Oh, “Spartacus”, how I love to read you. This wonderful written world spawned by the STARZ original series of the same name is just as vile and ill-spirited. If you know the series, then you know that is a compliment.
There is so much plotting and scheming in “Morituri” it’s difficult to know who to cheer for. The strange thing is that all the characters have redeeming qualities…except – wait – that would be telling.
As usual, Batiatus is trying to climb to the top of the social ladder. When a stranger arrives and steals his thunder an action filled mystery begins to unfold. The story quickly becomes the ultimate showdown between two scheming men and doesn’t disappoint.
Mark Morris answered some questions for us about his newest work.
IMP: You’ve captured the very specific language of “Spartacus”. What sort of preparation goes into writing in another “style” of dialogue?
MORRIS: Really, it’s just a case of watching the episodes – or rather certain scenes in the episodes – over and over, and jotting down lots of notes about the sentence structure, and lots of different phrases. Then you have to decide firstly what you want your characters to say, and secondly how they would say it. To make a piece of dialogue sing, to make a conversation between characters seem spontaneous and full of energy can sometimes, for the writer, be quite a laborious process, but you just keep working at it until you get it right.
IMP: You’ve written Dr. Who books as well. Is it difficult to step into the mind of characters created by someone else and create a story for them?
MORRIS: Not if you know them well enough. I’ve been a huge Doctor Who fan since I was about four years old, so am absolutely entrenched in the history of the programme, to the extent that its stories and characters are all but imprinted on my DNA. It was different with ‘Spartacus’, however, because when I was commissioned to write the novel I hadn’t even seen the series!
I said yes without knowing what I was letting myself in for! I watched Blood and Sand (season one) over a single weekend, and fortunately loved it. And then, as with the dialogue, I made lots and lots of notes, printed out character profiles and episode guides and whatever else I could find on the web, did a kind of web-based crash course of research on Roman history and culture, and the gladiatorial way of life, and then thrashed out the plot over a single day and just went for it. I only had a month to write the novel, so it was a very, very intense period, but at the same time it meant that I was utterly focused on the world of Spartacus and on the job at hand.
IMP: The world of the Ludus and Gladiators is vividly recreated in “Morituri”. Do you find it’s a more descriptive way of writing when you have to recreate a part of history readers may not be familiar with?
MORRIS: Not necessarily. Whatever period and place the story you’re writing is set in, it’s your job as a writer to bring it alive. It’s important to concentrate on the senses – the sights and smells of a place, the way it tastes and feels. In that respect it’s vital to know about the local flora and fauna, the weather conditions, the food that people eat, the materials they use for their houses and tools and clothes. All of these things help to paint a picture and create an atmosphere. Although this holds just as true when writing about the modern day, I did find it useful, when it came to writing ‘Spartacus: Morituri’, that I had previously written Doctor Who books set both in the past and in fairly exotic locations. My first Doctor Who book ‘The Bodysnatchers’ was set in Victorian London, and a more recent one, ‘Ghosts of India’, was set in India in 1947. Both are settings which are very different to ancient Capua, true, but the actual process of creating the particular worlds I write about is similar in each case.
IMP: Do you have to be a “fan” of a TV show to write a book based on it? How much license can you take with ongoing plotlines?
MORRIS: It depends on the TV series. Doctor Who has almost fifty years of history behind it, so it would be very difficult for someone to write a Who book without having a pretty good working knowledge of the programme’s past. Spartacus, however, luckily for me, is – or was for the purposes of my novel – a new series, so it was pretty easy to catch up. There is no way I would write a series tie-in novel without first making sure I had seen every single episode of the series and had made extensive notes. Anyone who would is not only very foolish, but would be doing a huge disservice to both the series and its fans.
IMP: You are known for writing horror. “Morituri” is horror of a different sort. Which do you think is more frightening ghosts and the supernatural or the evil that lies in characters like Batiatus and Lucretia?
MORRIS: If written well, both can be as frightening as each other. In ‘Morituri’ I toy with the idea of evil spirits, and with the beliefs and superstitions of the time, but you have to stay true to the nature of the series. One thing the series does effectively, however, is use dream imagery to show various characters’ states of mind, and this I gleefully employed on a few occasions – perhaps most tellingly when depicting Oenomaus’s fever-dreams about his ex-wife Melitta and the hideous Theokoles, the only gladiator to have ever bested him in the arena. I also created a new character called Mantilus, a kind of blind African witch-doctor with milky-white eyes, heavily-scarred skin and a forked tongue, who is said to possess strange, dark powers and who everyone is terrified of. I had a lot of fun with him.
“Spartacus: Morituri” will his bookstores August 21, 2012! Check it out!