Hi Daniel, a pleasure to meet you and congratulations on your book the Fall of the Phoneix receiving a bronze medal and being liked by Miles Cameron. I note that Manu Bennet (the actor behind Crixus of Gaul in Spartacus) has loved your book and posted a video to twitter about this. How long did it take you for you to complete the book and how long have you been writing it?
Good evening Neil, pleasure to meet you too and thank you for having me. Thank you also for your congratulations, yes, the award was a bit of a surprise.
Though not as big a one as when Christian Cameron posted that he liked my book, that was amazing and a little… shocking since I have been a fan of his for many years and reading his historical fiction.
When one of the best writers of historical fiction in the world, probably the best on ancient Greece says they enjoy your work its sorta a big deal…
He surprised me by saying it in front of people at WorldCon when I had not thought he had even had a chance to look at it yet and I am pretty sure I blushed and went very quiet…
The book itself I had been working on slowly for nearly eight years, though I will admit there were a few copies I scrapped almost halfway through, gave up, started over fresh again, gave up again and might not have looked at for a few month at a time. It was a long process and, I think this is common to a lot of writers, questioned the point of it from time to time, questioned my own work and value. other days it just seems to flow but self belief and self motivation are some of the hardest demons to fight.
Q. When did you love writing, what made you want to become a writer, and what future projects can we expect from you currently? How long will it take you to write the sequel?
I have always loved reading, historical fiction and fantasy mainly though I remember loving S.E.Hinton’s The Outsiders when I was young. My older brothers had it on their English class at school so it was lying around the house and I read it then had to read it again for school myself, watched the movie and it just never gets old, but there is so much out there that I rarely reread unless I am doing research.
But when I started working as a chef, because of the time restraints of the job, I actually had not read in a few years. Then about twelve years ago, when the recession hit I began working as a chef in a hospital which allowed me a lot more free time when I started reading again.
I think some of the first then were Tom Lloyds Stormcaller (which I love, recommend it to everyone) and Christian Cameron’s killer of men, both of which reminded me why I liked reading.
Then after reading David Gemmell’s series on Troy, it was like a door opened in my mind. it made me realise that a story can be retold differently than we have always been told and still be amazing. Some time around then I opened the computer on a blank page and started typing. I wasn’t even sure it was about Troy when it started.
I am currently working on three different projects. I find that helps me focus because if I get writers block on one I can switch over. usually when I am not focused on it, the answers comes and I can continue. though I am focusing more so on the sequel which I have mostly done. I would say about 80%. My others are actually far removed from that, one is a sorta… Dracula Origins story but again, very different with a different world, the other being a story of Irish origins, a legend from my home town of Creeslough in Donegal based loosely on the ballad of Turlogh and Aileen.
Q. I note that in this novel you made the Trojans much smarter and stronger than depicted in the Illiad. What was your reasoning behind this?
I wouldn’t say I made them much stronger and smarter. I like to think I made them more human. The Iliad… though I love it for having kept the story alive, is a work of fiction in itself, very little real can be taken from it. there is question over weather Homer even really existed, but even if he did, he was but one travelling bard at the time. this became the accepted version because it had a rich patron, much like Cesar Augustus was to Virgil’s Aenead, but it was still only written down over five hundred years after the events. Which remember begin with a god giving mortals a golden apple.
Q. Did you wish to explore the Greek afterlife in this novel?
I think I was more exploring morality.
Q. There have been many novels written on Troy. What did you want to do that made your novel radically different?
I felt that the children were raised in training for war in Greece, the richest being able to afford the very best tutors. The children of kings therefore would have probably had at least some interaction growing up, possibly training together, maybe even been friends. How would these relationships stand up in war. When they faced each other across battle lines, would love and friendships, or loyalty to a leader who is holding them together against their will with threats, violence and their own ill conceived oaths win out.
Q. What made you turn into writing a novel about Troy? What was the first moment you knew you were going to become a writer and what made you want to become one?
I don’t know that there was a moment as such. I wanted to try something, as much to get the idea out of my head as to write a novel. It progressed, almost of its own free will. Even yet I still question the publishing of it and wonder if I was mad to try but when I got to the end…
I wanted to know if there had been a point. If it was good enough. If I had only been doing it to occupy myself. Also though, I once told a younger group what I was writing about, I just said Troy and they thought I was talking about the American Magician.
Growing up, I cant even remember when I learned about troy but I know it was very young because by the time Weetabix brought out their Troy Advert.
I didn’t need it explained to me, I just sorta knew, and I would hate to think the old stories are dying out.
Q. How much research did you do for the Fall of the Phoenix? Can you let us in your research methods?
There was quite a lot of research, but I took bits from everywhere I could find it. From reading books and texts about it to even the films. Which, fair enough, are not accurate as regards the Iliad, but how accurate was the Iliad as regards the actual events? Nobody really knows for sure so even Gemmel’s troy series is as legitimate a source. Though I will admit to googling single pieces of information only to suddenly have twelve windows open with everything from wall construction to caltrops all open at once.
Q. How much difficulty did you have reading the Iliad when it came to the interpretation of Hector and Achilles? Did you examine both Roman and Greek viewpoints? Or did you find any other alternate cultures apart from Rome and Greece that had a viewpoint, if any on the Saga of Troy?
Honestly, I am not sure I trust entirely any form of translation of the Iliad so its always going to be difficult. I have been through a few, but just translating a language that old is difficult, but then throw into the mix that, even if a version it translated perfectly, the very meaning of individual words change over years as a language itself gets abused.
But yes, I did examine Greek and Roman viewpoints as both were necessary for where my version of the story were going as I tied some of the various versions together without the involvement of gods
Q. What drew you to this period personally? For me, The Saga of Troy is the ancient’s equivalent of a grim-dark fantasy novel filled with everything you could find in any modern-day grim-dark fantasy novel. Murder, gore, blood, and loss. What similar inspiration did you find when writing about this period?
I would say Christian Cameron’s Killer of Men drew me to reading about Greek history more, and David Gemmell’s Troy set me on the path of writing this. I think you almost hit the nail on the head there. It is grimdark, its also why most grimdark are set in older worlds with swords and shield. It’s what almost every child grows up playing at, being the hero in a story, but in the real stories, the heroes die, fighting. Nobody goes in intentionally thinking they are going to be the bad guy, everyone has their motives and troy was the perfect setting for that. Almost everyone you would be cheering for in the beginning of the Iliad is dead by the end.
Q. How much did you take into account of Bronze Age Warfare? Many people think its flashy combat, just use a spear and shield. Did watching any youtube channels like Shadiversity or Lindybiege help you in accurately recreating Bronze Age Warfare? Or what historical sources did you us apart from the Iliad and did you personally travel to Greece and Turkey to understand the historical significance of these cities? Were you also inspired by the Atlantean legends?
Bronze age warfare is difficult, I didn’t use those youtube channels, however I had used some youtube videos from universities in Greece and Turkey, though I also took some liberties, purposely using the iconic spartan red cloaks because it identifies them in most peoples mind. armour in the period is not how modern people think of it and at the time of Troy, rather than the sculpted body armour that comes to mind thinking about it, it was much heavier, clumsier, armour which, to my mind at least resembles a copper barrel around the wearer.
This however does not leave much freedom of movement but does explain why archers so often aimed for the legs and feet. If someone goes down in that armour, they will have a mighty struggle getting back up. This is also why chariots were so popular rather than running around in that weight but that doesn’t lend itself so well to the battle scenes we like to imagine.
Q. I notice you added a lot of cultures that weren’t present in the Sage of Troy into the novel. Does this mean we might get explore other periods of the Bronze Age as well? Will we see you writing about Egypt? Hitittes? Assyrians?
A lot of those cultures were present around the time and with a war taking in the whole of the Aegean, they would have been forced to take sides.
The Iliad does have quite a few present including the Amazons, Dardanians and as far as whats modern day Libya. Phoenicians had settlements right around the Mediterranean including what would become Carthage. This was a war that effected everyone in the area for control of the Hellespont and access to the east at the time which was huge for so many trading routes.
Q. How many mythological elements did you want to add in Fall of the Phoenix bearing in mind that you were writing a historical fantasy novel. Did you want to go full in all mythological creatures at the Siege of Troy or did you want to maintain that element of realism where it was men fighting men?
I wanted to keep as much as possible to realism, removing the influence of the gods to just have it as men facing men for very human reasons of anger, jealousy and greed
Q. Who is your favourite character in Troy and how does that character inspire you in your day to day life?
Padesus was originally my favourite character to write, but I found myself liking Heraclitus more and more. I think he would have been a psychopath in different circumstances but he was put in a postition where killing was not just acceptable but approved of. I must admit though, that during a few days while writing, I was just having a bad day, and took it out on my characters. People I had intended to survive the war died in their droves.
Q. What is the best Irish dish for new-comers and what is the best place in Ireland to visit? Have you tried any Greek classical dishes yourself? I note this because you are a chef as well.
Haha, funny question, I suppose traditionally Irish stew, but Ireland was not traditionally known for its food, nowadays we have some of the best beef, lamb and chefs in the world but if you are looking for old Ireland, remember we suffered 800 years of war followed by a famine. the choice was Irish stew or bacon and cabbage.
As regards places to visit, everybody should see Newgrange. Ireland’s huge passage tombs, almost 1000 years older than the pyramids and they have over 60% of the whole worlds neolithic artwork in one place. even pre celtic from the time of tuath na danann.
i have tried greek classical dishes but my favourites are mostly finger foods like stuffed olives and such. but they have some really nice dishes
Q. How did you maintain time balancing your work in the Kitchen as well as writing this novel? What was your reaction the first time you got a five star review?
I cant say I really did manage time between work and writing. I wrote in the evenings when I wasn’t too tired after work.
As too my first five star review… I still can’t quite believe it and check to make sure it wasn’t a mistake
Q. Who are your favorite authors in historical fiction and fantasy currently, and which ones do you keep in touch with?
oh that list could keep you going all day. I am lucky enough to be in touch with a few nowadays. historical fiction, I would have to say, Christian Cameron, Ben Kane, S.J.A Turney, Giles Kristian, Conn Iggulden, Steven Mckay and Rober Graves to name just a few.
As to fantasy, David Cameron, Miles Cameron, he gets in both lists, Tom Lloyd, Mark Lawrence, Peter Brett, Jonathan French, Robert V.S. Redick, Evan Winters, Jasper Kent, Dyrk Ashton, R.B.Watkinson… the list goes on.
Q. What was your reaction when you saw Miles Cameron post a picture of your book on Instagram?
Blushing and stunned silence
Thank you to Daniel Kelly for this excellent interview! Loved the answers, loved everything about this! Now FREE ON KU! Consider doing a purchase though, as its a a very great book. Has a fantastic twist at the end. Links down below to order and follow:
Coinciding with the release of this great book, I saw Creative Assembly announce the release of Total War Troy Saga! Can’t wait for this, Daniel is your man 🙂 Hire him!