Monday 13 January 2014

1759 - the point of divergence

Some of my readers have speculated whether The Only Genuine Jones and The Atholl Expedition share the same fictional timeline. My first book is set in 1897 and features dramatic changes to historical events, including an attempt on the North Face of the Eiger several decades before its actual first ascent. My second book is set fifty years earlier and, while changes are made to the timeline, these changes are far more subtle and depend on chance meetings and minor changes of plan.

I call my books historical fiction, but in fact the true classification ought to be alternate history: not in a big way like Hitler invading England, but in a small way that allows me to explore themes and ideas central to the history of mountaineering with greater freedom.

I can now reveal that both of my novels, and all of the novels I plan to write in the future, adhere to the same timeline and share continuity. In my "world," James Forbes investigated Scottish glaciers in 1847 and O.G. Jones climbed on the Orion Face of Ben Nevis in 1897. It's all connected and interwoven.

The Point of Divergence

Alternate history requires a point of divergence: a moment where the fictional timeline diverges from accepted historical reality. Until recently I hadn't given this much thought, but now that I am planning the expanded storyline of my world in greater detail, I have had to go back in time and work out where it all started to change.

I can now reveal that the point of divergence in my fictional timeline is the year 1759: a long time before any of the events I have portrayed, but small changes require long periods to incubate and accelerate. So what happened in 1759? Not much: a chance encounter between two figures who have no bearing to any of my stories, but it resulted in the birth of a child called Solomon Gordon.

Solomon Gordon was born in 1760 and died in about 1792. A native of Edinburgh, in 1789 he was involved in a scandal known simply as "The Swiss Affair" - an event that was hushed up and rarely spoken of since, but the repercussions directly caused every single change to historical fact that I have portrayed (or indeed plan to portray).

That's all I'm willing to reveal at this point, but I'm hugely excited by the possibilities this storyline has opened up for me. I'm currently hard at work planning Alpine Dawn Book II, and can promise that this won't be the last time you hear the name of Solomon Gordon ... or James Forbes, who will return in the second and third novels of the series as we move ever closer to the dawn of the Golden Age of Alpine exploration.

An update on The Atholl Expedition

The book continues to sell well three weeks after launch, thanks to the enthusiasm of my fans, and has ranked better than #20,000 pretty much continuously. It has appeared in the top 10 mountaineering books on Kindle on several occasions already. The response has been quite frankly humbling, and I think it's fair to say even at this early stage that it has made a bigger splash than my first book.

I think my readers have figured out that I'm not a flash-in-the-pan sort of author. Some writers get it all out of their system with their first book, and don't feel the need to do any more, but I'm only just beginning - and I think many of my readers have begun to realise that. I enjoyed writing The Only Genuine Jones, but I started working on it many years ago and I have improved in many ways since then: as an historian, as a mountaineer, and as writer.

James Forbes often used the word voyageur instead of explorer or mountaineer. It's a term much used in the early 19th century in the Alps, and encompasses every aspect of voyaging throughout the Alps, with a focus on the journey rather than the destination. I have come to see myself as a voyageur rather than a climber, both in the mountains and at my writing desk, and I hope that the new voyage I have just begun reflects the fact that this is a marathon and not a sprint.

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