It may be nearly Christmas but it was a Turkish harem that excited most of the comment this week.
I asked the question: was Hurrem Hasseki, Suleiman the Magnificent’s queen, the worst woman in history? Lisa rightly pointed out that really she was just a woman of her times. And I tend to agree – I admit, I was being a little provocative with my title.
After all, as Lisa says, she had no choice. That was what intrigued me about the story when I first came to it; what would someone with intelligence and drive do if they were forced into a life of boredom and servitude?
And what might she feel about the men who had put her there?
I once read an account of a group of British soldiers who had the brilliant idea of breaking into a Maharajah’s harem during the time of the Raj. They reasoned that all those bored and lonely girls would welcome them with open arms. Well, no. The next morning the maharajah’s guards found the men scattered around the harem courtyard. These bored and lonely girls had torn them limb from limb. Why were they bored and lonely?
Because of men.
I wondered if Hurrem might have thought the same way.
Farida asked how I knew about her. Had I seen the 1997 TV series? Well no because I wrote the book well before then. It was when I was working as a freelance magazine journalist; researching an article on harems, I came across this amazing story of a slave girl that Suleiman the Magnificent married and eventually made his queen. He even resigned his entire harem for her! It could have been a Nicholas Sparks novel. Except it clearly wasn’t. It might have been Suleiman’s love story – but I wasn’t so sure that he was hers.
What drew me to the story – what draws me to many historical stories – is that historians knew what happened without being able to satisfactorily explain it. Why did he marry her? Why did he get rid of his entire harem? Why did his murder the most brilliant of all his sons?
Historians are not paid to conjecture. While novelists – well, all we do all day is imagine – what if?
The book went on to become a massive best seller in Europe, was translated into over a dozen languages – and finally, twelve years after its initial publication and dozens of reprints, it was published in the US – and immediately sank without trace.
So that’s why I republished. I just didn’t think I was that bad a writer. I felt that on this occasion the publishers let me down badly. The original cover was boring, they changed the title and they gave it no marketing support. Hey, every writer has heard (and told) this sob story!
The book also came out when I was walking through Hell in my private life. There was no one there to rescue Hurrem this time.
So this year I finally got mad about it. I re-jacketed and fiercely re-edited. I guess I’m out to prove a point. I think it deserved more than it got. Much, much more.
I hope you’d feel like Myndi did about Hurrem. (Thanks Myndi!) She didn’t like her but she can’t stop thinking about her. And as Pru said: beware the intelligent and ambitious woman – they’ll kick your butt every time.
Moving on: I think we were all a little shaken by the guy looking down the barrel of a loaded gun to see why the bullet was jammed.
And thanks also to Lara, Debra and Colleen, who wrote to say they enjoyed my past misadventures in a Santa suit. Yes Lara they do grow up fast … but I guess as long as you enjoy every minute they’re around, then there’s no regrets.
I’ll finish with something else for the Christmas theme: Mister Bean in Harrods playing with the manger display. When I was a kid I got into so much trouble for doing something very much like this …
That’s it, avagoodweekend Mister Walker! See you Monday.