So the question is: Exactly why did I start writing about Andalusia, and Moorish Spain in particular? I introduced this in part 1 of this post, but didn’t give any reasons why. Here they are.
Some years ago, probably around 2010 or 2011, I was sitting at home with my wife and two children when an idea for a book came to me. I have no idea where it came from, but I said, out of the blue: “Has anyone ever written a detective mystery set in Moorish Spain?”
They looked at me like I was crazy, and perhaps I was. But that germ of an idea stuck. I did a little research and found nothing that matched the idea I had in my head, an idea that grew and grew, until in the end it wasn’t going to be one book but ten.
Each would be set during one year between 1482 – 1492. I’ll explain the time period in a moment. Each book features Thomas Berrington, an orphaned Englishman with a past, who has trained as a surgeon in al-Andalus and acts as physician to the Sultan of Granada. He is asked to investigate a series of murders.
Alongside Thomas is the six-foot eunuch Jorge, Watson to Thomas’s Holmes, an unlikely pairing but one that works. Jorge gets far more fan mail than Thomas ever does.
And the ten year period? Soon…
First, some people know, but many do not, that from 771AD Islamic invaders from North Africa moved swiftly throughout Spain. So swiftly, and so successfully, that within a short period of time they reached as far as Poitiers in France before being stopped, or perhaps deciding to stop.
For centuries all but small enclaves of the Iberian peninsula remained in Moorish hands. Only from the 11th Century onward did Spain begin to push the Moors back from the inland areas until at the end only a small but significant enclave remained. Al-Andalus. Protected on three sides by mountains, and on the fourth by the sea. It remained a beacon of culture in a Europe only slowly emerging from first the Dark Ages and subsequently petty wars and infighting.
This came to an end on January 1st 1492 when King Fernando and Queen Isabel walked through the exquisite gates of the Alhambra palace to accept the surrender of Abu Abdullah, Muhammed XIII, Sultan of Granada. It brought to an end the rule of Islam in Spain.
On January 2nd Christopher Columbus entered the palace seeking a final approval for funds to forge a new route to the Indies. He was turned away, only to stop at the gates and return. The rest, as they say, is history. In my version of history, it is Thomas Berrington who meets him at the gate and persuades Columbus to try again. That scene came with that initial idea for the series.
Without the decades’ long struggle by Spain against the Moors, which honed their fighting skills into arguably the finest soldiers in Europe, Columbus’s journeys and the conquest of the Americas would have been a very different thing.
This is the world in which I chose to set my books. Those last ten years of chaos and despair for the Moors, those ten years of growing exultation for the Spanish. A time of war, deceit and stupidity. Much like all wars.
So far I have finished five of the episodes, with five more to come.
There is a lot of history to cover.
And I have discovered that other writers have also fallen in love with this time period. It came as both a shock and revelation how others could forge such different books from the same material I was working.
I’m going to cover each of their work in more detail in future posts and ask them to guest blog along the way, but you can follow the links from their names here to find out more and read what are excellent additions to this small genre of Historical fiction. I will leave you, until the next time, with Joan Fallon, Lisa Yarde and John D. Cressler.
Next time I’m going to write about how we ended up living part-time in Spain, and some of the frustration and joy we discovered.