Triskele 5: JD Smith

Article published on November 28, 2015.

Five authors from three genres discuss why they write, why they came together and what the future holds for their (currently) all female collective.

Historical fiction is hugely popular at the moment but most focuses around either British, imperial or European history, what so attracted you about this period of Syrian history?

It was the figure of Zenobia herself as I’d never had any interest in Syrian history prior to discovering her, although I have always been a fan of Roman history. So many stories from the past can resonate with today and the stories of people who live in the present, and I like finding those similarities and writing a character than could live both in the past and the present, and in more than one world. The fact the Overlord series is set in Syria is purely because that is where Zenobia reigned all those years ago.

One of your central characters, Zenobia, has been largely forgotten about despite having a huge impact on Syrian history, why do you think this is?

Quite simply, history is written by the victors. Without giving too much away, Zenobia clearly did not overthrow the Roman Empire, she did not invade the capital, and Syria did not expand to become a glorious empire surviving hundreds of years. The history of Zenobia is written by the Romans, and they were not likely to revel in Zenobia’s achievements.

The narrative style you take is a key component of your novel, was it an early decision to adopt this tone and create a sense of oral history in your novel?

The series was always going to be written first person, looking back at a history dissolved by time and by war. That was always clear to me and was never really a conscious decision. The tone however was developed over a longer period of time. I wrote the first book in the Overlord series, The Rise of Zenobia, then I moved on to writing Tristan and Iseult. The latter was much more lyrical, and it was a conscious move to put more of the tone I had used in that novel into the Overlord series.

What kind of research did you carry out to write this novel?

Mostly reading the very few books that were written about Zenobia at the time, one of which was a very well-researched book by Richard Stoneman, plus various texts he’d referenced Then lots of internet research into emperors around that time, general day to day living facts and discovering little things that would make the settings come alive.

Would you ever be tempted to write a contemporary novel?

If by contemporary you mean set in the present, then no. I can’t imagine ever writing one unless it was a children’s book which took children back in time to a place in history, or a place that was grounded by elements of the past. Even then I think I’d end up setting the present in the past, for example when you think of Narnia, the present was actually the war.

 JD Smith



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