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May Book Club Choice

Napoleon's Pyramids by William Dietrich

Cover of Napoleon's Pyramids

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A captivating mix of history, mystery and Indiana Jones style adventure, this is the first book in a riveting new series. Follow American adventurer Ethan Gage, whose chance win of a medallion in a card game and sudden framing for a murder, leads him to embark on a journey from post-revolutionary Paris to Egypt, as he accompanies Napoleon Bonaparte on his mission to conquer the land. Faced with fierce battles, ancient myths, and mathematical secrets behind the Pyramids, he soon discovers his medallion may hold the key to one of the greatest mysteries in the cosmos...

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Author Q&A

Q. I find many historical writers get too bogged down in showcasing all the knowledge they have obtained through research, losing sight of the story, something which I happily feel you did not! How long did you spend researching the historical facts and myths surrounding the pyramids for the book? And did you find it hard to ‘edit’ your research, to decide what to feature in the novel?
Edith Dempster, Walsall

A. People read to learn, but research should be used like spice, to enhance a story instead of overwhelming it. I did do an enormous amount of quite enjoyable research for "Napoleon's Pyramids", from reading to crawling through the pyramids, a process that combined writing and question-answering over two years. Then I threw out a great deal of what I'd learned, to keep the novel moving quickly. I tried to keep the mathematical discussion brief and comprehensible, and to remember that Ethan is not omniscient and sees events from his own limited point of view. Because I've worked as a journalist, I might be more accustomed to self-editing my research than some novelists: newspaper stories must be kept relatively short.

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Q. Did you set out to make Ethan Gage a series character from the start? And what do you think makes for a compelling protagonist?
John Woodger, London

A. I did not intend a series and wrote the next novel, THE ROSETTA KEY, simply to find out what happens next after a "hanger" of an ending. But Ethan is good company, and I was happy to keep him employed. I think a compelling protagonist is usually likeable at some level, even if he is a rogue. He or she is brave, smart, resourceful, funny, strong, or skilled as we'd like to be. The hero might be Superman, James Bond, Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, or Harry Potter, but we want to live in their skin and cheer them on. Ethan is part scaliwag, but he's also clever, witty and self-deprecating; an everyman trying to make his way in a dangerous world filled with outsize characters like Napoleon and Nelson.

Q. Your character Ethan Gage occasionally reminded me of the ‘accidental hero’ Flashman. Was Ethan Gage inspired by any particular literary heroes or anti-heroes of yours?
C. Morrison, Peterborough

A. Yes, George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman was a conscious inspiration. I love the humour and historical insight of those books and wanted a Napoleonic-era hero not as stiff and heroic as a Horatio Hornblower or Jack Aubry. To make him fresh, he would be American and more casual about his causes. He would see things from the French as well as the British point of view. And he would be less cynical than Flashman. Ethan's flawed decision-making often gets him into trouble, he can't quite live up to the morals of Benjamin Franklin, and he can be dead wrong in his predictions about the future. This makes him more human. Another obvious inspiration was the Indiana Jones/Hans Solo types played by Harrison Ford.

Q. I could see Napoleon’s Pyramids translating well on screen, for fans of the likes of the National Treasure films – are there any movie plans in the pipeline for Ethan Gage?
Dan Corrin, Cambridge

A. Hollywood has looked at the books, but no offers yet. They would be expensive to film and the historical epic has been pushed aside by comic book fllms. But I hope at some point the popularity of the books will catch the eye of the right producer, director and star. Getting a movie made of your book is a longshot. Getting a GOOD movie made is a miracle.

Q. Which genre of fiction influences you more - historical adventure or conspiracy thriller?
B.B. Dunn

A. Probably historical adventure, which the British are masters at: I'm thinking of Kipling, Haggard, Tolkien, etc. (And yes, I regard Tolkien, T.H. White, etc. as "history".) But I enjoy thrillers as well. While publishers categorize novels by genre to try to give readers some guidance, I try to read widely, both non-fiction and all kinds of fiction, including adventure, thriller, mystery, and sci-fi. Good stories are good stories.

Q. Who are your favourite authors, and do you find they inevitably inspire or influence your style of writing?
Sarah Benton, Birmingham

A. Some authors avoid others' fiction while writing to prevent unconsciously mimicing a style, or being intimidated by rival skill. I find it inspirational and instructive; I'm always learning. Besides authors mentioned above, I've got a host of popular ones I like, including Ken Follett, Steven Pressfield, Alan Furst, Dan Brown, Dennis Lehane, Martin Cruz Smith, Michael Connelly, Stephen King, Steve Berry, James Rollins, Suzanne Collins, Rosemary Sutcliffe, George R.R. Martin...the usual suspects, you might say. Some humor, from writers like Carl Hiasson or Nick Hornby. And I do marvel at the literary stylists, from John Fowles to Ian McEwen, Barbara Kingsolver to Richard Ford. Now, if only a spider bite would give me their superpowers...


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