The ideas behind the story culminated from a series of disconnected but serendipitous events that took place over many years.
I first arrived on Kefalonia in my mid twenties, when out of the blue a job opportunity came up to work on the island. At the time, I had been studying for a postgraduate degree in Greek archaeology so I was familiar with Homer’s Odyssey. However this offered the first chance to see the modern island of Ithaka for myself. As the potential site of Odysseus’ palace, what struck me was that the mountainous island was not the ideal place for Mycenean viticulture, a necessity for a Mycenean palace, but also this didn’t seem fit the Homeric description of Ithaka being “low lying”, “rugged” and “the furthest out to sea to the west”.
A far more likely candidate in my eyes was the adjacent island of Kefalonia itself, known for its wine production and also its rich fertile land, especially on the Paliki peninsula. In addition, Mycenean remains have been found scattered across the island with a striking cluster of chamber tombs at Metaxata, in use over several hundred years, just outside the main town of Argostoli. More recently a beehive tomb, thought to be a royal grave with gold finds and claimed to be that of Odysseus himself, was discovered at Tzanata, close to Poros on the south eastern part of the island.
I was aware of how the archaeological site of Troy was discovered by Heinrich Schliemann by using the place descriptions in Homer to find the location. However further proof concerning the accuracy of these descriptions came about unexpectedly during a visit to the Greek mainland. We were visiting the Mycenean palace excavated at Pylos, a place Homer always describes as Sandy Pylos. I was already familiar with the site and, as it is set on higher land, several kilometres from the coast, the epithet of Sandy Pylos always struck me as misplaced. On this particular occasion, however, we stopped off to visit the nearby nature reserve at the Gialova Lagoon. After a long walk down a track we were rewarded by the sight of an unusually shaped sandy cove. Sandy Pylos convinced me and from then onwards I have taken more seriously the accuracy of Homer’s descriptions and that these were based on some genuine geographical knowledge of actual places.
Another piece in the jigsaw came after Robert Bittlestone and a group of other enthusiasts put forward the theory that the Paliki peninsula on Kefalonia was originally a separate island and probably Homer’s Ithaka. Again a chance encounter brought this theory into my consciousness. We were holidaying on Kefalonia and had stopped off to lunch in a taverna, when a local Greek approached us on the basis that I spoke Greek. It turned out that he was promoting awareness of the theory and handing out some publicity leaflets. As well as a pleasant garden lunch overlooking the sea, we enjoyed an interesting conversation about the theory and the possibility of Kefalonia being Homer’s Ithaka. On returning to the UK, my husband particularly followed up this conjecture and later presented me with my own copy of Robert Bittlestone’s book Odysseus Unbound: The Search for Homer’s Ithaca (2005). It seems that subsequent geological research in recent years holds up this theory and the Paliki peninsula was separated from the main body of Kefalonia in ancient times by a narrow sea channel. For those interested, more information about this theory and the scientific evidence can be found on the website at https://www.odysseus-unbound.org/about/robert-bittlestone/.
Finally the over-arching idea behind the novel, namely a place where one can sense the presence of others across time, came to me while walking the Pennine Way. This is a national trail which traverses the northern spine of the UK starting from the Scottish Borderlands and heading southwards. Several miles north of Hadrian’s Wall, which once marked the frontier of the Roman world, my husband and I walked through a woodland clearing early on a Sunday morning. The place was unnerving and strikingly silent, with no birdsong, and felt as if many pairs of eyes were tracking our movements. Neither of us commented at the time but afterwards it emerged that we had both shared a very similar experience.
I never looked into the history of the place, although it was not far from the Roman encampment of Chew Green and a part of the world with a violent and bloody past. However the perception that we might sense others’ presence who have lived before in particular spots stayed with me. In the story, this place is a rock on the sea-shore, where the past and present collide and come together.