Welcome to author Tim Taylor who is here to talk about his brilliant historical novel ‘Zeus of Ithome’, which is published on 2nd November 2013 by Crooked Cat Books.
(Click on the cover images to purchase your copy – paperback or Kindle)
Tim Taylor was born in 1960 in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent – home of Josiah Wedgwood, Robbie Williams, Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor (no relation) and Lemmy. He grew up just outside the city in Brown Edge, then at the age of 11 moved to Longsdon, near Leek.
Tim went to Newcastle-under-Lyme High School, then studied Classics at Pembroke College, Oxford. After graduating he moved to London and spent a couple of years playing guitar in a rock band. When it became clear that he was never going to be a rock star, he sadly knuckled down and joined the Civil Service, where he did a wide range of jobs, including Chief Executive of the Veterans Agency.
Tim married Rosa Vella in 1994 and their daughter Helen was born in 1997. In 2001 they moved to Meltham, near Huddersfield, to be nearer family, and have lived there ever since.
While still in the Civil Service Tim wrote two unpublished novels and studied part time for a PhD in Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London, finally achieving it in 2007. A period of illness in 2007 caused him to re-evaluate his priorities. He took a career break in 2009 in order to spend more time writing, and subsequently left the Civil Service altogether in 2011.
Tim now divides his time between creative writing, academic research and part-time teaching and other work for Leeds and Huddersfield Universities.
As well as fiction, Tim writes poetry, which he often performs on local radio and at open mic nights (where he also plays the guitar). He is involved with several local writing groups. He also likes walking up hills.
What are the main ideas or themes in ‘Zeus of Ithome’?
The novel is about the struggle of an enslaved people, the Messenians, for freedom and nationhood, told through the personal stories of fictional participants. It is also, in part, a story about friendship and loyalty, facing fear and accepting responsibility.
Explain the importance of your context and setting.
‘Zeus of Ithome’ is set in ancient Greece at a time when a great deal was changing. Archaic religious beliefs that seem alien to us now were still deeply held, even as the beginnings of rational thought and science were emerging. Politically too, things were in flux: processes were in train that would ultimately lead (some decades after the time of these events) to the ascendancy of Macedon and the transition from the Classical to the Hellenistic age. I have tried to convey the spirit of these times and what it was like to live through them. The fact that the landscape and architecture of Greece are so memorable was a great bonus. I had visited some of the places that feature in the novel, and it was a joy to revisit them in imagination.
Tell us more about the main characters and their dilemmas.
The central character, Diocles, begins as a teenage helot slave. He becomes a rebel almost by accident and has to adapt rapidly to circumstances outside his understanding. As he learns and acquires a purpose in life, he finds himself more than once in situations where he has to choose between that goal and people he cares about. His mentor Aristomenes has carried the torch of rebellion on his own for decades – his concern is how and when to kindle revolt in a people paralysed by fear and whether, as an old man, he will still be up to the task. The Theban general Epaminondas is sympathetic to their cause, but has to find some way to deal with the fearsome military power of Sparta and the fractious politics of his own country. Meanwhile, Diocles’ sweetheart Elpis, whom he is forced to leave behind in Messenia, encounters troubles of her own which will haunt them both when he returns.
What would you like your readers to know about you, and how this novel came about?
I studied Classics at University, so I already had some knowledge about the ancient Greek world, including the fact that the Messenians were slaves of Sparta, but the events depicted in this novel came after the period I studied, so were relatively unfamiliar. When I was reading a book about ancient Sparta - I think it was The Spartans, by Paul Cartledge (if you don’t want to know how ‘Zeus of Ithome’ turns out, you might want to read that book later rather than sooner!) – I was struck by the long struggle of the Messenians, who never gave up on their identity despite three centuries of subjection, and was moved to read more about them. It became clear that they had a proud and fascinating history of their own, and it seemed to me that their story, largely ignored by history, was crying out to be told.
As for me, I live in Meltham, West Yorkshire with my lovely family – my wife Rosa and daughter Helen. As well as fiction, I write poetry and academic non-fiction – in particular on the philosophy of well-being and its relationship to public policy. I divide my time between writing and part time teaching and other work for Leeds and Huddersfield Universities.
How do you go about writing a novel? Is it a simple or complex process?
I guess that different people go about it in different ways. I am not one of those novelists who can just sit down and write with no structure in mind, letting their characters choose their own path. I need to have some idea of where they are going, so I like to have a rough plot in mind before I start, though it’s also important to be flexible and to listen to your characters if they are telling you that the plot needs to change. Once I start writing I set myself a minimum target of 1000 words a day – though in practice I usually write more. For a historical novel like ‘Zeus of Ithome’, there is also the matter of research, to get the details right. I don’t see any point in writing a historical novel if you are not true to the period you are writing about. This does not mean you have to spend six months sitting in a library before you can start writing – you can do much of the research as you go along.
What advice do you have for less experienced writers?
Join a writers’ group. I have found this invaluable for getting constructive feedback, for picking up tips from other writers, and for generating ideas through writing exercises. And it’s great to socialise with people who share an interest in writing.
What are you working on next?
I may return to ancient Greece in future, but at present I’m working on something completely different! I am writing a novel about the downfall of a fictional Latin American dictator. It covers a period of a few weeks during which one of his subordinates orchestrates a coup against him; interspersed with reminiscences from his estranged wife about how he came to power and gradually changed from an idealistic revolutionary into a despot. I wanted to explore the different ways in which power corrupts.
What other things do you enjoy besides writing?
I love playing music – guitar and a bit of piano. I have been in bands in the past, but these days I play mostly solo acoustic guitar – and occasionally electric – at open mic nights and the like (I am not much of a singer, unfortunately). Guitars have always been an obsession of mine – I own fourteen of them. I also like hill walking and just being among hills and mountains.
If you could leave a message to the world, what would it be?
Never give up on what you love to do, even if you can’t make a living at it.