|Photo credit: Robert Gould|
Dragonfly Song is set on a fictitious northern Aegean island, and in Knossos in Crete. As in most of my books, I used a mixture of research, imagination and logic to create my versions of these places – despite a lifetime of longing to see them, I’d never managed to get there.
But the book I’m working on next needs much more specific, less documented knowledge, and so in May, my husband and I headed to Crete. I’d been corresponding with the archaeologist Sabine Beckmann for some time, reading her papers and bombarding her with questions. When I got an email from her one evening, inviting me to spend a couple of days with her, I was too excited to sleep. The reality was even better than I’d imagined, because she also helped structure the rest of our time there – not just where to go, but what to look for.
|Wendy in Knossos|
So, early the first morning, we headed to Knossos. Knossos is the site of a palace – or temple or administrative centre – that was built, burned and rebuilt several times until its final destruction around 1450 BCE. It was excavated and partially reconstructed by the British archaeologist Arthur Evans in the early 20th century.
I’d first visited it in Mary Renault’s novel The King Must Die when I was twelve. I’ve saved articles, maps, photos and imaginative interpretations since I first started writing, and displayed them on my walls and computer desktop for the years of writing Dragonfly Song. Now I was there.
|Dragonfly Song in the Archaeological Museum|
And I couldn’t feel anything. I was overwhelmed by the hubbub of tour guides with differing theories in different languages, and by all the controversy and criticism of the reconstructions that I’d absorbed in the last few years. I told myself it didn’t matter. I took endless photos, and tried to match what I was seeing with where I had imagined my protagonist, Aissa, in different parts of the book.
|Mt Juktas, which you can see from Knossos. Wendy imagined this very rocky, rugged terrain as being like Aissa’s home island|
Then I stood in front of a temple crypt, which wasn’t particularly photogenic and hadn’t featured in the story, and felt the pull of a place was somewhere that real people had built, cared for and probably worshipped in. I looked in on the throne room and knew that it didn’t matter whether it should have been called that or not – it was a seat of power, and my Aissa would have felt it. I pictured her on the courtyard where the bull games probably took place, and on the steps afterwards. I saw the mountain that she and her friend Luki stared out at from their training ground.
|The steps that Aissa once trod|
Because one thing is sure: somewhere in the complex of Knossos, for the glory of the gods, the rulers or themselves, young gymnasts faced bulls that were far bigger than any species now alive. They cartwheeled over their backs, did handsprings off their horns. Undoubtedly many of them died. They may not have been named Aissa or Luki, but walking on the stones where they had walked, I knew they must have faced the same terror, exhilaration, pride and despair, as they lived their own stories four thousand years ago.