I love how important a country Portugal once was, and how little of that importance remains. When you think that one-third of the world speaks Portuguese, and then you think of Portugal as it is today, it’s a pretty graphic demonstration of its decline.
I’m setting my next contemporary YA romance in the wilds and not-so-wilds of the south-west Algarve. Rather like the wind and waves around that coastline, the story has never let me pin it down. Instead I have been led by the characters and the landscape on a strictly need-to-know basis, following blindly in the hope that someone knows where we’re going.
And now I’ve been led by a ghost to a place I didn’t even know existed, a place where I am going to set my final and most dramatic scene.
Oddly, my ghost already plays an important part in the story. I thought he was just a background character, drifting across the view in a whiff of seawater and shiny armour. But it turns out that he’s been pulling my strings all along.
King Sebastian of Portugal, heirless and dead at 24 along with most of Portugal’s nobility in a crazy-eyed crusade in North Africa in 1578. The only thing Sebastian achieved was to give his country to Spain, waiting like a dog under the table for an inexorably rolling sausage.
Sebastian’s father died before he was born. His mother abandoned him when he was three. He was brought up by priests and became madly devout, hence the crusade. He may have been sexually abused as a child, and might also have been homosexual. The few portraits that exist show a sensitive young man with a strawberry-blond crewcut and a heady line in ruffs and armour.
He apparently expired on a bloodsoaked field in Morocco. I say apparently, because his body was never found. A bit like Anastasia of Russia, he came back a few times to haunt the Spanish claim to the throne. The Portuguese cult of Sebastianismo anticipates his return to this day, rather like King Arthur, or Elvis.
The Fortaleza of Belixe on the south-western tip of Portugal, the place I hadn’t even heard of until this morning, has his shield set into one crumbling wall. And that’s where everything is going to come together. Now, if only I could make Sebastian physically write this book as well as move me around like a chess piece, then everything would be dandy.
I’m off to the Algarve on Monday for research purposes. Also custard tarts and vinho verde. Expect updates.