|The Moulin Tower, Chateau Chinon, photo taken by me in 1993|
When I first wrote The Splendour Falls in 1994, it was picked up for publication by my British, Canadian and German publishers, but my agents couldn't find an American home for it, so for almost 20 years now any of my American readers who wanted a copy had to scrounge online for one. Which is why I'm so happy to announce that Sourcebooks will at last be publishing The Splendour Falls this January, for the first time ever in the U.S.A. Come January 14th, 2014, if you live in the States, you'll be able to buy the book in trade paperback or as an ebook, and Audible is currently recording an audiobook version that should be available at the same time.
You can read the first chapter of the book at my needs-to-be-updated website, or if you're a blogger you can ask for the whole thing from NetGalley.
In the meantime, here's a favourite scene between the heroine, Emily, and one of the young Canadian brothers she makes friends with on her trip to France:
'You've done it now,' said Paul, as we watched Simon bounding off away from us.
'Whatever do you mean?'
'That story you just told us, about Queen Isabelle. You mentioned treasure. Big mistake.' With Simon safely out of sight, he rummaged in his pocket for his cigarettes, shifting clear of the shadow cast by the tower at his shoulder. It was in ruins now, the Moulin Tower – an empty hull of stone with dark weeds sprouting in the roofless chambers. And no-one walked those chambers any more. A sign beside the bolted door said sternly: Danger! so we leaned instead against the low, lichen-crusted wall that formed the western boundary of the chateau grounds. Behind our backs the slumbering Vienne flowed seaward, unconcerned.
Paul cupped the match against the breeze. 'Telling a story like that to Simon,' he advised me, 'is kind of like waving a red flag in front of a bull. He's all fired up, now.'
'He's only gone to find the toilet, Paul.'
'Don't you believe it. Not my brother.' He grinned. 'He has the bladder of a camel. No, you wait and see – he's sneaked off down to the entrance booth to see what he can learn about the tunnels.'
I looked along the empty path, intrigued. 'But he doesn't speak French.'
'That wouldn't stop him.' Stretching his legs out in front of him, Paul dug his feet into the gravel and braced his hands beside him on the sun-warmed stone. 'So,' he said, 'what happened?'
'To King John and Queen Isabelle. You never finished the story.'
'Oh, that.' The breeze blew my hair in my eyes and I pushed it back absently. 'It's not the happiest of endings, I'm afraid. John did kill Arthur, or at least he had him killed, depending on which chronicler one reads. The King of France – Philippe – you remember the statue? Well, Philippe went rather wild. He'd raised the boy, you see. He'd been great friends with John's big brother Geoffrey, Arthur's father, and when Geoffrey died Philippe took Arthur back to Paris, brought him up. John might as well have killed Philippe's own son.'
'So he started a war.'
I nodded. 'A terrible war. It cost John nearly everything. Chinon was one of the first castles to be captured, actually – it fell to Philippe not long after Arthur died.
I looked up at the Moulin Tower, lonely and abandoned, the green weeds grasping at the crumbled window ledge. 'He lost her, too, in the end. John had foul moods and jealous rages, like his father. He even followed in his father's footsteps in another way – kept Isabelle locked up and under guard, just as his mother had been kept.'
Paul frowned. 'How sad.'
'Yes, well.' I shrugged. 'It's not a fairy tale, I'll grant you. But then real life never is.'
He turned his head to look at me, squinting a little against the sun. 'You don't believe, then, in a love that lasts a lifetime?'
'I don't believe,' I told him drily, 'in a love that lasts till teatime.'
'Cynic,' he accused me, but he smiled.
We sat on several minutes longer in companionable silence while Paul smoked his cigarette, his eyes half narrowed, deep in thought. I couldn't help but think again how different he was from his brother Simon. One had room to breathe, with Paul.
'Tragic,' he said, quite out of the blue.
He shrugged. 'It's just a kind of game I play, finding the right adjective to suit a place. I try to distil all the feeling, the atmosphere, down to a single word. Chateau Chinon's been a tough one, but I've got it now – it's tragic.'
He'd hit the nail precisely on the head, I had to admit. In spite of all the sunshine and the blue sky and the brilliant golden walls, the place did seem to be pervaded by an aura of tragedy, of splintered hopes and unfulfilled desires.
The swift breeze stole the sunlight's warmth and, shivering, I glanced up. 'Simon's coming.'
'Damn.' Paul stubbed his cigarette against the wall, setting off a shower of red sparks that died before they reached the ground. By the time Simon reached us, the telltale evidence lay crushed deep in the gravel underneath Paul's shoe.
'I've got a map,' said Simon cheerfully.
Paul's eyes were knowing, but he held the innocent expression. 'Map of what?'
'The tunnels, stupid. Now, according to the woman at the gate, there should be something we can see, just over here...' And off he went again, with purpose, heading for a spreading box tree several yards away. 'Come on, you two,' he called back.
With a sigh, Paul straightened from the wall and stretched. 'I told you so.'
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