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Interview: Charlotte Ashley on “The Satyr of Brandenburg”

Charlotte AshleyTell us a bit about “The Satyr of Brandenburg.”

This story features the protagonists of another short I published a couple of years ago, “La Heron,” doing the things La Heron does, which is wander around trying to make a living by the sword without getting involved in the upheavals that are going on in the world. In this story, she has gone to compete in a series of exhibition matches in Sardinia that feature odd and curious people of the otherworlds being treated like a circus sideshow.


What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

I knew I wanted to return to the characters I introduced in “La Heron” and to flesh out the world a bit. Europe in 1599 is about to undergo massive social, political, and cultural upheavals, but the rich and powerful haven’t really figured that out yet. They are still playing with some of the most unprecedented wealth the world has ever seen.

I was inspired by the real-life duel between Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint Georges (who was an “American,” born to an African slave) and the Chevalier d’Éon (who was a trans woman.) Both duelists were among the greatest sword fighters of their time, both were incredibly accomplished human beings, but it was treated as a bit of a freak show by the hosts. Well, I have opinions about people who dehumanize others for their own entertainment.


Could you go into some detail on whatever research you may have done on the real-life duelists who inspired this story?

I knew much more about the Chevalier de Saint-Georges going into this story than I did d’Éon. Saint-Georges was a mentor to Thomas-Alexandre Dumas (father of the author Alexandre Dumas) and did a lot of dashing about being a war hero and a gentleman, not to mention his career as a musician and composer. Racism as we understand it wasn’t the same during his career as it is now, but times were about to change. Black “Americans” in France had their rights stripped in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, mostly at the behest of sugar plantation owners in the Caribbean. But during the prime of Saint-Georges’ career, he was just a Frenchman doing Frenchman things. Very awesome things.

I wanted to capture that aspect of the Early Modern period: Europe had changed so fast, geopolitically, technologically, and philosophically, that great powers hadn’t necessarily got a good grip on it yet. Everything was new, so anything was possible. Why shouldn’t someone be a black composer-duelist-politician-soldier? Or (in d’Éon’s case) a lady soldier-spy-diplomat? Or (in Donshead Doombellow’s case) an honourable pirate-captain-ogre? Society was open to it: as long as it didn’t disrupt the status quo.


What was the most difficult aspect of writing “The Satyr of Brandenburg,” and what was the most fun?

It’s tough to write a sequel or companion piece to a short story. You have to balance the expectations of readers who know what happened before with readers who don’t know anything about the characters. And in a short piece, you don’t have time to rehash very much. Hopefully, by the time I revisit them, I can go even further afield with the big-picture story.

On the other hand, writing these characters is incredibly fun for me! I wound up writing so much more than what appeared in the final manuscript. I could have written banter and battles all day long.


Do you foresee any more adventures for La Héron and Sister Louise Alexandrine in the near future?

Absolutely. I am trying to ignore the novel writing itself in my lizard brain because I’d like to do at least one more shorter story first, but it’s hard! I have all that banter and battle to spill, and a big picture I’m just dying to reveal!


What are you working on now?

I have two things on the go. One is a novella set in La Heron’s world, albeit 100 years later and somewhere quite different. It’s a sort of steampunk murder mystery with ogres and bankers.

The other is my ongoing serial, collaborative fantasy novel, The Archipelago ( I’m writing one of three intertwined storylines in this world, with “episodes” released once a month to subscribers. We should have a novel version of the whole storyline out this summer!


“The Satyr of Brandenburg” appears in the March/April 2018 issue of F&SF.

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