I’d like to welcome Award Winning B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Joan Fallon today. Joan was born in Dumfries, Scotland but spent most of her adult life in England. Teacher, management trainer and business woman, she moved to Spain at the beginning of the new millennium and became a writer. Her first published work was a social history, ‘Daughters of Spain’, inspired by the women she met in her adopted home. Her subsequent books too have grown out of her experiences living and working in Spain. She is especially interested in Spanish history and has set her novels in periods as distinct as the Golden Age of the Moorish conquest and the Spanish Civil War. She is a member of the Society of Authors and the Alliance of Independent Authors.
Hi, Joan! Thank you for visiting with me today. Please tell me how you discovered indieBRAG.
Well actually it was Helen Hollick, the lady who set up Discovering Diamonds, who recommended IndieBRAG to me. I first got to know her when she was working for the Historical Novel Review Society a few years ago.
I love your book cover! Tell me about your story, The Shining City.
The novel is set in southern Spain in the mid tenth century. The country is ruled by al-Rahman III, who is celebrating the fact that he has just pronounced himself caliph of al-Andalus by building a new palace/city, Madinat al-Zahra. Many of his subjects have flocked to this new city looking for work and among them is a potter called Qasim and his family. Qasim is running away from his past and hoping to build a new future in Madinat al-Zahra, where he has taken on a new identity. Even his sons do not know his history.
The woman on the cover of the books is supposed to represent one of the leading characters in the novel. She is Jawhara, one of the caliph’s concubines. She was originally from Saxony and was captured by Viking raiders and sold as a slave to the caliph of al-Andalus. She is very beautiful and one day she is spotted by Omar, the youngest son of Qasim the potter. He falls desperately in love with her and becomes obsessed with seeing her even though he knows it is forbidden on pain of death.
One night he breaks into the harem to meet her but it does not go well. His father is horrified at what he has done and the consequences for everyone are severe. I can’t tell you any more without spoiling the story for you.
What fascinates you most about the period in history you have written about?
As you know, I live in southern Spain and over the years I have become fascinated with the country and its history. The Moors lived in Spain for 700 years and their influence is everywhere – in the architecture, the language, the food and the culture. So naturally I was drawn to learning more about them. I chose the tenth century because it was the Moors Golden Age. Never before nor after, did the country have such a reputation for wealth, culture and learning, nor was it so egalitarian. It was the most educated country in the western world and people flocked from all parts of Europe to its universities and libraries.
Tell me a little about Qasim. Was he a real person in history or fictional? What are his strengths and weaknesses?
No, Qasim isn’t a real character but he is based on real people. For example, the past he is hiding is based on a real man called Omar ibn Hafsun, one of the rebels who fought against al-Rahman III. Qasim is a potter who moved to Madinat al-Zahra, as many other artisans and workmen did at the time. The caliph encouraged people to move out of Córdoba and settle in Madinat al-Zahra by offering them the money to build a house. It was an offer too good to miss and thousands of people moved to the new city. So, I made Qasim one of them.
Qasim’s strengths lie in his strong religious beliefs and his love for his family. He is a man of honour. He treats his wife as an equal – almost. His weaknesses are that he is not flexible enough when faced with his son’s mistake.
Describe the city for me.
Madinat al-Zahra is in ruins now. But it is believed to have been a wonderful place with street lighting, paved roads, running water and public bath houses. I think the best way I can describe it to you is to let Omar tell you what he related to his nephew when he was an old man:
‘Our ruler, Abd al-Rahman III, wanted to build a city-palace worthy of the title of Khalifa so he sent his engineers and architects out to find the perfect location. And they did. They found a spot in the foothills of the Sierra Moreno, green, fertile, sheltered from the north winds, with as much water as you could wish for, yet set high enough above the plain so that you would be able to see anyone approaching. From there you could see across the valley of the Guadalquivir to Córdoba and beyond.’
‘It was indeed the Shining City. When visitors entered through the Grand Portico, passing beneath its enormous, red and white arches, when they climbed the ramped streets that were paved with blocks of dark mountain stone, passing the lines of uniformed guards in their scarlet jackets and the richly robed civil servants that flanked their way, when they reached the royal residence and saw the golden inlay on the ceilings, the marble pillars, the richly woven rugs scattered across the floors and the brilliant silk tapestries, when they saw the moving tank of mercury in the great reception pavilion that caught the sunlight and dazzled all who beheld it, then they indeed knew that they were in the Shining City.’
How did you come to write this story?
Back in the year 2000 I went to an exhibition in Madinat al-Zahra. I knew nothing about the place before that and I was fascinated by its history, and particularly by the fact that the city lasted no more than 75 years. I knew that one day I would write a story about it.
What is a tradition the people have in this civilization?
At that time Moorish civilisation was far more advanced than the rest of Europe. The majority of people were educated, including women. Women were allowed to work, to go to universities, to own property, to have careers such a doctors and scribes.
It was a multi-religious society. The ruling class were of course Muslims, but both Christians and Jews were allowed to worship their own faith, pursue careers in government and live their own lives. They were not however allowed to try to convert any Muslims to their faith. It was a society that also relied on slaves – but the slaves were non-believers. If a slave converted to Islam he regained his freedom.
Who designed your book cover?
A delightful woman called Rachel Lawston of Lawston Designs. She has designed a number of covers for me now and has a knack for getting just the right feel for the book (without having read it!)
Where can readers buy your book?
The Shining City is the first book in The al-Andalus series. All the books in the series are available on Amazon, from Barnes and Noble and other bookshops, both on-line and in the High Street.
Is there a message you would like to give to your readers?
Only this. Whether you prefer to read ebooks or paperbacks, never stop reading and encourage any children in your lives to read as much as they can. I worry that people are drifting away from the written word now that there are so many alternatives available to them. I’d like young people to realise that there is nothing so satisfying as reading a good book and becoming completely engrossed in the characters and the story.
Thank you, Joan!
Thank you, Stephanie, for inviting me to talk to you.
other links: Facebook
A message from indieBRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Joan Fallon who is the author of, THE GOLDEN CITY, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, THE GOLDEN CITY, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.