I would like to write about unsung heroes, ordinary people who, struggling against the odds live honourable lives, people who help others when it would be easier to turn away. I would like to believe that many people have their heroic moments but such secret heroism is hard to research and harder still to write about so I won’t. In real life heroism and cowardice, generosity and selfishness coexist and ‘great deeds’ can be interspersed with petty mindedness.
If I am honest, I tend to turn to fictional heroes to inspire me, and consequently I favour those darker corners of history where inconvenient and incontrovertible fact does not interfere with my notions of heroism. My chosen hero is therefore the man called Caratacus or Caradoc, a real historical figure about which just enough is known to make him fascinating and little enough to make him fictional.
He figures in my novel ‘Wolf Blood’ and I attempted another adult novel in which he was the central character but abandoned it after a few rather unsuccessful chapters. I will find him someday in my imagination, though I confess I haven’t found him yet.
In first century Britain his success in conquering neighbouring tribes precipitated the Claudian invasion at the invitation of one of his enemies. He successfully fought a guerilla war against the Roman invaders and those tribal leaders loyal to them. He may have fought his own brother. The Roman forces were not so large that they could not have been defeated, but having lost a key battle Caratacus fled to Cartimandua of the Brigante only to find himself handed over to Rome. Her betrayal of him precipitated yet another rebellion. In Rome his rhetorical skill saved his life and, as far as history relates, he lived out the rest of his days there a free man. He was a skilled strategist, war leader, betrayed politician and brilliant orator : neither nationalist nor savage but something alien and elusive.
The Celtic tribes are always seen through the murky and partisan lens of their conquerors but the beauty and craftsmanship of their surviving artefacts suggests a refined aesthetic, a religion, culture and social organisation which is largely lost to us. What kind of men and women led them? Caratacus is only glimpsed in the historical record, mythologised and idolised, enigmatic and powerful: just my kind of guy.