Fields of Dreams…
When I was driving to the Big Smoke a few days ago, I had the idea for a blogpost.
But when one has one’s hands on the steering wheel and concentration on the road is implicit, one hopes the idea will stay on the edges of consciousness so that when one reaches a destination, and fingers hit the keyboard, the post will open like a bud in the spring sun…
Typically with my life, I reached the destination, launched into the day’s proceedings and then five hours later, sat at the keyboard.
And waiting a little longer.
Sadly that blogpost idea remains somewhere on the road between the Causeway and the Airport Freeway and perhaps I will pick it back up one day on the way back and forth to the coast. I think part of the reason that I can’t recall it is that I was listening to Kate Forsyth talking on ABC Radio with Richard Fidler about Fairy Tales.
It made me think about my own relationship with fantasy – how important it was to me. Remaining so, even to this day.
As a child, I was read fantasy – or more particularly, fairytales – by my parents. When I learned to read and could manage longer stories on my own, I loved classics like Gullivers’ Travels, The Jungle Book, The Narnia Chronicles, anything about Arthur and Merlin. I also loved myth and legend and even now, can recall an orange-covered book, forgotten title, quarto size, with illustrations in black and white, almost comic-strip format, but with a paragraph under each illustration,
telling me the story of The Little Mermaid, The Seven Swans, Rumpelstiltskin, Diana and the Golden Apple, Icarus, the Twelve Dancing Princesses – an eclectic blend of folktales and fable that could walk me back through imagined history to the ancient Greeks.
In Grade Six, I won a prize for academic achievement and was allowed to pick my own book.
I chose a quarto book entitled Myths and Legends and I still have it on my shelves.
In High School, I won a prize for a short-story and was given Great Short Stories of the World – I still have that one too!
When I graduated from university and went travelling, I carried a box set of Lord of the Rings right across Asia.
Of course, over those formative years, I salivated over Geoffrey Trease, Henry Treece, Rosemary Sutcliff and later, Mary Stewart. In a dash of almost vulgar escapism amongst the classics of English Lit at university, I devoured the Angèlique books about France and Louis XIVth and as time moved on, I read as much hist.fict as I did fantasy. But in essence, the road I travelled toward becoming a writer of ‘soft’ historical fiction was inspired by a legend.
Guy of Gisborne was considered an integral part of the folk tale that is Robin Hood, and I began to write what is called a fanfiction, about Gisborne, the man. I saw it merely as a holiday away from writing fantasy, nothing more. I already had a fantasy series published and this seemed a little bit of fun – some more escapism if you like.
I took Gisborne far from the familiar trope and gave him an altered existence – what his life may have been like if his dice had fallen another way.
It was only ever intended to be a ‘blog story’, an entertainment for the legions of women who had fallen in love with Richard Armitage’s portrayal of the man. But somewhere between the Beginning and the End of Book One, it morphed into a story of a man and a woman beset by the tragedies of the era – of its religious strictures, its ideology and its utter brutality.
Guy, originally one of Lionheart’s knights, disenchanted and jaded, became a merchant and built a household of interesting characters who travelled across Europe in trade or politics or indeed things clandestine. It was a retrospective reality built on known fact but with a deliberate avoidance of the accepted norms of historical fiction. I did not want my stories to be literary replays of the lives of the Rich and Famous. I wanted my stories to be about ordinary men and women of the twelfth century, about excellence and exclusion, romance and revenge, prayers and priests, merchants and murder.
I wanted my stories to take place across France, in Venice, across the Adriatic and in Constantinople.
I wanted the layered richness of the silk the characters were trading. I wanted the smell of olibanum in amongst the putrefaction of decayed bodies. I wanted the sheer perversity of the religious word in the face of men who had watched the slaughter of two thousand innocent hostages in Acre during a Crusade.
And the truth is that all this came about because my parents read me myth and legend when I was a child. In my child’s mind, I overlaid real life across the experience of the heroes and heroines of those stories. In essence, even though I’m currently writing historical fiction, I am still doing that same thing – overlaying a real life experience, albeit highly retrospective, across the lives of my imagined protagonists.
Story-telling began in such a way.
With the spoken word, a travelling bard would settle in a hall amongst lords and their retainers and tell the adventures of a hero in either a mythic or real event. He or she may have been flawed or they may have been fabulous, but it resonated with the listeners.
It seems to me that broken down to its simplest form, historical fiction does exactly that same thing…