Sunday, 19 January 2014

Writing Gifts from The Goddess of Serendipity - Lucy Coats

I believe in the powerful Goddess of Serendipity. Happy and useful 'discoveries by chance' have happened to me too often while writing for me not to. The latest of these discoveries happened only yesterday, while watching Italy Unpacked on BBC2. I hadn't meant to watch it at all, but during the course of it, the Goddess showed me an immeasurably valuable bit of information, which gave me the vital jigsaw piece I needed for my book.

I am currently writing the first novel of a pair about the young Cleopatra, which will be published by Orchard in 2015. I've researched my socks off to get things right for this book: gone back to sources (though what sources there are on Cleo herself are unreliable, and written with an agenda), pored over tiny type, ploughed through piles of useless information for just one useful nugget - and perused endless maps and pictures. Have you any idea how hard it is to find contemporary visual evidence in colour as to precisely what boats of the time would have looked like? Believe me - I've searched. And then I discovered, through this programme (which, as I say, I hadn't meant to watch at all), the clue I needed.  It was this.

The Nile Mosaic at Palestrina (ancient Praeneste), was commissioned by the Etruscans of what was then the kingdom of Lazio, in about 200 -100BC, depending on which sources you believe. It was made from minute tesserae by Greeks from the city of Alexandria, and is meant to represent the course of the Nile from top to bottom, probably at the flood season of Akhet or Inundation.  It contains some extraordinary detail - animals (both mythological and real, including a Sphinx and a possible dinosaur), birds, people (both Ptolemaic Greeks and native Africans), buildings, activites, and (yay!) BOATS of all types.

I needed exactly the one which is depicted at the top of the picture - the one with a sail - to transport my characters up and down the Nile.  Of course, it's a little earlier than Cleopatra's time - but I'm taking an educated guess that boats wouldn't have changed much in that timescale.

Sometimes The Goddess of Serendipity gives you just the thing you needed most - so to all of you - I say open yourselves up to her. You never know what you may receive!

Lucy's new picture book, Captain Beastlie's Pirate Party is coming on Feb 6th from Nosy Crow!
Bear's Best Friend, is published by Bloomsbury "A charming story about the magic of friendship which may bring a tear to your eye" Parents in Touch "The language is a joy…thoughtful and enjoyable" Armadillo Magazine. "Coats's ebullient, sympathetic story is perfectly matched by Sarah Dyer's warm and witty illustrations." The Times   
Her latest series for 7-9s, Greek Beasts and Heroes is out now from Orion Children's Books. 
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Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at Ed Victor Ltd


Stroppy Author said...

Serendipity is definitely the writer's best friend! What a super story, and a great mosaic, too. Visual art is often the best source of details as no one would bother to fabricate or misrepresent things like the colour of a boat (unless there were political connotations). But a 'possbile dinosaur'???

Stroppy Author said...

Ok, I've found the 'dinosaur' :-)

catdownunder said...

Purrrrrrrrr! You needed that piece of serendipity Lucy!

Penny Dolan said...

Good wishes to your Cleo and her surprisingly found boat!

(I'd missed that this was on. I saw an earlier series that felt as if there was as much wine quaffing as "art & architecture" going on, which gave the conversations a very relaxed ambience.)

Joan Lennon said...

Your Cleopatra books sound wonderful to write - and read!

John Dougherty said...

That's brilliant. But of course if you hadn't already done all your research, you wouldn't have known what the missing piece of the jigsaw was, so you wouldn't have spotted it amongst all the other information. I suspect the Goddess of Serendipity team-tags with the Goddess of Hard Work!

Richard said...

Nice piece of serendipity.

Certainly when we were sailing on the Nile, there was never any wind in the morning. The skipper just went from one full rudder to the other, zig-zagging downstream from one bank to the other. Huge nile steamers went past all the time, and there was no way we could maneuver. Fortunately they seemed to know that. ;-) At some point in the day, the wind rose and the sail went up.

Lucy Coats said...

Thanks everyone, and especially Richard. That's another piece of serendipitous detail, which I didn't know, and shall definitely work in. See? The Goddess at work again! I so wanted to go to Egypt myself and sail down/up the Nile, because there's nothing like experiencing something yourself to give an authentic feel to the writing. But sadly, I feel that current political conditions are less than perfect for a lone female traveller to risk such a trip.

Emma Barnes said...

Lovely pictures! I empathise with your preoccupation with Ancient boats - I once spent a lot if time obsessing about triremes and Ancient sea battles...