…for our heroes in volume two of the Al Andalus series, the follow-up to ‘Reconquista‘. The most common comment I receive from readers of that book is that they want the next one, so I am doing something about that, sketching out the sequel.
There were a number of unresolved matters at the end of the first book. This wasn’t planned, I just realised when I reached page three hundred and fifty that, if I wanted to do justice to my characters, I would have to write at least as many pages again. That would make the book a hefty eight hundred pages or so, rather too big, I’m afraid, for easy reading. So I decided to end with the return of the main characters to Jerez and write a sequel.
I know that ‘series’ are commercially successful, one only has to look on Amazon in the YA category to see how much, but writing a sequel to ‘Reconquista‘ wasn’t part of my plan. I had hoped to write a number of other ‘Al Andalus’ books, but set in the same place, not in the same period or with the same characters. Nonetheless, it’s a sequel I am writing.
So my research begins, especially in the mountains to the east of Jerez de la Frontera. The peaks beyond Arcos de la Frontera, around Ubrique and Grazalema, are part of a protected nature reserve, so will not have changed that much for many years and the Iberian pine forests there are very old. It is to the fastnesses of the Sierra Pinar and El Endrinal we go, to the carstic landscape of the Gargante Verde (Green Canyon) and the Gargante Seca (Dry Canyon), the distinctive peak of San Cristobal and Torreon, the highest point in Cadiz province.
There are deep caves and sharp limestone ridges which are home to rare raptors, like the Iberian eagle and Bonelli’s eagle. Indeed access to some of the reserve is only permitted at certain times of year so as not to disturb the nesting birds and permits are required to walk amidst other parts of the park at any time ( mountaineering and/or caving experience required ). I don’t plan to do either, but I think I’ll manage some walking. The flora and fauna is supposed to be particularly beautiful.
There are only minor roads in the park, a long bus-ride fom Jerez. Of course there were no tarmac roads in the thirteenth century, the roads were either old Roman paved thoroughfares ( see right, there are Roman ruins in the nature reserve ) or dirt tracks. Travel was much, much slower. In ‘Reconquista‘ Atta had a map to help him cross these mountains and still it took him two months. But then it was Winter and he frequently had to stay in one place, a village or hamlet, to wait for the weather to improve before continuing onwards. His map wasn’t detailed either, indeed, this area wasn’t mapped properly until much later. Only locals would know the hidden valleys and deep gorges. Today, however, one can drive from Jerez to Ronda, on modern roads to the south of the park, in less than a day.
The mountains were, of course, also the natural frontier between the west of Al Andalus, ruled over by King Alfonso at the end of ‘Reconquista‘ and the east of Al Andalus, ruled over by Emir Muhammed of Granada. So there may be confrontation amidst the pine forests and crags. I will have to let the landscape work on my imagination.
I will be returning to Jerez in a few days time, with a view to finding out more about this landscape and I’ll write about it when I return.