Out-of-work Irishman writes Roman novel in his car

I like the human interest side of this story. Let’s hope the book lives up to it.


A FATHER of three young children who was made redundant nearly two years ago has hit the jackpot with his first novel, written in the front seat of his car.

The book is set in the early days of the Roman Empire, and penned by former IT worker John Stack from Garryduff, near Rochestown in Cork.

It was written last year on a laptop as he sat in his car in parking lots around Cork Harbour every day for months, escaping from the noise of his young family at home.

Although turned down by three agents in Ireland, the book about the Roman navy became the subject of a bidding war between two of the most powerful publishers in Britain, Penguin and HarperCollins.


HarperCollins won the battle and recently signed Stack to a three-book deal worth a substantial six-figure sum.

The series is to be called ‘Masters of the Sea’ and the first book, ‘Ship of Rome’, will be published on January 12. It will be one of the biggest HarperCollins titles next year. The front cover carries a glowing recommendation from Conn Iggulden, author of the bestselling ‘Emperor’ series.

Stack (36) had worked as a manager for Wrightline, an American computer design company in Cork, for 10 years but lost his job early last year when the work was transferred to India. He signed on the dole and started to work seriously on his book.

“Of course, with a young family I was worried and I applied for other jobs all the time,” he said. “But losing my job gave me the chance to really get down to writing my novel, something I had been dreaming of doing for a few years.”

He added: “I had always loved historical fiction, particularly military fiction.”

He studied Italian in college and that led to an intense interest in Roman history, which eventually gave him the spark for his novel.

“I stumbled on the idea that was to become ‘Ship of Rome’ when I was reading an academic book on the Punic Wars. The birth of the Roman navy and its precarious infancy, saved only by the corvus, seemed a fascinating tale to me.”

The corvus was the long boarding ramp that allowed the Romans to pour soldiers onto enemy ships. The spiked ramp enabled the much-smaller Roman navy defeat larger navies and played a vital role in the establishment of the Roman Empire.”For all its importance, the inventor of the corvus is not recorded,” Stack says. “He was probably a common man, an ordinary sailor, hence history’s lapse in not recording his name.

“This missing information is what drove my curiosity when writing ‘Ship of Rome’. It afforded me a blank slate, a piece of unwritten history that I could flesh out and in doing so the character of Atticus, the captain in ‘Ship of Rome’, was born.”


Once Stack got going, there was no stopping him. “Initially I wrote at home, but with three small kids in the house there wasn’t a door thick enough to keep out the noise.

“My search brought me to a spare room in a friend’s house, but again there were distractions. By chance I arrived one day to find the door locked and me without a key.

“I decided to wait so I sat in the passenger seat and started up my laptop.”

The ideas came and the words flowed, but he was worried what the neighbours might think so he drove off to a nearby car park overlooking Cork harbour.

“It’s amazing, a really private space,” he says.

It seems to be working. He has now almost finished the second book in his ‘Masters of the Sea’ series.

– John Spain, Books Editor

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