It is one of the questions I ask myself all the time; “Why didn’t I start with a smaller book?”
Well, in truth, I did…it was only supposed to be about 600-700 pages (big enough, the average is 200-300), but has now transformed into something else…as it is, it is 1,100 pages and two volumes, which once campaign and battle maps and pictures are added, will both be about 900-1,000 pages long!
It is one of the biggest problems when writing something such as military history, to make sure you haven’t missed anything. Too often the books you read are really just ‘Chinese whispers’ passed on from one historian to another until this “Set of lies agreed upon” (as Napoleon termed ‘History’) becomes ‘established fact.’
The problem with this ‘established fact’ is that it becomes the bastion of the publishers and the ‘old guard’ of the authors. If you contradict it then sorry, but you are obviously wrong and open to ridicule. Just look at the book “Waterloo – New perspectives” – the author of that book got annihilated!
The book I am writing right now is one such book: It stands ‘established history’ on its head and says “This is what really happened” – and of course, you need to prove your case. This takes detail and study, a lot of quotes from those who were there and typically a lot of research. The older sources are often the best for this, as they remain untainted by those stating what is now ‘established fact’ – and this is a lot of books, a lot of reading and a lot of writing.
They say, when writing a book such as this, that you should have a plan. Understand what you are trying to convey and how long it will be, then stick to it. I have flouted these rules by necessity. In truth, what I had in mind completely changed as I went on and understood more….and that takes more writing to explain and justify.
Take the concept which has been ‘established fact’ from the likes of Jomini, Clausewitz, Petre, Spencer Wilkinson, Lloyd, Liddell-Hart and others right up to David Chandler – that Napoleon invented nothing new in the art of war. When I started my book, which looks in depth at the development of Napoleon’s art of war, this was something which I understood as fact. The truth? – Yes, he did, and for 200 years, nobody has seen it.
So you just try telling everyone for 200 years that they were wrong and you were right! It’s a bit like trying to convince people that the earth was round, not flat – it’s a death sentence on grounds of blasphemy!
The thing is with History though, is that my concept is exactly what it is all about. The word ‘History’ does not mean ‘Established Fact’ but ‘Enquiry’. Herodotus (the world’s first historian) invented the word, and this is exactly what it means. Looking back, questioning your beliefs and those of others and saying something new – or at least proving whatever it is that you do say.
I am deliberately cagey about the contents and method of my book, barring that it focuses upon Napoleon and will shake the established world of military history more than the battle of Austerlitz ever did. But the truth is that I never meant to…it just happened! The real sting in the tail – the bit where we discover the secret which has eluded and fooled everyone for 200 years was not the point I ever set out to make, but suddenly it was there, with me running around fetching up various books and maps and shouting up to Napoleon himself; “You clever bastard! You did, didn’t you? Clever, clever bastard!”
Well that takes a lot of explaining and re-writing, new research and proving your case. It was never going to be small, nor will it be cheap, I’m afraid to say (the print costs look frightening) but then to know what nobody else knows…what price that?
I have another 40 books in the works or in the planning already. My second book is mostly written whilst the first is still some months from completion (at the most optimistic guess) – but by now it has to be right. Some kid in three hundred years’ time will read this as I read my own 300 year-old books and will assume I am right – so I have to be.
I anticipate that I will upset people with this book, but big deal…this is history.
So why didn’t I start with a smaller book? – Because I set out to make history, and as Napoleon himself said; “Geese go in gaggles, eagles fly alone.”
Watch this space and save up…it’s going to be a shocker!