City of Secrets began with the fact that, at the end of City of Flowers, Luciano was due to go to university in Padavia, while secretly engaged to Arianna, Duchessa of Bellezza. He was also subject to an arrest-warrant for killing Grand-Duke Niccolò of Tuschia and Duke of Giglia, in a duel.
Once I had decided that the Stravagante from our world would be a dyslexic and that he would travel to a Scriptorium, full of printing-presses and bearing in mind that Padavia is known in Talia as the City of Words, the plot just mushroomed from there.
At some points it seemed as if everyone in Padavia had a secret: Luciano is hiding from a murder rap, Giunta is a secret goddess-worshipper, Arianna is visiting the city secretly, dressed as a boy, Ludo is is another goddess-worshipper who should keep it secret but it turns out he has a deeper and even more dangerous secret too.
All the Stravaganti keep their powers secret as far as possible but Matt has one he didn?t know about, that has serious consequences in our world. The di Chimici are trying to discover the secret that enables the Stravaganti to travel between worlds and times. Professor Constantin prints forbidden books in his Secret scriptorium.
When I first started to think about setting a Stravaganza novel in the equivalent of Padua, I thought first of the fabulous Arena (or Scrovegni) Chapel, decorated all over with frescoes by Giotto at the beginning of the 14th century.
But I had just written The Falconer?s Knot, a medieval murder mystery, which features among other things a fresco cycle painted in the early 14th century!
So that was out. I paid a visit to Padua and was entertained by the friend of a friend in her elegant flat overlooking the Prato della Valle. ?What are you interested in?? she and her family wanted to know.
?Sixteenth century Padua,? I said. ?The university, printing, anatomy...?
I had already discovered the late sixteenth century anatomy theatre at the university, which was too rich a gift not to use, even though built in 1594, fifteen years after the action of City of Secrets. Once I?d learned about the rotating dissection table and the dead dogs, it was a must!
Back in England, I read about early wooden printing presses and went to see some in the City of London. However hard I studied the diagrams and looked at still machinery it wasn?t until I made a special trip to Antwerp and saw a replica sixteenth century wooden press in action at the Plantin-Moretus museum, that I really got it.
I never know what a book is going to be about until I?ve written it. (This is different from saying I don?t know what the plot will be; I do know that!) City of Flowers, which I thought was about weddings and flowers and poison, turned out to be about fathers, for example.
City of Secrets, as it developed, turned out to be about knowledge, who owns it and how it is disseminated or concealed. Who has control, in other words. As someone says in the book, ?A secret is only something that isn?t known yet.?
And it?s also about language; truly my city of words is a city of secrets.