The Winter Prince by Elizabeth Wein. 1993. 202 pages.
Sometimes a book gets inside of you. It curls up in your mind and refuses to go away. It changes the way you think about reading and about what books can do. It becomes a permanent part of your mental landscape of literature, and you start measuring other books by it, like it's a yardstick.
The Winter Prince is one of my yardstick books, which I discovered just last fall. The story immediately attracted me - it's a retelling of Arthurian legend from the perspective of Mordred (renamed Medraut). The story revolves around the relationship between Medraut and his legitimate half brother, Lleu, whom Medraut both hates and loves. It's a dark story, which is a given if you know anything about Mordred's parentage, but also one that's full of courage and ultimately, hope. I always thought that Mordred got a raw deal and wished he could have a second chance. Here, finally, he gets one.
What I find almost as fascinating as the book itself is what Wein says about what it was like to write: "The creating of The Winter Prince and the writing of it were two very different things. The creating of it took more than ten years .... But once that was over, the writing itself took place over a brief year and a half. It began with the sudden realization that Medraut was the narrator .... Once I knew that, I almost felt that I was no longer writing the book myself. Medraut was leaning over my shoulder with his hand guiding my pen .... I did not own or use a computer until I was three-quarters of the way through the book. I swore I could compose the whole thing in my head. A month after I finished the first draft, my cousin opened the manuscript to a random page, and challenged, 'Let's see how well you know your own book.' He prompted me with a sentence. I answered him by quoting the rest of the page. I had been living dreaming, and breathing this book for a dozen years."
I can only imagine creating with such passionate intensity. Sometimes, I can't even remember what I wrote yesterday, much less quote it :) But, for an aspiring author, it's something to dream about.