Questing for Inspiration – Children of Apollo and a journey into the Sahara by Adam Alexander Haviaras
Everyone seeks inspiration in their own ways be it music, movies, books, documentaries or just flipping through pictures. True inspiration is a fleeting thing, a sometime mystical experience.
To get into my creative groove, I do all of the things mentioned above and more. But the one thing that really does help me to tap the wellspring of creativity is travel. It’s not always possible, but when it is the results are humbling.
When I first started writing my historical fantasy novel, Children of Apollo (Eagles and Dragons - Book I), I realized early on that I would have to set a large part of the novel in Roman North Africa. The emperor at the time was from that part of the Empire and much of the action in the novel was going to be set there. But I’d never been to the desert and had mostly studied Roman Britain.
When a good friend of mine pointed out a small advert for a safari of Roman sites in Tunisia, I jumped at the chance. Libya and Algeria were not exactly holiday destinations at the time, but Tunisia seemed relatively safe. Three weeks later we were getting off the airplane in Tunis (Ancient Carthage).
The first thing I noticed when we got off the plane were the smells: salty sea air mingled with palm, dust and a smattering of car pollution. We spent the night in a palatial hotel that was devoid of any other humans. In the morning we jumped into our ‘Africa Tours’ 4x4 and headed into the mountains.
It’s shocking how green the mountains in northern Tunisia are. We climbed into the clouds and then came to Zaghouan and a massive ruin that was a Roman temple to water nymphs. This source provided water to Carthage via aqueducts built by Hadrian. This was our first hint; we weren’t going to see some measly little frontier outposts. The grandeur of Rome was strong on this southern edge of the Empire.
Then we descended into the infinite expanse of olive plains that have been there since the days of Carthage. I had never seen so many olive trees and realized that much of the wealth of that part of the Empire came from oil merchants. We came to the city of Thurburbo Majus where wild flowers sprouted in purple, red and yellow from between the cracks of the fallen blocks of ancient temples and other buildings.
On we drove, our driver ululating all the while to his cd of ‘Couscous Beats’. It was all material for my book, and with every mile we covered scene after scene started to take shape in my head.
We came to a town called El Jem that was located in the middle of a vast, dry plain dotted with olive groves. The citizens had been wealthy and to show it off, they built a massive amphitheatre in the centre of town that jutted out of the sand like a colossus. The amphitheatre of Thysdrus (El Jem) is much better preserved than the Coliseum in Rome. I ended up with a chapter involving gladiatorial games set there. When you sit in the seats of that amphitheatre you can still hear the crowds roaring for blood.
We left Thysdrus behind us, bathed in sand and golden light as we sped down a street lined with a hundred hanging heads of goat, sheep and cattle. The blood drained out, leaving grisly pools the whole length of the road. Our 4x4 sped down this ‘road of death’, as we called it, without a care. From there, we plunged into the sands of the Sahara.
The desert is a special place and it was here that I got most of my inspiration. It wasn’t people or ruins that inspired me so much as the setting of the world in which I was writing my story. The soft sand dunes that swept into the far distance, the towering palms touched by a gentle breeze, the gold, yellow and orange light that suffused the entire world at different times of day.
I think my favourite part was climbing a fifty foot dune in my bare feet and just sitting down and looking out from the top. As I sat there, my novel unfolded in my mind. I could see my characters moving through this timeless world. I could see gods and goddesses, battles, gladiators, treachery and blood in the sand. I could see Lucius, my main character, marching with his legionaries and longing for the woman he loved on the other side of the Empire.
I was brought out of my creative trance by a visit to a Saharan animal market where it could have been any century for the last two thousand years. Traders haggled with buyers over the price of camels, sheep, goats and horses. Pick-pockets made the rounds and guards (police) stood lazily on the fringes of the press of sweaty flesh.
I didn’t buy a camel that day, but I did get a very good idea as to what a Roman market might have been like.
One of the most stunning places we visited was the extensive Roman city of Thugga. In the middle of nowhere this extremely well-preserved ancient city lies virtually unguarded. Complete mosaics lie open to the sky and main thoroughfares, houses, brothels, public latrines, temples and theatres are all there to be explored. I could have spent days in that one place and I knew that my characters would spend a bit of time there at some point.
Sadly, the safari had to come to an end and we headed back to Tunis. After the desert, the city was a crowded disappointment but the pain was somewhat lessened by a visit to the Bardo Museum where the most beautiful mosaics I have ever seen are on display. It was a nice way to end the trip, to see the floors and decorations that adorned the ruins we had seen throughout our journey.
There were many other experiences that added texture to the trip too: haggling in French over the price of a Berber bracelet for my wife, coming face to face with rifle-wielding Berber horsemen, and catching a very bad fever subsequent to eating a mysterious soup. It was all creative food for thought.
The question is: Could I have written Children of Apollo without this journey?
I honestly don’t know. The experiences are such a part of me now that it’s hard to imagine not having gone. What I do know is that it was far better for my creativity than say, leafing through a book or watching a documentary. The latter can give you the visuals and the history, but only traveling to a place will immerse your senses completely. And that is invaluable.
Adam Alexander Haviaras is a Toronto-based writer, blogger and historian. He is the author of Children of Apollo, the first book in the historical fantasy series Eagles and Dragons. Adam has studied ancient and medieval history and archaeology at the University of Toronto, Canada and St. Andrews University, Scotland. His second book, Killing the Hydra (Eagles and Dragons – Book II) will be released toward the end of Summer 2013.
Check out his website: www.writingthepastblog.blogspot.com
Visit the Eagles and Dragons Facebook page:
Tweet him @AdamHaviaras
Adam will be here tomorrow on
The Sunday Spotlight
So I hope you'll join us again
Many thanks to Adam for sharing his fascinating adventure to North Africa and I have to agree Tunisia is a truly wondrous place!
Have a great day