Today I would like to welcome to Floor to Ceiling Books one Colin Falconer, whose novel SILK ROAD will be published on 1st October by Corvus Books.
Colin Falconer was born in North London. He drove cabs and played guitar in dark bars before joining an advertising agency. He went on to work for many years as a television and radio scriptwriter, and as a freelance journalist before becoming a full time novelist. His work has been published around the world and translated into seventeen languages. He lived for many years in WA, where he raised two daughters with his late wife, Helen. When writing, he also volunteered with the local ambulance service, describing the experience as "I'd be at my desk typing, then thirty minutes later I’d be crawling into an overturned car.”
He travels extensively to research his novels and his quest for authenticity led him to run with the bulls in Pamplona, pursue tornadoes across Oklahoma, go cage shark diving in South Africa and get tear gassed in a riot in La Paz. To research SILK ROAD he traveled through China along the real Silk Road, a trip that involved Chinese dog smugglers, projectile vomit and faulty steering rods while negotiating U-bends on sheer cliffs. He currently lives in Australia. Find out more about Colin on his website http://www.colinfalconer.net/
And this is the blurb about SILK ROAD:
1260 AD: Josseran is a Christian Knight Templar haunted by a shameful past. Hoping to find redemption in a dangerous crusade from Palestine to Xanadu, he sets out to form a crucial allegiance against the Saracens at the legendary court of Kubilai Khan – the seat of the Mongol Empire.
Instead he finds solace in a warrior-princess from a heathen tribe. Beautiful and ferocious, Khutelun is a Tartar, a nomadic rider of the Mongolian steppe. Although their union is impossible, she finds in him what she cannot find in her own. Parched by desert winds, pursued by Saracen hordes, and tormented by passion,
Josseran must abandon Khutelun if he is to complete his journey, arriving in
Xanadu just as the greatest empire in history plunges into civil war. Winding through the plains of Palestine and over the high mountains of the Hindu Kush, from the empty wastes of the desert to the golden palaces of China, Silk Road weaves a spellbinding story of desire, conflict and human frailty onto a
tapestry of the medieval orient.
Finally, I am pleased to bring you Colin Falconer's guest blog:
I think it was Steve Martin who said, after finishing a screenplay: “I think I did it pretty well, seeing as I only started out with a bunch of blank paper.”
I started out with the picture of a camel silhouetted against a desert sunset.
I have always had a fascination for the Silk Road, the spirit of romance and adventure that it conjures. It inspires visions of caravanserais, camel trains, and ancient Cathay.
But a great setting does not make a story; though it does help to set it up. All fiction is about conflict and what was immediately obvious to me was that if I put two western Christians on the Silk Road in the thirteenth century I would be putting two worlds into collision. For a Dominican friar and a French warrior knight to travel to China in 1260 would be the equivalent today of you or I going to Alpha Centauri and meeting alien life for the first time.
Both my western protagonists were defined by the superstitions of their age – they actually thought they would meet ants as big as horses on the way – and also by their religion. The Inquisition had been established just thirty years before and western Europe was about to enter an age when free philosophical thought would be violently and ruthlessly suppressed. And now here were my two protagonists meeting Buddhists, Tibetan lamas, Mongol shamans and Confucians, face to face.
It would only do, of course, that my two protagonists cannot stand each other; one is a terrifyingly orthodox Dominican friar, the other a young French nobleman who has been a very, very bad boy in the past.
Now, I thought; we’re getting somewhere. The story was taking shape in my mind. As a novelist I search out conflict; not just people fighting each other in battles, which is exciting sometimes, but not always that interesting; I also look for conflict of thought and ideas and even better, people tormented by their own conflicts.
By now it was time to add two more characters. Researching the Tatar Mongols was enlightening in many ways. I discovered that they themselves were also in conflict at the time; my priest and my knight arrived in the middle of a civil war between Khubilai Khan and the elected khan in Qaraqorum. This was a war not just about power, but about the very philosophy of what it meant to be a Mongol. This race of horseback warriors had conquered Asia and Arabia and significant parts of western Europe. The empire they had built was staggering. What would they do with all that power?
Then I looked at the conflicts taking place on a tribal level; in doing so, I found that I could invest a female character with conflicts and opportunities few western women at the time would face. When I was at school, I was led to believe the Mongols were savages. But they enjoyed a rich nomadic culture and thought themselves enlightened. They believed westerners to be barbaric and weak, and despised them.
I found their shamanistic beliefs intriguing. They shared many spiritual values with the indigenous peoples of North and South America.
The women had far more personal freedoms than their western counterparts. They were expected to ride and to hunt, would even be accepted as shamans to the tribe. More, they had a voice in who they would marry. (I have described in the book how one of their customs allowed the woman to exercise that choice – very painfully for the man!)
Khutelun remains for me a fascinating character; the question I asked of her and Josseran is still relevant today: do we all have a soul mate? And what if we find them and they are a totally impossible choice?
But this was still not enough. Khutelun fascinated me so much that I wanted to see what she might have become if she had her choices taken away from her. So I researched Khubilai Khan, and discovered that this legendary Tatar khan had allowed his own daughters to be raised in the Chinese tradition. While Khutelun rode a horse before she could stand, Khubilai’s daughters had their feet bound and in fact could barely walk. Instead of hunting wild boar, they was primped and painted and cosseted away in his golden pagodas.
This is how Miao-yen was born in my mind; in her heart she wanted to be a Tatar, not a Chin. More conflict.
By this stage I reckoned I had a good novel in the works; everyone was faced with stark and impossible choices, and I found ways to raise the stakes and make it even worse for them. These dramas would be played out against a magnificent changing backdrop of Asian mountains and deserts.
I even discovered that Coleridge’s legendary Xanadu was not just opium-inspired fantasy. There was such a place, Shang-tu, just north of modern-day Beijing; it was once Khubilai’ Khan’s summer capital, and contemporary descriptions exist.
So now I had enough to start planning my novel. What I wanted to ask my reader was: what do you think? Is all religion and philosophy a result of intellectual conviction or just an accident of birth? And why do we choose the people we love - would you have made the same choices Josseran and Khutelun made?
And what is the nature of good and evil? (with some help from my Dominican friar.)
I experienced a real sense of achievement when it was done. Like Steve Martin said: I like to think I did all right, seeing as I only started out with a camel silhouetted against a sunset!
Thanks so much, Colin, for stopping at Floor to Ceiling Books!