A Thank You to R.A. MacAvoy

March 2017
by Annie Whitehead

It was around 1985, and I was about to board a train to London from King's Lynn, Norfolk, a journey I made regularly, making full use of my young-person's railcard. I realised that I didn't have anything to read, and dashed into the shop. There wasn't a huge selection of reading material, so I grabbed the most appealing paperback on offer. It said it was the second in a trilogy, but it was still the best of a limited choice, so I bought it.

The book was Damiano's Lute, and I didn't look up from it once during that train journey. Had I been going anywhere other than a London terminus, I might have missed my stop, for I had been flung into another world, so unlike any other in 'book universe' and I was reluctant to emerge. The world into which I'd been transported was one of magic and music and history. Damiano had lost his magical powers and was accompanied on his journey through medieval Europe by an archangel, and a pagan witch. The fantasy element was evocative and deftly presented, but the historical setting was also intriguing - Europe during the Renaissance. I learned a lot, about the separate papacy in Avignon, about plague victims, about the language of the Langue-doc and... let's go back to the beginning. Because very soon after I had read this book, I sought out a copy of the first in the trilogy.

Damiano introduces us to Damiano Delstrego, the alchemist son of a wizard, who is learning to play the lute. His music teacher happens to be the Archangel Raphael. Damiano has a little dog called Macchiata, who can understand and 'speak' to Damiano. In this first volume we are also introduced to Saara, a witch from Lapland. Without giving anything of the plot away, this is the tale of a journey. A journey undertaken by friends who are thrown together by various differing circumstances. It is also a tale of the ultimate fight between good and evil, light and darkness.

And in the third volume, Raphael, it is the story of how the angel comes undone. He has lost his wings, and ends up sold as a slave, with only the Bedouin slave-woman Djoura for companionship. Damiano, Saara, and their wayward friend Gaspare are on a mission to rescue and restore their heavenly friend, but the story is building up to a final confrontation with the supreme enemy, the Father of Lies.

I'm not telling it in a way that can possibly do it justice. It sounds a bit like a hotch-potch of ideas, all thrown together in a haphazard way. But actually it is a beautiful collection of stories that satisfy the reader because they give the essentials. MacAvoy creates a world that is rooted in reality, an historical setting which is minutely observed and researched, and weaves an element of fantasy across the landscape she has laid out, with characters who are at once fantastic and yet believable. When Raphael, suddenly mortal, suffers, his anguish is real.
"Tell me what it is, Father," he begged within himself. "Tell me how to hear this pain rightly. I'm frightened; tell me what it is that is so wrong, which I've forgotten and I know I must remember." But this message only echoed in his ravaged head. No answer came. No music, no words...The Other within him was gone as though it had never existed...He flailed his arms, not knowing what the motions were.

The scenery is described:
Lombardy in August could not hold a candle to the heat of the Moorish State of Granada during the same month. In Lombardy the grass was dry, but at least it was grass. On the brown hills forty miles south of the Andalusian city the ground was crazed like pottery glazing. The midday heat drove even the birds from the sky. Beasts of all sorts sheltered in the shadows of the rocks. Beside a sheer walled table of stone... a single iron chain looped in swags through seven iron collars. Seven slaves had spaced themselves out evenly like birds on a fence, seeking their own space in the sliver of shadow left by the table's overhang.
I read these books just after I graduated, and already with a notion that I would write my own stories. The experience of being immersed in another world was one which I wanted to replicate for others, and the first book I wrote (never published, nor is it ever likely to be!) was a fantasy novel. A few years later, I read MacAvoy's The Book of Kells which merged history and fantasy in a different way and was probably the first 'time-slip' novel I'd read since reading Alan Garner's The Weirdstone of Brisingamen when I was a child. My first historical book was originally intended to be a time-slip novel in a similar vein. Only once the historical research completely took over my life did I decide to make it a 'straight' historical fiction. There is no doubt in my mind that MacAvoy's books influenced me deeply as a writer. But first and foremost, they ignited my reader's passion. And that is the primary task of the writer.

R.A. MacAvoy was born in Cleveland, Ohio. She attended Case Western Reserve University and received a B.A. in 1971. She worked from 1975 to 1978 as an assistant to the financial aid officer of Columbia College of Columbia University and from 1978 to 1982 as a computer programmer at SRI International before turning to full-time writing in 1982. 

R. A. MacAvoy was diagnosed with dystonia (a neuro-muscular disorder causing painful sustained muscle contractions) following the publication of her Lens of the World series in the early 1990s. She now has the disorder under control and has returned to writing.

only these two books appear
The Damiano series:
Damiano (1983)
Damiano's Lute (1984)
Raphael (1984)
omnibus edition titled A Trio for Lute

R.A. MacAvoy On Writing and Reading
What I've written, what I'm writing, what I hope to write, and other things.
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R.A. Macavoy

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