Author Interview: Kurosh Shadmand Children of Anshar
Hello Readers! Today is Tuesday and that means another awesome author interview. Today we are talking with KJ Shadman who writes about the ancient Assyrian civilization. Let's dive on in.
KJ Shadmand is a graduate of history from the University of Oxford, and an avid fantasy, sci-fi and gamebook reader. His debut novel, Children of Anshar, was inspired by a short online course he took on ancient Assyria. KJ has several other fantasy books in progress and is due to release his second book, an adventure gamebook inspired by an H.G.Wells novel, in early 2021. A university lecturer by day and originally from Southampton, England, KJ has lived and worked in Japan, South Korea, the UK and Ireland. He enjoys hiking, traveling and practicing eastern martial arts, and currently lives in a village on the west coast of Ireland.
JMR- Hello KJ, welcome to the Book’s Delight. Tell us where you live? What do you do for fun and what does the perfect day look like?
KJS- Thank-you for having me! My location is a little bit complicated, as I’m moving back to England very soon - to a little village near Romsey, Hampshire. At the moment I’m living in a village near the west coast of Ireland, where I’ve been since 2017. It’s been a good location for writing Children of Anshar, and I’ve been able to pick up a good deal of teaching work at a nearby university. Covid has interrupted the day-work, sadly, so I feel that now is a good time to beat a hasty retreat back to the UK.
What do I do for fun? Hiking, reading and travelling, mainly! The west coast of Ireland has been perfect for all of these things, and Romsey has plenty of green spaces and second-hand book shops to enjoy.
JMR- You have a degree in English Literature and lecture in history. How and why did you make the jump to writing historical fiction?
KJS- I have a degree in history, actually, and a diploma in law (this is a fairly common educational pathway in the UK, believe it or not!). I’ve lectured history, law and literature at various universities around the world, so the move towards historical fiction/fantasy was a natural progression. I’ve always dabbled in creative writing, but it was only in my late thirties that I developed the patience to attempt anything more serious. I gather that this is not an entirely unusual phenomenon for writers!
The catalyst for writing Children of Anshar was taking a short course on Coursera about the ancient Assyrians with Professor Radner at Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München. At the time, I was working on a post-apocalyptic novel set in present day Ireland, but after finishing my online studies, I couldn’t resist starting a novel inspired by what I’d just learned. I have some Middle-Eastern ancestry and have always been fascinated by the ancient world. Something just clicked and I set aside my work in progress to begin Book 1 of Anshar.
JMR- Your book is set way back in the 1st millennium B.C. and had to recreate a long-vanished civilization. Was it harder than you thought?
KJS- It was a challenge, but not as difficult as I thought. We’re fortunate to have quite a lot of archeology from the time of ancient Assyria, as well as some excellent scholars who’ve done a good job of recreating many aspects of the world as it was there and then. Having studied the ancient Greeks and Romans for my A’ Levels
(these are courses many British teenagers take before heading to university), I had a decent foundation for writing a novel inspired by the ancient world.
JMR- What sources did you use to glean historical facts? What was the most unusual thing you learned during your research?
KJS- Fortunately, the ancient Assyrians left behind plenty of archeology that has (and continues to be) studied by experts in the period. These include stone tablets known as stele that are carved with scenes from ancient Assyrian life, as well as cuneiform tablets created by Assyrian kings to immortalise their conquests and achievements in building great cities. These artefacts helped me gain a sense of what it was like living in that time, though I relied on secondary sources written by historians for most of my information.
You would think that the most unusual thing I learned in my research might relate to the professional armies of the ancient Assyrians, their brutal means of dealing with crime, or the ruthless ambition of many princes of the royal house. Actually, I was most struck by the fact that the ancient Assyrians developed a very effective postal service!
This involved a network of roads across the kingdom, regular way-stations where messengers could rest and procure fresh mules, and small stone tablets inscribed with cuneiform script that were sealed within envelopes of baked clay with the sender’s mark. This means of communication over long distances was not only weather-proof, but assured the receiver of their authenticity and originality, because the clay envelopes had to be shattered to read the tablet within. It was a very advanced system to have in the early centuries of the 1st millennium BC, and such was my delight at learning about it, that the ancient Assyrian postal system appears more than once in Children of Anshar!
JMR-What is your favorite historical era? Why?
KJS- I really enjoy studying any era of the ancient world, in part because of its vast differences from our own. For people of those times, fundamental truths we take for granted remained mysterious. This absence of knowledge seems to have allowed their imaginations to run wild in terms of building religious systems, creating art, and devising systems for controlling their populations and empires. Individuals often dedicated themselves to very narrow fields, such as irrigation, stone-working, astronomy, or warfare. This is part of the reason why we often look at ancient monuments and achievements of the ancient world with awe: they represent the intense dedication and focus of many extraordinary generations.
JMR-Who is your favorite historical figure? Why do you like/admire them?
KJS- I’ve always been fascinated by Julius Caesar. The fact that he rose to eminence during the highly competitive Roman Republic, wrote down his experiences during the conquest of Gaul, and bequeathed his name to his nephew (who became the first
in a long line of Emperors or ‘Caesars’) strikes me as an outstanding achievement.
JMR- Do you think writing a fictional account of history has made you a better history lecturer? Are your lectures a bit more vibrant, less dry academic names and dates?
KJS- I like to think that I was a decent history lecturer in the first place and that this helped make my historic fiction more compelling...but I understand what you mean! History - like any subject - can be taught badly, especially if it is reduced to a memorisation of names and dates. Where’s the fun in that? Taught well, history is about human beings who come with all the qualities and flaws that we see within ourselves, yet lived in entirely different circumstance and were socialised with very different beliefs. For me, the possibility of connecting with our distant ancestors in this way is extremely exciting.
Teaching history well is, in part, the art of telling an exciting story, so it would make sense that writing Children of Anshar has improved my teaching. The main difference is that history should be founded in the objective study of evidence from the past, whereas historic fiction allows much more embellishment and invention. As long as I’m not tempted to blur the division between reality and fiction in my classes, I should be fine!
JMR- Tell us about your novel, Children of Anshar.
KJS- Thank-you for the opportunity to do so! Without giving too much away, I would say that Children of Anshar is an adventure story that follows a group of friends as they struggle to survive in a harsh desert land that is beset by invasions and internal division. There’s a lot for the reader to enjoy: chariot charges, a city under attack, creatures out of ancient Assyrian myth brought to life, and a society of warrior women who have developed a system of massed combat that has won them independence and self-determination in what is otherwise a world of brutality and male domination!
Fundamentally, the story explores how friendships evolve over time, and how the pressures of the world can cause trusting relationships to drift apart. The main characters in the story do their best to negotiate a world populated with ambitious governors and princes impatient to achieve power and glory. Not an easy task! And there’s more than one twist and turn in the plot that should keep readers guessing...
JMR- What is your next project?
KJS- I’m the final stages of writing an adventure gamebook that allows readers to play the hero in one of H.G.Wells science fiction books. I grew up on the Fighting Fantasy gamebook series, so this is my homage to the genre. Once the gamebook is completed, it’s back to another novel, this time a fantasy adventure based in a fictional world most akin to 16th century north-western Europe. It’s already half written, and I’m excited to make it available for readers.
JMR- How can readers find you on the web and social media?
KJS- Readers can find me on Twitter: @kshadmand or on Goodreads as K.J.Shadmand. Children of Anshar by KJ Shadmand is available in e-book and paperback on all Amazon stores. I often hold giveaways on Twitter that allows followers to win signed copies of my books.
JMR-What were you hoping I’d ask but didn’t?
KJS- You’ve asked some great questions. Readers sometimes ask if there will be any more novels set in the kingdom of Anshar. The answer is a resounding yes! Once I’ve finished the two previously mentioned books, I plan to get to work on Book 2 of the Anshar series. It may take a year or two to get there, but I’m working on it.
JMR-Thank you Kurosh for a great interview!
Readers if you are interested in looking at Children of Anshar I have but a link below in the Amazon button.