Hi, it’s Louise Turner here. I’m back again – can it really be six months since I was last posting on Heroines of Fantasy?
A lot has happened since then. My second novel’s been dispatched, and I’m now engrossed in writing my third novel. This means I’m having some time out from the trials and tribulations of late 15th century Scotland, to concentrate instead on a novel set variously in modern England and Wales and Ancient Sparta.
For those who aren’t acquainted with it, it's a time-slip novel, but right from the outset, I approached its writing more as a piece of speculative fiction. True, there’s the conventional element of girl goes back into the past where she meets boy, but the main thrust of the story follows what happens when the boy gets brought forward into the future and ends up seeking the girl.
The boy’s from Ancient Sparta. You know, one of those Death or Glory warrior types that wanders about in leather underpants and shouts, “Freedom!” in a Paisley accent (apologies to Gerard Butler here, I did enjoy ‘300!’). Except he isn’t like that at all. Because, being a proper historical fiction author, I wanted to get behind the ‘Spartan mirage,’ as the academics call it, and to try and recreate a ‘proper’ Spartan. And this wasn’t as easy as it seemed.
The Spartans were very good on the propaganda front. They had this carefully-constructed facade of what it was to be Spartan which they used to impress their fellow Greeks (and their potential foes from further afield). It’s this image which springs to mind today when we think of the Spartans. The result is Spartan cliché: you know, the bellicose warrior who despises learning and culture as being ‘soft’ and looks down his nose at other Greeks because they waste their time idling instead of working out down the gymnasium every waking minute of the day.
After reading up on countless academic books upon the subject, written by such august figures as Paul Cartledge and others, I realised that this wasn't the impression I'd been given by my source material at all. I suspect that the Spartans viewed themselves as Ancient Greeks par excellence, the guardians of Greece, more Greek than Greek. They never rushed into war, and often had to be pushed very hard before they actually took part in any military engagement. They relished the arts, particularly music and dance, and they were very, very religious.
This is, of course, a very generalised view, and Spartan society, like any other, was always in a state of re-negotiation and change. In general terms, it was a very rigidly structured, highly militarised and also very xenophobic system. Sparta's women were unusually empowered for the ancient world (they had the vote), but on the other hand, the city state's soldier citizens were supported by a labouring class made up of an enslaved indigenous Greek population. Which, quite understandably, made the Spartans rather unpopular with their neighbours...
Spartans in literature and film can be very cliched, so what I’ve been trying to do is to try and explore what the impact of living in this kind of society might have on those within it. And it's been fascinating to see how such an individual might react to life in an entirely alien environment: that is, modern Britain. My hero is, in effect, a former child soldier who ends up seeking political asylum in the future. So one of the major themes of the book is whether he can adapt to our alien world (and whether indeed he even wants to) and following him on this journey is turning out to be quite an adventure, believe me!