Monday, July 4, 2011

Sultana: A Novel of Moorish Spain by Lisa J. Yarde

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Twitter: @lisajyarde

In thirteenth-century Moorish Spain, the realm of Granada is in crisis. The union of Fatima, granddaughter of the Sultan of Granada, with the Sultan’s nephew Faraj has fractured the nation. A bitter civil war escalates and endangers both Fatima and Faraj’s lives. All her life, Fatima has sheltered in lavish palaces where danger has never intruded, until now. 

A precocious child and the unwitting pawn of her family, she soon learns how her marriage may determine her future and the fate of Granada. Her husband Faraj has his own qualms about their union. At a young age, he witnessed the deaths of his parents and discovered how affluence and power offers little protection against indomitable enemies. Guilt and fears plague him. Determined to carve his own destiny, Faraj struggles to regain his lost inheritance and avenge his murdered family. 

Throughout the rugged frontiers of southern Spain, the burgeoning Christian kingdoms in the north and the desert states of North Africa, Fatima and Faraj survive ruthless murderers and intrigues. They unite against common enemies bent on destroying the last Moorish dynasty. While Fatima and Faraj establish a powerful bond, the atmosphere of deceit creates opportunities for mistrust and tests their love.

About Lisa J. Yarde

Lisa J. Yarde is the author of On Falcon's Wings and Sultana. She is passionate about history and writing. Her love of the past inspires her to write historical fiction. Her favorite period is medieval, an interest which began in her childhood. Since she crafted her first stories about knights and castles in junior high school, she has not stopped writing. She loves to travel, and research on her books has taken her to England, Spain, Portugal and Barbados. She currently lives in New York.


Fatima gritted her teeth together and expelled a sighing breath. “Very well, I’ll indulge you both in this foolishness. Come, let us see this fraud.”

They crossed the street, avoiding refuse and excrement, while a cadre of the guards and their servants surrounded the stall. Niranjanheld aside the low curtain hanging over the entryway. Fatima glanced at him briefly, but he averted his eyes from her. She entered first and asked the little girl with black eyes for the fortune-teller. She led them behind a cloth curtain and gestured to the lone seat at a table.

Behind it, a shriveled figure with lips drawn tight over her teeth peered at them in silence. A ring of seashells, all oddly shaped, dotted the edge of the table, with one black pebble in the center. Fatima grinned at this poor mockery of mystic symbolism, but Shams ed-Duna urged her forward.

The gypsy woman bowed her head. “Peace be with you.”

Fatima asked, “And with you. Are you the one who speaks of the future?”

“Do you wish to know the future, noble one?”

Ignoring Nur al-Sabah’s gasp, Fatima leaned forward. “Why do you call me ‘noble one’ when you do not know me?”

“It is what you are.” The woman turned to the girl hovering at her side. Whispering in some language other than Arabic, she waved the girl away.

The child soon returned with a cup of fragrant tisane, which the woman offered to Fatima. “It cannot harm you.”

Fatima glared at her companions, both of whom nodded. She drank the brew, bitter to the tongue at first, but sweeter as she continued. She finished and handed the cup to the woman, who said, “If you could swirl the cup, noble one?”

Fatima ground her teeth together, but complied. She set the vessel down with an abrupt clank. A few of the leaves clung to the sides and bottom. Her gaze fixed on the woman who nodded. “We must wait for the leaves to settle.”

When Fatima groaned, Shams pressed a hand against her arm. “Be patient.”

After an interim, the gypsy asked, “What is it that you wish to know, noble one?”

Fatima countered, “Tell me what you see.”

The woman stared into the cup and after a brief interval, she pronounced, “The future of Gharnatah lies within you.”

Fatima smiled at her companions. “You see? An answer, if I can call it such, without any meaning. Just as I expected.” She stood and looked down her nose at the gypsy. “Can your leaves tell you anything about me?”

The woman stated, “Nothing you would believe, princess of Gharnatah.”

Nur al-Sabah pecked at her arm and whispered something, but Fatima stilled her and leaned toward the gypsy. “Why do you call me a princess?”

“It is what you are. As I have said, the future of Gharnatah lies within you. Already, you carry one of its heirs in your womb, your son, who shall become the Sultan of Gharnatah.”

Interview with Lisa J. Yarde
What will readers like about your book?

Sultana is a story of revenge and intrigue, the bonds of family and the redemptive power of love. The themes are always in contrast, from light to dark, love to hate. They touch on visceral emotions that everyone has felt at some point in their life.

The story takes place during a turbulent period in 13th century Moorish Spain, when the union of a child bride and her groom, precipitates a civil war. Fatima is the young granddaughter of the reigning Sultan of Granada and Faraj is his nephew. Although the couple is part of the same renowned family, each has separate, sometimes contrary interests.
Fatima is utterly devoted to her family while Faraj, who is ten years older than her, has one cause in mind – to regain a heritage lost at the brutal death of his father. I hope readers will share my fascination with the Alhambra, the Moorish period, and Fatima and Faraj’s lives.

Why did you self publish?

I had submitted Sultana to an agent who signed me, in the hopes of publishing it traditionally. After pitching it to several houses, some of whom admired the work but declined to publish it for a variety of reasons, I decided to self publish. It helped that I had completed the process with an earlier book. I knew what to expect and more importantly, the resources I would need for creating a good product.

What is your writing process?

I spend a lot of time on research even before I write. I love historical fiction, part of the difficulty lies in obtaining good sources. For instance, Fatima may have been as young as eight years old or as old as twelve when she married – the sources do not agree. Also, the final end of the antagonists the couple faces is uncertain.
That is the difficult part of attempting to tell this story. It is nearly impossible to be 100% certain of the events that occurred. I have found the best method for handling this problem is to review a variety of sources. If most point to a particular event happening on a certain date, even with a few contradictions, I go with the most popular date.

Another challenge is to develop characters and personalities for figures who have been long dead, while being true to their documented personalities. With Sultana, I relied on some good sources from Spanish Christian history but often, the adage that history is written by the victors has been true in this case. I had to unravel a lot of misinformation before I could get down to the writing.

I used to wake up and write very early in the morning, but lately, with the demands of my job and personal life, I tend to write whenever I can. Since I’m writing about historical figures, I have a framework for laying subplots on. History will tell you “what” and “when” and, if you’re very lucky, you’ll learn “how” too. But the key ingredient that’s often missing is “why” and event occurred.

I like character sketches, as they help create a complete view of a historical figure. It’s important to know how my hero / heroine should react in various scenes. I also define chapter goals at the outset when I settle down to write; one – two statement summaries of the main goals of the POV character. From there, I determine how the goal could be best achieved and importantly, what other characters might do to thwart that goal. It helps me keep conflict throughout the story, as each chapter progresses.

How long does it take you to write your first draft?

I worked on the draft for a little over a year. I spent several years before that, as I alluded to above, on the research.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

During my college years, I was fascinated to learn that there had been an Islamic presence in Europe. For seven hundred years, a diverse people known as Moors had ruled what would become one of the most influential Catholic nations. The thirteenth century in Spain was a brutal and turbulent era, as most of the medieval period, but it was also the flowering of an age of artistic, intellectual and architectural brilliance in Spain. 
Fatima and Faraj played pivotal roles in the history of that period, as did their descendants for another two centuries.

When Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon conquered the Moorish capital of Granada, which was the last bastion of Spanish Islam in the country, they held so much admiration for Moorish culture that they often took to dressing in Moorish clothing. They preserved the Alhambra Palace, rather than destroying it, and Isabella’s final resting place lies in Granada. I think that speaks volumes. 

 I am truly fortunate that the primary setting of this story, the Alhambra Palace in Granada still exists and is open of visitors. The ability to tour the same places my characters would have lived in and experienced in medieval times added to the authenticity ofSultana.

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