The History Keepers
Storm Begins cover Circus Maximus cover Nightship to China cover
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    5 June 2013 is dedicated to helping young people, parents & adults and teachers to find out about children’s books. Damian answered some of their questions this week, in the run up to the UK publication of 'Circus Maximus' in paperback.

    Below is an extract, but read more at:

    Q: When did you decide to write a series based on time travel?

    A: I love classic adventure stories like Robert Louis Stevenson as well as more contemporary movies like James Bond and Indiana Jones. I love the diabolical villains, the secret maps and treasure and gadgets, and how the heroes get to disappear off to somewhere exciting.

    I also love history and how the course of history can be changed in a day with a battle or a discovery, so I wondered if I could combine these with a great adventure story that also described events from the past?

    I started putting the ideas together about six years ago and the moment I had the actual idea for The History Keepers was when I was reading an old school book about about Ancient Rome and Egypt that showed how their histories tied together. That's when I had the idea of a secret service of time keepers.

    Even if people think that they don't like history, I don't believe they do really because everyone would go back to the past if they could, so I am playing on that fantasy that everyone has.

    Q: How do you decide which part of history your characters will visit?

    A: I choose periods to focus on where there were great changes happening, like the Renaissance period for the first book or the Augustus period in Rome for this book, although if you were living there at the time you probably wouldn't realise how much was changing, like the Renaissance period or the Augustus period in Rome, so a civilisation at its peak.

    I don't want these books to be 'history books', the adventure always comes first, but I would like to engage readers with what it may have been like to live then, to feel the weather and the smells and to know what people were eating. I also focus on key things that people are interested in, so in Rome that's the Roman Baths, chariot races and the gladiators.

    In the third book, I focus on how interconnected the world becomes during the early seventeenth century in China. There are key moments that lead you from one great arena to another and those are the periods I focus on.

    Q: Why do you like to include so many details of the periods you describe?

    A: Well, I originally trained as a designer for films and television, so I was designing and building sets as well as costumes, and it's still important for me to set the scene. One of my characters, Nathan, is obsessed with clothes so he can be very funny.

    Q: Do you visit all the places you write about?

    A: The first place I go to do my research is children's books. Sometimes adult books about history can be a bit dry but when history is written for young people, they make the story exciting and accessible. Then I go online or to the British Library to read more.

    Circus Maximus is set in Ancient Rome so I went to Rome and lived there for a few weeks to do some research. There is so much in Rome that still exists, like the Forum, the Pantheon and the Colosseum.

    The next book is set in China and I travelled there last year to research the Ming Dynasty. I went to all the key places like the Forbidden City and the museums.

    I knew next to nothing about Chinese civilisations but they introduced printing, paper, the compass, navigation and gunpowder, and I just wanted to understand how that civilisation had both lasted and prospered through this time.

    Q: Can you tell us more about Circus Maximus?

    A: The Circus Maximus itself isn't there any more but you can see where it was and how massive it was. I was fascinated about it, it was such an important stadium and was famous throughout the Roman Empire.

    The site has existed since about 400AD. It grew in importance and from the first century AD you could fit about 160,000 people into the stadium - that's double the number you'd get in the Olympic stadium! I wondered how it must have felt to have been there during one of those huge sporting events. Everyone went along and it was free.

    On one level Rome was such a civilised place but it was also such a bloodthirsty time and people liked to go and watch other people being killed in various ways.

    Q: Is there a period you'd like to find yourself in?

    A: I'd be intrigued by London and Europe in the late seventeenth century because it was a time when Isaac Newton and Christopher Wren were working and there were so many breakthroughs in science, maths and the arts.

    I'd like to cross over and visit the French Court as well because it was so absurdly over the top and lavish and I'd like to experience that kind of opulence.

    But I'd also be fascinated by the Industrial Revolution and Ancient Egypt. The Egyptians are the forerunners of so much we take for granted today, the same for Ancient Greece, and can you imagine joining the army of Alexander the Great? I'd love to go anywhere in history, really.

    Q: Do you have a favourite History Keeper?

    A: I like them all although I have a soft spot for Nathan because he makes me laugh but I guess Jake is very much how I felt when I was 14. We had a lot of family problems and I was always trying to do the right thing and make things better so I have strong protective feelings towards him.

    Q: What about a favourite villain?

    A: I love creating and writing villains. I relished Agata Zeldt in this book, she repulsed me in every way, but the villains in book three make the Zeldts seem positively gentle....

    Q: Can you tell us a little about the next book?

    A: The main thrust of book three is the search for Philip, Jake's brother. They thought Philip was dead but then Jake realises that he may still be alive and living in the past. Jake is given a lead of where his brother might be and that's what takes them to Jacobean London and then to China.

    It turns out that the villain here, Xi Xaing, who used to be a History Keeper, is spectacularly evil and is trying to bring about a World War. I'm slightly in shock about it, mainly because he's a joker and he laughs as he kills. He also has three eyes....

    Q: How does your writing day go?

    A: I usually start quite late, about 11.30, after I've done my administration and taken the dog out for a long walk.

    I live on the South Bank and walk the dog through Green Park to my office in Soho, the loft space in an old building, and I start writing at 12pm and work through lunch and I stop at 6-7pm at night. I wish I could be one of those people who start at 6am but I just can't....

    Q: You have been a successful screen writer so have you written a film script for The History Keepers?

    A: When I first had the idea, I thought The History Keepers would be a film but then I started writing it as a book.

    I have now written two drafts of History Keepers as a film and Working Title, which has the film rights, is talking to directors. Working Title has had a good year with their film Les Miserables and they have wanted a kids series for a long time and they love the idea of these books, so it's exciting.

    Q: What are your top writing tips for budding writers?

    A: The first would be to be strict with yourself, so decide you will either write for an hour a day or for however many words it might be, 1000 or 1,500, and then just stick to it, however painful it might seem to get to the end of it. And the writing process can be quite painful!

    My second tip, although it probably should be the first, is to write about something you feel passionate about; follow your heart. 
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