Mastodon The Writing Desk: Special Guest Post by Jane Johnson, Author of Court of Lions

22 June 2017

Special Guest Post by Jane Johnson, Author of Court of Lions

Available for pre-order on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Kate Fordham arrived in the sunlit city of Granada a year ago. In the shadow of the Alhambra, one of the most beautiful places on Earth, she works as a waitress serving tourists in a busy bar. She pretends she's happy with her new life – but how could she be? Kate's alone, afraid and hiding under a false name. And fate is about to bring her face-to-face with he greatest fear.


I first visited the Moorish palace-complex in Granada known as the Alhambra over twenty years ago and like everyone who walks beneath its graceful arches and gazes upon its serene pools and lacy, geometric stonework, fell under its spell. I never planned to write about it: I was just a tourist.

That was long before the Moors captured me, dragging me out of my comfortable London life to take up a new life in a remote mountain village in Morocco, much as they had my ancestor, Catherine Tregenna. It was in 2005 I first travelled to Morocco to conduct research for a novel about the Barbary corsairs and their depredations upon the Cornish coast in the 17th century. The research took place on the north coast, near Rabat: but somehow I ended up climbing the Lion’s Face on the Djebel Kest some 600 miles south and west, enduring an epic near-death experience on the mountain, and marrying a Berber tribesman. As you do.

Anyway, I won’t bore you with that here (you can read about all that on my website ) but suffice to say my new life in North Africa made me intensely curious about Moorish history and I set about reading voraciously. Three big Moroccan novels followed (The Tenth Gift, The Salt Road and The Sultan's Wife) before I decided to tackle the really big subject in Moroccan history: the fall of the kingdom of Granada, the last foothold of Islam on the Iberian peninsula in 1492, that great hinge-point in history, when Isabella and Ferdinand drove the Muslims out of Spain; when Columbus – flush with the spoils of the conquest – was dispatched on his epic voyage; and the Inquisition took root.

Tackling any big historical subject as a novelist always feels like climbing a mountain, especially since I start from a point of almost complete ignorance. You get to that point in the research when the amount and complexity of the information you’ve amassed threatens to crush you and you doubt whether you can find your way out from underneath. And that’s when I took a phone call that would change the shape of the book entirely. It was 2013 and the producer who was interested in making a film of The Sultan's Wife told me about a discovery by restorers in the Alhambra. While moving one of the great doors they had come upon a scrap of paper that had been hidden deep in the intricate latticework of the wood. It appeared to be an ancient love letter: but the provenance of the note and the identity of the scribe remain a mystery.

The movie deal sadly stalled but the story was a gift, and I remembered Lorca’s quote – “In Spain, the dead are more alive than the dead in any other country in the world”. And that got me thinking about how the past and present arc towards one another, and how love is an eternal force. And Court Court of Lions turned into quite a different book to the one I had originally envisaged, more than a straightforward retelling of history it became a thriller, a mystery, a romance in the grand tradition; and that was it: I was off up the mountain, soloing joyfully, leaping for crazy handholds and unlikely pinnacles.

I hope the enjoyment I had in writing it shines through and that readers will feel some of the mad energy that galvanised me as I sat on a balcony looking out over the Alhambra, with the scent of roses and jasmine in the air, sustained only by a massive pile of cherries bought in the market in the Albaicin, a jug of tinto de verano and a loaf of fresh bread, scribbling like a madwoman till I had wrestled the task into submission.

Jane Johnson
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About the Author

Jane Johnson is a British novelist, historian and publisher from Cornwall and has worked in the book industry for thirty years. She blogs regularly about writing, publishing and cooking Moroccan food (her husband is a Moroccan chef). In 2005 Jane was in Morocco researching the story of a family member abducted from a Cornish church in 1625 by Barbary pirates and sold into slavery in North Africa which formed the basis for The Tenth Gift, when a near-fatal climbing incident (which makes an appearance in The Salt Road) made her rethink her future. Jane says, 'i gave up my  office job in London, sold my flat and shipped the contents to Morocco. In October of that year I married Abdellatif, my own 'Berber pirate', and now we split our time between Cornwall and a village in the Anti-Atlas Mountains. I still work, remotely, as Fiction Publishing Director for HarperCollins and am the editor for (among others) George RR Martin, Sam Bourne, Dean Koontz, Robin Hobb, Mark Lawrence, Sam Bourne (aka Jonathan Freedland), SK Tremayne (aka Sean Thomas) and Raymond Feist.'  Jane was responsible for publishing the works of JRR Tolkien during the 1980s and 1990s and worked on Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, spending many months in New Zealand with cast and crew. She has also written several books for children. Find out more at Jane's website and follow her on Twitter @JaneJohnsonBakr. 

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