Strong Women, Child Soldiers and Geniuses

I went and got myself tagged by Kate Constable. Kate posted six things which inspired her writing in general, and then asked other writers to reveal six things that inspired their work.*

I thought I’d specifically post about the Moorehawke Trilogy. So here they are!

Cos Luce Manor

1/ Clos Luce Manor

Clos Luce is where Leonardo Da Vinci spent the last three years of his life. I like to think they were happy and secure years: at the time he was living under the protection of King Francis I who used to visit the great man via a tunnel which lead from the palace at Amboise to the manor ( then known as ‘Manoir du Cloux’)

My family and I visited Clos Luce many years ago, and I think it was there that the very first seeds of Wynter’s story began to sprout. It was very very hot, and I sat on a garden bench in the shade and had a conversation with a small grey kitten ( well – I sat in the shade and a grey kitten sat staring at me – had it not been so hot it would have been a conversation!) The story was inspired by three things about that moment: the heat, the wary stillness of the little cat and the 16th century surroundings.  It began as a light, sun filled adventure about a missing prince, a carpenter’s daughter, a ghost in an avenue and perhaps a talking cat. But light, sun filled adventures don’t survive very long in my brain, and it wasn’t long before Moorehawke had turned into the dark, blood drenched complexity it is today.

Al Jaziri's Elephant CLock
al Jaziri's elephant clock

2/ Badi al Zaman al Jaziri

Badi al Zaman al Zaziri was a 12th century inventor and engineer who could well have given Da Vinci a run for his money. He is most well known for his ‘Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices’ which almost certainly introduced the concept of suction pumps and cranks to Renaissance engineers and scientists in Europe.

Al Jaziri’s work was almost entirely focused on improving working conditions and alleviating his fellow man’s heavy burden of labour, but he spent his whole life under the patronage of Sultans and princes, and we all know how princes and Sultans love their war machines! It’s speculated that al Jaziri did invent some weaponry, but unable to bear the thought of leaving such destructive machines to posterity, he had the plans suppressed or destroyed.

The characters of Lorcan Moorehawke and Razi Kingsson are, of course, inspired by al Jaziri’s story. Geniuses and good men, Lorcan and Razi want only to improve the world in which they live. But they are also men of their time, living in a world where violence is part and parcel of life, where strength trumps all and where the lines of good and evil are very very blurred indeed.

To live a life of subjugation
To live a life of subjugation

3/ Child soldiers, Thomas Pellow and Slavery

The brutal facts of life as a slave hardly need to be repeated here. Anyone who doesn’t consider slavery to be an offence, is not going to be convinced otherwise by me. But I challenge anyone to read the life of Thomas Pellow ( a 17thC man who was enslaved for many years.) or the many accounts of Africans enslaved in America, and then tell me they believe that any form of slavery can be benign or tolerable.

Inspired by these stories, it was important to me that the slavery in Moorehawke be depicted as realistically as possible. The effect of slavery on the human psyche is crippling and poisonous. To be a slave is to live a life completely subject to another’s will and whim – you are nothing but a tool, a toy or a weapon; those slaves who defy this definition of themselves are starved, or tortured or killed: full stop. There is no room for freedom in slavery and there is no room for defiance.

In contrast to the cliched ‘defiant and rebellious’ slave of literature, I wanted to be honest about the real compromises and sacrifices one would have to make in order to survive such a life – and the guilt and suppressed rage you might feel afterwards, should you be lucky enough to get free. Slavery still exists in all its many and terrible forms, to romanticise it, or to make it seem less complex than it is, would be wrong.

destroyed buddha statue-bamyan
Destroyed Buddha Statue

4/  Defaced Statues

One of the most powerful things that a dominant power can do is to destroy inconvenient history. If  people cannot look back and see themselves depicted in the stories or images of their past, then that past and their place in it is gone: forever.

Jonathan and Lorcan’s ruthless erasing of Alberon from history is – unfortunately – not that great a stretch of anyone’s imagination. All through the ages this has been a common tool used by an oppressor or an invasion force to confuse and destroy their opposition.

5/ Ghosts, Fortune Tellers, Banshees and Spirits

As I may have mentioned before I was raised with an unquestioning belief in ghosts, banshees and spirits. I had an aunt whose talent for fortune telling was down -right frightening; my husband’s grandfather claimed (in a story that would raise the hair on the back of snake’s neck) to have met a banshee; my paternal grandfather –  a most down-to-earth, scientifically minded man – saw the ghost of Wolf Tone ( or was it the ghost of the soldier who was on guard the night Tone was murdered? I always get that story wrong!) My mother received a message of comfort from her dead father at a seance, and I have personally witnessed someone I love describe dreams which have turned out to be premonitions.

What were the ghosts and prophetic dreams in Moorehawke inspired by? Well real life,of course. What else?

Catherine The Great
Catherine The Great

6/ Women Who Just Get On With It

I wrote Wynter as a woman of her time. I certainly didn’t take a 20th century girl, put her in a tunic and a pair of hose and have her wise-crack her way through a  rennaissance setting, putting those chauvinistic men in their places. Aside from Christopher – who comes from a people whose society is not divided on a gender basis – the men in Wynter’s life are paternalistic, cosseting and overly protective. Wynter accepts this as natural, and moves within the confines of it with the same skill and ease with which she handles the constraints and conventions of court life.

BUT she is also a woman of her time in that she is strong, independent, self willed and capable. Inspired by the five female blacksmiths who were working in England in 1574, or the many female carpenters and tailors and cobblers registered as full ‘guildsmen’ in the 14th and 15th centuries, or the many great female leaders all through history ( Boudica, Grainne Uáile**, Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great to name a few) Wynter is just one of the many women who has found a way to be who or what they needed, regardless of convention or circumstances.

There you have it! Six things that inspired me while writing Moorehawke!


*You can read Kate’s wonderful post HERE (and I suggest you do, it’s great)

** the historical Gráinne Úaile and not fictional Grainne, Pirate Queen of the Eires I refer to in The Rebel Prince.