A year on …

Time flies by so fast!  My second novel Revolution Day was published by Crooked Cat a year ago today.  In honour of that, the e-book is reduced to 99p/99c until 17 July!

It seems appropriate to commemorate the day, because anniversaries feature heavily in the novel.  The title, Revolution Day, itself refers to the annual celebration of the events which, somewhat fortuitously, brought President Carlos Almanzor to power in a fictional Latin American country.  The novel begins on the thirty-seventh of these occasions, as the ageing Carlos walks out onto his balcony to give his time-honoured speech to the crowd who by now know much of it by heart.

And I don’t think I’m giving too much away if I say that it ends twelve months later, on the thirty-eighth.  During that intervening year, Vice-President Manuel Jimenez has been orchestrating a complex plot against Carlos. Not by force – he lacks a military power base – but through intrigue, manipulating the perceptions of the President and those around him to undermine his position and drive a wedge between him and the Army. As Manuel makes his move, people close to Carlos, including his estranged wife Juanita, will find themselves unwitting participants in his plans.  As to whether Manuel succeeds, I’m saying nothing – you’ll have to read the novel to find out!

I’ll end this post with an excerpt touching upon yet another anniversary – the birthday of Juanita, who has been under house arrest for sixteen years following her disastrous personal and political split with Carlos.  She is writing a memoir of their marriage and his regime, charting its descent from idealism into autocracy and repression.  Inevitably, she also touches on the constrained circumstances of her own existence, in which a birthday is no longer something to be celebrated ….

When I was a child, I would become almost frantic with excitement on my birthday, and for much of the preceding night. Looking back, I was rather spoiled. I was an only child, and my parents, though not rich by any means, had enough money to buy me nice dresses and toys, wrapping them up in shiny paper that I would tear apart with the feverish urgency of a starving person coming upon a bar of chocolate. They would always lay on some kind of event for me, too: a party for all of my friends, a trip to the zoo, something like that. Even well into my adulthood, this was still a day to be celebrated, a day when I could feel special. When I was the first lady of the Republic I would be treated like royalty for this one day each year. Birthday greetings would be given on state TV; random members of the public would send me flowers. I loved it!

Sadly, this is no longer a day I look forward to. Not just because it marks another milestone on my inexorable progress towards old age, but because it can never seem anything but pathetic in comparison with the obstinately vivid memories of those earlier birthdays. I would really prefer to forget that this is my birthday at all; to treat it as an ordinary day, no more dull or depressing than any other. Unfortunately, however, people do not grant me this kindness. Thus, when I went downstairs for my breakfast this morning – not realising, for the moment, what day it was – there was a sprinkling of envelopes on the doormat to remind me.

I shouldn’t be too hard on them, I suppose. They mean well, those cousins and old university friends. Their cards are full of earnest concern, reassuring me that I am always in their thoughts, urging me to keep my spirits up while unintentionally having the opposite effect. There is usually also a smattering of cards from other well-wishers – church leaders, charities, that kind of thing. People who can afford to be seen expressing sympathy for me without being in danger of arrest for conspiring against the Government. I have noticed that there have been more of these in recent years – I suppose I should be encouraged by that. Occasionally the odd card gets through even from some of the blander, more conciliatory figures among the FDP leadership – those whom the Government tolerates in order to maintain some facade of pluralism. These are somewhat sporadic, and rarely bear any message other than ‘happy birthday’. I suspect that they are steamed open and confiscated if they say anything more substantive.

Each year, without fail, there is also a card from my husband (it feels odd to call him that, but legally we are still married. I suppose he thought that divorcing me would achieve nothing that locking me up has not already done; that it would merely give his critics an unnecessary opportunity to make capital out of his treatment of me. I am hardly in a position to divorce him). This is always, without exception, the largest and most elaborate card I receive. Also without exception, it contains no message other than ‘Best wishes, C.’ In the early days I invariably used to tear up his card as soon as I found it, sometimes without even opening it (I could always tell which one it was). Once, I even tried wiping my bottom on it. Not something I would recommend, by the way. It was most uncomfortable, and blocked the toilet afterwards. Anger fades, eventually, and the resentment that remains does not have the same motive power. Latterly I have come to regard these cards more with curiosity than anything else. Why does he bother? It is not as if there is any likelihood of a rapprochement after all these years. I am resigned to staying here until one of us dies.

You can find out more about Revolution Day here: http://www.tetaylor.co.uk/#!revday/cwpf

 

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Welcome, Miriam!

Today I welcome fellow Crooked Cat author Miriam Drori.  Hello, Miriam!  It’s been a while since you last visited my blog, back in 2014.

Has it been that long? The time has flown by.

How has life been treating you since then?

Two years ago, there were five creatures living in this house. Now there are three. One died – the cat. And one moved out.

With no dependents to worry about, my husband and I have been able to travel far and wide. In the last two years, we’ve visited Switzerland, India, the UK, Hong Kong and Russia.

Two years ago, my novel Neither Here Nor There had only just been published. Now, my baby is growing up, sales are still chugging along, and it’s wondering whether there will ever be a younger sibling to join it. (I’m not wondering – I’m working on it.)

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Tell us about your novel.

The two young players in this tale weren’t likely to meet. Mark was born and raised in London. Esty grew up in a closed, ultra-orthodox neighbourhood of Jerusalem. But Mark decided to leave his comfortable environment to carve out a new life for himself in Jerusalem, while Esty made the bold step of leaving the only lifestyle, family and friends she ever knew. Their different backgrounds clash and combine as Mark and Esty try to avoid the stumbling blocks that appear on their path.

Are you working on anything new at the moment?

I’m writing half of a novel based on The Women Friends, a painting by Gustav Klimt. This project has introduced me to two aspects of writing: collaboration and historical fiction. Fortunately, my co-writer has experienced both before and I’ve learnt a lot from her.

When I’ve finished that, I want to finish off another novel I wrote, part of which is set in Japan.

You recently won a 100 word short story competition – how do you see the relationship between short and longer fiction?

I feel it’s easier to experiment in short fiction. I’ve written weird descriptions that I wouldn’t dare try in a novel. I’ve included impossible events. One short story of mine, published in an anthology, uses the second person singular. I know all of these can and have appeared in longer fiction, but it’s much harder to make them work. I don’t think I could bring off a whole novel written in the second person.

On the other hand, longer fiction lends itself to opportunities that shorter fiction doesn’t have. There is space to delve into descriptions of people and places; to try to fathom the minds of characters and work out what makes them do what they do. Readers can get to know the characters in a novel, while a short story is generally too short for that.

You’re a regular blogger yourself. What do you see as the purpose and benefits of blogging?

Your blog is your personal space in the stratosphere, where you have control over what appears. In a blog post, you can say things that are a bit longer and more meaningful than a tweet or even a Facebook status. You can post stories, poems and pictures in a blog. For me, my blog is a place where I can write things I can’t say.

I began my blog anonymously, afraid to admit to who I am. I expected negative comments, but actually haven’t received any at all. So gradually I “came out” as Jewish and Israeli and living with social anxiety. Personal development has been one of the benefits of blogging.

As part of the control, you can choose the direction of your blog to suit your requirements at any time. My blog will soon be changing direction. (Watch this space.)

You grew up in London but now live in Jerusalem.  Do you ever miss the UK?

I miss rain in the summer (although in general I prefer our weather). I miss the way cars stop even before I’ve reached a zebra crossing. I miss the orderly queues, where no one pushes in at the last minute and says, “I was here.” I miss the underground, Branston Pickles, salt ’n’ vinegar crisps and large parks.

But I’ve lived in Israel for almost forty years and it’s where I belong.

Finally, what question would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t?

Ooh, crafty! How about this: You just spent a week in Russia. What have you learnt from that visit?

And what is the answer?

As a child, I heard a lot about Russia. My brother visited and then studied there. My aunt and uncle visited. I heard about stern officials, supermarkets only for foreigners while Russians queued for meagre supplies, Jews in a synagogue too scared to talk to foreigners.

Russia is very different now. The two cities we visited, Moscow and St Petersburg, look like thriving European cities. Moscow’s Jewish Museum is modern and prominent; interesting, too.

A couple of things I saw fit with my impressions from the many Russians I’ve met here in Israel. One is that they smoke a lot. The other is that sometimes they have a strange way of thinking; things that are obvious to them are not for anyone else. In what other capital city do you exit the metro and spend half an hour looking for the train to the second biggest city in the country? No, this wasn’t a language problem because OH knows how to read Russian. There simply wasn’t a sign.

Thanks for dropping in, Miriam, and for those interesting answers!

 

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Carpe Diem

From time to time I like to post here a little piece I have written at one or other of the writers groups I belong to – things I’m quite pleased with but don’t have any other plans for.  Here’s a little story I wrote at Holmfirth writers a while back, in response to the theme of ‘Carpe Diem’.

 

I entered the clinic with a feeling of mounting dread. I had been worrying for months about the cause of my headaches before daring to see the doctor about it. Now I was about to learn the truth. Was it really what I feared? And if so, how long did I have to live – months, or just weeks, even? As I was ushered in, I could see from the look on the doctor’s face that it was bad news, before she even opened her mouth.

“Your test results, Mr Sullivan. I’m terribly sorry, but …”

“Stop there, doctor. I don’t want the details. Just tell me, how long?”

“How long? Just one day.”

“ONE DAY!!”

“I’m very sorry. I know this is a very sensitive matter for you. Let me assure you that … “

I raised my hand.

“Don’t say another word, doctor. I won’t take up any more of your time.”

What I meant, of course, was that I didn’t want to take up any more of my time. My God, I had one day left to live! No way was I going to waste half an hour of it talking to some doctor about whatever grisly end was in store for me.

I practically ran out of the clinic. No time to waste. My car was on a double yellow line, and a traffic warden was putting a ticket on the windscreen. My heart sank for a moment, then rose again. What could they do to me? I wasn’t going to be around for them to do it, was I? I ripped the ticket off and threw it away.

“Excuse me, sir ….”

“Please don’t take this personally, but there is something I’ve wanted to do all my adult life, and now I’m going to do it.”

Then I punched him in the face, got in my car and drove away. I went at seventy miles an hour all the way home through the suburbs, attracting lots of blasts on horns and flashes of speed cameras but disappointingly, no police cars.

At home, I had a stiff drink, then I called my wife. She was at a business conference in New York. I had begged her not to go, but she had belittled my worries, telling me that everything would be fine and I shouldn’t be a baby. Now I’d show her! They were five hours behind – hopefully I’d catch her before she left the hotel. But there was no answer, only a recorded greeting informing me that she would be in meetings all day and would not be contactable until late in the evening – by which time it would be the middle of the night here. Damn her! I left a message: “Hello, dearest. Got my test results. I have twenty four hours to live. Have a nice meeting.”

What to do? I had to live these final hours in style. I trawled the internet desperately, looking for suitable thrills. Eventually I settled on chartering a helicopter. Five thousand quid – every penny I had in the world, pretty much, but you can’t take it with you, can you? I told the pilot to land in my rich neighbours’ enormous back garden, telling him it was mine. Then I hacked my way through their fence with an axe – always hated that bloody thing, blocking out the view – and walked across their lawn. I was pleased to see them sitting open-mouthed on the patio, so I gave them a cheerful wave and ripped the heads off some roses for good measure before we took off.

The flight was great! He took me all over the place – over London, round the Welsh mountains. Worth every penny, I thought. But it was all over too quickly – there were still well over half of my twenty-four hours to go. I couldn’t let them go to waste. It occurred to me that I had a score to settle with my horrible boss at work, who had always treated me like crap and ignored my claims for promotion. I drove the mile or so to the office and rammed my rusty old Vauxhall Astra straight into his new BMW. A couple of kindred spirits in the car park gave me a round of applause.

Walking home, still waiting for the next idea, I saw an attractive woman on the other side of the road. On the spur of the moment, I walked over to her.

“Excuse me, I’ve only got fifteen hours to live. I was wondering if you would be kind enough to spend them with me.”

She laughed. “Nice try, but I’m afraid I’m spoken for.”

“Yeah, me too, but my wife’s in New York and I’ll be dead by the time she gets back. Seriously, it’s all true. I got the test results this morning. Brain tumour. One day to live. Got to make the most of it. Look, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to: all I’m asking for is a bit of company in my final hours. And right now, what I want to do is find the poshest restaurant in town and treat you to a slap-up meal and all the champagne you can drink. Come on, cheer up a dying man: what harm can it do? Tell your boyfriend you had to work late or something. The name’s Mark, by the way.”

She thought for a few seconds. “All right, Mark. On the off chance you’re telling the truth, I’ll come for a meal with you – but nothing more than that, OK? My name’s Michelle.”

We had a great time – or at least, I’m pretty sure we did, from what I can remember of it after all that champagne. I woke up at eleven o’clock in a hotel, feeling more than a little ill – though not as ill as I ought to be feeling, given that my twenty four hours was already up. I heard a groan.

“Oh my God, what the hell am I doing here?” said Michelle. “I am so going to regret this.” She looked at her watch. “I’m not being funny, but aren’t you supposed to be dead?”

Before I could answer, my mobile phone rang.

“Mr Sullivan? It’s Doctor Jones here. I’m so sorry once again for the twenty-four hour delay in your test results. I do appreciate this must have been very upsetting for you. Anyway, I’m pleased to say that the tests have now been completed, and I’m even more delighted to tell you that the results were negative. You have absolutely nothing to worry about.”

Oh yeah?