CATCHING UP: The Last Leg of the Journey

IMG_1803It’s been a while since I posted, mainly due to an unexpected move that was rather stressful and took up much of my time.  But now I’m resettled and happy to announce that the last leg of the journey of SHADOW OF THE LION has begun. The final proofs of Volume two are underway and SHADOW OF THE LION: THE FIELDS OF HADES is due to be published by October this year.inFOLIO Research Group

There have been a lot of delays to the point where I was getting worried, but I am assured that this second book about the fall of Alexander the Great’s dynasty will definitely be out soon. This will  happen while I am in Athens so I am hoping that there will be opportunities for more book readings and perhaps a mini launch while I’m there.

Volume Two THE FIELDS OF HADES picks up the trail of the two joint kings, young Alexander IV (ISKANDER) and his mentally deficient uncle ARRIDAIOS just as they are en route to Pella, the Royal City.  What happens after that is an exciting typical Greek-style tragedy when not only the generals begin to try to seize power, but the women, the  dangerous Queen OLYMPIAS  and the rash and ambition young ADEIA-EURYDIKE set off a deadly Civil War. With our antagonist KASSANDROS predominantly on the scene, the tension builds to a dramatic climax.  I’m sure that readers will be kept on the edges of their seats and pages will be turning as you read this exciting installment of SHADOW.

Stay tuned for further updates as the Publication Date draws nearer!

INTRODUCING THE CAST OF CHARACTERS

Who are the characters in “Shadow of the Lion: Blood on the Moon”?  Although I tried to be careful when I was developing them, drawing them out as best I could so they would seem as ‘real’ to the reader as they did to me, I’ve had a few requests to post visual pictures of them.berryjam.ru

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There are a few marble busts or faces on coins that show more-or-less what they looked like in person.  And for the fictional characters I’ve found a few drawings of costumes etc.  In the cases of some characters I pin-pointed real live people who I thought might resemble the person and drew my descriptions from observing those people and describing their body-language, facial features etc.

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I have been told by most of my readers that the characters are very ‘real’.  In fact one of my critique readers called me up some time after she’d read the manuscript and asked “How is everyone?”  I thought she meant our friends. But no, she meant the characters in the book.  “I miss them,” she said. And frankly, I miss them too. As I wrote about them they became more real to me.  And of course, most of them really were living people at the time of Alexander.

Here’s a few of the characters who I found portraits or sculptures of:

ALEXANDER the GREAT:  King of Macedon, conqueror of the eastern world. imagesCA5JOYVY

ALEXANDER & HEPHAESTION:  The busts of Alexander and his faithful friend and companion Hephaestion.

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OLYMPIAS: Alexander’s mother coin_olympias_mus_theski_s

PHILIP II: Alexander’s father  220px-Filip_II_Macedonia

ROXANE:  Alexander’s Soghdian widow, mother of Iskander.roxanna-achaemenid-princess-003

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ISKANDER: (Alexander IV) little is know about him but I did find this one cartouche drawing evidently in a Paris museum.

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ARRIDAIOS:  Alexander’s mentally challenged half-brother who became joint-king with Alexander IV (Iskander) arridaeus_bust

ADEIA-EURYDIKE:  This is actually a portrait of young Alexander but to me it looks like what I imagined Adeia to resemble. 3879864-3x4-700x933

PTOLEMY:  Alexander’s illegitimate half-brother who later became the first Ptolemaic Pharoah of Egypt.PtolemyISoter

SELEUKOS:  Alexander’s companion and general who took over the satrapy of Babylon 250px-Seleuco_I_Nicatore

KASSANDROS:  Alexander’s enemy, son of the Regent Antipater, and villain of the novel. 637px-Coin_of_Cassander

NABARZANES: The Persian Court Advisor (he was patterned from a real person but may have looked like this.)imagesCAAKS2OV

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DEMITRIOS: The arrogant young son of Antigonos the One-Eyed.

THE CHALDEAN MAGUS: This is the picture of a Zorastrian priest but I imagine the Magus to look like this.full86371

THE SCYTHIANS : images

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SADU & OLD PEARL: The mahout from the Punjab and his elephant Old Pearl who guarded the royal tent.

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RAJAH PORUS’ WARRIOR ELEPHANTS:

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2014: Fifteen years of work is accomplished. Now SHADOW makes it’s formal debut.

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In August 2014 the first volume of SHADOW OF THE LION subtitled BLOOD ON THE MOON was born, published by MediaAria-CDM. Next month, in January 2015 SHADOW makes its formal debut at my book launch sponsored by the Greek Consul at the Hellenic Community Centre in Vancouver.

This has been an exciting year which included a trip to Egypt and a visit to Alexandria which was a dream come true. Then in September a trip to England and Greece where I was able to do lots of book promo, first attending the Historical Novel Writer’s conference in London, and then invited to do three readings in Greece: two in Athens and one in Larissa.

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Since returning to Canada in October I have been invited to do two book readings along with my writer friend Eileen Kernaghan. And I look forward to doing many more in the coming year, starting with a book club group in Duncan B.C. It was a thrill to be given a ’empowered writer’ award by the World Poetry Peace Conference and invited to be on their radio program by Ariadne Sawyer who has been so supportive of me.

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After the fifteen long years of research and writing on this epic saga it has been a real thrill to see everything I worked for accomplished. And I begin the New Year, 2015, with the formal book launch of SHADOW OF THE LION: BLOOD ON THE MOON.  (Already my readers are anxious for the second volume to appear but THE FIELDS OF HADES won’t be published until 2016.)

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I am grateful for all the support I have had over the years from my writing group, the Scribblers, my friend here in Canada and in Europe. Especially the Greek people who have been so generous with offering me support with my research and book promo.  The Greek Consul of Vancouver, Ilias Kremmydas has been so kind and has organized the launch at the Hellenic Community Centre. I’m planning to welcome some special guests to participate including Greek/Canadian prize winning poet Manolis Aligizakis, and Langara lecturer Peter Prontzos who has offered to write a book review for me.

Everyone is invited to this special event so mark it on your calendars. And if you have already read SHADOW OF THE LION: BLOOD ON THE MOON I’d appreciate it if you could put a little review on Amazon.com or on Chapters website if that’s where you purchased your copy. I’ll be signing books at the book launch and there will be a few on hand to purchase.

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So, I welcome the New Year and all that it promises for me and for my novel. I hope we have a bright future together!

WHO IS IN THAT TOMB?

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For the past few months there’s been great excitement in Greece over the revealing of a huge tomb uncovered in Amphipolis, Greek Macedonia.  This sparked a lot of interest for me as I’ve visited Amphipolis on a couple of occasions while doing research for SHADOW OF THE LION.  This site, which at Alexander’s time was an army fortress, is one of the settings in my story:  in the end of Volume One BLOOD ON THE MOON, and for almost the whole last half of Volume Two THE FIELDS OF HADES (to be published in 2016).

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In September, as I was going to Macedonia to attend a friend’s book launch, I decided to venture to Amphipolis to see if I could view this remarkable archaeological find.  I took a taxi from the seaside town of Asprovalta and was lucky enough to get a driver who knew the area well.  On our way up to the location, we passed the famous Lion of Amphipolis by the roadside. The lion statue was dedicated to one of Alexander’s generals, Laomedon and it is now believed that it once stood atop the tomb and was taken away by the Romans who left it in its present location.  The statue is 5.3 meters high with a base making it 15.84 meters. It resembles the stone lion statue that was erected on the field of Chaironea in Greece where King Philip II and his young son Alexander defeated the Athenians and annihilated the Theban Sacred Band.

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I was only able to view the tomb digs from a distance, across the valley. The tomb is on a hillside inside a 500 meter long surrounding wall of marble and limestone. The wall is 3 meters high with a cornice of marble from the nearby Aegaen Island of Thassos.  The entry has an arch containing two headless sphinxes and steps leading down into the tomb. It is believed the tomb could be the work of Deinokrates, who was the imperial architect during Alexander’s time, the same architect who Alexander had design the city of Alexandria in Egypt.

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But whose tomb is it? There is so much speculation:  Was Alexander buried here? Well, not likely as he was embalmed in Babylon where he died in 325 BC and a year later was taken to Alexandria where his body lay in state right up to the time of Cleopatra and the Romans.  Was it Olympias, Alexander’s mother? Not likely either. She was an Epirote, not well liked, and stoned to death by Kassandros. While I visited  Pydna, the site of her death, an archaeologist who was looking for a token tomb there told me she was likely buried in the royal tombs at Vergina where all the Macedonian royalty were laid to rest. Was it Alexander’s Soghdian wife and his son, both who were murdered on Kassandros’ orders at Amphipolis? Not a chance as she was hated by the Macedonians and the boy, Alexander IV is very likely the one occupying a tomb at Vergina that is the tomb of a young Macedonian prince about 14 yrs of age – just the age he was when he was murdered. (This tomb is next to the one where Philip II was found and an archaeologist at the site told me it was a good possibility the prince was Alexander’s son and only legal heir.)

My theory is that it may be the tomb of the Antipatrides family, the biggest clan in Macedonia. Antipater was Regent for both Philip and Alexander. His son, Kassandros was responsible for killing of all of Alexander’s dynasty and was in charge of Amphipolis’s army fortress. Perhaps it is their family, including Kassandros’ wife, Thessaloniki, who was Alexander’s half sister.

On the other hand, now that they have found a large wooden casket with a body inside, it is possible that this might be the tomb of one of the famous generals of the time.  Although, it is strange they found a skeleton, as the Macedonians usually cremated their dead.  The possibilities of who this might be are endless:  Maybe it is really Laomedon whose burial place was marked by the stone lion; perhaps it is Niarchos, who came from Amphipolis and commanded Alexander’s navy. Or could it be General Antigonos the One-Eyed, who died at the age of 81 in the Battle of Ipsus in Phrygia (now Turkey) back in 301 when he was knocked off his horse by a spear. Antigonos was a powerful Successor of Alexander and eventually took control of most of the Empire, including Macedonia, after the downfall of the Antipatrides clan. He was succeeded by his son Demetrius who took control in 294 BC. This dynasty lasted until 1966 BC when they were defeated at the Battle of Pydna by the Romans.

These characters are all major players in SHADOW OF THE LION. So whoever it is buried in that massive tomb, it’s all relevant and has certainly help keep the interest in Alexander the Great and his place in history alive!

(NOTE: Closeup tomb photos courtesy of internet sources.)

A Review about SHADOW OF THE LION: BLOOD ON THE MOON

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This review was written by Dinaz Kastrinaki, a good friend who was with me from the conception of SHADOW OF THE LION and read the earliest drafts.  It was presented at the reading at the Athens Centre on September 24/14

I started reading ‘Shadow of the Lion’ in the early 90s, when it was still in its infancy, and I was hooked.  I remember my frustration at it not being ready and having to wait to see what happens next.  I therefore did the next best thing.  I discussed it with Ruth as much as possible, and this continued until Ruthie’s last visit to Athens.  The memories of those long, excited sessions on my verandah over a glass or 3 of wine still make me smile and will always be very precious to me.

Ruth, being the bright little bundle of energy she is, plunged with gusto into unearthing any information she could about Alexander and his dynasty, not just by poring over endless history books in the library but by actually visiting places in Greece that were part of this history.  This in-depth research as well as her enthusiasm and love for what she was doing become very obvious when you read the book.

I have now read the book from cover to cover (finally!!) and I just couldn’t put it down, even though, having read several drafts over successive years, I sort of knew what would happen next.  The characters are so alive, so real, that I felt I was meeting old friends again.  I had grown to love them and I had missed them.  And, true to its title, Alexander’s golden shadow follows you through the book.

The descriptions are so vivid – I felt I was actually there, dazzled by the colours, breathing in the spices and the incense, hearing the chanting of the Magus and the tinkle of Roxanne’s bangles – the novel unfolded before me like a frieze.   I didn’t just enjoy it, I learned from it and I lived it.

Oh, and one more thing, kids would enjoy it too.  My son was a little over 10 when he read his first draft and enjoyed it immensely.

Ruthaki mou, bravo!  Bravo not just for your obvious talent and knowledge but for your spirit, your dedication and your endless enthusiasm all of which have made the novel what it is.  For me, it’s a beloved, brilliant book.  Bravo dear friend.

And by the way, if there are any television producers in the audience, I would advise you to grab the TV rights, it would make a fantastic series J

 

ALEXANDRIA: THE CITY OF ALEXANDER’S DREAM

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Alexander the GreatI had always dreamed of visiting Alexandria, the fabled city on the Nile delta established by Alexander the Great back in 332 BC. While I was researching my novel SHADOW OF THE LION, I delved into the history of this remarkable city. When I was invited to Egypt last March on a travel writer’s press trip, I told the organizers about my novel and the research I had done about the founding of the ancient city. Because of this I was given a special two-day tour of Alexandria was a highlight of all my travel experiences.

Alexandria is an important setting in SHADOW OF THE LION, both Volumes. Ptolemy, Alexander’s illegitimate half-brother returned to Egypt after Alexander’s death to oversee the building according to Alexander’s wishes.

It is said that Alexander had a dream in which he recalled the lines from Homer’s Iliad of ‘an island, Pharos, by the surging sea.’  Alexander had come to Egypt to drive out the Persians and to him, this dream was an omen. He wanted to build a new city by the sea, and chose this location near a small village called Rhakotis. He ordered his architect and city planner Dinocrates to design and build it but Alexander died before its completion. After Alexander`s death, Ptolemy hijacked the funeral carriage when it was being transported from Babylon to Macedon and brought the body to Egypt where, it is said, Alexander had wanted to be buried. It was interred first in Memphis, then when the temple for Alexander`s friend Hephaestion was completed, Ptolemy had Alexander`s body laid there where it remained at least until the arrival of the Romans, because it was visited by Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. Ptolemy Soter became the first of the Ptolemaic dynasties of Egypt that lasted up until the era of Cleopatra.

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The ancient Greek city had three regions, The Brucheum, Royal or Greek quarter which formed the most magnificent part of the city. The Jewish quarter formed the northeast and Rhakotis, occupied mainly by Egyptians. The city consisted of the island of Pharos which was joined to the mainland by a mole nearly a mile long. There stood the famous Great Lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, 138 meters high, a project begun by the first Ptolemy and completed by his son.

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I was curious to learn how much of Alexander still exists in Alexandria, the city named for him.  As the van approached the outskirts the first thing I saw was a monument of Alexander riding his horse.  I noticed posters and references to him throughout the city.

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Unlike Cairo which is densely packed between the Nile River and the vast expanse of Sahara desert, Alexandria sprawls out along the seacoast, a sparkling bright city surrounded by the verdant Nile Delta, the ancient’s ‘Land of Goshen’.  It is the second largest city in Egypt. The city is divided into six neighbourhoods, each with a large population. Alexandria is an important industrial area and Egypt’s largest seaport with two harbors, one facing east, the other west. There is evidence of the ancient harbour on the edge of the island of Pharos, but little else remains except what the underwater archaeologists have discovered under the sea.

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Some of these finds can be seen in the Alexandria Museum and on display outside of the new Alexandria Library. Recently archaeologists have found fragments of Cleopatra’s palace. And it is believed that Alexander’s tomb is likely also submerged under the sea although there are occasional ‘finds’, mainly rumors or perhaps symbolic tombs.

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At our first stop we were greeted by a young tour guide, Sarah, who showed us around an extensive excavation known as Kom al-Dikka, which has revealed many Roman era ruins including a theatre. We didn`t have time to visit the catacombs which are located near Alexander`s best-known monument, `Pompey`s Pillar. The catacombs, known as Kom al-Soqqafa, are a multì-level labyrinth reached by a spiral staircase where there are dozens of chambers with sculpted pillars and statues, burial niches and sarcophagi.

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Our next stop on the tour was the Qaitbay Citadel, built on the site of the ancient lighthouse. The lighthouse was destroyed by an earthquake in the 14th century and was replaced by an Arab fortress using some of the original bricks. It was one of the most important defensive strongholds on the Mediterranean coast.

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The Alexandria Museum contains a number of exhibits dating back to the Ptolemaic dynasty as well as Roman. What I found most interesting were some of the relics that have been brought up by the maritime archaeologists in the harbor which reveals details of the city both before Alexander’s time and during the Ptolemaic dynasty. In the front of the new library stahds a tall weather-worn statue of one of the Ptolemys brought up from the seabed.

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The next day was the highlight of my visit when I was taken to the New Alexandria Library, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, which opened Oct. 16, 2002.  It`s an immense cylindrical shaped modern structure separated from the University of Alexandria by a wide concourse where I posed under a bust of my hero, Alexander.  The library is spectacular in its design with constant light filtering through the specially curved domes.  It houses over 8 million books.

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The first Library of Alexandria was created by Ptolemy I Soter in the 3rd century BC. Most of the books were papyrus scrolls on great value. It was dedicated to the Muses and functioned as a major center of scholarship.

Many of the most famous thinkers of the ancient world studied here. It was in Alexandria where Euclid devised geometry and Herophilus discovered that the brain, was the seat of thought, not the heart. A wealth of works from the classical world were housed in the old library, including those of Aristotle and Plato, original manuscripts of Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides, Egyptian treatises on astronomy and medicine; Buddhist texts, original Hebrew scriptures and many of the works of the lyric poet Sappho.

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In 48 BC when Julius Caesar laid siege to the city, a fire was set and the library was partially destroyed. Later there were other attacks until finally the library was in ruins and thousands of ancient works were destroyed.  The new library features a museum dedicated to science and history. There is also a large planetarium at the entrance. There are all the modern amenities such as Internet Archives, several specialized libraries, academic research centres and various permanent exhibits. It is also the home of several institutions including The Arabic Society for Ethics in Science and Technology, the HCM Medical Research, the Anna Lindh Foundation for Dialogue Between Cultures and many others.

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There is an international spirit in the Bibliotheca just as there was back in Ptolemy’s time. Italians and Egyptians work together preserving rare manuscripts; Greeks help with antiquities; French are in charge of the science museum and Americans are the computer experts.

The famous burning of the ancient Library of Alexandria became the symbol of the irretrievable loss of knowledge, but the new Bibliotheca Alexandria has revived that legacy and the staff works together to maintain this great Temple of Learning.

I wondered what Ptolemy would think now, if he saw this amazing work of art which has replaced the library he first created, and how proud Alexander would be of his beautiful city.

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Official book release, August 11. Now available on Amazon.com

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SHADOW OF THE LION: Volume One “Blood on the Moon”

Well here’s my novel listed on Amazon. Surprised it’s a hard cover. Pretty exciting though!  Official release day, August 11.
http://www.amazon.com/SHADOW-OF-THE-LION-BLOOD/dp/0992715512/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1407528500&sr=8-1-fkmr1&keywords=Shadow+of+the+Lion+Volume+1+Blood+on+the+Moon

 

CITIES OF ALEXANDER: ANCIENT ATHENS AND THE LEAGUE OF CORINTH

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The Acropolis

Today Athens is the largest city in Greece and one of the biggest metropolises in the world. Back in Alexander’s time, Athens dominated the Aegean and even today is referred to as the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy. The city is surrounded by mountains to the north and east and the Saronic gulf to the south and west. The seaport of Piraeus gave ancient Athens control over the seas and her navy dominated the Aegean and Mediterranean Sea for centuries.

Athens, often referred to as “the glorious city” was a city-state, a centre for the arts, learning and philosophy. Socrates made speeches in the agora,  Plato’s Academy was here and Aristotle’s Lyceum. Today you can still visit the ruins of these famous centres and the alleged ‘prison’ of Socrates which is in a cave below Filopappou Hill.

During my years of research for SHADOW OF THE LION I lived in Athens and it has become my second home. It’s a thrill to be able to visit the ancient sites and imagine what it must have been like back in Alexander’s time.  There is still a classical feel to the city and the ancient monuments and works of art have been preserved. The Parthenon still dominates the city, a key landmark going back to the early civilization. The Acropolis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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The name “Athens” comes from the ancient Greek name “Athena” the goddess who was the patron goddess of the city. Her symbol was the olive tree which symbolized peace and prosperity. The Sacred Rock of the Acropolis dates back to the 5th century BC, during what was known as the Golden Age of Pericles. If you are visiting Athens, try and attend the Sound and Light show on the Pnyx Hill as it explains the whole history of the city.

During Alexander’s time, the city states were often at war. In 338 a sacred war had been declared on the little town of Amphissa for allegedly trespassing on the property of Apollo. King Philip of Macedon was asked to assume leadership of the war. His army blocked the highway to Thebes and Athens and he hoped this tactic would bring the enemy to their senses. However, against the advice of their general, Phocion, and on the insistence of the orator Demosthenes, the Athenians joined with the Thebans and met the Macedonians at a famous battle in a wide valley at Charonea. Philip was a fearless warrior and astute strategist. With his 18 year old son Alexander commanding the west wing of cavalry, the Macedonian army easily vanquished the Athenians. Alexander and the cavalry completely obliterated the Sacred Band of Thebes. Demothenes fled the battle scene but later committed suicide on the island of Paros off the Peloponnesian west coast.

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Philip I of Macedon

This battle marked the end of the city states and Philip was free to organize Greece.  In 337, Philip formed the League of Corinth. Most of the country except for Sparta submitted to him.  Although Athens had opposed the Macedonians they received many favors and concessions. Knowning that Athens controlled the sea, Philip dared not risk a confrontation but, respecting their past glory, he freed Athenian prisoners, and left the city with her constitution and territories, although Athens had to ally herself with Philip and forgo her confederacy. Philip sent Alexander to meet with the Athenians, which was the only time Alexander actually visited the city.

The Constitution of the Corinthian League incorporated in it a treaty between Athens and Macedon. The city states should be independent and self-governing; illegal executions or banishments were forbidden, no state could harbor military exiles and all were to keep the peace.

Philip established military garrisons throughout Attika and at Athens. The Macedonians moved into an army garrison on the Hill of Munychia which overlooks Phaliron and guarded the western coastline of Attika.  You can still visit Munychia, which is one of the settings in SHADOW OF THE LION.  There are some ruins there, mainly Byzantine era but others that are a reminder of the military strength Macedon had over the Athenians.

A year later, in 336, Philip was assassinated at Aigai during a wedding celebration for his daughter leaving Alexander to claim the kingship.

The occupation of Macedonians in Athens created much political strife and resulted in the murders and executions of several well-known Athenian politicians including Phocion, and the expulsion of many of its citizens.  If you visit the ancient Agora you can find the remnants of the Bouletarian and other civic buildings where debates were held over the occupation of Macedonians in the city.

In “Blood on the Moon” Volume One there are various scenes set in the Agora of Athens and the military garrison of Munychia.  Athens is also featured in Volume Two “The Fields of Hades”.

 

My Journey in Alexander’s Footsteps

The journey of a thousand miles starts from beneath your feet.
Tao te Ching, Verse 64
There is a similarity between historical writing and travel writing. Both are about journeys: one is a journey back in time, the other a journey of the present. I am both a historical and a travel writer. I write about my travels while I am researching my historical fiction.

The historical fiction writer in me was born when I was twelve years old. Our family traveled across Canada by train, a long journey from the gentle hills and maple forests of Ontario, across the wide expanse of sun-dried flat lands and yellow wheat fields of the Prairies, through the densely forested wilderness of the majestic Rocky Mountains to the lush green shores of the Pacific Ocean. My life was transformed on that journey. I imagined how it must have been to be a pioneer, and I became one of them, an explorer who forever after wanted to know what was over the next mountain.

I began to write about the pioneers’ lives. Everything I wrote came out of my imagination, sparked by that train trip across Canada. Later, encouraged by my father who was a Baptist minister, I began writing stories with a Biblical theme, set in the Holy Land and ancient Rome. At sixteen, I was introduced to a historical character who would have a profound influence on my future as a historical-fiction writer. The legendary life of Alexander the Great caught my interest. Before graduation, I had written a novel with an Alexander theme. Thus began my quest in search of Alexander.
My keen interest in Greek history eventually took me to Greece. I wanted to see the places I was writing about and try to get in touch with the ‘spirits’ of my characters. When I graduated from high school I had worked in the editorial department of a newspaper, and had some journalism background so I used these skills to write about my travels. The first travel article I submitted, about a visit to Leros, Greece,  was published. This gave me the incentive to launch a new ‘career’ as a travel writer which has led to me teaching classes in Travel Writing, Novel Writing and Creative Writing.
My journey in Alexander’s footsteps took  me around Greece and Asia Minor and I returned there often for research trips. For several years I lived in Greece while I was writing and researching SHADOW OF THE LION. I have been privileged to research at libraries in Athens and have visited many sites, making contact with Classical Scholars and archaeologists. While traveling for research I always look for angle for a travel article as well.  I have visited Istabul, Ephesus, Bodrum (ancient Halicarnassus) and Fetiye, Turkey (site of the fabled Lycian tombs). In Greece I went to Aristotles’ school, the Nymphaion, at Mieza near Naoussa, where Alexander and his Companions spent two years studying philosophy and the sciences. I’ve been to Pella, the Macedonian royal city, and the royal tombs at Aigai.  At Dodoni, in Epirus there is an oak tree growing in the same place one grew when Olympias lived there. I even went to the Necromanteion, the oracle of the dead.  In Athens, I love to explore the ancient agora, paying particular interest to the various public buildings where political affairs were held during Alexander’s time. In Pireaus, at a place called Munichia, overlooking Zea, I found the place where the Macedonians had a large garrison.

It was important for me to get the correct setting details for my novel.While visiting these locations, I tried to capture the essence of the countryside, use sensory details, and attempt to get in touch with the spirits of the people who populate the novel. This helps place the reader at the scene, makes the characters more dimensional, and draws the arm-chair traveler into the story.

Not only does it take imagination, but discipline, and a great deal of planning and research when you write historical fiction. Accuracy is important. I like to spend some quite time in these places, to let the Muse speak, to absorb the essence of each place as I recreate the world I am writing about.

“A traveller has a right to relate and embellish his adventures as he pleases…”
Rudolph Erich Raspe 1737-1794 “Travels of Baron Munchausan.”

RESEARCHING SHADOW OF THE LION

alexander-the-great-map I first got interested in Alexander the Great when I was still a teen-ager, and spent several years reading whatever I could about him.  My first Alexander themed novel was written in my last year of high school.  Through the years I collected books on Greek history, specifically about Alexander, and read everything Mary Renault wrote.  I read her trilogy about Alexander (“Fire From Heaven”, “The Persian Boy” and “Funeral Games”) multiple times. 

It wasn’t until 1979 that I finally went to Greece for the first time.  On that trip I started out in Thessaloniki and went directly to the museum where the grave finds of archaeologist Manolis Andronicus were on display including the skeleton allegedly Philip’s as well as amazing grave treasures.  Then I visited Pella, the royal city.

In 1983 I went to live in Greece and continued my ‘search for Alexander” which included trips to sites on the Aegean Coast of Asia Minor in Turkey including Troy and Ephesus. Everywhere I went I made notes in my journal or in the notebook I always carry with me. 

I wanted to write a novel about Alexander, but how could I outdo Renault?  However, her last book, “Funeral Games” written before she died, seemed to lack something so I decided to delve further into the history of what happened after Alexander’s death.  In particular, what happened to his son and only legal heir, Alexander IV?  The historians have written little about this boy and I was determined to find out more. 

I first started writing “Shadow of the Lion” as a juvenile historical about Alexander IV, who I named “Iskander”, his Persian name.  But in a short time, I realized it was too political a story for a young adult book, and was advised to start over, this time writing in a multiple point of view.  Not only was I delving into the lives of Alexander’s generals and Companions, but also the lives of the women such as Olympias, Alexander’s mother, who most historians dismiss with unflattering commentaries.  But the more research I did, I realized that these women were strong and formidable and played an important part in history.  This expanded the details of the story and amped up the amount of research I’d need to do.  I had no computer at the time and relied on the library for my information, making copious notes

In 1993 I was offered a free flight back to Greece by the Greek consulate in Vancouver to continue my research.  This included a chance to interview the secretary of the Society of Macedonian Studies in Thessaloniki.  I also was able to do research at the Gennadius Library and British School Libraries thanks to Classical scholar friends in Athens.   I haunted museums and made notes of everything I saw that pertained to my novel.  The British Museum in London had artifacts from ancient Babylon and Persia, places I could not visit, and there were still many sites to explore in Greece.  

I returned to Greek Macedonia and  went to the tombs at Vergina where the artifacts found by Andronicus had been  replaced in situ.  This was a huge thrill especially seeing the tomb next to that alleged to be Philip II’s which is the tomb of a  young prince.  The archaeologist on site told me it was likely that of Alexander’s son. The grave finds are on display and include a pair of greaves which I imagined might have once been Alexander’s.  I also went to Mieza, the school where Aristotle taught Alexander and his Companions,  visited Dodona in Epirus, home of Alexander’s mother. On two occasions I’ve even gone to ‘Hade’s’, the necromanteion  where  the ancients used to communicate with the dead.  And one magical visit was to Samothraki, the island where the joint-kings dedicated a small temple to their fathers, Philip 1 and Alexander.

I still kept hand-written notes but eventually I got a computer and this made my searches much easier. I have a biography file for each of my characters and read all I could find about them.  For special characters, such as Alexanders’ half-brother, Arridaios, who was brain damaged and suffered seizures, I did a lot of research about epilepsy. For the villain of the story, Kassandros,  from what I read about him I realized he could have likely been a psychopath so I did research on that subject.  Everything had to be recorded:  the cultural life, the food they ate, clothes they wore.  I had books about the Macedonian army and my expanding library contained Diodorus, Plutarch, Robin Lane Fox and many others. My notebooks were full of on-the-spot records of sensory details whenever I visited a location that I wanted to describe in the novel.  I pin-pointed actual living people who reminded me of my characters and made careful notes about them: gestures, physical appearance etc. This helped me ‘tag’ the characters realistically so they became ‘alive’ on the page.   When I needed to research boar hunting I was lucky to find several You-tube videos of boar hunts, some with children the same age Iskander would have been in the novel.  I also researched things like a child’s ability to ride a horse and climb a mountain.  A co-worker’s son had climbed to the base camp of Everest when he was 12 so he came to my house so I could interview him about his experience.  I found a site on line (www.pothos.org ) where the contributors are all lovers of Alexander and that history, so often I’d ask a question there and get a quick response.

By the time I finished my 15 year journey (Yes! It took fifteen years to write Shadow!) I had boxes full of files, news clips, photos of sites, journals, maps and information plus shelves full of research books that I had added to my home library.  When I went through the boxes recently I was amazed at the content of information and especially the hand-written journals I had kept with valuable at-the-site detailed information. 

Research is a crucial part of historical fiction writing.  Little details must be as correct as you can get them. Of course it is ‘fiction’, so your interpretation of the characters is your own, but based as closely as you can on what you have read about them by the historians.  I was lucky to have access to all the sites  in Greece with an archaeological pass given to me with help from the Finnish Institute of Athens.  I also made friends with several Classical scholars who helped me with information.

I still return to Greece nearly every year and I’m currently researching the Greek/Celtic connections so this has included trips to the Salisbury Plain in England.  Last summer at the hotel where I stayed on Zakynthos, the hotel manager was a history professor. When I told him about my current work-in-project he willingly offered me lots of fascinating information about the connections of the Greeks and Celts.  So don’t be afraid to ask questions!

A tip for those of you who are doing research:  I found that if I made a list of exactly what I wanted to find out at that particular time I didn’t get side-tracked with all the other amazing and interesting things there were to read about or see. When I go to museums, for instance, I go to see particular displays pertaining to my research.  And when I research on-line I do the same thing: look for only what you need to know right then.  This rule helps you keep from getting side-tracked. Otherwise you’ll spend more time on researching than you do on the actual writing!