Brought to Book: Ben Kane on his writing life

My books are born from my obsession with Roman history. I’ve followed Spartacus’ trail across Italy. I’ve stood at Cannae and imagined Hannibal’s army meeting the massed legions of Rome

Ben Kane, described by Wilbur Smith as "the rising star of historical fiction", has written nine novels. The latest, the fourth in his Hannibal series, is Hannibal: Clouds of War (Preface Publishing, £12.99). Kane was born in 1970 and raised in Kenya, before moving to Ireland. In Dublin he studied veterinary medicine at University College Dublin, after which he travelled the world extensively, indulging his passion for ancient history. He now lives in North Somerset with his wife and family. Explaing his passion for his subject, he says: "History is more than facts on a pages. It's the sounds, the smells, the people, the passion. History should make you think: 'I was there.' My books are born from my obsession with Roman history. I've followed Spartacus' trail across Italy. I've stood at Cannae and imagined Hannibal's army meeting the massed legions of Rome. I've watched the sea lapping against the fortifications of Syracuse, which were besieged by the Romans for almost two years. I've walked Hadrian's Wall in full Roman military dress, including hobnailed boots. Immerse yourself in these incredible stories and – like me – remind yourself why the legend of Rome endures."

What was the first book to make an impression on you?

The first book that I can remember making a big impression on me was Lord of the Rings .

What was your favourite book as a child?


I read so many, and it's long enough ago that it's hard to remember. Either The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff or Sir Nigel by Arthur Conan Doyle.

And what is your favourite book or books now?

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks.

What is your favourite quotation?

“Such is life” – Ned Kelly’s final words on the gallows.

Who is your favourite fictional character?

Logen Nine Fingers, from Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy.

Who is the most under-rated Irish author?

That's a loaded question, and one I don't feel able to answer fairly. My current favourite Irish author is crime writer William Ryan.

Which do you prefer – ebooks or the traditional print version?

I use both, but much prefer printed books.

What is the most beautiful book you own?

I don't buy books for their physical beauty, but for the words in them. If I had to think of imagery, the text Greece and Rome at War by Peter Connolly has some of the most incredible pictures in it of any book I own.

Where and how do you write?

In my office, which is part of our wooden garage. I write standing up, at a desk, and can look out into the garden, which is lovely if the weather’s good, and grim if it’s not.

What book changed the way you think about fiction?

The Last Queen by CW Gortner – a wonderful and evocative recreation of the life of Juana "La Loca", daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Castile, who was labelled as mad, and incarcerated for her whole life despite being the rightful heir to the throne of Spain.

What is the most research you have done for a book?

That’s hard to answer as I’ve written eight books set in Roman times, so the research is cumulative. It must total thousands of hours by now.

What book influenced you the most?

Lord of the Rings , without doubt. I first read it at the age of seven, and then again at nine. After that, I tended to listen over and over to the BBC radio version, which was 13 hours long, but I have re-read it a number of times since. It's a wonderful work of fiction.

What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday?

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks.

What book do you wish you had read when you were young?

No idea!

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Read and write – lots. And lots. And lots.

What weight do you give reviews?

It very much depends on the person who’s written the review, and what I think of their opinion.

Where do you see the publishing industry going?

I don’t think anyone could answer that without guessing. I hope for some kind of stasis to develop, to stop the freefall of book prices and the loss of bookshops and libraries.

What writing trends have struck you lately?

That writing tends to follow “fashion” trends, much as other industries do.

What lessons have you learned about life from reading?

That many other people think similar things to me – or should that be the other way around?!

What has being a writer taught you?

That I can do a job I love more than any other I’ve done, earn a living, and bring pleasure to thousands of people in the process. Oh, and that I can go on research trips to Italy!

Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?

JRR Tolkien, Rosemary Sutcliff, Rene Goscinny, Albert Uderzo, Christian Cameron, Wilbur Smith, Guy Gavriel Kay, Michael Scott Rohan.

What is the funniest scene you’ve read?

Various scenes from My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell are too funny to differentiate.

What is your favourite word?

I’m a writer, and I don’t have one. Is that bad?

If you were to write a historical novel, which event or figure would be your subject?

I only write historical novels! I’m very proud to have written two novels dramatising Spartacus’s story.