I bought this little owl in Nauplion in Greece a few years ago, and ever since then, she’s been sitting on my windowsill, watching me as I write. We were then on our way to Mycenae, where I stood under the Lion Gate and thought about Agamemnon and Troy. The Iliad is the strangest of epics – it doesn’t begin at the beginning nor end at the end, the heroes die, and anyway don’t behave heroically. War isn’t depicted as something splendid and manly – quite the opposite in fact. The Iliad must be the first great anti-war story.
Of course, as you’d expect , from the time and the culture in which it was composed, it’s an overwhelmingly male story, full of dark age masculine values, killing, looting, revenge. Women don’t have much of an active part to play. Yet it seemed to me that lurking in the nooks and crannies of this great male epic, there were a number of stories of women and young girls that would be be fascinating to explore. For example, what about Helen’s only daughter Hermione. What was it like to be the daughter of the most famous beauty in the world? How must it have felt to her when her mother deserted her? Were they close? Were they affectionate? And things became even more intriguing when I found that Hermione was also linked with Achilles’s son Pyhrrus. Two children of impossibly famous parents. There must be a story there. And then poor Cassandra, cursed with the gift of making prophecies that no-one would believe . She must have seen what was happening to her, and maybe tried to prevent it, but could do nothing for she was under the control of the powerful god Apollo. And finally, Electra, driven by the constraints of honour to seek that horrifying revenge on her own mother.
These stories gave me the idea for my Girls of Troy trilogy. The first volume, Helen’s Daughter, is the story of Hermione, and leads up to the start of the war and the sacrifice of her cousin Iphigenia. The second, The Burning Towers, tells the story of Cassandra, through the eyes of her slave-girl, Elissa. There are no happy endings for anyone in the Trojan story, especially poor Cassandra, whose final days are particularly gruesome, so without giving too much away, Elissa will find a way out and a life of her own. Athene’s little owl will play an important part in her story. And finally, Electra, whose story I am still working on. She sees her beloved father murdered by her mother and her mother’s lover – and feels that she and her brother Orestes have no choice but to seek revenge in their turn. It’s a difficult story, and one that is challenging to write about, but I’m enjoying the challenge.
I’m lucky to be working with http://www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk/ to bring this dream to fruition and I hope to write about the process from time to time on this blog,