Truth and fiction – where do they meet for a writer of fiction, especially someone who writes historical novels? For me historical fact is often the spark that ignites my imagination and sets me off on a new story, as well as being indispensable in the writing – I may bend the facts a bit, but I try really hard to make sure what I write is historically accurate.
That research led to a serious reference book collecting habit (and to having to build a library in the garden to house them) and it has also spun over into writing non-fiction books – Walks Through Regency London, Walking Jane Austen’s London and Stagecoach Travel (the latest) so far. The Great North Road, the Georgian seaside and walks in Samuel Pepys’s London are next on the list to be done.
But I love that moment when I see or hear or touch something and I know it has dug into my subconscious and sooner or later it will become a story that I can weave around a hero and heroine of my own creating.
My new novel, Beguiled By Her Betrayer, is out this month and is set in Egypt. One of the joys of holidays for me is the opportunity for research and this book was inspired by a trip down the who used it as a pleasure steamer. Amongst his guests on board one winter was Agatha Christie, making notes for Death on the Nile. The boat that novel was filmed on is still operating on the Nile too.
I first got the idea for my Egyptian plot when we were in the temple of Philae and I saw graffiti in French, high up on the walls. I puzzled over why it was so high up and why it was in French? The more we looked in other temples, the more high-level French graffiti we found.
A bit of research revealed that the height was because many of the temples at the time were filled almost to the roof with sand. No archaeology as we understand it had been carried out and what lay under the sand was a mystery so anyone visiting would find themselves standing metres above the present floor level. The graffiti was in French because these were marks left by Napoleon’s scholars – Les Savants – who came to Egypt along with the army in 1798. They were stranded there, along with the troops, when Napoleon went back to France in August 1799 to seize power as Emperor and they continued with their researches which were eventually published as the first scholarly work on ancient Egypt.
They, and the army, were left in a dreadful position by Napoleon – the country was plague-ridden, they had virtually no supplies and when they wrote for help the Emperor promised to send them a shipload of clowns, comedians and actors to cheer them up!
This example of graffiti is at the temple of Philae. At the top it reads R F (République Française ) An. 7. This is the date in the Republican Calendar and translates to 1798. Below are names of some the French scholars and, possibly, their army escort.
I was so intrigued by what I found out about les savants that I knew I was gong to have to write about Egypt at this time. I wanted an English hero and heroine, and it took some thought before I discovered what Cleo Woodward was doing, deep in the desert, and why Quin Bredon, the man she is very right not to trust, is in Egypt tracking down Cleo and her scholarly father who may, or may not, be a spy.
I’d love to hear which places or historic events inspire you most and whether there are any you would love to read about as the setting for a novel. The author of one comment will win a signed copy of Beguiled By Her Betrayer.