Megan Ashford and Dorothy Hakim interview Simon Scarrow (part 1)

4 May

Q. Who or what inspired your character Marcus from your ‘Gladiator’ series?

A. Marcus is pretty straightforward really: he is my own son Nicholas. By some uncanny coincidence when it came to picking someone to shoot for the cover design they picked someone who looked exactly like him, which is bizarre.  Nicholas is about the same sort of age – or at least he was when I started writing the book.  I basically had a model.

Q.  How did it feel when your first book got published?

A. Brilliant!  Because before I got anything published I used to have these long fantasies about going into a bookshop and seeing my book on the shelf: I would die a happy man if I only ever had one book published.  So it was magic when that actually happened.  When I rang my father to tell him I had got a publishing deal it was the only time I had heard him cry.  It was a lovely occasion all round. It has become slightly different since then because once you have had your first book published you often have a second, a third… Now I am up to seventeen! I miss that kind of sense of achievement.

Q.  Do you have a really particular interest in history then?

A. Yes. History is where all the good stories are. That’s why it’s called his – story!

Q. Isn’t that a bit sexist?!

A. (Laughs).  When I was teaching I used to say it was unfair and ask whatever happened to her – story.  I used to tell my students how history is always kind of represented from a male point of view primarily.

When I was young I was lucky enough to be taken to a lot of places by my parents.  I didn’t realise at the time how lucky I was.  When I was about four or five I remember being taken to see the Colosseum in Rome and thinking ‘stones, boring stones!’  Eventually you realise that there is slightly more to it than that.  Then I found it impossible to travel anywhere in the Mediterranean and not get diverted by ruins or temples and the like.  History is not just an interest.  It’s important to know history because we need to know where we have come from and we need to know where we are headed. .

Q. Did you research to write your ‘Gladiator’ series and, if so, did you find anything interesting or bizarre?

A.  Yes, I did a lot of research.   Obviously I needed to know about gladiators.  I also needed to know about trade routes, the archaeology of the gladiator schools and what was going on in Ancient Rome at the time.  I think that’s why the second book was very easy to write as it was set in the year that Julius Caesar was consul and Rome was run by gangs who were fighting!  There was plenty of good material to work with.

There was one thing you could say was a bit odd.  I had always assumed that gladiators where men.  But there was a body dug up in York two years ago of a 16-year-old gladiator who had a deformed right arm from all the training.  Due to the nature of this find and its abnormality they were able to work out how old this gladiator would have been when he started training.  The answer was six!

Q. Why did you give up teaching to write?

A.  Teaching is the best job I have ever done, and that includes writing.  But if you have an ambition to write like I do then you don’t really get any choice in that!  I ended up having to push my writing ambition to the front and my teaching to the back. If I am, say, writing two books at a time it becomes impossible to stay a good teacher and write.  If things had worked out differently I would have been quite happy to go back and do some teaching because the opportunity to do something good, to improve someone else’s life is really what the payment is.  It means a huge amount to any teacher if in any way they have helped to improve someone’s life chances.

Simon Scarrow appeared at the Queen’s Hall, Hexham on Saturday 28th April as part of the 2012 Hexham Book Festival.

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