A Threadbare Tapestry by Marc Graham

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.

Living Historical Fiction by Elinor Florence

Elinor Florence lives in small town British Columbia. After a long and varied career in journalism, Elinor now writes historical fiction and has a passion for WWII. With Remembrance Day and Veteran’s Day less than a week ago, it’s fitting to feature her latest novel Bird’s Eye View, set during WWII.

~~~

Historical fiction doesn’t necessarily mean ancient history. The broadest definition of the genre includes any novel written at least fifty years after the events took place.

Fifty years ago we were living in 1969, so somewhat alarmingly, even fiction set in my high school years would fall into the historical category.

Since I began my wartime novel Bird’s Eye View just six decades after the Second World War ended, I was able to do “living research” — that is, I didn’t have to resort to dusty tomes in a library to find out what happened. I could simply ask the people who were there.

That, my friends, was a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, I gathered colourful details of personal experience from people who lived through the war, either as participants or observers, and wove them into my novel for authenticity.

On the other hand, it meant that I was figuratively mopping the perspiration from my forehead with a hanky while writing, because I knew that every page would be scrutinized by real live people who knew what I was writing about!

Bird’s Eye View tells the story of a fictional Saskatchewan farm girl who joins the air force in the Second World War and becomes an aerial photographic interpreter in England, searching for bomb targets on the continent. Letters from her family and friends keep her in touch with the home front back in Canada.

It is the only novel ever written featuring a Canadian woman in uniform as the main character. To gather information, I interviewed many veterans, both male and female. My lifelong career as a journalist assisted greatly during this process. I included so much genuine historical detail that I call my novel fact-based fiction.

The combat stuff was fairly easy to garner, since much has been published about battles and military strategy (all of it written by men, I might add.) However, my novel isn’t a mere recitation of dry facts.

I wanted to bring the power of human emotion into my story. I interviewed male veterans for their feelings of fear, and grief, and homesickness, and their tremendous longing for the war to end. Many readers have told me that the book moved them to tears.

The research got more difficult when I turned to women in uniform. In spite of the fact that 50,000 Canadian women served during the war, very little has been written about them.

That’s not an exaggeration — I couldn’t even find an accurate description of a Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division uniform, let alone the training they received and the jobs they performed.

So I relied heavily on personal interviews, and it is here that my living research really bore fruit — not only for the basic information, but for the wonderful anecdotes that women told me.

For example, a Canadian air force veteran named Lou Marr who trained as a photographer told me that when the weather was hot, and the darkroom was sweltering, the girls would strip down to their undies while developing their photos because nobody could enter the darkroom as long as the red light over the door was turned on. That’s exactly the sort of detail that never found its way into the written record — the men didn’t even know it was happening!

Another example: a British air force veteran named Eileen Scott who worked at RAF Medmenham, the beautiful stone mansion in England that served as the headquarters for photo interpretation and the setting for my novel, told me that although pets were strictly forbidden, the girls had a secret cat who climbed up the wisteria vines late at night and scratched at their windows. Hence the cat’s name: Wisty.

These details and many others gleaned from oral history made their way into my novel — that the new female recruits drilled so long and hard that many stopped having their periods; that servicewomen often threw away their gas masks and used the containers as handbags; that women back home on the farm had trouble controlling the horses and cattle while the men were overseas.

My mother, who lived near an air training base in Saskatchewan as a teenager and therefore had a bird’s eye view of the home front, was extremely helpful. Almost every day I phoned her to ask questions like this: “What was a post office savings account?” or “Did you ever dance The Lambeth Walk?” In gratitude, I dedicated my novel to her.

Finally, I wove a poignant true life story into my novel. My mother was engaged during the war to a young airman from Tasmania named Maxwell Cassidy, who was accidentally killed while still training in Canada. He never saw home again, never even lived long enough to see combat overseas. His body still lies in a cemetery in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, a huge air training base during the war and my hometown.

Through the internet, I tracked down the Cassidy family in Australia and asked permission to use Max’s name in my novel. They were overjoyed to learn that my mother was still alive and remembered this fine young man with great fondness — living history, indeed.

And because I wanted their stories to be preserved, I have written the true accounts of Maxwell Cassidy, plus all the other male and female veterans I interviewed, on my website here: https://www.elinorflorence.com/blog/category/wartime-wednesdays/.

Some of these veterans are still alive. I’m so thankful that I was able to record their living history, and more importantly, for the opportunity to thank them in person for their contribution to the Allied victory.

Note: I have since written a second novel, Wildwood. It’s a contemporary novel with a strong vein of 100-year-old prairie pioneer history running throughout. For this novel, I wasn’t able to interview living pioneers but instead relied heavily on dozens of personal memoirs written by homesteaders.

Many thanks, Elinor. Stories about women serving during WWII are an important reminder of those whose wartime service we honour on Remembrance Day and Veteran’s Day.

PS: I love your story about the Australian Cassidy family.

Bird’s Eye View by Elinor Florence ~~ Rose Jolliffe is an idealistic young woman living on a farm with her family in Saskatchewan. After Canada declares war against Germany in World War II, she joins the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as an aerial photographic interpreter. Working with intelligence officers at RAF Medmenham in England, Rose spies on the enemy from the sky, watching the war unfold through her magnifying glass.

When her commanding officer, Gideon Fowler, sets his sights on Rose, both professionally and personally, her prospects look bright. But can he be trusted? As she becomes increasingly disillusioned by the destruction of war and Gideon’s affections, tragedy strikes, and Rose’s world falls apart.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (see left hand 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.

Slavery in Canada

While in Quebec City, we visited a museum — the Musee des Beaux Arts — that features Inuit works from across Canada (stunning) and well-known Quebec artists such as Jean-Paul Riopelle, Alfred Pellan and others.

One exhibit – Devenir or Becoming – grabbed my attention. Not only did it include a collection of paintings – primarily portraits – from the 18th and 19th centuries, but it also included a series of drawings of runaway slaves alongside advertisements seeking their whereabouts that had been posted in Quebec newspapers.

In my naivety, I thought slaves running away from the US sought refuge in Canada.

While this is true, it seems that slavery was practiced by our indigenous people (usually as a result of wars with other tribes) and also by some who came from France and Britain to colonize Canada and acquired slaves in part to deal with the shortage of labour in the new land. Another source of slaves occurred when America declared its independence from Britain and many of those loyal to the crown moved to Canada and brought slaves with them.

The drawing above is one artist’s depiction of Bell, a slave who had runaway and whose owner advertised for her return in the Quebec Gazette in August 1778 (shown below).

 

Definitely a tragedy and a shameful period in Canada’s history. My writer brain is already imagining a story.

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.