A few weeks ago my manuscript was delivered. The childbirth metaphor is entirely appropriate and the labour pains have kept me off blogging for a couple of months.
Back in January I claimed to "have been making good progress with the writing". This was three months on from triumphantly blogging that the book had been formally contracted. Back in February 2008, now feeling like a lifetime ago, my first post on the subject was grandly titled "How to write an Osprey book". As if I knew......! By January I had indeed made some progress, but I had no idea what was still ahead of me. Beginning at the beginning and racking up the required 27,500 words of text (5% over reluctantly accepted) in pages 1-96 order seemed as good a way of going about it as any. Wrong, when deep into it you find you are going to have to deal with the main business of the battle in about 1,500 words! I found I still needed the best part of 10,000. Next time around (if invited) I shall start in the middle with the Campaign and Battle sections and tailor Origins, and Opposing Commanders, Armies and Plans to what I have already written for the guts of the book. But then there was a nicer discovery: after all the ruthless knifework I had to do on the earlier sections, I found I had a good proportion of my photo and Battlescene captions almost ready-made lying around on the cutting room floor. At which point I learned another lesson.
I had thought a great deal about the Battlescenes when writing my proposal, making decisions which we have stayed with on what were to be the subjects of all four of them, and assembling much of the extensive reference material needed. But I thought I would leave the full briefing for Peter Dennis till last, when I had finished all the text. Wrong again, though the cure was not as painful. The old saying of a picture being worth a thousand words certainly applies, or should apply to Campaign Battlescenes, and when they are really earning their keep, this is true to at least the power of ten! As the art briefs progressed, more and more pieces of my text became redundant or migrated to the extended captions that go with each plate. And there was a reverse effect too, which also applied when I was working on the notes and visuals for the Bird's-Eye View and for the more detailed battle-maps. The very different exercise of literally visualising what happened, rather than putting that vision straight into words, makes you look again at those words and bring them into line with the visual information now taking shape, or adapt them to complement it more effectively.
Now, just a few weeks after sending off my hamfisted sketches and reams of notes and visual references, and having seen the images develop through two stages of Peter's superb pencil drawing and then the final, thrilling painting process, with some lively and productive e mail and phone discussions on the way, I am looking at four fantastic pieces of finished artwork. This is time travel in First Class! The Acropolis is about to fall, sweating Athenian oarsmen take their trireme up to ramming speed at Artemisium, Xerxes looks out over the straits of Salamis as his ships gather themselves to take on the unexpectedly united and threatening Greek fleet, and an Aeginetan crew goes down fighting under a hail of Samothracian javelins and Persian arrows. A bit over two years ago Peter confessed that he had spent rather longer than he would have liked on the great sea battle that took place nearly 70 years after Salamis at Syracuse. Somehow Marcus and I managed to entice him back into "Trireme Hell", three times over! My next one, the sequel will be a land battle, I promise, Peter (Hoplite Hell again, though, for balance, you may have the opportunity to show just a couple of beached triremes).
Here's a taster of what's to come in June next year -
Herodotus writes "A Samothracian ship rammed an Athenian. While the Athenian ship was foundering, an Aeginetan ship rammed the Samothracian. But the Samothracians are javelin fighters and they swept the deck with their javelins, boarded it and captured it". In the picture, the Samothracians (Ionian Greeks) have carried out a textbook ramming manoeuvre, striking the Athenian trireme from the stern quarter at speed and immediately disengaging. A holed trireme would be swamped and disabled and might capsize, but did not sink. If the two ships remained locked together, the crew of the disabled ship could counterattack by boarding and take the other out of the battle. Immediately turning the ship against its own side was not practicable, but it would be taken as a prize for future use with its crew held as prisoners or simply thrown overboard. The Aeginetan trireme has caught the Samothracian almost stationary. A broadside strike required least force to do major damage, but if the target was moving at any speed, it could sheer off the attacker's ram.
The Aeginetans are desperately trying to back off before their outnumbered deck crew is overrun by the Samothracians with their javelins and the supporting Persians. Sailors are coming up on deck to join the fight but hoplites and archers are already going down under the shower of javelins and arrows. A capsized Phoenician trireme wallows alongside. Persians, who couldn't swim, cling to the hull.