It is an honour to host fellow “kitten” Tim Taylor today, Classicist, Philosopher, and man of many other parts, some of which we have in common. I can’t wait to read his first novel, Zeus of Ithome, which you can purchase buy clicking on the cover picture below.
Tim – we have a few things in common – like Oxford (featured in my book), but I left academia to get married! My distance degree from Australia took five years from 1989, while I was working. I wouldn’t want to do that again. How long did yours take, and are you considering further studies?
Well, my first degree was a normal full-time course, but later I did a PhD in philosophy part-time at Birkbeck, University of London, while I was working full-time and helping to bring up a small daughter (now 16). It took eight years, and for most of that I was living in Yorkshire and studying in London. Looking back, I can’t quite believe I managed it. It helped being able to work late in the evening, when everyone else was asleep, and because there was no coursework, just a thesis to write, I could work at my own pace, which was often very slow. I suppose the most important thing was that it was always something I enjoyed doing, not a chore. And I have carried on doing academic research and writing ever since.
You say you like walking up hills, but isn’t it a relief when you reach the top. Like to share an experience of your hill walking?
I don’t know about relief – sometimes the way down can be harder than the way up, especially if it’s steep, but if it’s a hill I haven’t walked up before, I feel I’ve achieved something when I get to the top. I remember once I was on holiday in Italy, walking up a mountain called Bric Mindino, and two thirds of the way up I got caught in a thunderstorm, which was followed by dense fog. When I finally managed to find my way to the top I actually punched the air. Then later, when the fog lifted, I realised I’d walked down the wrong side of the mountain!
Tell us about your guitar playing, and the songs you sing. Is that where your poetry comes in?
Oh, if only I could sing, Jane! Unfortunately, though I can hold a tune, my voice just isn’t good enough. So my life has been littered with songs in search of a singer. Oddly, I’ve always found lyrics very difficult, so many of them are in search of words too. As a result, what I play these days is mostly solo acoustic guitar, though I have been in bands in the past. I have recently bought a looper, so I can lay down backing parts to accompany myself, and have started using this with electric as well as acoustic guitar. I also read some of my poems at open mic nights and other events (my voice is good enough for that, at least) and plan to experiment with using the looper to create backing music for the poems.
In Zeus of Ithome, you take a little known chapter of ancient Greek history and weave it into a story. We’d love to know about your research, and whether you visited Greece.
I had a reasonable knowledge of the ancient Greek world, having studied it at University, but I needed to do a fair amount of research on the events and historical people that figure in the novel, using ancient sources like Pausanias, Plutarch and Thucydides, and modern books on ancient Greece. I did this as I went along, rather than sitting in a library for weeks before I started.
As for the landscape, I had visited Greece some time ago, and retained memories of some of the places that feature in the novel. But I have to confess that I didn’t go back there to refresh my memory, much as I would have liked to. To visualise the landscapes through which the central character, Diocles, travels, I followed his journey virtually using Google Maps and Google Earth, and also used photos and other images. God bless the internet!
How long did it take you to write the book, and tell us if you learned anything in the process which you would avoid in future.
I can’t remember exactly how long it took – less than a year, I think. I very much enjoyed it, and I’d be delighted if the process was as smooth as that for future novels. I had, however, learned a lesson from a previous, unpublished novel, which was to have a good idea of where the novel was going before I started writing the text in earnest. I have discovered that I am not the sort of novelist who can just leave their characters to find their own way – they have a tendency to get lost. So I need to give them a map, though it’s also important to allow them some freedom to deviate from it as the fancy takes them.
Tell us about your journey to publication, and how did you find Crooked Cat?
It was a delayed journey, as no sooner had I completed a rough draft of the novel than I managed to get a publishing deal with Palgrave Macmillan for an academic book about the philosophy of well-being – which I hadn’t written yet. So Zeus had to go onto the shelf for a while as I knuckled down and wrote the other book (Knowing What is Good for You). Then, when I dusted it off, I tried a few agents, who seemed to think that nobody would read a story about ancient Greece unless I could turn it into a crime novel. But I had a friend (K. B. Walker, author of Once Removed) who had published with Crooked Cat and spoke highly of them, so I thought I would see if they might take it on. The rest is, er … history.
I understand your next book is very different. Might you give us a foretaste, and say when it will be ready for publication?
It is about a fictional Latin American dictator. The narrative covers a period of a few months, as one of his subordinates plots a coup against him, and is interspersed with reminiscences from his estranged (and imprisoned) wife about how he came to power and gradually turned from an idealist into a despot. I wanted to explore the different ways in which power corrupts. I probably have about three quarters of a novel’s worth of text, but it still needs a lot of work, so it will be a few months yet, I think.
I can relate to your message to the world on Jeff Gardner’s blog: “Never give up on what you love to do, even if you can’t make a living out of it.” How does this work for you?
Six years ago I was off work for a few months with a blood condition, which gave me both the time and the impetus to think about where I was going. My life had been eaten up by my job, which was getting increasingly stressful. I had tried to keep my academic, writing and music interests going, but they had been increasingly squeezed out – there was barely enough time for my family. I decided that this needed to change, but it was obvious that it was never going to happen unless I did something radical. Though I went back to work for a while, I took a career break as soon as I could afford to, and when the opportunity came to leave permanently, I grabbed it. I haven’t looked back.
Do you have a wish list – what would you love to do / be / have if there were no barriers?
Oh yes, I have an endless supply of wishes! For starters: to do – visit the Andes and the Himalayas; to be – a competent singer; to have – a little bit more money, perhaps (that’s the down side of getting out of the rat race).
Thank you so much for allowing this insight into your life, Tim!