‘Make a video’, they said. ‘Wow’, I thought, that’s a first! Well, not a first in terms of being in front of the camera, I’ve done short films for the projects I’ve managed – oh yeah, riveting stuff – but I’ve never previously got on camera waffling on about the stuff that I write. What fun, I thought!
The first problem was the script. My initial draft was more Simon Scharma than Simon Scarrow, but once I knew what it was that the publicity types at Hodder Towers were after – short, pithy and laden with violence (‘…or your three defining characteristics’, my long suffering wife muttered) – it was easy enough.
Then we had to work out the venue. ‘Housesteads?’, I offered hopefully, dreaming of a day or two on the Wall. Publishing economics intervened, and after a protracted hunt we came up with Porchester Castle close to Portsmouth, a rather lovely old Roman fort built as part of the Saxon Shore defences and then taken over by the Normans, who built a compact little castle in one corner and used the cohort sized fort walls as the outer defence.
And so the day dawned, cold, misty and with a touch of drizzle in the air – and with a deluge predicted. I collected my secret weapon, Roman clothes horse (and author) Russell Whitfield from his place in West London and we headed for Portsmouth. The film crew were nicely on time, and with the weather getting murkier by the moment we set about it, First up was a piece with Russ in my full auxiliary soldier kit (as you can see from the picture) explaining the weapons and armour, during which the precipitation hardened from mizzle to drizzle (and no, younger reader, before you post to ask, there were neither shizzle nor indeed nizzle involved). Once he’d finished exhausting himself waving my sword around – well those things are really heavy, right, and no way is Russ fat – we set to with my piece to camera.
Three problems now raised their heads. The first was the rain, which was now working itself up into a precipitatory frenzy, and quickly notched itself up from drizzle to full NATO standard wetness. The rain drops were bouncing off Russ’s armoured head and my own pink skull with equal force, although the helmet made a nicer plinking sound then my skin, and necessitated frequent stops to wipe the lenses clean, something I suppose anyone who films web content should be ready to do at any time. The second problem was my idiocy, and complete inability to remember my script (even when it was being fed to me in bite sized chunks). Suffice to say that whatever words make it into the final cut will bear only a passing resemblance to what I wrote originally. Note to self: learn your fricking lines!
But it was the third problem that put the tin lid on the morning’s entertainment. Think back to when you were a six year old primary school kid. If you’d gone to visit a boring old castle, only to come across a man wearing the full Roman soldier kit, wouldn’t you have been excited? And just a little bit noisy in your excitement? I know I would, and I’m much older than six… So, multiply that by about 30, all shouting ‘Look! A Roman soldier!’ (full marks for recognition, they must all have watched Gladiator at some point) and the noise was something like standing in a crowded club at two in the morning. Or at least that’s what Russ told me later - I’m too old and staid for nocturnal entertainment, and anyway my wife has forbidden me from chasing women as a) there’s no way I’m going to catch any of them and b) I clearly wouldn’t have a clue what to do if I did manage to trip one up. The only solution was for him to (at least semi-willingly) head off round the castle with the kids in hot pursuit, like the Benny
Hill chase scenes we all enjoyed do much in the 70’s. If you’re too young to remember, have a look on YouTube, and marvel at how easily entertained we all were in those days.
The ruse worked, and we were left to complete my laboured line delivery in the teeth of what was now surely a force eight gale, under which provocation the crew stayed remarkably chipper despite my frequent fluffs. That’s ‘fluffs’ and not ‘fluffing’, all you budding Sun journos. All that was left was to drink a life saving cup of coffee in the only piece of shelter in the whole castle, the gatehouse (nice stone ceiling), at which point the kids hove into view again. ‘Look, ANOTHER Roman soldier!’ Aren’t kids brilliant!
So, learnings? One: pick a venue with potential for filming inside as well as open to the elements. Two: learn your blooming lines. I’m still kicking myself, despite all the justified excuses about a busy week and a low IQ. Three: take a Roman soldier with you. They’re indispensable for diverting the attention of primary school kids.
p.s. If you want to see Russ and I in full on ‘author and Roman soldier’ mode, we’ll be doing a signing in Bishops Stortford Waterstones from 12.00 on Saturday the 30th of April, and we’ll both be happy to sign books, chat about whatever interests you and, in Russ’s case, run round the store with a gang of six year olds in hot pursuit. See you there?