“One of the great pleasures of writing historical fiction is the opportunity it provides to step back in time and engage imaginatively with a period that appears to be completely different from your own. This appeal has never been motivated, for me at least, by escapism. Because the past may indeed be another country, but like Joyce’s Ireland or Leonardo Sciascia’s Sicily, the present is something that you always end up writing about no matter how far you move awayfrom it
As a writer who often deals with historical catastrophes and episodes of social/political breakdown, I have often looked to the past for warnings and precedents in both fiction and non-fiction.This was the case with The Devils of Cardona, and also with my forthcoming novel Black Sun Rising. Despite the greater historical distance, the parallels between past and present at first sight might seem clearer in a novel set in sixteenth century Aragon. In Black Sun Rising the relevance to the present seems more tenuous. The 1909 urban uprising in Barcelona known as ‘Tragic Week’ is a key episode in Spanish and Catalan history, but it doesn’t have the obvious wider resonance as the conflict between Muslims and Christians in the Spain of Philip II.
Writing it required me to immerse myself, not merely in Spanish history, but in the period of history which later became known as the Belle Epoque. As the term suggests, the notion of a Belle Epoque—beginning roughly in 1871 and ending in 1914—is essentially celebratory.It conjures up notions ofpeace, optimism, artistic endeavor, economic prosperity and technological transformation that were supposedly eclipsed by the calamitous events of the first half of the twentieth century.”
My essay for CrimeReads on ‘the eerie similarities between the start of the 20th century and today’ to coincide with the publication of my new novel Black Sun Rising by Pegasus Books. You can read the rest here.
I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist. My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018). The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.