BOOKS & MOVIES



Hardcover
Published in 1999
by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Paperback
Published in 2000
by Ballantine Books
eBook
Published in 2003
by Random House






In 1354, at a time of perpetual war, two castles face each other across the Dordogne River in Southern France.

Note From Michael
I like to work with existing genres, to see if I can do something different with them. I'd always wanted to write a time-travel story, mostly because I thought it would be a good way to talk about history, but also because I thought it would be an unusual adventure story. When I started work, I spent a year just reading. The first question I faced was what period to set the story in. Since I wanted to talk about history, it wouldn't do to make all the details up, which meant the story couldn't be set too far in the past. In Europe, if you go back much before 1300, there is relatively little good documentary evidence for the kinds of information I needed-clothing, food, speech mannerisms, the details of how people lived and behaved. What did people have for breakfast? Did they have breakfast at all? What time? Did everybody have breakfast, or only rich people? I need to be able to answer questions like those, or I can't proceed.

I decided to set the story in a time when knights still fought, because I was interested in the reality behind our clich├ęd ideas of the Middle Ages-men in armor, women in pointy hats, everybody freezing in bare, chilly castles. That meant that I could not set the story much later than 1370, because after that time, knights became progressively less important as a military force. In fact, even in the 1350s the English were dismounting their knights to fight, and beating the French who still used knights as traditional mounted shock cavalry.

So I determined my time period to be about 1300-1360. I chose France, because that time was a period of confusing and perpetual warfare in that country-not only the Hundred Years War between France and England, but also numerous private wars between rival dukes, as well as attacks by marauding companies of rogue knights. I chose the region around the Dordogne River of Southwest France, because that river was the frontier, the border between France and England, where fighting was intense and continuous.

I eventually settled on the year 1357, right after the great English victory at Poitiers, where the French King John-bon vivant and bad tennis player-was captured and held for ransom. The capture of the king was a profoundly disturbing event for the French.

As for the plot of TIMELINE, I imagined it from the beginning as a survival story. All this seemed straightforward enough, and I was surprised when the novel proved very difficult to write. I eventually realized the book was going slowly because I was required to describe all the settings and costumes in detail, since they were being seen by contemporary observers.

And of course, when I began, I had no idea that King John was a bad tennis player. I hadn't known there was a King John (or Jean, or Jean le Bon) of France at all. I started with no knowledge of my subject at all, and I had to build up a considerable amount of detailed information before I could write. I consider this fun, actually. I like to learn new things, and I think it's one of the great advantages of my job.




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