For Marthese Fenech, the inspiration for her novels struck when she was just a teenager, and it has stuck with her ever since. The 2004 Creative Writing by Correspondence graduate recently published Falcon’s Shadow, the second book in her Knights of Malta trilogy, and told us a bit more about how the series came about and how Humber helped her make it happen.
Tell us about your book/project:
The hostility between the Ottoman Sultan and the Knights of St John incites the collision of two great empires, intertwining the fates of characters separated by faith, loyalties, and vast distances.
Beyond military conflict, the men and women of this series must confront corruption and oppression, treachery and disaster in a turbulent time that saw the flourishing Renaissance at odds with the repressive Roman Inquisition.
Eight Pointed Cross, the first novel in the trilogy, takes place decades before the Great Siege of 1565—the storm had been brewing for quite some time. Eight Pointed Cross introduces two families, one, living humbly on the island Malta, the other, affluent, living in Istanbul. This novel culminates with the lesser-known but decisive 1551 Siege of Gozo, an event that saw the tiny island emptied of its entire population.
Falcon’s Shadow picks up in the immediate aftermath of the first novel and sweeps from quarry pits to sprawling estates, tumultuous seas to creaking gallows, the dungeons beneath the bishop’s palace to the open decks of warships. Chance connections are made, secrets revealed, and betrayals exposed against a historical backdrop. Fates will collide at the Battle of Djerba, a momentous clash which unites lost kin, only to tear them apart once more.
How did this project come about?
The inspiration for this series came to me on a pre-college vacation to Malta, my parents’ homeland. I went to the capital city, Valletta, to check out the Malta Experience, an audio-visual masterpiece that showcases the island’s incredible seven-thousand-year history. The moment the Great Siege of 1565 played out on the screen, Malta’s rich history came to life for me as never before.
The Siege tested the resilience and fortitude of this little island and its people in ways I could hardly comprehend. It’s an underdog story for the ages. Just like that, the idea to write a novel based on this epic battle took root. Twenty years, many miles, and a few thousand cups of tea later, I’m launching the second book and completing work on the third of my Siege of Malta trilogy. The story was just too big to fit into a single volume.
How did you find the experience of working with your writing mentor? What insight into your writing did you gain through the mentorship process?
As a starry-eyed, aspiring author, I had the privilege of working through my first manuscript with the incomparable Karen Connelly.
An extraordinarily thorough and talented editor with a keen eye for detail, Karen taught me to identify stylistic errors early on by posing vital questions about my choices. She readily answered my questions about how to navigate the publishing industry—a world I found profoundly intimidating… Few people treat their fellow humans with such care and consideration as Karen does. She inspired me to write bravely and helped me develop my literary voice—no, my literary roar. She made suggestions one might not expect an editor to make. Run around outside barefoot on the grass at night in the rain. Be unapologetically and fiercely woman. I did and felt beautifully wild for it. I channel this feeling whenever I write. And I thank Karen for encouraging me to tap into my truest, most untamed nature.
Thanks to Karen’s invaluable mentorship, my first novel found a home in 2011. Nine years later, I am launching my second novel, and still, I come to Karen for advice. She remains a trusted and cherished mentor. Over the past two decades, we have cultivated a friendship I treasure. I will forever look up to Karen. She inspires me in so many ways--as an artist, as a woman, as a human. One could not ask for a stronger mentorship, and I am forever grateful to the Humber School for Writers for connecting me to such an incredible person.
Find out more about Marthese and her books on her website, or by following her on social media; she’s on Twitter and Instagram @Fenka33 and on Facebook at Marthese Fenech: a historical novelist. You can also find her on Goodreads.
Photo credit: Kailey Nagymarosi