By Aila Boyd and Claire Kivior
Brook Allen, who Botetourt residents may know better as Margaret Courtney, just released her historical fiction novel, “Antonius: Second in Command.” The book is the second in her three-part series, which follows the life of Marcus Antonius(Marc Antony).
Allen has spent the past 15 years researching, and writing her first two books—it was time for the pen to hit paper. “I felt like the timing was right. I’m in my early 40s, if I didn’t do it now, when will I? You just know—it’s time to write, it’s time to do this,” she said. “Back in middle school, my class read Julius Caesar. I was hooked”
Her first novel, “Antonius: Son of Rome,” follows main character Marc Antony through his adolescence until age 27, when he first encounters Cleopatra. Allen was drawn to Marc Antony because “no one really addressed Antony (before). He is controversial, so I decided I would. I’m really glad I picked him now, he had quite the life.”
Allen’s new book, “Antonius: Second in Command,” illustratesAntony’s rise to power asCaesar’s right-hand man around the time of the civil war against Brutus and Cassius.
“I am a purist. I try to keep everything as chronological as I can,” she said. And so, in the name of research, Allen has ventured to the very locations that her books take place—Italy, Egypt, Greece, and even Turkey. While visiting these historical locations, Allen referenced various scholars and archaeologists to ensure Marc Antony’s story was as accurate as possible. “I think people who are serious about historical fiction and making their novel as true as they can, are never going to stop researching.”
Allen recalled a time when she ventured out into the harbor of Alexandria on a small vessel, just like Antony would have. Her guide couldn’t swim, becoming nervous when they hit stormy seas— “don’t worry, if we capsize, I’ll pull you to shore,” assured Allen. Allen even went so far as to tour the pyramids on horseback, following the footsteps her characters would have once taken over 2,000 years ago.
Sometimes, building a character from 30 B.C. can be difficult— “the ancient world and mind was so different from ours now,” explained Allen, as her story takes place before modern society based in the Judeo-Christian tradition. “But some things are similar—anger, tribulation, grief.”
To further the historical accuracy of her novels, Allen practices getting into the mindset of her third-person perspective characters. “I ask myself, how would you feel in this situation? I want to know what he’s thinking here, so I try to get into his mind. He (Antony) was very complex. He had a lot of weaknesses, but he was also very courageous and brave,” says Allen.
Allen was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, but spent her early life traveling all over the U.S. Allen received her undergraduate degree in Music Education from Asbury University, then continued her education at Hollins University. At Hollins, Allen achieved a graduate degree, with an emphasis in Ancient Roman studies. Allen has been teaching for over 30 years. For the past 15 years, she has taught music education classes at Greenfield Elementary School, and become an active member in the Historical Novel Society. However, her students will have to wait until they are older to read her novels. Her dream has always been to write novels, “and 40 years later, I started writing,” said Allen.
Allen’s approach to non-fiction is to “read as much as I can—fiction and nonfiction.” It is also “important as an author not to ‘kitchen sink’ (i.e. include everything possible). We’ve had a lot of great authors who have kitchen sinked—throwing almost too much information at the reader all at once. I try not to do that.” One way she stays organized is by incorporating letters.
Ancient Roman names can be difficult for readers to make sense of. To solve this issue, Allen creates letters addressed to Antony, from various other figures in history. By doing so, Allen is able to keep a clear timeline.
Allen accredits part of her success to her supportive online community. Allen is “nothing but impressed with how everyone is so supportive” especially on platforms like Twitter and Facebook. She started sharing her work online with friends, whilst giving critiques to one another.
Allen’s books can be ordered online at Amazon.com or in stores at Book No Further in Roanoke and the Barnes and Noble at the Valley View Mall.
Additional information about Allen can be found on her website: brookallenauthor.com.