The kingdom was filled with gold, magical gems that could restore sight, and the Fountain of Youth. It also was home to a variety of miraculous beasts including huge ants which dug up gold, fish that exuded imperial dye and salamanders which lived in the heart of fires. And its king, Prester John (‘prester’ meaning ‘priest) was so powerful he could alter the course of the Nile. But where was this kingdom with its powerful king? It was a question that haunted Europeans for centuries.
The legend of Prester John and his kingdom obsessed many people over the centuries, most particularly from the 12th century onwards after reports of his existence came from a German chronicler, Otto of Freising who recounted in his Chronicon of 1145 that the previous year he had met Hugh, Bishop of Jabala in Syria at the court of Pope Eugene III in Viterbo. Prince Raymond of Antioch had sent Hugh to seek aid against the Saracens and request a second crusade. Hugh reportedly told Otto of Freising about a Nestorian Christian, Prester John, who was both priest and king and had regained Ecbatana in a battle and had set out for Jerusalem until floods on the Tigris halted him. He also claimed that Prester John was both wealthy and descended from the three Magi. In 1165, a letter purportedly written by Prester John to the Byzantine Emperor began circulating throughout Europe filled with the marvels and richness of his kingdom and it captured the imagination of Europeans. It also prompted Pope Alexander III to write a letter that he entrusted his physician, Master Philip of Venice in 1177 and Master Phillip wrote back to the Pope describing his journey. What became of him once he reached Ethiopia is not known.
There was intense speculation about the exact location of Prester John’s kingdom. Originally it was thought to be in India and other parts of Asia, but European ideas about those regions were very vague. Eventually, speculation moved to Ethiopia, a once powerful Christian region, now obscure since the expansion of the Muslim faith. Explorers, including Marco Polo, and missionaries from Portugal and other countries followed that theory until the 17th century. Prince Henry of Portugal, known as Prince Henry the Navigator, was among those interested in locating Prester John’s kingdom. He was intent on exploring Africa with the purpose of converting the people to Christianity. He set up a navigation school in Sagres and funded many voyages to Africa by explorers eager to exploit his desire to convert souls. Their interest was more focused on acquiring riches, either through the slave trade or other resources discovered there.
But who exactly was Prester John? How did he rise to power and where did he spring from? Those questions were posed alongside of the questions of the kingdom's location. Many ideas were put forward.
One idea was that the battle referred to by Hugh may have been that fought at Qatwan, Persia, in 1141, when the Mongul khan, the founder of the Karakitai empire in Central Asia, defeated the Seljuq sultan Sanjar. The title of the Karakitai rulers was Gur-khan, or Kor-khan, which may have been changed phonetically in Hebrew to Yoḥanan or in Syriac to Yuḥanan, thus producing the Latin Johannes, or John. Though the Gur-khans were Mongol Buddhists, many of their leading subjects were Nestorians, and, according to a report by the Franciscan missionary Willem van Rysbroeck in 1255, the daughter of the last Gur-khan and wife of King Küchlüg of the Naiman, a Central Asian people, was a Christian. Küchlüg, whose father’s name was Ta-yang Khan (Great King John in Chinese), was defeated by the great Mongol ruler Genghis Khan in 1218.
When I wrote The Quest of Hope, the third book in the Renaissance Sojourner Series, I chose to use one avenue that was pursued in the book, The Prester Quest, by Nicholas Jubber, published in 2006, which was part travelogue and historical narrative that explored the notion that Gebre Mesquel Lalibela was the true identity of Prester John. Lalibela was Emperor of Ethiopia during the Zagwe Dynasty, reigning from 1181-1221. The complex monolithic churches located in what was then Roha and now called Lalibela, are attributed to his reign, though some buildings could have earlier origins. The churches are rough-hewn out of rock and have become a UNESCO heritage site.
You can read more about the Renaissance Sojourner Series on the book pages of my website here. www.kristingleeson.com
I have always been enthusiastic about Medieval History, but have to confess I know little about events in Medieval Spain other than the Moors and, of course Ferdinand & Isabella. Recently I had the opportunity to read Jessica Knauss' new novel, The Seven Noble Knights and found it to be an incredibly vibrant time in Spain's history. Below, Jessica talks about the novel and the events that it inspired it.
How the Seven Noble Knights Survived One Millennium … and Counting
A guest post by J. K. Knauss
The events that inspired Seven Noble Knights may have taken place in Spain in the late tenth century. The medieval sources of the tale draw on local geography and include several documented historical people. These include Count García and Almanzor, but also some people who don’t rank as high in government. In chancery documents, we find “Gundisalvus,” a Lord of Lara, and his wife, and “Flammula,” a fascinating name in any context.
Some scholars believe that the story isn’t based on true events, but on previous epic poetry brought from northern Europe with Christina of Norway and her courtiers in the thirteenth century, or via crusaders, who often spent long periods on the Iberian Peninsula before continuing East.
Whether the story is factual or not, the first people likely to pick up on the seven noble knights of Lara were the minstrels, who traveled singing the news in towns where people could pay for their services. The story would have circulated among such entertainers for years, gaining flourishes and a set meter and rhyme as memory aids, with each new singer. At this stage, the names cited in the chancery documents probably found their current forms: Gonzalo and Lambra.
The poem is considered lost because no direct written evidence of it remains. But the story continued its journey through scholarly efforts. The earliest recorded version appears as historical fact in the Estoria de Espanna, created during the reign of Alfonso X of Castile (1252–1284). This elegant version was expanded and romanticized in the Crónica de 1344. Early twentieth-century scholars were thrilled to find that both of these texts contained segments with epic meter and rhyme patterns. The medieval historians had relied heavily on an epic poem! It has since been partially reconstructed.
The seven noble knights must have been real crowd pleasers, because more evidence of their story turns up in the short poems known as romances in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, half a millennium after the events would have occurred. While the epic poem probably stayed under the control of the specialized minstrel community, romances are the poems of the people. These are the stories people would tell each other around the fireside—medieval folktales. Here, the story takes on a rich emotional impact, with monologues full of description and motive, love and rage.
In the hands of the wider population, the story also lent its legendary quality to old structures, weaving into people’s daily lives. Mudarra’s tomb in Burgos Cathedral, for example, was in fact the resting place of a twelfth-century noblewoman. A spot on the Burgos city wall has become known as the height from which Doña Lambra hurled herself, committing suicide. (She doesn’t do that in the Seven Noble Knights novel.) A church in Salas de los Infantes guards a casket with what are said to be the remains of the seven noble knights. The Salas town crest tells the Lara side of the story visually. Additionally, some fascinating spots in Córdoba would be spoilers if described here.
Across the world in the Philippines, a popular movie and comic book continued the story’s legacy in the twentieth century. The seven noble knights are also presented in a yearly pageant in their hometown of Salas.
Any way you tell it, Seven Noble Knights has stood the test of time. It’s a story worth enjoying again and again.
Spain, 974. Gonzalo, a brave but hotheaded knight, unwittingly provokes tragedy at his uncle’s wedding to beautiful young noblewoman Lambra: the adored cousin of the bride dead, his teeth scattered across the riverbank. Coveting his family’s wealth and power, Lambra sends Gonzalo’s father into enemy territory to be beheaded, unleashing a revenge that devastates Castile for a generation.
A new hero, Mudarra, rises out of the ashes of Gonzalo’s once great family. Raised as a warrior in the opulence of Muslim Córdoba, Mudarra must make a grueling journey and change his religion, then chooses to take his jeweled sword to the throats of his family’s betrayers. But only when he strays from the path set for him does he find his true purpose in life.
Inspired by a lost medieval epic poem, Seven Noble Knights draws from history and legend to bring a brutal yet beautiful world to life in a gripping story of family, betrayal, and love.
Born and raised in Northern California, J. K. Knauss has wandered all over the United States, Spain, and England. She has worked as a librarian and a Spanish teacher and earned a PhD in medieval Spanish literature before entering the publishing world as an editor. She is recovering from the devastating loss of her beloved husband, Stanley, to cancer. Her acclaimed novella, Tree/House, Kindle Scout–winning paranormal adventure Awash in Talent, and short story collection, Unpredictable Worlds, are currently available from Amazon
Her epic of medieval Spain, Seven Noble Knights, will be published by Bagwyn Books on Kindle December 15, 2016. A softcover edition will follow on January 16, 2017. Find out more about the Seven Noble Knights Grand Book Launch Blog Tour and Facebook party (win prizes!) at http://www.jessicaknauss.com. Feel free to sign up for her mailing list for castles, stories, and magic.
Posting on the blog today is a fellow historical fiction writer, Tony Riches who brings history to life in his novels and non fiction works.
Tony is a full time author of best-selling fiction and non-fiction books. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales with his wife and enjoys sailing and kayaking in his spare time.
Tony first came to my attention when I noticed that one of his novels was about the Duchess of Gloucester in, The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham, which overlaps my own novel, The Imp of Eye, that also has the Duchess as a main character.
Tony has a new series out about the Tudors. Not the ones we all know, though, and below he talks about how he became interested in them.
Although I was born within sight of Pembroke Castle, I only began to study its history when I returned to the area five years ago. I was amazed to find there were no books about Owen Tudor, the father of Sir Jasper Tudor, the Earl of Pembroke, who once owned and lived in the Castle. I found several accounts of the life of Henry Tudor, Jasper’s nephew, (who later became King Henry VII and began the Tudor Dynasty) but there were no novels that brought his story to life.
I was reading Conn Iggulden’s impressive Wars of the Roses trilogy when the idea for the Tudor Trilogy (unsurprisingly) occurred to me. I realised Henry Tudor could be born in book one, ‘come of age’ in book two, and rule England in book three, so there would be plenty of scope to explore his life and times.
I started with a year of research, as I do my best to ensure my novels are historically correct, and feel the role of the historical fiction novelist is to ‘fill in the gaps’ with a plausible narrative and explore how people might have reacted to often quite dramatic events. I am always disappointed when authors distort or manipulate the known history, and firmly believe history has more amazing stories than anything I would ever dream up.
The first book of the trilogy was my fourth novel, so I had a good idea about the structure, and it had a ‘natural’ and dramatic end point (not wishing to give anything away for non-Tudor aficionados). In book one, OWEN, a Welsh servant of Queen Catherine of Valois, the lonely widow of King Henry V falls in love with her and they marry in secret. Their eldest son Edmund Tudor marries the heiress Lady Margaret Beaufort, and fathers a child with her to secure her inheritance. Unfortunately, Lady Margaret is barely thirteen years old and the birth of her son, Henry, nearly kills her. When her husband dies mysteriously without even seeing his son, his younger brother Jasper Tudor swears to protect them.
This all takes place during the Wars of the Roses and in book two, JASPER, (published 25th March), Jasper and young Henry flee to exile in Brittany and plan to one day return and make Henry King of England. In the meantime, King Richard III has taken the throne and has a powerful army of thousands – while Jasper and Henry have nothing. Even the clothes they wear are paid for by the Duke of Brittany. So how can they possibly invade England and defeat King Richard at the Battle of Bosworth?
I am currently researching the final book of the trilogy, HENRY, and plan to explore how he brought peace to England by marrying the beautiful daughter of his enemy, King Edward IV. I also want to understand how their son, who became King Henry VIII, became such a tyrant and transformed the history of England forever.
Today I have a guest post from Jessica Knauss, someone, who like her novel, is awash with talent. Besides writing, Jessica has also spent many years as an editor. I first encountered Jessica when she edited my historical biography, Anahareo, A Wilderness Spirit. Our shared love of history and writing were two of many things that extended our relationship beyond editing that book. Jessica has lived many places, but currently she lives in Arizona where she is editor and writer.
My contemporary paranormal, Awash in Talent, has been picked up by Kindle Press and is now available for preorder. Here’s a little more about it:
Emily can’t escape her annoyingly Talented telekinetic healer sister by going to a university 3000 miles away, in Providence, or even by doing a field study in Ethiopia. Why don’t people give credit where credit is due?
Kelly is forced to attend a pyrokinesis school/lockdown facility, but she must escape and bring Emily’s healer sister to Boston—her mother’s life depends on it.
Appointments with Emily might drive psychic therapist Patricia insane. Meanwhile, Patricia falls ever deeper into her husband’s selfish, cruel trap. In Providence, Friendship is a one-way street.
Awash in Talent is a novel in three interrelated novellas, all set in Providence, Rhode Island, where telekinetics, firestarters, and psychics attempt to function in a largely un-Talented society unappreciative of what they have to offer. Love/hate between sisters, mother and daughter, scared teenagers, a mismatched married couple, adult female friends, and an obsessive and the object of her affection are all put to the test.
Awash in Talent started as a handful of lines I wrote after a vivid dream. It was in 2010, and I was living in Pennsylvania. Over the next few years, I would live in four different states and would work on the first novella, Hope & Benevolent, whenever I had a spare moment. I focused on other projects and only ran Hope & Benevolent by my critique group when other writing wasn’t moving along.
While living in a hotel in North Carolina, I decided there was much more to the story, and completed the second novella, WaterFire, during NaNoWriMo. Ideas for the final component, Friendship Street, had been percolating, and by the time I’d moved to two more cities (only one across state lines), it had wrapped up the story in a way I found satisfying. The critique group was enthusiastic about how Awash in Talent finally turned out, but after lots of editing and a few more beta reads, I had trouble finding a publisher quirky enough to consider it.
After a year of submissions, Awash in Talent had been rejected only twice. I was already exhausted from the waiting and hoping that had come to naught with my agent queries for my first novel. That first novel had been accepted by its own small press in the end, and I was ready to place Awash in Talent as soon as possible, as well. I purchased the best cover in the world from designer Jasmine Green and was about to self-publish it when we moved across state lines again.
I was taking the long stroll between our new mailbox and new apartment with my husband when the sunshine got to me. “There’s this thing called Kindle Scout” was more or less my pitch. “Do you think I should try it?”
“Why not?” was the idea behind my husband’s reply.
It was the best decision I could’ve made for Awash in Talent. In the Kindle Scout process, each book gets a 30-day campaign during which the author can rally support from readers. It doesn’t feel so much as if it’s just a few people concerned with salability and marketability who make the decision to publish or not. It’s more about convincing a bunch of readers to feel enthused enough to click a button in favor of the book. It’s traditional publishing with a very modern slush pile.
There are a lot of factors to consider before an undertaking like this, but in my case, it was all pros and no cons.
I did more social media campaigning than ever before in my life during the campaign. In spite of some very moving shows of support from my intimate friends, I honestly don’t think my numbers were that great—and a significant number of my votes must have been for the sake of the great cover alone. But no one knows how Kindle Press uses the data collected during the campaign. They have the final say on which books are published, no matter how many votes a book receives.
That’s why, when I got the fabulous news that Awash in Talent was going to be published by Kindle Press, I was sure it was because of a single editor who pushed against any objections to demand the best for my little book. Deep down, I most want to be appreciated on that hyperlocal level. Just let me share this zany story with you!
I go into detail about what I learned from the Kindle Scout experience here, and muse further about how Kindle Press makes their decisions here.
I’m pleased with the professionalism at Kindle Press and am thrilled with their speed of action. That’s what I was missing from traditional publishers! Awash in Talent is already available for preorder and I hope you will check it out if you like action-packed stories with a lot of heart.
I hope someone will review it and say that it’s “Gilmore Girls with a paranormal twist!”
You can find Jessica on the following sites:
Today, Claire Stibbe is my guest to discuss her forthcoming novel, The 9th Hour, a fast paced thriller featuring Detective David Temeke and set against the dramatic backdrop of the New Mexico landscape. It's a departure for Claire, whose previous novels were historical and set in ancient Egypt.
Researching ideas for the first novel in the Detective Temeke series has been so much fun, especially driving around Albuquerque through all the areas Temeke & his female assistant, Malin Santiago, would go. This book takes place in Cimarron State Park where a nine-year-old African American girl has been abducted. Temeke, a detective working in a police unit for violent crimes against children is called out one early December morning to take over a case nobody wants. Why? Because former lead Detective Jack Reynolds was found dead under the bridge on Exit 230 to San Mateo. He had a gunshot wound to his head. With a new partner, a new case and a new set of wheels, Temeke takes to the roads in search of a man who keeps the body parts of his eight young victims as trophies and has a worrying obsession with the number nine.
With so many state parks here in New Mexico, the hiking trails are numerous and great places to learn about the history of the southwest. Big blue skies, palisade cliffs and all kinds of fauna only add to each scene. With the help of detectives in the local police department, this has been crucial in piecing together a serial killer’s steps. Winter’s coming . . .
With the weather being so stormy recently, slate-grey skies, a sheet of rain one minute and the growl of thunder the next, it has provided the right mood to give me inspiration. I’m loving the characters and the way they lead each chapter to who knows where. And yes, I do normally have a structure, only this time it all went out of the window.
It’s all David Temeke’s fault. His dry wit often goes for the jugular, rubbing the department up the wrong way. Unit Commander Hackett is clearly suspicious of Temeke, an African/British ex-pat, and has reluctantly assigned him a new east coast transfer, Malin Santiago. It’s a high profile case where her Hispanic/Norwegian roots are a valuable asset to the team. Can’t say why. You’ll just have to read the book. Only, Temeke believes that Santiago lacks the necessary experience for such a case which is adding a considerable strain to their professional relationship. Not to mention her physical attraction to him which is about as welcome as a skunk at a lawn party.
So this afternoon as I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop, I was this close to writing Santiago a great scene that would change Temeke’s view of her; maybe give him something to chew over. But being despicable me, I decided to leave it as it is. Unrequited love in the Northwest Area Command is much too much fun to watch. And Malin isn’t all smiles and teeth. There’s a certain metal in her psyche that gets stronger with every book. She might have started out as a pit-dweller, but she’s sure making up for it now.
All this and more in The 9th Hour, soon to be published in the fall of 2015 by Crooked Cat Publishing.
To find out more about CMT Stibbe’s books, visit her website at http://www.cmtstibbe.com. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ClaireStibbeGoogle: https://plus.google.com/+CMTStibbe/posts Twitter: https://twitter.com/CMTStibbe
Claire is also a member of the New Mexico Book Co-op and the Southwest Writers Association.
In 1541 Eleanor, the Duchess of Gloucester, was accused of witchcraft. Margery Jourdemayne, ‘the Witch of Eye next Westminster’, Thomas Southwell (Chaplain of Westminster Palace and a canon), and the scholars Roger Bolingbroke and John Home (Hume) were all accused of witchcraft too. It seems impossible that a noblewoman and other powerful and learned people would be accused and tried for something like witchcraft at that time period. And that some of them would meet a terrible end, as a result. But there was more to it than meets the eye (excuse the pun).
The Imp of Eye, uses these events as the centrepiece for its plot.
15th century England was a time of great turmoil and power shifts. When Henry V died he left an infant son, Henry VI, who was under the care of his uncles. The Duke of Bedford and the Duke of Gloucester who were appointed the regents. As Henry matured, various powerful nobles maneuvered for position and control, including his uncle, Duke Humphrey of Gloucester. When Humphrey’s older brother died it left Humphrey as the next in line to the throne and closest to the young king. For a while, he was able to influence the young king and encourage him to continue the war with France that had dragged on for almost a century. But other factions, especially the one headed by Cardinal Beaufort, a distant relation, vied for power. A key plan was to discredit Humphrey and get him out of the way.
His second wife, the lovely but volatile Eleanor Cobham, former lady in waiting to the Duke’s first wife, played into their hands. They used her desperate, frequent consultations with the known herbalist and witch, Margery Jourdemayne (the Witch of Eye), to try and bring about her downfall.
Moonyeen Blakey read about this trial and the witch, Margery Jourdemayne, in the course of her research for a previous book she’d started writing. She discussed the storyline with me several times and I followed its development. She sat down to write it and had a draft of it completed when she fell ill with a second bought of cancer. This time, unfortunately, she was unable to beat it and she died in March 2014. Before she died, she asked me to take on the novel and do with it what I thought best. I read it through and overhauled it, creating some new characters, changing some other characters, and eliminating characters entirely. All the time I worked on it I felt her looking over my shoulder discussing and debating as the story took shape. Though there are missing faces, changed faces and new faces in the current story, one character above all remained as he was: Barnabas. I made him older, but his spirit is unchanged, as is the voice that she created for him.
This book is now the first in a series, The Renaissance Sojourner Series, that features Barnabas.
The book is published in ebook and print and can be purchased below or the print copies ordered in bookstores.
To get updates on this series or any others, or on special offers, giveaways and free books, subscribe to the mailing list here. Recieve a free novella, A Treasure Beyond Worth, when you subscribe. Just use the button below to get back to the home page and the signup form.
Catherine Hokin and the The English Historical Fiction group on Facebook tagged me to write about a character in my forthcoming novel. How could I resist the chance to write about Barnabas, who features in The Imp of Eye?
BARNABAS is a streetwise thirteen year-old orphan who dreams of sailing off to foreign countries. His mistress, the Witch of Eye, Margery Jourdemayne, and his guardian, Thomas Southwell, the Canon of Westminster, want to use his clairvoyant talents to further their ambitions. When the vain and ambitious Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester and her maid Alys visit the Witch of Eye for help to conceive a child, Barnabas is pulled into a web of intrigue and danger.
While Barnabas is a fictional character, Margery Jourdemayne, Thomas Southwell and the Duchess of Gloucester are actual historic people who were caught up in the political intrigues of the times.
The ebook is now available for pre-order from Amazon. The hardback will be published with the ebook on June 15.
Jessica Knauss works as an editor and translator as well as a writer.She has published individual short stories and short story collections over the years as well as working as an editor for academic and commercial small presses.Her latest collection, Unpredictable Worlds, is released today.
You can find the book through this Amazon link:
You can follow Jessica on her blog:
Most of the stories included in Unpredictable Worlds contain magic realism. What is it about that genre that attracts you?
When I began to read the works of the classic Latin American magic realists, I had already been creating stories set in a reality that was similar to what “everyone” lives, but had certain noticeable differences. I was so relieved that a genre existed where this kind of thing was acceptable! I don’t feel compelled to create whole other worlds with totally different rules, as in pure fantasy, but when I’m writing about the contemporary world, I just don’t see it the same way other people do. I can’t resist throwing in a few surprising or disconcerting elements with their own—mysterious—logic. It expresses what I have to say more accurately and, most importantly, it’s a lot more fun!
Writers in the past have been known to say ‘write what you know’—would you agree with that?
If I were to write only about my direct experiences, it would probably only interest me. But if we understand that quote to mean that if you do your research, you can write about anything, and that we know our own imaginations, then I’m in wholehearted agreement.
One section of Unpredictable Worlds focuses on rhinoceroses (see I knew to use that for a plural after reading the stories)—what inspired you to write about them?
I see the stories are reaching their goal of spreading information about rhinos (and their crisis) to the reading public! My first “encounter” with rhinos was when the first line of “Rhinoceros Dreams” dropped into my head from some unknown place of inspiration. I learned more about them to write the story, and I’ve found that the more I learn about them, the more fascinating they are. To keep it short and refrain from gushing, in recent years, I’ve been to different zoos to see all four species that can live in captivity (Javan rhinos haven’t been kept in human environments since the nineteenth century) and each animal is unique and full of personality. Last year, I got to actually touch not one but two white rhinos. It’s impossible to describe the transcendence of that experience without exaggeration. I’m hoping to capture it as a pivotal scene in a novel I’ve started.
You have one story that is written as an homage to Hemingway and his style. Is there any particular writer that inspires you?
When I was in school, everything I read found its way into my writing in an imitative way. Now that I’ve found my own voice, other writers inspire me differently: I admire the poetry of certain scenes, whether in a published book or in my critique group, and I feel inspired to achieve something that good in my own way.
You have moved around a lot in the past ten years. Do you think these moves have informed your writing in any way?
Over the past ten years, I’ve lived in Spain, Providence, the far Boston suburbs, the Boston area, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Atlanta, Illinois, North Carolina, and have now, at last, returned to New England. I grew up in the unique environment of Northern California, so I imprinted early on with a strong sense of place, which has been sorely tested in recent years. Where do I belong? is a question that’s haunted me. My longing for specific places has affected my writing. I wrote my second novel, Awash in Talent, when I was living in Arizona and North Carolina, which couldn’t be more different than the book’s setting in Providence. My first novel, Seven Noble Knights, is set in Spain, my favorite place in the world.
What are your aspirations as a writer?
It is my biggest honor to be allowed to entertain someone looking for a good read. I would love to be able to support myself with my writing. That would mean reaching a lot of readers. I can’t think of anything more meaningful. Winning more awards would also be a welcome validation…
Are you working on anything right now and can you tell us about it?
Seven Noble Knights will be published by Bagwyn Books in 2016, so right now I’m focused on getting it and my second novel ready for publication. But as I mentioned, I have a novel about a girl, a boy, and some rhinos in the works. I’m planning to write quite a few short stories set in thirteenth-century Spain. I have ideas for sequels for both of my novels, and aspirations for a couple of other historical epics.
What do you have on your bedside table at the moment to read?
I’ve just finished The Price of Blood by Patricia Bracewell and Lucky Us by Amy Bloom. They were both so unusual (that’s a good thing), I wouldn’t want to leave them out. I’m in the middle of an Advance Reader’s Edition of The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan—it’s great! It makes me think of you, Kristin, because it has selkies. My husband and I are reading The Memory Painter by Gwendolyn Womack together. Next I plan to finish Love in Infant Monkeys by Lydia Millet and start Hild by Nicola Griffith and La nación inventada by the Escolar brothers. I have a feeling that last one will inspire a few new novel or story projects.
For the past ten years, I have been coordinating a teen book club at the village library and through the years we've tackled different projects, along with reading and reviewing books each month. Many of the teens that have participated in the library book club love to write as well as read books and we often would play with changing endings, creating titles for dream books and other related things. This year, I decided to try a more extensive approach and began by having each member create a character. The first step was to think of a name and a description. Even at that level the variety of characters they created was amazing. There was a blue-haired girl from the future and a lad from another world with no name, a geeky musician, a painfully shy girl and an artist.
Gradually. they expanded the characters by creating their family situation, their specific location and then writing a short piece on a typical day or a scenario that showed something about their personality. Though the characters were all teen-aged, they had vastly different personalities, family backgrounds and aspirations. The fantasy character was on his own, except for the wolf that followed him everywhere. The blue-haired girl lived on a futuristic farm and the geeky musician suffered from terrible dreams in which a clown tried to kill him.
When the characters were fully rounded, I challenged the teens to create a plot that would link all the characters together. No easy task. They rose to the challenge beautifully and they threw around many ideas, but in the end they came up with a fantasy and horror genre using the clown nightmares as a device to create a theme of a threat from another world. After much discussion the story was finalised and some tentative titles suggested. I wrote it up and published it on Amazon as a short story called, 'The Othersiders'. The proceeds, the group decided, would go to Breast Cancer Ireland. So, if you are curious and would like to help a good cause, please go to the Amazon link below .
In 1987, Victor Mair, a professor of philology at the University of Pennsylvania, led a tour group through a museum in the Chinese city of Ürümchi in the central Asian province of Xinjiang. During the tour, he went into a newly opened room that showed, under glass, the recently discovered blond-haired mummies of a man woman and child with long noses and deep set eyes that were over 3,000 years old. The real shock was that they were Caucasian. Dr Mair was intrigued by the mummies’ existence, 2,000 years before the West and East admitted each other’s existence. These mummies were among some 100 dug up by Chinese archeologists over the course of 16 years. They came from the Tian Shan Mountains in northwest China and the fringes of the Taklimakan Desert.
Professor Mair attempted to investigate further, but met with some difficulties from the Chinese authorities at the time because of the political climate. Eventually, he led a small expedition to the Tarim Basin and the group found more mummies that were tall and blond, dressed in clothes that were still intact, even woolen plaids that were as brightly hued as the day they were woven.
Professor Mair and others have documented the discoveries from this research trip and some successive ones in books, film documentaries and published articles over the years (for example: The Tarim Mummies by Victor Mair and The Urumchi Mummies by Nancy Barber). I first discovered his work when reading a National Geographic article on the first expedition and was intrigued by the possibility of what could be a proto-Celtic group finding its way there.
Who were these people? As far back as the second century B.C., Chinese texts refer to alien people called the ‘Yuezhi’ and the ‘Wusun’ who lived on China’s far western borders. The texts indicate the Chinese regarded them as troublesome ‘barbarians.’ Until recently scholars have teneded to downplay evidence of any early trade or contact between China and the West regarding the development of Chinese civilization as an essentially home grown affair, sealed off from outside. Recently, some archeologists argue that these so-called ‘barbarians’ were responsible for introducing things like the wheel and the first metal objects. Professor Mair’s own research leads him to believe that these people were Tocharian, an early Indo-European group about whose origins little is known.
This article and the books inspired me to write a novel that imagined how such a group would come to be there. It took the form of Raven Brought the Light, to be published in April. In writing the novel I created what is mostly my own invention about the mummies, and also the small band of proto–Native Alaskans that they encounter. The accepted understanding for the Native Americans now is that they migrated from various areas in Asia, in waves; most by boats and others migrating across the Bering Strait at different time periods. I realize that my little group is very late to be leaving the Asian continent and I took a lot of artistic license with it. I hope that it doesn’t hinder people’s appreciation of the tale.
Kristin Gleeson is a writer, artist and musician who lives in the west of Ireland in the Gaeltacht.
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