I was once embraced by 007! Well, that’s not quite accurate. He wasn’t 007 at the time, though that came soon afterwards. Let me explain.
I always wanted to be an actress, so instead of university I went to drama school. Three years there, however, convinced me that there were better ways of spending my life than fighting tooth and nail for a corner in an already overcrowded profession – so I became a teacher instead. And that was how I found myself giving drama lessons to a young man by the name of Daniel Craig. I spotted the star quality right from the start, so when he left school I followed his subsequent career with interest as he climbed from relative obscurity to high profile performances on TV and film. It was when he was appearing on stage in a play called ‘A Number’ that I caught up with him in the flesh. He gave me a big hug and wrote in my programme ‘Thank you for setting me on my way. Lots of love, Daniel.’
So what has this got to do with The Story Reading Ape’s blog? Not a lot, except it gives you a bit of an insight into my background. I have always wanted to write. Even as a child I used to tell myself stories and when I was a student I started my first novel. It was the usual adolescent outpouring and I am glad to say it was only read by about three people! Then, in my twenties, I found my muse. I came across the books of Mary Renault and I was immediately enchanted. The novel that struck me most forcibly was ‘The King Must Die’, where Renault takes the myth of Theseus and shows how it might have had its origin in historical fact. That led me to researching the whole field of Greek mythology and to the books on the subject by Robert Graves. I was fascinated by the idea of the Great Mother Goddess who controlled every aspect of life, from conception through birth, maturity, death and resurrection through blood sacrifice. The myths led me on to researching the reality of Bronze Age Greece. I knew that archaeology had proved that Troy and Mycenae actually existed and so Agamemnon and the other heroes of the Iliad were probably real people. As I probed deeper I discovered a complex and vibrant society which possessed great power and riches. And yet at some point it was destroyed so completely that future generations came to believe that it was only a myth. How did that happen?
This was the question that gave me the inspiration for my story. The archaeological records show that over the space of about 100 years all the great cities of the Mycenaean Empire were razed to the ground. The first to go was Pylos on the west coast of Greece, the home of the legendary King Nestor, who features largely in the Iliad. When the site was excavated by Professor Carl Blegen he discovered a great many clay tablets incised with what was quite obviously writing, but in a script that no one could translate. More surprising still was the fact that similar tablets had been found in the ruins of Knossos on Crete, though until that time it had been believed that the Minoan people of Crete were unconnected with the Greeks of Mycenae. There were two types of script, which were given the names Linear A and Linear B. Eventually, Michael Ventris, John Chadwick and Alice Kober) succeeded in deciphering Linear B and discovered that the language was an early form of Greek. Most of the tablets were fairly boring, routine records of taxes paid and tribute received; but in the highest, and therefore the most recent, layers they told a different story. This layer was composed of the ash and debris from the destruction of the city and the tablets were orders: ‘Send watchers to the north coast;’ ‘Count all the chariots and repair any that need it’; even ‘requisition the bronze vessels from the temples to be melted down for weapons’. The people of Pylos knew that they were facing an attack – and when it came they were unable to withstand it.
So there was the beginning of my story. Now I needed a hero to take centre stage. In the works of the Greek writer Pausanias I found a genealogy of the House of Nestor. His eldest son, Antilochos, was killed at Troy, so the throne passed to the second son, Thrasymedes, and from him to his son Sillos, who was king when the city was attacked and destroyed. And Sillos had a young son, Alkmaion! So here was my hero. A young man, painfully aware that he is descended from a line of heroes and wondering if he will be able to live up to his heritage. A young man who will have to take on the burden of leading his people and trying to recapture his native land. I knew now where my story was going.
So I started to write, and when the book was finished I found an agent who loved it. But sadly he was never able to convince a mainstream publisher to take a chance on an unknown writer. So I put the book away under the proverbial bed and got on with having two children and my career as a teacher. Then one day I saw a small item in the Writers News. The Historical Novel Society was offering a prize for a short story. The prize was two weeks on a writing course on the Greek island of Kythira and one of the tutors would be Louis de Berniere. I had read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and loved it and I longed to be able to meet the author. I wrote a new story, based on the Greek myth of Odysseus and Circe, and I won the prize!
Encouraged, I took my novel with me to the island and Louis loved it and told me I must get it published! So THE LAST HERO finally saw the light of day – my firstborn, child of my heart, who I must now entrust to the mercy of a competitive world. Please give him a welcome and a fair hearing. He has a great tale to tell!