Samuel Black is a debut historical fiction novelist who was born in London and raised in France. In The Ground is Burning, set in Renaissance Italy, Black weaves a gripping story out of the intertwining lives of Cesare Borgia, Niccolò Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci. I'm proud to announce that I've scored an interview with the author, so sit back and enjoy while I pick Mr. Black's brain.
|Who wouldn't want to be this|
Han Solo, because he gets to be a hero without acting like a choirboy. And he gets Princess Leia, of course.
OK, I'll ignore the fact that you've just given the most common and un-original answer to that question, because I know you've written an uncommonly original book. What initially sparked your interest and led you to write The Ground is Burning?
|Leonardo da Vinci:|
The Original Renaissance Man
You enjoy reading. Is your choice of reading material reflected in what you've written?
Yes and no. I do love some historical fiction – Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety is one of my favourite novels of any kind – but a lot of it, as with most genres, is fairly clichéd and dull. So I certainly read a lot of fiction which appears to have nothing to do with what I’ve written in this book. Then again, appearances can be deceptive: the voice of Cesare Borgia, for instance, was partly influenced by James Ellroy’s prose in The Cold Six Thousand, while the overall feel of my story owes as much to Coppola’s Godfather movies as to anything more overtly historical.
Tell us about the research you did for The Ground is Burning.
|Senigallia, Italy: Setting of the novel's climactic scene|
Photo by Samuel Black
Of your three main characters, who do you identify with most strongly? (Keeping my fingers crossed that you don't say Cesare. He was awful. My guess is Machiavelli.) Did you have a favorite character?
|Cesare Borgia: Not a nice guy|
Machiavelli certainly seemed admiring of Cesare Borgia in spite of (sometimes even because of) Borgia's brutality, and yet you managed to make Machiavelli's admiration palatable. What was behind your decision to downplay Machaivelli's cold-bloodedness and enhance his appeal?
|Machiavelli: Not the man you|
know by reputation
How historically accurate is your book? Where did you take the greatest liberties?
All of the essential events and circumstances are true, all of the characters are real people, and many of the smaller details are based on historical fact as well. Obviously I have imagined/invented the characters’ thoughts and relationships and dialogue, but I have contradicted history only once in any notable way – and that was one of the central plot lines, which just fell flat when I wrote it in a historically accurate way. It is a work of fiction, so I make no apologies for changing that, but at the same time the original story was so dramatic and novel-like that it seemed perverse to make up more than I needed to. There’s a historical note at the end of the book explaining what is factual and what invented.
Do you have any future projects in the works?
|The mysterious Marlowe|
I can't wait to read it! No rush or anything, but hurry every chance you get. One last question for you: Would you rather be on the team that wins the 2014 World Cup but afterwards lose your eyesight for the rest of your life, OR be a famous detective who lives in the arctic every winter?
Ha, what a cruel question! Much as I’d love to be a famous detective, there is no way I could live in the Arctic every winter for the rest of my life. I really don’t like long, cold, dark winters. Give me blindness in a warm climate to an unending vision of bleak whiteness any day!
There he is, folks. Samuel Black. His first novel, The Ground is Burning, will be released on February 3 (that's Thursday!) by Faber & Faber, and can be pre-ordered from amazon.co.uk now. Meanwhile, check out this related article Mr. Black wrote about the sort of fame that lasts for centuries.