Books by Philip Matyszak



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Of whats and whys
Historians will generally agree that the two major issues that concern them are 'what happened' and 'why did it happen'? I got to thinking about this after an eminent reviewer (who rather vehemently dislikes my approach) took me to task for writing 'narrative history' which risks being 'one damn thing after another'.

And it's true. I happily plead guilty to preferring the 'what happened' aspect. This is partly because I like to write on subjects that have a strong narrative, and partly because many of my readers would actually like to have the facts before plunging into the argument. Not everyone wants to read (for example) of 'The effect of Viriathus on elections in the Comitia Centuriata' without knowing who Viriathus was and what he did.

A further problem with the 'why it happened' school is that in telling readers what to think, the author has to be very careful lest he get between the reader and the subject, filters events through his own beliefs and prejudices, and ends up with history as polemic. And polemic goes out of date awfully quickly.

To some extent, simply re-telling a story means that one has to re-interpret it. But as far as possible I prefer my readers to make up their own minds how to understand that story. It's a fortunate truth that ancient history is full of relevant, interesting - even exciting - events which deserve re-telling for their own sakes, and that's what I do. Where the facts are disputed or there is a controversy, I'll point this out and show where further details are to be found. Then it's back to 'one damn thing after another' - and I love it.
Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis
'The times change, and we are changed by the times'. So remarked Cicero, and so say I after something of a whirlwind two months.

Last time I wrote, I was busily wrapping up another book and preparing for the yuletide festivities in the mountains of snowbound Austria. I'm still in snowbound mountains, though now they are the Canadian Rockies, where I'm going to be for a while. It was always our intention to give the new world a try sooner or later, but the economic situation made it expedient to opt for sooner.

So January saw me negotiating the vagaries of the Canadian bureaucracy, packing our home, sorting out the final details of the two books I'm hoping to see come into print in 2009, and teaching a class of students on 'Athens and the fifth Century Intellectual Revolution' for the Cambridge University eLearning program.

(Actually, 'me' here generally means my long-suffering wife. Without her administrative skills, the cat and I would currently be homeless somewhere along the road to Innsbruck airport.)

The main issue now is waiting in suspense to see if about a dozen large crates of academic books will make it safely over the Atlantic and rejoin me at the end of the month. If anything happens to them, I'd suggest buying shares in Amazon Canada while I desperately try to restock my research library.

Meanwhile, have you tried this maple syrup stuff? It gives my breakfast porridge an odd but definitely intriguing flavour.
Saturnalia for obsessives ...
And we go into the season of peace and goodwill with my wife offering to kill or at least disembowel me if I do not step away from the computer for the festive season.

On reflection, it has been a kind of busy year. I usually start work at 8 am and finish at 7pm, with an hour off for lunch and a nap to re-charge my batteries. I research three days and write three days, and take Saturday off. (Sundays are peaceful, and with luck I can get in 2500 words before dinner.)

What with one thing or another, I've not managed a holiday either - not because I felt I was under too much pressure to finish what I was doing, but rather because I couldn't think of anything I'd rather be doing. Hence the sudden militancy on the part of my beloved, who most of the year uncomplainingly feeds, waters and occasionally dusts me. I've a horrible feeling that left to myself, I'd spend Christmas with Macrobius and Aulus Gellius.

On the bright side, I've had three books out in 2008 and am planning to manage another two in 2009. And I can honestly say that I've had enormous fun writing each and every one of them. So I'm happy to kick back for ten days, well nine maybe, and give the 21st century a try. Just as soon as I've finished this particular chapter ...
Athens and the Legionary
Well, the covers are on to my latest production, and one which kept me working until the wee hours last summer. There were two reasons for this - firstly because there is a tight production schedule for the book, and secondly because I just could not leave it alone. I'd shut down my word-processor for the night and then sit quietly ruminating over the text when some new ideas would occur to me. Inevitably there was nothing else for it but to fire the computer up again, and put the idea into writing whilst it was fresh in my mind. As a result, despite a tight deadline, the book actually went to the editors early.

Otherwise, the last month has been about welcoming 'Athens on 5 Drachmas a Day' into the world. We're delighted at the reception it has received, so my slavish thanks to the reviewers, who have looked upon it kindly. And even greater thanks to the reviewers who matter most of all - those who put their hands into their pockets and part with their own money to get the book. Not only is Athens selling well, but those who have purchased Athens are coming back to get Rome, and vice versa.

It's now winter, with snow so deep that the cat practically vanishes into it when she goes outside. I'm intending to spend the winter snug next to the fire with a mug of gluhwyn and a laptop, and only moving when the postman brings fresh supplies of reference books.
Passing out the cigars
It's been one of those months - which is why this entry is somewhat delayed. One of the things about writing is that you can spend months with just your keyboard for company (though my wife dusts me occasionally) and then everything happens at once.

This month saw the launch of not one but two books - so please say hello to 'Lives of the Romans', as well as to 'Athens on five drachmas a day'. Looking at those two on my bookcase certainly gives me a glow of parental pride and a feeling that the last eighteen months have been well spent. The reviewers have been favourable too - so thanks also to the nice people at the NY Times, the Telegraph and the Guardian.

Now it's been on to one of the bits of this job I particularly enjoy. Meeting publishers and fellow writers and discussing forthcoming projects with them. I'm just back from London (where I took in the Hadrian exhibition) stocked up on tea bags and curry powder, and with a much clearer idea of what 2009 holds in store. It's going to be busy, busy!

Next month, Mithridates charges out across the bookstores of the United Kingdom. His release to the general public was slightly delayed, but in typical Mithridates style, he's released on fireworks night. I really enjoyed doing the story of the old reprobate, and he's probably my favourite of all the characters I've covered. That will make three releases in three months - so back to the keyboard I go. Hopefully someone will remind me when it's Christmas...

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