A long, long time ago, in what sometimes seems like a different world, I sat down, full of passion, to write the book that eventually became ‘Killer of Men.’ And today, in a coffee shop, I sat down to write the last lines in what will probably be the last book of the Long War series. Six books. About a million words, and almost ten years.
It was the most exciting intellectual journey of my life. It involved more original research than I ever expected to do to write historical fiction. It changed my philosophy of reenacting; reconstructed my view of the world, altered my own take on philosophy profoundly, and allowed me to drain away some PTSD. Oh, and I took up a new martial art.
So I hope you will all understand that it took a major effort not to weep as I wrote the last lines. I have spent a lot of time inside the head of my Killer of Men. And I’ve spent an enormous amount of time trying to recreate elements of his world, from the philosophy of Heraclitus to the proper construction of Archaic Greek armor and shields.
I learned, or relearned, the difference between reading and research; reading is where you can follow a good path that other scholars have worn for you, moving from tome to tome and taking what you need as a write of Historical Fiction. I’m not ashamed to say that’s what I did with Kineas and Alexander; the heavy lifting was done. I just read the sources and then the secondary works.
And then I discovered the late Archaic.
But basically, there’s Herodotus.
He invented modern history. And he wrote the first history in the west; the first attempt, I would argue, to give an unbiased account of the world around him and how it came into being. Herodotus believed in many things we don’t believe, including omens and prophecy, but he also had a sharp scalpel when cutting away crap. One of my favorite factoids about Herodotus is that Plutarch thought he was ‘too fond of barbarians’. In fact, if Plutarch had known the term ‘revisionist’ he’d have applied it to Herodotus.
Isn’t that interesting? the first historian in the west was highly critical of the ‘heroes’ of his generation and the generation before him.
At any rate, when I came to the late Archaic, I knew so little about it that I dove into the source material…
And there wasn’t any.
You think I’m joking?
Here are two random problems encountered in my first day writing..
What did Archaic Greeks wear?
How did they light a fire?
Surprise! It’s ten years later. I think that my friend Giannis Kadaglou and I know as much as there is to be known about Archaic Greek costume, and we still can’t fully agree as to how an upper class man of 500 BCE was dressed.
And I still don’t know exactly how a 500 BCE housewife, or priestess, or servant or slave lit a fire.
My friend Nicolas Cioran calls it ‘the journey into complete darkness.’ It’s an excellent phrase.
So… to help me learn, I thought I’d join an ancient Greek reenactment group.
Side note. In 2007, when I entered on this journey, I ran a group that did a British unit in the American Revolution; we had about sixty members, and we were part of a larger organization with perhaps five thousand members. It seemed a simple matter to find some expert Greek living history group, and join them. I’d learn a ton, find out who Greeks started a fire, and move on.
But… there weren’t any.
By 2008, I’d discovered that, not only were there no Ancient Greek living history organizations in North America, but also, that no one planned to reenact the Battle of Marathon in 2011, when it would have it’s 2500th anniversary.
OK. We fixed that.
By which I mean I found a lot of like minded people; there WAS an expert Greek reenactment group, in England, called the ‘Hoplite Association’ and there was this guy in Greece… who was young enough to be my son… and seemed to know a great deal; there were a lot of really good reenactors in Australia, and in France and Spain…I met Giannis for the first time in 2009 and he slept on the couch in our apartment in Athens and after three days, my daughter thought he was the coolest person in the world and my wife and I pretty much felt the same. He became an instant best friend.
That’s me at the head of my file (Dave Dudek, Anders Rene Wiik , Mike Brennan) and Giannis at the head of his: Giorgos Kafetzis, Konstantinos Dimitriadis and Jevon Garrett. You can’t see them behind us because our drill is so good…
And at the same time, my original best friend, Jevon Garrett, got cancer. Going to Marathon and Greek reenacting developed an edge, because Jevon was going come hell of high water, even if it was the last thing he did.
So we had a reenactment of the Battle of Marathon. There were fewer than a hundred of us, and the quality of kit ran a huge gamut from not very good to really very good.
And it was glorious.
And at the end of the event, I knew a heck of a lot more than I’d known at the beginning; about living as a hoplite, and about herding cats… And, remarkably, I learned that I could, in fact, actually get people to travel five thousand miles to reenact something. Even the air freight and use of pallets to ship our aspides (Ancient Greek pl. or aspis, the hoplite shield — no link to the Wikipedia article because it’s lame ) was a useful learning experience. For something.
Side note? Jevon did not die. Still with us, in fact, and just reenacted Marathon again in 2015.
By the time the dust settled on Marathon 2011, I’d written two of the Long War books and I owned about fifteen thousand dollars worth of books. And yes, there are libraries, and no, most of them don’t actually have the books I need. Most serious research on Archaic Greece is in Greek or German.
And the learning never stops…
By the way, there will be a separate blog JUST on the Battle of Plataea, because for that, I did actual research; that is, original work coming to different conclusions from others in the field.
But in 2014, we had the first Pen and Sword tour. That was the brain child of my friend Aliki Hamosfakidou, a travel agent in Athens. (By the way, if you are interested, we’ll have one in 2017 and it will go to Northern Greece, the Macedonian tombs, and probably Istanbul and Troy. Just saying…). So a few of my friends ( have I mentioned that I write about my friends?) joined, and then there were these fans…
All of whom are now my friends. Many of whom were in the phalanx at Marathon 2015.
Anyway, we went all over the Peloponnese, to places I’d never been before, and I learned more and more as I looked at more terrain, more battlefields, more armour, more vases…
There we are… well, there’s Jevon, just visible,and Smaro, and Chris Verwijmeren, from whom I learned so much about archery…
Archery! I know a fair amount about spear fighting and sword fighting… well, I do now. But archery? It’s a whole different world, and there’s so much to learn. You need a guide…
And of course we looked at Salamis.
And then I went home and wrote the book.
That’s how it happens. Look, I’m a method writer. I have to go to the places and wear the clothes. And eat the food and ride the horses and drink the wine…
And then, four times, Plataea.
More friends, more fun, another tour, and we walked the ancient site and the battlefield, which is, I can tell you, about the size of Gettysburg or Waterloo.
No signs, no signposts. Not even a marker. Just our two expert guides, and two slightly less expert guides (the latter are Giannis and I) and a lot of walking, and a bus.
It was glorious.
And in the end, I wrote a book about one of the great battles in history, and about having friends. I am lucky, amazingly lucky, to have so many friends, and when I found out that one was very sick, I tried to finish the ‘Rage of Ares’ as quickly as possible. Just in case.
It went out today.
And.. I left the door open. Just in case you’d all like to hear one more story about Arimnestos of Plataea, who was, in case you haven’t noticed, a real man. He’s in Herodotus. And Pausanias too.
Because really, I don’t want to say goodbye. I’ve learned so much… there’s so much more to learn, and so many more friends to make. And at the very least, I hope that in 2021, we’ll all be at Plataea, reenacting.
But until then…