S J A Turney and A Year of Ravens

S J A TurneyThis week’s ‘Ravens’ guest is S J A  Turney, author of the well-reviewed Roman legionary series, Marius’ Mules, The Ottoman Cycle and the Interregnum trilogy. His new series The Great Game, begins with Praetorian, published in March 2015. Simon combines a love of travel and history with that of architecture and writing. Since leaving school and University, he’s tried car sales, insurance, software engineering, computer network management, civil service and even painting and decorating!  In 2003 he wrote his first full length novel which started Marius’ Mules. Two years later came Interregnum,  a  fantasy story with a heavy flavour of Rome. Now there are eight Marius Mules and three in the Interregnum series…

But, of course, his latest work was the collaborative A Year of Ravens written  with E. (Eliza) Knight, Ruth Downie, Russell Whitfield, Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray and Vicky Alvear Shecter – seven stories set during Boudica’s revolt in Britain 60/61 AD.

Britannia: land of mist and magic clinging to the western edge of the Roman Empire. A red-haired queen named Boudica led her people in a desperate rebellion against the might of Rome, an epic struggle destined to consume heroes and cowards, young and old, Roman and Briton. A Year of Ravens is a novel in seven parts, overlapping stories of warriors and peacemakers, queens and slaves, Romans and Britons who cross paths during Boudica’s epic rebellion. But who will survive to see the dawn of a new Britannia, and who will fall to feed the ravens?

A Year of Ravens cover‘Ravens’ came out just over two weeks ago and is going like a hot cake. I suggest you buy  it. (Amazon UKAmazon US)

Simon tells the story of Andecarus, the son of a Celtic war leader, who has been fostered by the family of a high Roman official since childhood. It was very much part of the Roman/client ruler relationship that the latter’s children were ‘guests’ of Rome, not just to ensure the former’s compliance but to make the next generation of local rulers fully conversant with and embrace the Roman way. 

Andecarus is such a sympathetic character. His dilemma as a child of two cultures resonates with me. Karen Brown/Carina Mitela experiences similar conflicts, although she makes her decision earlier in her story, although in PERFIDITAS she feels a different dual-pull. Andecarus really does go through the mill in two of the toughest and uncompromising cultures around. But eventually, in the midst of war and rebellion, he has to make a choice.

So here are Simon’s answers to my series questions… 

Why does Boudicca have an enduring attraction?
Boudica stands out in many ways. She is a warrior woman in an almost Amazonian mould in an era when most of our historical figures of note are male, especially in the fields of warfare and politics. She is the underdog, and everyone loves the underdog. She and her Iceni and Trinovante warriors may have been numerous and strong, but counted against the fearsome Roman war machine, which could draw on resources of men and equipment that might have seemed almost infinite at the time, they were always going to be the underdog. And tied into that is the fact that any text you read on her, you know the end is brutal and bitter, so there is a grisly fascination in seeing how it comes about.

And then there is the nationalist aspect. You don’t have to be English, or even British to appreciate Boudica, who shares a place of national pride with figures like Arminius, Vercingetorix and Don Diego de Vivar (El Cid). She represents a final stand of an ancient, chaotic world against a more organized, more modern, more practical one. And, of course, she is a figurehead for all the Celtic peoples. To see how she lives on in the national consciousness, one only needs to look at the statue of her in London. She ticks a box on almost everyone’s wishlist in a heroine.

How did you find working together as a group of authors?
I have thoroughly enjoyed the collaboration. I’ve worked on collaborative efforts before, but only ever with one other writer, and it has been fascinating to see how well a truly deep and complex tale can evolve from the cross-pollination of ideas from seven different authors. At times it can be a little frustrating as several views conflict and need compex resolution, but when that resolution happens and you look back, you can see the improvement in the work that has been born from the discussion. In fact, there has been very little conflict over the book – surprisingly so to my mind.

I kick myself to some extent that, being given what could have been a straightforward section of the story to tell, I expanded the character to the point where he became involved in nearly every part of the overall story, making my part more complex than it should have been, but my co-authors took the character of Andecarus and ran with it, growing and deepening it beyond my wildest dreams, and the result, yet again, is far greater than anything I could have accomplished alone. And that, I think, is part of the joy of working on this, and will be part of the joy of reading it: the inter-connection between the characters, threads and stories that weave in and out create a depth that no single author would achieve. I would say that out of chaos is born a gem, but to be honest, even at the points when I felt my part was becoming chaotic, my co-authors were keeping everything together. Would I do it again? Hell, yes.

What do you think is in it for the reader having such a diversity of author styles?

Oops. Think I might have partially answered this already. The fact is that each author in this work has not only their own writing style, but their own ethos and very individual personality, and it is those that I feel shine through most in the work. With each very different mind-set, each tale has been focused slightly differently and, since they are all based around separate characters, that works well, for the idiosyncrasies and biases of that writer become part of the character. For example, I am a writer of Roman fiction, here telling the tale of a native, albeit a Roman-influenced one. Thus in my tale there are echoes of mighty Rome hovering in the wings at all time. I can’t prevent that. It’s part of me. But it has therefore become part of Andecarus and part of his journey.

Similarly, each writer brings individuality to the story and the character far beyond the writing style. And yet, because of the nature of the collaboration and the cross-pollination of ideas I mentioned earlier, those very separate themes and characters have been tied together in an intricate yet strong web. The reader here is being treated to a single story – one of the most important uprisings in either British or Roman history, but he or she is also being given the opportunity to see it through seven very different perspectives, and that to a great extent removes the bias you would naturally get with one viewpoint.

Will there be another book focusing on a different event?
I am positive there will be another. Whether or not I am one of the lucky few who get to contribute will depend upon a great number of different factors, such as workload, availability of contributors, whether or not the subject matter is suitable. For me, if the theme is right, I would love nothing more than to work on another book with this fine bunch (and maybe some of those I missed from The Day of Fire, too.) I would love to explore a few different eras and milieu. It may be a touchy subject, but Roman Judea and the Biblical epic is a fascinating subject. The fall of Jerusalem and the siege of Masada too appeal. The great fire of London has possibilities, as well as reconquista of Spain. There are so many stories waiting to be told, some of which would be vastly improved by being given this sort of treatment that I can only see the H Team’s work having only just begun…

Thank you, Simon!

Publication date was 17 November and you can order from Amazon UK and Amazon US now.

Simon very kindly hosted the Roma Nova box set on his blog and reviewed INCEPTIO – do pop over and read them!


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO. The fourth book, AURELIA and the Roma Nova box set are now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines…

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