In 40 BC, they never had detailed records on the personal history of leaders. It was always about the battles fought, protecting and expanding land borders/power reach, death and taxes, plagues and marriage… so what else are we missing? Pretty much everything about their private lives – what they liked to eat, if they had pets, were they shy, flirty or spoiled? What were their favourite colours, did they like to indulge and what did they believe in?
What we do know about one such legendary Egyptian ruler, Cleopatra is that she was the last leader of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, she was said to be charismatic and intelligent, she married both her siblings and then battled against them for royal supremacy. She had a love affair with the Roman ruler Julius Caesar, and after his death, with his companion (Roman general) Mark Antony. She eventually committed suicide. What else don’t we know has been on the mind of Ely Jackson, a Greek-Australian actress born in Perth, Western Australia. The question mark wouldn’t go away, so the history buff inside her ignited a spark that became a torch for Cleopatra buffs… and Snake of the Nile was born.
Jackson is best known for her work in The Grand Unified Theory (2015), The Switch (2015), Alone on Christmas (2020), and The Dragon Prince on Netflix and was nominated in the 2017 LEO Awards for Best Supporting Performance by a Female in a Motion Picture. She studied musical theatre in university, dance for eight years, and singing for five, in addition to her work in film and television. Her passion for cinema and storytelling led her to a decade-long career in Vancouver, where she currently resides – writing, acting, teaching, and developing the next two installments of The Aegean Series.
Writing under her pen name – E.A. Jackson, Jackson’s whole childhood was intertwined with the ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian myths and legends that were read to her by her Greek family. About the Book: History isn’t always written as it truly happened . . . Snake of the Nile will have you convinced of the endless possibilities Cleopatra’s life took, that wasn’t included within her history.
“What if her motivations weren’t remotely close to what historians speculated, what if she was an even more horrid tyrant than her father, and what if in her romantic dalliances, there was not a trace of love at all? Unless she kept a personal diary, we could not possibly know.” Says author Ely Jackson.
Snake of the Nile will be released on May 31, 2022. This is Jacksons’ first book and the first of the 3-book trilogy – the Aegean Series.
‘In all four corners of the ancient world, growing threats assemble into a storm of carnage, as the Roman eagle seeks to seize all who will not kneel before it in its golden talons.’
I was enchanted, having the golden opportunity to speak with author, actor, screenwriter Ely Jackson. She is the triple threat, can probably beat me in an arm wrestle and is quite photogenic, as she graces the cover of the book, Snake of the Nile. She was so much fun to talk to, she’s a trailblazer with a fascination for history and she’s working on the second book. Roll the tape!
HNMAG “Congratulations on your book, Snake of the Nile. When you send a book off to a publisher, do you send it fully polished or will they give it a final polish?”
ELY “I wanted to self publish. When a publishing company agrees to take you on, they are basically getting all the rights to it and in the end, they get most of the royalties as well. Once they have the rights to it, they can use their staff writers to change whatever they want and it no longer becomes your story. If you self-publish, the copyright stays with you. There are self-publishing companies out there that will do the job of the publishing outlets but you keep the rights. I used FriesenPress and sent it off to them. I believe they’re one of the oldest publishing houses in Victoria.”
HNMAG “Are you still able to reach a large audience, much like a large publisher would?”
ELY “From what I understand you can but you have to be savvy about how you promote it and the locations you’re putting it. You have to make it available to Amazon, to Barnes & Noble as well as Internationally in order for it to be seen as much as books published by Penguin. You really have to ensure that you’re publishing and promoting it as much as possible.”
HNMAG “Did I read that this was your second book?”
ELY “No, it’s my first but I’m currently working on my second. It’s a trilogy and it’s called the Aegean Series, so there’s going to be three books.”
HNMAG “In your first of the three books, does it start at the beginning, the end or does it ignore Cleopatra’s history entirely?”
ELY “I think it’s fascinating how much humans think they know. We can research and uncover the ruins and history through archeology and speculate all we want about the personalities of notable people from history but it’s purely speculative. It’s always written by the victor. People back then would conquer a place and decimate it, not leaving a building standing. They would then rebuild over the old city, so we could never possibly know what happened there. The side that won might have won by accident. It may have been luck that a plague had gone through the enemy camp and wiped them all out. The history is always written by who had won the battle.”
HNMAG “Where did the idea start in your new tellings of Cleopatra?”
ELY “I grew up with all the Greek myths and legends. My family has lived in Macedonia, which is where Cleopatra’s mother came from. Cleopatra was then sent to Egypt to become the Pharaoh’s wife. I’ve always thought that we got this woman wrong with how we’re perceiving her and it’s always bugged me. I used what the circumstances were and was floating around the possibilities of what could have happened.”
HNMAG “Did you have to be careful to not steer too far from what we do know about Cleopatra?”
ELY “Exactly, it’s the art of tweaking it just enough to make it believable to the reader, coupled with everything we do know she achieved thanks to the written records. Cleopatra’s palace was recently found – it had fallen into the water due to an earthquake. They’ve found statues and marble flooring; it’s really interesting and just amazing!”
HNMAG “Have you always been a fan of history or is it a combination of history and fantasy?”
ELY “It’s always been history. I do like Sci-fi, books, TV and film set in space but my love of history has always been there – swords, bows and arrows, even going back to Victorian times. I think history is more fascinating in comparison to where we’re going.”
HNMAG “When you constructed the story, was it based on well thought out theories or was it entirely playing with your thoughts of what could happen?”
ELY “The main plot points/twist is revealed in the first chapter of the second book. It would be a well thought out plot point because it had to be plausible and fool proof because it had to hold up an entire trilogy of books. Cleopatra is one of the four corners that intertwine (Merriam – formerly Turkey, Rome, Sparta/Greece and Egypt). The fantasy aspect of it had to be the characters around Cleopatra and centered around the storyline that represents the through-line for my book. There had to be links to the characters but everything else is pretty well thought through.”
HNMAG “With the new discovery of Cleopatra’s Palace, how would you feel if some of your theories were proven true?”
ELY “I’d probably throw up and would be beyond excited. That would be something!”
HNMAG “Are you able to mention any sources for your research when plotting out your theories, as to what could have also happened?”
ELY “There would be countless sources. I’m a big history buff and I really love podcasts. When I’m working out, I’d be listening to history podcasts specifically about Egypt. It’s difficult to find specific podcasts on Cleopatra and that time. Everything we know about her is essentially on Wikipedia. However, the podcast discussions are really interesting to me because they do present the tiny details that are unaccounted for. I also had to go down the rabbit hole to find what things were called back then. Such as chalices and goblets, as opposed to cups. I had to learn about Egypt’s seasons because winter, spring, summer are all called something else. They’re all linked to the sun and their gods, so that was very interesting. Although it is a lot of speculation, the research took 6 months before I started writing.”
HNMAG “You’re also an accomplished actress, so you’re very familiar with screenplays. Have you written a screenplay before?”
ELY “I have and I find that it helps me so much in my performance as an actor. The better you understand the process, the better performance you can give. When actors become directors and are playing a role in their film, their performance is 1000 times better. I found that my acting experience, combined with my knowledge of how a set works and how a film gets made has helped me write the series with the hopes of having it made into a TV series. Everything in the realm of writing, acting and the book are linked together.”
HNMAG “I realize that script writing is a very different process from writing a novel. With script writing, some writers are intuitive and others need a detailed outline. What was your process when writing this book?”
ELY “It is a very different process and I think I’m still figuring out what works for me. For anyone on the outside looking in, it’s chaos with bits of notes/pieces of paper with the corners ripped off and all over my floor. In my hallway, I currently have written storylines with pages taped together with 5 pages on each and 7 pages in length. They’re book 1, book 2, then goes into book 3. I also have colour coded sticky notes attached, to indicate that something goes there. I’ll go to the corresponding coloured folder and find the reference that needs to be inserted. I don’t want to leave any idea that I’ve had out because even the smallest detail can mean so much to a reader or an audience watching a film. Every detail means so much to me. When I’m reading books, every detail helps to create the world in your imagination. I wanted to be able to provide that to people.”
HNMAG “You had mentioned that you had used some test readers. Would you send them 50 pages at a time?”
ELY “Yes, but I didn’t do it with the first book. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be good in any way. Once I had the majority of this book, I was sending people test reads and first drafts that like that genre, so I could get some honest feedback, which was very helpful.”
HNMAG “I think Cleopatra is a fascinating subject. She was known for her beauty and strength at a time when many women weren’t. It’s also a good time for a book like this to come out, considering that more women are being recognized and applauded for their achievements.”
ELY “She was doing things that hadn’t been done before and she realized that, as a woman. She was pushing for that – she realized the power she had as a woman and felt like she was in that position by fate or luck and she was going to make the most of it. Females weren’t thought of much as Pharaohs, so I think that’s why she took her power and made something of it.”
Coincidentally, Gal Gadot (Cleopatra) and Patty Jenkins (producer) are releasing Cleopatra in theatres, scheduled for 2023. Original story is by Gadot and Kari Skogland is directing. The release of the film could boost interest in turning Ely’s series into a network series.
HNMAG “You also have a very beautiful model on the cover of the book. Is she local to Vancouver?”
ELY “Thank you, that’s me (laughing). They were real snakes too and it was awesome! It was done by a local photographer and he’s becoming very well known very fast, so I wanted to get all my shots for my book cover before he blew up and moved away.”
HNMAG “Do you see yourself continuing with the writing after the series and will you be continuing with the acting?”
ELY “I’ve never stopped acting, I continue to audition. I fall into a category outside of most females. I’m taller than most women at 5’8” and have a more athletic build. On CW, the women are very slim. I work out a lot, so I’m more muscular than most women. The roles I’d be auditioning for would be a lot of Sci-fi but typically, those roles are cast by women in LA because they’re the leads. There’s less for me at the moment but I’m still auditioning and I still love it – acting was my first love.”
HNMAG “What have you learned from writing the first book that you might do differently in your approach to the second book?”
ELY “That’s a tough question, I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned that I procrastinate more than I thought I did. I’ve learned a vast vocabulary; it’s been pretty insane. It’s pretty wild, the amount of words available for 1 modern word. I’m a very descriptive person because I want the reader to see it but I want to be less descriptive and more articulate. Something I do is not trust the reader/audience enough to visualize it in their minds and I over describe it with too many adjectives. I am going to hold back more and see how that goes for my test readers. I’m hoping it’s not too much in the first book for readers to not come back for the second book. If I overloaded them, it was only out of love for what I’m wanting to convey. It’s in my mind but I’m trying to put it into your mind. That’s what I love about film and cinematography – you can show so much in a simple shot, with certain lighting, it’s what you’re showing and not showing… but with a book it’s just words and there’s no other means of stimulating the senses. I would, however, try to condense the descriptions and trust the readers more.”
HNMAG “How long is the book?”
ELY “It’s just a little one… 315. I’ve seen the book and I believe it’s 9×6 inches.”
A recent discovery of Cleopatra’s Palace that had fallen into the water after an earthquake could help to shed more light on this last legendary Pharaoh. Until then, read the Snake of the Nile and escape into Egypt. Be the fly/beetle on the wall and allow your mind to envision what may also have happened in her lifetime. Thank you Ely Jackson!