28 January 2012

Inspiration for writing: Queen Sacrifice

Members of the Brigantia Iron Age Celtic Re-enactment
Society helping me find authentic inspiration

Have you ever imagined what it must be like for a game of chess to be truly brought to life, with a whole country for the board and each piece a very real person with hopes and fears, strengths - and weaknesses?

I live in west Wales and was born not far from Pembroke Castle (where King Henry VII was born and grew up to found the Tudor dynasty), so I have always been interested in the history of the area.  The early history relies heavily on the accounts of Roman and Norman invaders, as well as the writings of Gerald of Wales (who was born at Manorbier on the coast close to where I am now).  These accounts are of course from a particular perspective - and even Gerald was the son of one of the most powerful Anglo-Norman barons of Wales.

As I read of 10th century kings, battling violently for control of the country, I realised that they had bishops for advisors and some of the earliest knights, supported by ‘bondsmen’ over whom they held the power of life and death.  Something suddenly ‘clicked’ in my mind and the war for Wales reminded me of a huge game of chess.

There are hundreds of chess based novels – who can forget the sinister fascination of reading Alice Through the Looking Glass where Alice found herself in the role of a pawn?   Most are about the players and the tactics, so I decided to choose a famous game, then develop a ‘cast’ of characters for each piece and make sure the narrative faithfully followed every single move.

My choice was the queen sacrifice game, known as "The Game of the Century" between Donald Byrne and 13-year-old Bobby Fischer in New York City on October 17th, 1956.  I found a book by the Russian chess grand master Lakov Neishtadt, who describes the sacrifice of the queen for higher interests as “a source of continuing fascination for the chess novice and master alike.”

Pembroke Castle in the 10th Century! 
There were some problems, of course. I needed to identify four castles for the ‘rooks’ but setting it in the 10th century meant that most of the wonderful castles that surround me were actually wooden hill forts.  I visited Pembroke Castle to research its history - and was amazed to find a perfect model of what it would have looked like in the 10th century on display!

Also, my ‘cast’ only included two women - and one of those would definitely not make it to the end of the story.  I therefore created a few ‘supporting roles’ for women, such as the White Queen’s handmaiden, who always travelled with her and the Bishop’s housekeeper (with whom he had a bit of history.)

Although it was very tempting, I deliberately avoided knowing the moves until I had already developed the characters.  This worked well, as when I started following the moves I had to ‘kill off’ some of my favourites, which was really made me work hard on the narrative.

I really enjoyed researching and writing Queen Sacrifice and found that strange sense of loss that some authors may recognise once it was finished.  I have published it on Amazon as an ebook and paperback, where it has already started selling in the US as well as the UK


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