Category Archive: Uncategorized

Prostate cancer: Back to Hospital

Over the last five years the results of my PSA tests have given me cause for comfort and hope that the cancer had gone for good. Sadly, my latest test has shown an increase and I have been referred back to the hospital.

In line with my earlier page describing the events surrounding my prostatectomy, I feel it may be of use to describe events surrounding the latest developments.

The first thing to note is that I received the latest result two days ago. For those in a similar position, my test result was 0.2 and in the original notes for the case I am to be referred if the score goes above 0.1. Obviously, in different parts of the country/world the scores acted upon are different, and it may be that some readers are wondering why I am posting this with such a low score, but the concept that the cancer is back is affecting me more than the original diagnosis. Consequently, it has taken me two days to come to terms with the knowledge that everything now starts again.

This brings me back to the reason for the post. ‘Everything’ may be starting again, but I do not know what ‘everything’ is. The result was on a Friday, today is Sunday (13/09/2020) so I have to wait until tomorrow (Monday) to find out what the hospital says about the next move – selfishly, the people in charge are having the weekend off!* I have no idea what t expect.

For anyone else going through the same process, or who is worried in case the same happens to them, I am planning to update this page as events unfold. Hopefully, it will be a page that expands over the coming decades and so gives hope and reassurance to other PC sufferers.

In the meantime, being a pessimist, I am preparing myself for the worst. That way, I am unlikely to be caught out by bad news. Obviously, I am hoping to post something positive tomorrow in the wake of contact with the hospital. Until then, stay safe and remain healthy!

*Please note that this is a joke: it is just typical of my luck that the result was on a Friday!

Calling Time

After much deliberation I have been forced to come to a single, unhappy conclusion. I am currently contracted to write two more books for Pen and Sword, the first of which is on Constantius III. However, after completing these books I will not be writing any more.

This may seem a drastic decision, given that there are many more subjects which could be covered – the Third century, the Early Republic, the Constantinian Dynasty, Theodosius I – the list goes on. The trouble is that the financial rewards for the months/years of work that goes into writing one book makes it no longer worthwhile.

Possibly the main reason is the rise of the ‘E-book’. Although cheaper to produce and easier to store than print books, and therefore of greater appeal to the public, the net result is that the poor author receives pennies in royalties for these books.

Please don’t mistake my comments here: I can fully understand why people buy e-books rather than hardbacks or paperbacks, not least the cost. I may prefer ‘real’ books to e-books, but I do have quite a few of the latter as I have begun to run out of room in the house. And as money is tight, they are the most affordable version to get.

For the author, that is small comfort. For example, in the last royalties statement I found that I was being paid two-and-a-half pence per book for one of the publications. Strangely, this is not enough to justify the work and commitment needed to write a full manuscript.

As a result, I have recently resumed my career in Education – though on a lesser scale than previously – where I can earn more in one week than I earn in royalties for six months. Hopefully, readers can understand this decision and will accept that paying the bills must come before the vanity of seeing my name in print.

This does not mean, however, that I will now immediately stop posting here or responding to queries and comments. I still have two more years of writing before me, so will be around for a time yet!

What about History?

I am sometimes asked as to why I talk about recent events or about guitars rather than about history.

There are a couple of reasons for this.  One is that after I’ve spent my day researching and writing about history I usually don’t want to then spend my ‘free time’ writing about history again.  No matter how interesting it may seem to others.

The most obvious reason concerns the period of history on which I am currently focused.  Students of Ancient Greece can talk about amusing snippets from many ancient sources, including strange medical assumptions from Galen or insights by Homer or Herodotus.  They have thousands of years of work to choose from.  Those concentrating upon either late-Republican or early-Imperial Rome can quote from Caesar, Cicero, Tacitus or Pliny the Elder, among others.  All of these men wrote long discourses including either a wonderful comprehension of their subject or, especially in the medical or scientific field, they can amaze us with the knowledge that they had – or more often with the strange things they assume to be valid.

I study Late Antiquity.  The works of historians and medical practitioners from this period have almost completely been lost, preserved for the most part only in fragments quoted in much later works.  Even more importantly, the majority of the works that do survive from this era were written by men far more interested in religious debate than in analyzing political events or talking about their medical breakthroughs and beliefs.

Instead, my main reliance is on the fragments of the historical works and the many Chronicles which have survived.  And, to be completely frank, the chronicles aren’t exactly a barrel of laughs.  It is hard to make an interesting blog when what you are working with is a little short on information.  Take this excerpt from the Chronicle of Jerome:

Melania, noblest of Roman women, and daughter of the sometime consul Marcellinus, at that time having left behind her only son, the urban praetor, sailed to Jerusalem, where she was such a miracle of virtue and especially of humility, that she received the name of Thecla.                                                                                       Jerome, Chronicon, c.374.

It’s great for Melania that her name is still known by some people c.1,700 years after her death, but it’s not exactly something around which to build a blog entry.  (Yes, I accept the irony that Melania’s name IS being used for a blog entry.  My point still stands.)

So I’ll go on writing blog entries in a very irregular manner based upon anything that moves/interests/annoys me so much that I feel the urge to write it down.  It’s my blog and I’ll write if I want to!!

Constantine and Onwards

The text of ‘Constantine’ is complete. I am now waiting for volunteer readers (thanks to all!) to return chapters to me with recommendations, clarifications and corrections. The maps for ‘Constantine’ are complete. They have been drawn and are ready for export into a format the publisher can use. I am still searching for some useable photographs for the plates section, but as this is not the hardest task on my ‘to-do list’, I am not worried. I have even sorted out the alphabetical list for the Index. Yes, I’ve been busy!

All together, I think I have probably two days of work left before I finish the book and the text is sent off to the publisher. Hopefully, if all goes to plan, the book may be out some time next year.

However, with only two days of work left I am looking towards the next contractual obligation. This will – hopefully! – be a smaller book on one of the lesser–known names in Late Antiquity. It will also – and this is important, at least to me – fill the one remaining gap between ‘Stilicho’ and the last chapters of ‘Patricians and Emperors’.

Constantius III is probably unknown to all but the most well-versed in Late Roman History. As usual, I will try my best to approach this new subject with an open mind, casting aside all prejudices and pre-conceived opinions. No guarantees, of course!

In some ways, especially in regards to the duration of his appearance on the scene (less than a decade), this should not be a hard book to write. In others, especially with regards to the poor quality of the sources and the ensuing contradictions concerning his life, it could easily turn into a nightmare.

Whatever the case, I will do my utmost to ensure it takes less time to write than ‘Constantine’. Surely it can’t take longer ….

Constantine’s Nearly There …..

Writing a book, or should I say ‘The Writing of a Factual Historical Book’ as I’ve never written a novel, for me comes in Six Stages.

Stage One is the best period: you’re hungry to start on the new topic. It’s fresh, it’s different to the last book, and it’s getting you away from Stage Five. The thrill of doing new research gives you a focus and a desire to learn. Stage One is good.

Stage Two is probably the most productive. The research is starting to reap its rewards. You’re starting to have ideas, the creative juices are flowing, and, if you’re lucky, new insights or possibilities are springing to mind: either a new hypothesis concerning the main character, or a breakthrough in your thinking about the chronology. Just, something … I like Stage Two. It’s where the vast majority of a book takes shape.

Stage Three is where the majority of the book is actually written. You’re ‘in the groove’: Ideas are flowing and, hopefully, because you are immersed in the topic, any previously-held theories either make complete sense or you look at the page you’ve just written and wonder how something so nonsensical can ever have been committed to paper. Sadly, it is usually at this point that Stage Six from the previous book rears its ugly head, but never mind ….

Stage Four is where things start to drop off. You have written the majority of the book, and are trying to tie up loose ends: for example realising that a major character from earlier in the book makes a short reappearance and you need to balance whether to repeat his story to remind readers of where he or she featured or simply state what happens next. By this time the ‘glamour’ of a new work is gone and you are looking forward to the death of the main character as a release from your daily grind.

Even when that happens there is still the Introduction and Conclusion to write. I always write the Introduction before the conclusion, simply because it includes notes on the sources: readers may not appreciate how much time and effort goes into ensuring that there is a list of relevant abbreviations in the Introduction! By contrast, the Conclusion is a blessing: the end of the main text. As you may have guessed by now, Stage Four is pretty hard work and is not my favourite place to be, at least until I’m writing the conclusion!

You may also have guessed that this is where I am now. The grind of finishing Constantine off, especially collating the sources and the abbreviations, means that I haven’t had the energy or the interest to continue typing in the evening in order to produce a blog entry. That is my excuse for not writing a blog recently. And I’m sticking to it.

The observant may also have guessed that I have almost completed Stage Four: today I finished collating the sources! Which is handy, as the manuscript is due with the publishers in November.

So only the second half of Stage Four (finish the Introduction and write the Conclusion) and Stage Five (Maps and Illustrations) to go before submission!

Then it’s wait for a while before Stage Six: the dreaded Indexing. But that happens after you’ve already started the next book. Enough of that: I am happy and don’t want to depress myself by thinking too far ahead. Stage Five awaits!

You see that Constantine?

Possibly the greatest difficulty with ancient history, and especially in those epochs where sources are thin on the ground, is the fact that historians rely on each other for discovering facts and for proposing theories where facts are practically non-existent.  Normally, this isn’t a problem:  it’s just a fact of life, and if necessary the theories can be checked against other events and either retained or discarded.

But every so often things snowball:  a specific theory propounds another theory, which then gives rise to another theory ….  And so on.  As time elapses, these ‘theories’ become based more upon previous theories than upon the original sources upon which these theories are based (eh?).  And then they become accepted ‘fact’.

In one of my previous books I found just such a theory.  When researching the story of Stilicho, I discovered that in 406 the invading Vandals, Alans and Sueves crossed the frozen River Rhine.  Except that I couldn’t find any reference to it in the original sources.  The earliest reference I could find was in Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall …’. A theory now accepted as fact?

Still, this isn’t really a problem.  As long as all sources are checked these things can be discovered.  In addition, when researching the ‘Late Roman Empire’ historians know that they cannot be certain of things, so the acceptance of alternative concepts is a matter of course and not necessarily the cause of friction.

However I have now changed historical periods, albeit only slightly.  The controversial character of Constantine the Great (reigned 306-337) obviously causes some debate, especially the discussion around his ‘Christianity’:  was he the first Christian Roman Emperor or merely jumping on a bandwagon for political gain?

As is usual, as part of the research I am currently analysing a new slew of theories built one upon another has appeared.  As I said, this isn’t a problem: it’s just par for the course.

On the other hand, the change in tone of some of both ancient and modern historians is surprising.  Some of the vitriol towards each other, which is barely disguised within the books and articles, is – frankly – hilarious.  In some places it appears almost as if the sources/historians have been watching episodes of a 1990s comedy called ‘The Mary Whitehouse Experience’ for ideas.  In this, there were sketches titled ‘History Today’, featuring two old professors played by Robert Newman and David Baddiel attacking each other in an extremely childish manner (try Googling ‘History Today’ for examples).

The entertainment value of such comments hasn’t detracted from the fact that the life of Constantine is one of the most covered, but least agreed-upon, lives of ancient history.  Having read through many of the text books and sources for Constantine’s life I can see why:  the question of his alleged Christianity and the date of his ‘conversion’ are hotly debated and the cause of much of the animosity, usually between Christian- and non-Christian writers, both ancient and modern. The confusion inherent in all of the works on Constantine explain (at least to some degree) the lack of posts here in recent months: after a day grappling with confused and confusing sources, the last thing on my mind is to then type a post about my frustration.

Although I am attempting to write Constantine’s story from a military viewpoint, the ‘Christian’ debate does creep in from time to time, especially when it comes to his military victories.  It s interesting that many writers have looked at, for example, the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, but have accepted what is stated by the sources at face value and have made no attempt to analyse the Battle from a military perspective.  As they are mainly concentrating on whether he was a Christian at this point, it is almost understandable.  Despite that statement, I still find it odd.

Realistically, however, I shouldn’t moan:  if previous historians had switched attention away from the ‘Christianity Debate’, what would I write about?

Five Years? How?

The old saying ‘Time Flies When You’re Having Fun’ isn’t really applicable to the events of the past five years.  The time really has flown, and a lot has happened, but not very much of it has been fun.  Multiple hospital visits, both by appointment and to the emergency department, and trips to the doctor, usually by appointment for tests etc., have resulted in memories of the past five years being, on the whole, traumatic.

Fun has definitely not been the word.

As a result of all of these events, it has come as a bit of a shock to realise that five years ago today (well, tomorrow really:  it all happened on a Friday but the date is the same – 7 March) I was in hospital.  At the time of typing this (12.52 pm) I had been under the knife for about two hours and I would not be fully aware of my surroundings until c.7.30 tomorrow morning.

The realisation has brought back a flood of memories, mainly bad.  The pain and discomfort of numerous cuts and the tube where no tube should be.  The misery of being trapped in the hospital for three days, although the wonder of Burnley beating Blackburn Rovers 2-1, the first ‘derby’ victory for over 30 years, helped to mitigate the pain.

Five years of repeated tests to see whether the prostate cancer had returned.  Five years of stress every time one of the tests was due.  Now that I am only being tested once every year I think it’s time to look back and see where I am now, see what lasting effect the experience has had on me.

Physically, I’m fine.  Football has given me injuries, some severe some minor, but the prostatectomy has left little mark.  The scars have faded a little, although of course they are still there.  In fact, the only physical side-effect that remains is a slight tendency towards stress incontinence, but as this is supposed to affect both men and women of my advancing years I find this more of an annoyance than an embarrassment:  after all, I have a darned good excuse that beats the more traditional cry of ‘I can’t help it, I’m getting old!’

Mentally, if I am being honest, things are not so good.  In between tests I am usually OK.  When the tests come around, I am a bag of nerves, terrified that the cancer has returned and that I will be going back into the hospital for more extensive treatment. 

But this is only when the tests are due.  At other times, as already stated, I’m usually fine.  Honest!  Well, maybe not always.  The one way that the diagnosis and operation has affected me is that when it comes to illness and feeling  in any way out of the ordinary my first instinct is to think ‘cancer’.  For the past five years this paranoia has been the bane of my life:  stomach ache?  Cancer;  bad wind?  Cancer;  pains in my muscles?  Cancer.  This lack of self-confidence may be dismissed by some as ridiculous, but to me it’s understandable.  I’ve never smoked, I don’t drink much (I’m allergic to cigarettes and alcohol) and on the whole I’ve remained relatively fit and not overly overweight.  So how is it that I can get cancer?  And if I’ve had it once, then I can get it again.

Despite the fact that everyone I know – including nurses – keep telling me that the cancer won’t return, it makes no difference.  That worry comes back, sometimes at the most ridiculous times.  (Ian, you’ve just had cabbage, brussels sprouts and baked beans:  of course you’ve got stomach ache ….)

To put it mildly, when the tests are due the nerves take hold and I become a real pain to live with. Moody, snappy, irritable: even I find it hard to live with myself sometimes.

Mind you, it gives me some new lyrics for the classic song ‘Paranoid’ by Black Sabbath:

“Finished with my woman ’cause she couldn’t help me with my mind

People think I’m insane because whenever I get the slightest ache or pain I immediately tend to link it to the cancer and start worrying whether it has returned or not.”

OK, so it doesn’t scan, but come on Ozzy and co.  A rewrite is necessary!

Aetius Hold Up

I have just had a query in the comments pages (thanks Andrew) that ‘Aetius’ is no longer available from Pen and Sword in the US and that as a result the prices for both ‘new’ and ‘used’ copies have begun to rise. After querying the publisher, I have been informed that the book is indeed out of print for a short time. The reason is that the hardback has sold out completely and there will now be a short delay before the book comes out in paperback. Good news for me, bad news for anyne wanting the book this week!

On Anniversaries

I first wrote this blog in August 2018 – as the date included shows – but for obvious reasons felt unable to publish at that time.  Now, four months on, I feel that maybe this should be posted.

I dedicate this post to my mother, without whose help and encouragement I would still be living in Burnley and working in a factory.


There are common dates for celebrating that everyone has, or has the chance of having:  birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Christmas, Easter, and many other special events.

There may not be many who every year remember the day when they received their exam results with such bitter-sweet memories as I do.  Thursday 16th August was the day when students around the UK received their A-level results (for those readers not from the UK, the quality of a student’s ‘A-levels’ are crucial in determining which university they will – or will not – attend for their degrees).

There are a few reasons for this.  The fact that it is now 25 years since I passed my A-levels is actually quite frightening.  Where has the time gone?  It only seems like two minutes since I rang the college to find out whether my gamble had paid off.  (I had quit working in the factory in order to take the A-levels:  if I had failed ….)

But the main reason has to be my other memory of that day.  I wasn’t immediately aware at the time, but my mum had left the room when I made the call.  I found her stood in the hall crying.  Relief?   Pride?  She could never fully explain it, although she said that pride was the major factor.  It was only at that point that the enormity of my risk sank in.  Where would I be if I had failed?

As it is, the difference between my life prior to those results and my life following them cannot be over-estimated.  Before, I was working in a factory making kitchen units for fitted kitchens.  I rarely left Burnley, and anywhere further than Manchester was the ‘Great Beyond’.  After, I was having a ‘second childhood’ (second?  Probably more accurate to say third or fourth!) at University, far from the town of my birth and meeting people from all over the world.  Prior, my greatest achievement was to build and fit kitchen units in other peoples’ houses.  After, I had the pleasure of becoming a teacher before turning my hand to writing books on ancient history.  The difference is night and day.  There is no way that I could have foreseen the change in my life that those results would have.

So why ‘bitter-sweet’?  It’s because of the positive effect that day had on my relationship with my mother, which also cannot be over-estimated.  I went from being a ‘failure’ who had ‘unfulfilled potential’ to a man who she was able to boast about to her friends and neighbours.  I would add that when she attended my Masters Degree graduation it was the proudest day we had together.  The second was my becoming a teacher.

Yet these would have been eclipsed by me becoming a published author.  Sadly, Alzheimer’s Disease took her away from us before ‘Belisarius’ was published.  She was never able to fully appreciate either that the book had been published or that she was commemorated in the dedication under her maiden name.  If she cried on results day, how would she have reacted to seeing her name in print in my book?  I’ll never know.

This explains why ‘results day’ will always have mixed associations.

Thankfully, events since have helped to ameliorate the sadness of “Results’ day”.  Twice in the last two decades I had the pleasure of attending results days at schools where I either was or had been a ‘Head of Year’ in that school.  On both days results exceeded expectations and I was able to walk away with pride in my students.  On one of these occasions I was actually interviewed by the Press – my first ever printed words!

It is this mixture of pride and sadness which always recurs every August since I passed my A-Levels.  It is also a reminder that without my mother and her support I wouldn’t be where I am today. So the question, then, is how many people have not fulfilled their potential because they didn’t have their family and friends pushing them?

The moral must be: don’t give up: hold to that dream and do your best to achieve it. Don’t just give up when it becomes difficult. Which reminds me: got to plough on with ‘Constantine’. Not that it’s difficult or anything ….

At Last It’s Done!

I must admit I like writing.  The research is interesting, especially as it is usually in areas which have not been covered in the same detail very often, if at all;  the finding of things new to me is exciting, especially as this is a fairly common event;  putting all of this information together and making a viable story is exhilarating.  But then the book is finished and the manuscript is handed to the publisher.  Now the grim work lies ahead ….

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