On this day in 1504, Michelangelo unveiled David, the heroic king from the Old Testament. It is symbolic that this artistic milestone comes fifty years after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Until its defeat by Sultan Mehmed II, Constantinople was a cultural icon of artistic treasure in Europe.
|David in Florence|
courtesy of Wikipedia
CC Humphreys - actor, author, and swordsman - writes about the fall of Constantinople in A PLACE CALLED ARMAGEDDON. He joins us today in virtual Hawaii (since TSA did not allow him to bring his sword on board the trans Pacific flight) ...
Kim: Can you share your favorite sight, sound, and smell of your adopted country of Canada?
CC: Good question! My favourite sight is from the Skeena Queen, the ferry that brings me home to Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, after my times away. I sail up a fjord to the tiny harbour, note the trees hiding my house, and sigh!
Sound? The sharp cry of an eagle circling above.
Smell? Fresh thyme. (But that’s my favourite smell anywhere)
|Salt Spring Island |
courtesy of Wikipedia
CC: There’s several people. Certainly my wife who always felt I could, should do it. My first agent, who I didn’t quite stalk (but it probably wasn’t far off!). What helped me? Being an actor. I’d spent a life telling other people’s stories so I had an idea of what worked. But I also had to wait for other people to give me permission to create and I got fed up with that. So I began to tell my own stories.
|Antonio Banderas as Zorro|
Kim: As a swordsman, what is your favorite "swordsman" from a movie or TV?
CC: So many! I had the full Zorro outfit when I was a three year old in California so I always loved him. (I did end up acting in an episode of the TV series Zorro but I was the villainous swordsman.) I always loved any version of D’Artagnan. Then there is Inigo Montoya (‘You killed my father. Prepare to die.’) in ‘The Princess Bride’. Fabulous!
|Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya|
Kim: Tell us about A PLACE CALLED ARMAGEDDON - what inspired it?
CC: In a word: Constantinople. The city that was. And Istanbul. The city that is.
I had been researching my previous novel, ‘Vlad: The Last Confession’ in Romania in 2007. I thought: I am this close, I should visit Istanbul. So I did, for five days. Did the full tourist thing, was suitably awed by luxuriant Topkapi and dazzled by the Blue Mosque. Took my boat across the Golden Horn and up the Bosphorus. Played backgammon in alleys in Pera. Bought a rug in the grand bazaar and smoked narghile filled with apple tobacco in a place just beside it. Ate it, drank it, smoked it. Loved it… and left.
What I didn’t realize was that I had caught a fever from the city and its people. It felt so… relevant, still the centre of the world in so many ways. Not just the cliché ‘where two continents meet.’ Its totality. So much had happened there over so long a period. It had been central to so many people, their faiths, their cultures. And the more I thought about 1453, the more I realized: this is where two empires ended – the Byzantine and the Roman they’d sprung from. 2000 years of history right there. And this was where another empire began: the Ottoman who, though they had conquered much of the Balkans by then, truly established themselves by felling those two ancient worlds. And when I delved further, I discovered this: that despite all the massive preparations of assault and defense, it all came down to one moment of fate. To a single bullet.
|Istanbul courtesy of Wikipedia|
What I most gained from a second, targeted, still too-brief visit in 2010, was a sense of the people. I talked with citizens, from warriors to publishers to concierges. To a man I’d met over a pipe before, the gentle philosopher, Akay, disciple of Omar Khayyam. I soon realized that my ambitions had shifted. If I’d ever conceived this as a story between good guys and bad, between gallant, outnumbered Christian defenders and hordes of fanatical Muslims, that concept swiftly changed. The people I talked to had ancestors who had fought either side of the walls. And they were united now in their love of what they’d fought for. The city moved me, as few have ever before – and I have travelled far.
I began to conceive characters that would give me viewpoints both sides of the walls, to tell the whole story. My central one is Gregoras: exile, proclaimed traitor, toughest of mercenaries who vows never to return to the city that took his all and does the very thing he vows not to. An outsider can see what others cannot. One who was once an insider sees more. But I also truly wanted someone who did not fight for the things ordinary men fight for – God, gold, glory. Along came Achmed who fought so that no child of his would ever die of starvation again.
I don’t like to give history lessons in my novels. But to understand the characters you need to understand their context – religious, social, military, political. I found men and women who would lead me into all those areas and tell the readers what they needed to know because they needed to know it.
The city was the key to everything. Walking those still-standing walls, you can only marvel at the courage that it took to both attack and defend them. Why would men and women do that? Because Istanbul inspires that level of love. It did in me, resident for just a few weeks. What must it do to those who live there?
Constantinople. This is where the book begins and ends, stands and falls. With that city and with the people who lived and still live there.
|Zonaro's Mehmed II and the Ottoman Army|
courtesy of Wikipedia
CC: I am just copy editing my next novel, entitled, SHAKESPEARE’S REBEL. It is about the Bard’s fight choregrapher, circa 1600. Hamlet and swords, essentially, two of my passions. It’s out next year in the UK and Canada and sometime soon in the US.
I am also quite busy touring in the the US this fall for ‘Armageddon’ – Seattle, Sonoma, Denver, Portland. (Listed on my website). Then it will be back to work. I’ve just moved to Random House and will write two epics for them ‘PLAGUE’ and ‘FIRE’ about London 1665-6.
|London's FIRE from an unknown artist|
courtesy of Wikipedia
Mahalo, CC, for joining us at SOS Aloha! What is your favorite swordsman's story - real or fictional, book or movie? One randomly selected commenter wins a Hawaiian "historical" souvenir. This giveaway is open to all readers. Comments are open through Saturday, September 15, 10 pm in Hawaii. I'll post teh winner on Sunday, September 16.
Kim in Hawaii
To learn more about CC and his books - historical fiction and young adult - check out his website at cchumphreys.com.