How I came to write Spartacus: The Gladiator and why I became a writer
It’s a funny thing, but the idea for writing about Spartacus came about by chance. In March 2009, I was talking with my agent about ideas for books. I had already set my mind upon a trilogy (now quadrilogy) set during the second (Punic) war between Carthage and Rome, but we were talking about other possibilities as well. I won’t mention many of them, because I haven’t written the books yet, but Spartacus came up. It sounds naïve, but in that moment it was as if someone had switched a light bulb on in my head. I had watched the famous Kubrick movie once as a boy, and it had made a great impression on me. (I should add that we didn’t have a TV when I was growing up, or I am sure that I would have seen it more than once!) I had had cause to read about Spartacus in the previous few years. As many of you know, Marcus Licinius Crassus was the man who put down Spartacus’ rebellion in 71 BC. He is also a character in my first novel, The Forgotten Legion. That day, the plan for a set of novels about Carthage and Rome won out, but the idea didn’t go away.
In early 2010, I started hearing a lot of news about an upcoming TV miniseries called Spartacus: Blood and Sand, starring a then little-known actor called Andy Whitfield. This made me start thinking about writing Spartacus’ story all over again. I did some more research on him, and became even more enamoured of his achievements, and amazed by how close he had come to getting away. He was someone who was subjected to a great injustice, and he didn’t take it lying down. Instead, he fought back ― in the process shaking the mighty Roman Republic to its core. Although the reasons for Spartacus’ fame have quite modern roots (he was resurrected as a symbol of the small man’s fight against oppression in the 18th and 19th centuries), his name is one of the most well-known from ancient times. Thrilled, I went as far as writing the plotline for a novel and submitting it to my UK publishers. Sadly, but perhaps sensibly, they were keen that I concentrate on my other novels. I went back to work, finishing the novel Hannibal: Enemy of Rome.
The itch to write Spartacus became a lot worse over the subsequent months, however, and I kept badgering my publishers. I am pleased to say that eventually, they gave in! I started writing Spartacus’ story in mid-December 2010, and I had it finished by mid-June 2011. The story just burst out of me. At about 100,000 words (the normal length of my novels is about 145,000 words) I knew there was no way this amazing man’s story would fit into one volume. Cap in hand, I went back to my publisher. This time, they were quick to agree to a second book. The first volume immediately became Spartacus: The Gladiator, while I named the second Spartacus: Rebellion. That book also took me little more than 6 months to write. In all, I lived, breathed and dreamed Spartacus for more than a year. It was the most amazing experience, and I was very sad to end the story. I actually dreaded writing the final battle (most everyone knows what happens, but I won’t mention it just in case), but when the time came, the writing flowed so well. Working up to 16 hours a day, I wrote more than 15,000 words in 8 days. By the end, I was totally drained, but it had been a fantastic experience. It is my sincere hope that readers will get as much enjoyment out of reading the books as I did in writing them.
I believe that my path to full time writing is a little different to many. It wasn’t born of an overwhelming desire to write ― either about a particular subject, period or person, or just to write in general. The seeds were there, it’s true. I have always read huge amounts, and have been fascinated by history, particularly military history, since I was a boy. So what made me actually start writing about Rome? Well, quite simply, it was my extreme frustration at being ‘on call’ as a veterinarian one Saturday night in 2003! I’ll tell you the short version of the story.
I had worked a full week, Monday to Friday, and then all day Saturday. By 6 p.m. Saturday, all I wanted to do was to get home and cook my dinner. Every time I tried to do so, my pager went off. It did that 6 or 7 times in the subsequent hours. By about midnight, I had still not got home for more than a few minutes at a time. When the pager went off yet again, I threw it at the wall in utter frustration. It smashed and fell to the floor, still beeping. Fortunately, I was able to read the telephone number that was displayed on it. I went back to the surgery, treated a cat (I think!) and came home. I opened up my laptop and started writing a book about Roman soldiers. My efforts soon became a habit, and then an obsession. Yet they paid off, because in August 2007, after a bidding war between 6 major publishers, I secured a three book deal. Since then, my feet have barely hit the ground.