Friday, 10 January 2014

Guest Blog: What If? - Alexander Cole

Here at Falcata Times, we're always proud to host a guest blog from authors.  We love to see the thinking behind the work, the questions that the authors ask themselves and to be part of a tour gives the readers the chance to not only try new blogs out but to return to some old favourites.   So here, on his proud Alternate History debut, author Alexander Cole (aka Colin Falconer) brings his concepts to the fore:

My mother told me that my first word wasn’t ‘Mum’. Or even ‘Dad’.

It was “Wotif?’

I think she knew about then that her son was going to be a writer.

What if.

What if Alexander had not died in Babylon in 323BC? What would he have done next?

And what would he have done with his new war elephants?

COLOSSUS is my first foray into alternative history. Some of my other novels have been whydidtheys rather than whatifs,

I played out my stories against well researched periods of history; with Cleopatra, with Cortes, with Suleiman, I asked why.

But with Alexander it was ‘what if?’

The speculation was too sumptuous to resist.

There are those who do not like alternative history. It certainly has its critics. But as a reader of historical novels, as well as an author of them, I don’t care as long as the story seduces me. My only caveat is that the author pays attention to the facts.

Thomas Harris’s ‘Fatherland’ for example; it never happened, but the back story paid every attention to historical record.

I believe alternative history is valid; when real events are given due respect, it throws recorded history into context..

But I didn’t set out to write alternate fiction; I set out to write a story. It just happened to be the best way to tell it.

In that, I suppose, I’m not a purist. I read an interview recently between Bernard Cornwell and George RR Martin where they both agreed on the parallels between fantasy fiction and historical fiction, yet dismissed alternate fiction. I don’t understand this. I’m not an apologist for alternative fiction - this is the first I’ve ever written, it may be the last. But surely the story is the boss.

And ‘what if’ is the seed behind every tale.

I did as much research for COLOSSUS as I did for any historical novel. I researched Alexander’s life thoroughly, studied his battle tactics and the well documented degeneration of his personality. I read every book I could find on the history of war elephants. When Alexander came to conquer Carthage he employed the same tactics as those used by Scipio Africanus two hundred years later.

And finally, knowing as much as I could about the years before and after his death, I gave him one extra year of life to see what he would do with it.

I brought an elephant to life and put his mahout into Alexander’s orbit, imagined him as Alexander’s elephantarch, in command his new secret weapon - the war elephant.

And then what?

Well, what if Alexander had decided to march on Carthage?

What if, during this campaign, we can learn to sympathise with the elephants who have been enslaved as war machines?

What if the ancient struggle between avarice and compassion are played out on an epic, long ago stage?

Ah, what if.

It has fired my imagination since a child.

It fires it still. 

Colossus was released on the 2nd January 2014 from Atlantic Books.

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