'Writing any Osprey title requires a particular set of skills that can be quite challenging, even for an author with some experience of it. I was reminded of that at the end of last year when writing my first Men-At-Arms title in years (The New Zealand Wars 1820–72). On one level you have to come up with an almost exhaustive amount of raw information, but on the other the size and format of each Osprey series is obviously carefully controlled, so you don’t have too much room for maneuver in presenting that information. In that particular case, it was complicated by the fact I was working away from my familiar territory, and was very conscious of trying to do a new subject justice – I remember spending a couple of weeks trying to fathom the complexity of New Zealand Volunteer uniforms in the 1860s, only to realise when I came to write it that I could only spare a few lines in any case to describe them!
With the Combat series, there were more of the same challenges – and some new ones. In this case, because it is a new series, it hasn’t the weight of past titles behind it yet, which meant that the format was not yet set in concrete, and indeed the editor, Nick Reynolds, and I did tinker with the concept as we went along – and I must say Nick was very patient when I sent him large chunks of text accompanied by a rather plaintive ‘do you think this works OK?’ What is so different, of course, about the Combat series is its emphasis on individual experience at ground level; normally, if you are writing – say – a Campaign title, you aim for a clear, concise overview, and you generally have to resist too much personal experience in case it gets in the way and clouds the clarity of the broader picture. Here, that personal stuff was the key to the concept – what were the ordinary soldiers (in this case, a British infantryman in 1879 and a Zulu warrior) like, what were their backgrounds, how were they recruited, what did they fight for, and, most of all, what was the experience of battle actually like for them? Nevertheless, to make sense of all this it was necessary to put their stories in all sorts of perspectives – cultural and social ones, military ones, and above all narrative ones (you do hope, after all, the reader will want to read the book from beginning to end!).
I selected the battles of Nyezane, Isandlwana and Khambula as my three battles because between them they sum up the development of the war, both tactically and on a human level. Nyezane was the first pitched battle of the war – it took place elsewhere in Zululand a few hours before Isandlwana, and is often overlooked now – and the British fought it according to their pre-war theories, and they won. But only just – it also offered pointers as to what might have gone wrong for the British, and of course these were demonstrated spectacularly at Isandlwana later that day. Yet the British learned from those errors, and fought the third featured battle, Khambula, in a very different way, inflicting a heavy defeat on the Zulus, and establishing the pattern for their victory in the war as a whole. And the reverse is true from the Zulu perspective. At Nyezane they first experienced the full force of British firepower; they fought through it at Isandlwana, but, despite enormous gallantry at Khambula, had no answer there to that overwhelming British firepower effectively managed.
Hopefully this book will give the reader a much more intense understanding of how it actually felt to be at all of those battles, and on either side – and I must say that I think Peter Dennis’s artwork has brought it all to life marvelously. Osprey has a history of splendid artists producing splendid artwork for Anglo-Zulu War subjects, but Peter’s pictures for this title really put you as close to the front line as you actually dare to go!'
Thank you Ian. British Infantryman vs Zulu Warrior: Anglo-Zulu War 1879 is due out in October. Keep an eye on the blog for more interviews.