About the Author
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Douglas Jackson was born in Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders in the summer of 1956. Educated at Parkside Primary School and Jedburgh Grammar School, he left three weeks before his 16th birthday with six O levels and no idea what he was going to do with the rest of his life.
Fortunately, a friend worked in the local employment office and got him a place on a Youth Opportunities Scheme. It turned out to be restoring a Roman marching camp at Pennymuir in the Cheviot Hills and he had a wonderful summer turning turf and dreaming of Romans.
Obviously, he couldn’t do that for the rest of his life. He was good at English and had a voracious reading habit, and his dad pointed him towards an advert for a junior reporter with the local paper – and changed his life. The next 30-odd years were spent working in local and national newspapers before he sat down in 2005 to work on a ‘project’. After a year of writing on the train and whistling the theme to the Great Escape he finally reached The End, and the project became a book. That book was The Emperor’s Elephant, which, with a bit of help from Youwriteon.com, eventually became Caligula and Claudius. which were bought by Transworld for a ‘six figure sum’. When the publishers offered him a second deal to write three more books, he decided with the support of his family to try writing full time. He has now published five historical novels and two thrillers (as James Douglas), with a further five books in the pipeline
Doug now lives in Bridge of Allan, a lovely village on the doorstep of the Trossachs and is married to wife Alison. They have three children who never fail to make him terribly proud.
He enjoys watching rugby, and finds life at its most relaxing by the river with a fly fishing rod in my hand, although he seldom disturbs many fish.
Hi Douglas, Congratulations on the new book and thank you for taking the time to answer some questions:
1) With all the periods of History, why Roman fiction?
I ended up in Rome more or less by mistake. A friend of mine who was on the MLitt course at Glasgow University said ‘You should write a book. I bet it would be really gritty.’ So on the way home, I thought: What can I write about. They say write what you know, but all I knew was work, eat, sleep and spend a bit of time with the family, which didn’t sound the stuff of fictional success. So I thought about it and came up with Write what you love. What I loved turned out to be history. I had a CD set of Simon Schama’s history of Britain in the car and when I stuck it on Timothy West was saying ‘ … and the Roman Emperor Claudius rode in triumph on an elephant to take the surrender of the British tribes’. It was like an epiphany, and The Emperor’s Elephant, which became Caligula and Claudius, was born. I had a third Rufus book in mind, set during the Boudiccan rebellion, so when Transworld asked for a new hero, I decided to stay with idea, but change the character and point of view. That became Hero of Rome, and the rest, as they say, is history.
2) Where did you get the inspiration for Verrens?
In his original incarnation, he was a tribune with a different name who visited Colchester in The Emperor’s Elephant and Rufus got to know him slightly. I created him after coming across a line in Tacitus or Suetonius, about the procurator Catus Decianus being asked to send reinforcements to the Roman colonia because Boudicca was on her way. He managed to scrape up two hundred odds and sods and sent them off to meet 70,000 rampaging Celtic warriors. When I was looking for an idea for a new book that seemed like manna from heaven. Who led them, what was he like and what became of him? Gaius Valerius Verrens was born.
3) Is this an on running series or do you have an finale in mind?
There will definitely be two more, but my editor at Transworld thinks Valerius is an incredibly strong character and he’s interested in further adventures. Valerius already has links to the future Emperor Titus and the timeframe would allow him to be on hand at the sack of the Temple of Jerusalem and the Siege of Masada, both if which provide huge opportunities for a writer with a character like Valerius at his beck and call. Pliny the Elder also features in one of the books and if I can find a strong enough reason for Valerius to visit him at Misenum in 79AD it could have explosive results. I’d always planned to bring him full circle to Britain in the final book, so I’m fairly certain that he’ll end up on campaign with Agricola and fighting in the battle of Mons Graupius, which probably won’t be the cakewalk Tacitus claims it was.
4) Your first series Rufus (Caligula & Claudius) will there ever be a book 3?
I toyed with self-publishing The Emperor’s Elephant 3 as an e-book, because quite a few readers would like to know what happens to Rufus and Bersheba. It already exists at around 60,000 words, but as I worked on it, I realised that it isn’t as good as the books I’m writing now. I’d either have to rewrite it entirely, which is impossible time-wise, or publish something which is a step backwards in terms of quality. Reluctantly, I’ve decided to leave it be for the moment. If I’m spared to write the final Valerius novel, which will be set in Britain, I plan a scene/chapter where one of Agricola’s scouts tells the story of his father, the animal trainer, and the Emperor’s elephant, during Boudicca’s revolt. The first line I wrote in the original book was ‘My father was a great man, he tamed the wild beasts and made them do his bidding.’ I’ve always wanted to have the chance to use it.
5) You also write the fantastic Jamie Saintclair series, when is the next book due and what is it about?
It’s called The Excalibur Codex and it will be published in a couple of weeks. In 1937 a Hitler Youth cycle party breaks into a lonely country house and steals an ancient artefact on the orders of Reinhard Heydrich. Four years later on the eve of Hitler’s invasion of Russia, five swords are brought together to enact a terrible ritual designed to unleash the power of their former owners. One man links both events and when a rich British sword collector comes across the codex of his will and sees the name Excalibur, he hires Jamie Saintclair to track down the sword, with predictably dangerous results.
6) What is your fav book written by yourself?
There are actually three candidates, Robin. I think the latest one, Sword of Rome, which deals with the first part of the Year of the Four Emperors, is the best book yet, a real sprawling adventure story with wonderful characters and some of the best battle scenes I’ve written. I’m very proud of Hero of Rome, because I think it took my writing to a new level and it introduced Valerius, who I have come to love like a brother. My son, Gregor, has just read it (it’s been in his room for three years) and loved it. He’s now abandoned the X Box in favour of the follow up. The one I most enjoyed writing is also the most flawed. Claudius was fun because I used multiple points of view to paint both sides of the invasion of Britain and I think it worked really well, Caratacus is as much the hero of the book as Rufus. It’s flawed because I caved in to my editor when he suggested taking out Rufus’s romantic interest because she was too strong a character. I should have said no, and the book is the worse for it.
7) What are your top 5 fav reads?
In no particular order: Flashman and the Great Game (George MacDonald Fraser); A Perfect Spy (John Le Carre); The Polish Officer (Alan Furst); The Arthur Trilogy (Bernard Cornwell); With the Jocks (Peter White) a memoir of a young subaltern’s war from D-Day to Hitler’s death with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, which my granddad and great-granddad served in. It contains one of the most memorable, unimaginable and terrible scenes of warfare I’ve ever come across.
8) Can you give us a hint what’s next for Verrens?
What’s next is Enemy of Rome, in which Valerius is torn between the two sides of the civil war during the second half of The Year of the Four Emperors. His old friend Aulus Vitellius is Emperor, but Vespasian, who saved Valerius in the aftermath of Domitius Corbulo’s death, has launched his Balkan legions at Rome in a bid to take the throne. Valerius is ideally placed for the role of go-between as both men try to negotiate a relatively bloodless end to the fighting. But who can he trust in a war that has pitched brother against brother and father against son? And how is he going to get Corbulo’s daughter Domitia, who’s now trapped in Rome, out of the clutches of Vespasian’s son Domitianus?
‘The story I now commence is rich in vicissitudes, grim with warfare, torn by civil strife, a tale of horror even during times of peace.’ Tacitus, The Histories
AD 68. The Emperor Nero’s erratic and bloody reign is in its death throes when Gaius Valerius Verrens is dispatched to Rome on a mission that will bring it to a close. With Nero dead, the city holds its breath and awaits the arrival his successor, Servius Sulpicius Galba, governor of Hispania. The Empire prays for peace, but it prays in vain. Galba promises stability and prosperity, but his rule begins with a massacre and ends only months later in chaos and carnage. This will become known as the Year of the Four Emperors, a time of civil war which will tear Rome apart and test Valerius’s skills and loyalties to their very limit. Fortunate to survive Galba’s fall, Valerius is sent on a mission by Rome’s new Emperor, Otho, to his old friend Vitellius, commander of the armies of the north. Vitellius’s legions are on the march, and only Valerius can persuade him to halt them before the inevitable confrontation. In an epic adventure that will take him the length and breadth of a divided land, the one-armed Roman fights to stay alive and stave off a bloodbath as he is stalked by the most implacable enemy he has ever faced.
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Over the last few book of the Gaius Valerius Verrens series i have been forced to re-evaluate my views on Roman fiction writers. They fit into different brackets, there are the Roman crime writers, the Roman mystery writers, the Roman Blood and Guts (or sandals as some would class them) writers and there are the Roman Adventures, this last one for me is the cream of the crop, the beating heart of Roman fiction, getting into the hearts and minds of the characters and how they lived, how they died and how they interacted with the world full of conspiracy going on around them.
In book 1 Hero of Rome, Douglas Jackson wrote what i still consider to be the greatest, most evocative and emotional scene in any Roman Fiction book i have read, the temple scene left me stunned, and wondering if he could ever reach those heights again.
In book 3 Avenger of Rome Douglas Jackson took that skill and spread it throughout an entire novel. The back and forth plot lines with Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo coupled with the fast paced action packed plot made book 3 one of the best Roman fiction books written.
Book 4 Sword of Rome, for me had too much to live up to, how on earth could it rise to the heady heights of Avenger?
It tried and it made a damn fine job of it. The book covers the early part of the year of the four emperors, and reading it made for an interesting comparison to Henry Venmore Rowlands The Last Caesar and Sword and Throne: His duology following the trials of Aulus Caecina Severus where Douglas Jackson’s follow Verrens and the opposite side under Otho.
This juxtaposition helped make the book an even greater experience. I was worried that Serpentius was starting to become too good, a caricature of the perfect fictional character, too good to be true, but then Douglas Jackson ended the book with a battle that was pitched just right, that played just perfectly to his ex-gladiators skills and gave the book a dramatic conclusion and set the series up to see the conclusion of the year of the 4 emperors out with our hero’s front and centre and surrounded by intrigue.
If you have never read any of Douglas Jacksons books then although you can read each book as a stand alone, I would still recommend going back to the start of this series
Gaius Valerius Verrens
1. Hero of Rome (2010)
2. Defender of Rome (2011)
3. Avenger of Rome (2012)
4. Sword of Rome (2013)
You will be very hard pressed to find a finer series of books set in the Roman period.
Very Highly recommended
1. Caligula: The Tyranny of Rome (2008)
2. Claudius (2009)
As James Douglas
The Doomsday Testament (2011)
The Excalibur Codex (2013)