Monday, 9 January 2012
Testament - changing history
As last-but-one up in the post-an-excerpt list, I've been a bit dilatory about posting a piece from Testament. This is because I've found it so difficult to try and identify a passage which adequately reflects the book.
Finally, I've come to the conclusion that the best place to start must be at the beginning. So, I give you the opening paragraphs of Testament.
It was a small, almost insignificant fire, the smouldering consequences of wiring overdue for replacement a decade earlier, an irritating addition to the maintenance team's job-list rather than a major item of college news. But when the carpenters came to remove a small section of charred oak panelling they were confronted by an image that would change the history of Kineton and Dacre College.
There, on the newly-uncovered patch of wall behind the Tudor panelwork, a soot-blackened face stared ut, its mouth agape. And in that gaping mouth, a tiny figure writhed: an infant child, its arms outstretched.
The face belongs to a fourteenth century wall painting that has been hidden for centuries, a painting that raises all sorts of questions about the two very different men who founded and built the college. And the image does 'change the history of the college'. In the novel the real story of Kineton and Dacre College's foundation is finally uncovered and, as a consequence, its history going forward is transformed.
It was that notion - that history can change the future - that really intrigued me when I was writing the book. What started off as a story set solidly in the fourteenth century morphed, as I wrote, into a split time narrative because I wanted to look at the past from the point of view of the present and to show that, however much we think we've uncovered what happened, we can never really know the full truth because we weren't there.
That's what I love about historical novels - they let you go there.