The journey of a thousand miles starts from beneath your feet.
Tao te Ching, Verse 64
There is a similarity between historical writing and travel writing. Both are about journeys: one is a journey back in time, the other a journey of the present. I am both a historical and a travel writer. I write about my travels while I am researching my historical fiction.
The historical fiction writer in me was born when I was twelve years old. Our family traveled across Canada by train, a long journey from the gentle hills and maple forests of Ontario, across the wide expanse of sun-dried flat lands and yellow wheat fields of the Prairies, through the densely forested wilderness of the majestic Rocky Mountains to the lush green shores of the Pacific Ocean. My life was transformed on that journey. I imagined how it must have been to be a pioneer, and I became one of them, an explorer who forever after wanted to know what was over the next mountain.
I began to write about the pioneers’ lives. Everything I wrote came out of my imagination, sparked by that train trip across Canada. Later, encouraged by my father who was a Baptist minister, I began writing stories with a Biblical theme, set in the Holy Land and ancient Rome. At sixteen, I was introduced to a historical character who would have a profound influence on my future as a historical-fiction writer. The legendary life of Alexander the Great caught my interest. Before graduation, I had written a novel with an Alexander theme. Thus began my quest in search of Alexander.
My keen interest in Greek history eventually took me to Greece. I wanted to see the places I was writing about and try to get in touch with the ‘spirits’ of my characters. When I graduated from high school I had worked in the editorial department of a newspaper, and had some journalism background so I used these skills to write about my travels. The first travel article I submitted, about a visit to Leros, Greece, was published. This gave me the incentive to launch a new ‘career’ as a travel writer which has led to me teaching classes in Travel Writing, Novel Writing and Creative Writing.
My journey in Alexander’s footsteps took me around Greece and Asia Minor and I returned there often for research trips. For several years I lived in Greece while I was writing and researching SHADOW OF THE LION. I have been privileged to research at libraries in Athens and have visited many sites, making contact with Classical Scholars and archaeologists. While traveling for research I always look for angle for a travel article as well. I have visited Istabul, Ephesus, Bodrum (ancient Halicarnassus) and Fetiye, Turkey (site of the fabled Lycian tombs). In Greece I went to Aristotles’ school, the Nymphaion, at Mieza near Naoussa, where Alexander and his Companions spent two years studying philosophy and the sciences. I’ve been to Pella, the Macedonian royal city, and the royal tombs at Aigai. At Dodoni, in Epirus there is an oak tree growing in the same place one grew when Olympias lived there. I even went to the Necromanteion, the oracle of the dead. In Athens, I love to explore the ancient agora, paying particular interest to the various public buildings where political affairs were held during Alexander’s time. In Pireaus, at a place called Munichia, overlooking Zea, I found the place where the Macedonians had a large garrison.
It was important for me to get the correct setting details for my novel.While visiting these locations, I tried to capture the essence of the countryside, use sensory details, and attempt to get in touch with the spirits of the people who populate the novel. This helps place the reader at the scene, makes the characters more dimensional, and draws the arm-chair traveler into the story.
Not only does it take imagination, but discipline, and a great deal of planning and research when you write historical fiction. Accuracy is important. I like to spend some quite time in these places, to let the Muse speak, to absorb the essence of each place as I recreate the world I am writing about.
“A traveller has a right to relate and embellish his adventures as he pleases…”
Rudolph Erich Raspe 1737-1794 “Travels of Baron Munchausan.”