Conn Iggulden on the effort to bring his work to life: “Cancel culture is omnipresent.”
If you grew too large for your boots in ancient Athens, your fellow inhabitants could choose to shun you. Just 6,000 votes, scrawled on pottery shards and buried in an urn, were enough to send you to prison for ten years. When I tell historical fiction author Conn Iggulden – whose recent bestsellers The Gates Of Athens and Protector vividly depict the Greco-Persian Wars – that this was a forerunner to today’s “cancel culture,” he laughs and says, “You’re totally correct!” I hadn’t thought of those two things together, but that’s exactly what they are.
“With The Gates Of Athens, the great joy is that the Persians attacked and he had to bring them back after one man, Themistocles, had arranged for his two major competitors to be ‘cancelled’ and banished.”
Iggulden, 50, is no stranger to such techniques, having nearly had his most successful project, The Dangerous Book For Boys, cancelled by its own publisher, ironically. After co-writing the non-fiction guide with his younger brother Hal, which covered everything from building a treehouse to cooking over an open fire, the publisher informed him that seven chapters will be removed, thus de-risking it.
“They feared that one of the chapters, hunting and shooting a rabbit, would be too controversial,” he continues. ‘If you take these out, we’ll sell shedloads,’ they claimed. If you don’t, we’ll sell it at £30 a book and print it in a limited quantity.’ They didn’t say it quite like that, but they basically said they’d kill it. I didn’t want to lose those chapters because I wanted it to sell a lot of copies.”
Iggulden sought guidance from Sharpe and Lost Kingdom founder and fellow writer Bernard Cornwell after being unable to contact his brother. “We had lunch together once, and I didn’t know who else to call. I sent him an email, and he recommended that I send the book to his HarperCollins editor.
“To cut a long tale short, they took it on as a favor to Bernard, and it sold better than all my other books with those original chapters included,” Iggulden says. “Brinkwire Summary News,” I was.