Congrats on being a finalist for the Premio Planeta 2023 . How do you feel about this achievement?
Alfonso: It has been absolutely fantastic and quite an experience, I must say. After six years studying for a BA and then a PhD at King’s I thought I was up for an academic career, so it was a great surprise to suddenly have this recognition as a novelist. I’m very happy that I’m actually succeeding at it.
Your novel La sangre del padre is an historical novel that tells the story of Alexander the Great and his quest to conquer the world, what drew you to write about this military leader?
Alfonso: Even though I didn't study ancient history in my undergraduate or doctoral studies, there was a certain magical romantic component I found missing in the more recent historical periods. This not only led me to explore the figure of Alexander the Great but also the underlying concept—the man behind the myth, the hero, and the profound ideas that shaped their legacy.
Alexander remains a widely studied historical figure, particularly in military academies, and this enduring fascination is well-deserved given his status as one of the greatest military commanders of all time. He will always be so, and his tactics continue to be a subject of extensive study in military institutions in both the UK and America. So, my book delves deeply into the intricacies of battles, military strategies, and the political landscape of his time. It also highlights a more personal narrative as Alexander was once a young man, much like a 20-year-old, a 22-year-old, or a 25-year-old today. His magnificent expedition was not just about conquest; it was a profound quest for personal growth and self-discovery.
Writing historical fiction requires extensive research. How did you approach the research process for La sangre del padre?
Alfonso: Writing the novel was quite a challenge because I was simultaneously working on my PhD from 2020 to 2023. The unique aspect of historical fiction is that it doesn't demand the discovery of groundbreaking facts. Unlike a PhD where original historical research is crucial, it's not necessary to unearth entirely new information, as the task lies in constructing a concise, solid, and nuanced historical context.
You have published several books in spanish, including Limitando el poder 1871-1939, Los ultimos gobernantes de Castilla, and Corazón de deidades. How do you choose the topics for your books?
Alfonso: Inspiration is a funny thing. One day, you're just walking around, not really thinking about anything specific, and then bam! Alexander the Great pops into your head. You didn't plan it, but suddenly, you're writing about him. It's this rush of creativity, but once that initial burst fades, you've got to rely on discipline to keep going. It's the only way to see the story through.
I wrote the first two books during my undergraduate degree. Of course, they don't measure up to the level of reliable academic work I've undertaken. My published peer-reviewed articles and my PhD thesis represent my solid foundation in historical academia as a historian. However, when I began crafting the initial novel, something sparked within me—an urge to delve into the ancient world. The approach was different, not strictly historical but more literary and novelistic in nature.
You recently passed your viva. How did you balance your academic research with your creative writing projects?
Alfonso: The PhD was more like my job, my primary focus that demanded most of my time and attention. The novel was my guilty pleasure, something I indulged in sporadically. Yet, I managed to strike a balance between the two, relying heavily on sheer discipline. Finding equilibrium in life, I believe, is all about managing multiple passions and pursuits. You can't just stick to one thing; life offers a multitude of interests, and you should embrace them all. The key lies in organising your time and maintaining discipline. That's how I managed it all.
You also earned your BA in History and International Relations from War Studies, winning the Prize for the best marks in the programme. How did your time at King’s shape your perspective as a writer and historian?
Alfonso: I truly believe the Anglo-Saxon approach to history and politics, as well as the method of teaching, has been incredibly impactful. Coming from a Spanish background rooted in a culture of rote memorisation, the contrast was stark. What fascinated me about the education system, especially at Kings, was the emphasis on encouraging students to think critically about these subjects. We weren't confined to the pages of a textbook; instead, we were urged to formulate our own research questions, embark on personal projects, and explore these themes independently.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers and historians?
Alfonso: I believe that anyone who writes is a writer; the distinction between writers often lies in how widely their work is read. My advice is simple: write about what you love. There's a common tendency to choose topics based on trends or popularity, whether it's a fashionable thriller or the Cold War, especially for history enthusiasts. However, I urge you not to be swayed by trends. Let your passion guide you. Write about what truly captivates your interest and delve into subjects you love. In the realm of historical study, it's essential to avoid utilitarian motives. Pursue your interests for the sake of genuine curiosity and understanding, not merely for a specific purpose.
Speaking from a historian's perspective, I always emphasise the importance of stepping back and seeing the bigger picture. Don't get lost in the intricate details unless they contribute significantly to the broader narrative. The essence lies in grasping the overarching themes, ensuring you see the wood for the trees. That holistic perspective, I believe, is what makes history truly fascinating.