I was delighted to have a blether with Michael Lynes, who writes The Isaac Alvarez Mysteries under the pen name M Lynes, about his inspiration for writing, and his next in series Heretic’s Daughter which is about to be released.
Your novels are set in Spain. What drew you to write about this period in Spanish history?
I’ve always been fascinated by periods of immense social and political change. And the turn of the 16th century was an extremely turbulent time in Spain’s history. It’s a very rich period to set a series of historical mysteries in. But I also wanted to explore what that meant for a specific family. I was really drawn to the period after learning some of the human stories when I visited Andalusia in 2013 and was inspired by the passion and expertise of Moisés Hassán-Anselem who showed me around the Jewish quarter of Seville.
It was fascinating to hear the story of the blood libel which I used as a seed for the first book and then created the Alvarez family from there. Moisés very kindly read the book for me to check the historical accuracy. If you are ever in Seville he is a wonderful guide… http://www.jewishsevilla.com.
The first book, Blood Libel , tells the story of the Alvarez family focusing very much on Isaac’s point of view. The second book, The Heretic’s Daughter , which will be published in May, continues the story in Granada and focuses more on Isabel’s view of events.
The characters you write about are sometimes blood-thirsty and cruel. How do you make them appealing to the reader (and to you as the writer)?
Some of the characters are blood-thirsty and cruel but there are also acts of great kindness and sacrifice. The reader spends time with each member of the Alvarez family getting to know them as individuals and, I hope, empathising with their situation. Their moral dilemmas are set in far more dangerous times than our own, but I think their concerns are universal and have contemporary resonance.
I tried hard not to make the two central antagonists in Blood Libel – Alonso and Torquemada – just pantomime villains. I spent a lot of time in their heads looking at it from their point of view, which wasn’t always a comfortable place to be. They believed that the Inquisition’s mission was to save souls. They saw themselves as shepherds protecting their flock and ensuring that as many of them as possible would get to heaven. Were they misguided and did they do great damage to many families? Absolutely. By putting the Inquisition’s side of the story, I hope the reader will get a more nuanced, three-dimensional view. But I certainly don’t downplay how unjust and repugnant the Inquisition was.
What’s the biggest challenge in writing about people and events from over 500 years ago, and what’s the most fun part?
If you write historical fiction then you have to do a lot of research, which I did. I’m still trying to persuade my wife that I desperately need to return to Andalusia to do some more ‘research’ into the wine and food of the region …
But once you start writing you need to let a lot of the detail go. I found that very difficult in my early drafts where I was guilty of trying to show off how much I knew. I think I’ve become better at taking a much lighter touch. Now that I’ve got an established world and set of characters it is fun thinking about what they might do next. And I’m at the point now where they are starting to surprise me, which makes writing really enjoyable. I think of the characters as just people who loved, laughed and worried in much the same way as we do. But they just did it in a very different context, particularly religiously.
Would you give us a wee peek into what you’re working on now?
I’ve just completed The Heretic’s Daughter which I’m really excited about. I think the cover design by Jennie Rawlings, ( http://www.serifim.com ) is stunning.
The Heretic’s Daughter is available for pre-order at a special price until the end of April, https://books2read.com/u/mKpnDE .
I’ll be particularly interested to hear from readers about how they feel about the ending of the book. There are a lot of changes in store for the Alvarez family. This book naturally leads on to the third instalment which I can exclusively reveal is provisionally entitled, The Last Apothecary of Granada.
Blood Libel is available here amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08TMHRPYW .
You can find out more about Michael at, www.michaellynes.com , where you can sign up for his newsletter and receive a free short story.
You can also write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org