Thursday, March 16, 2017
Interview With Author David Grant
1. What really inspired you to write your book, to force you from taking an idea or experience and conveying it into a book?
Frustration. I didn't like or agree with what I read on the particular autopsy of history under the microscope and thought there was still a story to be told, even though we already have 2,000 years of literature on the subject. Doing nothing - not challenging the status quo or the sources behind the current ‘standard model’ (as I term it) of Alexander the Great - would have felt something like witnessing a crime in a backstreet and not reporting it to the police. So I purchased and read everything I could get my hands on in my search for the evidence. I graduated from an easy grazer of information, to an inquisitive browser of competing sources, to a chewer of contentious fat, and on to a voracious devourer of the still unexplained, in my own journey towards a correspondent Masters degree on the subject, with a thesis built around the testament of Alexander the Great. Ten years on, I have encapsulated the core propositions in my book, In Search of the Lost Testament of Alexander the Great. I became a whistle blower; I have seen an ancient fraud in history and I want to tell everyone that we may have been lied to.
2. What is it about and whom do you believe is your targeted reader?
Here is the core problem: on the 10/11th of June in 323 BCE Alexander III of Macedonia died in Babylon in his thirty-third year; with him died his extraordinary eleven-year campaign that changed the face of the Graeco-Persian world forever. Some 2,340 years on, five barely intact accounts survive to tell a hardly coherent story and they conclude with a contradictory set of suspicious claims and death-scene rehashes. One portrayed Alexander dying silent and intestate; he was Homeric and vocal in another, whilst a third detailed his Last Will and Testament though it is attached to the end of a book of romance. So which account do we trust? The answer, in my opinion, is none of them, implicitly. As even the ancient historians knew, key people, the eyewitness to events who first penned accounts of Alexander’s campaign, were lying.
The result is my ‘backstory’ to the history of the life and death of Alexander and his remarkable successors, and it follows my own voyage of discovery into an ocean of anecdotes, testimony and propaganda in which the tides of scholarly opinion on Alexander drift. It is a tale of biased historians, and the later overlay of rhetoric, romance, philosophy and religion on what was written and how. In the process I investigate the Greek, Roman and Renaissance narratives on Alexander and his own mercurial personality. It concludes with a wholly new interpretation of his death, the vision of his empire and the mechanism behind the wars of succession that followed. The target reader ranges from those in an academic curriculum whose studied will cross this period, to the army of Alexander ‘buffs’ who, like me, devour all they can, to the curious reader of ancient history keen to learn more.
3. What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book? What should remain with them long after putting it down?
I want readers to conclude that it was this book that gave them an epiphany: the need to challenge everything they have ever read on the subject, and appreciate the need to do so on anything they read in the future. What should remain with them long after putting it down is a more vivid and personal relationship with the characters of the past who were previously just names, but who have now been given personalities. It reminds us that when excavating the past, we are digging up not things but people.
Even in modern scholarship on the issue, which is at times scathing in peer critique, and evidently cyclical in opinion, arguments often fall into familiar furrows and risk losing their momentum when straightjacketed by the accepted boundaries of communis opinio. We may, as Demosthenes would have termed it, be ‘boxing like barbarians.’ We need to punch smarter if we are to bring down the rhetorical walls that still shroud historical truths. And that means fundamental and radical rethinking of even the most fundamental of episodes of ancient history, because modern conclusions are often like inverted pyramids, where a huge amount of academic output and whole corpus of study is based upon a single frail and tenuous piece of evidence.
4. What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers?
As far as tackling and interpreting ancient history: know yourself, because no matter what or who you are writing about, there will be unconscious bias in your result. And you need to be comfortable with that. As it has been noted, a historian will get the kind of facts he wants; history is interpretation. It is better to be part of this process consciously rather than unconsciously, because then you can question and cross-examine yourself.
5. What trends in the book world do you see and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading?
I am part of a trend: hybrid publishing, and this was for several reasons. Firstly, I was simply not prepared to give up the copyright on my ten years of research. Anyone who has read a commissioning editor’s contract will know how harsh the terms are; to even quote yourself in future you would need the publisher’s permission. Secondly, I wanted to retain a controversial bias and write in a style that might result in a hybrid or ‘crossover’ book – one that straddles the community of readers: academics, Alexander the Great buffs, and the more general curious reader of ancient history. This meant my book doesn't fit into the neat categories publishers work with. Apart from that, at over 900 pages, it would have presented a challenge to any traditional publisher who would have considered it high risk. And, honestly, I’m not good at being told what to do. I don't think I’m alone and this is why there is a trend to self-publishing or hybrid publishing to bypass the restrictions of freedom of expression and the rigidity of publishing norms. As a result, I think the publishing gaps will close, and in terms of quality of final product it already has. In fact, I would argue that some academic books I have seen, due to low expected circulation, are produced cheaply by academic publishers, whereas self-published equivalents are higher quality.
6. 1. What great challenges did you have in writing your book?
I have been working in a hostile environment since the start, as I have challenged everything that has been written over the past 2,000 years on the subject of Alexander’s death and succession. This means no supporting academic papers and no supporting academics. Not being a part of the academic community meant I had to procure or purchase all research materials myself. The positive flip side of that is I was constantly encouraged to think outside of the box. From a practical perspective, the sheer size of my book was a challenge, both financially and in terms of defining its core message because the tendrils of Alexander stretch far and wide. I was, in fact, encouraged by one academic to dump chapters on anything but the book’s core exploratory message and investigation, and to publish the other chapters as separate books. I didn't, because although some lines of my investigation are oblique, they are all relevant. And harking back to my advice to writers - ‘know thyself’ – I realized this – wanting an all-encompassing study - was typical me. It’s a risk I took.
7. If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours?
Everyone needs to challenge him or herself from time to time. And my book is the challenge for this month, in its written style, its content, its central propositions, its depth of detail, its plot progression and its conclusions. It's a book about Alexander the Great and his men but also a book about ‘what history is per se.’ It’s a 2,400-year-long tale of people duping, dominating, denigrating, deifying, divining, deciphering and demystifying other people. So it’s about us, and the lessons from the past we have not, yet again, learned. Who can afford to miss that?