Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Adrian Goldsworthy Interview - The Fort

Photo Content from Adrian Goldsworthy

Adrian Goldsworthy is a respected historian of the ancient world. He studied at Oxford, where his doctoral thesis examined the Roman army, and he went on to write acclaimed works of nonfiction including Caesar, Hadrian's Wall, and Philip and Alexander. His fiction includes the authentic and action-packed Vindolanda Trilogy, set in Roman Britain.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
It is something very natural, fundamental to the way we understand the world. After all we all live our own story, intertwining with the stories of those around us. People and events from the past shape who we are and what may happen. I have been writing non fiction history books for a long time now, and history makes no sense unless it is a story. Wider factors, shifts in society, technology, climate, beliefs, all matter a good deal, but it really is all about the many individuals and how they lived their lives through great, sometimes terrible, events and through all the less famous moments. Fiction gives us more control over the story. If the author likes – and the reader chooses to read – there can be a simple happy ending, something less simple or whatever they like. The Fort is meant as an adventure story and as escapism – dark at times, but not too dark in the end. It’s a lot more comfortable reading a tale of battles and bloodshed than living it. The idea is to take readers to another world, far off from us in time and attitudes, and follow our characters through exciting and dreadful episodes.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
That’s very hard to pick. There is nothing quite like receiving an advanced copy of your first published novel – or indeed any new book. The thrill isn’t quite the same as book follows book, but it’s still there. It’s the culmination of all the thoughts and ideas you had, and then the hours and days and weeks staring at a screen, sometimes in painful frustration and sometimes with that wonder as the story flows and you are not really sure whether you are making it up or somehow describing something that happened. At the end of it all, there is the book, with that unique newly printed paper smell. Nine times out of ten it falls open and you spot a typo on the page that you, the copy editor, editor typesetter and everyone else has missed!

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I have just submitted the sequel to The Fort, a book called The City, which will be released next summer. This sees Ferox, Vindex and a fair few of the other characters out on the Euphrates frontier of the empire, caught up in the opening stages of the Emperor Trajan’s Parthian campaigns. The third book in the trilogy will be called The Wall and take place a few years later when Hadrian is emperor, so no prizes for guessing where that one will be set. In the meantime, it’s back to non fiction for me, writing a book called The Eagle and the Lion, about the long history between Rome and Parthia and later Persia, so very much the grand sweep of events rather than the narrower focus of a novel. I may have a go at a one off novel set much more recently after that, but we shall have to see.

Can you tell us when you started THE FORT, how that came about?
I was asked to write the Vindolanda trilogy a few years ago, which introduced Ferox and the wider cast of characters, some of them drawn from the writing tablets found during the excavations at the site of Vindolanda fort (which is a couple of miles south of where Hadrian’s Wall would be built). That was my first foray into writing fiction sent in the Roman era. Given that my day job is writing non fiction books about the ancient world and the Romans in particular, I had held off writing novels with the same setting, partly to give myself a break. However, the request to write those stories came at just the right time, when the stories were already growing in my mind. They have been immense fun to write, but after discussion with my publishers, the feeling was that it was better to create a linked, but slightly different trilogy rather than straight sequels. The idea was that someone could pick up The Fort and enjoy it even if they had read none of the Vindolanda trilogy, but that there was an extra level for those who had.

By coincidence for a book set during a siege, I started writing only a few days before the first covid lockdown was introduced here in the UK. Can’t say whether that helped give an air of menace and lurking threat or not.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
That’s really for them. I have always been surprised with fiction and non fiction alike, when people tell me that they really liked something I’d said in one of the books, because often it comes as a complete surprise. Everyone sees things differently, and they bring so much of themselves to every story, so that each person reads each story in a very personal way. As I say, The Fort and my other novels are meant as adventures. Hopefully, while they are following the story, readers can explore a different time and place and laugh, weep, and struggle with the characters. No story works unless you care about the people involved. No historical novel really works unless the setting seems real enough and consistent enough to accept – and I guess the same is true of fantasy or science fiction. The Vindolanda stories were essentially Westerns, just set on the frontier of Northern Britain c. AD 100. The Fort is the same, albeit at the same time also a War story.

What part of your characters did you enjoy writing the most?
The jokes. A lot of my characters are soldiers or fighting men. All the soldiers I have ever known have laughed a lot. The humour can be crude, often pretty dark, but it is an escape valve and part of how human beings cope with really difficult situations. Medical staff who work in ER rooms similarly talk about the jokes that keep everyone going. I can never quite buy into stories about armies and soldiers that are humourless. It just does not ring true. I’d also say that, because these are adventure stories and not meant as searing insights into the human condition, they should not take themselves too seriously. So the jokes are important to lighten the mood. They also reflect my own, rather simple, sense of humour.

Beyond that I would also say that your characters become very real to you – at least that’s what I find. You enjoy spending time with them. The relationship between Ferox and Claudia Enica is lots of fun to write. Romantic relationships tend to be fun – not least because an author can make the dialogue better and wittier than most of us can manage thinking it up in real life in time to say it at the right moment.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I think in this case I see the world of these stories as so self contained that I would not really want them to step outside – or for anyone else to step in. A fair few real life characters pop up in the stories, and where possible a base even minor characters on some evidence from the past, such as someone from an altar or memorial. My first novels were set in Regency England and the Peninsular War – the series starting with True Soldier Gentlemen – and one of the ideas behind those was to write about the male equivalents of Jane Austen’s heroines – the young officers without fortune, constricted by tight conventions on behaviour, and hoping to make their way in the world. So in those Wickham featured as a supporting character, and now and again FitzWilliam or Tilney would pop up – even implied an encounter with Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe in the third book. I guess it was a bit of a cheek, but it was lots of fun.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Goodness knows. Maybe I haven’t done this thing yet? A simple answer would be to ride a well behaved horse fast over good ground.

What was the first job you had?
My parents had an electrical shop, so I ‘helped out’ if one of them had to pop out for something. I can remember being flustered when a customer wanted something from a high shelf and I wasn’t tall enough to reach, even on the steps. First proper job was in a University – which probably doesn’t really count as a proper job. Did that for a while then was lucky enough to make a go of writing. I guess that’s not really a proper job either.

From bestselling historian Adrian Goldsworthy, a profoundly authentic, action-packed adventure set on Rome's Danubian frontier.


The Dacian kingdom and Rome are at peace, but no one thinks that it will last. Sent to command an isolated fort beyond the Danube, centurion Flavius Ferox can sense that war is coming, but also knows that enemies may be closer to home.

Many of the Brigantes under his command are former rebels and convicts, as likely to kill him as obey an order. And then there is Hadrian, the emperor's cousin, and a man with plans of his own.

You can purchase The Fort at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you ADRIAN GOLDSWORTHY for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of The Fort by Adrian Goldsworthy.


  1. My favorite movie is Bridget Jones' Diary. It's just so funny.

  2. I love action packed stories and this one sounds great.

  3. Tough question, I have a few. I've watched Goodfellas so often that I can repeat the dialogue along with the actors. It's the anti-hero thing I guess. Plus the anti-hero eventually becomes an anti-anti-hero when he flips at the end. Always loved it, still can't believe Dances with Wolves won Best Picture that year.

  4. Love story because it’s the only one I can watch over and over.

  5. "What’s your favorite movie of all time and why?" Hmm, I like a lot of great movies. Let's say "A Christmas Story"! It's very funny, and is basically flawless!