An Interview with Tristram La RocheToday, I am delighted to be able to chat to Tristram La Roche whose novella, ‘The Hun and The General’ has just been published by Etopia Press.
If you haven’t read it yet, here’s a bit of background to the story:
Livianus is bored and longs for action. His reward for serving Rome is the governorship of a quiet corner of Gaul, but as he whiles away his days at his sumptuous villa, his thoughts turn to Attila the Hun, the feared barbarian with whom Livianus once enjoyed an intimate friendship. When a desperate emperor asks him to return to Pannonia to broker a truce with Attila, Livianus's old passion flares.
Attila is losing the will to go on. He is tired of being a tyrant but his people's future depends on him. The arrival of Livianus renews Attila's spirit as he prepares to march on Constantinople. Livianus has nothing to bargain with, but when the emperor's sister delivers a proposition for Attila, a new and brighter future seems to lay directly ahead. For the people, and especially for the two men.
But the deadly hand of the emperor isn't interested in peace, and as their plans are destroyed, only one course of action remains open to the Hun and the general.
Catherine: Welcome Tris and congratulations on ‘The Hun and The General’. This is something of a departure for you from your previous books, isn’t it? What inspired you to branch into historical fiction and why these particular subjects (Attila the Hun and the Roman General Livianus)?
Tris: You might remember that one of my characters in my very first story, On My Knees, was called Attila. That Attila was very much a modern day man but one of my fans said ‘Oh, imagine if someone wrote an MM about Attila the Hun.” Well, that was like a red rag to a bull and I immediately accepted the challenge. It came together easily as I have a very great interest in ancient history, especially Rome. A bit of research gave me the period and it all slotted into place. A Livianus existed, but in an earlier time.
Catherine: Are you planning to write any more stories centred on actual historical characters and, if so, do you have anyone particular in mind yet?
Tris: I am planning to because I enjoyed writing The Hun and The General tremendously. I really lived those characters. One day I broke off from a scene in which I’d been in Livianus’s head to go to the doctor; you should have seen his face when I walked into his surgery, raised my right hand and said ‘Hail!’ Right now I’m toying with a number of possibilities and it’s likely I will write several since wherever I look I see potential. What I like about The Hun and The General is the juxtaposition of brutality (not for its own sake, but of necessity for the characters, time and plot) with love and tenderness. I therefore can’t help but think what might happen if I went into other brutal (to our sensibilities) civilisations such as the Aztecs. The Nile during the reign of the pharaohs is tempting but would need a lot of care not to be derivative, and England in the 17th century might be fun.
Catherine: Since we chatted in June, in addition to ‘The Hun and The General’, you have had two other books – ‘Lorenzo Il Magnifico’ and ‘Fixed’ – published. It’s been a busy six months! Do you have a pool of ideas just waiting to be written or do you have to spend time searching for your next storyline?
Tris: The one thing life has given me is an overflowing ‘experience account’. My head is awash with ideas; some vague but some vivid. I do draw on my own personal experiences, then adapt them. Lorenzo il Magnifico is partly true in that I did meet someone called Lorenzo in Florence (he wasn’t a waiter) who had inherited a flat in Via Lorenzo il Magnifico. They say ‘you couldn’t make it up’ and sometimes you couldn’t. Fixed reflects the experiences of a dear friend who lost a great deal in 2008 when the world got turned on its head; it’s a story I felt had to be told as too many people take too much for granted. So, yes, I have a lot of ideas but turning them into stories that people will want to read is the hardest part, and finding that hook can come easily or take months.
Catherine: Your books are highly erotic. What, for you, are the ingredients that blend together to create a good work of erotic fiction?
Tris: Are they really? (blushes). You see, I don’t think about the erotic content. To me, sex is as much a part of normal life as breathing, eating and sleeping. If one writes about a relationship between two human beings – be that straight or gay – it is a fallacy to leave out the sex. In fact, there is an argument that the sex act is even more important in some gay relationships during the early stages because often sex comes first and the love develops in the aftermath. If this is all going to work, for me at least, it has to reflect reality. It’s not enough to titillate with mere physical descriptions of the various working parts, we need to know what it feels like, be it romantic love or animal lust.
Catherine: If you had to choose only one, which writer has influenced you the most and why?
Tris: Not easy to answer, Cat. I suppose, if I have to choose one, it will have to be Alan Hollinghurst. And not for the reasons you might think. Yes, I loved The Line of Beauty but I haven’t liked anything else. In fact, I recently read The Spell and it was a chore to get through; the spoilt middle class characters came so close to getting a good smacking! So, his influence has been in the sense of encouragement - that I thought if he could write about gay lives and get recognised in the mainstream, why not me?
Catherine: If ‘The Hun and The General’ was made into a film, who would you cast as your central characters? And who would direct the film?
Tris: Erm, did you know that I am writing the screenplay as we speak? I think Brad Pitt would make a terrific Attila, don’t you? But if Brad were cast in the role then I would want to play Livianus myself. Ahem! Well, I can always hope. Assuming that was out of the question, Colin Farrell or Christian Bale would have to fight it out for the part. If I could persuade Peter Greenaway to direct it I think we would have a classic on our hands.
Catherine: What are you currently working on?
Tris: The Hun and The General screenplay! Right now I’m not actually writing another book because I do not believe a writer can maintain quality and bash books out as if on a production line; I’m toying with ideas and plan to begin in January with a view to publishing another three or four during 2012, perhaps a full-length novel among them.
Catherine: I shall look forward to that. 2012 looks set to be another really productive year for you! Thank you very much for joining me again today, Tris. Where can we find out more about you and, crucially, where can we find your books?
Tris: You can find me here -
Queer Magazine Online: http://www.queermagazineonline.com/book-stuff/author-pages/item/6157-tristram-la-roche
Here are the buy links:
Here’s an excerpt to give you just a flavour of ‘The Hun and The General’:
Pannonia, 5th Century AD
Attila smashed his fists into the table, toppling his cup of mare’s milk. “They call me The Scourge of God and yet dare to question my orders?”
The warrior held his king’s gaze. “Your Highness—”
“Don’t Your Highness me, you blubbering fool. I’m sick of your groveling, Barbax. Speak frankly to me, without fear.” Attila rounded the huge table and brought himself up close to the trembling warrior. “Or shall I have you impaled and left out on the plains as a warning to others?”
Barbax shook his head. His lower lip trembled and his voice wavered. “N-no, Attila. I beg you, not that. If I am to die, let it be by your hand, with your sword.”
Attila flung his arms wide and Barbax flinched.
“How could I kill you?” Attila laughed and slapped Barbax on the shoulder. “Of all my warriors, you are the one I need at my side when we take Constantinople.”
“Yes, Attila. Of course.” Barbax shifted from one foot to the other, his eyes averted.
Barbax stared at him blankly.
“I’m waiting for the but. Come on, man, show me your guts. Tell me why we shouldn’t seize what’s left of the Roman Empire once and for all.” Attila turned to the table and saw the fallen goblet, the milk dripping off to soak into the mat on the floor. He bellowed to the far side of the room. “Girl, fetch ale.” He perched on the edge of the table and smiled. “Let us drink, my friend. See if the barley loosens your tongue more than your king’s wishes seem to.”
A slave girl scurried in, carrying a jug and two goblets, which she set on the table.
“Hurry up, woman, or I’ll tear your womb from you with my bare hands.” He grabbed the girl from behind as she bent over the table to pour the beer. He pulled her by the hips until his cock pressed against her buttocks. “Or maybe you’d like us both to give you a good fucking?” He let her go and laughed. “Away with you. We can pour our own ale.”
Attila filled one silver goblet and gave it to Barbax, then shook the dregs of milk from his wooden cup and served himself. He took a long swig and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Well, get on with it then.”
Barbax swallowed hard. “Theodosius has made Constantinople impregnable.”
“Nothing is impregnable, except that Visigoth wife of yours.”
“The walls he’s built around the city are like nothing else on earth.”
“And nothing on earth has ever stopped us.”
“But this is different. Constantinople is weeks away.”
“We’ve marched farther.”
“But not with the machines we’ll need if we are to even break one brick. We’ll need battering rams and towers and—”
“And we’ll take them. We’ll take all we’ve got, ironworkers and carpenters too, and then we’ll take Constantinople. I’ll personally impale that snake Theodosius before I piss on his throne.” He drained his cup and slammed it onto the table. “Start the preparations. I want to leave before the rainy season.”
“But nothing! Now get out of my sight before I put you over the table and do what I should have done to that serving wench.”