A Threadbare Tapestry by Marc Graham

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Marc Graham, author of Song of Songs and now Son of the Sea, Daughter of the Sun, shares the inspiration behind his latest novel. Marc was on the blog earlier this year with Legends of Sheba.

A Threadbare Tapestry – Weaving Together a Lost History by Marc Graham

9 October 1929 — Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey

Gustav Deissmann breathed deeply of musty air. For months he had picked his way through forgotten ruins of a failed empire, now a mere backwater republic among the dozens of republics that had sprouted from the ashes of the recent Great War.

“Such is the way of the world,” Deissmann muttered to himself. He flipped open his pen knife and cut through the hemp twine that bound a stack of cracked and crumbling parchments. “The mightiest lion may be brought down by a pack of dogs.”

His own native German Empire—now the emasculated Weimar Republic—had been allied with the late Ottoman Empire, a fact that made the current situation no more comfortable. Deissmann flexed stiff fingers, joints swollen by the damp air of the cellars of this sad remnant of a once-glorious palace. He began flipping through the worthless animal skins.

A pity, he mused. This city, this empire had been the heir to Rome itself. Steeped in learning and law and science when his own forebears had been illiterate pagans, sacrificing livestock and slaves and children to their rumbling thunder-gods in hope of a good harvest. If only the Byzantines had held fast to their faith. If only they had stood against the encroaching—

Gott im Himmel!

Deissmann flipped back to the parchment he’d almost summarily dismissed. The random scratchings and illegible text might have made this any common land deed, except for the ships scattered about the central portion of the chart. This was a seafarer’s map.

With trembling hands, he pulled a magnifying glass from his jacket pocket and looked more closely.

The upper right extremity of the chart depicted something resembling a smiling demon. But within its face was drawn a farmer, in its gullet a castle. Below these, across the small gulf between chin and distended belly, were drawn gardens and sultans and fortresses, ostrich and elephant.

The eastern landmass gave way to sea, and Deissmann shifted his focus to the western half of the map. A jagged coast debouched numerous rivers, its interior populated by flame-headed monsters, monkeys, tusked deer, and—unicorns? Numerous islands dotted the coastlines, but Deissmann focused on the landmasses.

Yes, that was Iberia and the Straits of Gibraltar. That, the great sweep of western Africa. Which must make this Brazil? And Panama? Might that be the Yucatan? Or Florida?

Deissmann carefully drew the parchment from the stack of moldering skins. He placed it in his leather folio and rose on trembling legs. He must show this to his comrade, Paul Kahle. While Deissmann took no small pride in his knowledge of the classical European scripts, Kahle’s knowledge of Near East Semitic scripts was unmatched. Perhaps he might make something of the numerous legends about the periphery of this map.

A cool wind swept down the stone-lined stairwell as Deissmann made his way from the cellar. He clutched the folio tight against his ribs as he climbed the ancient steps, their surfaces deeply grooved over the centuries by the countless footfalls of those who trod before him.

* * *

Or something like that.

There is little documentary evidence of the discovery of the Piri Reis map, and the above account is an extrapolation of the known facts. It was discovered by Gustav Deissmann in the newly founded museum of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. It was initially translated by Paul Kahle, who identified the author as Piri Reis, an admiral in the Ottoman fleet of the sixteenth century. And the map was dated to 1513, a mere twenty-one years after Columbus’s first voyage to the New World.

Source: Wikipedia

But here’s the rub.

Piri Reis acknowledged his map as a compilation of earlier charts ranging from before the destruction of the Library of Alexandria to a hand-drawn map by Columbus himself. However, certain portions of the Piri Reis map—particularly as relate to longitudinal (east-west) coordinates and parts of the western coastlines of the Americas and Antarctica—show greater accuracy than any map for the next three centuries.

Thread number one.

My recent novel, Son of the Sea, Daughter of the Sun, grew out of the question of where Piri Reis found the raw material from which he crafted his map. Initially, I thought I might follow the story of some unknown sailor, an assistant who—having helped his admiral in the compiling of the ancient maps—may have desired to explore those unknown coasts for himself.

The realities of sixteenth century politics soon dismissed that idea. And so I drifted farther westward and backward in time. The Venetians or Genoans would certainly have stopped such a voyage from crossing their waters. Or, if such a mission were deemed profitable, they might have exploited it for themselves. In which case, Columbus—born of Genoa—would have sailed under the flag of his birth rather than having to seek the patronage of Spain.

And so the story evolved until a suitable candidate appeared. In Visigothic Spain of the seventh century arose Iudila. Unknown but for two ancient coins, this Iudila Rex Gotorum—King Iudila of the Goths—is lost to history. He appears in no official king lists. His name is nowhere in the chronicles of the many court and church proceedings conducted throughout seventh-century Spain, to which the coins date.

And yet…

Why might this king have been excised from history? What might he have discovered and returned to Spain that so threatened the Church Regnant and the political powers of the time that his name was obliterated, save for two small coins that have somehow survived?

And is it coincidence that on the western side of Piri Reis’s map, the Central American realms of the Maya were at their cultural peak during this period? That the southernmost city-state of Xukpi—known today as the ruins of Copan in Honduras—reached its greatest development at a time when the elite of Europe thought the world flat?

Thin though they be, these are the threads that underlie Son of the Sea, Daughter of the SunOf course, few of the story events can be corroborated by conventional history, but that is the curse and the joy of the historical novelist: to weave a cohesive and unique tapestry of story from the barest scraps of the past.

How fascinating, Marc. A great combination of sleuthing, conjecture, and deduction!

Son of the Sea, Daughter of the Sun by Marc Graham ~~ A shipwrecked prince on a foreign shore and a young princess coming into her powers battle dark forces that would destroy her kingdom and their love.  Nine hundred years before Columbus, a sailor with a mystical map and a vision of a glorious destiny is shipwrecked on the far side of the world. A prince of Visigothic Spain, Iudila finds his match in Chakin, daughter of a Mayan king. Can love span the gulf between them, or will they be cast apart by their different gods—or by the dark shaman who desires Chakin for himself?

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Highway Women in 17th century England by Amy Wolf

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Amy Wolf and I met in June at the Historical Novel Society conference. We chatted about all things historical and I learned that Amy began her career in the Hollywood film industry, working for major studios like 20thCentury Fox, Warner Bros, and Universal where she was a script reader for MGM and Orion. Her novel The Misses Brontës’ Establishment was named an Amazon Kindle Scout winner. Today Amy’s talking about research – a favourite topic here on the blog.

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For my latest, A Woman of the RoadI did extensive research into 17th-century England. Being a big nerd, I created my own database for my research notes, which currently number 1,564!

I’m a stickler for detail, so I learned all about what food was eaten then, clothes worn (starting from 1660 until 1685), hygiene, King Charles II, his court and mistresses, and, of course, highwaymen, which is what the book is about.

My heroine, Margaret “Megs” Tanner, is fictional, but there were in fact female highway“men” during the period. One was a rich aristocrat, Katherine Ferrars , who ostensibly robbed her in-laws because she hated them; another was Mary Frith, who “had a natural abhorrence to the tending of children.” She was quite the tomboy, earned the nickname “Moll Cutpurse.”

One of the aspects of the 1600’s which either amuses or alarms (the former if you’re not a patient!) was the sort of “medicine” practiced.  It was said that the King’s Touch could cure scrofula (a form of TB), and that eating a spoonful of ground-up emeralds could avert the Plague. I did read through Culpepper’s Complete Herbal and used his “cures” frequently to treat gunshots, stab wounds, and, in the second book (coming soon!), childbirth.

I found my best print resources to be: Restoration London by Liza Picard, The Time Traveler’s Guide to Restoration Britain: A Handbook for Visitors to the Seventeenth Century: 1660-1699 by Jay Mortimer, The Stuart Age by Barry Coward, and Stand and Deliver: The Story of The Highwaymen by Patrick Pringle.

I also watched everything that I could find: the film Restoration, many YouTube bios of Charles II, and a (not great) mini-series about the London Fire. Yes, I asked my doctor about symptoms of plague, and relied on the patient University of Washington historical librarians to answer such questions as: Did men still wear plumes in the 1680’s? and: Do you have a floorplan of the Chapel  de la Trinité circa 1675?

So yes, I took my history seriously. The climax of the book revolves around the (Secret) Treaty of Dover, which, if left undestroyed by my fictional heroes, would have sunk poor Charles!

Of course, a big part of the book centers on The Condition of Women during this period. As you might have guessed, it wasn’t great. They were considered chattel, divorce was nearly unknown, and they could be beaten at will by their husbands.

Megs, of course, isn’t having any of this, and runs away from her father’s brutality to take to the road with Captain Jeffries. She must learn to shoot a flintlock, duel with a blade, and, in accordance with the highwayman’s credo, Be Merry! It must be said, though, that the Life is unromantic, typically ending at about twenty-seven with a hanging at Tyburn Tree.

Source: lookandlearn.com

Megs, however, has a lot of native smarts, and her own set of three Musketeers—Jeffries, Carnatus, and Aventis—to teach her the ropes.

A huge challenge for her is to be always disguised as a man: she gets to a point where she wonders what kind of creature she has become. This is complicated by her feelings for Aventis, who studied for the priesthood but is now an outlaw due to his faith.

As in Northern Ireland, the schism between Protestants and Catholics could be deadly at this time, and Megs gets caught up since she, an Anglican, is in love with a Catholic.

Happily, all’s well at the end, since I modeled the book on the adventures I loved as a girl: Three Musketeers, Monte Cristo, Robin Hood, and Iron Mask.

I am quite a fan of the old Errol Flynn swashbucklers, and I tried to create a similar atmosphere where peril lurks round every bend and a good swordfight is never too far away!

Which reminds me: most of the robberies in A Woman of the Road are based on real-life events. Hard to believe, I know, but there you have it!

Many thanks, Amy. Definitely not the kind of life I would have embraced! 

A Woman of the Road by Amy Wolf ~~ She yearned for freedom. But will holding up coaches bring more than she can handle?

England, 1665. Margaret “Megs” Tanner can’t wait to leave her past behind. Escaping her abusive father and a vile arranged marriage, she flees her sleazy inn and sets out for adventure. But the treacherous countryside is no place for a woman, so Megs swaps her skirts for men’s clothing and joins a notorious band of brigands.

Learning to fight with both sword and pistol, she bests any rival while suppressing budding feelings for a thieving companion. But After she’s put to the test and robs the queen’s carriage, she unearths a royal secret that could lead England to ruin. And now to save herself, she’ll have to turn spy and keep her country from the enemy’s clutches…

Can the daring highwaywoman change her country’s fortunes around with one slice from her sword?

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

My Go-to Writing Books for Historical Fiction by Deborah Swift

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Deborah Swift’s website features the following tagline: the past is full of ordinary people with extraordinary stories. She is the author of 11 historical novels to date. Her historical novels have been called ‘complex and engaging’ and ‘rich and haunting’. I’m delighted to host her today as she celebrates the launch of her latest novel is Entertaining Mr Pepys.

My Go-to Writing Books for Historical Fiction by Deborah Swift

When I’m talking to beginner writers about writing, I’m always amazed at how many think they ‘just have a talent for it’ and do no research into the craft of writing itself. As writers producing books, I’m amazed at how few pick up a book to help them with their craft.

I think I’m the opposite, in that I love to read books on writing, and have learned a lot of useful tips from other writers through their books and blogs. I have a large collection of writing books on my shelf, which I also share with the people I teach, but some are better than others for my particular genre, which is historical fiction. So here is a short list for those embarking on writing a historical novel.

How to Start:

If you are just starting out, then I highly recommend Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction by Emma Darwin. [This book by Emma Darwin was featured on the blog.Get Started is very thorough guide and takes into account all the different types of historical novel, from those which are biographical and include real people, to those verging on fantasy with no real people and a loose setting in the past. This is a nuts and bolts book, aimed at beginners with exercises to try out and tips from other writers in the genre.

How to Make it Commercial

In Making it in Historical Fiction, Libbie Hawker focusses on the commercial mind-set, beginning with spotting key opportunities in the market, choosing subjects with commercial appeal and how to create a following for your books that will gain fans and build excitement for your subject. It also talks about branding your books, as well as lots of useful tips on plot, structure and character. As marketing strategies move on so quickly, this is a book that will still be relevant even if social media moves on.

How to Make it feel Authentic

Everyone who writes historical fiction must get used to the fact that readers will find errors in their work (even if there are none) and so another book worth reading for its humour alone is

Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: A Writer’s (& Editor’s) Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, & Myths by Susanne Alleyn. The (rather long) title suggests it might be aimed at the writer of Medieval Fiction, but this is a general guide. For more detail onVoicing the past: ‘authenticity’ of voice in historical fiction try downloading this PDF by Kelly Gardiner. The difficulty of modern versus historical values is addressed in this interview where Heather Webb and Lorie Langdon discuss how to bring modern feminism into the chauvinistic past. It can be found on the Entertainment Website here. And on her blog Elizabeth Chadwick gives a great insight into her writing process to create authenticity here. 

How to Research

A huge subject, and one dear to all historical fiction lovers’ hearts. Each novel has different needs, and googling your period will bring a raft of useful leads. If you need to know where to go to look things up, then The Writers and Artist’s Yearbook gives a page about historical fiction with useful research and archive links here.

And don’t forget your local library!

How to Craft a Plot

Writing any novel where you are integrating real historical events into a narrative is going to be a complex act of weaving. Save The Cat Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody is not strictly speaking a book aimed at Historical Fiction writers, but is a book originally created for screen writers about structuring your novel with easy to follow templates. I’m actually a pantser, but I still think this book contains useful advice for those who have ‘lost the plot’. And if, like me, you are a pantser, try Writing into the Dark: How to Write a Novel without an Outline by Dean Wesley Smith. As each historical period is unique and has its own plot constraints, it is difficult to recommend one specifically for historical fiction. Have you any tips?

How to Improve your Writing

For the writer seriously interested in improving their writing in more subtle ways – then I recommend Between The Lines –  Master The Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing by Jessica Page Morrell. In this book, the author often refers to historical fiction, and her advice is a step beyond what you get in most writing guides. I also thoroughly recommend ‘179 Ways to Save a Novel – matters of vital concern to fiction writers’ by Peter Selgin. There are some wonderful interviews online with Historical Fiction authors. Try this one with Hilary Mantel at the Huntingdon – ‘I met a man who wasn’t there.’ In this BBC Archive interview, Mark Lawson talks to AS Byatt, author of Possession, in which she claims she learnt her plotting by watching the crime drama ‘The Bill’ and ‘Dallas’ on TV. There are many other interviews on this site which are worth watching, although they are all somewhat dated there are still insights to be had here.

What are your favourite books you have found useful in writing historical fiction?

Photos – All photos from Wikipedia except the picture of a woman writing which is from https://aleteia.org/2017/10/15/5-underrated-women-writers-you-should-be-reading/.

Entertaining Mr Pepys by Deborah Swift ~~ London 1666 – Elizabeth ‘Bird’ Carpenter has a wonderful singing voice, and music is her chief passion. When her father persuades her to marry horse-dealer Christopher Knepp, she suspects she is marrying beneath her station, but nothing prepares her for the reality of life with Knepp. Her father has betrayed her trust, for Knepp cares only for his horses; he is a tyrant and a bully, and will allow Bird no life of her own.

When Knepp goes away, she grasps her chance and, encouraged by her maidservant Livvy, makes a secret visit to the theatre. Entranced by the music, the glitter and glamour of the surroundings, and the free and outspoken manner of the women on the stage, she falls in love with the theatre and is determined to forge a path of her own as an actress.

But life in the theatre was never going to be straightforward – for a jealous rival wants to spoil her plans, and worse, Knepp forbids it, and Bird must use all her wit and intelligence to change his mind.

Based on events depicted in the famous Diary of Samuel Pepys, this is a historical novel bringing London in the 17th Century to life. It includes the vibrant characters of the day including the diarist himself and actress Nell Gwynne, and features a dazzling and gripping finale during the Great Fire Of London.

Many thanks, Deborah. What a treasure trove!! I’m sure my readers will enjoy diving into some of these sources. Best wishes for Entertaining Mr Pepys.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.