Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Interview with Sylvia Nilsen, author of Pilgrim Footprints on the Sands of Time

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Sylvia Nilsen to Flashlight Commentary to discuss her newest release, Pilgrim Footprints on the Sands of Time.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Sylvia. To start things off, please tell us a bit about Pilgrim Footprints in the Sands of Time.
A few months after Richard FitzUrse and his fellow knights murder Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, Lord Robert and Lady FitzUrse are instructed by King Henry to make a penitential pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint James the Greater in Spain in order to earn redemption for his disgraced family. William Beaumont has made a promise to his dead mother and younger sister to go on a pilgrimage to save their souls. William is secretly in love with Alicia Bearham, niece of Lord Robert. He is overjoyed when he is asked to accompany the family and their servants on their three-month pilgrimage. They face many adversities, dangers, and an attempted murder on the long and hazardous journey across England, France and Spain. Who is trying to kill Sir Robert and Alicia? What does the gypsy woman they meet in Paris mean when she predicts that Alicia and William are destined to be soul mates, but only when the eleventh flaming star returns to the skies and the water carrier rises over the horizon? One fateful night, a shocking event changes their lives forever.

What inspired you to write this story?
In 2002 I was planning to walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail in Spain.  I ordered a guide book and a small metal brooch, a replica of a medieval Santiago brooch which was recovered from the banks of the River Thames during routine dredging in 1989.  I wondered how such a precious item, bought by a pilgrim from England in Santiago, had landed up in the river.  The explanations that pilgrimage artifacts were discarded after the Reformation, or that the pilgrim’s family didn’t value the souvenir anymore and threw it away, didn’t satisfy me.  I decided that I could write a much better story about the brooch, the pilgrim who made the long, hazardous pilgrimage to Santiago in Spain, and how the brooch ended up in the river. 

What research went into Pilgrim Footprints in the Sands of Time and did you discover anything particularly surprising while investigating the background material for you book?
I had to buy books on medieval pilgrimage online because our South African libraries didn’t have much on European pilgrimage.  I had to decide which English village my main family came from, what it was like there in the 12th century, what they ate, clothes they wore, occupations and so forth. I chose the village from the Doomsday book and my characters’ names are from the churchyard in that village – so they are real people.  

In 2002 I walked from the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela, but after starting the book I realized that I would have to walk the ± 1000 km from Paris to Spain as well in order to write about the journey my main protagonists would take. I did this trek in 2004.  Before starting at Paris, I visited the Museum of London and saw the original pewter brooch in the medieval gallery.  It gave me shivers just looking at it!  Next to it was a small reliquary in the shape of a cross.  It has a small, secret chamber (like a locket) in the centre that contains wax.  Embedded in the wax is a tiny fragment of wood.  The curator thought it could be a piece of the True Cross but, nobody will ever know for sure.  I incorporated the cross into my story.

What drew you to this particular time period?  
I was interested in the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trails across France and Spain. I’ve walked to Santiago 8 times and always feel the souls of pilgrims past through the soles of my shoes!  They hey-days of the Santiago pilgrimage were in the 12th century so it was a natural choice to set the story in that period.

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing?
Yes – I enjoyed writing the revelation near the end!  I had planned this revelation right at the start of my writing and couldn’t wait to get to it!  It tied up with the first chapter and with threads running through many chapters in the book.  I hope it is as much a surprise for the reader as it was for me when I first thought of it!

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author?
The sex scenes.  Not because I’m prudish, but because these characters were like real people to me and here I was describing their most intimate moments.  

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time with or expanded on? 
In the first few drafts, the villain of the piece had a more prominent role but developing him further would have impacted on one of the other surprises about two thirds of the way into the story.  I had to discard a few dozen pages and leave him looming in the background.

Historical novelists frequently have to adjustment facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing Pilgrim Footprints in the Sands of Time and if so, what did you alter and why? 
The brooch which inspired the story is a 14th century souvenir from Santiago.  I set my book in the 12th century and hoped that similar items were available two hundred years earlier.  Most of the historical facts are correct.  The places where the characters stay in France and Spain might no longer be there but they all existed at some time.  I used a Gazetteer compiled by two American academics which documents all the churches, cathedrals, monasteries, castles, bridges and other monuments etc from Paris to Santiago de Compostela.  Many of those that no longer exist are mentioned in church missals, records or other documents.  I had to imagine what they might have looked like and who owned them.  

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why?
I would like to meet the main character.  I would like to assure him that he and his love will be together again – in the sequel to the book!

What do you hope readers come away with after reading your work?
Perhaps an insight into the period and a few little ‘light-bulb’ moments!  Did you know that the saying, ‘on tenter hooks’ comes from the tenting frames used by fullers and cloth merchants?  The cloth was soaked then hung up on U-shaped hooks at the top of the frame and at the bottom of the frame.  It was stretched until dried and the weave was uniform.  

People would say, ‘I feel as though I am on tenter-hooks.’  There are other etymologies used in the book of popular sayings.  Readers might also have a better understanding of the superstitious and mostly illiterate medieval pilgrim who was under the almost all encompassing influence of the church.  

Finally, what is next for you? Any new projects waiting in the wings?
I am half-way through the first draft of the sequel to Pilgrim Footprints.  The flaming star returned on its 11th cycle in 1986 and the gypsy’s prophesy will soon come true!   There is a near death experience, many déjà vu moments and another surprise at the end.

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Sylvia Nilsen, well known in the Camino world for her ‘amaWalker blog’ is a South African freelance writer who has been published in numerous local and international publications.

She has worked as a research agent and editor for a UK-based travel guide publisher and produced several African city and country guides.

Sylvia has walked over 5,000 km of pilgrimage trails in Europe including Paris to Spain, the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port and Roncesvalles to Santiago, from Lourdes to Pamplona, el Ferrol to Santiago, Santiago to Finisterre and from Switzerland to Rome on the Via Francigena. She also walked from Durban to Cape Town as part of the ‘Breaking Free’ team in aid of abused women and children. Sylvia has served as a volunteer hospitalero in Spain and is a Spanish accredited hospitalero trainer having trained over 40 people to serve as volunteers in Spain. She was the Regional Co-ordinator for the Confraternity of St James in South Africa from 2003 to 2010.

In 2009 she started amaWalkers Camino (Pty) Ltd and takes small groups of pilgrims on three weeks walks of the Camino Frances in Spain.

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Format: Paperback
Publication Date: December 2, 2013
Released by: LightEye Editions
Length: 396 pages
ISBN-10: 2917183349
Genre: Historical Fiction

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Check out all the stops on Sylvia Nilsen's Pilgrim footprints on the sands of time VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR

Monday, February 24
Spotlight & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection
Tuesday, February 25
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, February 27
Spotlight & Giveaway at Kinx’s Book Nook
Friday, February 28
Guest Post at A Bookish Libraria
Monday, March 3
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Guest Post at Mina’s Bookshelf
Tuesday, March 4
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Wednesday, March 5
Thursday, March 6
Friday, March 7
Review at Reading the Ages
Monday, March 10
Review & Guest Post at Just One More Chapter
Tuesday, March 11
Wednesday, March 12
Review at Staircase Wit
Spotlight & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Thursday, March 13
Friday, March 14
Interview at Layered Pages
Monday, March 17
Review at Book Nerd
Tuesday, March 18
Interview & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Wednesday, March 19
Guest Post at Kelsey’s Book Corner
Thursday, March 20
Review at From L.A. to LA
Friday, March 21
Spotlight at Passages to the Past

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