Journeying farther into book settings, today we dip into Ancient Greece, following Tim Taylor as he explains what inspired his soon to be published novel Zeus of Ithome.
Zeus of Ithome, set in the 3rd century BC in southern and central Greece, recounts the struggle of the Messenian people to free themselves from three centuries of servitude. The origins of the tale lie in the landscape itself: it was the great fertility of Messenia that led the envious Spartans to invade it and turn its inhabitants into helot slaves.
There was enough light left in the clear sky to see fields and hamlets of Messenia stretched out all around the mountain. “Look at it,” mused Aristomenes after a while. “Rich farmland in all directions as far as the eye can see. Where else in Greece would you find land like this? Not for nothing did our ancestors honour the Great Goddesses and guard their secret rites with care. The special favour of Demeter and Persephone has always been the birthright and blessing of our people. And yet it has also been our curse. Look at the poor Arcadians, scratching away at their thin mountain soil. No one would bother making helots of them.”
The novel follows a young runaway helot, Diocles, as he travels with Aristomenes, an old Messenian rebel, in search of guidance about how and when to set about freeing their country. The landscape unfolds before Diocles, literally expanding his horizons: so much of what this naïve and uneducated boy sees on his travels is new and amazing to him. Many places are also charged with religious significance, fuelled by unquestioned belief in deities who live among men and intervene in mortal affairs; nowhere more so than at Delphi, for many centuries a source of prophecy trusted throughout the Greek world and beyond.
He was greatly struck by the beauty of the place, with its fine buildings set into the hillside so that, seen from above, they were silhouetted against the surrounding mountains and the plunging valley below. In this Panhellenic shrine, every state in Greece seemed to have vied with every other to contribute the most elegant buildings; the most imposing statues; the most precious artifacts. He understood now why the sacred enclosure was surrounded by a tall stone wall. Most impressive of all, though, was the great Temple of Apollo in the centre of the complex. It was here where, on the following day, the Pythia would breathe the vapours emanating from a deep crack in the earth at the heart of the temple and speak her prophecies to those who had travelled to Delphi to hear them.
Recreating ancient Greece was something of a journey for me, too, as I weaved together memory, imagination and research to create the world that the characters travel through. I hope that readers will share some of the pleasure I found in bringing to life these places and times.
|Delphi Theatre Temple of Apollo - Helen Simonsson/Creative Commons License|
Tim Taylor was born in 1960 in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent - home of Josiah Wedgwood, Robbie Williams, Phil 'The Power' Taylor (no relation) and Lemmy. He grew up just outside the city in Brown Edge, then at the age of 11 moved to Longsdon, near Leek.
Tim went to Newcastle-under-Lyme High School, then studied Classics at Pembroke College, Oxford. After graduating he moved to London and spent a couple of years playing guitar in a rock band. When it became clear that he was never going to be a rock star, he sadly knuckled down and joined the Civil Service, where he did a wide range of jobs, including Chief Executive of the Veterans Agency.
Tim married Rosa Vella in 1994 and their daughter Helen was born in 1997. In 2001 they moved to Meltham, near Huddersfield, to be nearer family, and have lived there ever since.
While still in the Civil Service Tim wrote two unpublished novels and studied part time for a PhD in Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London, finally achieving it in 2007. A period of illness in 2007 caused him to re-evaluate his priorities. He took a career break in 2009 in order to spend more time writing, and subsequently left the Civil Service altogether in 2011.
Tim now divides his time between creative writing, academic research and part-time teaching and other work for Leeds and Huddersfield Universities.
As well as fiction, Tim writes poetry, which he often performs on local radio and at open mic nights (where he also plays the guitar). He is involved with several local writing groups. He also likes walking up hills.
His novel, Zeus of Ithome, is due for release with Crooked Cat Publishing on November 2nd, 2013.