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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Saturday, September 24, 2005

boy reader to man writer

When I was a kid, the two literary genres that appealed to me most were science-fiction and fantasy. At different times I wanted to write each of these.

First was science-fiction. I was reading this certainly by grade 4. (I remember reading a book called Assignment in Space the cover of which featured a two-man mini-spacecraft blowing up as it was hit by a hostile ray-gun, and being surprised when a classmate named Heather asked to borrow it from me.) But no, I was reading it earlier: grade 3. I remember taking a book out of the school library called Countdown at Woomera, and the red-haired librarian Miss Valentine making me read a passage out loud to prove I had enough reading skill to borrow it. (I did.) I was also reading sci-fi by Lester del Rey. I believe grade 3 is also when I first read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne--a book I'd wanted to read because my father had read it several times as a boy.

For me fantasy, other than children's-literature stories such as those by A.A. Milne or Hans Christian Andersen, began when, in grade 5, I finally gave in to my school friend Lee's urging to read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. It was a revelation. I'd been expecting a childish kiddie-story about cute little elfish creatures, and what I got was a kind of blood-and-guts epic, with real killing! I loved projecting myself into the imaginary world of the story, living a kind of movie of it in my mind. I had to admit to Lee that the book really was good.

Also back then I became drawn to the stories of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. The idea of an era of chivalry, existing in a magic kind of never- or always-land, stirred something deep in me. I wanted to bring majestic, magic worlds to life. I loved the idea of groups or teams of characters--knights having separate adventures, and occasionally reconnecting with each other. Especially the idea of a mission, in which a number of heroes fans out on separate parts of the overall task, each doing his bit to bring a larger vision into being. I really liked the show Mission: Impossible for this reason.

Exactly this inspiration has led to my current work, called The Mission, and featuring four protagonists, each of whom has his own story, his own heroic adventure, and yet each of whom provides a vital strand in a story that overshadows them all. I have dug down to what inspired me as a boy, when I was first learning what I really loved in storytelling, and am doing my best to serve up what that boy would want as an adult reader. I'm trusting that the mythic core of that inspiration is valid and true: that it is saying something to the current generation of readers, even if I can only guess at what that is.

Not a fantasy, but a vividly imagined past: an epic, fictionalized history. I hope to enjoy reading it, anyway.

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