But tell me--what is the fact/ fiction ratio in your book? To what extent is this historical novel actually history and to what percent an enthralling tale?
Thanks, Pete, for the "enthralling." Now about the fact/fiction ratio: I've tried to answer part of that question in this list of the cast of characters.
Almost everything I wrote about the historical figures (the two emperors, the sultan, his vizier Ali Pasha, Timur and his son Shah Rukh et alii) really happened, or at least is based on some chronicle by a supposed eye-witness. Of course chroniclers may willfully distort, invent or misinterpret events, and they don't always agree, but that's the best we've got. For example, Sultan Bayezid did (it is reported) really interrupt his military campaign for a day's hunt (one of his stupider acts); Timur really did play chess almost obsessively, and employed the clever strategy described in the book to defeat Bayezid — though the game where he works this out with his son Shah Rukh is a product of my imagination.
Ioannes VII's attempt to surrender the city to Bayezid, secretly, to save himself is attested by at least one contemporary chronicler, and seemed to fit with what I could learn about his character, including that as a child he had been half-blinded by his grandfather the then-emperor, and thus had no reason to love the city.
The gazis were real, but these particular gazis with their names and nicknames and particular attitudes, are imaginary, partly inspired by Turkish pre-Islamic folk tales. Their festive gathering, though, is very much like such events. Same goes for the Varangians, Frankish knights, janissaries, and others — the chronicles rarely report individual names and never their conversations, so I had to make those up. I think they are all plausible, that is, that my characters act and speak like the real people would (except of course that they would be speaking in their own languages).
The little princess is my invention, though she or someone much like her may really have existed: We know that Manuel II did in fact have bastard children, including a daughter (whose husband, Hilarion, makes a brief appearance in the last part of my novel).
The "True Blues" are another invention, but also plausible. From everything I could learn about the parlous state of Constantinople under this brutal siege, and from what we know about other cities under stress, it seemed to me almost inevitable that homeless or loosely supervised kids — hungry, frightened and bored by the unending bombardment and the lack of constructive outlet for their energies — would form street gangs, and that these would likely take on a pseudo-patriotic coloring. In my novel they call themselves "Blues" because in the past, when the city had been prosperous enough to hold extravagant sporting events in the Hippodrome, "Blues" had been the name of one of the major sporting factions — rowdy gangs of fans famous for street fighting.