Bluewood interviews David Bowman, author of The Seven Sisters Trilogy
Bluewood Publishing: Hi there, welcome to Bluewood. Tell us a little about yourself. What part of the world do you live in? Tell us about your background?
David: I went a conventional route early on, studying for a business degree followed by a career in software development and then IT management, married and had two children. Things went pear-shaped when both my wife and daughter were struck by, different, life-threatening diseases resulting in me giving up work to look after them. My daughter recovered, and has since presented us with two wonderful grandchildren, but I am still my wife's carer. Writing filled a hole and I was fairly quickly published by an American publisher, who subsequently went bust.
Bluewood: Who are your favorite authors?
David: Probably the hardest question to answer. I spent my formative years reading my way through the local library, at eight books a week. I had nightmares as a child about Triffids and was regularly chastised by my parents for picking a book up to read in the middle of the night. Torches under bed clothes work wonders – for my father’s generation it had been candles, and that thought terrifies me. I read my first Frederick Forsyth in one evening, and got into trouble in my English class for reading the whole of To Kill a Mocking Bird over a weekend when the homework was supposed to be just the first two chapters. I read everything I could find from the masters of science-fiction, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Cherriyh, Niven and Pournelle before graduating to Herbert, Harrison and later Eddings, Brin, Hamilton and Bova. At the same time I read and reread Clancy, Stirling, and Turtledove. I’ll happily cross over into Crime and read Stephen Booth or Ian Rankin, and the list goes on and on. I’ll even admit to reading Stephanie Meyer, PC Cast and Kate Walker.
Bluewood: What is your genre and what attracts you to that genre, and what made you want to write it?
David: I write alternative history, the what might have happened stories. I get into arguments with history teachers who are at times outraged by challenging “known” historical facts, but big events can swing on tiny little triggers, and if those triggers hadn’t happened… well things would have been very different. This is an area explored in many TV series of old, notably Time Tunnel, but even The Simpsons visited the time travel paradox concept. I take it one stage further, look at decisions made, or minor events, and their potential repercussions. In 284AD the Emperor Aurelian was assassinated by his own officers after a scribe showed them a forged letter sentencing them to be punished. He did this to cover his own mistake and avoid punishment. Aurelian was arguably the best general Rome ever produced and if he had escaped the plot, the history of Rome would have been very different. Hence the premise for my Seven sisters trilogy set 600 years later in a history where Aurelian did survive. As a result we have an intact Roman Empire fighting a civil war with gunpowder. Another case in point, in 470BC a Carthaginian noble by the name of Hanno sailed out of the Mediterranean and headed south along the African coast with a small fleet of galleys aiming to establish colonies. He returned to a hero’s welcome but the colonies were short-lived, lost contact and died out. Little remains in the archeological records. What if instead, a storm blew Hanno north, eventually stranding him on the shores of England. What if they discover the oak forest of England can provide them with a fleet of stronger, faster galleys and these legendary seafarers can go on to dominate the Mediterranean, and beyond, facing and defeating the Greeks, the Persians, the Romans, growing stronger all the time. This is the premise of my Carthaginian Empire series.
Bluewood: The question you are probably always asked – how long have you been writing?
David: You could say I’ve been writing all my life. I left college with a business degree but found myself writing computer programs for a living. Thirty years later I had to retire on family health grounds to look after both my wife and daughter. A therapist suggested I write down my story as a way to deal with the stresses of two vastly different life threatening illnesses and after reading it said I should try writing. That was six years ago. Several writing groups and clubs and courses later here I am.
Bluewood: Does the way you personally look at life reflect in your writing style?
David: My imagination runs riot. I’m always playing possible conversations through my head – I guess you could say I hear voices, but to me it’s just me being me. There’s a repetition for you! Must watch for that. I try to write uplifting stories, to give my readers a hopeful outlook form the ending, and to imbue my villains with some saving graces, some compassion. Come to think of it, there are a couple who have no saving graces at all… Ah, well.
Bluewood: What concept or situation about your book makes it so unique?
David: When it comes to ancient history, everyone writes about the Romans, the Spartans, the Athenians, but there were other powers in the area at the time, Carthage being one. Everything we know about the Carthaginians comes from Roman historians. They destroyed Carthage and blackened their name for all time at the end of the Third Punic War. Yet the Romans were not whiter than white just as the Carthaginians were not evil personified. I tell the Carthaginians from a more sympathetic light, not always perfect, but certainly not the two-dimensional evil creatures Roman matrons would frighten their children about. Similarly with my Roman stories, and indeed with my single foray into American Civil War territory. Alternative history has to produce a different and unique story every time you change something. Just remember each story starts from a single change in history, and extrapolates forward.
Bluewood: Tell us about Seven Sisters. What was your inspiration for this book?
David: I think one of my tag lines sums it up for me “Romans with gunpowder!” the idea of a traditional Roman legion fighting with primitive gunpowder weapons (before the invention of the cannon and the musket), of catapults throwing explosive projectiles needed a scenario where I could develop the idea. One night I had a dream, yep that’s me alright, about a castle next to a river where they raised huge sluice gates to flood the surrounding area when threatened. The following day I was reading about the doomed French paratroops at Dien Bien Phu and the idea of seven fortresses protecting a city, in turn protected by water defenses and being attacked by Roman legionaries became a fusion of all three things. The fact the French named their strong-points, allegedly, for the mistresses of their commander, gave em the names of each fortress, and then the title. Looking at contemporary military technology from China in the ninth Century AD gave me the equipment and weapons to arm my Legions with and hey presto the whole backdrop was built.
Bluewood: What is your favorite scene from the books and why?
David: Probably the impaling scene at the start of the third, yet to be released, book. I needed to engineer a situation where Crastus faced certain death yet could be dragged from in a way that still seemed believable and given a choice which he doesn’t want either. I’m not going to give too much away, but with a cast of thousands it took a long time to tweak it till it was just right. You’ll find it at the beginning of book 3, Imperator which will be out late 2012.
Bluewood: Have you written other books?
David: I never stop writing. Obviously, here, I’ve talked about my Seven Sisters Trilogy (Seven Sisters, Two Brothers and the soon to release Imperator) and my ongoing Carthaginian Empire series. I’ve written a published e-book short story about what might have happened at Gettysburg if the Union troops had been led by Robert E Lee (not so far-fetched given the offer, Lincoln, made to him at the start of the war). I also use two pen names to write in other genres, A.F.Allen for science fiction, and Marion Davids for my Romance books.
Bluewood: If you could tell us one thing about the Alternative History genre that makes your mind spin with ideas, what would that be?
David: There are endless possibilities, I’m currently working on a 1930’s story at the moment about what has been described as “the strangest document in the US National Archives” – by one of their own archivists. Setting a romance against a possible depression era war between Canada and the USA has created a stunning synopsis, now I have to write the book to do the story justice!
Thanks so much for chatting with us, David!