Briefly put, I’ve written reams and reams of stuff to date, and was ultimately inspired by a steady diet in my teens of historical fiction – Mika Waltari, Mary Renault, Robert Graves et al – and of sicko horror stories. The influence still shows. Further influences are Hollywood science fiction of the 1980s and French grand opera. So far as possible, I like to end with a bang that also resolves everything. My editor at Hodder would add a slight influence in this latter point of Scooby Doo. She ruthlessly sliced out of Terror of Constantinople the line, when the Emperor is brought to bay: “And I’d have got away with it too, but for you bastard children!”
The novels, by the way, are filled with profanities and extreme violence. Actual sex is vaguely described. This isn’t prudery, but a belief that, unless you’re a skilled pornographer and writing for a specific audience, close descriptions of the sexual act are usually funny.
Have you ever visited Mexico?
I would come to Mexico, if I could avoid passing through any point of entry controlled by the Department of Homeland Security. Of course, let Hollywood adapt one of my novels, and give me an Oscar, and I’d be on the next plane. I’d take my shoes and belt off with a happy smile.
What is your involvement with the LGBT community? I’ve been a hardcore supporter of gay liberation since I was a schoolboy, and was writing in favour of gay marriage in the 1980s The friends who came to lunch on Sunday were a gay couple. Several of my closest friends are gay. My dominant sexuality for the past few decades, though, has been straight. You’ll see a picture of my daughter on the page I link to above. She’s pictured in an act of child labour that I told her would help pay for her university.
During the past fifty years, traditional homophobia has been a weakening force in the developed world. I predict – or hope – that the next fifty years will see a breaking down of the 19th century categories. I suspect that most people will settle into long periods of semi-monogamous heterosexuality. Many people, though, will be actively adventurous in ways we can barely imagine – some changing sex every few years, and entering into whatever relationships suit their convenience.
These beliefs make their way into all my fiction. Of course, the main purpose of a novel is to tell a story, not to preach. Even so, my historical novels are set in an age where, despite the victory of the Christian Faith, assumptions about sex were radically different from our own. The first laws against gay sex were made by Constantine the Great, but were hardly ever enforced, unless the authorities wanted to get someone for other reasons. For the most part, they were unenforceable. The Church itself was more concerned about adultery and illegitimacy and infanticide. Except they were obsessed by social status, the ancients had a more sensible view of sex than we had until recently, or still have.
If you want to set a convincing novel in an age before our own, you must free yourself from categories that didn’t exist before about 1860. Despite their general excellence as writers, Mika Waltari and Robert Graves fail to do this. But Mary Renault does succeed. Though I’ve come to regard her novels as rather sentimental, and too unfocussed in their plotting, she is one of my models when it comes to the incorporation of sexuality.
Here is the Spanish translation of one of my novels:Conspiracion en Romaby Richard Blake Published by Editorial Planeta, S. A. Edition: May 2008 360 pp, $19.95 ISBN: 978-6070701100Synopsis609 d.c. Roma se desmorona en medio de la guerra, la peste y los enfrentamientos por el poder entre el emperador, la aristocracia y la incipiente iglesia cristiana. Sin sospecharlo, el jove britano alarico se interpone en esta colision. Su padre fue asesinado y su herencia robada cuando es obligado a separarse de la mujer que ama, emprende el viaje a roma acompañado de su mentor, el Padre Maximino; juntos buscan algunos textos sagrados que les serviran para continuar las misiones en bretaña pero inesperadamente se ven involucrados en una conspiracion heretica plagada de engaño, asesinato y alta traicion