Don’t panic! This is not a weather forecast. East Lothian author Peter Kerr has turned aside from the light hearted style that won him such acclaim for the (loosely) autobiographical MallorcanÂ Snowball OrangesÂ series and the wacky Scottish Bob Burns series and produced a work of historical fiction, set on his beloved Mallorca.
As Muslims and Christians fought for domination of the Mediterranean lands, Peter takes a snapshot from 1229, the year of the Christian â€˜Reconquestâ€™ of Mallorca from the Moors. PeterÂ explains, “The basic idea came from a historian who knew a bit about my other stuff.Â He made a casual suggestion: Mallorca has a rich history, you write a lot about Mallorca, so why not write a historical novel set on the island?Â So, fancying the proposition, I went off and thought about which event might provide the most interesting material, and plumped for the ‘Reconquista’.”
Despite the fact that theÂ anniversary of the Christian invasion is celebrated on Mallorca every September – centred mainly in Santa Ponca, where the Christian landing took place, the event is generally an excuse for fun and games and Peter, along with most of the residents, wasn’t that well-informed about it. “I really had to research the facts thoroughly for about a year before starting to write the book.Â Fortunately, King James (Jaume) wrote detailed chronicles of the campaign, and translations of those, together with other historical accounts of the period, provided solid foundations to build on.”
Heading the Christian invasion is the young King Jaume I of Aragon, who sets out with an armada of one hundred and fifty ships carrying some fifteen thousand foot soldiers and fifteen hundred cavalry.Â The helmsman of the royal galley is Pedrito BlÃ nes, a Mallorcan Christian peasant who was captured by the Moors and has spent the last five years as a galley slave. Having gained his freedom, he is now eager to return to his family on the island.
During the perilous sea voyage, the King and the peasant win each other’s respect and the Mallorcan’s local knowledge proves invaluable. The King adopts the young man, despite his open distaste for the holy war, and confides in him, as he dare not confide in the often disloyal members of his retinue.
In this way, the story of the Reconquest of Mallorca is told through the eyes of the simple but astute peasant, who is horrified by the brutality and hypocrisy of the war but bound by the King’s promise not to make him participate himself. Â At the same time, Pedrito goes in search of his family, knowing things can never be the same again.
Song of the Eight WindsÂ is not your typical heavy weight historical work of fiction, for Peter can’t resist introducing humour into the story. There is a place called Costa d’En Blanes, although there is no historical reference to anyone by the name of Pedrito BlÃ nes. The young man was invented by Peter to provide a link between fact and fiction. Similarly, there is no foundation for the presence here of the Knight TemplarÂ Robert St Clair of Roslin, although it is not impossible. He is there to provide a Scottish connection.
Peter’s own knowledge and love of this beautiful island flows from every page. As an orange farmer, whose livelihood depended on the vagaries of the weather, he too would have watched for the 8 Winds, and as a musician, perhaps he would have sung about them too.
I don’t doubt that this departure from Peter’s usual style will prove immensely popular, with his fans, with lovers of Mallorca and with anyone who simply loves to read a good page-turner.