Guest Post: How I Began Writing My Book (As told by a real live author!)

A guest post from me for Write Through the Night. It’s all about my research techniques and writing intentions behind Escapades in Bizarrchaeology (don’t worry, it’s way more interesting than it sounds. Honest).

Write Through the Night

Today, I have the pleasure of introducing author Adrian Burrows to the blog!  He has written an incredible comical history book called Escapades in Bizarrchaeology, a story which follows protagonist Max Vitrus on his unusual journey through history.  Guaranteed to make even non-history lovers fall in love, it most certainly seems like a book everyone should read!  Adrian was kind enough to tell us about how he decided to first start writing, the research process, and developing the unique story that he has written today!  Already know you want the book and don’t want to scroll through the interview?  Head to Amazon or Waterstones right now

Handing Over the Microphone…

When I first decided to write a humorous history book my first thoughts conjured up an elaborate fantasy, it was of myself conducting research, clad in a thick wool jumper, with horn rimmed glasses perched upon my nose (possibly smoking…

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Book Review: Escapades in Bizzarcheology by Adrian Burrows.

Thanks for the review Josh!

Adventures In Historyland

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Length: 168 pages
Publisher: Williams & Whiting
ISBN: 9781911266280

http://williamsandwhiting.com/books/escapades-in-bizarrchaeology-by-adrian-burrows/

Hemingway, (or was it Chandler?) used to wrestle with his opening sentence and would not continue until he got it perfect. Given their respective brevity I can therefore imagine that Adrian Burrows must have toiled long and hard with his opener. Man that’s an introduction! It’s long and perfectly describes what I tend to do when I wander thoughtfully through a bookshop. My eyes scan, scorching each shelf with a critical glare, my head turns methodically, often with a birdlike twitch as I go. If he hasn’t captured my personal bibliophilic quirks, then he has certainly got what I do when I open a book. The item in question has a sort of fantasy, steam punk, adventure feel to the cover, it’s small and is littered with accompanying images.

The question remains however, does this book live up to the…

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Escapades in Bizarrchaeology – On sale now!

eib-front-cover

The history book for people who don’t like history… yet!

Captain Max Virtus has spent his life Excavating the Extraordinary and Unearthing the Unusual, Gathering the history of the Bizarre to exhibit in his Warehouse of Bizarrchaeology.
Now you have the opportunity to take a guided tour of his life’s work, in this, his personal journal (you know, the book you’re holding in your hands).
Discover why bats were used as bombs, how an emu can defeat a tank, the reason that guns were installed in cemeteries and how you can get shot with an arrow… and survive.

All this… and then things get really weird.

Take History to the Max

 

Paperback Version Available for £7.99 from

Amazon

Waterstones

 

 

Music to Write Books By – Adrian Burrows

crimepieces

9781911266280-424x600This is the  final post in this series where writers have been sharing the music they write to. Today I have Adrian Burrows who has written a  history book for people who don’t like history – yet. In Escapades in Bizarrchaeology you can discover why bats were used as bombs, how an emu can defeat a tank, the reason why guns were installed in cemetries … and how you can get shot with an arrow … and survive.

Hi Adrian do you have particular pieces of music you write to?

My favoured way of listening to music is by being surprised. Now by this I’m not suggesting that my undersized man servant (who is trained in martials arts of course) leaps out of my fridge freezer to karate chop me in the back of the neck whilst I listen to some Beethoven. Instead I mean that I find a mood list on Spotify, set it to…

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Bullets in a Pot, a.k.a. Repeaters & Pork, an authentic WWI recipe

A Guest Post for Max Virtus. I’ll allow the good captain to explain more.

 

A little while back I challenged the legendary Leisel to concoct one of her ingeniously inventive recipes that tied into a historical theme.

Don’t forget the tastes of cultures have varied significantly over the years. An examples of this? Back in the 1800s prisoners used to be force fed lobster, which was considered a cruel and unusual torture. How times have changed, at my seafood restaurant (what… you DON’T have a seafood restaurant?), we charge £90 for a lobster (and that’s just to pull it out of the fish tank, if you want to eat it dead we charge an extra £50. How else could I possibly fund my Warehouse of Bizarrchaeolgy?)

Anyhow, she managed to combine World War 1, video games and ammunition to create ‘Bullets in a Pot’.

Don’t know what that is? Then I’ll let Skill Up Skillet illuminate!

Skill Up Skillet

Difficulty2Valiant Hearts: The Great War

A bit over a month ago I was contacted by the illustrious Captain Max Virtus of Escapades in Bizarrchaeology asking if I would be interested in digging up some bizarre foods eaten by WWI soldiers in the trenches. I thought this would be an excellent opportunity as A. I rather enjoy history; and B. I consider myself to be something of an expert in digging. Why, you may well ask? Once upon a time, I was an amateur grave digger. Quite the leap from computer work, no? Allow me to explain:

My freshman history teacher was something of a legend in the school. Tenacious, passionate, and mildly eccentric about getting his students to pay attention in class. Let me tell you, when your teacher steals a Barbie doll from his daughter, fills its head with fake blood, and ‘chops’ her head off with a…

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The Bizarrchaeology Interview: Douglas Jackson

Max Virtus, Captain of Bizarrchaeology, interviews Douglas Jackson, author of awesome historical fiction.

 

Sometimes, whilst in Virtus Castle, I like nothing more than tuck up in my Magnetic Floating Bed (embedded inside the chrome frame are 1500lbs magnets, which keep me hovering above the floor like an extra from Back to the Future 2) pull the plush duvet up to my chin and read a good book.

And few books come better than the Gaius Valerius Verrens series written by the author Douglas Jackson.

For those who haven’t had the delight of casting their eyeballs over the selection of words written in a certain order that detail the adventures of the ‘Hero of Rome’, then you are most certainly missing out. Deftly combining historical fact with intriguing fiction, the series of books manages to be both illuminating and thrilling.

And making Historical Fiction thrilling is a challenge in and of itself, especially when the ending has already happened (and anyone can visit Wikipedia and read massive spoilers even before the book is released).

So, as you can imagine I was rather excited to have the opportunity to interview the main man himself, when he visited the warehouse, and we chatted all things historical fiction.  Here’s what he had to say.

Hi Douglas, thanks for joining me in the plush confines of my warehouse of Bizarrchaeology, I hope you didn’t find the moat, pit traps and barbed wire tipped walls too difficult to navigate on your way here?

Fortunately I had my chain link armour on so the pit traps and barbed wire weren’t too much of a problem, but I had to hold my breath for a long time at the bottom of the moat. By the way, did you know you have the wreck of the Titanic down there?

I’d forgotten that was down there! Thanks for the memory jogger, I’ll have to retrieve it for a future Escapade in Bizarchaeology. You’d think I would have remembered it was there seeing as I left it next to Atlantis, talking of Ancient cities, what led you to set your Gaius Valerius Verrens books in Ancient Rome (other than the fact that Verrens is a Roman, obviously)?

I actually landed in Rome by mistake. As a journalist, I’d been out for lunch with a writer friend who said ‘You should write a book I bet it would be really gritty.’ I had a thought and decided why not give it a go. On the way home that night in the car I was racking my mind for a subject for the great novel. Write what you know? What I knew was work, eat, sleep, family – and repeat; pretty mundane stuff. Okay, I thought, write what you love. I’ve always loved history and I happened to be listening to Simon Schama’s History of Britain on CD and the narrator Timothy West intoned: ‘And the Emperor Claudius rode in triumph upon his elephant in Colchester to take the surrender of eleven British kings.’ A big lightbulb went off in my head – I’ll tell the story of the first elephant every to land in Britain. That revelation led to a book called The Emperor’s Elephant, which eventually became my debit Caligula and the follow up Claudius. I had a third book, but Transworld decided two was enough for that series and my editor asked me to come up with a more main stream hero. During my research I’d stumbled on a story about the two hundred odds and sods the procurator Catus Decianus sent to reinforce Colchester/Camulodunum as Boudicca’s horde came the other way. I thought it would be interesting to tell the story of the officer who led them, and Gaius Valerius Verrens was born.

Recently I delved into discovering who were the Top 3 Terrible Roman Emperors of all time. With your extensive knowledge of both Caligula and Nero, who would you say was the cruellest of the Emperors and why?

I’d have to say Caligula, because his violence was so unpredictable, random and, dare I say, imaginative. When the jails were full and he needed more space for the aristocrats he was planning to disinherit so he could take their money, he came up with the novel solution of feeding them to wild beasts in the arena for the delectation of the mob. As far as I know he was the first Emperor to do that. There’s a scene in Caligula where my hero Rufus’s old boss, Fronto, is invited to dinner and then beaten to the brink of death with chains. In the book, Caligula keeps him sitting at the table for two nights to see his guests’ reaction. The idea for that scene came directly from Suetonius’ Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Suetonius says the animal trainer was actually kept there for three nights, but I thought people would think that was a bit far fetched. In this case truth was definitely stranger than fiction.

One particular moment of pure Emperor Nero evilness occurred in ‘Avenger of Rome’. Nero had constructed (well, his slaves had) what can only be described as a death dealing fun house. A life size doll house with no façade, ‘volunteers’ were forced to rush through the various levels to try to find treasure, at the same time as attempting to avoid premature death due to the building being on fire. Was this sequence based on historical fact? Did this ‘Fun House’ actually exist? If so, where can I get on for my Warehouse of Bizarrchaeology?

I try to base as much of my books as possible on fact, and the scene is based on a play by Afranius called The Fire which Nero sponsored at the Theatre of Pompey and gave free matinée performances for the public. The backdrop was a house that caught fire. I just though what would a man like Nero do to spice things up, and came up with the world’s first game show, only with a deadly and incendiary twist.

The level of historical detail in your books is outstanding, what methods do you use to research them?

I try to create a situation where the reader experiences the history as Valerius sees it. I’ll only describe a building if it’s new to him, or if it has a story that stirs some memory, and it’s the same with events. I found an old review of Sword of Rome from a reader who enjoyed the book, but slightly grudgingly said: ‘There wasn’t a lot of history, but it was a good quick read.’ It made me want to shout out ‘All the bloody history was there, you just didn’t notice it because it was woven into the story.’ I could have poured reams of unnecessary detail into the books, but it gets in the way of the narrative. My goal is to create a real world that contains all the detail necessary to the people who experience it. I don’t have a methodology as such, but I’ve learned that you don’t have to know every tiny detail about the period before you begin a book. I’m fortunate these days that I’ve been immersed in the Roman world for so long that it feels natural to walk the streets, see what people are wearing, smell what they eat and hear the clamour of their voices. Or to stand in the blood and guts of the battle line with the weight of the armour on your shoulders and your arm on fire from the weight of the scutum. Nowadays I’ll write until I reach something I don’t know and, probably because of my journalistic background, I’m usually able to get the detail of it very quickly.

What is the weirdest historical fact that you have discovered whilst researching your books?

I’m not sure if it’s weird or not, but when the future (short-lived) Emperor Vitellius set off to take up the post of Governor of Germania, he pinched Julius Caesar’s sword from the Temple of Mars Ultor because he thought it would make him a better general. I portrayed Vitellius as a fat man with a big heart and I think I liked him most of all my Emperors.

If Ancient Rome had never existed, what period of history would you base your next work of fiction on and why?

That’s a tough question. I’d love to do an alternative Arthurian series because the story and the characters are so fascinating, but Bernard Cornwell has done it so brilliantly that there’s no point really.  The HF genre is incredibly congested with talented writers that just about ever period is being covered and finding an age which is well known enough to be commercial that also offers an opportunity to take a fresh look at great events is going to be difficult. That said I’ve just completed a book set in World War Two, so possibly that’s the answer.

If I had just invented a time machine and gave it to you for a test drive, where would you go and what would you do for the next 24 hours (obviously if you had a time machine then 24 hours would no longer be any sort of restriction… but if you could ignore that sizeable question hole that would be great)?

I’d nip over to Gallipoli exactly a century ago and tell my grandad to keep his head down or twist his ankle and not take part in the 1/4 Kings Own Scottish Borderers attack on Ache Baba where he was disfigured for life by a Turkish bullet, but I know he’d still have gone over the top with his mates. More than four hundred Borderers were killed in about half an hour on July 12 1915 leaving a dozen small towns in mourning. Maybe the answer would be to put a bullet in Sir Ian Hamilton who ordered the pointless attack and later blamed the high casualties on ‘over-enthusiasm’. Later, I’d head for Gettysburg in 1863 and watch events unfold. It’s always fascinated me that a general as clever as Robert E Lee could have allowed himself to be sucked into a battle that was unwinnable from the start.

You are holding an important soiree, which historical figures would definitely be on your guest list and who would be getting beaten up outside by the bouncer?  

I’d like to have a chat with Hitler and Stalin, but Churchill could stay out in the cold. The attack on the Dardanelles was his idea and was always destined to be one of the most futile, bloody stalemates in history.

And finally, can you give us any insight or gentle spoilers with regards your upcoming projects?

My next Gaius Valerius Verrens adventure, Scourge of Rome, is out on August 30. It’s set in Judaea in 70AD at the time of the siege of Jerusalem with Valerius at the heart of the action as epic events unfold, and full of fascinating characters like the future emperor Titus, his lover, Berenice, and the duplicitous Jewish historian Flavius Josephus.

Thanks very much for your time Doug, I’ll leave you to find your own way out. Just watch out for the lions. And the boulder trap. And the lasers. And the Hippos. And the ballista. And the Chinese Fire Lances. And the Tsar Tank. And the Ninjas. In fact… just watch out.

You’re very welcome Max. Some cracking questions there. Now, where did I leave that time machine?

You can discover more about the novels of Douglas Jackson at his website http://www.douglas-jackson.net/

You can also tweet him over at twitter @Dougwriter

And you can check out his Amazon Author Page too!

How Pompeii was the film Pompeii?

Max Virtus shares his thoughts on the film ‘Pompeii’

 

Someone took his sleeves. Now he’s going to get them back.

Pompeii was a disaster. And the volcano was pretty bad too.

In the Virtus estate I have a 5D (we can’t see or sense the other 2 dimensions but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t there) Imax triple deck cinema screen. Sat there upon my super comfy luxury faux leather seat, slushy in hand, I watch a variety of historically based films. It always makes me think, how historically accurate was that film? How many films take certain decisions and alter history in order to pursue the progress of narrative, develop characters or create additional tension and suspense?

For example, there weren’t just 300 scantily clad Spartans defending the pass of Thermopylae as the film ‘300’ would suggest. In fact there were some 5000 hoplites battling the Persians (but why ruin a good story)? On the flip side, to all those who declare that there was no J. Dawson aboard the Titanic you would be wrong, there was a J.Dawson… Joseph Dawson (his grave at Fairview Lawn in Nova Scotia is the most visited in the cemetery).

So how historically accurate was the 2014 film Pompeii? How Pompeii was Pompeii? Let’s find out (be warned, there are major spoilers in this escapade, spoilers so severe that there will be no need for you to watch Pompeii. Which might not be a bad thing).

Why won’t you run for your lives?!

Pompeii was the ancient Roman equivalent of a holiday resort, a place to go to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city and chill out as your favorite slave peeled you a grape. But why exactly would you build your holiday home a few miles from an active volcano in the first place? Unfortunately, the original settlers had no idea that Vesuvius was active (or even a volcano for that matter) the last time this mountain with a hole erupted before 79AD was 1800BC, which destroyed all the nearby bronze age settlements and left no clues for the city builders that hanging around in the shadow of a volcano was a really, really bad idea.

In fact, the word ‘Volcano’ didn’t even exist until after Vesuvius erupted. People didn’t know that they would need a word to describe a death-dealing mountain (the world Volcano comes from Vulcan. Nope, not a pointy eared, bowl cut haired alien with flexible fingers but the Roman god of fire).

Which means that the very odd behaviour of the citizens of Pompeii in the film makes absolutely perfect sense.

On first watch it’s difficult to understand why no one seems particularly panicked about the earthquakes, sink holes and boiling hot ponds popping up around the city. Surely that would serve as a warning that you should start running now (maybe not running, walking would have been fine. Contrary to the rapid destruction of Pompeii portrayed in the film by ash clouds, fire balls and tidal waves, which occurred quicker than you can say ‘What is wrong with Jack Bauer’s accent?’ there would have been about 12 hours from when the Volcano started erupting to the first pyroclastic surges, plenty of time to walk the 6 to 8 hour distance to the relative safety of Capo di Sorrento in the south).

Milo (played by Kit Harrington’s abs) even goes for a horse ride around the destruction caused by these earthquakes with his romantic love interest Cassia, and doesn’t think of muttering his discovery to anyone in the city (Milo always mutters, no matter the dramatic or dangerous situation he’s involved in. Being attacked by a Gladiator? He mutters. Being chased by lava? He mutters. Running away from an unstoppable flaming conflagration of death? He mutters). But now it makes perfect sense.

The reason that no one was panicking and running away prior to the eruption? The citizens of Pompeii didn’t know they had anything to panic about.

See I told you, absolutely nothing to worry about.

Jack Bauer on a chariot

Senator Bauer. So evil he even gratifies models of buildings.

Senator Jack Bauer is the villain of the film. His despicable plan? Quite frankly I couldn’t even tell you. His machinations rapidly swapping between wanting to kill Milo, steal Cassia and doing something evil with Pompeii. Either way the film seeks to imply that the reason that Senator Bauer is so outrageously naughty, is that he is allowed to be so by the terrible, cruel and corrupt Roman Emperor Titus. Now, there were some splendidly awful Roman Emperors (have a peek at my escapade ‘The 3 Worst Roman Emperors’ for the full breakdown) but Emperor Titus was not one of them. Titus put an end to the constant trials of people who had spoken out or disagreed with the current Emperor, he even managed to go his entire reign without killing a single senator (which considering the senator slaying machines that were the previous Emperors, is pretty impressive). As Emperor he became known for his generosity, and the historian Suetonius states that when Titus had realised that he had managed to go an entire day without helping anyone he said, “Friends, I have lost a day.’

Titus visited Pompeii twice after the volcano erupted, donating huge amounts of his own personal fortune and that of the imperial treasury to assist the survivors (he also did the same the following year when a fire broke out in Rome and caused heavy damage to several regions). And when Titus learnt that his brother was plotting against him he REFUSED to have him banished of killed.

So the fact that the writers heavily implied that Emperor Titus executed dissenters and confiscated their property was completely made up. Just so you know.

No one knows exactly how he fit that four horse chariot through the narrow streets of Pompeii.

Later in the film Senator Bauer has stolen Cassia and is fleeing with her in his chariot at full pelt through the streets of Pompeii. Which is completely impossible. The streets of Pompeii, on a normal day, were awash with horse manure (which is why there were stepping-stones to allow you to cross the road, otherwise a sandal wearing citizen would find poo embedded around their tootsies whilst out on a stroll) so there is no way that a chariot could achieve any sort of speed across a river of faeces, let alone a river of faeces filled with bodies and rubble.

There were no Stone Statues

An inappropriate time for a smooch.

After having realised that there is no escaping the destruction wrought by Vesuvius, Milo and Cassia decide to have a dramatic kiss as the flames and smoke spewed from deep with the Earth wash over them. The burning heat transforms them into ash like statues forever held in an eternal embrace.

Now it is not the couple holding one another that I am disputing the historical accuracy of, as a couple were found doing just that by archaeologists (now known as ‘The Lovers of Pompeii’). Rather it’s the idea that the heat from a volcano magically turns people into statues like a giant Tony Hart, and that all the statues of the victims of Pompeii were formed in such a way.

Instead the statues that you can now see when visiting Pompeii were plaster casts created by the Italian excavator Fiorelli about 150 years ago. How was the possible? The heat from the Volcano was just enough to kill people without burning their clothes or flesh. The ash then fell and buried the bodies which over time decomposed but not before the ash became hardened around them. This led to people shaped holes, which Fiorelli then filled with liquid plaster, allowed to harden and then chipped away the ash. The end result was the statues of Ancient Romans frozen in states of panic and fear. Undoubtedly haunting but not created by magical firey smoke like the film makes would have you believe.

In Conclusion

So, just how Pompeii was Pompeii? I give it a 5 out of 10 on my historicalmeter (yes, the historicalmeter is a real thing. It’s got dials, cogs, levers and everything. And no, I couldn’t think of a better name for it). Which means it did better than Cleopatra but not nearly as well as Gladiator. Have you seen Pompeii? Firstly, I’m Sorry. Secondly, let me know what you thought in the comments below.

Until next time Bizarrchaeologists.