My Iberia Plus Alejandro  González Luna

Santiago Posteguillo, author of Spain’s best-selling novel of 2022, takes us on a trip to ancient Rome

Author of works such as La traición de Roma and Yo, Julia – which won the 2018 Planeta Prize – last year, the Valencia-born writer published Roma soy yo (I Am Rome) with Ediciones B of Penguin Random House. It was Spain’s best-selling novel of 2022 and the first instalment in a six-book saga on Julius Caesar.

You’re the author of the best-selling historical novel in Spanish, with more than four million readers. How did you do it?
I’ve always been quite a cinephile, and I think that it’s good to write in the 21st century in a way that’s different to that of the 19th century, since today’s readers have a cinematographic narrative in their heads. So, I try to make my narrative cinematographic. Right now, I’m working on the English language edition of my latest novel, and my US editor said he had never read anything so historically tense but, at the same time, determined be commercial and very cinematographic. I think that phrase sums up what I try to do and what I think works.

Let’s talk about "Roma soy yo". Beyond the myth, who was Julius Caesar?
The historical magnitude of the character is so great that it overshadows the human being he was. And in Roma soy yo I try to explain what kind of childhood and adolescence he had, his first love story, his relationship with his mother and – most importantly – his relationship with his uncle Gaius Marius, the only man ever to have been elected consul seven times in the Roman Republic. Marius was very important to his nephew, demonstrating how family relationships forge the person. What’s more, Julius Caesar was a young man with many ideals. Later, in the following novels in the saga, we’ll see the conflict that arises when ideals clash with reality.

In "Roma soy yo", you decided to focus on a little-known but very decisive historical episode in Julius Caesar’s career as the main plot: his role as prosecutor in a trial against an all-powerful senator, which could have ended his political career and even his life.
Caesar began his public life practising law. This was relatively normal for a young Roman patrician because it was in the speeches that lawyers made in Rome’s courts – where trials were open to the public – that a young man could stand out by displaying his political ideals and oratory skills. And Caesar chose to serve as prosecutor in a very difficult case – not only did he want to make himself known, but it also showed that he was willing to take risks and to take on corrupt senators. It was in 77 CE against Senator Dolabella. This is the key moment in which he made himself known to the people of Rome.

Do your novels always stick to historical facts or do they have room for fiction?
There’s room for fiction, but what I never do is change a historical fact. I preserve the historical facts. However, since we’re dealing with events from more than 2,000 years ago, there are always historical gaps, and those gaps are spaces to be filled with fiction. But, of course, you can’t fill them with fiction that is implausible, because it has to be something that allows you to connect the historical pieces together, based on probable hypotheses. So, what I add could have happened like that because it fits with the historical facts. There is also the dialogue. You can know that Caesar goes into battle for the first time on the island of Lesbos during the siege of Mytilene, but you don’t know what conversations he had with his troops.

This is your ninth book on ancient Rome. Where does your fascination for this period of history come from?
I think it’s important to learn from the past so as not to repeat the same mistakes. All Western culture comes from ancient Greece and Rome. So, understanding that Greco-Latin world can help us better understand who we are and where we come from – and also better focus on where we’re headed. In addition, it turns out that, from a novelistic point of view, the Roman world is marvellous as you have an abundant array of narrative resources at your fingertips. 

Do you have a writing routine?
First, I do my research. Then I make a schematic structure of the novel on paper, where I write the chapters’ epigraphs, the dates, the main characters, conceptual intersections and the actions to be found in novel. Then later, when I am writing, I have my own schematic in front of me, and also my documentation books. And that’s when I get started. I first write the moments in the novel that I think are most important, and then I put it all together.

What is coming after Roma soy yo?
This book is meant to be the first of a series of five more novels in which I’ll explain the great historical moments in Caesar’s life. I am hoping the second one will come out in November. In it, I recount his rise and the process of how he got into the Senate and how he reached as far as consul. Then, I’ll continue with the third novel on the Gallic Wars, a fourth novel on Caesar’s civil war, a fifth novel to explain the encounter between Caesar and Cleopatra, and, lastly, a novel to explain the end of Julius Caesar in what was one of history’s best-known magnicides.