Julian Stockwin is the author of the Kydd Naval series and his latest novel, THE SILK TREE, will be published in late 2014 by Allison & Busby and is now available for preorder here. Julian's partner, Kathy, has become an integral part of the writing process. Below, the author explains the creative development behind THE SILK TREE, where planning and research are the essential ingredients for a compelling story and great writing.
THE SILK TREE is a new departure for me, a stand-alone historical adventure fiction that is not maritime at its heart. Its genesis was my wife Kathy’s discovery of a rather lovely silk scarf in the ancient Kapali Carsi, the Grand Bazaar, in Istanbul during a recent research trip to Turkey. While she was chatting with the merchant I idly wondered just how silk had been brought from China to the West. Intrigued, I did some research and the creative juices started flowing – I knew I had a story I had to tell.
So we got to work, drafting up a list of topics to investigate; a very pleasant task over a meze of various delicious morsels – then on to kepab – all in the name of research, of course...
As usual, local museums and libraries were a major resource. I always travel with a small pocket dictaphone and a compact camera that can take high-quality images of textual material. At the end of the day it’s our strict rule to go through the photos and notate each one. I also transcribe the notes I took verbally and Kathy and I work up any changes to our itinerary as a result of the day’s research.
Of all the iconic architecture in modern Istanbul, Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace are the most memorable. At the time of THE SILK TREE the former was a Christian shrine but Topkapi was yet to be built. Part of the task of a writer of historical fiction is to recreate city landscapes of the past in his mind’s eye and for THE SILK TREE this meant sixth century Constantinople (as it was called then).
Back in the UK Kathy and I flow-charted the basic story on a large white board that we find invaluable at this stage. Then we had a number of sessions working up the personalities of the main characters, Nicander and Marius. Once this was done we developed sub-plots around the main story – the quest for the secret of silk. Kathy thought we should have a love story element in the book and we had to find a way to bring two people of very different cultures to mutual respect then a deep attraction. But I don’t want to give the game away as to how this happened...
I’m a firm believer in the old saying that no life experience is wasted for the writer and for THE SILK TREE I was able to call upon my admiration of Chinese calligraphy which goes back to the time I lived and worked in the Far East. And all those hours of dry study of ancient Greek and Latin at grammar school came in handy, too!
When we were satisfied with our planning for THE SILK TREE a detailed synopsis was created, and I wrote the first three chapters, which I sent off to Carole Blake. She loved the idea and I then set out to write the rest of the book.
Kathy is a very integral part of my writing process. Once we have agreed on a strong beginning and a satisfying end, along with the thrust of the middle of the book, we walk and talk segments, making sure the right elements of tension, stakes, detail etc. are there before I write.
Kathy is also my live-in ‘blue pencil’, fine-tuning my writing with her very considerable editing skills as I go along. At the end of the process she does what she calls her helicopter editing, looking at the work as a whole. Then we both go through the manuscript very, very carefully a number of times before it’s ready to submit.
I realise I am very privileged to be able to earn my living as a full-time writer – and to be able to work so closely with my life partner in this is a wonderful thing indeed!