17th century '9/11' event inspires novel for local writer

Posted by vm64 at Oct 28, 2010 03:50 PM |
Leicester graduate Heather Richardson publishes her first novel

Issued by Lagan Press on 13 October 2010

The destruction of a German city, described as the ‘9/11’ atrocity of its day, was the inspiration behind the debut novel of Belfast woman Heather Richardson.

The novel 'Magdeburg' tells the story of a community that was totally destroyed in an act of war and centres on several main characters that helped cause the destruction and those who survived it.

The story starts in 1631, as the Thirty Years War wages across Central Europe; the Protestant-populated German city is bracing itself against the threat of Catholic Emperor Ferdinand’s armies.

With its obvious parallels to the Northern Ireland conflict, 'Magdeburg' treads a very fine line in depicting the humanity behind the main characters, young, 15-year-old Protestant native of Magdeburg, Christa Henning and her rapist and unlikely husband, Catholic soldier Lukas Weinsburg.

Heather Richardson spoke of her initial inspiration for the book: “I first heard about the destruction of Magdeburg on a radio programme where it was described as the 9/11 of its day as it was catastrophic event that sent shockwaves through northern Europe.

“I was also struck by the parallels with Irish history – here was a staunchly Protestant walled city, besieged by the army of a Catholic monarch.

“I’m fascinated by the way so many historical events have resonances with issues that are alive for us now. Also, the story of 'Magdeburg' seemed like one I could use to explore themes that interest me, such as the effects of war on soldiers and civilians”.

The novel begins with the Henning family enjoying relative prosperity with their printing business but soon Christa is faced with accommodating a strange visitor into their home. However, Christa’s world and family is soon torn apart in the aftermath of the army’s attack on her city.

This the first novel to be published from Richardson, who works as a Creative Writing lecturer, and she made her task even more difficult by choosing to write a historical novel. In the two years it took her to write the book, the writer travelled to Magdeburg and learnt German to add as much authenticity to her work as possible.

However, even she was surprised at how much she enjoyed writing the battle scenes and took care to make sure that she didn’t present an airbrushed rendition of the violence.

“I tried to forget every clichéd version of violence I’d seen in films or other novels, and put myself inside the body and mind of each character. It was an attempt to ‘feel’ the reality of their experience – whether they were the perpetrators of or witnesses to the violence

“Some of the violent scenes were difficult to write, and I don’t actually enjoy rereading them. More generally, I found it challenging to convey the crucial role religious faith played in people’s lives at this period.”

Richardson believes that 'Magdeburg' is the story about the bravery of ordinary people who keep going even when they have lost almost everything.

“'Magdeburg' is not a particularly cheerful book, but it is ultimately hopeful. The city of Magdeburg has been destroyed several times throughout history, and each time it’s risen from the ashes.

“It seems like a pretty good symbol of the power of the human spirit,” added Richardson.

She is already working on her second novel - a second historical based novel set in Edinburgh between 1682 and 1707 and loosely based around a real event, the execution of a young man called Thomas Aikenhead, who was hanged for blasphemy in 1697.

Published with assistance from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, 'Magdeburg' is priced at £9.99 and is available from all good book shops and on line from the publisher Lagan Press at www.lagan-press.org.uk.

Ends

For further press information and interview requests, please contact Joanne Sweeney at dcp strategic communication on 028 90405905 or 07813 885778 joanne@dcppr.co.uk

Heather Richardson is a Creative Writing Lecturer for the Open University and lives with her family in Castlereagh.

Richardson graduated from the University of Leicester in BA in English Literature in 1985 (then Heather Hutchinson).

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