Interview by Fergus McCartan
Last week we had the release of the second book in the wonderful Iron Age fantasy series by Angus Watson, Clash of Iron. To celebrate this event we are speaking with Angus, asking him a little about himself, the inspiration behind his works and the books that have influenced him over the years.
Age of Iron, the first in the trilogy is a smart, dark and humorous tale set in Iron Age Britain. It follows Dug, a down on his luck mercenary who lands himself in the company of a fearsome warrior women Lowa, a small child name Spring and ends up pitting themselves against the might of King Zadar, a fearsome ruler with the force of Druidic magic behind him. Age of Iron is a fantastic book set in a time of war, magic and invading Romans and I have no reservation in predicting Clash of Iron will be as equally as good.
*** Start Age of Iron spoilers ***
In Clash of Iron Dug, Lowa and Spring have achieved their goal and defeated Zadar, unfortunately this was the easy part and even greater challenges lay ahead.
The Romans are finally coming.
*** End Age of Iron spoilers ***
On to the questioning, no Druidic sacrifices required.
Can you tell us a little about Angus Watson?
I am a human male, 42 years old, a little overweight and, annoyingly, one twelfth of an inch under six feet tall.
What was your inspiration behind Age of Iron Trilogy?
First, Iron Age Britain (800BC to 43AD roughly) was an amazing place about which we know bugger all and I wanted to spend some time researching it then recreating it and second, I think Julius Caesar lied about his 55BC and 54BC invasions of Britain, so I wanted to rewrite them from the British perspective.
Why do I think Caesar lied?
Julius Caesar's first invasion of Britain in 55BC was 10,000 soldiers strong. The second, a year later, was 25,000. To put that in perspective, William the Conqueror's successful invasion of Britain over a thousand years later was made up of 5,000 to 8,000 men (estimates vary). Caesar's first invasion lasted a few weeks, the second a few months, before they all went back to Gaul (modern France). The Romans did not invade again for a hundred years.
Caesar claims that, on both invasions, he won every battle and returned to Gaul because he wanted to. History accepts this version. There is no British record of the invasion. I reckon Caesar's tale is bollocks, made up to explain astonishingly expensive, failed expeditions to the Senate and people of Rome. I reckon he must have been defeated by a large, well commanded British force. So I've written that story.
What elements do you think are most important to make a good story?
Good characters, followed by good plot, followed by good setting.
What type of research do you do for your novels?
I read and noted everything there is to read and note on the British Iron Age, which is not much, and studied some of the countless books that exist on the Romans and Julius Caesar. There's a lot of Rome and Roman stuff in books two and three. I also rummaged through a few museums and walked up loads of hillforts to see if I could commune with the ghost of the Iron Age past. I could not, but I enjoyed the walks.
Your job history shows a diverse and somewhat adventurous mixture of occupations, driver (forklift), banker, deep sea diver, lion (sea) wrestler and writer? Would you say putting pen to paper and creating your own world the most challenging?
No. All jobs are challenging – the easy ones are boring and pay nothing and the hard ones which pay well are hard. Driving a forklift truck was actually pretty fun – very Mario Karts – but I also had to do manual labour with that job, and one day, unloading boxes of magnets from a great big shipping container, I did my back in. That has led to much pain and embarrassment: squirming around on the floor, face down and unable to stand, in a busy shopping centre in Sydney, Australia, for example, while a crowd gathered and asked if I was alright mate? So that job, for example, turned out to be more challenging than creating my own world.
Writing a book is a challenge, but so is everything else, and at least when you write a book at the end of it you have something to wave around, stick in people's faces and say 'ooooh, look how clever I am'.
The full Age of Iron Trilogy is being released in the space of a year 02/09/2014 to the 03/09/2015, can you tell us a little about this experience, its joys and challenges?
It was a joy simply to have a book published, to go into a bookshop and see it on the selves. Having written hundreds of articles for newspapers I'd become a bit blasé about seeing my name in print, but a whole book being published is another level. A surprise was so many good reviews, and I was surprised by how much that pleased me. It gives me a real buzz when I read that Sherry in Nevada or Mike in Auckland loved the book. My challenge at the moment or big fear really, is worrying that people who liked Age of Iron won't like Clash of Iron.
What question would you like to be asked, but have not been asked as yet? Anything you like, what's your favourite pizza topping or maybe you would like to detail your love of the rare and not often seen bird, The Deer Harvester (check out Angus' Twitter account for further explanation @GusWatson)
'Are you into photography?' To which the answer is yes. I love padding across the land with my camera in hand, looking for things to take photographs of. It's kind of like hunting, but you don't feel guilty and you don't have to gut anything afterwards. I recommend that recreational hunters try swapping their guns for cameras (subsistence hunters who feed their families with what they shoot should probably stick to guns).
Now for a brazen question which you do not have to answer. Do you already have another set of novels planned once Age of Iron completes? Will we see more of Dug or will you try your hand at another Age. I did say brazen.
As far as next books, I really don't know. I'm looking to set something in the Mojave Desert of South West USA, because that's my favourite place, but I don't know what yet.
How Stories Connect Us questions
Which book do you own that puts a smile on your face and makes you happy just by holding it in your hand?
Hiking Death Valley: Guide to Its Natural Wonders and Mining past by Michel Digonnet. I love Death Valley, part of the Mojave Desert. It's a huge natural theme park that very few people seem to know about. Two hours away is Las Vegas, teeming with multitudes, but drive a little off road in Death Valley and you'll be in one of the most beautiful places in the world, unlikely to see anyone else all day. Admittedly, the name Death Valley doesn't do it any favours.
Digonnet's guide is exhaustive, deeply researched and written with calm intelligence and a dry, sparse wit that makes it a good a read as the best fiction.
Which book or series do you read that makes you feel nostalgic, remembering the period in your life you first read it?
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. They taught me that although some things are important, most things that people think are important are not, and that life is so short and such a joke that there are very few things that need to be taken seriously. Douglas Adams underlined these points by dying aged 49. I read the books aged from about 11 to 16, a period of massive upheaval for me. They helped me through.
Which book or series do you read that make your blood pump and your palms sweaty?
I can't think of a book that does this to me, but when I was younger and we didn't have the internet there were magazines that had this effect.
Which book or series do you think you could implant one of your own characters into? And would you want them to thrive and integrate, or would you want them to burn it all down?
I think that Spring would do well in the newer Star Wars series, perhaps taking the place of annoying young Anakin Skywalker. I'd like to see any of my characters, doesn't matter which one, and replace Jar Jar Binks. Pretty much any of anyone's characters in fact. The three late seventies and early eighties Star Wars films were a major part of my childhood. The three newer ones were possibly the most horrifying events of my adult life. I also think that Chamanca the Iberian would have got on well with George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman. They would have integrated.
Is there a particular author that leaves you thinking: “One day I would like to be able to write just like that?”
Patrick deWitt. Sometimes my writing is too flamboyant. His is the opposite. I'd like to be able to write like that, although, even if I could, I wouldn't always.
I am very grateful to Angus for taking the time to speak with us today. If you haven't read any of Angus's works, check those out you are in for a treat.
Dug Sealskinner is a down-on-his-luck mercenary travelling south to join up with King Zadar's army. But he keeps rescuing the wrong people. First, Spring, a child he finds scavenging on the battlefield, and then Lowa, one of Zadar's most fearsome warriors, who's vowed revenge on the king for her sister's execution. Now Dug's on the wrong side of that thousands-strong army he hoped to join - and worse, Zadar has bloodthirsty druid magic on his side. All Dug has is his war hammer, one rescued child and one unpredictable, highly-trained warrior with a lust for revenge that's going to get them all killed... It's a glorious day to die.
"Watson's concept and approach to the topic of the Iron Age, a topic not well documented, is handled deftly and with a balanced touch as far as I can tell. Having interviewed him for the site, I know he has a deep respect for the era and a strong research ethic, dedicated to achieving a strong attention to detail. The flow and feel of the people, the appearance of the Romans, the concepts of warrior women and female equality, in comparison to the Roman view of women as weak and to be protected, gives an evenness between his own thoughts on the period and telling a great tale."