Saturday, 10 January 2015

Novel Origins

The Open Doorway came into being one late July afternoon in 2012 as I was browsing through the internet pages of a newspaper. I stumbled across a piece about the Lincoln Assassination, complete with photos depicting the execution of the conspirators and their 1865 mugshots. Lewis Powell was someone I’d never even heard of, let alone seen, and that infamous photo of him by Alexander Gardner, shackled and leaning against the iron gun turret of the Saugus made a huge impact on me.
It wasn’t just his model boy looks, nor the contemporary nature of the photo. What spoke to me was the expression on his face and the mixture of defiance, fear and sadness in his eyes which stare out at the observer provoking the question; Who was this person and why did he commit such a heinous crime?
Powell’s fall from grace was a journey of discovery for me, and my research online led me finally to his biographer, Betty Ownsbey. Her excellent book, Alias Paine, chronicles Powell’s life, from his birth into a good family, to his death on the gallows as a traitor to the United States.
In this book, I’ve tried to keep as much as possible to the historical facts as we know them at this time, though I hope the reader will forgive some artistic licence with certain dates and situations.
The Open Doorway is not a book about Powell’s life, but I wanted to create something that depicted him not as a mindless, sub-intelligent brute, but as someone more close to who he probably was.
History notes without exception that Powell was a brave soldier, an inherently compassionate person, well brought up, educated and raised in a loving though strict family. Four years of civil war must have taken its toll on him, and who knows what his mindset was by the time he fell in with John Wilkes Booth. It might be argued that his part in the assassination brought him what he deserved, and it's safe to assume that Powell himself was the first to admit that he deserved to die for what he'd done. In fact, more than once he stated that he was ready to die and wished to do so. He is recorded as stating;
'My course is run. I know now how foolish, vain and wholly useless it is and must have been, and were I set at liberty this morning, I should hope to be dead by sunset.'
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