Losing Myself in ‘The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth’

Guest Post by Dr Stuart Clark

Like every author, whenever I start a new project, I wonder what the best way to present my materialwill be. I know from previous books that I will be devoting years of my life to the endeavour, researching, writing and then discussing it. So it’s essential that I find both a stimulating subject matter and a way of presenting it that it excites me.

The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth is certainly that. It’s my debut novel.

I wanted to write about the fractious birth of science in the 17th century, set against the backdrop of religious divide as Europe ripped itself apart in the prelude to the Thirty Years War. My previous books have been non-fiction explorations of astronomy. Yet, as I researched this particular subject and its principal players, the more convinced I became that the way to do this most vividly was to dramatise it.

In the same way as CJ Sansom mixes crime fiction with popular history in his fantastic Shardlake series, so I wanted to mix historical fiction with popular science. So began the endless drafting and redrafting as I sought to find a voice that worked in fictional terms. I needed something that would bring the story and characters to believable life but would not twist the facts out of all proportion.

The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth is the story of two men who are rivals, working on different sides of the divided Christian Church. Johannes Kepler is a German Lutheran in the grip of a God-given inspiration to distil the heavenly motion of the planets into mathematical form and prove that God’s realm is understandable to humans. In Italy, the devoutly Catholic Galileo Galilei is convinced that the Earth is not the centre of the universe and sets out to prove this before Kepler can.

So, I have stepped into the world of fiction to tell their stories, to imagine how they felt as they looked at the universe, as they watched their friends and families die during the war, and how they balanced their religious beliefs with the sometimes contradictory new knowledge they were uncovering.

I’m finding it a liberating experience. All the things that sparked my imagination and that I reined in as a non-fiction writer, I can now bring to the fore. The works of HG Wells are sometimes described as scientific romances and I’ve come to think of The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth as my astronomical romance. It allows my imagination to turn these hagiographied brains into living, breathing individuals, embedded in their times and places.

It is as Johannes Kepler wrote, four centuries ago, “The roads that lead man to knowledge are as wondrous as that knowledge itself.” The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth is published by Polygon Books.

Stuart Clark’s Hay appearance is on Friday 3rd June, at 1pm.   His website is www.stuartclark.com and his twitter account is @DrStuClark.

You can buy The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth here.

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