Author Interview with Nick Brown
Last year I was introduced to the first book of Nick Brown's Agent of Rome series: The Siege and I was very impressed. It was my first Roman fiction book, of course we all know the Roman times from the movies or series like gladiator or 300. But actually reading about it was just as or even more rewarding than watching a movie. Nick Brown's Agent of Rome does capture the essence of fighting but also steers into a yet unexplored area, the Roman secret service the frumentarii. Unfortunately I hadn't had the chance to read the second book The Imperial Banner, but The Far Shore made up for it big time. Recently there was an announcement that mentions that three more books will be added to the series over the course of 2014 till 2016, I have high hopes for them!
to Douglas Hill and JRR Tolkien, and from there to Ian Fleming, Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton. After three years studying in Brighton, he travelled to Nepal where he worked at an orphanage and trekked to Mount Everest. After qualifying as a history teacher in 2000, he worked for five years in England before taking up a post at an international school in Warsaw.
Nick had completed a few screenplays and a futuristic thriller before being inspired to try historical fiction after reading C.J. Sansom’s Dissolution: “Researching the Roman army and life in the third century was a fascinating but time-consuming project and the book went through many drafts before arriving at its final form. I had always intended Cassius to be a somewhat atypical protagonist and when I came across the research about the Roman ‘secret service’, I knew I’d found an ideal vocation for my reluctant hero.”
BP: First off could you tell us a bit more about who Nick is? What are you likes, dislikes, hobbies and how did you became an author?
NB: I had always written – as a kid I was a voracious reader, as a student I was always watching films; and I suppose I just love stories. It was probably inevitable that at some point I would try my hand. I became an author after writing a few screenplays and novels then spending five years on The Siege and eventually getting an agent - who sold it to my publisher. My main hobbies are the cinema, reading (obviously!) playing football and hanging out with my friends. A few likes – beer of all kinds, poker, “The Sopranos”, “Breaking Bad”, Queens of the Stone Age. Dislikes – British TV drama, people with dangerous dogs, Mumford & Sons!
BP: What gave you the inspiration to write the Agent of Rome series?
NB: The prime inspiration was the research – finding out about the frumentarii gave me a great opportunity to create a series exploring all the facets of the “grain-men” and their work as Roman agents.
BP: Writing a story based on historical facts can pose quite a challenge, did you have to carry out intensive research to get certain facts straight?
NB: Certainly, although we don’t know a great deal about exactly how the “agents” worked from day to day. What we do know is the type of work they were involved in. My take on it is a “creative leap”; an interpretation that some might approve of and some might criticize. But in terms of the detail of Roman life, I do everything I can to ensure accuracy. Research is very time–consuming but immensely rewarding.
BP: You’re three books into the series, has the story gone the direction you wanted it to initially go, or would you like to redo several scenes?
NB: Bringing in Cassius ‘s bodyguard Indavara in the second book has had a major impact. Their relationship (and the trio they form with Cassius’s servant Simo) is the heart of the series. I don’t think there is much I would redo but ask me again in five years and my answer might be very different!
BP: You have gotten many positive reviews about your books, would you have guessed that the Agent of Rome series would so well received?
NB: It’s always a nerve-wracking time when books are published and reviews come in. I’ve been very lucky so far that readers and reviewers have supported the series and comments have been overwhelmingly positive. A book requires a huge amount of effort and is a very personal thing so it’s natural to feel very defensive and protective but you can’t please all the people all the time! Hearing that readers have enjoyed the stories gives me a real boost as I continue work on the rest of the series.
BP: There are quite a few books that represent the Roman fiction category, where do you think your books draw there strength from?
NB: The Roman empire was so vast and enduring that I think there are endless stories to be told. I value books for sheer escapism and hopefully the series offers that.
BP: Unfortunately I haven’t read The Imperial Banner but The Far Shore feature nicely as a stand-alone in the series, did you write this intentionally to let people hop in mid sentence? Or did this just happen to be?
NB: I think it’s important that readers can pick up any one of the series and enjoy it as a one off but I do think their experience would be enhanced by reading all the books, in order if possible. If they enjoy one, I’m pretty sure they’d enjoy the others, if not – so be it!
BP: Did you encounter any specific problem in writing the Agent of Rome series?
NB: I wouldn’t call it a problem but it’s difficult to overstate the work involved in taking a “finished” draft to the point where I’m completely happy with it. Editing is very time-consuming but absolutely essential if you want to fulfill your original vision.
BP: What was your biggest challenge in writing The Far Shore?
NB: Probably the nautical scenes. I have some experience of sailing and I did a lot of research but I really wanted to capture what life was like for passengers and crew in the ancient world. Hopefully those scenes are successful; I certainly enjoyed writing them.
BP: you invest a lot of time and effort in making your characters seem just like you and I, very human, but not letting them overwhelm the story. Do you find it hard to write them in this manner?
NB: Great question. It is always a challenge to create realistic, compelling characters. I wouldn’t say I find it particularly hard but I do invest a lot of time in it. As you suggest, in this type of book you have to strike a balance and while character is important so is pace and plot. But without protagonists who the reader can identify with/be interested in/care about, you don’t really have anywhere to go.
BP: Though Cassius’ character is great to read about and it the perfect protagonist, I was very pleased with how you showed the overall development of Indavara’s character. But it feels like his story hasn’t been told just yet. Do you have any favorite character in the series?
NB: Indavara is great fun to write, partly because he is so different to Cassius, and of course this creates an interesting dynamic between them. I couldn’t pick a favourite but I also enjoy writing Abascantius - Cassius’s sleazy, ruthless superior.
BP: What do you like most about writing fantasy?
NB: I wouldn’t call what I do fantasy, though my plots are mostly invented. By fitting my stories “between” the known facts, I avoid having to either stick to what we know or change it.
BP: Luckily for us there are three new planned additions to the Agent of Rome series, can you tell a bit what you have in store for the reader?
NB: Cassius et al will continue their travels around the Empire and will have to face some very personal difficulties as well as the assignments thrown their way. I am just finishing the fourth book and will be starting the fifth before too long.
BP: Do you have any other projects that you would like to pursue in the future?
NB: There are several potential projects in the mix – some historical fiction, some not. Time will tell!
BP: and lastly if you would have to recommend your five favourite books which would they be.
NB: Not sure I can give a definitive five but these are certainly favourites of mine:
The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien.
The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins.
Where Eagles Dare, Alistair Maclean.
The Heroes, Joe Abercrombie.
Moonfleet, J Meade Falkner.
BP: Thank you for your time Nick and good luck with writing the books to come.
My pleasure. Many thanks, Nick.
Find out more about Nick Brown's books and writing:
by visiting his website www.nickbrownauthor.com
or find him on twitter @randomrome
The Agent of Rome series is published by Hodder and Stoughton
The Agent of Rome series is published by Hodder and Stoughton
My reviews of The Agent of Rome series can be found here: