Through my picture window

 

 

Recently, I was asked how living in Spain has influenced my writing. Thinking about it, I realised it isn’t only being in Spain that has affected my fiction, it’s all the other places I’ve lived, studied and worked in as well. Setting aside my time at an American university in what now feels like a previous existence, the cumulative effect is that I have been Latinized. I’m still old-fashioned British at heart, but with something of a Latin outlook.

From my desk here in the Province of Málaga I can see the Sierra de Las Nieves. This was where the Moors of Al-Ándalus used to harvest snow to be collected in summer for sherbet and to keep medicines cool. To the right out of a large picture window is the bandalero country of The Empress Emerald; to the left, beyond  mauve-shaded mountains, are ancient fishing villages now known as the Costa del Sol, but once prey to the Barbary corsairs featured in The Chosen Man Trilogy.

On warm days with the window open, there’s that special Mediterranean dry-earth, peppery smell described so well by Laurie Lee in his Spanish memoirs. Today, I can hear a kestrel screaming at her mate from our roof terrace. This view, as you may imagine, is very conducive to creative time travel. If I ignore a nearby road, I can be back in any century I choose.

The Empress Emerald, includes the story of Davina, a naive English girl who leaves Cornwall to live in Jerez during the 1920s. People say a debut novel is always autobiographical, this one certainly isn’t, but some scenes were developed out of my first encounter with my husband’s traditional Andaluz home. This is how I fictionalised it:

They turned a corner into a street of tall grey buildings that appeared to grow out of one another. There was no green save the painted railings of high, narrow balconies. It felt austere, grim, closed in.

The driver stopped the car outside two vast doors, blackened with age and reinforced with iron. They reminded Davina of an illustration in one of her childhood picture-books, Bluebeard’s castle. As if by some sinister magic, a door swung open. Alfonso ushered her into a fern-infested patio. It smelt dank and uninviting. She looked up and around her. The patio was open to the sky, but on all four sides above there were windows. She sensed watching eyes and lowered her gaze.

Before coming to Spain I lived on the Ligurian coast of Italy – hence Ludo da Portovenere in The Chosen Man. The Genoese coastline and the Cinque Terre often crept into Ludo’s narrative – these historical thrillers could so easily have turned into travel brochures.

Portovenere, or Porto Venere, was once the site of a Roman temple to Venus: the perfect romantic location to conclude Ludo’s story in By Force of Circumstance.

It’s a tourist souvenir destination these days, but through my picture window I could easily visualise it in the 17th century.

Reviewers comment that my books are ‘visual’, which is probably due to my exile’s eye. I’m not a tourist, but I don’t belong either. This was evident when we were posted to the Hague (my husband is a Spanish naval officer). The Dutch way of life was not so different to my English upbringing, the flat, grey landscapes and shut-indoors domesticity, however, came to me after years of a Latin lifestyle. Seeing Holland from this point of view helped when I was writing the first Ludo story, his comments on the rain in Amsterdam come from a Latin heart:

Ludo wove his way listlessly through the crowds, his lack of purpose at odds with the activity around him. Amsterdam teemed with people the way it teemed with rain: quiet, persistent, always there. Not like the tremendous skin-soaking downpours in Liguria that gave way to bright sunshine. The weather in Italy had a sense of drama.

Being a permanent exile can lead to rose-tinted nostalgia of course. Something I exploit in my Bob Robbins Home Front Mysteries, but only to a certain extent. If you’ve ever seen a derelict farm (Private Lives) or been on bleak moorland in a tearing wind, which is how Courting Danger begins,  you’ll understand that.

Despite my somewhat Latinized outlook, though, what I see through my Spanish  picture window when I am at my desk in Málaga is still with a realistic Englishwoman’s eyes.

Mostly. . .

 

 

Good books for summer reads 

If, like me, you enjoy novels that takes you into the past and/or far away,  check out the excellent Bristish historical fiction author, Deborah Swift. She has a new novel set in 17th century Italy out now, too.

http://author.to/DeborahSwift

 

 

If you enjoy gritty, contemporary British police crime fiction, try B.A.  Morton’s frightening, heart-rending ‘Crime on the Tyne’.

http://mybook.to/thefavourbank 

 

 

 

You can find me and more about my books on the following sites:

Web page:  https://www.jgharlond.com

Blog – Reading & Writing: https://wp-harlond.jgharlond.com/

Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/JaneGHarlond

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JaneGHarlond

My books: https://www.amazon.com/J.-G.-Harlond/e/B007PDA1Z4

 

 

For debut historical crime writers

Secondary and Minor Characters in Historical Crime Fictional

Secondary and minor characters help to establish the main character’s personality and develop the storyline in any fiction genre. In historical crime fiction they are also a useful means of conveying information about the epoch and location. This means no matter how lowly your minor characters need to be more than walk-on players in costume. To achieve this, ensure they have identifiable personalities, strengths, foibles or flaws that readers can relate to, so what they say and do is more meaningful.

If you are using a secondary character to provide a motive for a crime or to show what happens to your protagonist(s), that person’s agenda needs to be evident. This means creating a biography or backstory for all your characters at the planning stage, and ensuring they reflect the lifestyle, morals or zeitgeist of the period. Fiction requires readers to suspend disbelief, to engage in another world, to fear for, empathise or sympathise with the protagonist, and this is where your supporting cast play an important role. They not only demonstrate what life was like then, they show what was considered right and wrong, and therefore why your hero is special and the villain so reprehensible.

Golden age crime writers often included the victim’s ill-treatment of relatives and servants to show what may have led to their death, and why there is more than one suspect. This required creating backstories for all the suspects and using those details to feed in clues but without deviating too far from the main thrust of the story. Readers want to know why someone turns a blind eye to the crime; why someone refuse to help the authorities; or why a neighbour, for example, fabricates evidence.

As to the villain – a crime story or thriller becomes a lot deeper when the kindness of strangers highlights the vicious nature of the baddie. Readers turn pages to in crime stories to see how the wicked get caught; they turn them faster in thrillers if they not only fear for the main character but also for the little people caught up in the drama. Very few people in real life are wholly good or bad, though. A fact skilful authors exploit to the maximum. Each suspect, be it cozy crime or a blood bath, should be capable of committing the crime given enough reason.

Whatever the epoch, minor characters’ upbringing and moral codes inform their actions, which can be included in well-chosen cameo scenes. The gentler side of the wrong-doer or the darker side of the victim or detective can be demonstrated by showing how they interact in these situations. Whether you use these scenes as red herrings to mislead readers or to emphasise clues as to who-dunnit, secondary characters should be interesting and complex, and minor characters there in the story for a specific reason. To be sure of this, create mini-biographies at the planning stage. Whether you actually use these backstories (very sparingly) or not, the fact that you have thought about why Milly won’t tell, why Old Tom is digging the master’s garden at eighty, or why a senior officer overlooks a terrible error of judgment, will enrich your tale and leaven the plot.

Here are two examples of how I have used a secondary and minor characters to establish a seventeenth-century anti-hero’s complex identity and to provide information on the setting and location of a twentieth century wartime murder mystery. Each scene is directly relevant to the plot and includes details on the historic background.

The first extract is from Book 1 of The Chosen Man Trilogy. It is 1635, charismatic Genoese merchant Ludovico da Portovenere (Ludo) is engaged in a conspiracy to inflate the tulip market in what became known as tulip fever. At this stage, readers are not sure whether Ludo is to be trusted, whether he’s a goodie or a baddie. How he handles his young Spanish servant Marcos here suggests he exploits people for his own ends. The dialogue also carries vital details about ‘tulipmania’.

Ludo’s lodgings, Amsterdam, 1635

Marcos rubbed at the heel of the shoe (he was cleaning) and without looking up, said, “Is it this selling that’s made you rich?”

“This selling? What selling? What are you saying boy?”

“It’s that I don’t exactly understand what you’re doing, sir.”

“And why do you need to understand? It’s none of your damned business. You only latched onto me as a means of finding your long-lost father, who you seem to have forgotten in the most unfilial manner.”

“That’s not true!” Marcos replied, hurt by the Italian’s tone. “It’s just that I want to learn and go back home with more than I came with – if I can’t find my father – and if what they say in the streets and taverns is true, that’s probably what’s going to happen. I want to go home rich.” He paused, regretting his words, “Richer than when I came,” he held up the shoe and turned it in the air for inspection, “so I was sort of wondering if perhaps you could let me have a loan, and I could buy some of what you have and sell it.”

“At a profit?”

“Oh, yes, that’s what I want to do – make a profit, like they talk about with these flowers. There’s hundreds of profit, they say, buying and selling your flowers.”

“‘Hundreds of profit’. Interesting concept. Are you going to embalm that piece of footwear or get my breakfast?”

“Oh, yes, sorry. There’s some bread from yesterday and some ham and some beer. Do you want some of that tea stuff?”

“That ‘tea stuff ’ is very expensive merchandise, show some respect.”

“Sorry. Do you?”

“Tea? No!”

Marcos busied himself in the kitchen area and picked up on the conversation he wanted to continue. “So, what I was thinking was ...”

“You want me to give you some bulbs so you can sell them and make hundreds of profit. And what will you give me in return?”

Marcos put a plate and a tankard down in front of the merchant and looked him in the eye, confused, “I don’t understand? What do I have to give you in return?”

Ludo sighed, looked at the warm, flat beer and settled back in his chair. “I think we had better begin with the basics of commerce. Cut me some of that bread and ham – but wash your hands first.”

(. . .) Marcos listened intently then said, “But why are these Dutchies buying things they’ve never seen and don’t need with money they haven’t got.”

“Explain,” said Ludo.

“Well, last night I was in the Red Cockerel and a lot of odd bods were sneaking into a room at the back, so I sneaked in too. They were having some sort of sale, but there were only a few of those plant things you’ve got in your case. The rest were signing bits of paper for flowers that didn’t exist. Least ways I didn’t see them, I s’pose they might be in people’s gardens.”

Ludo raised an eyebrow, “Well done. And how exactly did you follow these transactions? You said you had no Dutch.”

Marcos lifted one of his master boots and started to shine it with the linen towel. “Numbers are numbers, not difficult to guess. These are the softest boots I’ve ever touched.”

“And these men, who would you say they were?”

“Oh, that’s easy, butchers and bakers, they still had their aprons on. Some toffs as well. I followed one in like his servant. He didn’t notice. There were a couple of gents like the one you were with a few days ago. The man that owns the Cockerel was running the show. They have a special code for when they go into the room – they go ‘cock-a-doodle-do’. Sounds really stupid. I bet if you want to do business in the Golden Lion you have to go ‘grrrrr’.”

Ludo sat and stared at the boy for a moment then said, “The answer is ‘yes’. I will let you have a loan and some goods at rock bottom prices – and you are going to make us hundreds of profit with a cock-a-doodle-do.” Then he got up and went into his room to wash, saying, “And in the meantime I’m going to make thousands of profit with numbers on bits of paper.”


There is a hint here that Ludo is not all bad; he is trying to help Marcos improve his status or at least educate him. From this point on, I wanted readers to have personal opinions on what Ludo is doing and why, for them to be more actively engaged in his wrong-doing and, later, fear for him when he tries to escape his evil antagonist. I was also using a secondary character to show how and why ordinary men and women traded tulip bulbs at outrageous prices, and how some (including the feisty heroine of the story) fell victim to Ludo’s wicked charm, and suffered for it.

The second scene comes from my new Bob Robbins Home Front Mystery, Courting Danger (to be released March, 2021 – this is the working cover only). Here, I am using two minor characters to tell readers about two suspects in a murder enquiry, and show how the wartime restrictions were affecting ordinary people.

Cornwall, England, 1943.

Shem Placket and his wife Violet were obliged to vacate their farmhouse home when the local landowner Charles Kittoe and his sophisticated wife moved to Cornwall during the blitz. The Kittoes have now left. Shem and Violet are discussing how this affects them, and whether the Kittoes are involved in the death of a local young doctor.

“They expect too much of you.” Mrs Placket tipped fluffy white potatoes into a dish and slapped on bright yellow butter.

“It works to our favour, my dear. Gives us more peace than most farm managers get.”

“Do you think we ought to say something?” Mrs Placket asked, removing her pinny before they sat down to eat.

“Say something about what? This smells good, Violet, where’s the meat?”

“Seek and ye shall find.” Violet ladled gravy over three types of root vegetable. “What I’m saying is, should we tell that police detective what we know?”

“If he comes asking, I might mention something. We don’t want to risk our place here, though, do we? Not at our age. You’ll have that fancy big kitchen to cook in again now.”

“Nothing wrong with the old range. Got to learn all new-fangled gas timings and settings and Lor’ knows what.”

Shem Placket looked at his wife: she had been pretty, once upon a time. “No point rockin’ the boat. They might let us have this cottage when I retire. No, if the police come knocking, I’ll tell what needs to be said. If they ask. Nothing more.”

Violet Placket met her husband’s eye, “But you know what’s happenin’ up in that cave.”

“I don’t for sure, Violet. Not for certain. But you know me: I speak when spoken to, and not before.”

“They could be taking pills or magic potions and acting out old rituals then lying spark out in the dark like they said they did when we were young’uns.”

“Far as I know it wasn’t breaking the law then, and if that’s still going on – well, it b’aint killed anyone yet.”

“It might have killed that young doctor. Why didn’t you tell me it was him in the pool?”

“Didn’t know it was. Don’t know as I’ve ever met the boy face to face. And we don’t know he was up to no good in that ol’ cave neither.”

“He spent enough time with Mrs Kittoe . . .”

Shem raised a calloused, warning hand. “That is enough, wife. If they ask . . .” he removed a woody stalk from between his front teeth, “you can tell them about Mrs K and her carryings on, but keep Mr Kittoe out of it or we’ll be looking for a shed to live in. If anyone’s been up to no good it’s her, in my opinion.” Despite his need to protect his family, Shem had a very Wesleyan attitude to life. “You understand what I’m saying?”
The trick in historical crime writing is to maximise the use of secondary and minor characters to provide information on the epoch and details on the crime(s).

Whether you are at the planning stage or into your first draft, write out a cast list and make a note next to each name to say what that character brings to the story.

 

Remember, in e.books it is harder to turn back to remind yourself who’s who, so make sure each person in your story is memorable and there for a reason.

Enjoy your writing! JGH

 

Writing ‘Private Lives’

As my readers know, I write fiction set in the 17th Century and World War Two. I enjoy the hard work that goes into writing about both epochs, but my new story set in 1942 has been something of a challenge. Finding the right tone, the right wording for sinister content with a touch of humour and moments of genuine sadness has required multiple drafts.

On the surface, writing a (relatively) cosy crime should have been easier than writing about a wily Genoese secret agent in The Chosen Man Trilogy, for example, but it wasn’t. Ludo da Portovenere’s skulduggery in Europe and India during the 1600s is all based on documented history. Each book includes researched data, plus a few lesser known historical details such as what happened to some of the most valuable Crown Jewels during the English Civil War. But this happened centuries ago, which gives me a degree of poetic licence. Give Ludo an inch and he takes a mile.

What happens to Bob Robbins in Devon and Cornwall during the nineteen-forties, however, is much closer to home and draws on personal memory, which muddies the waters. Not that I lived through the Second World War: I’m not that old! The background to Local Resistance and Private Lives, though, rests to an extent on my parents’ and grand-parents’ anecdotes and life-style.

In my mind’s eye, while I am writing, I can see what is happening in those days: the hand-knitted cardigans and walnut-laminated wireless sets, wooden draining boards and rolled newspapers fanning flames out of a few bits of coal. I was a post-war baby, born while the war and food rationing were a recent memory. Little was said in my hearing about the war itself, but the Home Front was much discussed. Tales about how goods fell off the back of a lorry, reminders to wear something white at night (to avoid getting run over in the black-out), to make do and mend; anecdotes about fire-watch duties and local dances . . .  These must have settled into the back of my mind unbidden the way Abba song lyrics do.

Nobody belittled the difficulties they endured; life was dangerous and unpredictable even in rural areas, where a random bomber might dump unused bombs on the way back to base. This happened. I remember distinctly being told about a primary school where the only child to survive had been at home in bed with a sore throat.

People were stoic, but not passé, although a survey conducted in London in November 1940 revealed only 40% of the population went into air-raid shelters on a regular basis. Most Londoners preferred to risk sudden death in their own beds – until bombing was so intense underground Tube stations became the only place of safety. Down in the south west of England, the inhabitants of Plymouth, an important naval base, pushed blankets and thermos flasks into babies’ prams or garden wheel-barrows and trekked out of the city to sleep under the stars on Dartmoor. It must have been exhausting.

In Britain and Ireland, there was the added, critical risk of imminent invasion. It had happened in Poland and the Channel Islands, it could happen in Britain. The detail about the German U-boat surfacing off the Cornish coast to take on fresh water in Local Resistance was taken from a German sailor’s account. I didn’t invent that.

My fiction, as I said earlier, relies a good deal on stories overheard as a child. It is also influenced by my M.A. dissertation on Social and Political Thought during World War Two, focusing on the implicit propaganda in popular films and wireless programmes such as the mad-cap comedy ITMA, which made fun of just about everything and everyone. The Ministry of Information turned ‘ordinary people’ into heroes and role models, and with good reason – they were.

All this, family anecdotes, academic research, and a particularly English brand of humour has slipped into my Home Front mysteries.

How a Cornish fishing village uses its ancient smuggling tradition to evade rationing while preparing to defend their country when ‘Jerry’ landed forms the background to Local Resistance; how people as diverse as Land Army girls and cosmopolitan actors coped three years into the war underlies the shenanigans and criminal activities in Private Lives.  

Being in action on ‘the Front’ was obviously perilous, but how life went on in unoccupied Britain, how people coped in the face of incessant difficulties and dangers required its own form of bravery, which deserves to be celebrated.

©J.G. Harlond

Read the opening chapter of Private Lives here.

Private Lives is available on Amazon.

Read about ‘Churchill’s Secret Army’ in Local Resistance: http://getbook.at/LocalResistance

Find out more about my books on: www.jgharlond.com

 

A Place in Past – the Reschen Valley

Many years ago, while we were living in Italy, I visited the Alto Adige, or the Südtirol as it is known in German. We returned on various occasions, winter and summer, and I fell in love with the scenery: the only word for it is ‘dramatic’. But so is the history half-hidden among the ancient alpine passes and modern ski resorts; the difficult past that must have been so hard to bear for people who felt themselves to be Austrian or Tyrolean – not Italian. For this reason, I was drawn to Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger’s award-winning Reschen Valley series.

If you have not come across this writer before, Lucyk-Berger is an American ex-pat living in western Austria. Her natural storytelling skills, and her innate curiosity about how the past shapes our present have formed her into a successful historical fiction writer.

Here is some historical background and a very brief summary of the storyline for the series.
After the Great War, a new conflict in Europe began. When Austria’s Tyrolean province was split in two, the southern half was annexed by Italy. In The Reschen Valley Series, two families cross paths: the Thalers, a Tyrolean farming family, and the Grimanis, an Italian industrial family racing to develop Italy’s new frontiers before a second war breaks out. When the Fascists reveal plans to flood a valley that would drown out the Thalers’ family, both sides must weave their way through a labyrinth of corruption, prejudice and greed.

Q: I asked Chrystyna why she was drawn to write about the Reschen Valley? What was it about the location that caught her interest or imagination?

A: The Reschen Valley is actually called Oberer Vinschgau/Reschia. Imagine driving south over an alpine pass, crossing from Austria into Italy. You might expect Italian restaurants, Italian signs, and Italian architecture, but that’s not what happens. It still looks like the Austrian Tyrol with a few Italian names and the German language is very present.

Keep driving, because here it comes: spread out before you, a beautiful aquamarine-blue reservoir nestled between the Alpine peaks and spreading some four miles into the southern horizon. It takes your breath away. You pass the first town and quickly come upon the next one called Graun / Curon Venosta. And then there it is. Off to the right, some 50 feet from the lakeshore, is a fully intact medieval church tower rising straight out of the water. The valley beneath the lake is the setting of my Reschen Valley series.

It took me almost five years and a lot of German improvement to figure out what the heck happened. The deeper into the history I went, the more mysterious and thrilling the story became, especially in regard to how the reservoir was built.

I was making two or three trips a year there, spending a lot of time in the province and getting to know two cultures: the Austrian Tyrolean one and the northern Italian one. By the time I visited the Reschen Lake reservoir for the tenth time, a whole slew of characters had risen above its surface: a young farmer woman, a sassy innkeeper, an Italian engineer, a German carpenter, a dog. A Fascist colonel. They clambered into my Nissan Micra and never let go.

The real history reads like a thriller. There was an awful lot of planning, and this was years before the European conflict broke out. The risorgimento was a nationalist movement and their belief was that Italy’s borders had been pre-destined by Dante. The nationalists were delighted when England, France and Russia came with a proposal in 1915, the secret Treaty of London, proposing: “Please help us to win the war.”
“Sure,” the Italian nationalists said, “and when we win, we get these territories, especially that Brenner Pass line.”
After WWI, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was completely perplexed by the Italy’s claim to territories inhabited by Slav and German-speaking citizens. It was fully against his proposed 14 points! But that’s another long and tragic story.

Q: You have four of six books completed for the series, and a couple of WW2 novels, too, when will the last two books be finished, and what’s next?

The next book in the series, Two Fatherlands is a monster of a novel but it will be published — come hell or high water — end of October or possibly delaying it to early November to mark the 100 years since South Tyrol’s annexation to Italy. Either way, I will decide in July when I’ve delivered the manuscript. I had to send the book into the corner last November and give it a break. It helped a lot. I’m back on it and in between, I wrote what I thought was just going to be a reader’s magnet, and has turned into a celebrated collection. Souvenirs from Kiev is based on my relatives’ histories during WWII in Ukraine and takes readers on a perilous journey from the Underground to the DP camps of Germany. That release has opened new doors for me!
Also while struggling with Two Fatherlands last fall, I had agreed to join a project with five other authors to put together a collection of novels for the 75th anniversary of the end of WW2. Magda’s Mark appears in the The Road to Liberation collection this May. It is based on a true story about my friend’s husband. Her father-in-law was a district SS officer in Moravia (Czechsolovakia/Sudetenland). When his son was born, the baby was returned to the mother circumcised. Now, can you imagine the repercussions?

As soon as I start asking questions about how, who, what drove them . . . I know I have something I need to write. And a new place to visit. I always travel to the settings of my books.

Q: When this current lockdown comes to an end and we are able to travel again, do you have any specific plans regarding visiting your settings?

Definitely, I will return to Litomerice again before Magda’s Mark is republished as a standalone title, and of course I’ll go to South Tyrol as soon as I can (we were supposed to stop by in June on our way south…) And I hope to return to the Carpathians of Ukraine very soon to write another WWII novel. That is going to be another juicy one. And then I will finish the last book in the Reschen Valley Series. If all goes well, I expect The Rising to release latest at the end of next year.

 

You can read my review of The Reschen Valley Series (written for Discovering Diamonds Reviews) in the Book Review section of this blog.

 

Find out more about Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger and her books on the following links:

 

 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/inktreks
Twitter: @ckalyna
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/ckalyna
Subscribe to her Newsletter: https://www.subscribepage.com/RSV
Homepage: www.inktreks.com

Reschen Valley Box Set
https://www.books2read.com/u/bppvLg
Souvenirs from Kiev
mybook.to/Souvenirs
Road to Liberation (Featuring Magda’s Mark)
books2read.com/RoadtoLiberation

© JG Harlond & Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger (April 2020)

A Place in History – Israel

Israel in the 1940s – The Laundry Room

by Lynda Lippman-Lockhart

 

 

 

 

What is there about traveling to foreign ports that is so evocative, compelling, and necessary? I have always been a proponent of getting away, giving into a change of attitude and altitude, and most of all—educating myself and my family. It is good for the soul and certainly good for the brain. There isn’t a trip that I haven’t learned something that has come in handy in the future. Each one of my books arose from a particular place I have visited or lived. Apparently, the place made an impression on me.

The Laundry Room is an example. It all began with a promise and a prayer. The new rabbi at my synagogue stood on the pulpit of his congregation during the High Holidays promising to take a group to Israel in the near future.  My husband and I were two of the first to sign up.

I remember arriving at the Ben Gurion Airport and marveling at how modern it was with its clean lines and lack of clutter. Our luggage was right on time, and we loaded our tour bus, finding those familiar to sit next to. Our guide Jeremy, began the tour as soon as the bus left the airport. I don’t know what I expected but was amazed at the melding of new and old in the city of Tel Aviv.  The traffic was almost as bad as New York’s. Our first stop was on the Mount of Olives, a part of the Judaean Mountain chain and the ancient Judean kingdom. It was there we beheld Jerusalem and all of its splendor as the sun set in the west, casting a golden glow over the city, hence Jerusalem of Gold, a popular Israeli song. We left the mountain and headed toward the coast and the center of Tel Aviv, a thriving metropolis with signs of bombed buildings next to new. The contrast was startling to say the least.

That night we had dinner at the hotel and then walked to what we were told would be a gathering of people to commemorate Israel’s Independence. What we were not prepared for was the blast of sirens at which time everyone stopped in their tracks, buses, cars, people. There was complete silence for five minutes; and afterward, our guide explained this was their way of thanking all who gave their lives so that freedom would prevail. It took all of us some time to recover from the awe of that moment. At the park, thousands of young people congregated as they listened to one after another speak on freedom and the country. What caught me off guard was how young the military was and how these young people were standing around with guns slung over their shoulders. All citizens eighteen and over are compelled to serve in the military for a minimum of two years—male and female.

The next morning, we were headed to Caesarea. On the way, we passed the technology center of Israel, Herzliya, and continued to a bucolic seaside spectacle. It was here at Caesarea that Herod built a temple dedicated to Tiberius Caesar.

Little remains, but some of the mosaics that have managed to survive time and ware, are magnificent. The clear, aqua waters of the Mediterranean wash gently upon the shore, spilling over into the largest natural pool I’ve ever seen.

We arrived at Masada after passing bands of Bedouins hunkered down with their animals and tents. They live as they did in biblical times. Upon reaching Masada, we were told it was the last stronghold of a band of Judean rebels trying to escape the rage of the Roman soldiers bent on their destruction. Here, in the dusty terrain, high above—in what resembles a southwestern mesa—960 men, women, and children held off 8,000 Roman soldiers for several months. When it appeared their plight was hopeless, they decided to take their own lives instead of becoming slaves of the Romans. They drew straws to see who among them would be the last to take their own life. Standing on the top of the mesa, brings to mind how precious life really is and makes one think of Egypt and the lives of the Israelites before escaping Pharaoh’s domination. The bus trip to the Dead Sea was silent.

Of all of the stops we made, the one that remained with me when I arrived back in the States was the Ayalon Institute (1), not because of its beauty or tragic event, but for courage and dedication to a cause.

I could go on and on, but for some reason, it was the Ayalon Institute that held fast. I tried to do some research when I returned home, but there was little. I wrote to the institute to ask for a brochure, but instead received a personal email from a Judith Ayalon, one of the 45 youth that built, supplied, and ran an underground ammunition factory that would play a major role in the establishment of Israel as an independent country. She and I would correspond for the next two years. The visual of teenagers fashioning bullet casings out of copper or filling those casings with gunpowder is hard to erase. There was nothing special or memorable about the terrain, but what took place there will never be erased from my mind. A well-kept secret until 1986, this historic site has become a major stop for those visiting Israel and a place I will never forget. The Laundry Room covers those historic events from beginning to end.

© Lynda Lippman-Lockhart

  1. “Now a museum, the Ayalon Institute was a secret ammunition factory disguised as part of a kibbutz to fool the British back in the 1940s. Jewish people used the factory in their efforts to fight for the independent state of Israel. Organizers went to extreme measures to build and sustain this secret factory within the kibbutz.” (From: https://www.touristisrael.com/ayalon-institute/16168 accessed 14/05/2019)

About Lynda Lippman-Lockhart

Originally from St. Petersburg, Florida, Lynda now lives in Columbus, NC, with her husband and a moyen poodle. Lynda retired from teaching eleven years ago and took up writing after winning first place in the Florida Writers Conference short story contest. She says her first book was a fluke in that she was sitting out on the deck of their summer home with her poodle Bogie and the title Oodles of Poodles came to her. She started writing and the subsequent book became a huge success. The next book was historical fiction, The Laundry Room, mentioned above. Lynda’s latest work is a crime novel Nine Minutes to Kill, which invites the reader to help solve the crime. She is currently editing her next historical novel Con Artist about Goya, the queen of Spain and her lover, and a scandalous painting: ‘The Naked Maja’.

About The Laundry Room:

The British Mandate over Palestine is coming to an end. The purpose of the Mandate was to divide a portion of the now defunct Ottoman Empire into two British protectorates: Palestine, which would include a home for the Jewish people, and Transjordan, an emirate under the rule of the Hashemite family. The problem: how will these two diametrically opposed peoples survive after the Mandate ends? In 1946, when the King David Hotel outside the “Old City” of Jerusalem is bombed, peace-loving Laila Posner becomes a victim. Swept up in the blast, she flies through the air like a dove and lands as a hawk, transformed for all the wrong reasons.
Upon recovery, Laila joins a group of young people—many of whom have been orphaned by the Holocaust—sent to Palestine for protection. Forty-five of these Young Pioneers form a kibbutz and resolve never to let someone else direct their lives. The success of the kibbutz reaches the ears of the Haganah, the Jewish secret police, who approach the kibbutz with a proposition: participate in a clandestine operation to save the Jewish state. It is during her time at the Ayalon Institute—a name given to disguise its activities—that Laila comes of age, taking a leading role in the operation of the kibbutz and running the secret factory.
In the face of daily challenges to survive—volatile compounds, marauding Arabs, and the fear of discovery by the British—Laila finds the strength to go on. Amid the turmoil of the time, a close-knit community is formed, spawning lifetime attachments and love. Laila, however, never forgets the young British soldier who came to her assistance during the bombing of the King David Hotel, which causes friction between her and her kibbutz sweetheart. His intermittent presence in her life leaves her feeling uneasy about her future.
The selflessness of these youths who came to the aid of their country is a testament to how heroes are formed out of ordinary human beings.

For more on Lynda Lippman-Lockhart and her books go to:

A Place in History – Fiesole, Italy

Fiesole as Setting for The Contessa’s Easel

by Mary Donnarumma Sharnick

The late novelist Henry James once wrote, “It takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature.” How insightful his words have been and are for writers who bring their imagined characters to life in geographical settings replete with recorded histories, both societal and individual.

Fiesole, Italy, a picturesque, much-visited, and perpetually-storied Tuscan hill town five kilometers northeast of Florence, offers authors records, artifacts, ruins, architecture, gardens, and artworks prolific enough to ensure careers-long historical contexts. Giovanni Boccaccio set The Decameron here, E. M. Forster A Room with a View. Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, Hermann Hesse’s Peter Camenzind, and James’ own Italian Hours feature the evocative location in their pages.

When I first visited Fiesole with my husband during the summer of 2002, I was smitten. With its ancient Etruscan walls, Roman baths and amphitheater, fourteenth-century town hall, the Monastery of San Francesco, several churches, the novice home of Fra Angelico in San Domenico, the town offered historical narratives at every turn. Villa Le Balze (Georgetown University’s study-abroad campus), Villa Sparta (former residence of the Greek royal family), and numerous other distinguished domiciles each offered detailed accounts about their inhabitants, visitors, interlopers, intimates, and detractors. Living in and near the town for periods of time over the course of the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries have been: French writer Marcel Proust, American art historian Bernard Berenson, German painter Paul Klee, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The town is known as the most affluent suburb of Florence.

Since our initial visit, my husband and I have returned to Fiesole often, sometimes as a couple, other times with student groups we have sponsored. Our most recent trip, in July of 2018, was to conduct research for my fifth novel, its working title The Contessa’s Easel, the anticipated third in a quartet of the Orla Paints Series. While Orla’s Canvas (Penmore Press, 2015), the first novel in the series, and Painting Mercy (Penmore Press, 2018), the second, make frequent and direct references to Fiesole and the fictional Contessa Beatrice D’Annunzio’s villa-turned-orphanage during World War II, The Contessa’s Easel will call Fiesole home, with the main action of the novel taking place there.

Plenty of history contextualizes and informs the narrative, as the action alternates between the novel’s present, the summer of 1989, and its past, the summer of 1944. The raison d’etre for the conflation of the two historical periods is Fiesole’s forty-fifth-anniversary celebration of its liberation from the Nazis (who had seized and occupied Villa Le Balze because of its comprehensive view of Florence below). Among the celebratory events is protagonist and recognized American painter Orla Castleberry’s art exhibition, featuring portraits of Fiesolani in the novel’s present. The same locals had been photographed during the Nazi occupation of the town. The photographs, made available by the Contessa to Orla’s lifelong confidant, attorney and history aficionado Tad Charbonneau, become the primary sources for Tad’s debut history book, The Orphans of Fiesole. In turn, the photographs inspire Orla to seek out Fiesolani who, almost a half-century since World War II interrupted and altered their lives, still live locally. While the 1944 photographs tell their subjects’ stories in medias res, as it were, Orla’s paintings render their personal histories via their faces and bodies interpreted by a painter’s brush. My research in Fiesole revealed a number of actual archived photographs that afforded me the opportunity to inform my own fiction.

In the layering of one historical period over another that occurs through time, 1989 Fiesole found itself responding to the global AIDS crisis. Although AIDS arrived in Italy during the early 1980s, the Ministry of Health, led by Carlo Donat-Cattin, had refused to initiate public education programs even as late as 1988. Not until mid-1989, with the arrival of Donat-Cattin’s successor, Francesco DeLorenzo, did informative television commercials and public education initiatives take hold. Just as Boccaccio’s fourteenth-century pilgrims had fled Florence and the plague for the hills and fresh air of Fiesole, some afflicted and dying of the more recent “plague” also find their way to the Contessa’s villa. Orphanage transforms to hospice. Past function is re-purposed by present need. Several German and Italian and American characters meet, brought together by an epidemic threatening all. Former alliances and misalliances are re-introduced and re-construed in yet another historical context fraught with fear, uncertainty, and imminent mortality.

Also illustrative of historical layering is the Hotel Villa Aurora, just steps from the bus stop in Piazza Mino. Recently closed, the hotel was still in 2018 housing visitors to Fiesole.

Its garden terrace, its contemporary basement bar, and its convenience to Fiesole’s sites made it a stopping place for many. Even as I researched at the hotel last July, I was hard-pressed to imagine the barroom as the prison it had once been for the ragazzi, young men rounded up by the Nazis and doomed to die unless and until the three police officers, the carabinieri, who came to be known and honored as “the martyrs of Fiesole”, came out of hiding in the ruins. The three, a trio of partisans amidst a region of fellow partisans, had carried out acts of resistance for months. Hearing of their fellow Fiesolani’s peril, they did emerge from the shadows. They were shot on the terrace the evening of August 12, 1944 (ironically, after the Allied Forces had already liberated Florence on August 11). Today visitors can honor them on a self-guided walking tour in Fiesole. They are: Vittorio Marandola, Alberto LaRocca, and Fulvio Sbarretti. All were in their twenties.

Just as past merges into present with the historical martyrs’ lives and the monument to those lives, several past relationships in The Contessa’s Easel also develop into present ones. Those relationships, too, are altered by the unrelenting passage of time, vast political changes, as well as town, family, and individual secrets exposed and contradicted. No character is exempt from surprises–some painful, some joyous, all revelatory.  Every character must re-assess and re-consider what they knew or thought they knew in 1944, what they know or think they know in 1989. The inevitable and irrefutable corollary, of course, follows as a question: What is the relationship between the historical record and a human being’s experienced life? This is the question The Contessa’s Easel explores.

The late American novelist, E. L. Doctorow once wrote, “The historian will tell you what happened. The novelist will tell you what it felt like.”

My goal in The Contessa’s Easel is to invite readers to feel vicariously in a brick and mortar context, a context verifiable by the historical record; to explore the “blur,” the moment when a character’s particular life intersects with social history; and to vivify and render kinetic an imagined place that becomes—at least for the time readers visit it—as real as any historical one. In this case, as real as Fiesole.

About the author

Mary Donnarumma Sharnick is the author of the National Federation of Press women prize-winning novels, Orla’s Canvas and Painting Mercy, both published by Penmore Press. Her previous two novels, Thirst and Plagued, both set in Renaissance Venice, were published by Fireship Press. Thirst is being adapted for the operatic stage by composer Gerard Chiusano and librettists Robert Cutrofello and Mary Chiusano. Mary teaches at FlexSchool, New Haven, Connecticut, and offers a range of writing services to individuals, groups, and schools. She and her husband lead custom-designed tours to Italy, the country Mary considers her second home.

You can find out more about Mary on:

www.marysharnick.com

www.penmorepress.com

Twitter: @marysharnick

Facebook:@authormarydonnarummasharnick

A Place in History – Scotland

A Sense of Place

Scottish author Marie Macpherson explains how her native county of East Lothian provided the foundations for a trilogy.

 

 

 

Hailes Castle

 

The mist-covered mountains of the Scottish Highlands may have cast a spell over many romantic novelists, but my heart lies in the Central Lowlands where most of Scotland’s political struggles and bloody conflicts took place. The early 16th century during the turbulent period of the Reformation and the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, has inspired my trilogy based on the life of the Reformer, John Knox.

The rich history of my birthplace has fascinated me, not surprising perhaps, since I was brought up on a battlefield – the Battle of Pinkie fought in 1547 (we lost) – and within sight of Fa’side Castle from where Mary Stewart set off for her last confrontation as Queen of Scots at Carberry Hill (she lost). Digging in the back garden became an archaeological excavation to find buried treasure or the bones of slain soldiers. Other blood-soaked battlefields were within easy reach; Prestonpans (we won), Dunbar (we lost, twice), Athelstaneford, birthplace of the Scottish flag, the Saltire (we won). There’s hardly an inch of turf in the Lothians untrodden by a marauding army and hardly a castle or stately home that is not haunted by a ghost. This instilled in me a strong sense of the past and urged me to explore more deeply the stirring history of my native county. Writing fiction gives my imagination free rein as I attempt to conjure up what life was like for the inhabitants of those now ruined castles and deserted abbeys. Exploring the personal relationships and often hidden motivations of historical characters drive my curiosity.

My journey started off with a very small step, almost a footnote in history, The Treaty of Haddington signed in 1548 which betrothed Mary, Queen of Scots to the French Dauphin and this intrigued me. Several sources mention that this significant event took place at the abbey and for years this was assumed t to be St Mary’s Collegiate Church as there was no abbey in Haddington – except there was – or had been. Sadly, St Mary’s Cistercian Priory, a victim of the Reformation, had been erased from history and memory for centuries. Only a few stones and place names – Abbey Mill, the Abbey Bridge – recorded its existence. Yet, as I discovered, this long-lost priory had been one of the wealthiest religious houses in Britain, presided over by some very unorthodox prioresses, including Elisabeth Hepburn, the reluctant nun, who became my heroine.

Another nugget I unearthed concerned the playwright and makar, Sir David Lindsay, who wrote a scathing satire on the corrupt Roman Catholic clergy. He had been exiled to his estate at Garleton Castle, near Haddington, now a forgotten ruin set amidst farm buildings. Speculating that the fates of the poet and the prioress might be intertwined became the starting point of The First Blast of the Trumpet.

Digital StillCamera

The historic town of Haddington was also the birthplace of another religious figure, the fiery Reformer, John Knox. Because he called himself Giffordiensis, it was assumed he was born in Gifford, a village that did not exist at the time: he was more likely to have been born in Gifford Gate, Haddington.

 

 

There was also confusion about his birthdate. 1505 is inscribed on the commemorative plaque beside the oak tree planted by the great Victorian historian, Thomas Carlyle, whereas Knox was probably born around 1513/14. After studying at St Andrews, he returned to Haddington to serve as a Roman Catholic priest and notary. He was ‘pulled from the puddle of papistry’ by the charismatic preacher, George Wishart, who was arrested in St Mary’s Church, despite Knox standing at the foot of the pulpit bearing a two-handed sword to defend him. While Wishart was taken to St Andrews and burnt at the stake, Knox was arrested as a heretic and sentenced to toil for 19 months in the French galleys. Which fate was worse? Knox’s survival from certain death convinced him that God had intervened to save him to become His divine messenger. The First Blast of the Trumpet ends after the signing of the Treaty of Haddington when Queen Mary sails off to France in a galley, possibly rowed by the slave John Knox.

Hailes Castle sets the scene for opening of The First Blast of the Trumpet.

At midnight on a doom-laden Hallowe’en three young lasses sit round the hearth in the West Tower, gazing into the flames trying to divine their future. From this fortress perched high on a rocky outcrop on the banks of the River Tyne, accessible only by a narrow farm track, the powerful Hepburn family, the Earls of Bothwell, controlled the lands of East Lothian. Though now a ruin, this hidden gem retains many features still recognisable enough to fire the novelist’s imagination. In the Great Hall, the earls would host grand banquets prepared in the vaulted kitchen underneath where scullions would turn spits over huge fires; children would scamper up and down the turnpike staircases of the three towers, and prisoners would languish in the two pit prisons or oubliettes – one of which is said to have contained George Wishart after his arrest. What must it have been like to have been lowered down into a pit and left in complete darkness on a freezing winter’s night?

James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, brought Mary, Queen of Scots to Hailes at least twice – if not three times. Firstly, when he abducted her after the murder of her husband Darnley, secondly on their way to Edinburgh to be married and possibly a third time before the stand-off at Carberry Hill where she surrendered to the Confederate lords and he fled into exile.

No self-respecting Scottish castle is without a ghost and Hailes is said to have at least two. The spirit of a man who starved to death in the pit prison because he had fallen in love with the laird’s wife, and a White Lady, said to be Mary, Queen of Scots, reputedly haunt the castle. Although local people claim to have sighted these spirits, I’ve still to experience any ghostly presence. However, wandering about the jagged ruins does send shivers up my spine. If only those stone walls could talk.

The Second Blast of the Trumpet follows the release of Knox into exile, firstly in England and then to Calvin’s Geneva, Frankfurt and Dieppe. Meanwhile, back in Scotland, Prioress Elisabeth Hepburn stands by the Regent, Queen Marie de Guise, in her struggle to hold the throne for her daughter against the oncoming tide of Reformation, led by the Protestant Lords of the Congregation. As they travel round the various royal residences, I try to give a flavour of what life was like in a Renaissance palace such as Falkland or Holyrood, or a fortified castle like Stirling or Edinburgh (none of which were a rocky grotto or bat cave as portrayed in the recent film!).

I’m working on the third part of the trilogy, The Last Blast of the Trumpet, which takes place mainly in Edinburgh where I lived for a time as a student and which has a special place in my heart. The medieval Old Town of Auld Reekie, a labyrinth of cobbled streets, narrow wynds and hidden courtyards, is amazingly well preserved and positively reeks of history, although the steaming midden heaps have long gone. John Knox House, where the reformer lived for a short time before his death, retains many medieval features. The dark oak panelling and painted ceilings make it particularly atmospheric, transporting me back in time to see Knox at his desk writing his fire-breathing sermons to be thundered from the pulpit in St Giles’ Kirk. Every stone and cobble from Edinburgh Castle down the spine of the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace has witnessed conflict and chaos, corruption and cruelty through the centuries. I consider myself very fortunate to have all this history on my doorstep to inspire me as I strive to breathe life into Scotland’s rich past.

About Marie Macpherson

Marie Macpherson hails from from the historic town of Musselburgh, six miles from the Scottish capital Edinburgh, but left the Honest Toun to study Russian at Strathclyde University. She spent a year in the former Soviet Union to research her PhD thesis on the 19th century Russian writer, Mikhail Lermontov, said to be descended from the poet and seer, Thomas the Rhymer.

 

After a career teaching languages and literature from Moscow to Madrid, she has found her niche in writing historical fiction which combines her academic’s love of research with a passion for storytelling.

The First Blast of the Trumpet and The Second Blast of the Trumpet are published by Penmore Press. She’s currently working on the third part of the trilogy, The Last Blast of the Trumpet.

Connect with Marie on:

Penmore Press Page: https://www.penmorepress.com/penmore_authors_/marie-macpherson.html

https://www.amazon.co.uk/l/B007WAY5NE?_encoding=UTF8&redirectedFromKindleDbs=true&ref_=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1&rfkd=1&shoppingPortalEnabled=true

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5404227.Marie_Macpherson

WordPress: https://mariemacpherson.wordpress.com/about/

Twitter: @MGMacpherson

Facebook author page: Marie Macpherson

https://www.facebook.com/marie.macpherson.96

Watch the mini-documentary on YouTube:
John Knox and the Birth of the Scottish Reformation:  http://youtu.be/40PV0rll6dw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing fiction using historical fact

Secret Agents, Tulips, and the English Crown Jewels

The real history behind The Chosen Man Trilogy

Some authors are irritated by the question ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ but I see it as perfectly valid. Knowing the genesis of a good story can deepen its enjoyment or appreciation. In my case, however, it’s rather chicken and egg. Which came first, the idea for The Chosen Man and what became a trilogy, or the ideas generated out of the research? Historical fiction authors can probably relate to this; they may also agree that while research can take you down fascinating rabbit holes, some of the best bits have to be left out because readers almost certainly won’t believe it. This is what happened when I started gathering material about the first financial bubble known as tulipmania or tulip fever and Vatican secret agents for The Chosen Man. All of which was fascinating, but in many respects almost beggared belief.

But where did the idea come from? Well, the story began with a combination of events, one very real with devastating financial consequences, the other un-real, when I ‘saw’ people during a visit to Cotehele, a British National Trust property on the River Tamar in Cornwall and the model for the fictional house ‘Crimphele’ in my first novel. Wandering around the house mentally preparing the sequel to The Empress Emerald (set early 20th Century), I was beset by characters living in the 17th Century. To start with, the evil-minded McNab walked out of a wall, crossed the Great Hall and disappeared, then re-appeared later crossing the courtyard. He made my skin crawl, but he was not to be ignored. The portrait of a Stuart harridan gave me the unpleasant mother-in-law, and then to top it all, while I was gazing down at the Tamar Estuary from the roof of the Tudor tower I ‘saw’ Ludo da Portovenere arrive on a boat – much as he does at the end of the first book in the trilogy. So, I went home, set aside my original notes and started a new book entirely.

The story-line fell into place as I watched news coverage of the Lehman Brothers and mortgage scandals in the USA and I was reminded of the Dutch tulip bubble. During the 1630s in the Netherlands, or the United Provinces as the country was known then, tulip bulbs were worth more than their weight in gold. A virus which attacked the bulbs resulted in exotic stripes or ‘flames’ on petals, and a single rare bulb could cost three times the annual wage of a skilled artisan or even the price of an elegant house in Amsterdam. This was a period of intense political and religious intrigue in Europe. Spain was heavily involved in the Thirty Years War to regain Flanders; Pope Urban VIII was outwardly supporting Spain while conspiring to limit the size and power of the Holy Roman Empire, to which Habsburg Spain belonged; and France was playing both sides against the middle, harrying Spanish ships and playing double games with Rome. Having lived in the Netherlands I was well acquainted with the tulipmania, and it seemed quite plausible that a character such as Ludo might be employed as an agent provocateur in a conspiracy to undermine the burgeoning Protestant Dutch economy. Charismatic, wily Ludo is fictional, but he serves to show how just one man can create financial mayhem and ruin the lives of humble men and women in the process. Acting on behalf of the Spanish monarch and a Vatican cardinal, Ludo encourages and facilitates speculation on tulip bulbs.

The conspiracy theory behind Ludo’s actions is unproven, but the tulip bubble was very well documented at the time. Contemporary reports and records of sales transactions demonstrate the outrageous escalating prices paid up to 1637, when the bubble burst.

The question is why did otherwise sober, thrifty Dutch men and women engage in what was basically gambling with flowers that for most of the year could not even be seen? The answer lies in a combination of factors overshadowed by the knowledge that Death was quite literally on their doorstep.

Amsterdam in 1635 was a thriving city driven by what we call the ‘work ethic’. Frippery and ostentation were frowned upon, so what could people who by their very thrift have acquired surplus income spend their money on? It had to be something that was not a visible luxury. Some people became patrons to up and coming artists, some became tulip connoisseurs. These exotic flowers, introduced into Holland from the land of the infidel, were defined as a ‘connoisseur item’ and were named after famous admirals and towns, and coveted. Within no time, otherwise sensible men and women began gambling on bulbs doubling or tripling their value in the space of a year, a month, a week – by 1636 prices were going up by the day. Men of both the professional and artisan classes, and many women, were spending their entire savings on bulbs, because money must not lie idle, and plague could kill an entire family in the space of one day.

One pamphlet of the time recorded the items and their value which were traded for a single Viceroy bulb. As you read, bear in mind the family of a shoemaker or baker lived on between 250 and 350 guilders* a year.

Item Value
(florins*)
Two lasts of wheat 448
Four lasts of rye 558
Four fat oxen 480
Eight fat swine 240
Twelve fat sheep 120
Two hogsheads of wine 70
Four casks of beer 32
Two tons of butter 192
A complete bed 100
A suit of clothes 80
A silver drinking cup 60
Total 2,500

(Guilders and florins* – the name of the currency used at this time varied from province to province. I opted to use guilders because it is the modern word for the currency.)

At its height, in the early spring of 1637, a Dutch merchant paid 6,650 guilders for a dozen tulip bulbs. Artisans pawned or sold their tools to ‘invest’ – largely thanks to Ludo da Portovenere, who brings bulbs from Constantinople then facilitates a futures market so humble men and women can participate in the fun. Ludo had access to the forbidden city because he was once a Barbary corsair and speaks the language.

As the trilogy progresses, Ludo gradually reveals his identity, or lack of it. His mother, a Doria, daughter of the Doge of Genoa, was captured by corsairs. Ludo was born in the Berber stronghold of Salé and raised by Murat Reïs, a renegade Dutchman named Jan Janszoon, who went into history as the infamous Murat Reïs the Younger, illustrious ancestor of the American Vanderbilt family, Jackie Onassis and Sir Winston Churchill.

In Book 2, A Turning Wind, Ludo moves into the Portuguese Goan spice trade, but he is still pursued by the Vatican agent, Rogelio, who must destroy any evidence of the tulip conspiracy. Rogelio is part of the Vatican Black Order, sinister operatives and secret agents tasked with eliminating those who oppose or threaten the power of Rome. Here again, my background reading supplied much of the story – although this is where I also chose to leave out quite lot. The real history behind the Holy Alliance and the Black Order is hair-raising.

To write this second book I had to read about taxes and tariffs on cargoes from the East, about gems and silks, and secret treaties between England and Spain. Ludo becomes involved in delicate personal missions for two monarchs and sets in motion his vendetta on the Doria clan, who rejected his mother on her return to Liguria and exiled her to the castle in Porto Venere.

Agostino Doria was Doge of Genoa from 1600-1603. His family tree names each of his sons, but there is also an un-named daughter (who became Ludo’s mother). Having lived across the Gulf of La Spezia in Lerici, I knew a fair amount about Porto Venere. Each of the scenes there is written with the place very clearly in mind. Ludo, we learn is illegitimate, he is also ambitious and determined to get recompense for the way his mother was treated by her brothers, which is exactly what would have happened to any woman of ‘gentle birth’ who had been captured by corsairs: she could never hope to make a good marriage after that, her name was sullied.

As the story progresses, Ludo is sent to the Spanish court, which is passing the summer in El Escorial. He has been engaged by Charles Stuart to seek support from Catholic Spain for the coming Civil War in England. He is also charged by King Charles’ wife, the French Henrietta Maria, to help her sister Isabel, Queen of Spain. Both these commissions are based on real, albeit perhaps little-known affairs. During the early 1640s Spanish and English Ambassadors were drawing up a treaty that would enable Spanish troops to cross southern England as a land bridge to Flanders to avoid being attacked by the French. It was a tricky issue, the Protestant English celebrated the failure of Catholic Spain to invade Britain in 1588, the Spanish would not have been welcome, despite the fact that the West Country mainly favoured the Royalists during the subsequent war. Ludo becomes involved in these negotiations, and also in the Spanish queen’s private battle for control over her husband Felipe IV with his valido (First Minister and favourite) the infamous Conde-Duque de Olivares, and his Gorgon of a wife, Inez.

This became another moment where researching documented history uncovered details begging to be turned into fiction. The Conde-Duque was difficult, dangerous and spectacularly ugly. And in each respect, he and his wife were well-matched. Writing scenes involving these two real characters was as entertaining as it was challenging. A lot has been written (in Spanish) about both, so I had to choose my words carefully.

While researching Goa and the uncut-gem trade, I came across the writing of the French merchant-explorer Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605-1689) while preparing for A Turning Wind. In a spell-binding account of how diamonds were mined in the Golconda region of India, Tavernier quotes an account supposedly written by Marco Polo of how diamonds were found and traded in the area centuries before. It was too good not to use so I wove it into the opening scene. That, and the ancient ethical origins of the game Snakes and Ladders, created the background for Ludo’s second adventure, via documented history on Portugal and the ambitious Duchess of Braganza. This is where having lived in different countries and travelled pretty widely came in useful too. We had lived near El Escorial in the province of Madrid for a number of years, and I had visited Lisbon, Portugal, on various occasions.

Imagining these places in the past was not difficult, although Lisbon was effectively destroyed during a major earthquake in the 18th century, which made describing the old city rather more creative than factual.

 

Book 3, By Force of Circumstance, was helped along by a visit to a gin distillery in Plymouth (important research here!) and some astonishing facts relating to how Queen Henrietta Maria tried to raise money for Charles Stuart during the English Civil War. On a more serious level, one of the main themes in the trilogy shows how decisions made in high places can have appalling consequences for ordinary members of society. What happens to the main characters, Ludo, Alina and Marcos, is determined by a conflict not of their making, in a country not their own. Their efforts to safeguard their families was probably little different to what real people in their social circumstances experienced.

To write this part of the story I needed to find out what happened to certain gems, brooches, necklaces and pearl-studded hatbands belonging to the English Crown Jewels. Queen Henrietta Maria’s attempts to sell and pawn these royal heirlooms was well documented at the time, although a few, including the spinel clasp named The Three Brethren, did go astray. What Ludo does with the jewels is largely my invention, but a Portuguese Catholic princess did marry an English monarch so to an extent I was only playing with facts. It became a matter of ‘what if . . .’ combined with Ludo’s capacity for mischief.

This final story takes Ludo back Porto Venere. The name derives from a temple dedicated to the goddess Venus. I’d had the final scene of the trilogy in mind for a very long time, but writing it brought tears to my eyes. Ludo and Alina had become real people for me.

You can read more about the origins of the game Snakes and Ladders, Tavernier’s description of how men used eagles to acquire diamonds from pythons, and about the missing items belonging to the English Crown Jewels here in this blog.

Each of the books in The Chosen Man Trilogy is a Readers’ Favorite 5*. If you have enjoyed the stories, please leave a review on your retailer’s site.

 

 

 

 

The Chosen Man Trilogy completed!

Mission accomplished! The trilogy I promised Penmore Press is now complete. It’s exciting, and I will admit to a considerable sense of satisfaction, but there’s also to a sense of loss: I shall miss my voyages with Ludo. I shall also miss doing the research behind each story; it was both enjoyable and enlightening. Each of the books involved a good deal of background reading and investigation despite being based on topics familiar to me and set in places I know.
To give you an idea of what I have learned while writing the trilogy here are a few details on how each story began and what I needed to know about before I could actually start.

The Chosen Man – Tulips, Vatican intrigue and a financial scandal

The first Ludo story was inspired by a combination of two events; one very real with devastating financial consequences, the other un-real, other-worldly, when I ‘saw’ people during a visit to Cotehele in Cornwall (while preparing for another book altogether). Cotehele, a National Trust property on the River Tamar, became the fictional house Crimphele, then the story-line fell into place as I watched news coverage of the Lehman Brothers and mortgage scandals in the USA. I had lived in the Netherlands, was acquainted with the tulip bubble, and it seemed quite plausible that a character such as Ludo (the infamous ancestor of Leo Kazan in The Empress Emerald) might be employed as an agent provocateur acting for Habsburg Spain and, supposedly, for Rome. After fitting these elements together, I then had to learn some hard facts behind ‘tulip mania’ and some of the vaguer, barely credible history behind Vatican espionage and secret agents. It took a good two years to write The Chosen Man, fortunately reviews show it was all worthwhile.

A Turning Wind – Gems, Snakes and Ladders and the Queen of Spain

A long, long time ago I had a gap year job in a jewellery and antique shop, it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, but I learnt a lot and it helped greatly while preparing notes for A Turning Wind. During my research, I came across the writing of the French merchant-explorer Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605-1689). In a spell-binding account of how diamonds were mined in the Golconda region of India, Tavernier quotes an account supposedly written by Marco Polo of how diamonds were found and traded in the area centuries before. It was too good not to use so I wove it into the opening scene. That, and the ancient ethical origins of the game Snakes and Ladders, created the background for Ludo’s second adventure, via documented history on Portugal and the ambitious Duchess of Braganza, and a little known, unrealized treaty between Charles 1st and Felipe IV of Spain. Having spent many years living near El Escorial, the scenes set there with the infamous Conde-Duque de Olivares and Velazquez were easy to write.

By Force of Circumstance (2019).- The English Civil War, Barbary corsairs, Doria family secrets and Portovenere

One of my aims while writing this trilogy was to show how decisions made in high places can have appalling consequences for ordinary members of society. This story in particular shows how one’s personal destiny can be determined by events far beyond one’s control. The over-riding circumstance here is a civil war. What happens to Ludo, Alina and Marcos is determined by a conflict not of their making in a country not their own and their efforts to safeguard their families. Regrettably, it is something many readers can relate to nowadays.
What I specifically needed to learn about for this book, though, was what happened to certain gems belonging to the English Crown Jewels. Queen Henrietta Maria’s attempts to sell and pawn exquisite necklaces, hatbands and brooches – royal heirlooms – was well documented at the time, although a few, including the famous spinel clasp named The Three Brethren, did go astray. What Ludo does with the gems is largely my invention, but a Portuguese Catholic princess did marry an English monarch so to an extent I was only playing with facts. All I really had to do was say, ‘What if . . .’ and combine it with Ludo’s capacity for mischief.
This final story takes Ludo back to Portovenere in Liguria, Italy – a place I have visited many times. The name derives from a temple dedicated to the goddess Venus; and there’s a Doria castle there too. Agustin, the Doria Doge of Genoa of the epoch, had a daughter, she is un-named in the Doria family tree but she may have lived there. Barbary corsairs constantly raided the Ligurian coast – so again, what if . . .?
And that brings Ludo’s adventures to an end, although he does have two impish daughters who might well set to sea in a galleon named ‘Tulip’ in the not too distant future.

If you would like to know more about some of the history mentioned here you will find it here in my blog.

Ancient Iberia

As part of my ‘places in the past’ series, guest author Glenn Bauer has written a fascinating post on why he writes about ancient Iberia.

Iberia, cradle of heroes

A couple of weeks ago, Jane kindly invited me to explain why I was motivated to write about Iberia. There was the obvious explanation of Iberia is where Hannibal Barca stepped into his father’s sandals, but that was not the whole reason or even a large part of it. Why Iberia? To help explain my motives, I should start with a very short summary of the Sons of Iberia series, which is of course set primarily in Iberia.

I self-published the first title, Warhorn – Sons of Iberia, in 2013 and the fourth will be available in the Spring of 2019. The series is set during the 2nd Punic War which was fought between Carthage and Rome between 218BC and 202BC.

The central characters are native Iberians, the people who were caught between two empires, one old and mercantile, the other young and martial.

You might know this war from tales of Hannibal Barca leading his elephants across the Alps, splitting great boulders with fire and vinegar, and the crushing defeats he inflicted on Rome. Fewer readers will know that this war was sparked by a minor conflict at the walls of an Iberian city made rich by trade and home to a large population of Greeks.

This city was named Saguntum and exists now as Sagunto, a small town just a half hour’s drive to the north of modern-day Valencia. Today, a more recent castle complex guards the long hill on which Saguntum once stood. In exploring the history of Saguntum, known as Arse by the native Iberians, it becomes evident that the people of Iberia experienced successive waves of immigrants washing up on their eastern shore and migrating from north of the Pyrenees. From the diaspora of the people of Troy to the expansion of Phoenician trade colonies, there was an inexorable growth in interaction which benefited the Iberians and the newcomers.

The Iberians of old, were tribal people and regrettably very little is known about them as they did not appear to have developed writing until after contact with Phoenicians and Greeks. What little we do know, is thanks in large part to the ancient historians Livy and Polybius who documented the 2nd Punic War. We know the Latinised names of the tribes such as the Bastetani (South East), the Turdetani (South) and Illergete (North East). Of all the tribes, the most enduring appear to be the Vascones whose principal town, Iruna, is the site of modern-day Pamplona. The Vascones appeared to have managed to thrive and expand and from them derive today’s Basque people.

Modern archaeology has also contributed to our knowledge with unearthed ruins and artifacts that bare testimony to a people who valued art, built with stone and were talented metalsmiths.

All this is grist to the mill for a writer and if you consider the dearth of contemporary English literature set in ancient Iberia, makes for a compelling reason to write a series of books set on the peninsula.

While the ancient people of Iberia are long gone, their land remains largely unchanged and just as dramatic. The river Tagus which flows a thousand kilometers across Spain and Portugal to the Atlantic from its wellspring in the Fuente de García. The wild coast of the Costa Brava. The moon-like Bardenas Reales. Interesting local settings are vital in creating depth and atmosphere in any tale and from the beautiful blue coastal waters of the Mediterranean to the high mountains of the Pyrenees, Iberia offers a palette of landscapes in which countless deeds of heroism wait to unfold.

The varied Iberian landscape is complemented by an abundance of fauna and flora. Even today, centuries after the industrialization of farming, Portugal and Spain still boast many species that have gone extinct elsewhere in Europe. One such species is the Great Bustard, one of the heaviest flying birds alive and a species that was hunted to extinction in England, the last specimen being shot in 1832. A project to reintroduce Great Bustards to Wiltshire, England began in 2004 and in 2014, fifty-four fertilized eggs were imported from Spain which has the largest pool of these marvelous birds in Europe.

Other wonderful creatures that still roam the wilds of Iberia include the endangered Iberian lynx, brown bear, and Spanish Ibex. The Iberian lynx often features in Sons of Iberia and I begin the series through the eyes of a lynx.

“She would need to move soon despite having just given birth. The mountains were dangerous with winter-hungry wolves. The scent of the afterbirth could easily draw these powerful foes to her newborn. She was young and strong but would be no match for such a pack.”

To experience nature such as the ancient Iberians might have, there are fortunately many incredible nature reserves and protected areas such as the Doñana National Park in southern Spain, a huge swathe of wetlands that offers sanctuary to hundreds of thousands of migratory birds.

In conclusion, Iberia and its people were pivotal in the 2nd Punic War and yet so little is told of the Iberian people or how the war was fought there. For me, the opportunity to give a voice to an ancient people in the settings gifted by the Iberian Peninsula was one I could not decline.

Glenn Bauer – Sources and links:

Sons of Iberia on Amazon:     http://bit.ly/JGlennBauer_AllTitles_UK

Great Bustard Group: http://greatbustard.org/

Doñana National Park :          https://www.miteco.gob.es/es/red-parques-nacionales/nuestros-parques/donana/#section

Domus dels Peixos–An archaeological museum in Sagunto: http://www.ceice.gva.es/va/web/patrimonio-cultural-y-museos/museo-arqueologico-de-sagunto

Titus Livy–The History of Rome:        http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/author/3707

Author J. Glenn Bauer:           https://www.jglennbauer.co.uk/