SJA Turney: The Thiefs Tale (review and Q&A)

The Author (from his own Bio)

S J A Turney's picture

I live   with my wife, my crazed lunatic son and very vocal baby daughter, and two (close   approximations of) dogs in rural North Yorkshire, where my wife and I both grew   up, surrounded by friends and family. A born and bred Yorkshireman with a love   of country, I cannot envisage spending my life anywhere else, though my anchor   is sometimes tested as the wanderlust hits and we travel wherever I can find   the breathtaking remains of the classical world. I have a love of travel and   history, architecture and writing and those four interact well enough to keep   me almost permanently busy.

Since leaving   school and University, I have tried a great number of careers, including car   sales, insurance, software engineering, computer network management, civil service   and even paint ing and decorating sales. I have lived in four counties and travelled   as widely as time and budget allowed and find myself, on the cusp of my fortieth   year, back where I began and finally doing something I love.

Having   written a number of unpublished short stories in my early days, I decided back   in 2003 to try and write a full length novel. That was the start of Marius’   Mules. Being a lover of Roman history, I decided to combine my love of writing   and my love of classical history. Marius’ Mules was followed two years later   by Interregnum, my attempt to create a new fantasy story still with a heavy   flavour of Rome. Since then, the success and popularity of both have inflated   my head so that I can no longer comfortably fit through doors, and has spawned   sequels to each work, with a third in the fantasy series and the fourth Marius’   Mules now complete.

Link to his web site

The latest book “The Thiefs Tale”

Thiefs tale

Istanbul, 1481. The once great city of Constantine that now forms the heart of the Ottoman empire is a strange mix of Christian, Turk and Jew. Despite the benevolent reign of the sultan Bayezid II the conquest is still a recent memory, and emotions run high among the inhabitants, with danger never far from the surface.
Skiouros and Lykaion, two sons of a Greek country farmer, are conscripted into the ranks of the famous Janissary guards, where they will play a pivotal, if unsung, role in the history of the new regime. As Skiouros escapes into the Greek quarter and vanishes into the streets to survive on his wits alone, Lykaion remains with the slave chain to fulfil his destiny and become an Islamic convert and guard of the Imperial palace. Brothers they remain, though standing to either side of the greatest divide imaginable.

On a fateful day in late autumn 1490, Skiouros will pick the wrong pocket and begin to unravel a plot that reaches to the very highest peaks of Imperial power, and he and his brother will be left with the most difficult decision faced by a conquered Greek: whether the rule of the Ottoman Sultan is worth saving.


This latest title from the fantastic SJA Turney felt like a bit of a double edged sword to begin with. I don’t read very many books set in
that part of history, there is just to much religion for my liking. That part of history and its events mainly controlled by the church or religion. But I’m starting to change that opinion, finally some writers are making it different. Jack Hight, Simon Scarrow
and now SJA Turney.

The Thief’s Tale follows the trials and tribulations of two Greek brothers, brothers caught up in the compulsory conscription of the Ottoman Janissary’s. Their lives take a dramatic divergent difference on entering the great city of Istanbul/ Constantinople. Skiouros the youngest, vanishing into the underbelly of the city to become live by his wits and speed. His brother Lykaion conditioned into one of the deadly Janissary’s that helped make the Ottoman Empire one of the biggest the world had seen.
The 2 brothers find themselves through a singular incident caught up in the power play for the empire and their lives are soon under threat. Can they run fast enough? should they run, where do they go? what do they do?

Simon Turney once again weaves a fantastic fast paced well researched atmospheric tale that sucks the reader back in time into the mix of the dirty streets and dangerous politics. His skill is always in educating whilst entertaining and this book does it in spades.
I’m very much impatient for book 2 and shall be haranguing him to get it written (once he finishes Marius Mules 5. If you have not read that series you have 4 amazing books awaiting you.)

Highly Recommended.

(Parm… Yes as in Capt Parmenio… read the book you will see. and it still makes me smile now writing this review)

1) You are more commonly known as a roman writer… why This period and setting

To be honest I love the Roman era, and it is as broad a period as one could hope to write in, so it’s almost impossible to run dry of ideas but variety, as they say, is the spice of life. A trip several years ago to Istanbul started to interest me in the Byzantine and Ottoman eras and Gordon Doherty’s Byzantine work has brought it to the fore again. I was looking to have a break from the Roman after Marius’ Mules IV and was looking over my old Istanbul photos which led me, as so often happens, into a four hour odyssey of research, which finally brought me to one barely-recorded event which intrigued me. The more I thought about that event, the more a story began to build around it. A week later I had a chapter plan for The Thief’s Tale.

2) How big a series will this be?

Originally the story was intended to be a standalone novel, but by the time I was less than a quarter of the way through the first draft it
became obvious to me that everything that needed to be told about the character could not happen in one book. In fact, I had to stop a third of the way through and tweak the plot to account for the future that I knew was coming and, by the time I was closing on the end of book 1, I had a definitive arc for a trilogy that works so perfectly that I’m already twitching to return to the character. For the record, The Thief’s Tale is book one of the ‘Ottoman Prince’ cycle’, the others being The Priest’s Tale and The Assassin’s Tale.

3) You are a self Publishing author, one of the best around for quality , is this choice? or is it just awaiting a sensible Publisher to take note?

I bow my head humbly to the complement. I suspect you will be hard put to find a self-published author who has not fallen back on this after failing to secure an agent for the traditional path. I decided to go down this route after touting a book for 6 years with no luck. That book was Marius’ Mules, which has ridden high in the charts ever since release. Even then, I never intended to centre my life on self-publishing. I saw it as a springboard to get my work noticed and perhaps secure a contract with an agent or publisher. Several years on a breathtaking snowball effect has brought me to the point of being able to write full time and support my family while still self-publishing, which astounds me every morning. I get fan mail from more than a dozen countries, which makes me blush and panic. I have recently secured a deal to publish my original first book (Marius’ Mules) in a foreign translation edition, which means that I am now a fully contracted author abroad while still a self-published one in my own country. You have to laugh, eh?

4) Given how prolific you are, will it just be this series and Marius Mules? or is anything else bubbling away?

I have so many things in the pipeline, it’s mind-boggling. Marius’ Mules has a definitive plot arc to book 8, with an option to extend it. The Ottoman Prince cycle will be three books. I also have an unreleased later Roman work that is bouncing about with agents at this time and which, when it is finally released, might well spawn a new series. I also have a standalone tale planned about a Roman engineer in Africa, a medieval Murder/Thriller set in Italy roughly pencilled in, a tale about the Auschwitz camp itching to be written, a story about a tank commander in June 1944 that’s fighting it’s way out, and a joint project with Gordon Doherty set in late Rome that will hopefully bear fruit towards the end of this year. In addition to that, I have a fantasy trilogy that has been out for a few years that I keep getting asked about – whether there will be a fourth book, and there just might. There’s too much to write about and not enough time.

5) what do you read?

In my youth I was almost entirely Sci-fi, Fantasy and comedy. I was weaned on things like Tolkien, Douglas Adams, and – in my teen
years – Spike Milligan’s war diaries. I dallied with crime fiction a lot in my late teens, particularly with Agatha Christie and the like, and then settled into my favourite genre which was historical fantasy. Guy Gavriel Kay was then, and remains, my favourite author, and my fantasy works are very heavily influenced by his. In more recent years I have moved very solidly into Historical fiction for my fave reads. I read people like Sutcliffe as a boy, but the genre has exploded to include so much astounding talent these days that I
feel humbled just seeing my name in the same sentence as some of them. I know that some authors try not to read widely in their own field for fear of being influenced, but I do so in order to be careful that I am not – that I don’t tread on too many toes with my own work.

6) any tips for those out there self publishing?

I hear it said that at best one in ten people can make a living at this. I am simply lucky. I have picked up a few useful pointers along the way, but most of it is through luck or the astounding generosity of strangers (some of whom have become good friends since.) Selling as a self-published author works on several levels.

1. Is your book actually any good? Hard to hear, and every bad review feels like a wound. But it’s important. No amount of glamour or energy is going to make a bad book into a bestseller.

2. Find the balance between being taciturn and pushy. Too many authors spam the internet – twitter, facebook, every forum and so on – with BUY MY BOOK, ITS BETTER THAN CHOCOLATE-COVERED SEX. In the end, they just annoy everyone. But other authors, and I know one or two like this – do not push themselves enough, and are reaching far smaller audiences than they deserve as they won’t put themselves out there. Try to be present and advertised, but not irritating.

3. Reviews and recommendations are what sell books. Garner positive reviews and promoters, but only do it honestly. Paying for reviews or nepotism are not only sad, but also going to eventually come back and bite you in the ass. If you can’t get a genuine good review – see point 1.

The book will be on sale early Feb (will add a link when it is)

in the mean time…Simons other fantastic books

Marius’ Mules 1. The Conquest of Gaul (2009) aka The Invasion of Gaul 2. The Belgae (2010) 3. Gallia Invicta (2011) 4. Conspiracy of Eagles (2012)
The Conquest of GaulThe BelgaeGallia InvictaConspiracy of Eagles
 Tales of the Empire 1. Interregnum (2009) 2. Ironroot (2010) 3. Dark Empress (2011)
InterregnumIronrootDark Empress
Tales of Ancient Rome (2011)
Tales of Ancient Rome


Filed under Historical Fiction

2 responses to “SJA Turney: The Thiefs Tale (review and Q&A)

  1. I cannot wait to read this as the Ottoman Empire has always fascinated me. Thank you both for a great interview.

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