Just in time for Halloween, I’ve got a bit of historical true to life gore to share with all of you lovely innocents, and a lovely suggestion for a fascinating read. I recently designed three covers for author Stephen Liddell. I prefer to read the books I make covers for all the way through if I have the time whether I like the genre or not, but these were great! Reading these three books ended up being purely for pleasure, and all three of them so completely different from each other in delightful ways. My interest was properly piqued when I looked around online for inspirational images for the first cover I did for Stephen, and boy what images they were! He wanted the cover to be as lighthearted as possible, considering the subject matter, loosely based on the Horrible Histories covers from some time back. Hence the iron maiden painting and gory fun text. Still, from an historical perspective, this book makes for a fascinating look into humanity and the things we do, which is why I asked Stephen a few questions. Thanks for your time Stephen! Now let’s get to the Horrible Tortures.
Q. A short while ago you published your book 101 Most Horrible Tortures in History, which I had the pleasure of designing your cover for. I think it’s a fabulous book, and you’ve really managed so well to write it so that even though it covers what must have been some excruciating ends for those poor souls who were so killed it’s a really riveting read. What inspired you to write it?
A. Thanks Jo! I’m glad you enjoyed the read. I get lots of positive comments on the cover too! I studied African and Asian History and Politics at SOAS in London. It seemed that almost every history lecture was dotted with anecdotes and though I have forgotten most of them I remember thinking back then, these would make a great book one day.
Sometime around March or April last year I became a bit mentally exhausted with a novel I was writing and just had a quick look on Amazon and was amazed to find that there was no book that seemed to list tortures or write about them in anything but a very dry way.
In the U.K. we have a children’s television show called Horrible Histories where they educate and entertain at the same time by making jokes, rap songs and the like about the most awful events so I thought that I would write something and take a similar tone.
Q. Share with us – I’m not going to say favourite here – might give people the wrong idea. Share with us the three tortures in the book that you personally find most unique or, shall we say, imaginative.
A. I think the definite winner here is Scaphism which went on to inspire The Tub. Basically it was an ancient Persian invention wherein two logs would be partially hollowed out and the victim sandwiched between them so that their head and feet poked out at each end before being force-fed a diet of honey and milk which would bring on uncontrollable diarrhoea. They would then be pushed to the centre of a stagnant pond or lake and every day were force fed to ensure they didn’t die of thirst or starvation. The human waste would mount up and insects would feed on it and lay eggs amongst it and the rotting human flesh and they would slowly be eaten alive until hopefully dying of septic shock but only after a horrendous ordeal.
Another favourited is being Hanged, Drawn and Quartered which was a very dragged out and painful affair. After being paraded through the streets the victim would be hung but not quite until they were dead. Then they would be disembowelled and castrated whilst very much still being conscious before being hacked into quarters and beheaded. Like many medieval tortures, the torturer was very skilled and could prolong the discomfort almost indefinitely so it really was beneficial for the victim if he would confess his guilt or otherwise ingratiate himself to the monarch or executioner.
For something a little bit different you can’t beat The Mongol favourite of Cats in a Bag. They would tie up the hands of the condemned and put them in a large sack. Then they’d drop in a number of starving and wild cats. They tie up the sack and then either kick it repeatedly or beat it with sticks and clubs. This would drive the cats crazy and they would claw and bite the poor person trapped inside to their death.
Q. History is often something that children don’t enjoy at school, although this particular part of it might get them to class early. How many of these tortures were used on important historical figures that we would have learned about while studying?
A. There were many important people we all have heard about who would have suffered some of these tortures. William Wallace or Braveheart as he is often known as these days was hung, drawn, and quartered. Sometimes torture wasn’t used to execute someone but to coerce them to sign confessions or in medieval England to get the accused to sign away their rights and to agree to stand before a court. Guy Fawkes, the man who famously tried to blow up Parliament, suffered awful torture and you can see the huge difference in his handwriting before and after the torture. Others are famous for their love of torture. Vlad the Impaler was a ruler in what is now Romania, he would impale his victims as a live event for his guests to enjoy at banquets and it is said his wife enjoyed bathing in human blood to keep herself looking youthful. All of this went on to inspire that very famous fictional character of Count Dracula who of course was from Transylvania in Romania.
Q. Considering that torture behind closed doors is still happening around the world today, how far do you think that humanity has come towards actually being civilised?
A. I don’t think humanity has changed very much at all unfortunately. Only that those who would use torture no longer have the power to do so as much as they would like. I think it is awful what goes on in places like Syria these days but not just terrorist areas but those countries such as Russia and China too. I’m probably lucky living in the U.K and Europe in that we are probably furthest down the line of totally avoiding the use of torture though while there are so many executions in the USA and their continued the use of torture in places like Guantanamo and extra judicial killings mean in many ways they are no better than their enemies. Despite the book, I find torture to be absolutely unjustifiable and I hope my book helps to show it still goes on today.
Q. Most of us could never even contemplate doing any of these things to another living being. What do you think would make normal humans do these things as a daily job? Do you think that “professional” torturers were/are psychopaths?
A. I think to many this must be the case. In the old days being a torturer was often quite a well paid profession and was often a way to better ones self in life compared to more mundane jobs. It wasn’t always a safe job though as several torturerers in 101 Most Horrible Tortures in History fell out of favour and were executed on their own horrible inventions.
I think in the modern world “professional” torturers must be able to see the subject as an object rather than a living being. To approach each torture almost as a scientific mission much in the way that some scientists might test on lab-animals. For others though I think it must be sadism and psychopaths who either take great pleasure in making other people suffer or who are motivated by something greater than all of this such as ISIS in Syria committing acts in the name of their faith or others getting revenge for murdered families.
Torture has never been very reliable at getting at the truth and I always thought it slightly amusing in a horrific way that Saddam Hussein’s son used to make his football players walk over red hot coals in their barefoot to motivate them and then wonder why they didn’t play well.
Q. Are you planning on writing any books along the same lines as this one?
A. At first I didn’t know where else I could go with the theme but then I had a brainwave. 101 Bizarre Historical Deaths. I remember many years ago at University learning about an Ottoman Sultan, Selim (The Sut) who having largely spent a lifetime drinking and partying, died after falling over drunk in a marble bath house. Predictably as students, we all thought that was rather funny so he is my inspiration going into the future!
Q. Tell us about your other published books?
A. I have The Timeless Trilogy which is a historical romance adventure with a hint of the time-travel and spiritual about it. It’s about someone from the present day who is murdered on the day he proposes to his pregnant girlfriend. Rather than spend eternity in heaven, he wants to get his old life back and so he is set an almost impossible task of living out his life in the 16th Century, trying his best not to get into trouble in Egypt, Iran and Asia and not always very successfully. He is aided by an eccentric and rather hapless guardian angel who helps him out of and into trouble as well as communicating with those he left behind. It’s an extreme case of fish out of water. What skills would any of us have that would be useful in Mongolia 400 years ago? How would we cope with the brutality of the times and how would it affect out morals and behaviour, especially when constrained by edicts from a Holy Court.
Lest We Help is published by Endeavour Press of London and is a concise but easy to read WW1 history book which rather than dryly going in chronological order, instead tackles the war in a number of brief chapters by themes such as The Trenches or Lawrence of Arabia. In fact all the popular subjects and a few less well known ones, including what happened in Southern Africa! It’s a very accessible read for people of all ages and expertise.
I have just published a book called Very Sad Poetry which deals with issues such as depression, loneliness and suicide that I hope will help people going through such difficult times and their friends be more understanding of them. There is a companion photo book I released as well entitled In The Footsteps of Heroes which is filled with photos of many of the war related places I visited.
Planes, Trains and Sinking Boats is a true-life collection of hilarious travel stories from my days backpacking across Eastern Europe and the Middle-East. I really enjoy desert countries and have travelled across the Sahara by horse which is a bit of a feat when you’re allergic to horse-hair. I really enjoyed living with nomads and all the friendships and unexpected adventures that resulted from it though sinking on the Nile twice wasn’t for me. It was dark, I can’t swim and there were plenty of crocodiles around.
My two other books are very short. The Silence Fell is a old-fashioned Christmas horror story of snowmen that entrap the souls of nearby children and was inspired by the famous Dr Who episode ‘Blink’ with those scary statues. It’s been picked up as an option for filming for a British TV anthology so fingers crossed! Finally How To Get Rich Using Airbnb is a how-to book on being a successful host on the airbnb rental system. It’s actually been number 1 in 3 Amazon categories in the USA, UK and Japan. For some reason it sells very well in Japan, I wonder if it is to do with their small apartments and trait of being good at business.
Q. What are you working on right now, and planning for the future?
A. I have a few projects that are in various stages of completion. I am currently writing the Vixen Trilogy of novels on the subject of a female vigilante in modern day London. I’m half way through writing it and have it all plotted out along with a live-action book promo video. V1 – Vixen will be out in the spring of 2016.
The other main project I am working on for 2016 is an unofficial Star Trek guidebook. I grew up re-watching Star Trek countless times and I think it is a great show to fire up imagination as well as teaching tolerance, science and good morals. With a new movie coming out for the shows 50th anniversary I rather thought ’why not’.
I plan to spend a few weeks researching and writing about a family ancestor of mine Claude Grahame White who was an aviation pioneer who went on to run a Pre-WW1 aeroplane factory amongst many other things. The whole place is now the RAF Hendon Air museum in London. They have agreed to let me look into their files so I hope to find some interesting revelations!
Q. You seem to have something of a prodigious work rate, do you ever have problems with writing or coming up with ideas?
A. I’m quite fortunate in that regards as I never seem to suffer from writers block and I have more ideas than I know what to do with. If I do have a problem is that I get fatigued from writing. I throw myself 100% into a book and admittedly do complete them very quickly but then in the middle of nowhere I get emotionally and mentally exhausted. I still know exactly what I want to write, I just can’t… which can be very annoying!
Q. Is there any reason why you write on such a wide range of subjects?
A. I think it is fun to keep challenging myself and if a book is fresh to me then hopefully it comes over that way to readers too. I realise that I’m a little fortunate that I’ve got a background in history but I really believe that more people should try writing something other than just novels as it is so hard to stand out in fiction.
One might never make a million from writing about tortures or backpacking but it is much easier to get recognised and make more sales from an admittedly smaller sector. Also some of it is just a simple matter of time and money. It takes months or years to write a novel whilst something like my Airbnb book took all of two hours.
My advice for what it’s worth is if you are an expert in an area then someone will probably pay you for your good advice. If you see a lack of competition in a particular subject and you feel you have the skills then go for it.
Q. With such a variety of books out there, you obviously have wonderfully eclectic taste and a very enquiring mind. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
A. When I’m not writing I love the outdoors. I grow my own fruit and vegetables in our very small London area garden but really enjoy long walks. I like to get away from people and modern life so my ideal home would be one of those isolated old cottages on the Moors. I also enjoy visiting old houses, castles and churches with my wife and friends at weekends whilst going backpacking on longer breaks. I try to merge my love of history and travel by running Ye Olde England Tours, and giving private tours to tourists to the big sights in London but also to places far out in the country too.
Thank you Stephen Liddell!
The two other covers I designed for Stephen are for the first book in his Timeless Trilogy – The Promise. It’s a beautifully written historical romance, and definitely recommended reading by me. Click on any of the covers to zoom on over to their Amazon landing pages.
Also, in line with the fabulous eclectic talents of this author, a great book of Very Sad Poetry. Stephen particularly wanted this sad fellow to have his very own raincloud.
About Stephen Liddell
Stephen Liddell was born in Carlisle, United Kingdom in 1973 and currently lives just outside London. 2015 has seen Stephen release the short horror story The Silence Fell and the light-hearted Horrible History-esque 101 Most Horrible Tortures in History. As a qualified and still reasonably young historian, Stephen recently wrote the acclaimed Lest We Forget – A Concise Companion to the First World War published by Endeavour Press of London as well as a related WW1 Photoguide to the Western Front entitled In the Footsteps of Heroes. He is the author of the ‘The Timeless Trilogy’ comprising of ‘The Promise’, ‘The Messenger’ and ‘Forever and Until’. Other works include the humorous travelogue , ‘Planes, Trains and Sinking Boats’ and the Kindle 3-section Amazon #1 ranked ‘How to Get Rich from Airbnb’ which he wrote after successfully running one of the top Airbnb listings in the U.K. Stephen has also written for prestigious environment publications such as Terra Green in India and The Huffington Post in the U.K and U.S.A. as well as regular updates to his blog. He is currently working on a vigilante themed novel and Star Trek guide. Stephen has always enjoyed travelling and adventure which is the inspiration of several of his books but of course is a romantic at heart and this is clear to all to see in the Timeless Trilogy. He also loves all things history with a MA in the subject from SOAS, London University.
At the age of thirty nine, Stephen decided to pursue his dreams and left the corporate world to concentrate on writing. Stephen can also be found giving private guided tours around the historic and cultural sights of London and southern England with his new start-up company Ye Olde England Tours.
The last year has seen Stephen expand his career into broadcast media with appearances on BBC radio and Bloomberg Television with an option for a short story to be filmed by Channel 4 Television.