Hi guys! Today is day 2 of the Court of Lions book blog tour – be sure to follow along on Twitter if you’re not already!
About the Author
Jane Johnson is from Cornwall and has worked in the book industry for over 20 years, as a bookseller, publisher and writer. She is responsible for the publishing of many major authors, including George RR Martin.
In 2005 she was in Morocco researching the story of a distant family member who was abducted from a Cornish church in 1625 by Barbary pirates and sold into slavery in North Africa, when a near-fatal climbing incident caused her to rethink her future. She returned home, gave up her office job in London, and moved to Morocco. She married her own ‘Berber pirate’ and now they split their time between Cornwall and a village in the Anti-Atlas Mountains. She still works, remotely, as Fiction Publishing Director for HarperCollins.
I’m was lucky enough to send some questions to Jane Johnson for her to answer, so read on below for a rather awesome (and first for the blog!) Q and A.
- Were you a childhood bookworm? And if so, what were your favourite books?
I always had my head in a book, usually one involving adventure, and magic. All the Enid Blytons, Swallows and Amazons, Alan Garner (The Owl Service gave me nightmares, as my granny had a set of china just like it, and at the time – I must have been 7 and my mum in hospital giving birth to my sister – my ‘bedroom’ was in the attic space just above and looking down onto the kitchen, where I could see it: makes my spine shiver just thinking about it even now).
- What books or authors inspired you?
I think everything you read goes into the mix somehow. But as far as being inspired to write the sort of historical fiction I write – in which you are immersed in the historical period, and caught up in an adventure of the heart – I’d say Daphne DuMaurier’s Frenchman’s Creek and King’s General, Mary Renault’s Persian Boy, Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native, Mary Stewart’s Merlin books, and a whole lot of Jean Plaidy.
- You yourself work in publishing, has that affected the production of the book at all? (e.g. cover, blurb?)
No! I, like most authors, have no power at all over the way the books are produced. But a good publisher, and mine is wonderful, is inspired to ensure that the cover matches the contents. Given that the decorations in the Alhambra are so exquisite it was a tall order, but the finished book, with all its gorgeous detail and glittering gold, and it’s antique map and silk ribbon market, took my breath away.
- What inspired you to write Court of Lions?
I first visited the Moorish palaces of the Alhambra over twenty years ago and like everyone who walks beneath its graceful arches and gazes upon its serene pools and lacy, geometric stonework, fell under its spell. But it was one day in 2013 when the producer who was interested in making a film of The Sultan’s Wife told me that while moving one of the great doors in the Alhambra, restorers had come upon a scrap of paper hidden deep in the intricate latticework of the wood which appeared to be an ancient love letter. The movie deal sadly stalled but the story was a gift and got me thinking about how who might have written that letter, and why it was hidden away – had the writer lost the courage to give it to the one they loved, or had the recipient cached it for fear of discover? The past and present arc towards one another, and love is an eternal force: that gave me the structure for the novel, with the modern story weaving in and out of the 15th century one.
- Court of Lions is set in southern Spain, but where is your favourite travel destination?
I have travelled a lot, and that’s quite a hard question to answer. I loved the bleak beauty of Iceland, and when I was touring with the Lord of the Rings movie production, I was blown away by the majestic scenery of New Zealand’s South Island. But I have to say that Morocco has to be the most amazing place I’ve ever been: it combines ancient and modern so effortlessly and yet in such striking extremes. At the same moment as you’re watching an old woman threshing wheat by hand you’ve got high speed internet access. The food is magnificent, the people so hospitable, the landscape is whatever you want it to be – from desert dunes, to high mountains, to rugged coastlines, and the bazaars make your head spin. It’s the most ‘foreign’ place I’d ever been, and yet it’s only a 3-hour flight away.
- Do you have any writing or editing rituals?
I can’t really afford to have rituals around either because I’m juggling a busy job (Publishing Director at HarperCollins) with having a life and writing, so it tends to get squeezed into odd corners. Ideally, I write wherever the book is set – I finished Court of Lions in a hotel from which, sitting on the tiny balcony at night, I could smell the jasmine and roses drifting over the wall from the Alhambra gardens. I trekked through the Sahara for three weeks when writing The Salt Road, and there’s still desert sand in my notebooks!
- Where do you like to write? (e.g. outside, office?)
I like to write outdoors – it’s good for the body and soul, frees your imagination and gives the opportunity of a rigorous second draft when you type it up. And there’s some good scientific evidence for it being good for you, and your writing. I wrote a blog on the subject recently:
- Have you ever gotten writer’s block, and if so, how did you beat it?
I’m not sure I believe in writer’s block. Every novelist meets obstacles and knots in the fiction they’re writing – it’s a normal part of the process – but you have to work through them. My favourite method for solving a problem is literally to sleep on it. Go to bed thinking hard about the issue the characters are faced with, or the structural conundrum and a good seven times out of ten when you wake up your unconscious mind will have untangled it for you. There are, though, times in life when you simply don’t feel like writing, when you’re too stressed or too tired: I went through some months of that recently when my mother was ill and sadly died, and during that time I just couldn’t seem to focus on the fiction at all. But I think that’s entirely natural: all things in their own time.
- Would you say Kate is like you at all?
No, not much! I’ve never been someone who runs from my problems in life: I tend to face them head-on and won’t rest until I sort them out. She is, I think, more fragile than me, but then I did put her through a lot. I do share her love of beautiful architecture, gardens, food and men, though…
- If you could time travel and meet a great leader, who would it be and why?
Tough question! I’d love to have a chance to watch Elizabeth I in action, but particularly to be an invisible presence at the end of her day, to see how much of her strength was bravura and show. Not that it matters: bravura and show are part and parcel of being a great leader. I’d like to switch genders and race – to be an Arabic-speaking man – to go back in time to witness the great Syrian leader Saladin, in the time of the crusades, so demonised in all the Christian texts, yet so lauded as a chivalrous knight in other sources. People are never just black or white: it would be fascinating to have a chance to weigh up those shades of grey.
Thank you Jane for your wonderful answers to my questions and taking the time to answer them.
Court of Lions is released today in hardback and can be ordered from Amazon, Head of Zeus website and bookshops. Read the blurb below and be sure to add it to your TBR, the cover is gorgeous!
Sometimes at the lowest points in your life, fate will slip you a gift. Ken Follett meets Jodi Picoult in a stunning new novel from Jane Johnson.
Kate Fordham, escaping terrible trauma, has fled to the beautiful sunlit city of Granada, the ancient capital of the Moors in Spain, where she is scraping by with an unfulfilling job in a busy bar. One day in the glorious gardens of the Alhambra, once home to Sultan Abu Abdullah Mohammed, also known as Boabdil, Kate finds a scrap of paper hidden in one of the ancient walls. Upon it, in strange symbols, has been inscribed a message from another age. It has lain undiscovered since before the Fall of Granada in 1492, when the city was surrendered to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. Born of love, in a time of danger and desperation, the fragment will be the catalyst that changes Kate’s life forever.
An epic saga of romance and redemption, Court of Lions brings one of the great hinge-points in human history to life, telling the stories of a modern woman and the last Moorish sultan of Granada, as they both move towards their cataclysmic destinies.
Be sure to follow along with the Court of Lions blog tour on Twitter and keep up to date with Jane’s work.
Note: My review for this book will be up later on this month.