Mastodon The Writing Desk: Guest Post ~ TOBIAS, by Prue Batten

5 June 2016

Guest Post ~ TOBIAS, by Prue Batten

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Byzantium stretches a weakening grip across Eastern Europe, trying to hold onto all that has made it an empire. Tyrian purple, the unique dye that denotes its power, is held under close guard by the imperial house. However a Jewish merchant from Venice has sourced an illegal supply and Tobias the dwarf minstrel and his twin brother, Tomas, begin a dangerous journey to retrieve the purple and deliver it into the merchant’s eager hands. But is this supply as secret as they hoped? Trade is cut throat, men are expendable, money is power and Constantinople provides the exotic backdrop during a time of scimitars and shadows.

This is Tobias – the story of a minstrel and a broken life…

When I received an invitation from Tony via Facebook to guest on his blog, I was enormously chuffed as he’s a writer I admire. I was asked to talk about my latest release, Tobias, a book that’s ostensibly about twelfth century Europe and Byzantium, and what inspired me to write it.

In the first instance it was trade. In reading about the development of trade as we move through the Middle Ages, when Venice, Pisa and Genoa are competing against each other for trading rights, names began to have a curious effect upon me. Names like olibanum, cinnamon, salt, alum and frankincense. Cloth like silk and wool. Colours like pers, brunete, echiqueles and cramoisy. Cities like Venice, Genoa, Marseille, Lyon and Constantinople. Quite simply, the hairs stood on my neck, things resonating, and I knew that I just had to write a series where my characters were sunk amongst the shadowy and whispering folds of twelfth century trade.

Tobias was a hard book to write for two reasons – the first being that Toby has achondroplasia. Simply put, he’s a dwarf, more correctly a Little Person. I knew nothing about achondroplasia and the way an individual is affected in daily life by the strictures of the condition. So first and foremost, in order to make Toby an entirely ‘real’ character, I made contact with an American blogger whose son has the condition ( ). She talks about exactly those difficulties and she helped me greatly by attempting to overlay the demands of twelfth century life with the physical condition.

The second issue was that a vast tract of the story was set in Constantinople and much of the archaeology of the time was destroyed in the Fourth Crusade and the later Ottoman invasion. But I’ve never been known to take things lying down and I discovered a brilliant 3-D rendition of the city at that time – and it became Tobias’ and my GPS as we walked arm in arm through the city, finding places that would be settings for Toby’s dramatic tale.

Tobias as a main character was never meant to be; he was a mere secondary character in a previous series, The Gisborne Saga. But my editor liked him and was convinced he had a deep tale to tell. I asked Toby and he agreed that he had the story to end all stories – a true chanson de geste! It’s emotive, one that tugs at heartstrings and I like the idea that Tobias might either sing about his own life (he is a minstrel) across the halls of Europe, or indeed that his chanson will be sung to entertain not just noblemen, but the common man.

He’s since become a part of a series that is called The Triptych Chronicle. A triptych is defined in the OED as A set of three associated … literary … works intended to be appreciated together’. The series will be about three connected characters, in that they all share the same employer, a man with a developing trading company, and they all know each other well. But like each of the painted panels on a triptych, their stories can be appreciated as semi-standalones. The three will round out my involvement with twelfth century Europe and Byzantium for the foreseeable future.

So far, Tobias has charmed people like Christian Cameron (‘Authentic characters and a twisting plot move this tale to a gripping end’.), SJA Turney (‘An atmospheric journey through the seedy underbelly of medieval Europe.’) and Ann Swinfen ‘A powerful tale of violence, treachery and intrigue…’) who have reviewed it well. It was recently awarded a coverted indie award – a gold medal from Indie B.R.A.G. (USA) 2016 and was a semi-finalist in the M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction 2016 (UK).

I am now well sunk into Book Two of the series, entitled Guillaume, and Tobias has just returned to the story. I’m so glad, as he is one of my greatest friends and I would have hated never to see him again…

Tony, thanks so much for inviting me to be your guest. I love thinking about the background to writing a novel. It anchors one back to one’s foundations. Cheers!

Prue Batten
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About the Author

A former journalist from Australia who graduated with majors in history and politics, Prue became an award-winning cross genre writer who enjoys creating fiction from history and fantasy.
She lives on an island to the south of the mainland continent, a place called Tasmania, and is a farmer, a dog owner, a gardener and embroiderer, a swimmer and a kayaker. Find out more at Prue''s website and find her on Facebook and Pinterest.

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