It’s an ill wind …

Here’s a light-hearted little piece I wrote at Holmfirth Writers a while back.  I can’t remember what the exercise was, exactly, but the idea behind the piece was that there is no event so terrible that you can’t find somebody or other who has reason to be glad it happened.

I stress that this is a work of fiction and the views expressed are not those of the author!

 

Thank God for the sinking of the Titanic!  Don’t get me wrong – it was a terrible shame all those people had to drown – but if one of them in particular, the Honourable Archibald Crenshaw, had not made his unscheduled trip to the bottom of the Atlantic, my grandmother would certainly have married him and doubtless given birth to a brood of Etonians rather than the rather more down to earth litter she and my grandfather eventually produced.

Thanks are also due to Gavrilo Princip for being so kind as to murder the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, for otherwise there would have been no First World War – or at least, not quite the same one that actually happened. And where on earth would we be without the First World War and especially, of course, the Battle of the Somme. It was only due to the skill of the German machine-gunner who shot him in the hip that my grandfather found himself in the hospital where he met his future wife, who after four and a half years had finally got over the watery demise of her previous fiance. I must say, the man’s accuracy was phenomenal. A couple of inches to the left and it would have been a mere flesh wound. A couple to the right and … well, let’s just say he wouldn’t have been in a position to father any children.

Moving on a bit, acknowledgements are also due to Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering. Were it not for the Blitz, my mother would not have been evacuated to Harrogate or encountered the shy, bespectacled youth she got to know there. Even then, things were touch and go for a while. He dithered for years, and hadn’t yet got round to asking her out by the time when, newly called-up, he was posted to the Far East and thus finally forced into action. But if the war had dragged on, who’s to say what would have happened? Would the nascent flame of love have been strong enough to survive a lengthy separation? Indeed, would my father have succeeded in avoiding the shells and bullets of the Japanese? So three cheers for the atomic bombs, I say! Had they not been dropped, I would not be here to tell this tale.

The Launch

Well, the launch of the paperback of Revolution Day on Monday went quite well in the end after a bit of a chaotic start.

I’d prepared a slide show, with pictures of a bunch of historical dictators whose lives and careers inspired my fictional character Carlos Almanzor, but the person who was supposed to be sorting the projector didn’t turn up. In my introduction, I had to tell people to imagine a picture of Colonel Gaddafi or whoever instead.  But at least this got me a few laughs, and the readings seemed to go down very well – with the considerable help of my wife Rosa and friends Mary and Sue, who shared between them the excerpts that were in the voice of Carlos’ estranged wife Juanita.  There were lots of questions afterwards, and I sold quite a few books.  My hosts, the Friends of Holmfirth Library and Tourist Information Centre, laid on plenty of wine and other refreshments which lubricated proceedings nicely.  All in all, it was an enjoyable evening, for me, and I hope for the audience too.

Many thanks to poet and painter David Coldwell for the pic; Rosa Mary and Sue for reading, FOHLATIC for hosting me, and to everyone who came along.

Here’s one of the excerpts that were featured in the event (read by Rosa, in this case).  Juanita contemplates the gate that has separated her from the outside world for sixteen years…

It is just a line on the ground, a slight change in colour between the asphalt on one side and the gravel on the other, a few metres away from the door of my house. The same weeds grow on both sides of the line. After rain, part of it is concealed by a puddle. When I was free, I crossed this line hundreds of times without noticing it, except when the wrought iron gate lay closed above it. But even the gate had little significance. It was never locked in those days; its opening and closing were the task of a couple of seconds. Walking over the line made no impact upon my consciousness other than a rather pleasant, fleeting sense of entering a place of peace, of refuge from the demands of public life. Or – when I was going the other way – an odd mix of apprehension and excitement as I prepared to get back to work.

The line has not changed in any way since then. It, and the gate itself – still the same gate, after all these years – continue to be ignored by all other forms of life but me. The birds fly over it. Snails and lizards move unhindered beneath it. My cat – how I envy her this – passes between the bars as if they were not there when she begins and ends her nightly prowlings. The gate is locked now, of course, but for the various men and occasional woman who come here for one purpose or another, that fact is of no consequence. They all have keys, and the act of unlocking it hardly delays their progress at all.

But for me, the line, and the gate above it, are now an impermeable barrier. I have crossed it no more than four times in sixteen years, under armed guard. The trees on the other side of the road beyond the gate do not look any different from the ones I remember, the ones I could have walked among and touched if I had wanted to. They are no further away, in space. But I no longer see them as real trees. To me, they are like a picture of trees or, when the wind blows, a movie of trees swaying to and fro. They are beyond the line, and all that is outside it has for years been slowly fading out of reality.

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The story behind the story – TE Taylor talks about the inspiration behind Revolution Day

On the launch day for the paperback version of Revolution Day, I’m visiting Katy’s Writing Coffee Shop to talk about the background to the story

Katy's Writing Coffee Shop

IMG_4707I’m delighted to welcome Tim Taylor on what is a very special day – the launch of his novel Revolution Day in paperback. Thanks for dropping in, Tim, what can I get for you today?
Hello, Katy. Many thanks for inviting me along to your coffee shop! I’ll have a cappuccino with gingerbread syrup, please. Ooh, and an almond croissant, if you’ve got one. Yum yum!
How are you feeling today about the book going into paperback?
Excited! Revolution Day has been out for a while as an e-book, but it’s great to have it as a physical object that I can put on my bookshelf. And in my experience, there are still a lot of readers out there who prefer ‘real’ books to e-books, so this is an opportunity to bring it to a new audience.

IMG_4706

How are you planning to celebrate the launch?
Well, it will just be an…

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Dictators in History: Muammar Gaddafi

In anticipation of the launch of the paperback edition of Revolution Day on 24 April (7.30 pm in Holmfirth Library – the e-book is also available today only for 99p/99c) – I thought it was time to do another in my occasional series of posts discussing the careers of historical dictators and comparing them to Carlos Almanzor, the ageing dictator in my novel. Today I’m looking at Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi, whose fall, together with that of other dictators during the ‘Arab Spring’ was a major influence on the novel.

Gaddafi was born in 1942 in Sirte to a poor Bedouin family. In 1963 he entered the Libyan Royal Military Academy and later spent 9 months in Britain during his training. As he rose through the ranks he founded the clandestine Free Officers movement, influenced by the Arab Nationalism of Gamal Abdel Nasser in neighbouring Egypt.

In 1969 the Free Officers took advantage of the absence overseas of the Libyan king, Idris, to depose him in a relatively bloodless coup d’etat. Gaddafi then proclaimed the Libyan Arab Republic. In the four decades of his subsequent rule Gaddafi implemented a form of socialism, combined with nationalism and elements of sharia law. His political philosophy was set out in the Green Book, in which he rejected capitalism and representative democracy and espoused a form of direct democracy. In practice, however, Gaddafi remained in control, enforced by ruthless suppression of opposition.

During his career Gaddafi gained – and often subsequently lost – international support from various quarters. Initially he was close to other Arab states, particularly Egypt, though relations with Nasser’s successor Sadat were poor. He had good relations with the socialist regimes in Latin America and latterly with other African nations, becoming chairperson of the African Union in 2009-10.

For most of his career, however, Libya’s relations with the West were very bad, due to its enthusiastic support for terrorist organisations overseas, including the IRA; its responsibility for the 1988 Lockerbie air crash; and its chemical and nuclear weapons programmes. There was a surprising rapprochement in the first decade of this century, based on the recognition of a common enemy in fundamentalist Islam.

This was not to last, however. When in 2011 the Arab Spring spread from neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia into Libya, Gaddafi responded to the protests with brutal military force, earning him global condemnation and eroding support at home. UN-authorised NATO air strikes helped tip the balance of the conflict in favour of the rebels, forcing Gaddafi to quit the capital Tripoli for his home town of Sirte. Even here, though, the forces of the opposition National Transitional Council closed in exorably, finally cornering him 20 October. He died horribly, first injured by a grenade burst, then captured, beaten up, bayoneted and shot, pleading in vain for his life.

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Gaddafi and Carlos

There is a real-life link between Gaddafi and Revolution Day in that were it not for him, the novel would probably never have taken the form it did. A few years back, I had at the back of my mind an idea for a novel about someone who has enjoyed great power and is beginning to lose his grip – initially, the idea was that it would be an old king. Then, as the Arab Spring happened and Gaddafi, Mubarak and other dictators who had seemed unassailable were toppled one after the other in the space of a few months, a thought occured to me: ‘hey, I could write that novel about a dictator’! Since my particular interest was not so much in the background to the Arab Spring itself but the wider issues it raises about the corrupting effects and ultimate fragility of power, I decided to set the novel in Latin America, with its long association with dictatorship and hey presto! Carlos Almanzor was born!

Though the character of Carlos was not based on Gaddafi, there are some notable parallels between the two. Both were (initially, at least) broadly socialist in their political beliefs, though Gaddafi has the additional elements of Islam and Arab nationalism which are of course absent in Carlos. Both enjoyed several decades of power, making use of brutal repression and the cult of personality in order to keep it. And both became deluded by it as the years went on.

There are notable differences too. Carlos’s background is middle-class, not poor; his route to politics via the law not the Army. Though ruthlessly authoritarian in his own country, he does not foster terrorism overseas as Gaddafi did. And for all his faults, he is ultimately more human, less deranged, than Gaddafi.

Though Gaddafi became a rather pathetic figure at the end, he had done many very bad things in his career. I was saddened by the manner but not the fact of his passing. Nevertheless, I do owe him a strange debt, as a source of inspiration for my novel.

 

Revolution Day on Amazon: http://authl.it/4yo

Revolution Day full

 

The Long Way Back

I’ve been flipping back through my notebooks, looking for pieces that might be worth sharing on this blog. Here’s a little ghost story I wrote a while back at Slaithwaite Writers. Hope you enjoy it ….

 

I didn’t sense a change at first. There was a closing, then immediately an opening of eyes. I was in the same room, surrounded by the same people. I felt, if anything, much better: fresh, free from pain, unburdened of the toils of my body.

“I think I’m on the mend,” I told them – or tried to. Their faces made no response to my voice. Their eyes did not look at mine, but downwards. I followed their gaze to a motionless body – MY body. The eyes were still closed.

“He’s gone,” the doctor said. My mother began to weep – a tortured, despairing howl that filled the room. I tried to reassure her: “I am still with you, I have not gone.” But my voice did not disturb the air. When I tried to touch her, my fingers passed through the flesh without leaving a mark.

I tried everything I could to communicate with her. If I could move some object, even create a faint breeze in the air, perhaps she would be aware of my presence. Nothing worked. I tried to occupy my old body. It still fitted me perfectly, but I had no power to move it. It was just inanimate matter now. Then I tried to occupy hers – perhaps she would hear my voice if I was speaking – literally – inside her head. I couldn’t get any reaction. All else was overwhelmed by her anguish.

I couldn’t take it any more. Her grief was infectious. I had to leave. I passed effortlessly through the closed oak door and was gone. As I glanced at the mirror in the hall, I saw no reflection.

For some years afterwards I would wander the earth aimlessly, tied to it by some strange force. Not by gravity, for I have no weight, no substance, only form. In this state I do not tire. I feel no need for food or shelter. I lack nothing because I AM nothing.

Or so, at least, I was. Three years on, curiosity took me back to the old house. And when I passed that mirror in the hall, to my amazement I could see a faint translucent image of a human being, as if sculpted in spider-web. Somehow, in my long sojourn in this ethereal half-world, I had acquired the merest shadow of a physical form.

I ascended the staircase to my mother’s room, in expectation but also trepidation. Would she be able to see me? How would she react if she did. As I passed through the door, my spirits sank. She was there, but there was a deadness in her eyes. She had gone blind.

Hoping against hope, I wrapped my insubstantial arms around her and whispered in her ear.

“I am here, mother,” I said.

“I know,” she replied.

A Celebration of Words

Events seem to be like buses. It’s a while since I’ve done one, but next month I’ve got two in the space of two weeks1 I’ve already posted here about the launch event for the paperback edition of Revolution Day (see A Date for your Diary) on 24 April. Before that, on Monday 10 April, at 7.30 at Holmfirth Library, I’ll be participating in A Celebration of Words. This event is organised by Holmfirth Writers Group in collaboration with the Friends of Holmfirth Library and Tourist Information Centre.

There will be readings of poems and short prose pieces – members of the public are welcome to come along and read too, or just listen – and free refreshments.  I hope to see lots of my friends there, in support and celebration of this brilliant library at a time of funding cuts and uncertainty. And it’s going to be great!

Anyway, here’s a poem I’m thinking of reading at the event – it seems appropriate, in view of its local setting.  It was written for the Holmfirth Arts Festival a few years ago, about the night when Bilberry Reservoir (just above Digley, shown in the picture) burst its dam, causing a catastrophic flood in the town.

 

The Ballad of Bilberry Reservoir 

Stranger, as you walk my shore

and think my home a tranquil place,

look closer: do you see a frown

within the ripples of my face?

 

These were not always quiet waters.

When first the moor gave birth to me

this valley echoed with my laughter,

unfettered, I ran wild and free.

 

Men looked in envy and desired

to bend my labour to their wills.

They made an earthen dam to bind me,

pipes to bleed me for their mills.

 

But I was strong, and with a storm

conspired to burst my prison walls

and through the breach my righteous anger

surged in furious waterfalls.

 

That happy night! How I did dance

among the streets and houses, free

to vent my power and forge anew

my ancient pathway to the sea.

 

That time is gone: men learned to fear

and built for me a stronger cage

in which I languish, left to brood

on memories of a better age.

 

What else to do but plot revenge

with my old friends, the wind and rain.

You who think me tamed, beware:

I sleep, but I shall wake again.