An interview with Thomas Brooke, author of Roman Mask
Thomas Brooke lives in London where he works in the exciting, and sometimes crazy, fashion world. He is also a committed writer and he spends as much time as he can in his beloved Northumbrian hills. Roman Mask is Thomas Brooke’s second novel and is set it classical Rome.
The Thomas Brooke Interview
What is one thing that no-one would usually know about you?
Strangely enough, up until recently, something that very few people knew about me is that I’m a writer. When I started writing several years ago, I was never one to tell people at work or other acquaintances about my secret passion. My closest friends knew of course, but otherwise writing was a private escape for me, something that I kept to myself. Since the release of Roman Mask at the end of June, that all changed, and now I have become used to being open and honest about my secret life. It’s been easier than I thought, perhaps being helped by how well my novel has been received, but it was certainly a source of anxiety during the first few days.
What did the best review you ever had say about you and your work?
The review which made the biggest impression on me was the review I received from the Daily Mail, one of the UK’s daily newspapers. Not only because the paper has a huge readership, but because this was the first review I received. It was at this point that I realised I was now a writer in my own right. I’d sent review copies of my novel to all the leading newspapers, without much expectation that it would lead to anything, but one decided to run with it. It just shows, it is always worth trying.
“The classical world is brought vividly to life in this novel by Brooke, a new voice in the crowded chorus of historical fiction. Set at the height of the Roman Empire’s power, Brooke’s writing brings us both the decadence that eventually undermined and destroyed the seemingly invincible Romans, and the merciless military action that won Rome its mandate to rule in the first place.” Daily Mail, UK National newspaper
How did you choose a title for your book?
Unbelievably, the book was nearly finished before I started thinking about the title, but as soon as I had it I realised it was perfect for my novel. So much of my novel is centred on deception and the false perceptions that we hold on people, ourselves included, that the concept of a mask is a key point in the story. Cassius believed himself a coward, everyone else thought him a hero, Julius was the perfect Roman, the Romans held complete control over Germany; All are false perceptions to some degree or another, but all make complete sense if viewed from a certain perspective. So the concept fitted perfectly and as a Roman Auxiliary soldiers’ mask was unearthed in the 1990’s at the archaeological site of the Teutoburg forest – shown on the front cover to my novel – it just seemed the right name for my book.
Do you think there is any elitism attached to the different genres of books, both in fiction and non-fiction worlds?
Unfortunately, I think this is true. I both write and enjoy reading historical novels, which tend to be well thought of and hold a certain degree of gravitas if well written and researched. But equally I have always enjoyed fantasy novels and those from the field of science-fiction. It is not the genre we should judge a book by, but rather the quality of the writing, and equally importantly the strength of its characters and how believable we find their stories. If done well, any genre can sweep you away and bring you into a completely new world.
Have you ever written naked?
Absolutely not! The idea makes me shudder 😉
Do you have any hints or tips for aspiring writers?
Always write about what you love, don’t get hung up on what you think will be successful or sell well in the marketplace. If you are going to write a good novel, it is going to be a long project and fill your thoughts for large amounts of that time – this is much easier if the subject you write about is one you love. Sometimes I hear of authors who choose a period of history or subject because they thought no one else had written about it before. That’s all very well, but the best way to make your novel unique is through its characters, the emotions you explore, and the story’s plotline – the period you set it in is immaterial.
Also, whether you are a first time author, or an old hand, always aim for your novel to be the best in your chosen genre. You might not achieve this, but it is best if that aspiration is always there. Never should your thought process be of thinking that your book should be merely adequate or better than some.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Well the inspiration for my novel was a strange one, and not one I would really recommend to anyone. The idea behind my novel came about after a street mugging in which I was lucky to survive after being attacked and beaten to within an inch of my life. Physically I recovered quite quickly, but the emotional and mental side was a different matter altogether and it affected me quite badly. I was completely unprepared for the mental-trauma that such an incident inflicts on you. So I decided to put my experiences to good use, and use it for the basis of a novel. Rather than having it a weight bearing me down, let it be something that produces something positive. At the time, the news on the television was full of stories of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress and it made me think how soldiers dealt with such issues in the ancient world. My experiences had shown me the power that traumatic events can play on the mind, and I quite simply didn’t believe anyone who claimed that in the ancient world such a thing was not a concern because life was different back then. The human mind was biologically exactly the same then as it is now, and just as fallible to conditions we now diagnose and understand the importance of.
So I came up with the character Cassius, a great soldier, but someone who’d been affected by a terrible battle a few years before in the forests of Germany. I knew from my own experiences how easy it was to fall into a trap of blaming yourself for your own perceived weakness, and I knew how living a lie to hide that same weakness can become a part of life. I then started my novel in Rome so I could show Cassius being seduced by the many vices of that ancient city – something that is all too easy under such circumstances. I then returned Cassius to Germany where he learns to understand and come to terms with his fears, just as I did whilst writing my novel. The novel culminates in the Teutoburg forest and one of the most dramatic and historically significant battles of the ancient world. Cassius needs to draw on all his courage and strength in the midst of that terrible event.
What was the most important thing you learned at school?
The importance of being myself. My early school life was one of frustration as I desperately tried to fit in with other popular kids by pretending to be somebody I wasn’t. It was only when I learnt to embrace my individuality that I found the freedom to express myself. Without that lesson, I doubt I’d ever have become a writer.
WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE ABOUT Thomas and his book?
You can find Roman Mask in Kindle or Paperback format here:
You can also catch up with Thomas on his website: thomasmdbrooke.com.
WHY ‘THE THURSDAY THRONG’?
These posts are called The Thursday Throng in honour of the throng that waits eagerly outside the book store when a new author is doing a book signing event or appearance. On this website it takes the form of a ‘Meet the Author‘ online event with some information about our author’s latest book and an interview. If you would like to take part in the Thursday Throng then why not visit Thursday Throng Author Interview Guidelines to find out more.