Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Katie Hickman

Katie Hickman is the author of The Aviary Gate, a novel set in late sixteenth century Constantinople in the harem of the Turkish Sultan, Mehmet III.

From a Q & A at Hickman's website:

Q: How did you come to write a novel set in a sultan's harem?

A: Actually, I started the novel with two characters: John Carew, a master cook, and Jamal al-Andalus, an Arab astronomer. The more I thought about them, the more I realized that one of the only plausible settings in which these two might meet would be in late-sixteenth-century Constantinople. It was only then, when I was researching this period, that I came across the diary of the Elizabethan organ maker Thomas Dallam (which really exists, by the way), with its famous account of how he saw through a hole in the wall in the sultan's harem and watched the women playing there. I began to imagine what might happen if someone else had been there with him--John Carew, as it turned out--and if when that second person looked through, he saw someone he knew. What then?

Q: Please describe the research you did. Did you travel to Istanbul? And are there any parallels between your discovery process and that of your character, Elizabeth?

A: I went four or five times to Istanbul, a city which I love very much. The first time, thirteen years ago now, I lived there for a month so that I could really get a feel for the place. I stayed in a wonderfully eccentric hotel, and couldn't resist getting my character, Elizabeth Staveley, to stay there too! Her experience of being haunted by the person she is researching--the English slave girl Celia Lamprey--is something I became very interested in when I was writing historical biographies myself. Biographers live in such close imaginative proximity with their subjects that it's very hard sometimes to stop yourself feeling that they are really there, just behind you.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: The Aviary Gate.

--Marshal Zeringue