Saturday, September 3, 2016

Q & A with SJA Turney, Author of Insurgency

Please join me in welcoming SJA Turney to A Literary Vacation today!! SJA has kindly stopped by to answer some questions for me, so please enjoy. And, as usual, continue after the  Q & A for more information about SJA's newest  novel, Insurgency.


Hello, SJA, and welcome to A Literary Vacation! To start off with, please tell us a little about your book, Insurgency?

And thank you for having me. The new book? Well Insurgency is a tale of love and betrayal and an empire teetering on the brink of destruction, surrounded by powerful enemies. I suppose that’s the pitch really. What it truly is is the tale of four people at the heart of an empire, whose personal lives fall apart at the moment of the empire’s greatest need and consequently plunge the world into danger. It’s a story of dangerous sea voyages, adventurous pursuits, slavery, battles and sieges. As the power structure suffers the empire weakens, and hitherto unknown enemies at its borders initiate long-laid plans for conquest. It’s fantasy, but in its most realistic, historical style. Think Roman generals and Attila the Hun - or perhaps Genghis Khan.

Now Insurgency is part of a series, correct? Where does it fit into the series?

The Tales of the Empire were designed to be standalone books but with a common thread and all set in the same world. The first three books cover around a twenty year period from several different angles Insurgency is the fourth volume, preceded in order by Interregnum, Ironroot and Dark Empress. Quite simply, while Insurgency is part of a series it can easily be read as a one-off novel without losing anything. For the very best effect, I would say read Interregnum first, as the characters in Insurgency are the descendants of those in Interregnum, but that’s not a necessity by any means. The other two books fit somewhere between these in the timeline but have far less impact on Insurgency.

The book and series sound like a delicious combination of history and fantasy! Where did the idea for the series come from? What prompted you to mix the genres together to tell your stories?

The greatest influence I could claim is Guy Gavriel Kay. He is the master of blending history with fantasy, and I read his earliest books at school. They essentially informed my whole view of literature with their subtle fantasy twists on historical periods. I myself began writing straight history with an attempt to rework Caesar’s diaries and make them readable. The resulting series (Marius’ Mules) has reached book 9 now, but even as I finished book 1 I realized that an author could have so much more influence on their story and the world in which it is set if they started with a blank canvas, so I decided to keep the flavor of Rome and work it into a fantasy milieu in the manner of G G Kay. Also, being a table-top role-player through my formative years has given me plenty of experience in world building, which helped a great deal. History and fantasy are closely tied together anyway, as anyone who reads Roman and Greek mythology will know. The lines between fantasy and history blur a great deal, depending on where the reader is happy to draw them. It seemed the best way to create something unique while drawing on the Roman history which I love.

I’m a huge historical fiction fan. Is there anything in particular that draws you to historical fiction? Are there any particular times in history you gravitate towards more than others, or do you just enjoy history in general?

Actually I primarily write Roman fiction. The Tales of the Empire were something of an indulgence originally, to give me a chance to use my full imagination without being bound by historical fact. But most of my volume of work is historical in nature, with the Marius’ Mules series set in the time of Caesar, the Praetorian series during the reign of Commodus, a kids’ book in the first century AD, and a series set in the late 15th century Mediterranean. Oh, and I’m also part of a collaborative retelling of the fall of Troy (A Song of War), which is released in October. Essentially, I have been an obsessive lover of Roman history since my grandfather took me to Hadrian’s Wall when I was six, and over the last decade I have also become increasingly fascinated with the Byzantine world. Like a true obsessive, almost everything I do is informed by my passion for history.

Did you have to conduct any research to write Insurgency? Have you ever traveled to the locations discussed in the story before or during the writing process?

One of the key features of writing ‘historical fantasy’ rather than the more wildly fantastic sword and sorcery stuff is the need to be clear on any historical elements one might use. For the horse clans in Insurgency I bought several texts on Attila’s Huns and the Mongol horde, to achieve a realistic feel to their clothing and weapons, their lifestyle and so on. Their language, which appears here and there, is my own creation based heavily on the little that is known of the tongues of the steppe peoples of the ancient and medieval worlds, influenced by a smattering of modern Mongolian. Research for my fantasy books is as in-depth as it is for the straight history. Luckily, being a lover of the subject, research is as much a hobby as a chore. I try to travel to any location I use in a book, as I think that gives any description of a place a sense of authenticity. It helps if a writer knows how a place feels and smells as well as what it looks like, in my opinion. Some visits are unachievable, sadly. I never managed to visit the Russian/Mongolian steppe, for instance, but many of the locations in Interregnum are based on places with which I’m familiar (Istanbul, Capri, Rome, Rocamadour and so on.)

Was there anything that shocked or surprised you during the research or writing process? Is there anything in particular that you discovered and found interesting that didn’t end up making it into the story?

Writing is always a fluid thing for me. I am permanently prepared to be surprised, if that makes any sense? I set out with a detailed plan, and then constantly have to adjust that plan as little epiphanies strike me and the plot twists this way and that in my hands. Insurgency was a prime example of that. Perhaps a third of the way into the book I was out having a walk and an idea struck me. I went back to writing later in the day and launched into that idea only to find out that it neatly solved a problem I didn’t even know I had until I’d resolved it. That then became a central plot thread to the whole book. Strange how that happens. Another odd thing came along when my editor noted that I mention it being Spring throughout the book and thought I had got the timings wrong. But when I went back over the timescale for the whole tale, it begins in early spring and ends within a few short months, as spring moves to summer. Most of my books take place over quite some time so that came as a surprise, especially since I hadn’t realized it until it was pointed out to me. And I had a few scenes in mind set in the desert lands of Pelasia (which I love as a setting, and is the main reason I wrote Dark Empress) but they were surplus really, and had no real bearing on the plot, so they were cut.

Similar to the question above: I’ve heard a number of authors say that their characters, while fictional, spoke to them and shaped the way the narrative of the story evolved. Do your characters “lead” you anywhere and, if so, did they lead you anywhere unexpected?

Ah yes. See above! Characters are tricky things. I try and keep them under control, but they tend to live their own lives whatever we do. I had less of this than usual with Insurgency, but still they occasionally tweaked the plot when I realized that their motivations would require them to do something I hadn’t originally planned on. Jala, the Empress, was the main culprit in Insurgency. Her motivations were troublesome to nail down, and she changed things quite a bit. In my second book in the Praetorian series, the main character developed an unintentional addiction to opium, which in the end changed the whole feel of the book. It happens.

What does a typical day (if there is one) look like for you? How do you balance writing with the rest of your life?

Coffee! I rush around to get the morning chores done and sort out the kids with my wife, and then shuffle off into my office armed with coffee. I then write solidly for about seven hours periodically refilling my mug (or perhaps a cheeky beer in the afternoon.) Then by 4 or 5 in the afternoon I down tools. That being said, I am rarely not working in some way. Of an evening or a weekend I am always plotting, making notes, reading research material and suchlike. The brain never stops... except on Wednesdays. That’s my day off. Four days a week I write hard, and in the evenings and at weekends it’s all about family time. But on Wednesdays, while the kids are at school, I turn from writer to reader. My wife and I head into town and I’ll find a comfy corner of a pub to read and relax. I’ve tried writing through the week, but with the pace I set myself on writing days, I’ve found I tend to burn out by about day 4 if I don’t give the brain a bit of a rest, so Wednesday refuels me to launch into things again for the rest of the week.

A lot of authors have become huge on social media, not only promoting their work but interacting with their readers and offering up giveaways, book recommendations, etc. Are you a big proponent of using social media in this way? How do you prefer to interact with your fans?

I’m not a pushy person by nature. In fact, I’m actually surprisingly shy with people I don’t know. I suffer horribly from stage fright and nerves, which can be something of a hiccup in the world of book publicity. But because of that Social Media is a life saver. It doesn’t feel like you’re speaking to strangers or to the world as a whole, but to friends. I love it. After initially doubting the value of it, I plunged into Twitter and Facebook years ago and now have a lively online life. I’ve made many good friends, and I do use it to interact with fans all the time – ‘fans’ and ‘friends’ are more or less synonymous words to me these days. I also run a blog reviewing other peoples’ books and have my own website. I occasionally run giveaways and promote my own work, but I am sparing with it. Fortunately, there are a number of fans out there who promote me far more than I probably deserve, but as I say, I don’t like to be pushy, so I do little of it myself except around the time of a book’s release. Some authors can be rather irritating with the level to which they try the hard sell. I couldn’t be one of them, but I will always enjoy the social media world and be part of it.

I’ve noticed that a lot of authors are also big readers. When you have time for leisure reading what sorts of books do you gravitate towards? Have you read anything good lately?

I really should read ahead, shouldn’t I? Heh heh. As I said previously, I love to read. Some writers avoid reading within their own genre for fear of being influenced by other people’s work. I take the opposite position. I read a lot of historical fiction, especially Roman, and as well as enjoying them it allows me to make sure I write things that are different and don’t cover the same ground as other authors. I mostly read historical novels, but occasionally I foray into crime, fantasy, comedy or the supernatural. Books outside the straight historical genre that have stood out for me recently include Simon Toyne’s Sanctus trilogy, Manda Scott’s Into the Fire and James Douglas’ thrillers.

Are you working on any other books that we can look forward to reading in the future?

Oh I always have more than one book on the go! In fact, there’s a swathe of stuff in the pipeline. A standalone Roman novel is complete and with my agent. A series based on the war between Constantine and Maxentius that I’m writing with Gordon Doherty is currently seeking placement. The Trojan War collaboration ‘A Song of War’ will be out in October. The ninth Marius Mules novel will be out next month. And I am about to embark on a whole new project that will be virgin territory for me which will be released by Canelo next year. Plenty of reading matter to keep page-turners busy. 

Thank you for having me on A Literary Vacation. It’s been fun.

You are so very welcome, thank you for stopping by!!


Publisher: Canelo
Pub. Date: August 16th, 2016
Pages: 351

The Empire has fallen… 

The Empire will rise again. 

A historical fantasy of valour, honour, and determination against all odds from the bestselling author of the Marius’ Mules novels. 

For twenty years, civil war has torn the Empire apart, and the once proud soldiers of the Imperial army now fight as hired hands for greedy lords fighting over the remnants of a more glorious time. 

Now the Empire is rising again under the benevolent reign of Emperor Kiva the Golden. Meanwhile his younger brother – the gifted warrior Quintillian – has been driven away from the Imperial Palace by an uncontrollable love for the Emperor’s wife Jala. Instead the honourable fighter chooses a life of simplicity as a sword for hire leaving the long legacy of his family behind. 

But not all ties of loyalty can be escaped and the bonds of family run deep… 

A truly epic reimagining of the history of the Roman Empire, Insurgency is a fast-paced and addictive novel that will delight fans of the series and capture the imaginations of new readers. The Tales of the Empire series takes S.J.A. Turney’s passion for Roman history and builds a fascinating new fantasy world adorned with all the hallmarks of a shattered Roman Empire.

About the Author

Simon Turney lives in rural North Yorkshire with his family. A lover of Roman history, he decided to combine writing and history with a new look at Caesar's diaries, spawning the hugely popular Marius’ Mules and Tales of the Empire series. When he’s not writing, he spends time visiting classical architecture and ruins. Insurgency is his 18th novel.

Buy the Book

*Insurgency is published by Canelo, priced at £3.99 as an ebook*


  1. Enjoyed the interview. I love historical fiction but have not read one like this one. Sounds very interesting and good, and I will add to my list for future reading, as well as the others in the series. Thanks for the introduction to a new author!