Harry Sidebottom isn't the most glamorous name a best selling novelist or senior academic classicist could have, but Harry is proud of his name and was determined that it was the one he wanted on the cover of his books, when offered a 3 book deal by Penguin.
This was just one of the personal asides offered during 2 talks given yesterday on a visit to Macclesfield and Bury Libraries to launch no 3 in the Warrior of Rome series Lion of the Sun. Harry spoke with honesty and humour about the apparent ease with which he got published, the downsides of academic life (yes, even at Oxford), some of the plotting and character decisions he took in planning this series and some of his literary heroes ( Patrick O'Brian and Mary Renault are top of his tree). All of this underplayed his expert scholarship and facility with language, which has so obviously contributed to making his books into the best sellers they are. Lion in the Sun has gone straight into the top five best seller rankings and is the current Waterstone's book of the week.
The Warrior of Rome novels are set during the great crisis of the Roman empire in the mid-Third Century AD and Harry admitted that this period has not had much written about it. Easy therefore to write what he wants without fear of contradiction. However, Harry is a serious historian and gets deeply annoyed if he discovers that he has made a factual error, as he did in No 2 King of Kings with some Eucalyptus Trees which he has since been told would never have been found anywhere but the Antipodes at this time.
In Lion of the Sun, the series' central character Ballista is facing up to threats to the survival of the Roman Empire- from an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman! Yet, while Harry can't resist these moments of playfulness, these are hard-hitting books tackling serious subject matter, such as how far can the west go to protect its freedom before it destroys the very thing it is defending? He says on his own websiteAll the novels seek to raise big questions, but each is driven by suspense and action.
Both audiences seemedenthralled by Harry's talks and had plenty of questions for him. While there were some existing fans in the audiences I think many people will have been introduced to this writer for the first time and inspired to go away and read his work.
Jane was the co-ordinator of Time To Read, a partnership of people working in public libraries in NW England, to develop the audience for reading.
She retired in August 2015 and is now very busy doing other things.