I’m sure I’ve written before about a creative partnership between myself and Bopress Miniature Books – where I’m contracted to write a short story which is then printed, illustrated and bespoke-bound, to be offered as a limited edition to miniature book-collectors.
It’s a unique partnership and one of which I’m immensely proud. Bopress’s work sings to me in so many ways – not least of which is the sheer grit, determination and artistry of the press. And who isn’t charmed by a tiny book? There is something intrinsically special about opening a tiny cover and then being able to read a whole story or open a tiny box that contains maps or notes. Secretive. Or as one of my fantasy characters says – ‘Segreta!’
I first met Pat Sweet when I ordered one of her books, The Silk Road (a book that contained a huge fold-out map of that august trading highway) – for an embroiderer friend.
We got talking, Pat and I, and discovered a few shared interests and eventually we began to work together. She also became one of the beta-readers for my own professional writing.
One thing I learned about Pat very early on, is that she calls a spade a spade, expects nothing but the best and will push herself (and me) till she gets it. Which is why she feels she is within her rights to write a review on my books. She’s seen them transform from first draft to published form and definitely has an opinion on the finished product.
I have just received her latest work – well, our latest work actually – in the mail. Trouvère is a story I wrote when I had finished The Gisborne Trilogy. Pat had commissioned a story about a troubadour and as always, had left me to tell the story my way. Then she swung into action and created a perfectly illustrated and styled medieval book to house the narrative. I am so incredibly happy with the result.
It sits in my palm and I slide the softest cream leather girdle off the wooden covers, then I stroke the leather spine. I open the book and see medieval endpapers and then I spot my copyright and from somewhere, Pat has managed to find an image of a medieval woman holding a terrier-like dog. At the end of the book, there is another image – both Pat and I own terriers!
The interior of the book illuminates the narrative perfectly – what a treasure! The papers almost crackle so that it isn’t hard to imagine them in scraped parchment, copied by some tonsured medieval monk whose scapula is covered in ink and pigment splotches and who works in a hallowed scriptorium.
It’s wonderful being a novelist and a novelist that manages to please readers, but to be able to have an ‘artistic’ partnership as well is an added string to the bow and very special.
How lucky am I?
And just to wet your interest – here are the first few paragraphs of the little novel:
‘Rounded lines like a woman’s hips, the bowl like the feel of a woman’s breast in his hands, the smooth wood grain like a woman’s skin. He caressed his vielle, plucking the strings as he oft plucked a woman’s desires.
This was why he was a trouvère – to praise women and love.
And it was what he had always done to the best of his God-given ability. Writing poems and setting them to music the like of which he hoped no one had ever heard.
His name was Flori de Mazamet and his family were peasants from a dessicated little village cut into the high hills close by Carcassone. He had learned to play the vielle from a musician, member of a band of entertainers travelling to the courts of the Comte de Toulouse at the time. He picked up the bow and found it was really just an extension of his hands, but now more often than not, he plucked the strings, making them talk instead of sing.
He left the village with the entertainers who liked his sweet, youthful voice and he travelled far and wide, learning all that he could about music and word as he grew into a young man who charmed those wherever he went. He had the face of a nobleman and the manners of a cavallier despite that he was baseborn.
Sometimes he remembered that his father and mother were peasants who tilled dry soil and harvested grapes for the Comte and that his sister had been born with no sight. But as livres clinked into his hands after an exceptional performance and after a knight’s lady had bid him stay to entertain her household for more days than he expected, he would allow the memory of his past to fade.
After all, he was in demand. They even mentioned his name alongside the great Marcabru which he thought was madness as he preferred light, witty words to the convoluted styles of the trobar clus. But all that aside, what relevance does a past life of poverty have when one dines amongst the wealthy?
He stood, this night, by the graceful columns of a cloister within the bastion of Montpellier. He had been summoned to perform for Guilhem of Montpellier and as he entered the hall, a face turned and stared at him and his whole being froze to the spot, his vielle almost falling from his fingers as he realized he had met his destiny…’
Flori de Mazamet is a figment of my imagination. So is Caterine, ward of Guilhem de Montpellier. Enguirrand of Montparnasse is also fictional.
Marie, daughter of Guilhem VIII of Montpellier and Eudoxie Komemnos, is an historical personage however.
To my knowledge, she never behaved in such a wayward fashion and after two marriages and a colourful existence involving a revolt against her brother, late in life she took the title of Lady of Montpellier and married Peter of Aragon in a dynastic blending of some power. She was, however, discarded by her husband and they both died not long after Pope Innocent III decided not to agree to their divorce. Her son from her marriage to Peter inherited both Montpellier and Aragon.
Are you tantalized yet?