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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Influences and seed for The Roman's Virgin Mistress

Twyla Tharp in her wonderful book The Creative Habit speaks about seeds or influences. Basically she makes the point there are no new ideas under the sun. Get over it and think about the combination of ideas to make something your very own. Ideas and seeds for books never come from just one place. Tharp also makes the point that if one keeps going back to the same source, the well rapidly runs dry and creativity ceases.
So what are the influences that I know about for The Roman's Virgin Mistress.
Tom Holland's book Rubicon, in particular his chapter on Baiae and its contribution to the fall of the Republic first made me want to write about this city. I wanted to write about it since I wrote GH. Regular readers will know that I wrote two other books between GH and TRVM. These books have yet to appear in the North American Market.
I was particularly intrigued by the role of the Queens of Baiae, the society hostesses who controlled the access to power. Unlike Rome, women were far more in the ascendancy here. Baiae had this very loose reputation. More divorces had happened on the sands of Baiae than anywhere else for example.
Catullus's poems to his Mistress also provided some inspiration. But I did not think and still not think I could write a jaded woman without any morals. ( I may to try sometime as a challenge) I wanted something else.
Then I happened to read again about Anna Nicole Smith and her fight against her late husband's son for her inheritance. This made me wonder what if -- my heroine was more sinned against than sinning and simply notorious for having married. I had a heroine that I could work with. And yes, I know the virgin widow is a stock character, but I like to think that I made Silvana a bit different. It is also a sordid fact of life that many women have been married to old men. Catherine Howard and Henry VIII is another example. Was that marriage actually consummated? By the time Henry VIII married Katharine Parr, Katharine is simply a nurse.
The book The World of Lady Jane Grey also I suppose was an influence as it shows quite clearly the sort of precarious world Katharine Parr lived in.There is no guarantee that had he lived, Katharine Parr would have been Henry III's last wife.
Also was an unconsummated marriage a real marriage and would the wife have right to inherit? What if she needed to inherit? What complications would being a virgin then cause? So I had my heroine or at least an idea of how I could make her. And I know some people groan at the thought but the character really intrigued me. What would it be like to have everyone think you are a whore and to know that you are not, but because of other considerations, you did not dare say.
But what about my hero and my premise.
Why would any one want to get involved with Silvana? And how could it be made worse?
Baiae was the sort of place that made men and destroyed them. I wanted my hero to be of the establishment and someone for whom being involved with Silvana would be fraught with peril.
I knew also that I wanted Baiae to resemble the Regency. There are far more obvious similarities with the Regency time period than say with the Medieval time period, or even the Celtic period. There are plenty of parallels with our own period. I happened to be rereading Faro's Daughter when things fell into place. Excellent book by the way. Read it if you haven't.
What if I used a senator who had to disentangle his young nephew from the clutches of this Society presumed whore? It is an excellent stock in trade premise and one that Roman themselves used ad nauseum -- upright and often uptight man being charged with getting rid of undesirable woman discovers she is actually not as she seems and falls in love to the dismay of his family. These sort of stories were notorious for deus ex machina by the way. The normal situation was for a god or goddess to appear and revel that the woman in question had been mixed up at birth or to hand her a large fortune or whatever.
As an aside: a fun thing to do sometimes is to see if you can up with the basic premise for a story and see what fable/fairy tale/myth/saga it relates back to. There are no new premises under the sun, just twists on old ones. A good working knowledge of folklore and myth is a useful thing. Ovid's Metamorpheses is a good place to start.
There are other seeds as well, I know Fortis's reaching out of his hand at the very start was inspired by the movie of Howl's Moving Castle. I loved Christain Bale's voice in that movie and he helped to inspire Fortis. I wanted someone who had been through the mill and had a reason to protect his reputation, but who also knew the score, knew how Baiae operated.
And if I think I am sure there were other seeds. But hopefully will give you some idea of the main influences. The ideas really come from everywhere but it is the combo that makes them your own.

1 comment:

India said...

This is brilliant Michelle-- I find it so fascinating how you take modern-day issues and relate them back to your period, seeing them through the eyes of the time.

I'm so, so looking forward to making a start on the book-- it's sitting tantalisingly on my bedside table waiting for The Deadline to pass!