“Glynn Iliffe is a master story teller. These tales are over three thousand years old and have been told over and over, yet the author has brought them brilliantly to life with a crisp new focus through ingenious craftsmanship.” – David Roscoe
Can you tell us a little bit about what the term “historical fiction” means to you?
For me the emphasis should be placed on “fiction”. The main point of a novel is to entertain the reader by putting a group of characters through a challenging plotline, causing him or her to invest emotionally in the fate of those characters. A novel should also inform the reader in a way that textbooks cannot – by engaging their imagination rather than simply providing them with facts – but this should always be a secondary purpose.
Although the author should be historically accurate where possible, they should also be allowed some licence. It’s fiction, after all, and if the author is restricted to relating pure facts then his or her story will quickly become stale. Authors need to tell the story they want to tell, and if that means making up a few details in the middle of a battle without changing the course of history, then that’s fine by me.
Ironically I wouldn’t class my own books as historical fiction. The evidence for an actual war between Bronze Age Greek states and an Asian power situated at the mouth of the modern day Dardanelles is very limited, so the story I’m telling is based on historical myth rather than historical fact. There’s also the supernatural element: the appearance of gods and fantastical beasts from time to time. No tale based on Greek mythology could do without this aspect (not if it wanted to appeal to fans of all that’s good in the original tales), but it’s not a feature common to historical fiction. On the other hand, because the Trojan War is rooted in real geography – the ruins of Mycenae and Troy can still be visited today – it doesn’t quite seem right to class it as fantasy fiction either. So historical fiction it is.
If it happened at all, the Trojan War took place around 1250BC. It was fought over a woman, Helen, who was kidnapped by – or ran away with – a Trojan prince. The Greeks pursued with a fleet of over a thousand ships and laid siege to the city of Troy for ten years. Despite a glittering array of heroes on both sides, including Achilles, Ajax and Hector, neither side could gain the upper hand by brute force alone. So in the end it fell to cunning – Odysseus’s cunning – to break the deadlock with the Trojan Horse. My series tells the story based on Odysseus’s experiences. The first two books, King of Ithaca and The Gates of Troy, begin with Helen’s marriage ten years before the war and end with its first battle. The Armour of Achilles recounts the final year of the war, focussing on the epic struggle between Achilles and Hector. The fourth, The Oracles of Troy, concludes the war with the tale of the Trojan Horse; and the series will conclude in the fifth and sixth books with Odysseus’s gruelling voyage home to Ithaca.
What were some of your most important sources when planning your novel?
Homer has to be the default source because The Iliad and The Odyssey are at the heart of the Trojan myths. But Homer only tells part of the story. The Iliad is the most famous tale of the Trojan War, but only covers about eight weeks of a ten year conflict. Everything else comes from sources such as the Greek playwrights (Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides) and Roman poets (particularly Virgil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphoses). The best modern summary is Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths, which I use as a refresher when researching.
Did your research contribute to the characters and their behaviour or had you already determined the character traits you wanted them to possess?
I created rough outlines of all the main characters, sketching out everything from physical appearance and personality traits to what drives them. Where my characters are taken directly from mythological sources then their behaviours are always going to be informed by the original portrayal. The fun part as an author is to add elements of your own making. Odysseus is famous for his intelligence, oratory and cunning and there’s no avoiding these characteristics (and I wouldn’t want to). But when you read between the lines – why did he want to avoid going to the war? what drove him to overcome all those obstacles on his journey home? – it becomes clear his underlying motivation is to be with his family. So where most of the other characters are out for death or glory, I wanted to focus on Odysseus’s desire to get back home. I also had fun exploring other well known personalities, such as Paris. Homer portrays him as a lover rather than a warrior, but I thought it was more challenging to make him a tough fighter who is conquered by a woman’s beauty.
Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your novel The Oracles of Troy?
That depends on who you consider to be the main character. I originally set out to make it Odysseus – after all, it’s his story that’s being told – but throughout the books the principal viewpoint is that of Eperitus, the captain of Odysseus’s guard. So I’m going to cheat and pick an actor for each. I’d like to see Odysseus played by Damien Lewis. I loved his portrayal of Winters in Band of Brothers, and I could see that same intelligent approach to leadership working well with Odysseus. He also has the advantage of being a natural redhead. Eperitus is more difficult, but I’m a fan of Norman Reedus from The Walking Dead. He has that calm self-assurance that I think is key to portraying Eperitus, so I’d opt for him.
What are you working on currently?
The Oracles of Troy brings the reader to the end of the Trojan War. Readers of The Odyssey, however, will know that that’s not the end of the story for Odysseus, who has to face a long and arduous journey home battling gods, monsters, witches and even his own men on the way. So that’s my current project. I’m over halfway through The Voyage of Odysseus at present, and am thoroughly enjoying it.