Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Guest Post: Objects and Memory in Historical Fiction by Mark Patten

 Today I am happy to have Mark Patten stop with his guest post on 
  Objects and Memory in Historical Fiction

My novel, Omphalos, is made up of six different stories, each set in a different time period, from the present day back to 4000 BC. What, then, makes it a novel, rather than a collection of short stories? Well, to start with, the stories do not follow on sequentially from one another: instead they are nested, one inside another, like a set of Russian Matryoshka dolls. They are also linked, by a physical place – La Hougue Bie, on the island of Jersey (although much of the action takes place elsewhere), by suggested ancestral links, but also, significantly, by objects.
  “La Hougue Bie” La Hougue Bie, Jersey. Photo: Man Vyi (image is in the Public Domain).

 Before I became a novelist, I was an academic, and I still teach alongside my writing. I have been both an archaeologist and a historian (more accurately, a historical biographer) and, whilst the historian works with written accounts, objects are the starting point for the archaeologist. In writing a novel that is partly about inter-generational connections, I found that objects could be a useful linking device. Objects from one period can pop up in another, and not only when they are dug up by an archaeologist. They can be found in cellars and attics, unearthed accidentally in the course of building works, or handed down as family heirlooms, whether genuine or spurious.

“Matryoshka2” Matryoshka dolls. Photo: BrokenSphere/Wikimedia Commons (licensed under GNU).

One of my stories, “Jerusalem,” is set in the 16th Century, and follows a Catholic priest, Richard Mabon, and his secretary, Nicholas Ahier, on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land (Mabon is a historical figure, who really did make the pilgrimage, but my account of his journey is wholly fictional). Like many pilgrims at the time, Mabon brings back a wooden model of the Holy Sepulchre, made of wood with details picked out in ivory and mother-of-pearl. He plans to use it to illustrate his Easter sermons. Another story, “The Infinite Labyrinth,” is set in the 18th Century, and the protagonist, Suzanne de Beaubigny, a Royalist refugee from revolutionary France, encounters a small girl playing with the broken pieces of the model, which the girl’s father has found in cellar. With it is an account of Mabon’s pilgrimage, which Suzanne translates. 

“Holy Sepulchre Model” Wooden model of the Holy Sepulchre, British Museum. Photo: Andres Rueda (licensed under CCA). 

The same little girl shows Suzanne a book in her father’s library, a lavishly illustrated Medieval prayer book. This is a real object, the 14th Century psalter of Bonne of Luxembourg, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The girl’s father is a historical character, the British spymaster, Philippe d’Auvergne, and he almost certainly did own the psalter, having received it from his adoptive father. He may have believed it to be a genuine family heirloom, but this cannot really have been the case. The psalter would unquestionably have been in the French Royal collection until the Revolution, and was presumably bought by Philippe’s adoptive father at one of the many auctions that followed.

“Psalter” Psalter of Bonne of Luxembourg, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Photo: Eugene a (image is in the Public Domain).
 In “The Spirit of the Times,” set during the Second World War, Oberleutnant Friedrich Werner finds a small bead whilst his men are digging an air-raid shelter. He sends it as a gift to his daughter, Hannelore, in Berlin, and she writes a story about it, which she sends to him. Almost seven decades later, Hannelore’s story, suffused with the Nazi racial ideology she has learned in school, has the power to shock the protagonists of “Touching Souls,” set in 2013. The true story of the bead, however, is to be found in “The Song of Strangers,” set in 4000 BC.

“Tumiac variscite beads” Neolithic beads from Tumiac, Brittany. Photo: Vassil (licensed under CCA).

 Together, these stories, their characters and these objects, will take the reader on a journey, a pilgrimage of sorts, through six thousand years of our shared history. 

Mark Patton’s novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon UK (
Further information can be found on his website ( and blog ( 

SIX EPOCHS, TEN LIVES INTERSECTING AT A SINGLE PLACE. 2013: Al Cohen, an American in search of his European heritage.
1944-1946: Friedrich Werner, an officer of the Wehrmacht and later a prisoner of war. His wife Greta, clinging to what remains of her life in war-torn Berlin.
1799: Suzanne de Beaubigny, a royalist refugee from revolutionary France.
1517: Richard Mabon, a Catholic priest on pilgrimage to Jerusalem with his secretary, Nicholas Ahier.
1160: Raoul de Paisnel, a knight with a dark secret walking through Spain with his steward, Guillaume Bisson.
4000 BC: Egrasté, a sorceress, and Txeru, a man on an epic voyage.
Transgressions, reconciliations and people caught on the wrong side of history.
Omphalos. A journey through six thousand years of human history.

Publication Date: December 5, 2014
Crooked Cat Publications
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Pages: 312
ISBN: 978-1-910510-06-3
Genre: Historical Fiction
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Praise for Omphalos

“Omphalos is a powerful word, a powerful connotation, as are the stories focused on in this excellent collection. The author leads the reader from one story to the next like an easy progress through the chambers of La Hougue Bie, followed by a reverse journey of revelation. To say too much of how this is cleverly achieved through the excellent use of letters, prose and poetry, I feel, would spoil the enjoyment of a potential reader. The skilful writing techniques used make it a thoroughly engrossing read. I have no qualms in recommending ‘Omphalos’ to the lover of historical fiction and to those who enjoy a well-crafted tale.” – Nancy Jardine

Pre-Order the Book

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Amazon UK

Mark Patton was born and grew up on the island of Jersey. He studied Archaeology & Anthropology at Cambridge and completed his PhD at University College London. He has taught at the Universities of Wales, Greenwich and Westminster, and currently teaches with The Open University. He is the author of two previous historical novels, Undreamed Shores (Crooked Cat, 2012) and An Accidental King (Crooked Cat 2013).
For more information please visit Mark Patton’s website and blog. You can also connect with him on Twitter and Goodreads.

Omphalos Blog Tour Schedule

Friday, December 5
Review at Back Porchervations
Monday, December 8
Guest Post & Giveaway at Words and Peace
Wednesday, December 10
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews
Thursday, December 11
Spotlight at Book Babe
Guest Post at Just One More Chapter
Monday, December 15
Review at Book Nerd
Tuesday, December 16
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Wednesday, December 17
Spotlight at The Writing Desk
Thursday, December 18
Spotlight at Historical Fiction Connection
Guest Post at What Is That Book About
Friday, December 19
Review at Diary of an Eccentric
Spotlight at Let Them Read Books

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