Yesterday I gave my fifth book talk of the season about Xaghra’s Revenge to readers at the Lache Library, Chester, UK.
I gave a quick outline of the plot. Fact: pirates abducted 5,000 people off the Mediterranean island of Gozo in 1551 and sold them into slavery or ransomed the rich. A few young women were shipped to a harem in Constantinople. I gave those souls revenge in the novel, but often while doing research the truth is stranger than fiction.
Most of the attendees at my talks in Britain had been to the Maltese islands but didn’t know of the pirate raid in 1551 and were as shocked as I. Most didn’t know that one of the oldest buildings in the world (older than the pyramids and Stonehenge) is in Xaghra on Gozo.
I showed them photographs of the ruins along with a facsimile of the Mother figure found there and thought to be over 5,000 years old. Of course religious archaeologists automatically label ancient, mysterious ruins as temples but were they really? The Ggantija could have been a community meeting place, a memorial or a celebratory building. Or since we know virtually nothing about those people, perhaps an alien beacon or landing place. I wrote a short story sequel to XR called The Visit based on that idea – must do something with it!
I even baked biscuits for yesterday’s Chester library talk. Ginger biscuits, vegan, baked as close as I could to how a 1550s Maltese cook would make them. Delicious too.
The discussion ranged on oddities discovered. For example many of the abducted were sold at a slave auction in Tarhuna, Libya. To this day Maltese surnames can be found among residents there.
Before that though – why didn’t the people on the island hide in the many underground caves and passages? The island is limestone and is riddled with holes. The official reason is that during such times of imminent raids a curfew existed in the C16th such that people all over the island had to go into the citadel at night or when the bells sounded. I think many did that (ironically, making it easier to be captured once the few defenders thought they’d strike a deal with the pirates and threw open the gates), but many could have hidden.
I found a second world war shelter under the main square in Xaghra. Just by chance one Easter a few years ago I saw a line of people vanishing underground and thought I’ll have some of that! I suggested to the organisers that such caverns could be much older, centuries older, but was met by denial. In fact that particular shelter is hard to find on the internet and doesn’t exist on tourist leaflets and guidebooks.
A word of warning to other writers of historical fiction. Just because a remarkably beautiful flower is abundant all over the
islands – the Yellow oxalis, check when it arrived. I was going to mention it in the scenery setting for 1551 when I discovered that flower was brought to the islands by an English woman in 1806! She’d probably brought it from South Africa – its often called the English weed.
I read out an excerpt of Xaghra’s Revenge. You can see it here https://geoffnelder.com/sample-xaghras-revenge/
Other Nelder News
Run, hide! alien apocalypse.
Infectious amnesia. Free on KindleUnlimited or
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