Part 2 of Michael Skeet’s process for his historical fantasies
The inspiration for the novel that became A Tangled Weave was one of those lightning strikes that almost never happen. It came about while I was doing background research for A Poisoned Prayer: specifically I was looking into the pace at which the French upper classes adopted glassware (as opposed to precious metal cups and goblets) for drinking and stoves for heating.
(As an aside, most Europeans were perplexed at the refusal of the English to adopt the stove. The English were devoted to the rustic, but utterly inefficient, fireplace, and froze in winter and summer for their obstinacy.)
I was deep into a book by a French academic named Daniel Roche, A History of Everyday Things: The Birth of Consumption in France 1600-1800 (translated by Brian Pearce) when I came across something that made me sit back in my chair and say Hmmm*. M. Roche commented that the influx of Indian calico cotton fabric (they called the stuff “painted” rather than “printed” back then) was posing such a threat to the domestic textile industry that Louis XIV ordered a complete prohibition on the import of such fabric.
How could I resist this? The idea of an aristocratic cloth-smuggler was an instantaneous development. (The consumers of this cloth were either aristocrats or wealthy bourgeoises.) And the first chapter of A Tangled Weave flowed out of me and into my computer nearly as instantaneously. I wrote the first draft of that first chapter before I’d finished A Poisoned Prayer. Five years passed before I got back to the story, but the central images of an aristocratic young woman smuggling cloth were solidly enough embedded in my brain that I was able to pick up the tale without any difficulty whatever†.
Those who are interested in learning more about the subject can read a very thorough PhD (Philosophy) thesis on the subject from Nottingham Trent University in the UK: Gillian Crosby’s “First Impressions: The Prohibition on Printed Calicoes in France, 1686-1759″. I wish this had been available when I started writing the novel.
*No, seriously. That’s a direct quote.
†Well, aside from the normal intellectually crippling difficulties every writer experiences upon revisiting a first draft.