Category Archive: Uncategorized

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 ….

Click here to read more »

Latest Prostate Test

As some readers may be aware, I have my own page on Facebook (search ‘Ian Hughes MA’) where I post titbits of information from time to time.  I’ve just realised (I’m not the brightest!) that I posted the result of my last PSA test there but have made no mention of it here.  I apologise.

As many regular visitors may know, at Christmas 2013 I was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer. In mid-September I received the result of the latest test. Great news: another all clear!! To make this even better news: I now only need to be tested once per year! Happy Days!!

To say that I am happy and relieved is to miss the point.  It is now four-and-a-half years since I underwent surgery.  Despite the fact that as time goes by a patient may be supposed to feel more confident in the test outcome, in my case at least that has not been the case.  I still become extremely nervous every time I have a test.  Maybe it is because of my own pessimism that I half expect bad news every time I ring for the result.

Whether other ‘survivors’ go through the same feelings or whether they become ‘complacent’ or ‘trusting’ very quickly I don’t know.  All I know is that every time I get the result I have felt a huge relief when it has come back ‘all clear’.  That is one of the reasons why this result is special:  I now only have to go through the stress of the blood test and the waiting once a year, rather then every three or six months.  My next target is to get to the point where it is once every three years.  Wish me luck!!

I Am Not A Stereotype!

People have begun calling me an ‘Historian’.  That’s fine, and is in most ways a compliment.  For someone who came to Ancient History late in the day, and has not yet reached the heights of a PhD, I can accept that with a degree of magnanimity and pride.  However there are a couple of down sides to the label.  Possibly the main one is that I don’t fulfil people’s expectations when they meet me.  Apparently I don’t fulfil the stereotype of how an Ancient Historian should behave.

Click here to read more »

Me? A Film Buff?

First, let me apologise for my lack of posts in the last 6 months.  For those not in the know, just before Christmas I had a major football injury:  a broken shoulder, two broken ribs, and a collapsed lung.  I did say it was “major”!   The result was that for quite some time I was unable to work at full speed.  A second factor was that Jo has changed jobs.  She’s on less money now, but is far happier.  The result this time is that I have been working to bring some money into the household.   The net result has been a lack of time/inspiration to write new posts.  Thankfully, work is now almost back on track and a recent question from a friend has set my mind working …

I have many interests.  Too many.  I like Football.  And I like Guitars.  And I like Wargaming.  And I like Guitars. And I like football.  And I like “Aussie Rules Football”:  I ‘support’ Port Adelaide – for no other reason than when I first started watching they played really exciting passing football rather than the hoof-ball some played. Click here to read more »