era. How did you go about recreating this lesser-known period of time for your reader? Were there any particular choices you made concerning the events you would write about?

Curiously, the popular culture of an earlier century focused not on the depravity of the Roman empire, but on the perceived virtues of the Republic that gave birth to it. Victorian schoolboys knew all about the legends of Romulus and Remus, and the treachery of Coriolanus, and the struggle of the patricians and plebeians, while Americans of our time seem to be much more fascinated by the imperial pomp and perversity of Nero and Caligula. That must say something about us, don’t you think?One of my goal in ROMA was to reclaim that knowledge of the first centuries of Rome, which is indeed full of incredibly dramatic stories and towering figures of virtue and vice. There’s such a wealth of great material that the challenge was to decide which of those tales were most significant and to home in on them, creating the context with as few brushstrokes as possible and then focusing on the people involved, feeling what they must have felt as they fell in love or got the best of their enemies or faced death at the hands of an angry mob.

5. ROMA combines personal and political elements into a multi- generational saga that features intense passion, hatred, spirituality, sexuality, and harrowing violence. This is literally a book with something for everyone. Were you at all concerned while writing that your story might not appeal to both women and men readers? If so, did you make any extra efforts to ensure that the novel reached its intended audience?

I consciously tried to split the perspective as evenly as I could between the male and female characters. I couldn’t quite pull that off, especially in the later chapters, because the historical record is so thoroughly dominated by men. But wherever I was given a memorable woman in the sources, I seized on the opportunity to explore her place in the world and give her a voice. For example, along with the radical firebrands Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, two brothers who changed Rome forever, history gives us a vivid portrait of their mother, Cornelia. So of course Cornelia plays a prominent role in the book.

6. How do you think your novel speaks to today's reader, or how do the events you evoke resonate in today's world?

People seem irresistibly drawn to wonder about parallels between ancient Rome and modern America. And indeed, when you delve into the politics of the ancients, you do find startling similarities. For example, whenever the authority of the ruling class is challenged by those less well-off, the conservative elites start preaching patriotism and religious piety and whip up xenophobic hysteria; over and over we hear them say, “Do as your betters tell you and Rome will be safe; disobey us and your treason and sinfulness will let outsiders destroy Rome.” At the other end of the political spectrum, rabble-rousers — whether driven by idealism or personal ambition — exploit the resentment of the struggling classes. Both sides use lawsuits and sexual scandals to drag down their opponents. Doesn’t all this sound familiar?

7. Please tell us about your next project.

My next novel will be a return to the Roma Sub Rosa crime series with Gordianus the Finder. It’s called THE TRIUMPH OF CAESAR and comes out in May 2008.Right now I’m hard at work on the follow-up to ROMA, which will be another epic novel spanning the next 500 years of Roman history, from the beginning of the empire under Augustus to the barbarian invasions and the very last emperor in Rome, an unfortunate young man named Romulus Augustus. I’m doing the research right now. It’s going to be quite a challenge, getting inside the heads of people as varied as Hadrian, who deified his young male lover, Antinous, and Constantine the Great, who made Christianity the state religion. Again, the sources are not generous in giving us material about the women, and they tend to vilify the ones who stand out, like Nero’s mother, Agrippina. But uncovering their stories is one of my jobs.

Thank you, Steven. I am looking forward to your latest book, as are your many fans!

In Memory of Reay Tannahill

Author Reay Tannahill died in England on November 7, at the age of 78.

She became a pioneering author by accident, commissioned by the Folio Society in the 1960s to write a history of food, which turned into the bestseller Food in History - a landmark exploration of the evolution and importance of food through the ages. With wit and style, she later revised the book after new discoveries were made in the field, and wrote her second bestselling book, Sex in History.

She then turned to fiction - historical fiction, to be exact. She wrote several bestselling novels over the years, including my two favorites: The World, the Flesh and the Devil, set in medieval Scotland, France and Rome; and Fatal Majesty, which offers a different view of the events that led up to the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Fatal Majesty was published by St Martin's Press in the US. I own a first-edition hardcover. The cover features a blue web with a portrait of Mary in the middle, against a gold-leaf background. It's an odd cover, and the book sat on my shelf for over a year before one day I decided to try it out. I've always been interested in Mary, Queen of Scots; in my teens, I was fascinated by her and read what many consider to be the definitive historical novel about her, Immortal Queen by Elizabeth Byrd. I later read Margaret Irwin's book, as well as Margaret George's, both of which I enjoyed, and this accounted in part for my initial reluctance to immediatly read Ms Tannahill's. I bought it because, well, I buy everything historical, but I felt there wasn't anything more anyone could say about Mary of Scots in fiction that would prove a revelation.

Fatal Majesty isn't about Mary per se, though. It's about the political and religious struggle behind Mary, after she arrives in Scotland from France. When she appears, her perspective is beautifully depicted but the book is bigger than her, with a suspenseful, almost thriller-like element to it. You know the ending, naturally, but it's a great read to get there. I noticed the book got tepid reviews and yet this is one of those occasions when I disagree. I found it to be a compelling novel, offering an unusual take on the drama of Mary Stuart's later life. I treasure my first edition.

I'll miss Reay Tannahill's writing, as I'm sure will many readers. You can read Ms Tannahill's obituary here:

Monday, November 26, 2007

Dreaming the book

I hope everyone had a safe and healthy Thanksgiving. My partner, Erik, our corgi, Paris, and I went up to our home in Lake Tahoe and chilled out. Literally. It was quite cold, though we've yet to see a decent snow fall. I'm an avid skiier, so I'm eager for the first real snow, of course, but more importantly the beautiful, super-friendly community of Lake Tahoe needs the snow, as does our California water supply. So, here's praying for snow. And here's something we can all do about ensuring that we continue to see snow throughout the world:

This year, my family is getting acreage for Christmas!

So, New York. A few of you have written to ask me how the trip went. In a word, fantastic. I met my agent for the first time in person. She's lovely, with a mane of thick curly hair and an exuberant laugh. She gave me a tour of the reknowned agency where she works, which is lined with bookshelves bearing first and foreign editions of such classics they have sold as Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear, and she introduced me to other members of the agency - all smart, chic women. I was in heaven. Then she took me to lunch. I owe her a hybrid Cadillac for everything she's done for me, but it's marvelous that besides being a fierce agent, she's someone I truly like as a person. She watches over me and she fights for me; and her honesty keeps my feet on the ground. I've heard other writers rave about their agents, both in positive and negative ways, and all I can say is that I'm a fortunate writer, indeed.

The next day, she and I met in the lobby of the Random House office building -- which ended up being a mere six blocks from my hotel. I'd passed it numerous times on my jaunts to and from the Times Square subway and hadn't even noticed it! Anyway, I was sweating like a rotisserie chicken, I was so nervous. After more than twelve years of knocking on New York's doors - and then going my own way for a while - I found the idea of walking into Random House daunting, to say the least. Years of rejection had also, I discovered, hardened my writer's heart. I'd heard "no" so often, I'd inadvertently pigeon-holed major publishers as arid bureaucrats peering always at the bottom line, their love for literature a discarded relic of the past.

Boy, was I surprised. I first met my editor and my assistant editor, both of whom are fashionable, intelligent New York women and warriors for my work in a big house that publishes hundreds of books a year, as well as the lovely lady handling my audio rights. Then we joined the senior foreign rights manager, the serial rights manager, the vice president of marketing, and the director of publicity and the senior publicist assigned to my book, for lunch. They took me to a great restaurant whose name I don't remember at all, because by then I'd shed all my previous nervousness and was plunged into a ricochet of conversations with this group of vital, fun, and enthusiastic people, whose passion, commitment and obvious delight to be publishing my book was both humbling and inspiring. From my editor onward, each had a unique perspective on The Last Queen and each shared their ideas and vision for launching it. Their professionalism and talent, intelligence and humor, but above all, their passion, made me the happiest writer alive that day.

I learned some valuable lessons as well, the first being that people go into publishing first and foremost because they love books. The second is that I wish I were ten years younger and had gone into publishing myself. It's a world that fascinates me, one I feel kinship with. Given the ongoing dire news on reading in this country, as well as the continuing plethora of entertainment options, the book remains far more than an object: it's an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual experience for most of us; and publishers - large and small, corporate and independent - are out there fighting for it. I also learned once more that the days of the languid writer seated at a table with pen in hand while eager readers wait in line to get his or her autograph on that coveted first printing, are over. Unless you're Caroline Kennedy or Dr Phil, most of us have to join forces with our publishers to get the word out that we have a book. There's ferocious competition not only within our own world but also from outside - all of it vying for attention. I got insight about - and have tremendous respect for - the hard-working publisher publicity and marketing departments, which every day confront, and work around, the millions of dollars thrown at a single big-budget movie release. I also felt an unexpected surge of outrage that, by and large, the book has become marginalized in our society. We've countless television shows promulgating the cult of celebrity and its sometime dubious contributions, but where are the shows that exalt the contribution of the written word? Why do we, as a culture, only pay attention to the book when it gets too big (i.e., sells) to ignore, raises controversy, or is anointed by Oprah? How can we have neglected one of our oldest, most time-honored and civilized forms of art?

I think every book deserves to be read; and if we all read as much as we say, watch television, imagine the kind of world we'd live in. I mean, pause for a moment. Imagine it.

This is what I thought on my way back home from New York.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Review of Alison Weir's "Innocent Traitor"

Now and then, I'll be posting reviews of books I really enjoyed. One of those books is Alison Weir's INNOCENT TRAITOR.

The story of Lady Jane Grey, the tragic Nine Days Queen, is well known to most people familiar with the Tudor period. Nevertheless, she exerts a powerful attraction because she was kin to Henry VIII's children and became a pawn through no fault of her own, coming to the fore during a crisis in the Tudor succession following the death of Edward VI. "Innocent Traitor" - acclaimed historian Alison Weir's entry into the historical fiction arena - brings Jane Grey to life in a unique and vibrant way. Through a medley of voices, including Jane's own, that of her mother Eleanor of Suffolk, her devoted nursemaid, and even Jane's royal cousin Mary Tudor, we experience the maneuverings and intrigues of life at court through various perspectives and opinions. We also come to know Jane as an emotionally abused child of gifted intelligence; as a young woman of staunch faith and honor; and as a reluctant queen whose pure reformist vision cannot overcome the depredations of her father-in-law and his ruthless associates. Helpless to stem the forces moving against her, Jane records her fate with stoic dignity and a keen eye. It's to be expected that any book by Ms. Weir will be full of intimate details about life in the era; nevertheless, she does not overwhelm the narrative but rather expertly seasons it with facts that display her painstaking commitment to authenticity. In addition, she imbues even such unpleasant characters as Jane's parents with foibles and vulnerabilities of their own, giving them flesh-and-blood dimension. Jane's mother in particular dominates with her leonine pride in her royal blood, her rapacious ambition and her lusty marriage to a man who is her intellectual inferior. A true survivor of her time, she does not concede defeat, bending to obstacles when she cannot mold them to her will. Readers of historical fiction should not miss this compelling debut by one of England's foremost authorities on the Tudors - a tale of grandeur, betrayal and innocence, framed by one woman's journey from throne to scaffold.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Free Giveaway Contest over at

Hi friends,
I'm in New York right now, meeting with my agent and editor at Random House. It's very exciting and I'll post more later, but for now I wanted you to know that the fabulous Kelly Hewitt at is offering a free giveaway contest for author Lauren Willig's latest release in her Pink Carnation series, THE SEDUCTION OF CRIMSON ROSE. Kelly has a wonderful site featuring author interviews, so please get on over there and check the contest out! The link is:

Have fun and good luck!!

Monday, November 5, 2007

An interview with Sarah Bryant, author of "Sand Daughter"

I'm proud and honored to present my first interview with a female historical fiction writer -- the incomparable Sarah Bryant, author of several novels, including THE OTHER EDEN and the one I'm focusing on today: SAND DAUGHTER, set during the time of the Crusades. I happened upon Sarah purely by chance, as her books are to date not distributed widely in the US. The Historical Novel Society's magazine Solander had published a piece on a new publisher in England called SnowBooks and I went to the publisher site ( While there, I came upon a description of Sarah's novel:

It is the time of the Crusades. The Islamic world is divided and the Franks have captured the Holy Land. As the mighty Saladin struggles to unite the warring clans of Arabia against the invaders, Khalidah, a young Bedouin woman of no obvious importance, finds herself a pawn in a deadly plot involving her own feuding tribe and the powerful Templar Knights. Faced with certain death, she runs away with a man she barely knows, towards adventure and the echoes of a past that somehow connect her to the Jinn - the mysterious Afghan warriors who may hold the key to the coming battle for the Holy Land.

Of course, I had to read this book! I soon discovered that SAND DAUGHTER is far more than its description. This is a layered, nuanced and gorgeously written novel that presents a very different approach to the Crusades, featuring Muslim and Christian characters as they're swept up in the fervor and tumult of this time. It has been one of my favorite reading experiences this year: I literally couldn't stop reading (and thinking) about this book, and I decided I wanted to interview Sarah. She graciously accepted. Sarah was born in Brunswick, Maine, USA in 1973. After a childhood spent in Maine and Massachusetts, she attended Brown University in Rhode Island, USA. In 1996 she moved to Scotland to do an MLitt in creative writing at the University of St. Andrews, and ended up marrying a Scot and settling in the UK. She now lives with her husband and two children, two cats, one dog and half a Highland pony in the Scottish Borders. For more information on her past and upcoming publications, please visit her at:

1. First off, congratulations on the publication of SAND DAUGHTER. It is a marvelously different novel, and a daring one, offering an often neglected perspective of the much-trodden terrain of the Crusades. Though the novel has terrific insight into the Christian mind of the time, what inspired you to write about this particular era and to portray it primarily through Muslim eyes? How did you go about slipping into their spiritual world?
First, thanks so much for the kind words – I’m so glad you got all of that out of the novel! To answer your question, I’m afraid we have to go back to 9/11, or rather the immediate aftermath, when President Bush announced to the world that ‘This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take awhile.’ I didn’t know much about the Crusades then, but I knew enough to be stunned that the most influential leader of the Western world would choose to invoke a regime of abject brutality, ethnic cleansing and religious suppression in rallying his people, no matter what wound we’d suffered. Yet America more or less allowed the comment to sink without a ripple. I remember thinking, Does no one realize that this man has just declared a holy war on Islam? That this attitude is in essence no different to bin Laden’s? That’s where ‘Sand Daughter’ began. It was clear (once I stopped yelling at the television) that the reason why Bush could get away with his comment is that we no longer have much of an understanding of what the Crusades were really about. We think of Templar Knights, St. George-like figures riding off to battle with white flags flying, and in our minds that’s enough to make them the good guys. We don’t think about who they were fighting, or why. They seem like obvious questions, and the obvious basis for a novel, yet a perfunctory look at amazon made it clear that there was almost no Crusade fiction written from the Arab point of view. So I decided to try, insofar as a WASP from Massachusetts can try, to begin to fill that gap. As for slipping into their spiritual world, I think (perhaps simplistically) that spiritual is spiritual, regardless of religion. The specifics might vary, but to people who believe, god is god. So it that way, evoking the Muslim spiritual life of the time wasn’t any more difficult than evoking battle scenes, or modes of travel, or, for that matter, the medieval European Christian view of the world.

2. Your novel features strong characters; the central figures are a strong-willed Bedouin girl who escapes the constraints of her tribe and ultimately becomes a warrior, and her childhood friend, who becomes the lover of the Sultan's son. As a writer, how did you slip into these very distinct P.O.V.s? In particular, did you find portraying the experiences of a gay man easy or challenging? Can you tell us about any methods you used to make these characters so realistic?
For me – and I suspect for most fiction authors – it’s impossible to write anything that isn’t to some degree autobiographical. That doesn’t mean that I write overtly about my own life; far from it. But if I can’t think and feel the way a central character would think and feel, if I can’t empathize with his or her experiences, then the novel will go nowhere. So, while Khalidah and I don’t have much in common on a topical level, scratch the surface and you’ll find that we’re both tenacious, horse-loving, independent-minded women who take ‘No’ as a challenge rather than an answer. And while I’ve never picked up a sword and ridden into battle, I’ve certainly been in the position of fighting for what I believe in. Likewise, I’m no more a gay man than I am a Muslim woman, but I have fallen surprisingly in love. Like spirituality, I believe that love is love no matter how you label it, and that was my approach to Bilal. He wasn’t a man in love with a man, he was a person in love with a person. Of course, it helped that medieval Muslim culture took a pretty tolerant view of homosexuality, as I hope the book makes clear. In fact, there was no Arabic word for ‘homosexual’ until the twentieth century, when the culture began to absorb more Western ideas. Bilal and Salim wouldn’t have had anywhere near as much to overcome as two modern Western gay men to gain acceptance. So, yes, Khalidah and Bilal were in some ways risky characters to write, but when it comes right down to it, writing them was no more audacious – or difficult – than writing a novel set in the twelfth century in the first place. As for how I made them realistic, first of all, thanks for saying so – that’s always my primary goal as a novelist! To answer the question: I tend to take a kind of a method acting approach to writing. That is, I immerse myself as much as possible in world I’m writing about. So aside from reading everything I could get my hands on that might help flesh out my characters, I watched movies, listened to music, looked at pictures, read contemporary poetry, journals and chronicles, asked for (and received) advice from lots of generous experts in related fields, even listened to Arabic language tapes in the car. When it came to the writing, in order to keep the narratives distinct, I did what I always do, which is write one character’s story from beginning to end, then write the other, and shuffle the chapters when they’re all finished.

3.Your novel takes place during the struggles of the Crusades, a fascinating but brutal era. How did you go about recreating this period of time for your reader?
This was probably the biggest challenge, because it’s so long ago, and there was no way to physically visit most of the places I was writing about. All of what I said above about ‘method writing’ applies here too, but in particular, the reading. There’s a fantastic book called ‘The Crusades Through Arab Eyes’, which has wonderfully detailed accounts of the period, many of them first-hand. The Osprey books on military history were good, too. Probably the biggest help, though, was the contemporary chroniclers. The Muslim leaders of the time employed armies of scribes to record everything they did for posterity, which means that a thousand years later, we can look at not one but several detailed accounts of a battle or other major event. Priceless fodder for the historical novelist.

4. Historical fiction is often considered a predominantly female genre, with a larger percentage of women readers and writers. It seems that more and more these days, publishers believe women want historical novels that carry a strong romantic element, while men desire adventure and battle. SAND DAUGHTER does a formidable job of combining all these elements in a seamless narrative that features both intimate romantic moments, spiritual experiences, and harrowing battle scenes. Did you set out to create a novel that defied the current expectations of the popular historical novel, and if so, did you encounter difficulties during the process of publishing this book that you think might be attributed to its uniqueness? Lastly, did you find you or your publisher have to make any extra efforts in order to ensure this novel reached its intended audience?
As for setting out to write a novel that defied genre expectations, the simple answer is no. For one thing, I’ve only recently realized that I’m a historical novelist. After years of working (unsuccessfully, for the most part) in other genres, I seem to have found my groove here, but it was in no way by design. I’ve always written the novels I want to write, with no thought for what genre they might fit, or how they might be marketed, or indeed an ‘intended audience’. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant – it’s actually pig-headedness, and it’s meant I’ve had a long, hard struggle to find anyone who’d give my work the time of day. What you’ve said about ‘Sand Daughter’ could equally be said about everything I’ve ever written – and usually has been, many times, punctuated by a ‘Sorry, best of luck finding a publisher elsewhere.’ Then I found Snowbooks. I still can’t quite believe my good fortune, which is a roundabout way of saying that no, I had no difficulties in publishing this book other than finishing it on time. That’s been true of everything I’ve worked on for them. Whether they have problems marketing my books to a genre-obsessed world, I have no idea – you’d have to ask them. But since they’ve never yet mentioned the g-word, they seem to get my books into the big chains, and there’s been a steady trickle of rights deals, I’d have to say they’re doing okay despite my stubborn refusal to conform…which actually gives me hope for the future of book publishing!

5. How do you think your novel speaks to today's reader, or how do the events you evoke resonate in today's world?
Not to sound flippant, but how can they not? By nature history begs comparison with the present, but there aren’t many likenesses as glaring as the Crusades and our current ‘War on Terror’. In that sense, Bush’s blunder is as accurate as Saddam Hussein comparing himself to Saladin. Wherever our loyalties lie, there’s no escaping the fact that, once again, the Christian west and the Muslim east have engaged in an ideological war with disastrous consequences. I’d like to think that our current conflict will end better than the original one, but for that to happen, we’re all going to need to learn tolerance. And in the end, that’s what ‘Sand Daughter’ is: one long plea for tolerance.

6. Please tell us about your next project.
It’s another historical novel, called ‘The One Unspoken’, and it bears absolutely no resemblance to ‘Sand Daughter’. It’s set in Louisiana and Edinburgh in the mid-nineteenth century, and it’s loosely tied to my first book, ‘The Other Eden’. But it bears little resemblance to that, either. This time, the main characters are the daughter of an impoverished white plantation owner, who wants to be a composer, and the son of a wealthy free black plantation owner, who wants to be a doctor. At its heart, it’s a book about how talent and ambition shape the lives of marginalized people in a restrictive society; but that makes it sound dry and preachy. In fact, it’s also about ghosts, voodoo curses, skeletons in family closets, tangled bloodlines, golden-hearted prostitutes, gin-swilling mediums, mad musical geniuses, body-snatching medical students, bloody Civil War battles and yes, a bit of romance thrown in for good measure. Not much of a project, then… :)

7. Anything you would like to add for our readers?
If you’ve borne with me through this whole interview, thanks for letting me rant! And whatever you choose next, happy reading!

Thank you, Sarah. I for one am anxiously awaiting your next book! To my blog readers, please don't miss the chance to discover this amazingly young, talented writer. Sarah's books are easily purchased via, direct from her publisher, and by order at most bookstores.