Blog tour: Daughter of War by S.J.A. Turney
Today I’m working with Canelo to welcome S.J.A. Turney to The Bumbling Blogger to share some advice on reviving ancient locations in your writing. I’m so excited to be participating in the Daughter of War blog blitz and I’m so grateful to Turney for writing such a brilliant guest post.
Before I pass you over to him I’d like to tell you all about Daughter of War, the first book in the Knights Templar series.
An extraordinary, breathless story of the Knights Templar, seen from the bloody inside.
Europe is aflame. On the Iberian Peninsula the wars of the Reconquista rage across Aragon and Castile. Once again, the Moors are gaining the upper hand. Christendom is divided.
Amidst the chaos comes a young knight: Arnau of Valbona. After his Lord is killed in an act of treachery, Arnau pledges to look after his daughter, whose life is now at risk. But in protecting her Arnau will face terrible challenges, and enter a world of Templars, steely knights and visceral combat he could never have imagined.
She in turn will find a new destiny with the Knights as a daughter of war… Can she survive? And can Arnau find his destiny?
An explosive novel of greed and lust, God and blood, Daughter of War marks the beginning of an epic new series from bestseller S.J.A. Turney. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden and Matt Harffy.
If you’d like to learn more about Daughter of War, click on the cover to be taken to its Goodreads page.
Daughter of War was released on April 9th, so if you’re interested in reading it you can grab a copy now using my Amazon affiliate link. Alternatively, you can purchase a copy through Kobo, Google Books or Apple Books.
Now it’s time for me to pass you over to Turney…
Location, location, location?
Portraying vanished places in fiction.
This is something I find I have to do often and thoroughly in my novels. One of the issues with writing historical fiction with any level of realism or accuracy is having to work with the archaeological record. Sometimes the place that my tale hinges upon is a ruin. Sometimes it has gone completely and left no trace above ground. Sometimes, even its location is disputed, there is so little evidence.
I’ll give you prime examples from my work so far. Praetorian: The Price of Treason involves a chase across an aqueduct that connected the Caelian Hill in Rome with the Palatine. Of that stretch of the aqueduct I used, and the cistern attached, all that remains is a fragmentary ruin with four arches on the slopes of the Palatine. I had to extrapolate from that, using the terrain. In The Thief’s Tale, I had to work with the Nae Ekklasia Byzantine church in Istanbul, which was so thoroughly destroyed it left no visible remains and the city now covers the site. In Marius’ Mules 9, I dealt with the siege of Uxellodunum in Gaul, which is still a controversial location, with some placing it at modern Capdenac and others above the town of Vayrac (evidence is better for the latter, and I went with it.)
In Templar: Daughter of War, I hit a number of interesting problems with my principle location. The site was decided for me by history, for the story I wished to tell involved two real people and a real place, recorded in documents. The Templar monastery at Rourell in Catalunya, like the Nea Ekklasia I mentioned above, has left little evidence. In fact, it suffers a little from the same placing problem as Uxellodunum too. If you search for it online, and locate Rourell, you will find a small village at 41º13”N,1º13”E. At that site there is nothing to be found. In fact the site accepted to be that of the preceptory of Rourell is actually at the village of La Masó (or La Mesó), a mile to the north. The heart of this medieval village more or less equates to the vanished Templar monastery. And while the shape of the walled complex, its all-important church and surrounding ditch have all gone, there are tantalising fragments left that help to rebuild a picture of the place.
A single belltower stands detached from the later 19th century church. While the upper parts are of later work, the lowest portion is twelfth or thirteenth century, which would place it solidly within the Templar complex at the time. Similar age can be determined in odd doorways and walls of some houses, and the building adjacent to the new church displays a medieval arcade on one side, now blocked up, which might well, from its position, have been the chapter house attached to the church.
Using the streets and outlines of buildings is a common way to try and plot the location, shape and size of vanished structures, and between that and the remains I mentioned above, it is possible to begin reconstructing the Templar preceptory and seeing how it looked and functioned. This map by Joan Fuguet gives a great idea of what can be determined.
In addition to the fragments and layout of the monastery in the village of La Masó, there is another fascinating reminder of the Templars’ presence nearby. A quarter mile to the east, by the Francoli river, lies a ruined mill. While the majority of the upstanding remains are of a later date, the lower structures, including vaults, are of a date that matches the Templars’ control of the area. And since we know that the Order commonly exploited all resources in their lands, there is little doubt that this is a mill of Templar origin, corresponding to the monastery. So what we have is not only a preceptory that we can now picture and describe, but we can begin to build the agricultural surroundings of the place too. In fact, the mill is such an excellent location that I built it into the plot of the book purely for my own edification.
A more interesting question for me was one of plumbing. La Masó has no running water and is a quarter mile from the river. It may have had a well, which I portrayed in the book, but with monasteries in general, the toilets and washhouse were commonly placed over running water for obvious reasons. How, then, I wondered, did the Templars of Rourell flush their latrine? To not do so would be unfeasible, after all. The answer came when I researched the subject in depth and found the abbey of Saint-Hilarie in Provence. At that fascinating abbey, running water was occasioned by the clever use of sloping channels and sluice gates from a water tank. In that amazing discovery, I knew how I could describe even the plumbing of Rourell.
So there we have it. From a beginning of finding that the monastery was not even located at the place that bears its name, through the finding of a few fragments of stonework and the shape of the streets, right down to comparing the place with other abbeys, it was possible to completely rebuild the monastery in the mind’s eye. From nothing, I produced a working, realistic Templar preceptory in the novel.
Presto. A dead site comes to life.
A huge thanks to S.J.A. Turney, for sharing such a detailed description of the process which he undertakes to write such historically accurate novels.
About the author:
S.J.A. Turney is an author of Roman and medieval historical fiction, gritty historical fantasy and rollicking Roman children’s books. He lives with his family and extended menagerie of pets in rural North Yorkshire.
You can follow S.J.A. Turney on Twitter.
Once again, I’d like to thank Canelo for inviting me to participate in the Daughter of War blog blitz, and to S.J.A. Turney for writing a brilliant post.
Which ancient location would you like to revive in your writing? I’d definitely choose Pompeii: the city absolutely fascinates me.