When the Dove cries (or laughs)
Whether you believe in left brain/right brain theory or not – I tend to – there is no doubt that writing is a constant oscillation: between imagination and fact, between the image and its use in a sentence, between the needs of storytelling and the demands of character. I had a particularly good example of all this in writing this book.
Everyone knows that Constantinople falls. So the surprises in the ending had to be to do with the characters’ stories, individual triumph or despair. I’d chosen to tell the tale from both sides of the walls – any thought of it being about gallant, outnumbered Greeks and dastardly infidels wiped out by the time I spent in Istanbul, meeting the melded descendants of conquerors and conquered. I had set up all my characters and their dilemmas by about the half way point of the book. Now the siege itself was about to begin with the first firing of the greatest cannon the world had yet seen. But how was I to link all of them in this vital moment?
Like almost everyone, I am child of cinema. I love it, lose myself in it, am inspired by it far more often than I am appalled. (I sometimes think that all my novels are variations on my favourite film: The Magnificent Seven) And while I am not really a screenwriter, I recognize and use many of the techniques of the form. And big scenes, long unbroken takes are often linked by someone moving through them – or something. I thought: what animals would have been around, what… birds? I oscillated to Google. Found the perfect bird. You Tubed it, saw and even more importantly heard… the Laughing Dove.
She comes to Constantinople in the spring. Her call rises, ‘Ha ha ha ha ha’ with that emphasis on the third ‘ha’. So I watched her fly and laugh just before the great cannon’s first blast. In the city’s centre she cheers a lady trying to comfort a weeping daughter; she mocks a reluctant soldier in ill-fitting armour; she makes a Turkish farmer remember the wife he loves; an emperor realizes it truly is spring; and when a sultan flies a hawk at her, he takes the kill as a sign from Allah, most merciful.
It was a wonderful discovery. What do beasts care for the doings of man? Foxes dart through the trenches of Flanders. Swallows collect flies over Bosworth field. And above doomed Constantinople, the laughing dove cries.