Category Archive: Uncategorized

At last it’s done.

I am pleased and grateful to announce that I have finally sent the script of ‘Attila’ to the publisher. Must admit that I really dislike the final jobs prior to the manuscript being delivered – for example:  checking that the manuscript has the chapters in the right order;  that the maps have been included and that the coding for the placement of the maps is in place;  and that the plates are included, along with the correct captions and the coding for the order of the plates.  I also assemble the index prior to the manuscript going, as in that way when the draft of the printed version arrives I’m good to go with the indexing.  All little jobs which get in the way of the book being a finished project.

Now I’ve taken a day off before starting on the next project.  And I think I’m now allowed to mention it at last.  This is because the concept behind the publisher’s idea is that I’ve still got a head start on any other publishers who may be trying to pinch the idea.  The next book is going to be – at least if I stick to the plan! – an assessment of Constantine I as a general.  Included will an analysis of his battles, as well as an attempt to disentangle the information concerning the major military reforms that took place under either Diocletian or Constantine – or both.   Not an easy task, but I’m game for a laugh!

The information is scattered and open to different interpretations, so no doubt within a month or two the laughter will have stopped and the stress levels will have rocketed!  If I don’t post on here for quite a while you know why!  Who’d be a writer?

Guitar Tone: The Woody Dimension

Over the past few years debate has raged on the internet over whether the wood used to build an electric guitar has any influence on the sound (tone) the guitar produces.

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Gaiseric and Attila

Now that Gaiseric has finally arrived I’ve been spurred on to finish the current work, this time on another ‘barbarian king’, Attila.

Strangely, the abilities and aims of the so-called ‘barbarians’ are – or were, it’s a long time since I left academia – not high on the agenda of historians specialising in Late Antiquity.   Instead, and to some degree understandably, the focus remains on Rome and, to a lesser degree, Persia.  Yet without an understanding of the motives and personal agendas of the barbarians who ‘destroyed’ Rome, it is difficult to gain a holistic understanding of how the many peoples involved interacted.

On the other hand, everything known about these shadowy individuals comes from Roman sources, so is it trustworthy?  Who knows, but since there is little else to go on, needs must ….

Hence the works on Gaiseric and Attila.  In my personal (and obviously unbiased!  Honest!) view any attempt to analyse events from the point of view of the ‘barbarian’ kings allows us to gain insights into why and how these men carved out Empires for themselves – Attila outside and Gaiseric inside the Roman Empire.

For Gaiseric, the information is slightly more detailed and easy to interpret – once the inbuilt biases in the ancient sources are taken into account.  For Attila, it is more difficult.  The sources on Attila are far more fragmentary and open to interpretation.  Even the origin of the Huns is open to question, so what chance is there of reaching firm decisions on an individual?  Nevertheless, it is possible to reach some conclusions regarding his personality and his agenda concerning the Roman Empire.  These are ….  to be revealed in the next book!  You’ll just have to be patient.

With the text for Attila due in the next couple of months it will soon be time to turn my attention to the next book (yes, there is another – and another and another:  I’m being kept busy!)  In the interests of the publisher I am not allowed to mention what the book is about, but it is a return to Roman history, although from an earlier century than the fifth!  Finally, I’ll be able to get away from relying solely on Chronicles and Letters.  For a time at least.  They say a change is as good as a rest, so hopefully after the next book I’ll be firing on all cylinders!

Where’s Gaiseric?

In order to save myself and any prospective readers from queries regarding ‘Gaiseric’, I have been in contact with Pen and Sword.  The delay in publishing is down to the printers installing new machinery.  Doubtless this has taken longer than expected and is now going through the process of ‘degremlinisation’.  (I like inventing new words!!)

Hopefully they will be back up to speed in short order and the books will be available as soon as possible.  I just hope the end product is worth the wait!

Guitar and Obsession 2

Following on from my last post, for those not in the know I listed there my favourite options for guitar ‘tone’ switching.  When dealing with double humbucker guitars such as Gibson Les Pauls, I’ve been forced to admit that the only tonal options which I now prefer are simply a reverse phase for the neck humbucker and a coil split for both.

Readers of the earlier post will also remember that Owen had ‘abandoned’ his own guitars in preference for a black ‘Frankenstrat’ made from parts bought off the internet, coupled with a ‘mad’ wiring scheme from Warman Guitars.  They may also remember that Owen had changed due to the black guitar’s lack of weight.

However, his own latest orange guitar – pictured right, though the photo does not do the guitar justice – does indeed include the tonal options listed above, namely push-pull switches to give both pickups in single coil mode and the neck in reverse polarity mode.  But let’s be fair:  his orange guitar, which is a kit I bought him as a Christmas present, is a far prettier object.  It came without the usual pre-drilled holes for the T-O-M bridge and tailpiece, which allowed me to fit a Warman bigsby-style bridge, as well as the by-now traditional Warman pickups.

Mind you, it weighs a ton ….


Guitar and Obsession

I’ve been fascinated by guitars since I was a teenager:  six string, electric, bass, classical, I just love the look, feel and sound of them.

Well, when it comes to sound not quite all.

Over the past fifteen years I have been obsessed with finding that personal ‘tone’ that all guitarists appear to fantasise about.  I’ve tried different guitars, different pickups, different wiring, different pickup configurations, … .  Within my limited budget I’ve tried most things except the ‘big name’ guitars.  I have improved cheap guitars by re-fretting, fret levelling, and then upgrading the wiring loom – as well as the usual pickup improvement.

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After the Attack

As any returning readers may have noticed, a large amount of material has now been deleted from the site.  In fact, the only remaining content apart from the home page is the one concerning my prostatectomy.  This is due to the fact that this is actually a new website as the old one had been hacked.  The only pages saved from the old site were the home page and the prostatectomy page.

Although a lot has been lost, I see this as a new beginning.  Much of the old content was out-of-date, especially with regards to my current thinking on Late Antiquity, so it has given me the chance to begin again with a clean slate.  Hopefully over time I will get a better grasp of the fundamentals of the site and so be able to organise things better than the old site, with clear labels and a logical layout.  But then again, maybe not.  All  of the preceding relies on me being able to work out how to use WordPress properly, and as I’m not the most tech-savvy person on the planet this may take some time – so please bear with me.

Now that the site is up and running and I have regained my confidence in its longevity and ability to repel attacks, I can start writing blog entries on a more consistent basis.  So let me begin by giving an update on current work schedules.  My latest book, ‘Gaiseric: The Vandal Who Sacked Rome’, is due out in the UK at the end of July, and in the US at the beginning of November.  This will be – I think! – my sixth book.

More importantly for me, my publishers have agreed to further contracts, so I will be writing until at least May 2021.  The subjects of these books remain, as usual, ‘closely guarded secrets’ since the publishers don’t want the opposition to find out my plans and beat us to the punch.  (Apparently this can happen:  sad but true!)  Readers may be interested to know, however, that included are one or two ‘requests’ that I have received over recent months.

What I am allowed to say is that I am close to finishing the text for my next book, which will be on Attila.  As with Gaiseric, I am attempting to look at Hunnic history through the eyes of Attila rather than through the mind set of the Roman authors who are our source of information.   Hopefully this will be an approach that yields some new hypotheses, although whether these will stand the test of time is another matter entirely!

After I have finished ‘Attila’, I am going to change period ever so slightly.  I have always wanted to analyse the military aspects of the reign of Constantine I ‘The Great’.  Most writers have focused on his Christianity, so I’m hoping that although he is one of the most written-about people in history, I can provide something different in the hope that it is worth reading.  I have already started research and have realised why few authors have attempted the task:  the massive changes in the Roman military that took place around the turn of the fourth century CE are so poorly documented that confusion and argument prevails.

After the confusion and poorly-documented period of the fifth century I was hoping that the better-recorded fourth century would be easier!  Trust me to pick a subject surrounded by doubt and a wide variety of theories.  Oh well, back to the usual grindstone it is!

From Russia With Love … possibly!

English is a very wide-spoken and -read language.  Despite this, I know that the fact that I am to all intents and purposes a mono-linguist severely restricts the spread of my books outside the English speaking world.  So it was with some interest that I was informed that non-English publishers had bought the rights to translate my books into foreign languages.

To put it mildly, the fact that somebody believed my books were good enough to translate was a massive boost to the old ego.  However, I know that the process can take several years and so it was possible that I would see little output until possibly the early-2020s.

So you can imagine my surprise when a parcel arrived containing two translations of ‘Stilicho’.  So now you might think I’d be checking the odd page of the book to ensure that the translation is accurate.  If it was French or German I would stand a (small) chance – as part of my MA I used Hoffmann’s epic German work on the Roman army, so back then my German was not too bad.

Trouble is, the book is the Russian translation.

Never mind translating part of a page, I can’t even translate my own name!  I’d love to know how the Russian language/letters transliterate ‘Hughes’.  At the same time, I’d love to see the same process on ‘With a Foreword by Adrian Goldsworthy’.  I can see it, but don’t understand it!

Then again, the whole problem perfectly sums up my attitude to life in general:  I can see it, but don’t understand it!


Bad News: Latest Prostatectomy Update

It is now – the day this post is published – three whole years since the operation (now Monday 6 May 2017, operation Friday 7 May 2014).  I’ve recently been to the doctor to have my latest blood test.  Thankfully it came back as ‘no sign’, so I’m still safe.  At least for now.  Yet my mind still works on me in a bad way.  Even though I know there is no prostate left, and even though I believe that the surgeon was competent enough to remove all of the prostate, there is – and probably always will be – the nagging fear that at some point I will go for a test and get the news I don’t want.  In reality, the only side-effect or sign of the terror of three years ago are five small scars and the knowledge that I am more susceptible to stress incontinence than I have ever been.  Oh, and the reinforced knowledge of my own mortality.

The latter is probably the most stressful.  Now that I have been released from the hospital, the tests that are done only have a tolerance down to 0.1.  This is a long way above my last test – which went down to 0.01, using a more sensitive device – but it is only if the test comes back higher than 0.1 that any further treatment would be undertaken.

It is taking time to get used to the concept.  I hear ‘0.1’ and think, ‘Wow – that’s high’, before common sense reasserts itself and relief kicks in.  The test came back at 0.1, so I’m safe.  But now that I think I might be safe, I have been taking stock of my life and reassessing my priorities.  In response, I have recently applied for a job working alongside Jo.  It would have meant either stopping or at least slowing down my writing.  Sadly – or not – I did not get the job.

I say ‘or not’ for a reason.  After submitting the application I woke up the following morning and suddenly felt apprehensive.  As it is, I wave Jo off to work at 7 am.  Then Owen off to school at 7.30.  Then I get my own breakfast and sit down to start work.  The concept of eating breakfast in a rush and then jumping into a car to drive to work, where I would be told by my ‘superiors’ what needed to be done that day, and then be assessed as to how well I had done the job, filled me with horror.

Okay, so I sit in the house on my own for most of the day, reading books on late antiquity, or typing books on late antiquity, or making endless cups of coffee (or undertaking the long trip up the stairs to make room for more coffee!), so my days can be lonely and, I have to be honest, I end up talking to myself.  Sometimes I even know what I’m going to say next!!  Life could be better.

But it could be far worse.

I like being my own boss, getting coffee when I want, leaving the house and going for a run, or taking a trip to the gym, or working on guitars or figures, or just sitting and staring at the wall.  And all when I want.

I play football every Wednesday evening and a couple of weeks before Christmas I was the victim of a horror tackle.  Bruised hip and elbow, and cracked ribs.  (Yes, it really was that bad a tackle!)  As I work from home, I just sat in my chair, dosed on Ibuprofen, and worked.  No walking around holding my ribs in pain.  No driving to work. No explaining to people why I can’t lift anything heavy as my ribs are in a bad way.

Maybe I should start looking on the bright side?  I am still young. (Well, young-ish!)  I have my health  (Although only just!)  I enjoy what I do.  (Most of the time!)  I have Jo and Owen.  I have a lot of guitars and figures – and Jo bought me another guitar kit for Valentine’s day!  Really, I am lucky.  And very spoilt.

And I have verbally agreed – in principal – to write three more books for Pen and Sword, and am awaiting the contracts for two of them.  Maybe I should have attempted to break out for a larger publisher who would forcefully promote my books, making it so that I really can earn a living from writing.  But I have worked alongside the commissioning editor for P&S for many years and know that, should anything ‘bad’ happen, he’ll have my back and give me his full support.  And at the moment I need all the support I can get.

Actually, there is one other side-effect of the operation, and this is very odd.  After the operation I was told to wear hospital-supplied ‘support-socks’ – the type that stretch from just above the toes to the knee – to minimize the chances of blood clots in my legs.   Although I took them off occasionally for hygiene purposes, the protection they offered to my legs made my leg hair grow like crazy.  But after I finally took the socks off, the hair on my legs was worn off.  In places.  The hair on my right leg is short.  The hair on the left side of my left leg is also short.  The hair on the right side of my left leg is very long.  And as I’m not the hairiest person in the world this makes my leg look weird.

Thankfully, it’s now winter so my legs are usually covered, and on Wednesday-night football the lighting is artificial so it isn’t very obvious.  But how can I walk on a beach in summer with half a leg covered in hair?  I look like a strategically-shaved wookie!

School’s Out: Teaching Memories

I used to be a Secondary School teacher, teaching History, Geography and/or Religious Studies to 11-16 year-old students.  This is in itself not a big deal:  there are many teachers and former teachers in the world.  What is a problem, is that ‘My’ Form Group – and ‘My’ Year Group – are turning 30.  And I can’t come to terms with it.

I still remember the first time I met them as if it were yesterday.  I walked in to my new classroom and stood in front of a group of unimpressed 12-13 year-olds.  “I have some bad news”, I said.  “Miss S has left”.  Imagine my sense of foreboding when the response was cheers and the statement:  “We’ve got rid of the witch!”

Slightly taken aback, I continued, “I’ve got some worse news.  I’m your new Form Teacher.”

After a moment’s silence one of the form – I’d swear it was Craig – asked, “Are you a supply teacher?”.  It was only then that I realised what I had let myself in for:  this was a tough school with a high turnover of teachers.  But surely, you may ask, with my ‘vast experience’ this should not have been a worry for me?  You may also be asking why I call this one class ‘My Form Group’, and that Year Group ‘My Year group’.

There is a very good reason, and if any of them are reading this, I have a confession to make:  I’ve been keeping a little secret from you.  Some of you may have already guessed, others possibly not.  That form group were ‘Mine’ because they were the only form group I ever had.  The secret is that when I arrived at the school that 5th January I was a Newly Qualified Teacher.  When I left that school four years later I was Head of Year and never had another form group.

That Form/Year group are the touchstone for my teaching experience, because in many respects they are where I learned my vocation.  They forced me to develop skills which I didn’t even know I needed.  And many memories.  In return I gave them – a good “telling-off”, but only when necessary!  And hopefully encouragement to fulfil their potential.

There is another reason why teaching is on my mind at the moment.  I applied for a job at Jo’s school.  Obviously, this would mean either slowing down or completely stopping the writing.  It was a difficult decision to apply, as in many respects I am now ‘wedded’ to my job:  most of the time I like what I do!  But there was a greater problem.  It is a long time since I was teaching, so in the intervening years the memories of the ‘bad’ experiences have died away and I can only remember the good times:  positive interventions with students;  laughing with the other teachers at stupid things that happened;  meeting Jo, etc.

I know that if I went back to teaching I might find it hard to readjust.  Unlike the opinions held by others, I don’t believe that ‘the kids have changed’.  It’s not them, it’s me that has changed.  I am not as patient as I used to be, so the students would suffer for stupid behaviour.  Even more importantly, I think a few of the teachers might be on the sharp end of my tongue should they not be doing their job properly.  I didn’t hold back in the past, I don’t think I’ll change now  I have to admit that there is nothing worse for the dignity of a student than to be made to look stupid in front of their peers.  This is even more true for teachers!  So maybe it’s a good job I didn’t get the post!

Thankfully, I won’t be sat at home crying about the missed opportunity.  I won’t have time.  I’ve verbally agreed to write another couple of books, so hopefully I won’t be bored!!

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