I have some important news about Lionheart. Some of you may have wondered how I was going to finish the book by year’s end since Richard is still bogged down in the Holy Land, fighting Saladin. I wondered about that, too. Actually, I often felt haunted by that approaching deadline and I became more and more uneasy as the months slipped by.
How did I get into such a predicament? Well, in the past I’d always had three years to do one of my historical “sagas,” but for Lionheart, my contract only allotted two years. Then I lost several months when I became unexpectedly ill in 2008 and had to cancel my book tour for Devil’s Brood. It was also Richard’s fault. If he’d stayed at home where he belonged, I wouldn’t have been faced with such daunting research challenges. But instead he compiled more medieval frequent flyer miles than Marco Polo—France, Italy, Sicily, Crete, Rhodes, Cyprus, the Holy Land, Austria, and Germany, although in fairness to him, those last two countries were not on his original itinerary.
So the research alone could easily have taken two years—and it didn’t help that I am so obsessive-compulsive about research or that the research was so fascinating in its own right. How could I resist intriguing nuggets of information like these—that the official languages of Sicily were Greek, Arabic, and Latin, that the Kings of Sicily kept harems, that medieval men called the Mediterranean the “Greek Sea,” that Cyprus had no walled towns or navigable rivers, that residents of the Holy Land called bananas “apples of paradise,” enjoyed a dessert of syrup mixed with snow, and adopted the eastern custom of dining on cushions.
And then there are the amazing chronicles at my disposal, especially two written by men who accompanied Richard on crusade and two by men who were members of Saladin’s inner circle, truly a surfeit of riches. They often read like battlefield dispatches, offering detailed accounts of the same fight as seen by the crusaders and the Saracens. They provided me with the names of men slain in a particular battle, with personal quotes from Richard and Saladin, and allowed me to see these two legendary historical figures through the eyes of men who actually knew them. They described Richard’s mood on his wedding day, Saladin’s bouts with colic, Richard’s love for a Cypriot stallion named Fauvel, Saladin’s kindness to a Christian woman whose child had been stolen by thieves. So it has been a very enjoyable experience—tracking the Lionheart from Marseille to Messina to Famagusta to Acre—but there was always that accursed deadline looming on the horizon.
I needed a knight in shining armor to ride to my rescue, and they are in short supply in the 21st century. Fortunately, I had something better than a knight errant, a dear friend who shares my love of history in general and the MA in particular. Valerie LaMont is the sister I’d always wanted to have. My Facebook friends know that her husband Lowell exorcises my computer’s demons. Well, Valerie has exorcised my deadline demons by coming up with an idea that was so simple and yet so brilliant. Why not tell Richard’s story in two parts?
I don’t know why this hadn’t occurred to me. After all, it is the modus operandi I’ve used in the past for my Welsh trilogy and the Angevin trilogy. And Richard’s life lends itself admirably to such an approach. Happily, my publisher thinks so, too. This is my news then—that I will be writing two more books about the Angevins. Lionheart will deal with the Richard of legend, Coeur de Lion, ending as he departs the Holy Land and sails for home in October of 1192. He leaves with reluctance and regret, for he sees the crusade as a failure since they were unable to recapture Jerusalem; he even denies himself the chance to visit the Holy City with his fellow crusaders and promises the new King of Jerusalem that he will be back. Of course he has no idea what lies ahead—an unlikely encounter with pirates, shipwreck, capture, imprisonment, ransom, and betrayal. Lionheart will be published by Putnam’s next year, probably in the autumn, and I expect the British publication will also be in 2011. The second book, A King’s Ransom, will focus upon the man behind the myth, covering those improbable adventures on Richard’s homeward journey and the remaining years of his reign; we hope to publish it in 2012. Yes, I will actually have two books coming out in consecutive years!
This is one of those rare win-win situations. It saves my sanity. It keeps me from missing a deadline by a year or more, never a good thing. I am spared the danger of having to race through the last part of the story in a mad rush to finish the book on time. Now I will be able to spare more time for the remarkable ensemble cast in A King’s Ransom. Richard’s devious, damaged brother John, flawed enough to be fascinating. His mother, the incomparable Eleanor of Aquitaine. His favorite sister, Joanna, who was the daughter most like Eleanor. His half-brother Geoff, whose career as Archbishop of York was almost as stormy as Thomas Becket’s. Everyone’s favorite knight, William Marshal. Richard’s mortal enemy, the French king. Heinrich von Hohenstaufen, the Holy Roman Emperor, who may be the most unsympathetic character I’ve ever written about—and considering the rogue’s galley that has infiltrated my books, that is saying a lot. The prideful Duke of Austria; Richard’s greatest mistake may have been offending Leopold at the siege of Acre. Richard’s sinister second-in-command, the mercenary captain, Mercadier. Ranulf’s son Morgan; I had to have at least one Welsh character in the book! Constance of Brittany, still grieving for her first husband, Geoffrey. And of course Richard’s queen, Berengaria, a woman who was dealt a bad hand and played it as best and bravely as she could.
As you can tell, I am very happy about this development. I hope you all will be, too, and I am looking forward to your responses. Lastly, I have not had a chance yet to respond to some of your queries in comments posted for the last blog, Really Random Thoughts, but I will do so on that blog.
July 2, 2010