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Month: May 2016

Sunshine & Flamenco Guitar

On the hottest weekend of the year so far, the ‘Reconquista‘ launch party took place in the garden of Clapham Books. Friends of the author and fellowIMG_4113 writers gathered, as well as members of the festival going public, to celebrate the publication of the first novel in the Al Andalus series.

The garden was decorated, courtesy of Nikki, the book shop owner, with Arabian Nights style lantern lights beneath the large gazebo and  ‘Reconquista‘ themed ‘bunting’ was strung through the trellises.Illustration1 001 (2)  Photographs of Jerez, particularly of the locations which feature in the book, like the Alcazar and Plaza Plateros, attracted much attention as did the reproductions of the original line drawings for the very first iteration of the book.

Flamenco guitar music sounded beneath a low hum of conversation, as folk sipped chilled fino and amontillado ( or wine for the non-sherry drinkers ) and tucked in to Andalucian tapas, like delicias arabes, or ‘Arab delight’ – dates stuffed with goat’s cheese and rosemary and wrapped in jamon.  Luscious pastel de santiago was tempting and particularly appropriate, with the traditional decoration, of the sword of St James, on its surface reflecting the sword on the cover of ‘Reconquista‘.

The author was introduced by novelist Elizabeth Buchan, who asked questions about the novel’s genesis and the writing of it.  Then it was over to the audience for questions from the floor, of which there were far more than the author had been anticipating.  People were interested in the history and drew parallels with today – refugees fleeing wars which were driven, ostensibly, by religion and religious differences.

The pitfalls of writing historical novels provided some light relief ( see The Wrong Saint? ) as did the author’s trepidation when she discovered that the President of the American Academy of Research Historians of Medieval Spain, Professor Simon Doubleday, was currently reading it.  He wrote a very well received, recently published book on King Alfonso X, called ‘The Wise King‘ and he and the author have correspondedSketchJerezTorre 001 (2).

There followed a reading – from chapter four, when Nathan and Atta visit Plaza Mercado, after having rescued the birds from the aviary.  This prompted yet more questions and discussions.  Fellow author, John Taylor and playwright, David Armstrong, were in the audience.

The flamenco music resumed and the general merriment continued, with recourse back to the tapas and sherry, while the author signed copies of her books and dusk gradually fell. The book shop had, most thoughtfully, displayed not only Illustration2 001 (2)Reconquista‘ but also ‘The Village’, so that publication also attracted interest ( and sales ).

Folk drifted away, some going on to see Julie Myerson at the Arts Theatre – the next item on the Festival Programme – others going off to eat or meet friends on a warm Saturday night and then, perhaps, take part in the Literary Pub Quiz.  The author and her party repaired to a local restaurant where the conversation continued.  ‘Reconquista‘ was well and truly launched.

If you enjoyed reading this article you might also enjoy                          The Last Lap          Place & the Writer           In the Garden        Readers Afternoon

This post first appeared on The Story Bazaar web-site on 14th May 2016.

Why is she called Rebecca?

Just one of the questions I have been asked. There were plenty asked during the launch event for ‘Reconquista‘ on Saturday.  Some of them are below, with answers.

Rebecca is a really feisty character.  Would she really have got away with what she did in the book in the real 13th century?

galleonRebecca is something of an anachronism, she is a bit ‘out of time’.  In the 13th century, women and girls didn’t have the opportunities which they have in 21st century Britain, to travel and have adventures. So I had to make her pretend to be a boy in order to allow her to do so.  She wouldn’t have been aboard ship otherwise.

Most girls from the town or city would be swot-up-1261538_1280mothers and housekeepers for their men-folk, rarely venturing out of their town.  If they were born in the countryside they would work the land.  But they didn’t have very much power, unless they were aristocrats, wealthy in their own right or widowed and rich. That’s not to say they couldn’t think for themselves.

Did the besieging army have all the weapons which are described in the book?

catapult-30061_1280 I am not sure exactly what weapons were used during the siege, though it’s safe to assume that a besieging army would have catapults or throwing machines of various types ( trebuchets and mangonels ).  Most soldiers wore leather armour reinforced with metal and chain-mail.  Full ‘suits of armour’ weren’t widely used until centuries later, even for the knights.

Foot soldiers often had little armour at all, just what they could scavenge from the trebuchet-890637_1280battle field.  They carried long knives and tall, pike-like weapons.  Cavalry was widely used, but not the ‘knight in shining armour’ variety; rather lightly armoured riders on fast, easily maneuverable horses carrying swords or scimitars or bows.

The English long bow which Thomas carries was in use then, but archer-299498_1280by individuals, not in the way it was used en masse as a battle weapon centuries later, like at Crecy or Agincourt.

Are you still writing for our nephew and god-son?

Not directly, although the book is dedicated to him ( and others ).

Did he like the original story?

He said he did at the time and, when he saw the final book, he remembered the characters from the earlier version, so something must have impressed him.

Is there any other character based upon someone real, who you know or know of?

Yes, my other god-son features in the book as Thomas of Whelmstone. He was actually training to be a surgeon at Guys Hospital at the time and it seemed right to include him in the book too, if my nephew god-son was one of the main characters. He’s a practising surgeon now.

Where do the characters’ names come  from? Why is Rebecca called Rebecca?

Some of the surnames, like Calamiel, Barruch and de Lisi are from Jewish records in Jerez of the time.  Al Mansuri and Delgado were both quite common names, then as now.  Nathan, Attalah and Juan, the first names of the three friends at the very start of the book all mean the same thing – ‘son of light’.  Others are typical names, though Rebecca is the name of my god-son’s sister and Ben is the name of my other god-son’s brother ( just so that I don’t leave anyone out )!

How do you know what characters look like, especially the ‘real’ ones?

King Alfonso X is shown in portraits of the time, but portraiture was often formal, LibroDesJuegasAlfonXAndCourtwith the Kings shown how the artist thought a King ought to look, rather than what they actually looked like.  Later statues show him with wavy hair, large eyes and clean shaven ( though he has a beard in the book, because his statue in Jerez has a beard ).

I have’t been able to find a portrait of Muhammed I.  Muslim leaders didn’t have their portraits painted in the same way as Christian Kings.  Nor can I find a portrait of the Governor of Cadiz, who was a real person.  So I’ve described how I think they might have looked.

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