March Update: Writing in the Time of the ‘Rona

How are you all? Keeping sane as much as possible?

Like many of you, I’m now working from home and trying to keep away from the public in general. I keep seeing all these posts everywhere about what famous writers wrote while they were in quarantine and all I can think is…please fuck off. Chuck Wendig recently did a blog called “It’s Okay that you’re not Okay” and it really hits this COVID19 situation on the head as a creator and discusses the weird drive to create a masterpiece on one hand while completely having a slow moving break down at the same time.

I’m one of the ridiculously lucky ones in that I’m okay being at home and not going out to work everyday. I’m usually stuck in a cubicle so I’m looking on the bright side here of being in my own space and being able to manage my anxiety. I don’t have people on a freak out around me, I can keep updated on the government health websites and not the mainstream media hell loop.

In my writing space, I’m in research and planning and dreaming mode. I’m trying to figure out where I go from “The Magicians of Venice” and my research always dictates my writing and not the other way around. So I’m giving myself permission to not put pressure on myself to write everyday, but to start absorbing non-fiction history and classics and refilling my well. I was really empty at the end of last year after finishing “The King’s Seal” so I feel like I have a lot of well to refill. Maybe there is blessing in having a slower year all round.

Speaking of “The Magicians of Venice”…I have good news. At this stage, “The Sea of the Dead” is still going to be out on the 17th of September. I know a lot of book dates have been changing but so far, mine isn’t. I don’t have cover reveals to do yet (although they won’t be far away) but I do have a description. Beware it contains spoilers for “The Immortal City”:

The battle for Venice might be over but the war is just beginning…Penelope and Alexis’s adventure continues in the second instalment of The Magicians of Venice series. 
Penelope accepted her role as the new Archivist for the magicians, but with war brewing with the priests of Thevetat and the tide of magic on the rise, she’s going to have to learn her way around her new and dangerous world if she has any hope of outsmarting their enemies. 
When her friend and fellow archaeologist Tim uncovers a scroll containing a magical secret, lost in the Dead Sea for two thousand years, Penelope and Alexis will travel to Israel to find him before Abaddon and Kreios do. 
To defeat Thevetat and his followers, they’ll need to find a weapon capable of ending him for good, and as her old life collides with her new, Penelope will pay the ultimate price to keep the secrets of the magicians safe.
Fuck. Yes. Dead Sea Scrolls are where its AT. I will write about inspirations and reference books and all sorts of goodness in the next coming months. I really loved writing this one. It was research heavy, despite doing a unit about the Scrolls at Uni, and was so much fun to write my own spin on them. Also, there is loads of Magicians and Alexis and Penelope.
Speaking of Alexis. I commissioned the AMAZING @SNCINDERART on Instagram do a commission of him in his tower! I was so not ready for the finished product. ARE YOU READY? (you aren’t).
Stay safe everyone…I’m going to go and stare at this until I feel better about life.

 

The Immortal City is HERE

The time is now! ‘The Immortal City’ is out in the world at last! I’ve talked about it a lot in vague terms and descriptions the past few months to avoid spoilers but no more. Over the next few blogs I’m going to be talking about the main players in ‘The Immortal City’; and today I’m starting with the Big Two: Penelope and Alexis. Don’t worry I’m still going to make these as spoiler free as possible, while giving you a bit of insight into who they are and how they wandered into my brain and developed into the characters you’ll meet.

Penelope Bryne started as a panic attack.

I had been thinking about writing an Atlantis book for a while, and having a female archaeologist as my protagonist, and I’d been working for universities / academia and had an insight into the daily struggles, but didn’t have a feel for her just yet. Then life got in the way.

I’m not a sharer, but I’m comfortable enough to say I was not in a good place anxiety wise in early 2017. My work place wasn’t a healthy one so I knew that it needed to change, and I was locked into a contract until May and thought I could keep it together and wait it out. In April, I started having public panic attacks. In restaurants that were too crowded, on the train going home from work etc and then as I sat holding in tears in the bathroom of a strangers house, at a party I’d been convinced to go to…there was Penelope. Anxiety filled and in the darkest place, feeling like a failure and unable to even control her own mind and body.

I started writing her, and I felt like if I could write a character and how she dealt with her anxiety, maybe I could figure out my own. Pen was doing yoga and meditation, so I got back into it and man, has it helped on so many levels. I’m not saying Penelope is a reflection of me, or that her triggers are the same, but writing her struggles as I went through my own was therapeutic. It still is. I wanted a character who had the panic attacks and anxiety, but still got up and did what she had to and manage it as best as she could. I wasn’t thinking of an audience at the time I planned and wrote ‘The Immortal City,’ I was thinking how as a reader I don’t see people with anxiety being the heroes. Yeah, sure, there are some that I’ve found where the character has anxiety, but it tends to mysteriously get cured pretty early on when they find the right man/place they belong/  the ‘source’ of their anxiety like magical interference. I’m going to tell you right now – Penelope’s anxiety doesn’t go away through the whole series because you don’t get cured of that shit, you only learn to manage it.

Penelope has an impossible dream– to find the historical Atlantis. This dream has shaped her life in all aspects as a daughter, an academic and as a woman. It’s impacted her relationships and drives her waking moments. I wanted a character to get a glimpse of achieving that dream and having it taken away, her hard work and research panned and her grant money gone. I work in a creative industry so I know a little bit about having the impossible dream, especially when it gets trodden on. I was also working closely with academics and seeing firsthand how they spend so much of their professional life trying to get grants, publish articles and get recognition for the work that they do and have the means to continue it. I’ve seen people burst into tears when they’ve been denied grant funding because it means they have to leave their research and go back to teach in order to pay the bills. I’m not saying that there’s something wrong with teaching or it’s a lesser vocation because it’s not, but I wanted to share this side of academia because you never see Lara Croft or Robert Langdon being forced to say no to an adventure because they don’t have the cash or means of obtaining it.

Penelope is absolutely the kind of person obsessed with her dream enough to leave her holiday to go to Venice because something pertaining to her research has turned up at a crime scene. While I don’t like to inflict talk of ‘themes’ onto readers, obsession in all its forms plays a big part in the Magicians of Venice series, and nearly every single character in is obsessed with something.

Okay, I don’t think I can say tooooo much more about Pen without giving out spoilers apart from adding she’s an Aussie and an only child. For a bit of fun, I’ve created a yoga flow for her that you can find below. It’s not intensive, as she uses yoga to calm down, and I’ve enjoyed putting this one together for anyone who’s interested. FYI – I’m not a yoga teacher, this is for fun, please practice safely.

Penelope’s ‘Calm the Fk Down’ Yoga Flow

  • Childs Pose
  • Plank
  • Forward Fold
  • Sun salutation
  • Mountain Pose
  • Warrior 1
  • Down Dog
  • Childs Pose

(ten rounds, 3 breaths for each move)

Alexis Donato started as a dream.

Before I had Penelope, I had Alexis. Penelope made me work to see her character and her motivations clearly, Alexis was a god damn freight train of ‘Here I am. Try to understand me at your peril. No, I’m not changing because you want me gentler, or easier, or less complicated.’ Alexis turned up in a dream, in fact a bunch of dreams. And yes, I know how lame this sounds, and yes, just because I had a cool dream doesn’t mean it makes a cool story. Dreams can be pretty bullshit but bullshit fertilises (as the saying goes).

Dream 1, came about as all of the Atlantis and research primordial ooze was percolating in my brain. In the dream I knew I was someone else. I wasn’t *me* but I was in Venice at night and someone stepped from the shadows and stabbed me as I was admiring the view from a bridge. I toppled into a canal and when I came to I was in a stranger’s house and that stranger was Alexis, who told me he was a magician from Atlantis. For those who’ve read ‘The Immortal City’ this scene may seem familiar although not in this form. It’s because I couldn’t leave this moment out of it.  Alexis had arrived and I woke up thinking I really shouldn’t eat so much before bed, but this character refused to go away. The following week I had about three different dreams including having coffee with him in the San Marco piazza. The bastard wouldn’t leave me alone and I knew in my bones I had one of my main characters. The weird thing was, once I had Alexis, every bit of random research I had scattered through notebooks all clicked into place. He was the keystone, the spider in the web, and the plot connected in the most surprisingly creepy way. Writing this series has been like that from day 1 and even now I’m in my third book things keep connecting randomly.

Alexis is a great character and one of the most fun I’ve ever gotten to write. I love writing about magicians and magic in general, so building the myth of Atlantis up around Alexis and the other magicians was such a blast. His duty has been to protect the other magicians and prevent mankind from learning the truth about Atlantis, so you can imagine him butting heads with Penelope who’s determined to discover the truth. He’s a general, a big brother, a son and he does his best to keep the other magicians in line. I really loved being able to use him as my storyteller, and crafting mini stories and memories was a way I could go to Atlantis without losing the book completely to full fantasy territory. Alexis has lived a LONG time, and there’s so much room as a writer to play with and use to develop layers and motivations.

I recently saw a reviewer describe Alexis as ‘part romance, part violence’ and its pretty spot on. He’s a scholar and a warrior. He doesn’t always play well with others but he’s loyal and fierce and damn charming when he wants to be. I’m shamelessly in love with Alexis. I’ve also created him a yoga flow because the poor guy has a lot on his hands.

Alexis’s ‘I’m Trying not to Murder these Magicians’ Yoga Flow

  • Mountain
  • Forward Fold
  • Plank
  • Upward Dog
  • Downward Dog
  • Warrior 2
  • Reverse Warrior
  • Crescent pose
  • Mountain

(seven rounds, three breaths per pose)

Developing Penelope and Alexis was night and day by way of process, but I love them both like crazy. They’ve really pushed me as a writer and have helped me through the last few years of anxiety and growth.

For those of us who are visual people, I really encourage you to check out ‘The Magicians of Venice’ Pintrest Board, its massive and gives you a good vibe of the series. Also, if you really want to know, Jade Taylor is probably the closest I’ve come to imaging Penelope in my head, and the model Maximiliano Patane for Alexis 😉

I hope you love them as much as I do! Grab your copy here and don’t forget to leave me a review 🙂

Ames x

‘A’ is for August and Atlantis

 

It’s exactly 1 month and 8 days until the release of ‘The Immortal City’ and so I thought I’d change the usual blog format up to talk about Atlantis, in particular, two historical figures that are mentioned in the book; Plato and Helena Blavatsky.

Let’s start with Plato, the Greek Grand Daddy of all Atlantis theory and the closest primary source that we have on Atlantis. For those who don’t know, Plato was an Athenian philosopher that was born in Greece around 423 BC. He is considered one of the most important figures in Ancient Greek History and was the student of Socrates. Atlantis appears in Timaeus and Critias, two of Plato’s dialogues, recorded conversations of a group consisting of Socrates, Critias, Timaeus, Hermocrates and himself. Plato writes about an ancient Athens as an Ideal State, and its conflict with Atlantis, an advanced, mighty island nation. The God Zeus decides to punish Atlantis for its hubris and in the process, ancient Athens is also destroyed (because Zeus is a jerk like that).

In the dialogues, Plato writes that this smackdown from Zeus destroyed ancient Athens and Atlantis 9000 years ago, and that its history was lost during the disaster. It’s not until Solon, a wise sage of Greece and friend of the grandfather Critias, traveled to Egypt, specifically to the learned priests at Sais, sometime between 590-580 BC, that the story of Atlantis is re-discovered.

It’s in Critias that the full story of Atlantis comes out; an island nation created and beloved by Poseidon, ruled by his ten sons. We get a lot of history about how it was constructed, the nature and intelligence of its people. They were well known throughout the Aegean and Egypt through trade and its military prowess. Long story short, the peace between Athens and Atlantis disintegrates and after the war, earthquakes and volcanos destroy Atlantis, pulling it into the sea in a single day and night. Athens is also destroyed in the earthquakes and flooding, which is why it’s only in Egypt that the story of the nation and its conflict survives.

Sorry guys, magical crystals aren’t featured at all in Plato 🙂

(FYI- if you want to know more about those, beyond Disney’s Atlantis flick, look up Edgar Cayce) 

So where does Thevetat and the conflict with the white priests/ magicians come into the story?? Well, that’s Helena Blavatsky’s area of expertise.

HPB, as she liked to style herself, is one of the most fascinatingly random figures involved with the Atlantis stories. Born in Russia in 1831, she was an occultist, philospher and co-founder of the Theosophical Society. She was a world traveller, who claimed she spent seven years studying in Tibet under Masters, she had a seance business in Cairo, lived in Paris and New York, and published multiple works including the 1885 book, The Secret Doctrine, The Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy. This work contains HPB’s version of Atlantis, one vastly different to Plato’s. Claiming that she recieved the history of Atlantis in trances, it goes alot into the first men or root races (theories that the Nazi’s would eventually latch onto) but I won’t bog you down in the complex theory of these, only to say that the Atlanteans were one of them.

The Secret Doctrine also talks about how the downfall of Atlantis came about when some of their peoples started using bad magic taught to them by a demon called Thevetat. This demon worship and practices were opposed by good magicians/ priests and a war broke out, and continued right up until the day Atlantis was destroyed. It also descibes how some of the good magicians managed to get to ships and flee before the final cataclysm.

It was this idea that I really latched onto during my research into Atlantis because there was so much a fantasy writer could play with. It didn’t hurt that it already aligned with a lot of the ideas I had about a group of magicians that managed to escape from Atlantis and who have been stuck in a magically long life ever since. History, my friends, is always so much stranger than you can ever believe.

If you want to know more about Atlantis and ALL of the stories, theories, science, history and believers I highly recommend the book in the photo, Stephen P. Kershaw’s ‘A Brief History of Atlantis.’ I have used this book as a quick reference guide so much in the past years and it’s an excellent starting point for anyone interested.

It’s probably important to reiterate here that I’m a fantasy writer, not a historian, who has always been endlessly fascinated by Atlantis, and ‘The Magicians of Venice’ is the series in which I’ve had the chance to really explore my nerdiness.

There will be more Atlantis and ‘The Immortal City’ specially themed blogs over the next few months that will give you an insight into history, the characters, locations from the book and all my other inspirations. As I said it’s still a month before ‘The Immortal City’ is out in the world but you can learn more about it and pre-order it here, or at your fave local bookstore.

Ames x

p.s. Please note that the cards of Plato and Helena Blavatsky in my photos are from ‘Saints and Mystics’ reading card deck by the amazing Andres Engracia. The black and white pic of Helena is from Wikipedia. 

 

July Update and Big Changes

Argh! 1 month and 26 days until ‘The Immortal City’ release! I thought I’d be less excited by now but the opposite is proving true – I AM PUMPED. I can’t wait until this baby is out in the world. It will be my first release with a traditional publishing house so I feel like everything is new and strange again – but in a really good way with supportive people around me. Speaking of support Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who has left reviews on NetGalley (omg you guys it’s hit 95 reviews) and any other blog/social media platform etc. I’m sharing the ones I see on Instagram and including them in my ‘Immortal City’ highlights because bookstagramers make the BEST pics. I can’t NOT share them. Seriously, I appreciate every single one. While ARCS are now closed don’t forget you can pre-order it here.

In other news I’m just about to hit 70k words of book 3 of ‘Magicians of Venice’ I’m trying not to freak out at how far I still have to go with it or rush through it to get that pesky draft 0 done. I have the time to go slower with this one and I’m really forcing myself to take the time to enjoy the ride. This series always takes so much more from me than any other books I’ve ever written but I’m already ridiculously in love with it and crazy proud how its coming together.

Here are some pictures of the street that my Magicians live on to celebrate. There will be location videos that I’ll also be sharing once the book is out as well. I hate the sound of my voice on camera but the places are far too pretty and awesome not to share.

While I was in Venice in November I really took the time to sit back, look at my plaftform and my writing process and I vowed to slow down in 2019, to take out the things that were stressing me out and not serving me. Some of the things was focusing on writing ONLY one book this year without killing myself to hit a dead line, cleaning up my brand, doing no university units, and in general taking out the things that stress me out.

On that note, you may have noticed a few changes around my site and Amazon etc. I have taken down ‘The Eagle Key’ and both of the ‘Western Wars’ books. Why? Mostly its because they aren’t really on brand. They are epic fantasy series experiments that I put up to see if they sold okay and if they did, I’d write more in those worlds. While I did have some enthusiastic fans, they never really sold, and I don’t really feel the need to keep writing in those worlds or growing / marketing them. I’d rather focus on The Firebird Fairytales Universe and other unannounced projects. I love writing contemporary fantasy / paranormal so they are the genres I’m going to write and focus on.

Another change is I’ve taken down my paperbacks from Createspace and Ingramspark. Why? Okay there are a bunch of reasons but mainly cost. Ingramspark are about to rise their prices again and because my books are large, and they charge per page, the cost of them were $18 USD as a base sales price, which means retailers were going to have to charge about $40 (for ‘Rise of the Firebird’ my biggest) to make any profit on them. That is insane. It comes down to me being an indie and not having the distribution discounts that other publishers have. Also there has been US Tax legislation and whole swag of other changes that have come in and to be honest? I literally can’t keep up with it all. Maybe in a few months if I’m swamped with requests for paperbacks, I’ll put them back up on Createspace so at least Amazon will have them, but I’m not planning on it. I’ve never really sold paperbacks, I’ve never promoted them either, so its going to be one less stress for me to worry about. This is not even mentioning the extra costs of covers and formatting that come with producing a paperback – money I could be using to get other books out digitally. Its a bummer but at the end of the day, I’m flexible to putting them back up again if there’s a need for it.

Enough boring bummed out stuff – I went to see The Cursed Child this month and it was INSANE. I’m one of the few people that didn’t read it and have managed to avoid most of the major spoilers because I really wanted to see the show. I was NOT disappointed. I was blown away. I go to a lot of musicals and theater and this was one of the best productions I’ve ever seen. The stage effects alone were fucking insane. I’m keen to keep the secrets but omg that shit was magical and I swear I almost peed a little when a frickin damn Dementor floated out of no where. I also got to go FULL Slytherin, I’m a 100% in love with old man Draco, I ship the hell out of Scorpious and Albus, and none of that should surprise anyone. It was the best day, and I really recommend anyone who has the opportunity to go to do it.

BECAUSE I watched Cursed Child and was in the mood for magic schools and fucked up chosen ones, I finally picked up ‘Carry On’ by Rainbow Rowell. I KNOW I’m the last person to reach this and fall in love but dudes…I AM SO IN LOVE. It was so much fun. I love the reluctant kind of crap chosen one trope and just ALL of it. Baz…do I need to say it? BAZ. I’m in love. I literally felt queasy when I was finished because I havent loved a book this hard in a really long time. I pre-ordered the hell out of ‘Wayward Son’ and counting down until November to get it in my hot little hands.

I haven’t had a huge amount of reading time this month because I’ve been wrecked (mid-winter darkness kicks my ass so hard) and also been using my spare time to focus on writing and researching (Gods Below so much research) but the other two books I’m keen as hell to finish off; ‘War’ by Laura Thalassa and ‘The King’ by Jennifer Armentrout. I have been waiting about a year for both of these so I’m trying not to go full crazy and read them all at once. There are a lot of mixed feelings out there by the Horseman series of Laura’s but I personally love them and the morally grey characters and fucked up situations they find themselves in. The world building and whole vibe of the books are insanely good – she has gone next level as a writer with them and I’m ecstatic and blown away. I really could rave about it for a good long while but I won’t because spoilers. But seriously…how hot is this cover? Probably my fave hot cover of the year so far. I rave about my love for Jennifer Armentrout a lot on this blog but I seriously LOVE her ‘Wicked Trilogy’ world – fae, hunters, New Orleans – how can I not be obsessed with it? ‘The King’ is a sequel to last years ‘The Prince’ and I nearly sobbed with happiness when I saw it arrive on my Kindle this morning. It’s like one novel split – just to warn you. I can’t wait to keep reading – Brighton is a great character and a lot of fun to read.

That about wraps me up, guys, this blog has gotten sooo much longer than I expected. Assassin’s Creed has released its final DLC and I’ve FINALLY got to Atlantis. I haven’t finished it yet so I’ll save my hard core fangirling until  next time.

Ames xx

 

 

Jesus wasn’t white: he was a brown-skinned, Middle Eastern Jew. Here’s why that matters

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

File 20180326 188628 rjgyj4.png?ixlib=rb 1.1
Hans Zatzka (Public Domain)/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Robyn J. Whitaker, University of Divinity

I grew up in a Christian home, where a photo of Jesus hung on my bedroom wall. I still have it. It is schmaltzy and rather tacky in that 1970s kind of way, but as a little girl I loved it. In this picture, Jesus looks kind and gentle, he gazes down at me lovingly. He is also light-haired, blue-eyed, and very white.

The problem is, Jesus was not white. You’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you’ve ever entered a Western church or visited an art gallery. But while there is no physical description of him in the Bible, there is also no doubt that the historical Jesus, the man who was executed by the Roman State in the first century CE, was a brown-skinned, Middle Eastern Jew.

This is not controversial from a scholarly point of view, but somehow it is a forgotten detail for many of the millions of Christians who will gather to celebrate Easter this week.

On Good Friday, Christians attend churches to worship Jesus and, in particular, remember his death on a cross. In most of these churches, Jesus will be depicted as a white man, a guy that looks like Anglo-Australians, a guy easy for other Anglo-Australians to identify with.

Think for a moment of the rather dashing Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. He is an Irish-American actor. Or call to mind some of the most famous artworks of Jesus’ crucifixion – Ruben, Grunewald, Giotto – and again we see the European bias in depicting a white-skinned Jesus.




Read more:
Friday essay: who was Mary Magdalene? Debunking the myth of the penitent prostitute


Does any of this matter? Yes, it really does. As a society, we are well aware of the power of representation and the importance of diverse role models.

After winning the 2013 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in 12 Years a Slave, Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o shot to fame. In interviews since then, Nyong’o has repeatedly articulated her feelings of inferiority as a young woman because all the images of beauty she saw around her were of lighter-skinned women. It was only when she saw the fashion world embracing Sudanese model Alek Wek that she realised black could be beautiful too.

If we can recognise the importance of ethnically and physically diverse role models in our media, why can’t we do the same for faith? Why do we continue to allow images of a whitened Jesus to dominate?

Jim Caviezel in Mel Gibson’s 2004 film The Passion of the Christ.
IMDB

Many churches and cultures do depict Jesus as a brown or black man. Orthodox Christians usually have a very different iconography to that of European art – if you enter a church in Africa, you’ll likely see an African Jesus on display.

But these are rarely the images we see in Australian Protestant and Catholic churches, and it is our loss. It allows the mainstream Christian community to separate their devotion to Jesus from compassionate regard for those who look different.

I would even go so far as to say it creates a cognitive disconnect, where one can feel deep affection for Jesus but little empathy for a Middle Eastern person. It likewise has implications for the theological claim that humans are made in God’s image. If God is always imaged as white, then the default human becomes white and such thinking undergirds racism.

Historically, the whitewashing of Jesus contributed to Christians being some of the worst perpetrators of anti-Semitism and it continues to manifest in the “othering” of non-Anglo Saxon Australians.




Read more:
What history really tells us about the birth of Jesus


This Easter, I can’t help but wonder, what would our church and society look like if we just remembered that Jesus was brown? If we were confronted with the reality that the body hung on the cross was a brown body: one broken, tortured, and publicly executed by an oppressive regime.

How might it change our attitudes if we could see that the unjust imprisonment, abuse, and execution of the historical Jesus has more in common with the experience of Indigenous Australians or asylum seekers than it does with those who hold power in the church and usually represent Christ?

The ConversationPerhaps most radical of all, I can’t help but wonder what might change if we were more mindful that the person Christians celebrate as God in the flesh and saviour of the entire world was not a white man, but a Middle Eastern Jew.

Robyn J. Whitaker, Bromby Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies, Trinity College, University of Divinity

And just because this article made me think of it…here is ‘American Gods’ talking about the many Jesi, cos there’s a lot of need for Jesus so there is a lot of Jesus. 

Friday essay: Joan of Arc, our one true superhero

Ali Alizadeh, Monash University

One need not be a parent of a young child, as I am, to be conscious of the full-blown resurgence of the superhero in contemporary popular culture. Beyond the dizzying proliferation of fetishised merchandise to do with Marvel and DC protagonists and the frankly obscene sights of middle-aged folk squeezed into uncomplaining lycra and leotards at Comic-Con gatherings, one may sense the spectral presence of the hero, that crucial cultural figure which has beguiled humanity since the epics of Homer and the demigods of ancient mythology. Yet there is more to the hero than a fanciful tale of courage and exceptional strength.

Heroes and heroines are the most explicit and visible manifestations of our aspirations as well as our limitations, poetic accounts of our capacity for transformation within the boundaries of human imagination. What, then, does the ceaseless preoccupation with a particular heroic icon tell us? And why is it that despite all our cynicism and exhaustion, we still find resonance and meaning in the images of those, fictional or factual, who embark on quests for the betterment of their conditions with an unflinching optimism and self-confidence?

A miniature of Joan of Arc, circa 1450 and 1500.
Wikimedia Commons

I want to address my own decision to write a novel about one of history’s most enduring heroic personae, the medieval Frenchwoman known to us as Jeanne d’Arc (1412–1431), or Joan of Arc in English. I also wish to assess her perseverance as a figure of global fascination despite her historical origins in a world that is very different to ours.

Jeanne’s world was one of conflict, tragedy and turmoil. She was born during one of the most brutal phases of history’s longest war, the Hundred Years War, which pitted an embattled French Kingdom against the forces of an intrepid England and an even more dynamic and rapacious medieval feudal duchy of Burgundy. Her native village and community were directly affected by the war’s ravages, and it was perhaps in response to the miseries of war, and perhaps also due to unique personal and psychological factors, that the young peasant woman, claiming to have been instructed by divine “voices”, left her village to end “the pity in the kingdom of France”. She was, much to the astonishment of future historians, received by the French king, armed and sent to fight the English as the “chief of war” of French forces. Her unexpected victories turned the tide of the war and made Jeanne into one of the most famous and most heroic figures of her epoch.

Has it been unsophisticated of me, a contemporary writer all too aware of the unheroic realities of our age, to devote so many years to researching and writing a book on the life of a woman who may be seen as an archetypal image of female heroism? Why is it that so many other writers and artists continue to write their own novels and songs and make films and musicals about this enigmatic icon of early European history?


Read more: Medieval women can teach us how to smash gender rules and the glass ceiling


I’ve been deeply fascinated with the story of Jeanne d’Arc since early childhood, when I came across an image of her – a horsed knight in an excessively shining armour, with an indisputably feminine face and hairdo – at a bookshop in Tehran in the early 1980s. But fascination alone does not result in an artistic project as complex and all-consuming as writing a modern literary novel.

So it is that I must admit that the tale of the young peasant woman who ran away from her village to become a knight, does not simply interest me. I find it exhilarating. Even though I have spent more than three decades reading and thinking about her, I’m still in awe of some of the basic elements and contradictions of her story.

How could an uneducated teenage girl lead armies to victory? How could a woman as highly attuned to the material conditions of her world – the topography of the battlefields, the byzantine milieu of late-medieval French politics – also sincerely believe in the metaphysical and believe that she heard the voices of saints and angels?

And why is it that this woman, so devoted to her political cause and to her vision of a united France, chose to be burnt at the stake at the age of 19 instead of acquiescing to her judges’ directives during her infamous trials of condemnation, and not live to see to the completion of her figurative crusade?

Paradoxes and complexities

There are many more paradoxes and complexities one may discern when it comes to the life of the so-called Maid of Orléans. For me, these are not entirely resolvable, nor are they reducible to one or more possible resolutions. In her I’ve found a potent paragon of the human subject at its most radical, most truthful embodiment.

She is one of the most extreme manifestations of the singularity of humanity, and a testament to our capacity to break with what reduces us to bare life. I will therefore offer this definition of the hero/ine for our time: s/he is one who, against the obsessions of bourgeois individualism and late-capitalist identity politics, fights to eradicate all impositions of individuality and identity to reach universal selfhood. S/he becomes a champion for all of us, and in her we find that most impossible and improbable phenomenon – genuine, irrefutable hope.

Long before Che, Joan of Arc committed to changing the world from the bottom up.

In my view, Jeanne d’Arc, despite living a good 350 years before the advent of the modern revolution, is an exemplary materialisation of the figure of the revolutionary. Long before Robespierre, Marx, Lenin, Luxemburg and Guevara, Jeanne the Maid of Orléans committed herself to the cause of transforming the world from the bottom up.

She fought for justice in the direction of a universal collectivity – a very early, very nascent notion of a unified nation under the rule of one sovereign – and not in the interest of a particular identitarian or sectarian grouping.

In the medieval, pre-modern heroine, we find a pre-emptive inversion of the mantras of the “progressive”, reformist, non-revolutionary bourgeois activists of postmodernity. For Jeanne the Maid, the public was the personal, and not merely the other way around. She made the world be the change that she wanted to see in herself. She thought local and acted global.

Revolutionary rupture

If Jeanne the Maid is a heroine, then, she is the heroine of the rare, luminous event of revolutionary rupture. This take is one which I’ve placed at the heart of my novel, The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc. The novel is not only an articulation of her radical character as I understand her; it is also a story of forbidden amorous love and intense, heretical spirituality. But central to the novel’s fictionalised account of a historical figure’s life – and my depiction of her sexuality and unique psychology – is my view of her as a woman who was transformed by her drive to transform the world in which she lived.


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Other artists, ideologues and believers have had widely differing configurations of the famous Frenchwoman. For most, however, she too has been a heroine, a woman who, against the limitations and expectations situated in socio-personal contexts, fought, defeated and was martyred by formidable manifestations of those very socio-personal limits. Nevertheless, mine and my other contemporaries’ versions of Jeanne the Maid’s heroism perhaps dramatically differ in their content, if not in their basic, heroic discourse.

Unlike pop star Madonna – whose recent song, Joan of Arc, depicts the Maid as metaphor for the multi-millionaire entertainer’s own discontent with fame and disagreeable pop culture journalists – I don’t see Jeanne as a symbol of my personal maladies.

Unlike former pop star David Byrne – in whose recent musical, Joan of Arc: Into the Fire, Jeanne is an anti-Trump (pseudo) riot grrrl enraged by misogyny and binary gendered ideals – I can’t, despite my own overt political leanings, bring myself to ascribe to the medieval heroine the ethos of a contemporary ideological project.

And unlike the great Bruno Dumont – the maverick French philosopher-filmmaker, whose own musical, Jeannette: l’enfance de Jeanne d’Arc, aspires to gently mock and deconstruct the religio-ideological premise of the cult of the Maid – I have approached her life with seriousness and with fidelity to the truths of her narrative.

Whatever one may conclude from considering the trajectories taken by the heroic image of Jeanne d’Arc since her brutal death in the hands of her Anglo-Burgundian enemies in 1431, one cannot but be stricken by the sheer variety of the Maid’s reincarnations. She’s been depicted as a national heroine and a nationalist symbol (and also, to my and many a leftists’ dismay, a popular mascot by French ultra-nationalists), a rebellious heretic and a goodly saint. A feminist role model and a belligerent military leader, an innocent mystic and a tortured victim.

However one may choose to view her, there can be no denying that she is, and will continue to be, one of the most singular and significant exemplars of our troubled species. Forget Wonder Woman and Batman – Jeanne d’Arc may be our one and only true superhero.

The ConversationAli Alizadeh will speak at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival on the topic of Revolutionary Women on Fri 1 Sep at 11.30am.

Ali Alizadeh, Senior Lecturer in Literary Studies and Creative Writing, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.