This is a long-overdue interview with my highly esteemed literary colleague Robert Southworth, who has reinvented and elaborated on the versatile Spartacus legend. Today Robert joins us to discuss the research behind his books, his journey towards publishing independence and being a role model to his chidren.
MJN: Your Spartacus series has made quite a splash. I am delighted that your work is gaining the commercial and criticial recognition it deserves. However, there seem to be quite a few fictionalized accounts of Spartacus' adventures with varying degrees of historical accuracy. How do you make your work stand out?
RS: Firstly, I would like to say that all works on Spartacus are in essence fictional because so little is known about the man. I am not sure i ever set out to make my work stand out from the crowd. The reason is simple and perhaps a little mundane, it’s because I wrote the story that felt right. I never set out to play to the audience or compete with other writers. I feel that would compromise me as an author, and the story would suffer. However, if my Spartacus novels do stand out then that may be due to the fact that I have taken the legend of Spartacus beyond the defeat of the slave army. A time when many believe the legendary hero fell, and Romans could sleep easily in their beds. We love to cheer for the underdog, and so what would happen if the scourge of Rome actually survived.
MJN: I understand you have recently tackled another iconic image, Jack the Ripper. I've seen sample covers on Facebook. Can you tell us about it? Will it be another series?
RS: Yes, I am currently writing the Ripper Legacies which will be a series of three books. Its a little hush hush at the moment, but what i can say is, it wont be me picking a character from history and making the facts fit, which I feel a few recent TV programmes have attempted to do in recent years. This will be a fully fledged fictional novel, lots of fictional and factual characters interpersed through-out the novel that will hopefully capture the imagination of the readers.
MJN: One of your novels, Wrath of the Furies, is set during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. What impresses me about your writing is the effortless way you weave historical facts into your fiction. It shows a solid platform of knowledge. With less skilled authors, you can tell that they are trying to artificially inject facts to make themselves look more knowledgeable, but that's clearly not the case with you. Did you already have so much knowledge of Roman history, or did you learn a lot over the course of researching and writing your novels?
RS: Like most authors i have a general understanding of the era’s in which i write. However, as i loathe heavily laden fact based novels, i always try to use facts as a mere tool to move the story along. What facts i do put in the book i research thoroughly to ensure accuracy, because the readers of historical fiction will soon make you aware of any errors. If for story purposes i do have to change a fact, for instance a date i will always include a passage in the historical note at the rear of the book explaining the reason.
MJN: We've spoken about this on several occasions, but I wanted to take our discussion out in the public, because opinions seem to be divided on this subject. What about the pros and cons of going with a small press versus doing indie all the way? You've had experience with both. Your first Spartacus book is with a small press, and you've expressed dissatisfaction with their marketing methods, the high pricing and the low loyalty percentage. So you decided to take charge of the subsequent books and seem to be very satisfied with that experience.
RS: I believe when authors start out many are obsessed with being traditionally published. I still remember when i first received my acceptance letter, the sheer joy i felt that Spartacus would be traditionally published. As time went by that joy turned to frustration. Decisions were made against my wishes, in fact my opinion was never sought. Royalties were virtually non-existent despite sales being reasonably free flowing. The decision to then self publish from that point was relatively straight forward. I choose my own schedule and earn substantially more in royalties. I would add that i dont blame the publishing company in any way. The problem was my naivity, and if i hadn’t been like an excited school child i may well have seen the pitfalls.
MJN: You are a doting father. In addition to your latest bundle of joy, you have older daughters. Sometimes teenagers put on this veneer of cynicism and indifference when it comes to things that matter to their parents. Do your daughters take interest in your literary life?
RS: My two elder daughters are far beyond the teenager stage and have their own busy lives, they obviously want their Dad to succeed. However, i write about subjects that neither have an interest, but they support in terms of spreading the word. My third daughter loves that i’m a writer, and to my delight has just won her first writing award at school. The two boys are too young, and making mud pies seems to have their full attention.