Guest Post: Ben Kane, author of Spartacus + Give@way

Research is an intimate part of writing historical fiction. It’s the foundation upon which each good story rests, and as such, it needs to be robust and well-laid. In my opinion, without a good basis in reality or fact, historical fiction becomes either historical fantasy or alternate history. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with those genres ― I’m fond of them myself, especially the latter ― but they fall into a different classification to the books I write.
Research can take many forms, but the methods that I find most useful are reading textbooks, studying the information on relevant websites, visiting museums and/or historical sites, and attending re-enactment events, where I can soak up the atmosphere and talk to the men and women who work so hard at helping us to understand how life was thousands of years ago. I like to buy small items that have been made as they were long ago. The bookshelf over my desk has a whistle, a bone hairpin, a little oil lamp, a brass whistle, a blue glass and other Roman trinkets on it.
Some textbooks can be very dry, full of details that tell us much about the structure, politics and  customs of ancient society but which reveal precious little about the real people who lived so long ago. Nonetheless, there’s great enjoyment to be had ― for me at least! ― in soaking up some of the huge quantity of information to be found inside the covers of textbooks. At times, the knowledge doesn’t always seem relevant, but it often becomes useful at a later time.  There is also a guilty pleasure in spending a few days in a café, reading texts and making notes. Somehow, it doesn’t seem like real work, although of course it is!
I’ve learned to be careful about which historical websites I trust enough to use information from. There are literally just a handful, which are generally run by academics, universities or re-enactors. Sadly, an awful lot of other sites just cut and paste articles that have been posted elsewhere, which means that inaccurate information is perpetuated. As a rule of thumb, if the historical information isn’t referenced, don’t believe it!
Museums have been places of great interest to me since I was a child. Back then, I could easily spend an entire day in places such as the Imperial War Museum. I can still do the same now, but I am usually searching for a specific item or exhibition. It can also be tremendously useful to spend time in the historical sites where men such as Julius Caesar may have stood. I’ve been to Rome three times, and on each occasion, I have never failed to find large number of facts/details to use in my books. In October 2011, I was lucky enough to make a one week trip to Italy, during which I retraced the route taken by Spartacus in his epic struggle against Rome.
One of the highlights of this trip was the large arena in Capua. It was built about 50-100 years after Spartacus’ rebellion, but it stands in the same spot as the previous building, in which he would have fought. Tiger bones and other dramatic finds were discovered there in an archaeological dig during the 1930s. I couldn’t help but feel moved as I stood in the circle of sand, with the angled seating all around me. I felt the same way when I went to the narrow ridge that lies high above the narrowest part of the ‘toe’ of Italy, where Spartacus and his men smashed through the Roman defences that had penned them in. Most of all, I felt it in a valley not far from Naples, the probable site of Spartacus’ final battle against the general Crassus, and on the extant section of the old Via Appia, which lies in the southern suburbs of Rome. That is where some of the 6,000 crucifixes that were erected all the way from Capua would have stood. Being in the exact place where some of Spartacus’ captured men suffered their savage fate was a strange and slightly unnerving experience.
And so despite the fact that nothing physical  ― buildings,  writings, clothes or weapons ― remains of men such as Spartacus, their memory lives on in certain places. I think it will do so forever.

About the Author (From Amazon): Ben Kane, (born 1970) is a novelist, known for his novels in the historical fiction genre. He is best-known for The Forgotten Legion and Hannibal Enemy Of Rome which reached number 4 in the Sunday Times best seller list in 2009. Ben Kane was born and raised in Kenya and then moved to Ireland, in Dublin he studied veterinary medicine at University College Dublin, but after that he travelled the world extensively, indulging his passion for ancient history. Having visited more than 60 countries and all 7 continents, he now lives in North Somerset with his wife and family. Visit Ben Kane's website and be sure to follow him on twitter and facebook.

Thanks to Ben Kane and Virtual Book Tours I have one copy(ebook or paper) of Spartacus: The Gladiator to giveaway to a lucky reader. You must be at least 13 years old to enter. This giveaway is for US/Canada addresses only. Please fill out the form below. 

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  1. It's a pity Europe is out of the giveaway ;-)
    Thanks for the post.
    Spanish kisses.

  2. This book sounds really, really good. The author did so much research that and your glowing review makes me want to read it more.
    Thanks for the giveaway!

  3. @Steve & Marcie: thanks for revewing the book, and I'm delighted that you liked it so much!

    @Babel: follow me on Twitter @benkaneauthor - I regularly run competitions and I'll mail books to anywhere in the world. I just ran one for 6 Spartacus paperbacks.

    @Janiera: Thanks for your post, and I hope you get around to reading it soon!

    Best wishes.


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