Your book, The Coronation, sounds fascinating. What was the first idea that made you decide to write this story?
To begin this, I’d like to describe how I work, how I come at or conceive my novels. I didn’t know this on my first novel, but have subsequently discovered this about how best I work, and how I best like to work.
So, to start, I tend to conceive the themes I want to explore in a story. Then I find the setting – the plot, the characters, the place, and the historical period – that best allows me to explore those themes and the message I want to put across.
Before I talk about The Coronation, my third novel, I’d like to give a bit of background as to my own writing journey up to the time I conceived it.
My first novel, The Genes of Isis, was an epic fantasy set in Ancient Egypt, and a re-telling of the Biblical story of the flood. Its plot was loosely based on the myth of Isis and Osiris.
Then I wrote a historical fantasy, The Old Dragon’s Head. It’s set in the 1400’s in Ming Dynasty China on the far eastern end of the Great Wall, and explored the supernatural beliefs of the Chinese mindset of those times.
Egypt and China – two of the largest historical contributors to the mores of civilisation.
Then, towards the end of 2017, I conceived the idea of a third novel, The Coronation.
Looking back at my notes, I wanted one of the themes of the story to be about famine, not only physical famine but also the spiritual famine. I wanted to use physical famine as a metaphor for spiritual famine, such as we encounter everywhere in today’s world.
So, I had to find a period of history, or a setting, when famine was prevalent.
I wanted also to explore the Ancient Greek idea of Arcadia, of an unspoiled, harmonious living together of a people and the land, played out through custom and ceremony, poem and dressage, song and dance. And I wanted to find a recent time and a place in history when the Arcadian ideal was still alive and well.
So, I also had to find a period of history when this Arcadian ideal was still alive and well and prospering.
This led me to the 18th Century in Europe.
It was a huge change-over, from feudal times to the beginning of the industrial era. It was time when there were few large cities, when people often only moved around within a 10- or 20-mile radius of their place of birth in all of their lives. It was a time when, in Europe, society was structured according to the Sachenspiegel, the Saxon Mirror, in the same way that God had ordered the Universe, from the stars down to the moon, from kings down to the peasants. This was a fixed, static view. In other words, people had to stay in and couldn’t move out of their strata of society, otherwise there would be upheaval and revolution.
It seemed to me that the Industrial Revolution had much to do with engendering that spiritual famine, so I looked for its genesis.
It began with the so-called Newcomen Engine.
This was a rather inefficient pump designed by a Devon pastor by the name of Thomas Newcomen. It was used to pump water out of Cornish tin mines.
There’s a photo here showing a reconstruction of that engine.
That led me to research James Watt and the origins of his steam engine. I found that he didn’t invent the steam engine, but he simply improved on the existing design, i.e., the Newcomen Engine.
So, in the 1760’s, James Watt made his discovery of the improvement to the efficiency of the steam engine, and we now live in the results of that, that is, we live in an industrialised society. That’s what we have inherited, whether we like it or not.
But was that how it was meant to be? Because at the time, a time they now call the Great Enlightenment, there were great advances in science, in biology, in chemistry, and medical science. These helped dispel the mists of superstition enshrouding the people of the time, and which prevented further growth and development.
But were we, as a people, as a genus, meant to take the industrial route? Was there an alternative? It must have been there, so what was it, and why didn’t we take it?
So, what was the ‘coronation’ alluded to in the book title? It wasn’t the coronation of a king or a queen or an emperor. So, what was it? Was it to do with the coronation of mankind, and if so, what form did that take? What did it, or would it look like, if mankind was crowned? And what did it have to do with the eagle?
These were the themes which set me off researching Europe on the 18th Century, and the period of the Great Enlightenment. And if it really was just that, a Great Enlightenment, how come we aren’t living in a greatly enlightened society today? Why didn’t it progress and develop? And should that day ever come, what would it look like? And would we recognise it?
These were some of the questions I wanted to explore in the novel.
Thank you so much for sharing. Your inspiration sounds fascinating. Good luck with the book.
Here’s the blurb
It is 1761. Prussia is at war with Russia and Austria. As the Russian army occupies East Prussia, King Frederick the Great and his men fight hard to win back their homeland.
In Ludwigshain, a Junker estate in East Prussia, Countess Marion von Adler celebrates an exceptional harvest. But it is requisitioned by Russian troops. When Marion tries to stop them, a Russian captain strikes her. His lieutenant, Ian Fermor, defends Marion’s honour and is stabbed for his insubordination. Abandoned by the Russians, Fermor becomes a divisive figure on the estate.
Close to death, Fermor dreams of the Adler, a numinous eagle entity, whose territory extends across the lands of Northern Europe and which is mysteriously connected to the Enlightenment. What happens next will change of the course of human history…
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Meet the author
Justin Newland is an author of historical fantasy and secret history thrillers – that’s history with a supernatural twist. His stories feature known events and real people from history which are re-told and examined through the lens of the supernatural. He gives author talks and is a regular contributor to BBC Radio Bristol’s Thought for the Day. He lives with his partner in plain sight of the Mendip Hills in Somerset, England.
The Genes of Isis is a tale of love, destruction and ephemeral power set under the skies of Ancient Egypt. A re-telling of the Biblical story of the flood, it reveals the mystery of the genes of Isis – or genesis – of mankind. ISBN 9781789014860.
“The novel is creative, sophisticated, and downright brilliant! I couldn’t ask more of an Egyptian-esque book!” – Lauren, Books Beyond the Story.
The Old Dragon’s Head is a historical fantasy and supernatural thriller set during the Ming Dynasty and played out in the shadows the Great Wall of China. It explores the secret history of the influences that shaped the beginnings of modern times. ISBN 9781789015829.
‘The author is an excellent storyteller.” – British Fantasy Society.
Set during the Great Enlightenment, The Coronation reveals the secret history of the Industrial Revolution. ISBN 9781838591885.
“The novel explores the themes of belonging, outsiders… religion and war… filtered through the lens of the other-worldly.” – A. Deane, Page Farer Book Blog.
His latest, The Abdication (July, 2021), is a suspense thriller, a journey of destiny, wisdom and self-discovery. ISBN 9781800463950.
“In Topeth, Tula confronts the truth, her faith in herself, faith in a higher purpose, and ultimately, what it means to abdicate that faith.”
V. Triola, Coast to Coast.
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