The writing of Ikon

It might be of interest to potential readers of Ikon to hear how it came into being.

Historical fiction had never been my intention when I started to muse about a new book. My first novel, Beyond the Silence, was set in the late nineteenth century and in the modern era. Much of its content derived from my experience of being a doctor. In choosing the 15th Century as the setting for Ikon I was way outside my personal experience.

So where did it come from? I have a good and long-standing friend who is now a Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church; he was once a doctor like me, indeed we met over a cadaver at medical school in the 1960′s. His name is Channing so by an alphabetical allocation of dissecting places we both ended on the same arm. Our dissection wasn’t up to much but we struck up a firm friendship. He is a pianist and I am a cellist so I think we spent longer on Beethoven cello sonatas than on the intricacies of the ante-cubital fossa. Active religion did not play much of a part in those days, left-wing politics (including the 1967 Grosvenor Square demonstration) featured more strongly.

Years passed and we spent many of them as general practitioners, he in Devon, me in Gloucestershire. Both of us, for similar reasons, had our medical careers terminated early. I became a writer and composer, he became a RC minister.

It must have been in late 2004 that he and I were out walking along the Exe estuary. I was asking him about the split in the Catholic church that became the Reformation. I was interested to get his slant on this as he had quite recently joined the Roman Catholic Church. It was his reply which stuck in my head. That split, in his view, was as nothing compared with the schism that occurred between the Latin and the Orthodox Churches soon after the Council of Florence in 1439. I knew nothing of this but it set me thinking and finding out about that Council.

Around this time I had made a couple of journeys to the Aegean island of Patmos in the Dodecanese. It is a small island but contains a large monastery that dominates the island. It is also the island to which John, the writer of the Book of Revelation, was exiled. Not for nothing is it known as the Holy Island of the Aegean. On that island I learnt more about the Orthodox Church but, more than that, the way of life of the inhabitants both now and in the past.

All this was milling around in my head when, in 2005, I spent a week on a Writers’ Course in the Languedoc in the South of France. One afternoon I found the coolest spot in the lush gardens of the house in which we spent the week. Most of my fellow course members were in the pool, perhaps I should have been as well but my head was full. A character had arrived in my imagination, an old monk in his cell in a Monastery on the top of a small Greek island, an old monk who had to be called John, Ioánnis, an old monk who could not pass his water.

This was the prologue to Ikon and is much the same as it was when I originally wrote it. One of the tutors (a successful novelist herself) encouraged me by announcing to the rest of the course the following day that what I had written was the best start of a book that she had seen for a long time. After that I had to carry on.

Constructing the narrative took a long time and involved much research – many visits to the Bodleian Library in Oxford and a return trip to Patmos. Writing began in earnest in late 2006 and continued for around two years from that date. It was then put aside whilst my editor, John and I prepared Beyond the Silence for self-publishing (it had been rejected by over twenty literary agents, expected but still demoralising). That book appeared in 2010 and we turned our attention to Ikon. There was much editing and rewriting until we both agreed that we had got it right. Further fruitless approaches to agents were made and in late 2011 we put it together for self-publishing. This time round we knew most of the snags and the whole exercise was much easier and, in fact, quick. I engaged the services of the same team to design the cover and at the end of April a pallet-full of 500 books pitched up at home (the office of Pilrig Publishing).

That’s all it takes to write a book.

(To order a copy of Ikon click here)

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