Thursday, June 15, 2017

Interview with Paul Hansen and Linda Weste


A treat today for lovers of Ancient Roman and Greek history, myths and legends, as well as politics, murder and intrigue.

Linda Weste is an author, reviewer, editor, and teacher. Her recent historical verse novel set in late Republican Rome, Nothing Sacred, won the 2016 Wesley Michel Wright Prize, and was highly commended in the Fellowship of Australian Writers 2015 Anne Elder Award. Weste reviews for online journals including Mascara Literary Review and Cordite Poetry Review, teaches creative writing, and is Reviews Editor of TEXT. She has a Doctor of Philosophy (Creative Writing) from the University of Melbourne.

Paul Hansen has worked in law enforcement for 23 years and is currently the Director for a criminal investigation unit. One of his most interesting jobs was as head of international family law in the Federal Attorney-General’s Department, where he ran the Australian Central Authority for International Child Abduction and  twice represented Australia as head of delegation in The Hague. Paul also loves writing stories –not just the standard stuff.  he love the small bits that you don’t normally find until you dig deep. For him classical literature, and ancient writers like Herodotus, Hesiod, Homer, and others, are great examples of this. Paul’s‘Last War of Gods and Men’ series – put all the myths and legends into a single tale – a tapestry – that shows how everything was interwoven in a way that is easy for the modern reader to digest, without having to spend years studying the classics in a University. You can connect with Paul via his website, Facebook and Twitter.

What is the inspiration for your current book?


Linda: The historical fault line between the collapse of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Imperium during the first century BCE has long fascinated writers. I became fascinated with this period after discovering a footnote about Clodia Metelli in a book of Catullan poetry. A German scholar had mapped Clodia onto Catullus's 'Lesbia' in 1862. Clodia and her brother Clodius Pulcher were born into the Claudii Pulchri, one of only twenty families who guided senatorial policy, commanded the armies and governed the provinces in late Republican Rome. The impression of Clodia and Clodius as firebrands – determined to live by their own rules – inspired me to imaginatively bring to life the vagaries of the period through their eyes and exploits in my current book, Nothing Sacred.

Paul: Sword of Olympus is the first book in a five book series based on ancient writings and fragments dating back to the 7th Century BCE.  It details the civil war and split between the Gods and Goddesses of Mount Olympus, a split which was reflected in the mortal realm in a war between the many cities and tribes of ancient Greece – and eventually culminated in the war with Troy.  It is the thrill of placing these myths and legends all together into a single coherent tapestry which inspires me – and rediscovering small pieces of information and knowledge that we have lost over time.

Bits like Helen of Troy was actually never at Troy.  The warrior Achilles and the Priam of Troy were not their real names – but derogatory references or nicknames.  How did Agamemnon become king of Mycenae – when his family wasn’t originally in control of the city, and as a child he was a fosterling without a kingdom?  Where was the most important family of ancient times during the war with Troy – the Hellenes, after whom the Greeks (and the modern country of Greece) take their name?


Is there a particular theme you are exploring in this book?


Linda: As a novel in verse, Nothing Sacred offers a fresh way of knowing late Republican Rome through the medium of poetry. It also differentiates its representation of late Republican Rome from other historical novels set in this time, by not being solely about the triumvirate leadership of Crassus, Caesar and Pompey. The theme I'm most interested in is transgression – which is closely linked with desire, hence the book's frequent use of sexual metaphors – metaphors that have been with us since antiquity.

Paul: I wanted to tell the story of the myths and legends of Ancient Greece, but in a way that the ancients themselves would have understood.  To them myth and wasn’t just a bunch of individual stories – it was history!  There was even a profession in the ancient world that set the myths and legends into a historical frame – mythographer.

Which period of history particularly interests you? Why?


Linda: Antiquity – but while I'm interested in what existing representations of history tell me, I'm more interested in what they don't tell me; the facts that aren't readily accessible are what I'm most curious to learn.

This curiosity shapes my view that historical fictions can fill the gap between the pasts we are permitted to know and those we wish to know.

Paul: I am interested in all history – but in particular areas that converge with myth and legend, which after all is only history that we’ve forgotten or remembered slightly differently.

What resources do you use to research your book? 


Linda: For Nothing Sacred I undertook extensive research: Catullan poetry; Latin and Greek etymology; numismatics; naming conventions; architecture and monuments; political speeches; ancient place names and geographical boundaries; agricultural methods and food preparation; festivals and artefacts; gender and sexuality; mythology and religion; slavery; gladiatorial combat; and use of animals for pleasure and show.

The many resources included digital material for the study of girls and women in antiquity, classical libraries, museum archives, a corpus of Latin inscriptions and a topographical dictionary of Ancient Rome.

Paul: I try to track down as many original sources as possible – which with Greek myth is a mix of translated ancient texts, fragments, and archaeology.

What is more important to you: historical authenticity or accuracy?


Linda: I had to decide which approach – historicism or presentism – would be best for my representation of late Republican Rome in Nothing Sacred.  If I chose an historicist approach – to honour historical actuality, authenticity and factuality – I could risk making my representation of the times inflexible, unresponsive to fiction's needs. If I chose a presentist approach – imposing present-day attitudes on the past could stifle the 'otherness' of antiquity.

I faced the decision anew with each poem. In 'Gargantuan' for example, I recount – in the voice of the character, Cicero – the killing of twenty elephants (an actuality). To do so, I had to think about this death as a Roman of the times might (authenticity). But to engage today's readers – who would likely view the killing with revulsion – and draw attention to the significance of the incident for the times, I aestheticised the scene, and made the language as beautiful and beguiling as I could.

Paul: I try for both.  There is usually a way to turn the facts to fit the story you want to tell – but you also have to be willing to let the facts guide the story, and take you in directions you might not have originally anticipated.  For me that is the absolute joy of writing historical fiction.

Which character in your current book is your favourite? Why?


Linda: Definately the siblings Clodius Pulcher and Clodia Metelli – their audacity is fascinating.  

Paul: Dorus – king of the Hellenes.  He is a complex character and one that is almost completely forgotten in the modern myths, but he was the founder of one of the three branches of ancient Hellenism – the Dorians.  He finds himself out of his depth, trying to live up to the memory of his father, the warrior king Hellen (after whom the Hellenes are named) and having to deal with the fact that his nephew Macedon (after whom the Macedonians are named) has turned out to the a son of Zeus.  Writing his internal struggle was enjoyable.

The other character I really like is the Oracle Dodona – she’s a mysterious and unknown factor, and is clearly reading from a different papyrus scroll than everyone else.  What else would you expect from an Oracle?

Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’? How long does it generally take you to write a book?


Linda: I'm a plotter definitely. This book took several years to research and write.

Paul: It generally takes me about a year to write – but a large part of that is research.  My books are also quite large – around 150K words each.

Which authors have influenced you?


Linda: For this work I was probably influenced most by Robert Graves – his first rule of historical fiction is not to use your research, or at any rate to use only a tenth of it.  Graves warns against ‘the temptation to stick in facts just because you’ve discovered them’. In the best historical fiction, the reader can sense the presence of the research that isn’t being used, out there in the shadows… the novelist’s function according to Graves, is to take the research and convey impressions – to go beyond the bare facts.

Paul: Sara Douglass; David Gemmell; Valerio Manfredi; Rick Riordan

What advice would you give an aspiring author?


Linda: Research as much as possible and have a good reason for whatever choices you make.

Paul: Research as much as possible – and map out all your key facts and characters.  Seek input and feedback on your writing – but don’t take no for an answer. 

Tell us about your next book or work in progress


Linda: The next book is an historical novel in verse – set in Melbourne during World War Two. I'm interested in this as a period of complex social change, for the Second World War engaged the entire Australian community in a way that the Great War did not. 

Paul: I’m currently working on book III in the series – The Dragon Throne (yes – they had dragons in ancient Greece.  The Oracle in Delphi is even named after one – the great She-Dragon Delphyne!).  The focus of the book is the brothers Agamemnon and Menelaus – and how they move from being homeless youth to retaking Mycenae from their uncle, and then bringing the rest of the Greek Peninsula to heel.  It wasn’t just armies – there was a lot of political intrigue between the various cities, tribes – and even the Gods themselves.



They may have been born privileged into the Claudii Pulchri family, but siblings Clodius Pulcher and Clodia Metelli are firebrands: kindred spirits; brazen, impetuous, headstrong; determined to live by their own rules.

Together they incite the wrath of Rome’s elite - and in particular, Cicero. But nothing is sacred in late Republican Rome - and rules keep changing when change threatens to rule …
The vagaries of the period are brought to vibrant life through the eyes and exploits of Clodius and Clodia in this historical novel in verse.

Nothing Sacred is available at Readings or Scholarly



In an ancient world of gods and heroes, the threat of war is rising…

From the city of Trachis, near the pass of Thermopylae, three kings set sail for the holy island of Asteria and the gathering of kings called by the twin temples of Apollo and Artemis, intent on foiling the plans of Atreus, king of Mycenae, who seeks dominion over all the cities and kingdoms of the Aegean sea.

To the north, in the shadow of Mount Olympus, the hero Heracles looks to free the besieged city of Elone, joining forces with the Centaurs to wage war against the combined armies of Lapith and Dryopes warriors, who under the command of the Strategos Coronus have been ordered to destroy the city of the Hellenes.

While Hera, the outcast Queen of the Gods, strives to raise a new god to cast aside the old, and will sacrifice the immortals of Pelasgia to achieve her goal. Yet all the while the question remains, where are the other Olympians?

Against a backdrop of war and betrayal, a young man will struggle to understand the power of the gods, and his role in the struggle to come. In an ancient world of gods and heroes, the threat of war is rising… And if they are not careful, the Dark Queen will sacrifice all to chaos.

Sword of Olympus and Rage of a Dark Queen are available via Amazon.


HNSA Meet the Author Satellite Event

Paul Hansen and Linda Weste are appearing in our Melbourne HNSA Meet the Author event on 18 June 2.30-4.30 pm at the Mail Exchange Hotel, 688 Bourke St, Melbourne discussing Ancient and Medieval Historical Fiction with Barbara Gaskell Denvil, Lindy Cameron and Rachel Nightingale. Bookings essential. More details can be found on the HNSA website.

HNSA 2017 Conference

The HNSA 2017 Melbourne Conference is being held on 8-10 September 2017 at Swinburne University.

This celebration of the historical fiction genre will showcase over 60 speakers discussing inspiration, writing craft, research, publishing pathways and personal histories in our weekend programme. Among the many acclaimed historical novelists participating are Kerry Greenwood, Kate Forsyth, Deborah Challinor, Libby Hathorn, Lucy Treloar, Sophie Masson, Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott and Arnold Zable. The HNSA’s speakers’ list is available on the HNSA website.

In addition to the two stream weekend programme, there will be ten craft based super sessions and two research masterclasses. You won’t want to miss our interactive sessions on armour and historical costumes either! Manuscript assessments will be conducted by industry experts, Alison Arnold and Irina Dunn. Our free extended academic programme is open for general admission but bookings are essential.

Our First Pages Pitch Contest offers an opportunity for submissions to be read aloud to a panel of publishers. And we are delighted to announce the introduction of our inaugural HNSA Short Story Contest with a $500 prize!




Let’s make a noise about historical fiction!

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