Uniting Two Cultures: A Guest Post by Jane Johnson, Author of Court of Lions

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I’m devastated that I haven’t had chance to read Court of Lions by Jane Johnson yet as I’m sure it’s just my kind of read. However, by way of compensation I’m thrilled to have a guest post from Jane today, all about the way her fascinating life unites two very diverse cultures.

Court of Lions was published on 6th July 2017 by Head of Zeus and is available for purchase here.

Court of Lions

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Sometimes surrender is more courageous than resistance.

Kate Fordham arrived in the sunlit city of Granada a year ago. In the shadow of the Alhambra, one of the most beautiful places on Earth, she works as a waitress serving tourists in a busy bar. She pretends she’s happy with her new life – but how could she be? Kate’s alone, afraid and hiding under a false name.

And fate is about to bring her face-to-face with he greatest fear.

Five centuries ago, a message, in a hand few could read, was inscribed in blood on a stolen scrap of paper. The paper was folded and pressed into one of the Alhambra’s walls. There it has lain, undisturbed by the tides of history – the Fall of Granada, the expulsion of its last Sultan – until Kate discovers it.

Born of love, in a time of danger and desperation, the fragment will be the catalyst that changes Kate’s life forever.

Court of Lions bridges time, interweaving the stories of a woman who must confront her unimaginable past and a man who must face an unthinkable future, bringing one of history’s great turning points to life in an epic saga of romance and redemption.

Uniting Two Cultures

A Guest Post by Jane Johnson

In 2005 I travelled to Morocco to research for my novel The Tenth Gift. I had never been to Africa before, let alone to a Muslim country, and had no idea what to expect. My travel companion, Bruce, and I took ourselves to the ancient corsair town of Salé – at that time accessible only by little blue ferry-boats poled across the Bouregreg River by hawk-nosed, silent men. In the bazaar in the centre of the town, we turned a corner and came upon an old man seated crosslegged on the ground, weighing raw wool in a huge brass balance. It was a scene that could have arced across time from the Middle Ages. On the other side of the road was an internet café. And that juxtaposition kind of sums up my life.

Part of my life takes place in London, in the fast-paced, high pressure world of publishing; the rest either in an old fishing village in Cornwall, where broadband hardly works, and in a village in the foothills of the Anti-Atlas Mountains where sheep and goats wander the streets, the women dress in traditional costume and people come to market on their donkeys. Because on that research trip 12 years ago I was swept off my feet by a Berber tribesman who later that year became my husband. And so began my love affair with Morocco and its extraordinarily rich history.

Straddling these very different worlds means that I combine simplicity with technology, which is very much the Moorish way, and always has been. Walking around the gorgeous palaces the Moors built in southern Spain, particularly the Alhambra, I learned how the lush gardens had been watered by complex irrigation systems, the cutting-age science of their time; how the geometric tiling called zellij is both an age-old craft and a science; how the famed fountain in the Court of Lions, with its twelve spouting lion heads, was driven by such a complicated mechanism that when it was turned off by the surrendering sultan, the victorious Christians were never able to figure it out in order to make it work again.

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I have had to come to terms with an entire new (to me) but very ancient culture: not just Islam, but Berber – the original inhabitants of North Africa, pre-dating the Romans and the Arabs. Their language has been suppressed for hundreds of years, and is only now being taught in schools again. It is my husband’s first language: it is the language the Moorish invaders of the Iberian Peninsula would have spoken. So many of the customs, the phrases, the gestures, the food (ah, the food) are the same today in this culture as they were 500, even 1000 years ago. People still invoke the evil eye against bad influences, they believe in djinns and love potions, in fate and in the power of dreams and omens.

Every day I learn more about this unfamiliar world I have stumbled into – its grand history and its smallest details – by reading and studying and talking to academics, to my knowledgeable husband, to the women in my new family; and this new understanding seeps into my novels, enriches them, makes them (I hope) come to life in an authentic and unique way; and, as learning always does, opens my eyes to the riches of our world. I really hope readers will come with me into the Court of Lions and find history unfurling in front of their eyes, and changing the way they see the world when at last they close its covers.

About Jane Johnson

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Jane Johnson is from Cornwall and has worked in the book industry for over 20 years, as a bookseller, publisher and writer. She is responsible for the publishing of many major authors, including George RR Martin.

In 2005 she was in Morocco researching the story of a distant family member who was abducted from a Cornish church in 1625 by Barbary pirates and sold into slavery in North Africa, when a near-fatal climbing incident caused her to rethink her future. She returned home, gave up her office job in London, and moved to Morocco. She married her own ‘Berber pirate’ and now they split their time between Cornwall and a village in the Anti-Atlas Mountains. She still works, remotely, as Fiction Publishing Director for HarperCollins.

You can follow Jane on Twitter @JaneJohnsonBakr, or visit her website.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

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4 thoughts on “Uniting Two Cultures: A Guest Post by Jane Johnson, Author of Court of Lions

  1. This book sounds fantastic – I definitely must read it. I have visited Grenada and Seville, and have marvelled at the beauty and complexity of Islamic art. What a fascinating piece of information about the fountain with the mechanism that the victorious Christians could never work out. I am drawn in by the idea of a clash of two cultures. I was fascinated too by the biographical details of the author and especially her Berber tribesman husband!

    Liked by 1 person

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