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Creative Commons License
My quest to write the ultimate quest! by Jessica Tooze is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
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Shall we begin?

They do say that every journalist has at least one crappy novel in them, and I guess the same is true of me. So to get it out of my system, and to stop myself from going mad while doing the research for it, I have created this blog to give myself a nice little creative outlet (ok its really to stop me from talking to myself all the time while I think up what my novel is going to be like). I have this idea in my head, about an epic historical voyage, a Dutch painter, and the dodo. I can't wait to get started, but I don't want to write anymore just yet, as I have quite a lot of pondering to do first.

History is probably my favourite source of inspiration; I like many other writers can manipulate it, twist it to suit our own sadistic purposes (!) - maybe its lazy writing a book this way? Really, it gives novelists a chance to answer those 'what if?' questions. For example, what if Vermeer's painting Girl With a Pearl Earring really had been inspired by a purist young maid working in his household? What if her features really did set fire to his imagination? The book itself, written by Tracy Chevalier, as some of you may have guessed, has given me a source of inspiration. I can't get the Dutch painter out of my mind. This one isn't quite like Vermeer though, and his journey takes him far away from Holland, to a place where he will ink himself into history - our history.

The research starts ...

So my artist leaves Holland on a ship that ultimately takes him on a voyage around the Cape, to Mauritius. This is of course the place where the Dodos used to live (before the sailors got there and killed them all of course - the ship rats played their part too). But why did he leave Holland? Was it to have an adventure? Was he bored with a dreary existence in Europe? Did he seek colour and adventure? I think John (that is his name for the moment), left for a number of reasons. Like Gaugin - who I am aware painted several centuries after this time period, he wants to fire up his paintings with light and colour and spice. In my initial musings I thought that John was hiding a dark secret that he wanted to run away from or that he wanted to remove from his home in Europe so that no-one would find out, and that is the reason why he is travelling. But to what end? What is the dark secret? What is the name of the ship? Why did they land on Mauritius - had they heard about it from the Portuguese? And why does John, a painter by trade, seek to capture the dodo on canvas using quill and ink? All these questions must be answered, and there are several more I need to ask.

How Mauritian Forests might have sounded 400 years ago

I think this video gives a really good impression of what sounds John might hear when he first ventures into the jungles of Mauritius in search of his inspiration.

My first piece of research

Well this is very interesting, I now have a time frame for when John came to Mauritius. Click on the link below to visit 

History of Mauritius

"While Arab and Malay sailors knew of Mauritius as early as the 10th century AD and Portuguese sailors first visited in the 16th century, the island was not colonized until 1638 by the Dutch. Mauritius was populated over the next few centuries by waves of traders, planters and their slaves, indentured laborers, merchants, and artisans. The island was named in honor of Prince Maurice of Nassau by the Dutch, who abandoned the colony in 1710." 

John's dark secret

In response to several questions I asked myself in my previous post, I am now going to start providing the answers. First of all, the dark secret that John hides would not be a major problem in today's society - he is not a murderer on the run, nor does he suffer from fits of madness, he is simply gay. Obviously back in the 17th century this was not a good thing to be, according to Louis Crompton's 'Homosexuality and Civilization' (Belknap Press / Harvard University Press) discussed in Annals of Homosexuality: From Greek to Grim to Gay (The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, Arts & Ideas, of Saturday, December 13, 2003), the Netherlands was the setting for 250 trials of 'sodomites' that began in 1730. These were then followed by at least 75 executions. I realise that I will have to manipulate my dates (see post no.1 for my musings on this) because clearly, if John leaves Holland in the 1600s, that would mean the homosexual inquisitions had not yet begun. 

So this will be one of the basic facts of the story - John will now be leaving Holland in the early 1700s, remember that the Dutch sailors stopped going to Mauritius in 1710. And to give the story the drama it needs, the gay trials will be moved back to this time as well. John flees Holland at the start of these terrible inquisitions, to save his own life and try to run away from what he is. In doing so he will experience the grief of saying goodbye to his family; parents, a brother, a sister, with the very real prospect of never seeing them again. 

Crompton offers fascinating information that really makes the case for John's country of origin being Holland. He basically argues that Christianity made the most severe attacks on homosexuality, filtered down through the apostle Paul, Rome's first Pope I believe, while the first mention of homosexuality being a forbidden practice was mentioned in Leviticus (this is mentioned on the website but I also know this because I have read parts of Leviticus, a particularly vile book obsessed with ritualistic oppression in my humble opinion). Why this became especially prevalent in countries such as Holland had to do with the division of the Christian faith into Catholic and Lutheran / Protestant. According to Crompton and the New York Times, by the time of the Enlightenment, "anticlerical feeling swept ancient antisodomy laws away, along with the church's authority. But countries already affected by the Reformation had no need to rebel; their anti-sodomy legislation remained intact."

Which year?

Before I've even got off the starting block, I've come up against my first conundrum. I covered this lightly in my last post but really, I need to establish exactly which year and which century John left Holland for Mauritius. I've decided against the early 1700s after some reflection; I think that John should go to Mauritius with the very first ships, before the island is established as a Dutch colony. I want it to be magical, untouched, a voyage if you'll forgive the pun, of discovery. This means that the persecution of homosexuals in John's homeland must be hauled back to the 1600s as well; it is far more important that the exploration dates match. I want John to be the first person who brings back pictures to Holland of the funny, mysterious little Dodo bird.

The story isn't just about the Dodo of course. The bird serves as a narrative tool with which to add interest, but as the story develops, there are many elements harking back to Lord of the Flies that I want to encapsulate. For example, the destructive nature of mankind as it descends upon the island, the physical and metaphorical natures of dark and light and what they mean for John and for the island. I want to add another animal into the story that initially came into my mind when I was actually writing this down with pen and paper; I love the beauty of turtles as they swim through the water, and I want to involve turtles in the story, as they were involved in the actual history of the Dutch colonisation of Mauritius.