This month I thought you might like to know how my historical/adventure novel Pathway To The Gods came into being. A question many authors are asked is: “Where do you get your ideas?” With me, it’s either from a place I’ve visited or from a picture that sparks my interest. In my case, it was this one – an Arab man holding a falcon. I think this picture came from a magazine advertisement, but I cannot, for the life of me, remember what it was advertising! I use lots of pictures in my creative writing classes, and this was one that caught my attention. It was pinned to the noticeboard above my writing desk for months before I finally got down to thinking more about a story.
I love birds of prey: I’ve been on three different courses, one at a hotel in Dumfries where it was just me, the falconer and twelve different birds of prey on each of two days! And another where we learned how to make jesses (the leather straps to tether the birds) and how to fly the birds in a public demonstration. (You can read more about that here).
So, when I started my research into falconry in Saudi Arabia, I was happy to think I was about to write a story about birds of prey in the desert. How wrong that turned out to be!
As I was researching, I came across the mention of the frankincense trail – the route that camel caravans would take from the southern coast of Arabia, up the eastern coast of the Red Sea, to Petra and from there to the Roman Empire and beyond. We all know that the three wise men brought the infant Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. But that was really the extent of my knowledge of frankincense at that time. At some point, I asked myself: What, exactly, is frankincense? Once I started researching that, I was totally hooked. Frankincense took over from falcons.
I found out as much as I possibly could about frankincense – the resin from trees that only grow in southern Arabia and north-eastern Africa and that was worth as much as gold in the first century. This lovely book by Juliet Highet was invaluable in my research and was responsible for my subsequent trips to Oman!
Of course, I also had to research all aspects of life at that time – social, political, religious, familial and commercial. As I did, I started building up a picture of the lives of the frankincense growers, the workers and the traders. Gradually, ideas for distinct characters came to mind and that involved more research into the morals and mores of the time.
My protagonist, initially, was a young man, the son of a frankincense trader, who was also training to be a priest. But where was the conflict? Once again my story went off onto another track, and I settled on the young priest’s sister as my main character.
Nashwa al Jamal would provide all the conflict, charisma and character I needed.
Next month, I’ll tell you how I went about actually writing the book and the ever-continuing journey once the writing was finished.
If you’d like to read the story of another of the Wilbur Smith Unpublished Novel shortlisted authors, have a look at the Book and Website page.
Also this month: more writing prompts and three new competitions to keep you motivated.