A fellow writer set me a challenge: 'Blog me the genesis of your book. Where did it come from, and where were you when it did?'
Pretty, huh? Note the almost faultlessly preserved within-the-town-walls circular shape. The view below is also Nordlingen. Note the almost too-perfectly-preserved buildings. There is a reason for this. Not, for once, in this part of Germany, that the whole place was flattened by the RAF in 1944, and lovingly rebuilt after, no. Everything you see in Nordlingen is absolutely genuinely genuine. Nordlingen is a true Thirty-Years-War survivor, and what you see here is close enough to what the last soldiers saw, when they marched out in 1648, for any such soldier to be still able to find his way around the town today. Blindfold, if need be.
The reason for which, is, Nordlingen gambled, in the Thirty Years War, and lost. When the war ended (in 1648), Nordlingen was left with such a heap of debt it took it two centuries (TWO CENTURIES!!!) to pay it off. The Age of Reason passed it by - there was no money in Nordlingen to pay to replace those geometric C16th facades with neo-Classical porches and stoops, because Nordlingen was still paying off the amount it had to borrow to stop General Tilly burning the place to the ground. The Age of the Railways arrived, 100 years later - no, Nordlingen had no money for that either, still paying off its debts from when the Swedish juggernaut heaved into town, in Tilly's defeated wake. The world moved on. Nordlingen, beggared beyond belief, was left behind.
I pitched up in Nordlingen in 1998. I was in company with my mate Joyce Hackett, she of the award-winning Disturbance of the Inner Ear, which I most heartily recommend to you, and Cara, one of the loveliest mutts I have ever had the pleasure to know. For Cara's evening walk, we walked Nordlingen's still-intact town walls. Watchtower to watchtower. We had supper at the Sun Inn, whose vistor's book kicks off in 1450. In the morning, we walked around the town, barely able to believe we hadn't suffered some time-slip overnight. Want to know what wattle and daub walls feel like? Run your fingertips along this. Want to understand how doomed you would feel, watching an army advance toward you, trapped within your little walled town? Lean out of watchtower, half-close your eyes, and in your imagination, fill that plain beyond with the rise and fall of marching troops, advancing on you like a sea. Want to know what it would sound like, hearing your own footsteps pounding down an alley so narrow that your shoulders barely fit between the walls, as you run for your life? Here you go. Be my guest.
I already had, in my head, the first dozen or so characters of my novel. I knew they all somehow related, I knew they fitted into the same jigsaw, but it was only in Nordlingen that I began to see how. This is Yosha, the Jewish merchant. This is the world he trades with, but can never belong to. This is Mungo Sant, the Scottish privateer. This is the world he trades with, but will never trust. And this here - this is my hero, Jack. He stands here, in Nordlingen, the terror of everything he sees; and here in his head are his scars, his griefs, his losses. Here is his story. This is what made him as he is. One man. Thirty years of war.