Heights of fantasy
By Pamela Kelt
I don’t have a head for heights. I get dizzy on a stepladder. So why did I suggest a trip alongside the infamous Ladder of Cattaro to a monastery perched high in the mountains of
You guessed. It was all in the name of research for a new fantasy series I was planning.
It all began with my daughter, Lauren, who in her teens attended advanced circus skill classes at our local youth theatre. She specialised in silks, aerial hoop, trapeze, acrobalance and rope. The shows these youngsters put on were breathtaking. If you’ll excuse a shameless piece of name-dropping, Lauren’s best friend there was Sophie Turner. (Yes, that one.) When Sophie landed the part of Sansa Stark, everyone was talking about Game of Thrones. Fantasy fans were beside themselves.
It crossed my mind, though, that a younger generation of readers (and viewers)would be excluded, given the adult content. It’s a little rich for my blood, too. So I began to ponder on a fantasy series for tween/teen girls but I struggled with the setting. Everything seemed to have been done. Teutonic, Nordic, Persian. That summer, we went to
Lord Byron himself was one of many visitors taken by its spectacular scenery and gushed: ‘At the moment of birth of our planet, the most beautiful meeting of land and sea was on the Montenegrin coast.’
The old name for
Montenegro was Illyria,
which is a little hard to say, and so Liria was born. The sheer diversity of
the country, due mainly to its huge mountains, led to a concept of a six
adventures in six contrasting settings.
The opening scene is in a villa based on a church overlooking the
for example. Morenija, a city of bell towers, takes its inspiration from Perast
with its Venetian architecture. (The swimming there is wonderful.) Bay of Kotor
I devoured the guide books for inspiration and became captivated by a famous warrior bishop/poet. His name was Petar Petrovic Njegos, a national hero, for whom a massive mausoleum was built on
This had to be seen. Despite my fears, I suggested the trip and off we went.
We left Kotor and took the road that followed the Ladder of Cattaro, a zigzag path of almost impossible hairpin bends. It was a former mule track that linked Cetinje, the traditional capital of
to the outside world until the late 19th century. Nowadays, the narrow road is
easily the most terrifying I have ever seen, as it winds its way up into the
mountains. Looking down was terrifying. Worse were the regular sightings of
flowers at periodic bends where unfortunate travellers had misjudged the turns.
The safety barriers were crumbling. Montenegro
Up we climbed, almost into the clouds, past subsistence-level farms and orchards as the scenery shifted from coastal to alpine. The medieval past of
is still apparent,
lending itself well to an imaginary past, free from modern technology. Montenegro
The Balkan theme also came into its own when it came to the characters’ names. I decided to have two complementary protagonists who would be my young questers. In keeping with the aerial skills that had originally sparked the story, it seemed fitting to make them athletic and physically gifted. Svila (Serbian for silk) is a silks specialist (think Cirque de Soleil), haughty, instinctive, confident. Her younger companion is
steady as a rock, skilled in fire poi more by dint of practice than natural
ability. At first their friendship is a little sticky, but their relationship
firms as they progress through the story. Zoran is the name of an eccentric
academic my husband knows, also from Petra . Serbia
The fun thing about the Balkan theme for English speakers is that the names are so totally different that you have no preconceptions of what a character might be like. Mirko – good or bad? What about Kurto? Lukas? Dmitri? Dvora?
The history of
the Balkans in general is filled with larger-than-life heroes, villains and
monsters (from dragons to vampires), so it was delicious fun creating the villain.
In fact, I decided a series required a whole dynasty of nastiness, and so
Kurova Grax and her misfit brood were fledged. Montenegro
One day, I would love to return to the Balkans, but next time I’ll stick to the coast.
Find Pam on Twitter and Facebook. There is a Legends of Liria blog, featuring The Cloud Pearl, and click here to see the book trailer. Pam also has a blog and author page.
Read Chapter One of The Cloud Pearl here.
Fascinating trip, wonderful story and amazing story-teller!! Thank you Pam for being a return guest on my blog.