Updated: Jan 20
I’m not very good at remembering where the ideas for my stories come from. I can remember researching for my first, The Centurion’s Son, and trying to find a period in Roman history that hadn’t already been ‘done’ by the authors I loved reading (Ben Kane, Anthony Riches, Conn Iggulden, Simon Scarrow etc) I settled on the Marcomannic War, but as for the idea of Albinus and his strained relationship with his father, I literally couldn’t tell you how I came up with it.
For this one though, I sort of know. I was reading the excellent Imperial Brothers by William Hughes, which covers in great detail the reigns of Emperor Valentinian in the west and his brother Valens in the east. I’d researched the period before, and my first attempt at a novel was even set in the eastern empire during Valens’ reign, based around the battle of Adrianople (the book was bloody awful, but I learnt a few things whilst hacking away at my keyboard)
But researching the same period again, and having a few novels under my belt, I felt much more confident diving back into the time period. I discovered something known as the barbarico conspirito (barbarian conspiracy to you and me) which took place in the year 367AD. Britain in that year was effectively cut off from the western empire, as tribes from north of Hadrian’s wall, Ireland and Germania all swarmed on the isolated population at once.
It instantly caught my attention, my imagination running wild as I thought of the possibilities. I needed a hero, a man to base my story around. What I came up with was Sixtus Victorinus, an aging tribune of the miles areani (a scouting unit that roamed the wild lands north of Hadrian’s Wall, keeping tabs on the Picts). I’ve always been drawn to the sort of anti-hero, and some of the best books I’ve read are centred around them (read The Damned by Tarn Richardson; Inquisitor Poldek Tacit is a phenomenal creation). I started delving into his past, into his mind. The idea of an estranged wife and kids, of drinking to hide the shame of a wasted life, full of regret for the path that remained untrodden, sprang from me, and I knew I had my man.
The other thing that drew me to this event was the amount of real-life people I could throw in to the story. Magnus Maximus and Theodosius the Great both feature (before they elevated themselves to the purple and took those names, pointed their respective armies at each other and brought the Roman world into civil war – but that’s a tale for another book), so too do the magister militum Flavius Jovinus, and the Theodosius the Great’s father, the Count Theodosius. The more I researched the more found myself itching to get started, but I still needed an antagonist, someone who could have been powerful and ambitious enough to be the man behind the conspirito.
Enter stage and left, Lupus Valentinus. A senator recorded as being banished from the emperor’s court for a crime that has not survived the centuries, only avoiding execution thanks to a friend in Rome having a word in Valentinian’s ear. He was perfect, not in the least because of his name.
Valentia is a word that crops up when researching the later western empire, but no one can quite agree on what it was. Some say it was for a time the northernmost province in Britain, between Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall, others have it as being south of the Wall. Others say it was something else entirely. Again, this worked perfectly for me. I could have it as Valentinus’ own province, the beginning of a new world he was birthing on Britain’s northern soil. He hadn’t though, banked on our anti hero Victorinus to step up and fight him for the right.
So, I had my story, throw in some stunning artwork by the wonderful folk at More Visual (check them out at bookartwork.com) and I have a book. It was an utter joy to write, and I do hope you’ll enjoy reading it.