Join the Journey

Month: August 2016


dfw-ja-r-cover-3d-nologoWhen I was writing ‘Reconquista‘ I had a discussion with a number of other writers about how much time it takes to develop a book’s main characters .

I did quite a lot of work to understand the personalities of the main characters in my own mind, even if some of their traits and foibles didn’t eventually appear in the final book. So, for example, I could tell you what Nathan thinks about girls; why Rebecca likes preparing certain foods and that Atta likes particular kinds of music.

This wasn’t a waste of my time.  The extra depth of understanding would help me in future. Now that I am writing the sequel, I know, instinctively, how my characters will react in new circumstances.  I can also develop them further by building on what I already know about them.

20151016_172105All of the characters who set out on their journeys in the first book now face a very different set of circumstances when they return home.  They have all, to an extent, grown up.  The most obvious example is Miguel, who is now ready to take on the mantle of the head of his household and family ( though he still doesn’t like authority ). To an extent, he has been preparing for this his whole life, though trying to avoid the responsibility.

Atta too has matured, he has lost his innocence and become much more sceptical about the world and the people around him.  He used to idolise his uncle ( and still, to an extent, idolises his father ) but that absolute faith has been punctured by reality.  Uncle Taf isn’t a terrible person, he’s just not the perfect IMG-20151222-WA0000being Atta thought he was. The Atta we meet in the sequel is a much more pragmatic person and much more independent minded than the Atta who we first saw on the battlements of Jerez during the siege.

Rebecca has grown from being a clever but somewhat foolhardy girl into a strong and strong-minded young woman.  Her experiences have made her self-reliant, like Atta, and toughened her up.  She is now much more likely to question things and take her own decisions, to try to determine her own future.

Ben has, perhaps, had the most traumatic growing to do.  He has become both self-aware and aware of how others see him (this new knowledge makes him ashamed).  He is still pompous and self-regarding, but he is much less judgemental of others, having learned a few lessons about his own behaviour.  He is also in a different position in regard to his family than before they all set out.

forge-512629_1280All of them are still feeling their way, but the individual who is searching most obviously for self-definition is Nathan. He knew only what he didn’t want, but he now begins to realise that he has to decide what he does want and that he can do that best by himself. The sequel is, to an extent, his attempt to define himself and make decisions which will determine his path for much of the rest of his life.

Telling how all this unfolds, within an exciting plot and sub-plots is what i am trying to do right now.  I’m already on Part Two of the sequel to ‘Reconquista’. I’ll let you know how I’m progressing.

I you enjoyed reading this article you might also like to read         The Journey Continues         The High Sierras           Plots


The idea that every story has a beginning, a middle and an end goes back to ancient times and the writings of Aristotle, the Greek philosopherdfw-ja-r-cover-3d-nologo.  The story I am now writing does too, but mine is complicated by being spread over two books – ‘Reconquista‘ and its sequel – and each of these also has a beginning, a middle and an end.

So, although there was a suitable end to ‘Reconquista‘, there were also unresolved plot lines.  At one level, therefore, much of what must happen in the sequel has already been decided ( although how each element is resolved is another matter ). Warning! If you haven’t read ‘Reconquista‘ what follows gives away some of its plot.

warning-843608_1280An example is, what happens to Don Reza?  At the end of the first book we assume that he is still being held captive in the mountains. Atta is desperate to rescue him. So one part of the plot must address this.  We already know, from what the cavalry lieutenant says to Nathan and Senor Thomas after their meeting with the King, that he has been ordered to tackle the bandits.  Logically then, this is a major grazalema6driver of plot and any ‘rescue attempt’ is likely to involve a number of our main characters, and quite a lot of jeopardy.

Similarly, we left Nathan living with the galley slaves, we don’t know what he’ll decide to do next.  Will he return home?  If he does, what sort of reception will he receive from his father?  If he doesn’t, what will he do? This is the most open-ended of the unresolved issues at the end of book one.

The other cliff hanger is, of course, Rebecca’s answer to Ben’s proposal.  This is the element which I am asked about most often.  Does she accept him? I am not going to tell. Sorry, you’ll have to read the next book to find out.

In addition, however, to these existing plot drivers there is also the historical situation to take into account, because this is an historical novel and includes real events. This is likely to generate plot.

KingAlfonsoOnce King Alfonso X was re-established in Jerez we know that he expelled its Moorish inhabitants and granted much of their property to his own followers.  The ‘Repartamiento’, a document drawn up at the time at Alfonso’s behest, tells us how the property was distributed, to knights and to their followers in turn. So the city is very different in the sequel, both physically, given the reconstruction after the bombardment, and in terms of its inhabitants.

This would be evident to the characters and must be factored into the story. How is Atta going to feel now, as one of the few Moors in Jerez?  And how would he react?  The changing circumstances are also an opportunity to introduce some new and interesting characters to add to those we already know.

By early spring 1265 King Alfonso was in Seville, ( see Giralda, below right, which would have been there at that time, just without the bell tower on top ) where he set about raising troops and money for a full-seville-656699_1280scale assault on the Emirate of Granada. The Emir also began gathering forces, from the Arab countries across the sea to the south, so both were preparing for a possible war. Both rulers considered themselves to be men of honour, both, at this point, considered the other was planning to attack.   A dangerous situation for the emissary of the Emir and his nephew in Jerez then, but also a chance for them to take part in real and important events.

So, when I take all these factors into consideration, I find that the plot of the sequel pretty much writes itself ( although there are some surprises too, as you might expect, which are new plot strands ). I, however, have to write the actual words, so I’ll say Adios for now.


Tormenta – noun (f), Spanish, storm or tempest.

Researching a book is one of the most interesting aspects of being a writer.  This is especially the case regarding locations.  Of course, it’s easier these days, when so much of the globe is available at the tap of a keyboard.  Laura Barnett, writer of the best-selling ‘The Versions of Us‘ used Google Streetview for every joursierrasney made by her characters in London, Cambridge and the US ( she was born in London and went to Cambridge, but still needed to check the contemporary street scenes ).

Given the location of the sequel to ‘Reconquista’ I have been researching the mountains to the east of Jerez, as regular readers of this blog will knoMountaineeringw.I have been using ‘Sierras Andaluzas‘ by Manuel Gil Monreal and Enrique A Marin Fernandez, two Andalucian mountaineers, which was a mine of information about the Sierras, Now I know about climate, geology and how to climb some of the peaks ( some not to be attempted unless by experienced mountaineers ).

The Sierras around Grazalema are the first mountains of any size which one comes across when crossing Andalucia from Atlantic to Mediterranean.  The weather systems come from the Atlantic for most of the year and roll across the Bahia, the plains and the foothills, only to come slap bang up against the Sierras, this makes for an eventful climate.  Very high winds sweep the peaks and valleys alike and for parts lightning-583713_1280of the year it is very wet, this is where those Atlantic clouds dump their contents. Grazalema has the highest precipitation rate in southern Spain and floods are common and dangerous. Yet in the shadow of some of the peaks the terrain is perpetually dry, creating micro-climates like the Garganta Seca, or Dry Ravine.

In Winter there is snow ( as we know from ‘Reconquista‘ ) and, in all but high summer, clouds and mists often shroud the valleys and high plains. Tempest and violent storms – tormenta – are common, with thunder and lightning ringing between the peaks. It’s going to make for a dramatic backdrop to my characters’ next set of adventures.

Yet these apparently inhospitable mountains have always been settled, first in Neanderthal times, then by the Romans, then lake-and-white-village-of-Zahara-150x150the Arabs. Many of the place names there are Arabic in origin, Benamahoma, Benaocaz, Benaojan and Zahara ( right).  Though there is also Prado del Rey, or ‘Meadow of the King’, the most westerly village in the comarca.  They were also the haunt of bandits, in real life as in fiction, up until as late as the 1930s and the time of the Spanish Civil War. And they have inspired artists and writers before me. And poets.

Los Senderos del San Cristobal‘ or ‘The Paths of Saint Christopher’

by Carlos Sanjuan Gonzales.

Si subes al San Cristobal, desde su cumbre veras, el Castillo de Zahara y el Penon de Gibralta,

Should you climb to Saint Christopher, to the true summit, twixt the Castillo of Zahara and the Rock of Gibraltar,

Las aguilos y los bitres, se han dormido en tus laderas, sierras de Benamahoma, que llenas mi vide entera.

The eagles and the vultures slumber on your slopes, mountains of Benamahoma, which have filled my life entire.

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