I wish you happiness upon the feast day of St. Valentinus of Hallmark!
I thought this would be a good day to share my retelling of the birth of Aphrodite. I wrote this for the Ashes of Olympus trilogy, but I suspect it won’t fit into the story. However, I’m proud of this little fable and am thrilled to share it with you now…
The world was young then, still being shaped. In those days there were only words and forces. Earth was an empty place, barren and dark—until Mother Earth and Father Sky met.
She looked upon his face, smiled, and took his hand. Music filled their ears, and it came from another place. Earth and Sky became the harmony as they danced together. Light came into the world for the first time, shining from their hearts. Her delight echoed across the cosmos.
Earth and Sky did not know they were being watched with jealous eyes. Sky’s brother Time wanted Earth for his own. Time did not know the sound of laughter. He shunned the light, craving a return to the darkness.
Sky and Earth lay together. And as Sky rested, a thought entered Earth’s mind. Together she and Sky would make life and growth and beauty. The Earth would be full as it had never been before. But what manner of life would they bring? Earth wandered off, seeking solitude to ponder. And Time saw his chance.
He took up a jagged stone and plunged it into Sky’s chest. With prying fingers Time plucked out the heart of Sky, and blood filled the heavens. Time thought to give the heart to Earth and prove his dominance. But when he offered her the beating heart, her eyes filled with horror and she fled.
Across the rocky plains Time pursued Earth, the heart of Sky still writhing in his hands. At last Time gave up the chase, and in anger and shame he cast Sky’s heart into Sea. Into the depths it sank, beneath cruel waves. Sea took pity on Earth as she knelt weeping at the shore. With icy fingers Sea grasped the heart of Sky, and the white foam raged around it. Sea moulded the foam until it took the shape of a maiden.
The maiden stepped forth from the waves, before her mother’s very eyes. And where she stepped life sprang, bright wildflowers curling around her shapely feet. Earth reached forth. With trembling fingers she touched the girl’s face, and Earth named her daughter.
So Love came into the world.
I hope you enjoyed that! I’ve also written a short story in which a young girl must stand before the gods on her betrothal day. The short story is free for all newsletter subscribers.
My debut novel The Way Home officially launches in just a few days. The pre-order also has found its way to Amazon early, both for the paperback and the e-book. It’s actually doing pretty well already, given that I haven’t officially announced that it is available! It is a little bit surreal, seeing it in the top ten of its little niche, alongside Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books. It’ll be properly available next week, and you can bet I’ll let you know when it’s out. In the meantime, a few people have asked me where I got the idea to write the Ashes of Olympus trilogy, a YA adaptation of Virgil’s Aeneid.
Check out some of the amazing illustrations from Matt Wolf!
It started when I was an undergraduate in Latin class. My lecturer’s enthusiasm for the Aeneid was infectious, and I was not immune. Just about every lesson he would put a passage from Virgil on the board for us to decipher with the air of Santa Claus pulling a toy from his sack. Determined to know more of the story, I picked up a translation of the Aeneid and read it cover to cover. I had encountered Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey before, but the plight of the Trojan prince Aeneas spoke to me on a level I had not really expected. Perhaps the desire for a place to belong spoke to me in my late teens. On a more superficial level, I loved the sense of adventure. I had always been a reader of fantasy and historical thrillers, and here was a classic quest with monsters, gods, and epic battles. More than that, I adored the sensitivity of Virgil’s characterisation, particularly of Dido. Though I sometimes found the character Aeneas difficult, it helped me to understand that when we are reading classics we are dealing with the ideals of another age. Discovering the joys of Latin scansion helped me to find the music in Virgil and gave me an appreciation of poetic language which I had never really found before. Every time I returned to the poem, the same thought would occur to me: this would make such a great novel!
Later in my degree, when I came to translate the poem itself, I decided to translate it into the prose of an adventure novel whose language echoed the historical thrillers I had always enjoyed. Something along the lines of Valerio Massimo Manfredi, Conn Iggulden, or Bernard Cornwell. There was just one problem: the translation was awful! For some reason, dactylic hexameters didn’t gel with the direct language of a thriller or fantasy. I hated what I had written, and so would anybody with sense, so I shelved it and moved on.
Several years passed. I wrote a lot of terrible stories which will never see the light of day. I married and became a young dad. I did a postgrad research degree, worked for a museum, and immersed myself deeper into the classical world than is healthy. Eventually I went to present a paper at the Classical Association conference at the University of Reading. This was the first time I had travelled overseas on my own, and I felt very far from home. It was worth it though. One of the themes of the conference was the reception of Greek and Roman culture in children’s and young adult novels. There were a lot of great panels on Caroline Lawrence and Rosemary Sutcliffe. But the key moment didn’t come until I was on my way home.
At Heathrow I met a young woman who was struggling with her luggage. I offered to help, and we got chatting, and I casually asked where she was from. At this point she started crying—she was from Bosnia, but she was effectively homeless, a citizen of nowhere. Neither side of the civil war wanted anything to do with her. One side rejected her because of her heritage, and the other side because of her father’s religion. The war had been over for years, but she was still a refugee. She had endured horrors as a child which no human being should have to go through. I was sitting on the plane home, reflecting on what she had said. And that’s when it hit me: the Aeneid is in its essence a refugee’s tale from a world of gods and magic. It’s a tale for anybody who has felt there’s no place in this world for them. A theme which, two thousand years after the Aeneid was written, is still sadly relevant. And somehow this idea connected with the panels on YA literature I had seen. By the time I got off the plane, a plan was forming.
I wasn’t going to translate the Aeneid. I was going to adapt it, tell the story in my voice. I wasn’t going to put Virgil up on a pedestal. Instead, I would write an original work which captured something of what made the story significant to me. It would still be a rip-roaring adventure for young readers. Yet it would focus on the deeper theme of the refugee crisis. My goal was to make it a great story in its own right, not edutainment. And I would infuse it with something of my own experiences, make it personal. And you know what? This last part was actually really scary. But for the first time, I felt like the writing worked. It was real.
Five years and many drafts later, here we are. The book will be in readers’ hands very shortly. I’ve done all I can to make it the best story possible.
I hope you’ll join me for the journey.
Until next time,
PS. I’m offering a preview and a special short story exclusively to followers of my newsletter. Sign up here for your free copy to read on a Kindle or any other e-reader! Fear not, I won’t give away your email address and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Publication day for The Way Home, Book I of the Ashes of Olympus trilogy is just a few short weeks away. In the meantime, I’ve written a short prequel, which I’m giving away to newsletter subscribers for free!
Betrothal introduces the characters of Aeneas and Kreusa, whom we here meet as children. The story takes place ten years before the events of Ashes of Olympus. On the eve of the Trojan War, a young girl must find her voice to stand before the gods… As an added bonus, you’ll also get a first look at the first three chapters of The Way Home.
I’m offering the e-book exclusively to followers of my newsletter. Sign up here for your free copy to read on a Kindle or any other e-reader! Fear not, I won’t give away your email address and you can unsubscribe at any time.
This was an absolute blast to write and I’d love to hear your feedback!
I finally finished the Netflix/BBC retelling of the Trojan War. It has taken me a while as I like to take my time when I’m watching a show I find interesting. ‘Interesting’ is probably the word for Troy: Fall of a City, in a good way for the most part. It’s a rich, complex adaptation with some amazing production values. It takes its time to convey the plot, but the characterisation has the chilliness of a Greek tragedy. Which makes sense, because that’s precisely what it’s meant to be.
Mild spoilers below.
I was amazed by the sheer scope of the show’s storytelling, and was surprised that it drew not only upon the Iliad but also the Odyssey and Aeneid, as well as Sophocles and Euripides. I get the sense that the show-runners wanted to convey the full sweep of the Trojan War and approach it from as many angles as possible. This ambition is simultaneously the show’s strength and its weakness. Though the cast is enormous and the story is rich with intrigue and tension, we never really spend enough time with any of the characters to become overly invested. I seldom had the sense that it was anybody’s story in particular, or a sense of the characters’ development or growth. The difference between this story and HBO’s Rome is striking. I think casual audiences would prefer to cheer on a likeable viewpoint character whom they could follow through this sea of names and faces. Troy: Fall of a City really needed an everyman character like Lucius Vorenus or Titus Pullo to work as a straightforward heroic narrative.
That said, the show plays with a lot of the tropes of Greek myth in a really clever way which absolutely drips with irony. A good example is a scene where Achilles slices an enemy’s Achilles tendons before he kills him. Another is where Hector declares that he would rather a short life with his family than a long one alone– a brilliant inversion of Achilles’ choice to have a short life as a warrior than a long one as a family man. The show also manages not to make the Trojans look like idiots for bringing the horse into the city, and that is actually quite a feat. The writers included gods in the story and succeeded in invoking a sense of the numinous rather than high camp. I’ve never seen that before.
Troy: Fall of a City differs greatly from the 2004 film Troy in that it doesn’t glorify war, and perhaps you’re not really meant to like any of the characters. There’s no honour or love to be won on this battlefield. Instead, the show captures the brutality and pathos of a Greek tragedy. It doesn’t have any of the warmth or human moments which fill Homer. One of my favourite scenes in the Iliad is from Book 6, where little Astynax interrupts an argument between his parents by crying at the sight of his father in a crested war-helmet. Andromache laughs and sniffles at the same time as Hector whips the helmet off and cuddles his son to calm him. It’s a tender scene, simultaneously sad and funny. You won’t find many such moments in Troy: Fall of a City. It’s mostly bluster and blood.
There’s no talking horses, either. But whatever.
It isn’t meant to be Homer, but a tragedy staged for the screen. It differs from most sword and sandal epics in that it’s a meditation on the horrors of war, told in a thoughtful and unrushed manner. The characters could be more approachable, but then, you don’t necessarily go see a Greek tragedy because you want to cheer on the heroes as they rush toward their doom.
Until next time,
Sign up to my free monthly newsletter for news and previews, as well as an exclusive prologue chapter to the Ashes of Olympus series!
As promised, I’m absolutely thrilled to unveil the cover and blurb for my upcoming novel, Ashes of Olympus: The Way Home, coming July 2018 from Odyssey Books.It’s a YA historical fantasy based upon Greek mythology, in which a band of refugees must face the wrath of the gods to find a way home.
I’m absolutely in love with the cover, and I am so grateful to my editor and the graphic designer for coming up with such a wonderful image. But what’s it all about? Read on for the blurb…
The gods betray you. The winds are hunting. Nowhere is safe. The journey begins…
The war of the gods has left Aeneas’s country in flames. Though he is little more than a youth, Aeneas must gather the survivors and lead them to a new homeland across the roaring waves. Confronted by twisted prophecies, Aeneas faces the wrath of the immortals to find his own path.
First in a trilogy based on Virgil’s epic poetry, ASHES OF OLYMPUS: THE WAY HOME is a tale of love and vengeance in an age of bronze swords and ox-hide shields.
The novel will be released both as an ebook and in print, July 2018.
Until next time,
P.S. Sign up to my free monthly newsletter for news and previews, as well as an exclusive prologue chapter to the Ashes of Olympus series! Over the next couple of months I’ll be giving readers an exclusive sneak preview of the amazing interior artwork in the book.