I thought I might drop in an update on ‘what’s in the works’ for me right now, as it has been a little while. Books, as we know, are my life and sadly for me (and to coin and ancient history nerd’s own joke) I am like Pyrrhus of Epirus – starts brilliant, middle gets interesting…never quite finishes!
That said, it looks like a lot of good things are coming to fruition right now, with no less than ten books in the works and at various stages of completion from ‘almost there’ to ‘just starting’, ‘half done but on the shelf’ and the invariable ‘I promise I will come back to it’ – I have promised myself that I will have at least three out before I even contemplate another one!
So what’s in the works, you might ask? Well I’m going in all sorts of directions right now and am, by necessity, keeping a few cards a little close to my chest. Sadly, the writing game is full of thieving little wotsits who would nick your idea as soon as look at you (how they get the time is beyond me!) well here goes:
#1 Falklands Project
Still bandying about with titles, so these are just going to go by ‘Project names’ right now. This was a real roller-coaster, which began as a blog post…then two and finally three, until it grew legs! Currently I am working with the Royal Marines veterans of Naval Party 8901 as well as Falkland Islanders and now even Argentine veterans to bring the first ever account of the British stand in the Falklands against overwhelming odds, taking from a myriad of brand-new first-hand accounts from all sides.Think of it as a double-ended ‘Band of Brothers’ tale from the Falklands with a bit of Rorke’s Drift thrown in. A fascinating account which explores the untold tale of the Falklands War. Written in conjunction with co-author Andy Macdonald, and drawing on hundreds of previously unpublished accounts from all sides military and civilian, this will see the Falklands War re-written and a small band of forgotten heroes will take their rightful place in the history books. More importantly than anything else, this is the most fun project I have ever done, for one simple reason. For once, there heroes are alive! And what an amazing bunch of guys they are!
#2 Hannibal Project
So much for my old adage “I don’t do ancient history” – that failed miserably! However there was a reason for this book coming out. It had been two and a half years in intensive study and research which began with a question, as all history books should. As ever, it was an idle ‘I wonder’ question which led me to uncovering something rather unique in the career of Hannibal – for my money the cleverest, sneakiest military commander who ever lived. If I said to the right person ‘Hannibal fought a battle you don’t know about’ they might get excited. And it is amazing that, between the sheer amount of history covering the battles of Trebbia, Trasimene, Cannae and some other quite small and often unknown ones, that one should have gone missing somewhere. Until I found it. Cut to a meeting with the incomparable Dr Tony Pollard at the centre for Battlefield Archaeology, Glasgow University who was sold on the idea and we have a whole new battle which changes the face of everything we knew about Hannibal. Oddly, Tony’s next project is in the Falklands and as chance happened upon me, so was mine. This book, already quite large, is rapidly taking shape…then I wrote a blog post about the Falklands. It is coming!!
#3 Caesar Project
Along with “I don’t do ancient history” came another crazy thought; “I don’t do Romans.” I mean, Romans are just a bit boring aren’t they? So tactically perfect and strategically uninventive that every battle is like grabbing a cat and seeing what happens if you run over it with a steamroller! Same result every time! There are, however, one or two exceptions and for me, Caesar was the man. The first commander to ever fight fifty battles, a titanic statesman and a name which will outlive his current legacy tenfold still. What fascinates me about Caesar the most is that he was the first actual commanding general to write his memoirs. Okay we have Xenophon’s ‘Anabassis’ but he was a sort of Captain as such (okay and tactical genius) – but Caesar’s Commentaries always fascinated me. Officially, of course, there are two ‘Bello de Gallico’ and ‘Bello de Civili’ (the Gallic War and the Civil War for the layman) and to us buffs we know there are five. And here begins 2,000 years of literary warfare! Who wrote the others? What proof do we have? Can they be trusted? How do we go from Book 1 – the masterpiece of Latin literature still learned today to Book 5 – ‘the single worst book in Latin literature ever written’?? So for the first time we have all of them. Added to which are the ‘approved’ addendums and inclusions over the centuries…the full amount for the first time ever. a two-part book, we explore the full amount of the the Commentaries and also a war which has raged between writers and historians for 2,000 years. Oh yes and there are battle maps….lots and lots of battle maps! – Currently completed and in with the graphic designers for the last ‘pretty up’ the man who doesn’t do ancient and definitely doesn’t do Roman is shaking up a bit of ancient Roman history! – Out soon!
#4-10 Napoleon Project
Seven books on Napoleon? – Yes…I admit it. There’s a huge bust of him above my bed! However this isn’t a rehash of old stuff. Nobody could top David Chandler and I wouldn’t try either! But like it or not, Napoleon fought more battles than any man ever apart from one (Suvurov – whose dying wish was that he had fought Napoleon) and almost each one was some kind of masterpiece or monolith of ‘how to do it’. So how did he do it? – Seems a fair question to me! What resulted was seven volumes of military doctrine; of battles, campaigns, wars and you name it where the master of warfare shows us how it should be done and always referencing back to what he learned, who from and exactly how he applied it. This started as one book, then two…then I gave up; it was going to be seven. I finished book seven on December 23rd 2013 and on the last page I found something – completely by accident. Anyone who knows the Little Corporal’s memoirs knows that they are a sack load of tripe filled with self-aggrandisement, and I make no defence of that. Because he wrote them in a sort of code. It was a throw-away statement I made which I thought “Hmm…better check that again” which led to a new discovery. Sweating profusely and turning pages and exclaiming with every turn of the page “You clever, clever bastard!” realised that I had just broken Napoleon’s final code. Forget Scobell. The substantive rewrites and checking of information has taken an age, but we are getting there, and Napoleon’s code holds up at every test. This is something nobody has seen for 200 years and the worst of it is turning up a dozen or more taunts from him where he tells people like me “There’s something more and you’ll never find it!” – So all seven exist, a relative of the Emperor’s (and indeed of half the people in the book) has read it over for me and has approved it…but it still needs work. Someone from West Point was interested too…I’ll have to dig his number out again one day.
So there’s me…on my tenth book, not one on the shelf yet but so much more coming, and coming soon! Finding battlefields, breaking codes, debunking 2,000 year-old arguments and teaching myself how to draw battle maps. At nearly forty, I guess I have to keep going now! (Oh yes if anyone has any cash, please give generously, it’s a wonder I haven’t starved to death!) – and trust me there are thirty-odd more books in the works until I collapse with senility.
It is a curse and a blessing for which I blame my Mum; an avid military history reader who started me on the path with ‘Sharpe’ and who bought me my first ever military history book (Wellington’s Regiments by Ian Fletcher – a great book, I stall have it and speak to Ian frequently) my first-edition of Chandler’s ‘The Campaigns of Napoleon’ and started a military history library of over 3,000 books. This great lady passed to the ‘Big C’ in 2003 leaving me a wish to write military history after I wrote a few bits and read it to her at her bedside…what a curse to give a son!
I suppose this is why I do it…people pass on, but these heroes – Napoleon, Caesar, Hannibal and these wonderful Royal Marines, deserve to live for ever. I get to live amongst superheroes. Wouldn’t you give up the day job?