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  • Writer's pictureGareth Williams

Inspiration - where does it come from?

So, here we go. Where did I get my ideas for my first novel? Well, there is a clue in the title Needing Napoleon (even if my prospective publisher wants me to change it!). I cannot deny, I have always been fascinated by Napoleon. My less kind hearted friends might point to his allegedly limited stature, receding hair and bulging middle and suggest I have always liked looking in the mirror! Although there may be a shred of truth in that, I think it is more about the triumph (and eventual downfall) of the underdog that really caught my attention as a boy. Born on the very fringes of French territory in Corsica (which had only recently become a French possession) he spoke French like a foreign language. His real surname was Buonoparte which he changed to Bonaparte while studying in Paris. So, he was an outsider who overcame his disadvantages thanks to the new opportunities opened up by the French Revolution.

Now I'm not defending the guillotine and all that but there was something new in the air with the unravelling of the Ancien Regime. Men of talent could rise beyond the limitations of their background. For a few years women demanded and were granted an array of rights for the first time. Sadly, this freedom did not last. War was used as an excuse. Bonaparte's own Civil Code confirming women's second-class status. He also effectively reintroduced slavery (abolished by the Revolutionaries in 1794). I know, I'm not doing a very good job of explaining why such a flawed character might be so attractive. Honestly, I think his inconsistencies and the terrible things he did are a part of what makes him fascinating.

A young man in the service of the Revolution, an artillery officer who makes his reputation at the siege of Toulon. He is described by General Dugommier, "I have no words to describe Bonaparte's merit: much technical skill, an equal degree of intelligence, and too much gallantry". Who wouldn't want an appraisal like that? Restoring law and order with the 'whiff of grapeshot', conquering half of Italy to establish sister republics then overthrowing the weak oligarchy of the directorate in a coup d'état in 1799. Initially extolling the virtues of the Revolution, within a few years he demands the Pope crown him Emperor of the French but then takes the crown from the Pontiff's hands to place it on his own head!

So, I have made a start. But there's much more before we get to the Battle of Waterloo and what really set me thinking there was a novel to be had from my obsession. More next time...

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