I remember when I was querying my debut novel, Antonius: Son of Rome. Most of the agents I contacted responded that historical fiction wasn't in big demand or ancient Rome wasn't a trending period for novels at the time.
Well, I have news for them. The ancient world IS a big draw for many people and so it's always a joy to come into contact with other authors currently writing on it in some period. Gordan Doherty, S.J.S. Turney, Heather Robinson, and best-selling author Margaret George all are writing or have recently launched novels taking place in Rome, Greece, Egypt, ancient Britannia, or the ancient Near East.
Mark McLaughlin is covering the Hellenistic period during the campaigns of Alexander the Great--a momentous time full of conflict, rapid change in the Mediterranean, and the stuff of adventure, which all authors adore. I had the opportunity to interview Mark about his projects and his love of all things ancient. So let's not waste any more time, but welcome Mark McLaughlin!
Brook: What is it that captivates you about the ancient world and makes you want to keep coming back to it again and again?
Mark: It all began when I was about 10; that is when I met MyBestFriendNino (all one word). We would watch Saturday afternoon sword and sandal movies on TV and play out the battles with toy soldiers (which I actually still do to this day). I still can never get enough of the era, whether it is books (that I read or write), games (that I play or design – I have 26 published board games to my credit), toy soldiers (we call them miniatures, and I have painted thousands – truly, a cast of thousands, and we play wargames with them) or movies/television series (fiction and non), and that includes documentaries (Mary Beard and Bettany Hughes are my favorites)
PS: 57 years on, Nino is still my best friend – just this week we both watched the 300 Spartans and then Skyped about it.
Brook: How did you go about preparing to write this series? What were some of your resource materials, films watched, or any travels you’ve made to paint your ancient Near East?
Mark: I have been reading history, archaelogy and historical fiction on this (and other) eras since I got a library card. I have read scores of novels on the Greeks and Persians and the Alexander era (Mary Renault, Valerio Massimo Manfredi, Paul Doherty, Steven Pressfield etc.) and even more non-fiction books (from Arrian to Sir Michael Wood, and that includes Quintus Curtius Rufus, Diodorus of Sicily and your friend, Plutarch, right up through the 19th, 20th centuries and current scholars).
I have been a journalist for 50 years, and have covered conflicts in all of the places Alexander set foot in – and more. Most of it I covered from a desk and through the use of phones and computers, but I have also talked with many people who live in those areas. I have also drawn a lot from how these areas are shown in documentaries, (notably the ones by Sir Michael Wood and Bettany Hughes) and untold numbers of films (Richard Burton's and Oliver Stone's Alexanders in particular) and television series (including a laughable one from the 60s with Captain Kirk – William Shatner – as Alexander).
Brook: Lately, there have been several authors depicting the ancient East. I’m thinking of one; Gordon Doherty’s novels on the Hittites—a much earlier period than yours, of course. What are the challenges in world-building an empire such as Thebes? Could you share some of the trials and tribulations you faced in designing your ancient world?
Mark: I know Gordon! We share an interest in Hittites (I have painted several hundred little Hittite warriors for games, and the Hittites are a power/player in my upcoming game Ancient Civilizations of the Middle East from GMT games). I have reviewed all of the books in that series of his on Amazon, and he promises to do the same for me eventually.
“Trials and Tribulations” is not a phrase I would use; I prefer “challenges and opportunities.” It is much like building something out of Legos – you just need to find the pieces that fit.
Brook: And now—TRIUMPHS! What are some of the BEST things that have resulted in writing this series?
Mark: The look of pride in their Dad in my children's faces when I hand them another one of my books. Nothing compares with that. No award this side of a Pulitizer or the Nobel could match that for me.
Brook: Do you foresee yourself remaining in the ancient world with your writing, or do you intend to visit other periods or genres?
Mark: I delivered Book Four in the series – Son of Zeus-Ammon – to my editor in Athens (yes, I have an authentic Greek editor and she is wonderful) in August. It is scheduled to come out in November. By next spring I expect to have the fifth ready: A Camel's House (that is the English translation of Gaugemala, the site of the biggest battle in world history prior to the late Napoleonic Wars). I am committed to doing three more after that, for a total of eight in the series (spoiler alert: Alexander dies in the last one).
I was 70 pages into a Civil War novel (Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, based on a game I designed of the same name) and will get back to that once Alexander is dead and buried...well, at least dead....but who knows, I might do one more in the series to follow his corpse, which was dragged about during the wars of the Successors until Ptolemaios finally plunked him down in Alexandria (the one in Egypt, there were 20 other Alexandrias – the boy really did have issues didn't he)
Brook: Is there another author whose work has inspired yours in any way?
Mark: So many. My first and all time favorite is Sir Walter Scott. Ivanhoe is the first real book I remember reading (my grandfather had read it to me even before that). I am a big fan of Steven Pressfield (well, I was, until his most recent work, which was good but not up to his standards) and Bernard Cornwell (I am a Sharpe's Rifles junkie). If I could write half as well as any of them, it would be a tremendous accomplishment.
Brook: What does Mark McLaughlin enjoy doing on a sunny day without a computer in sight?
Mark: When he was little, I would tell my son, Campbell, to go play outside he would reply “Dad, I'm an indoor child.” And like him, so am I. I paint little miniature soldiers (and play games with them with my friends). I design and play board games (almost all of them wargames) and, of course, I read – both for work and for pleasure. I adore movies – especially on the big screen. Every year I give MyBestFriendNino's wife, Debbie, the gift of “I will go with him to any movie you do not want to see.” We do a movie and a meal every month (virtually since COVID, but soon we'll be coming to a theater near you!) I do also take yoga four times a week...over 600 classes as of mid-August. My daughter used to go with me when she lived with us, but would always put her mat in the front of the room so she didn't have to watch me. In Yoga, I am the plucky comic relief – but I try.
All About Mark
A freelance journalist, Mark is the author of two books on military history, four novels and a book of short stories in the historical military fiction series Throne of Darius, and the science-fiction novel Princess Ryans's Space Marines. He is also the designer of 25 published board games – the most recent of which is Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea by GMT games. Mark also writes for many clients and publications. Although his principal work as a journalist over the last 45 years has been in foreign affairs, he also writes on everything from travel and entertainment to serious position papers.
Mark has been married to the love of his life, Cheryl, for 43 and a half years. They live in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and have two children: their eldest daughter, Ryan (for whom a novel and game are named) and a son, Campbell.
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