Sunday, 11 December 2016

What Prue Batten learnt whilst writing Guillaume

The latest author in the "What I Learnt..." series is Prue Batten. Prue has written fantasy novels in the past, but in recent years has become a successful historical novelist, first with her Gisborne Saga trilogy, and now with her spin-off series, the Triptych Chronicle. I reviewed the first of that series, Tobias, earlier in the year. The latest of her novels is Guillaume, which is set in twelfth century Lyon. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak of it and here is what I thought:
"With her customary elegant use of language, Prue Batten plunges us effortlessly into the mercantile houses, twisted alleys and secret shadowy tunnels of medieval Europe. Guillaume is a riveting tale of twelfth century trade, treachery and intrigue."

So read on, and find out a little of what Prue learnt while writing this great novel.

What Prue Batten learnt whilst writing Guillaume

1. The secrets of Lyon.

I had no idea! In the twelfth century it was a sophisticated town built on its strong Roman foundations, foundations that contained labrynthine tunnels snaking upward from the Saône to the centre of the town. The very placement of these tunnels (called traboules) gave any users quick access to and from the river. For merchants, an added bonus – goods could be carted from barge to warehouse without being seen, giving wily traders an edge in the marketplace. Once I discovered the traboules in my reading, the next step was to secure information of their condition and usage in the twelfth century. There’s barely a time in Lyon’s history where the traboules haven’t been used. Even to WWII. (But that’s another story.)

For me, I had a location for murder and mayhem in the twelfth century.

2. Did the Reformation really happen in the 16th Century? Or was it much earlier? Perhaps in the 12th Century?

Called the Waldensian movement later in history, it began with the wealthy merchant, Pierre Vaudès. Vaudès became a reformist thinker and gave up his wealth in favour of following a simple path based on the Gospels. He had parts of the Bible translated to the Lengua Romana, so that the common man might understand that God’s love was not dependent on money, images and plenary indulgences. His preachers, of which there were many, became known as Sandalati because of their simple footwear. But more particularly they were known as The Poor Men of Lyon. The Church declared the Sandalati heretics, and the preachers and followers were forced into hiding in fear of their lives, eventually leaving France for the hidden valleys of Piedmont and giving the world a simple reformist philosophy long before Martin Luther.

This gave me an interlacing plotline…

3. That it is entirely possible to include the loveliest poetry and music in a novel.

I love the inclusion of relevant poetry and music from the times in which a novel is set. Dorothy Dunnett was iconic with her usage of the device. One of my characters is a minstrel, a poet and an aesthete. He allows me to make use of other word-forms and thus it was that I was able to use the beautiful ninth century poem, Pangur Bàn about a white cat and a monk. I sourced the online translation by Robin Flowers and when Guillaume, Tobias and Adam stay at the small priory of Pommiers en Forez, they are cared for by Brother Hugo, who has a white cat.

I also read about the most emotive piece of music this year, Carmina qui Quondam. As it dates from the eleventh century, I felt it would most definitely appeal to a minstrel of Tobias’ standing. And I included other song lyrics from the times as well.

These were indulgences in the writing of Guillaume, but like the colour in stained glass, I hope they add to the novel’s depth.

4. I learned a new word – one that resonated and one that I just had to use in my novel.

This year, I purchased a wonderful book called Landmarks, by Robert Macfarlane. Essentially a list of colloquial words to describe landscape, for me it was like discovering precious gems. One word stood out – ‘endragoned’ – first coined by Gerard Manley Hopkins to describe a roiling sea. Could I use this word? Why not if I acknowledged its provenance? Thus:

‘They entered the hall – a wave of sound rolling toward them like an endragoned sea crashing upon rocks. Nothing but men’s voices, a grumbling roar that made one search for the soft ameliorating face of any woman at all…’

Macfarlane’s book is a true treasure and I don’t think this will be the last time I use it.

But I learned many other things during this year of writing. Research fills one’s mind with such things as one creates the framework for historical novels. All providing layers and dimension for one’s story.

Thank you, Matthew, for allowing me to reveal four special ones.

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