Searching for Alexander the Great...

First of all, a quick status report concerning Alamo; I’m a few days away from starting the next book in the series, ‘Not In My Name’, which should be on sale somewhere around the middle of September. I now have titles for the next two books in the series, ‘Cage of Gold’ and ‘Minstrel Boy’, which will be on sale in November and January respectively. I won’t give any more details on that here, but you can look at the wonder that is the cover of ‘Not In My Name’ above; Keith has done his usual amazing job. These four books - including ‘Aces High’ - will be opening up for the eight books to follow, and the arc through to book twenty-four is firming up now in my head. And there will be aliens this time. Promise. (Yes, they are in the setting, but they’ve been referenced pretty rarely.)

A good part of my attention is now concentrating on my Hellenistic research. Here the lessons that I learned while working on the Crusades come strongly into play - for I am able to break all of this down into a series of stages. The first one is quite simple - reading. I’ve got a large stack of books to go through, about half of which are new to me, and I’m working my way through them fairly methodically. The goal here is essentially to familiarize myself with the territory in a reasonably informal way - no notes, nothing like that, just reading around the subject to try and get it into my head. I expect that this will last into September.

Then comes the big part. I’ve got to break down the campaigns of Alexander the Great, using the primary sources as my basis (and at this point, I’ll flag how unbelievably wonderful the Landmark edition of Arrian is, hell, all four of them are excellent) into books. Probably about sixteen of them, working out, basically, what goes where. And who. Minor spoiler alert - these series starts with the accession of Alexander to the throne (though there is potential room for a few sequels, I suppose) and will conclude sometime after his death. I think.

Once I’ve built the skeleton, I then must flesh it out, which means working out the point-of-view characters, producing profiles of the major figures in the story, which does not necessarily mean the major figures of the period, though some will likely coincide, and working out their arcs, at least roughly. (Naturally, actual history is canon for this, hence the need to profile each one.) Who goes where, what POVs I need to cover various events, that sort of thing. I’m making serious progress on this already - to an extent, some of this will run concurrently.

Then I start thinking about the first book, then and only then, and can work out the details I need to pick up for it. I do not work well with outlines for books - this I know. To an extent, an epic saga like this one is going to require one, but it isn’t quite as bad as it sounds. Each book will need to do certain things to fit in with the story of the whole. Represent battles, campaigns, sieges, murders, intrigues. Some of that will be required by the actual events of history, others will be required for the arcs of the individual characters - it will vary, but though it sounds like a lot, on the page it will likely not amount to more than a dozen bullet points per book, which I can then expand to make the plot of each individual book. As the series continues, the scope will widen, but the mercy is that the growth is somewhat controlled.

I’ve got it easy in one respect - there aren’t really any dull moments in this campaign! There might be problems if I was sticking solely to the perspective of Alexander himself, but I have the ability to move other pieces around to where the action is. There’s always a rebellion going on somewhere, a campaign, a plot, a conspiracy, and using maybe half a dozen POV characters I have the ability to move around where I want. A substantial advantage. Another advantage is that my major sources are excellent. Arrian, Curtius, Herodotus, the tripod on which all of this rests. (Yes, I know Herodotus wrote a century earlier, but he’s a great source for the peoples, cultures and their histories.) There are Landmark Editions of Arrian and Herodotus, which promise to be a great help.

I’ve raved about those often enough that I probably ought to expand on them. Essentially, these are incredibly well-annotated translations of the original texts, complete with maps and extensive appendices going into greater detail. If you want a one-book history of Alexander the Great, the Landmark Arrian would actually be an excellent starting point. (For a non-primary version, go with Freeman’s Alexander the Great. And while you are at it, read his Julius Caesar as well.) The best part is that they aren’t even that expensive; my Landmark Arrian only cost £12, not much more than my Penguin and Oxford translations. Frankly, if it wasn’t for this and another book, I wouldn’t be contemplating this project at all. Reading that is what gave me the idea.

That other book, you ask? Well, under normal circumstances I would face the daunting task of having to detail out all the personalities in Arrian, Curtius, Plutarch, et cetera, and that would promise to be a hell of a job. Could take years. Fortunately, a great scholar named Waldemar Heckel has already done it with his ‘Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great’, which reduces the preparation time for this from years to months. It really is that good. (There’s a companion volume on the ‘Marshals of Alexander’s Empire’, also of great value.)

My timeframe on this is subject to considerable extension. As a best-case, September to outline the whole series, work out what goes where, making sure that each book has enough plot (because I have a tendency to compress when I’m writing - what I think going in is 80k often would end up at 50k if I didn’t throw in more plot twists) as well as a decent beginning and an end. Right now I’m contemplating sixteen books, but that’s just a working concept. Until I sit down and actually go through everything, I won’t even have a rough idea - and all of that might well change later on, depending on how writing the books for real goes.

That done, I then...write another Alamo, number 15, in October - I’m sticking with my ‘every other month’ for Alamo books through this whole process, never fear. Then, if all is going really well, in November I outline and write the first Alexander book, which I am calling ‘Shadow of Olympus’ as a working title. I would want to have a couple of these in the drawer before the first one comes out, which would mean the first book released in February. (Which, I know, would mean I would actually do twelve books in 2016. That was the goal for this year, but it hasn’t worked out that way - though I am on course for eight, which isn’t bad.)

I’ve been looking for my ‘second series’ for a long time, as readers of this blog will know. On a couple of occasions, the books that were to lead to that have even made it into print - witness Spitfire Station and Swords of the Damned, but in both cases they only made it to their ‘pilots’. (Though Spitfire Station and its cast are now integrated to the point that it might as well be titled ‘Battlecruiser Alamo 5a’. The next Alamo is essentially a sequel to ‘Triple-Cross’.) I’m hoping that this will be the one. I suppose rationally I ought to be seeking out a fantasy series, but I just haven’t got one in my head, and it isn’t for lack of looking. Not one that I’m happy with, anyway. Never say never, but for a big, sprawling epic...Alexander is it. It’s got the lot. And that’s the appeal. Though I won’t deny that trying to get this down on paper is going to be daunting!

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