When Sylvia sees something stir in the dark, shadowy corners of the studio where she paints, her world is changed forever. She finds herself staring straight through the neighbour's wall, and into the startled eyes of a young sculptor called Tom. What he doesn't realise is that she is not yet born; she is not due to be born for another fifty years. He would move mountains to get to her. He may have to.
A trio of separate sparks ignited the idea for my novel.
i) We moved into an incredibly draughty, old Yorkshire vicarage that was semi-attached to the next building, and I discovered the houses were originally designed with adjacent studios for neighbouring artists, in the late 1800s. The house was seething with shadowy inspiration, and whenever I walked through the studio, insistent voices would whisper. Tom and Sylvia didn’t give me any peace until I had written their story.
ii) While unpacking, I came across my Greek mythology book, and realised Tom was suffering a similar fate to Tantalus, who was punished for displeasing the gods by being tethered in deep water under fruit trees. Whenever he tried to drink or eat, the waters and fruits would recede, so he was eternally hungry and thirsty.
I remembered that the family firm of John Betjeman had named their lockable decanter frame Tantalus, as the precious liquor would be enticingly visible but impossible for servants to taste. This further delayed unpacking, while I unearthed his verse autobiography, Summoned By Bells, to validate my memory with his report of ‘stockrooms heavy with the Tantalus / On which the family fortune had been made.’
iii) Some weeks later, I was spellbound by my first sight of glistening marble mountains in the Apuan Alps, when we stayed in a Tuscan villa and drove to Lucca for the day. It was high summer and the sun blazed in a fierce blue sky… yet these mountains seemed thickly carpeted with snow. We took a detour to investigate, and discovered the ancient marble town of Carrara, dominated by mountains where Michelangelo had found his perfect stone. This provided the spark that finally ignited Tantalus: the Sculptor’s Story.
Much of the novel centres around Tom’s life as a sculptor, both in Yorkshire and Tuscany, and I gathered inspiration and information from several visits to Carrara, and my discussions with sculptors who trained and worked there. The food was pretty inspirational too!
‘After breakfast we’d go off for hours – roaming in olive groves, in orchards of hazelnut and walnut trees, through horse chestnut and beech woods, catching glimpses of deer and wild boar – and when we returned we ate simple feasts of beefy tomatoes, sun-warmed olives, ripe cheeses and thin slices of the local lardo: pig fat layered with garlic and rosemary, then cured in marble basins.’
A good deal of careful planning was necessary with this novel. Events from two different eras and timelines had to dovetail exactly, and this was complicated. I had a wallchart with long columns of dates, and these needed constant readjustment as the story progressed. It was important to be accurate, as Tantalus may fly to the edge of fantasy, but its feet are firmly planted in reality, with all dates and some events being taken from real life.
Tom and Sylvia happen to be separated by an impenetrable yet tantalisingly invisible wall of time, but this story explores the desperation of people who are forced apart; they could just as easily have been parted by barriers of race, place, creed or class, as they battle with unbreakable laws and unfulfillable yearnings. As both writer and reader, I find the slightly impossible rather irresistible.
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About the author
Jane Jazz has two daughters and is married to a keen fell runner, though she tends to just saunter. Having relocated from Yorkshire, they now live in rural Shropshire, where the view from her desk is best summed up by Ogden Nash: The cow is of the bovine ilk; one end is moo, the other milk. During her years as a commercial copywriter, press officer and journalist, Jane has written newspaper articles, magazine features, advertising copy, short stories, poetry and songs. She even wrote greetings card verses for a time, but (though ludicrously lucrative) it had to stop, as she was starting to think in rhyming couplets. For more information visit Jane’s website blog AuthorJaneJazz. You can also connect with her on Twitter and on Goodreads.