Passages to the Past is pleased to welcome Gabrielle Kimm, author of The Courtesan's Lover to the blog today! Gabrielle is here with a fabulous guest post and also a giveaway of her novel!
SERENDIPITY – AND UNCO-OPERATIVE CHARACTERS
First of all – thank you so much for having me on your blog!
I was talking to a student the other day – a twelve-year old – and was telling her that one way to improve her vocabulary was to make a deliberate decision to look up and learn three new words a week, and to make sure she found an opportunity to use them at least once during that week. ‘Like what?’ she said. ‘What sort of words?’ I racked my brains for an unusual word. ‘How about ‘serendipity’?’ I said. ‘Do you know what that one means? ‘No,’ she replied. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘it means discovering something nice when you’re not looking for it.’ I have to admit that she seemed sadly unimpressed! Will she learn it and use it? Who knows? I hope so.
The Collins On-Line English dictionary translates ‘serendipity’ thus: “the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident”. It’s a lovely idea, I think, and one which played an important part in the writing of ‘The Courtesan’s Lover’, as it happens.
It was like this:
I had a vague idea of the sort of circumstances in which my eponymous courtesan would be living, when I first started writing my new novel. She had run away from her life in Ferrara, and was in the process, I knew, of establishing herself as a courtesan in the far away city of Naples, well away from the Duke of Ferrara.
Now, I knew embarrassingly little about courtesans when I started writing the book, and originally envisaged Francesca living in a house in Naples with her children, with probably a room elsewhere in the city where she would ply her trade. Early research, however, showed that the Renaissance courtesans were considerably more wealthy and opulent than I had imagined, and I realized that Francesca was going to need at least one servant, if not several. So, I duly expanded her property portfolio – I gave her two much larger houses – and I installed a couple of house servants where she lived with her daughters.
It seemed to me that she would need some sort of manservant, to support her and protect her where she worked. I knew from research that the courtesans never worked for pimps: they chose their own patrons, whom they then retained or dismissed, and kept for themselves whatever money they earned (this was often a small fortune!), but it seemed to me that it would serve both character and plot for Francesca to have a manservant in her working establishment.
And so Modesto came into the story. I wasn’t that bothered about him – he was, if you like, an ‘extra’. A bit-part player. There on the sidelines to provide a bit of realism, but not of any particular interest to me. He was going to have to be completely off-limits, too - I did not want him ending up in Francesca’s bed.
In fact, I didn’t want there to be even the possibility in the reader’s mind of Francesca having any sort of physical relationship with Modesto – she was, if my plot unraveled itself as I hoped it would – going to be in enough of a mess emotionally, without her servant chipping in and causing her problems as well.
It seemed to me that if I was going to keep him out from under my promiscuous courtesan’s skirts, I had two choices: either to make him homosexual or impotent. I had already decided that another significant character was going to be homosexual, so, not wanting to unbalance things, I decided sadly for this unfortunate servant, that I was going to have to resort to the imposition of impotence. It seemed a rather sadistic decision and I began to feel sorry for poor Modesto.
Just to have him, by chance as it were, unable to function sexually, would not be either credible or interesting, I reckoned, so I spent a long time trying to find an authentically concrete reason why someone at that time in history might possibly have been unavoidably impotent. I was looking for illnesses – illnesses whose aftermath might have robbed someone of sexual function.
And here’s where the serendipity comes in. There I was, looking for catastrophic illnesses, when I stumbled across something quite different. Something totally unexpected. The castrati.
It was perfect. Horribly perfect.
Open-mouthed with disbelief, I discovered that literally tens of thousands of small boys, across a couple of centuries, were castrated in the name of liturgical music, in order to retain their soprano voices. St Paul, in a letter to someone-or-other, a couple of millennia ago, made the pronouncement that ‘women should be silent in church’and so, needing long-lasting high voices to perform the great liturgical works, the church authorities came up with an … alternative solution. After reeling with shock, my mind began almost literally to bulge with the extraordinary possibilities of character development this discovery suggested. Modesto had been brought into being as a ‘side-kick’- someone dumped into the story simply because Francesca needed a bloke around the house. But, as I found out more and more about the castrati, the more Modesto simply refused to be bound by my original parameters; he broke out of where I had first determined to place him and demanded to become a more significant character in his own right.
All at once, I understood him. I knew him. He had been a singer, I discovered: a castrato soprano who had lost his career after illness and had subsequently accepted the position of manservant/come pimp/come nursemaid/come bouncer to this beautiful courtesan. By nature a compassionate, intelligent and witty man, I realized that Modesto is also racked with a bitter hatred for the people who robbed him of his sexual potential, he is disgusted with what he describes as his ‘perception of his own ‘otherness’’ and, although he won’t ever admit it even to himself, he has long been utterly devoted to Francesca. He quickly became one of my very favourites of the characters I’ve created over the course of two-and-a-bit novels
So much came from one unexpected discovery: a serendipitous discovery. Much of writing seems to be like this, I find – creating a novel seems to be a process far more of discovery than of invention. And the delight I take in unearthing the unexpected is probably one of the main reasons I keep on writing.
I have to say … I really do love my job!
About The Courtesan's Lover
Francesca Felizzi knows she wields an immense power over men. Her patrons see only a carefree courtesan, and they pay handsomely for the privilege of her time. Francesca never saw him coming, the man who cracked her heart open and ruined her for the job. But he's shown her what a gaudy facade she's built, and she doesn't know how to tear it down without taking her beloved daughters with her. The wrong move could plunge all of them into the sort of danger she has dreaded ever since she began her perilous work all those years ago.
An exquisite tale that explores the intricate nature of a mother's heart. The Courtesan's Lover draws you close and whispers in your ear. In the tradition of Sarah Dunant and Marina Fiorato, a compelling and vibrant tale from an up-and-coming fresh voice that readers will want to savor.
For more information on Gabrielle Kimm and her novels, please visit her WEBSITE.
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