Hazards of History- Saul David talks to Sarah Ford about his latest novel
PUBLISHED: 17:28 20 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:34 20 February 2013
Historic-fiction novelist, Saul David, discusses the hazards of this genre
In 2007, he signed a three-book deal with Hodder & Stoughton to write a series of novels set in the late Victorian period about a fictional character called George Hart, whose father was a pillar of the British military establishment and whose mother was a half-Irish, half-Zulu actress. Zulu Hart was chosen as the best new fiction title by Waterstones in March 2009, and the second book in the series, Hart of Empire, is launched this month.
I love books with first-hand accounts of people who have been in dramatic circumstances, and fiction takes it one step further and it allows me to be creative, Saul explains. I was always fascinated by the period I am writing about. The 19th century wars of empire always felt a bit like the Wild West. I feel that the people were pitched to the edge of their world and empire-building seemed to produce the extremes of behaviour and fortitude; it was about the best of people and the worst of people.
I am ambivalent about empire personally, as the flipside is that indigenous people are ruled by outsiders against their will. But I am drawn to the human drama of a time when people had to do extraordinary things to make anything of themselves, to carve out countries and found businesses.
Experienced broadcaster and author of several critically acclaimed history books, Saul David tells Sarah Ford about the perils of working in TV
Ifyou imagine being a television presenter is a cushy number, try sitting on a wooden horse as someone in a suit of armour charges towards you with a jousting lance. Its an uncomfortable days shooting that Saul David will not wish to repeat in a hurry. However, the odd dicey moment seems to be an occupational hazard for the broadcaster, author and history professor such as the time he was filming at Lincoln Castle, where the turrets were covered in a sheet of ice.
I was doing a piece to camera from the battlements and the camera was at the bottom looking up at me, Saul recalls. I had to walk gingerly into shot across three yards of icy ground and we filmed this about eight times. Each time I did it I thought I was going to slip over the edge but in television you rarely refuse to do something they ask you to do.
The knight programme was one of the more frightening pieces Ive done and I was incredibly nervous, Saul admits. We wanted to demonstrate the affect of a lance splitting on a person in full armour. So they put me on a dummy horse without a shield!
To see someone through my visor in full knights gear charging towards me was really terrifying. And as he had a few problems with the horse, we had to do it three times.
Saul, who lives in a village near Bath with his wife and three daughters, admits that his career path has been unconventional. He has had a passion for history since he was a young boy and, after gaining his MA at Edinburgh University, he knew he wanted to write history books.
I felt I needed to train as a writer first, and so I worked as a journalist for 18 months at Haymarket, where they produce consumer magazines. I then set myself up as a freelance writer, which is about as tough as it can get, with no income and no guarantee that people are going to publish your work.
His writing career took off with a book about the troops who did not get off at Dunkirk. Churchills Sacrifice of the Highland Division looks at their final desperate stand in Normandy and the story was retold for the recent 70th anniversary on Radio 4s How The Rest Got Home.
Saul has since written another nine history books including The Homicidal Earl, a critically acclaimed biography of Lord Cardigan who led the Charge of the Light Brigade.
The Indian Mutiny, 1857, was shortlisted for the Duke of Westminsters Medal for Military Literature; Zulu: The Heroism and Tragedy of the Zulu War of 1879 was a Waterstones Military History Book of
the Year and Victorias Wars: The Rise of Empire,
was a bestseller.
Saul, who lives in a village near Bath with his wife and three daughters, admits that his career path has been unconventional
Sauls regular TV and radio appearances include presenting on the Escape From series for Channel Five, Sky Ones genealogy series So You Think Youre Royal? and three programmes for the BBCs Timewatch. Recently he presented Filtons Fabulous Flying Machines, a BBC West television programme which looked at Bristols connection to 100 years of flight.
Saul, who also has a PhD, and is Professor of War studies at the University of Buckingham, admits that in the early days he found adapting to television presenting harder than he thought it would be.
I found the whole process of speaking to a camera quite difficult. Yet I dont think my experience was unusual and its a lovely business to get into. As a writer you spend 75% or more of your time on your own. Being out with a team, all striving for the same end product is great fun.
Hart of Empire is published in hardback on 5 August, www.hodder.co.uk
Are you a fan of Saul David? Let us know why and comment on this interview...