How it all began

I was a very literary and historically-minded youngster, reading about centuries that came before my own while many of my contemporaries were out flirting with the opposite sex at parties and listening to the music riding high on the then-current pop charts, on things that passed for iPods in that time.

I had written stuff before I wrote “The Heritage of Clan”, LOTS of stuff, but much of it was quite a bit shorter – short stories, and poetry. The novel I had written prior to writing “Clan” (I think I was eleven) was very much a practice one, something to pretty much prove to myself that I could write something novel-length, but it was also inevitably a sort of homage to the writers I had been reading while writing it, hopelessly derivative, and it is probably just as well it doesn’t survive.

The difference with “Clan” came when I suddenly crossed a very important bridge – I became aware that it was possible to be INSPIRED by something, whether someone else’s fiction or something that actually happened, and the product of that inspiration could turn out to be something that was quite different from the underlying material, something wholly mine… something ORIGINAL.

The historical inspiration that underlay “The Heritage of Clan” was the city-state that was once known as the Republic of Ragusa – today better known as Dubrovnik, on the Dalmatian coast of the Adriatic Sea.

Ragusa was a fascinating medieval muddle which caught my entire attention as soon as I discovered it. Here’s a summary of the sort of thing I found.

Scroll down a little bit, until you come to the sections entitled “Government” and “Patriarchal Families”.

There was a social order here, rigid and unbending – the ultimate Immovable Object. You were born into a social class, and you died in it – intermarriage (and any interaction possibly leading to such) between classes was wholly forbitdden. You simply could not, being born plebeian, cross into the high strata of the patrician classes – it was quite simply impossible, to the point that it would not even occur to anyone to want it.

Into this stratified society came a catastrophe that had an apocalyptic effect on the world as these people knew it – the big earthquake of 1667.

The earthquake levelled large parts of the city – and more importantly it decimated the aristocracy to the point that it became untenable for it to continue as the ruling class. Its numbers had simply been reduced too dramatically. So the Immovable Object had to bend – or, perhaps, if you choose to look at it that way, break – before the Irresistible Force that was the earthquake. New families were accepted into the aristocracy at this point, simply because they HAD to be – but there were two factions in the patrician circles concerning this event.

One faction accepted the inevitable, and bowed to it, and presumably began treating the new families as equals fairly quickly – because, as things stood, they WERE, and no amount of wishing would make that go away. The other faction started out by trying to veto the whole adoption of the new blood. They would have rather died than see their way of life change and their status diminish, and once the situation rode roughshod over spent the rest of their lives snubbing the “new” patricians in any way they knew how and certainly treating them as though they were a lesser class of aristos, parvenus, social climbers, “new money”.

My epiphany, aged 14, was simply this: what if the earthquake were social and not physical? What would happen to a society like Ragusa’s if something new was introduced into it, something that would force the aristocracy of my story to split up and take sides – what would happen if a social earthquake brought such a society close to, or even straight into, a civil war?

Oh, this had it all. Court intrigue. Romeo-and-Juliet potential as children from warring factions – or from across the patrician-pleb divide – had the temerity to cast eyes on one another and fall in love. Battles. Coming of age, of both people and of a world.

And so I set out… to write a story.

Come follow me on that journey.


3 Comments to “How it all began”

  1. A very rough parallel: Jews in New York City. The Sephardim came first. Next came German Jews; the Sephardim were patronizing to them, at best — and certainly didn’t want them cluttering up respectable synagogues, etc. By the time the German Jews were well-established, it was their time to discriminate against the newcomers from Eastern Europe.

    Most recent: A new wave of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

  2. On a somewhat unrelated note, I’m wondering if the Ragusa earthquake had any bearing on the creation of “Secrets of Jin-shei?”

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