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A Divided Inheritance by Deborah Swift

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I was  exploring the time right after the gunpowder plot in England when Catholic recusants were being persecuted for their faith, when priests had to be hidden behind chimneys, and when England was in the grip of the new King James. I already knew I wanted to set my next book in the world of lace-making, a world where the craft was done by thousands of women, but the actual business was controlled by men.

Meanwhile, I was on holiday in with my husband when I came across a picture in a book  of two men fighting with rapiers on a strange grid-like pattern. The book was about the Golden Section, but these men were dressed in late Elizabethan or Early Stuart costume and the marking on the floor looked like a magical diagram. My interest piqued, I looked up in the back of the book where the illustration was from and discovered it was from a book called ‘Academy of the Sword’, a book of original engravings from 1630 by Girard Thibault.

When I got home I looked up the book on the internet and discovered the book was only available in a facsimile that cost a fortune. But from further researches into it  I found out more about the Sword Academy featured in the book – and more about the fighting method which seemed to be a mixture of occult philosophy and swordfighting, called in Spanish, La  Destreza (The True Skill).

Fired up by my new ideas I wondered what would happen if these two worlds collided? The genteel world of lace-making and the world of occult swordplay? I liked the idea of the collision of cultures too, the cold damp stone of the London streets with the heat and dust of Spain. It was a while before I hit on the idea of linking the two worlds through family connections and a fight for an inheritance.

Knowing how excited I was about the ideas I was working on, my husband bought me the very expensive book for my birthday, and it became an invaluable source, not only of the sword techniques, but also the engravings of costume. From it, I got some of my real-life characters and a lead into the extraordinary world of seventeenth century swordplay. From here it was only a short leap to the Inquisition who were still active at that time. How strange that in 17th century England you were persecuted for being a Catholic, yet in Spain you were persecuted if you were not.

As I worked on the novel more, the book became an exploration of the different skills and crafts in the 17th century – lace-making, sword-making, pottery, and the idea of how a  ‘true skill’  may be learnt. It also became an investigation into how we ‘inherit’ skills or character traits, what ‘in our blood’ really means, and how our family inheritance of culture and expectations persists through the generations.

As for the story, I wanted to write a book where the whole  plot turned on a lie. In the end there turned out to be more than one deception and more than one love story. Can a cultural divide be bridged by love? I really enjoyed writing it and I hope those who read it will love it as much as I did.

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