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Category: DESTINY BOOK BLOG - REBECCA

  1. The Birth of a Novel - Proverbs and Destiny 10 -The cord around the neck

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    1where hope dares front cover smallIt's been a while since I've had time to write in the blog. Publishing was within sight: a proof print copy of Where Hope Dares landed on my doormat and I was ready for the final read-through. The bombshell came when a reader kindly doing an ARC read for review brought up concerns. There were things he didn't understand that I thought I'd explained. Was it him or me? I sent a copy to another reader to confirm or dispel the problem. The second reader agreed with some of the first readers concerns but also cam eup with suggestions for a new way forward. I couldn't see how I could implement the necessary changes in the time I had before release date: the cord was well and truly round my baby's neck.

    Fortunately, unlike childbirth, I could delay the birth of the novel until I'd given it much-needed thought. New ideas jostled for attention, but I couldn't see how to move forward with them. Finally, one idea began to form and slowly gelled. I've begun the research necessary to make the idea work and every question I answer raises more. Where does Colchicum Alpinicus grow? What is the Catholic belief in the Second Coming? How do you cross the High Atlas Mountains? How did the inhabitant of Los Angeles survive after the flooding? These questions have no apparent connection, yet all are relevent to my tale in some way. I'm becoming quite excited about the story's new direction and, although it may well be the end of 2015 before it's ready for publication, I'd like to share the possible new beginning. It will change as edits continue to hone and improve it, but this a flavour of what's to come.

     

    Knowledge is power, and he who has power over knowledge has power over power – Anon

     

    Chapter One

     

    Abe put a hand on his mule’s neck: the beast threw up his head, the white of his eye bright, a sure sign something had spooked him. ‘Hold up, Moses. Quiet, boy.’ Moses’ nostrils expanded and quivered, blowing soft, nervous breath on his master’s wrist: his long ears went back, flat to his mane. ‘Yes, I smell it too.’ He hauled the reluctant mule forward, and his own nostrils twitched in sympathy; a damp smell of burning clung to the air.

    The track wound along the bottom of the narrow gorge, among the sparse trees at the river’s edge. Where were the people, the children?

  2. The Birth of a Novel - Proverbs and Destiny 9 -Transition

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    1where hope dares front cover small

    Proverbs and Destiny – The Birth of a Novel 9 – Transition

    A person’s body is precious to him but nothing to someone else. – Oromo proverb

     

    This week we're into transition. I’ve completed the first draft and sent it to my friend and fellow author, Sarah Stuart, for ‘shredding’. Next stage, after I’ve got over the shock of her comments, and accepted that she’s probably right, will be editing. There are things I want to add, descriptions that could be better, and subjects to reconsider, brought about by standing back and thinking about it for a week.

    I’ve also been thinking about a title. It was originally called Destiny, way back in 2005, and I kept that as a working title, but there are a lot of novels with that name, already and it doesn’t say much about the contents. I briefly thought of it as The Gift of Prophecy: apt, as many of the topics I wrote about in 2005 have already come to pass, but a search for that brings up religious work, which this isn’t, or not in the accepted sense.

    The problem of what to call it made me think hard: what is the novel actually about? What’s at its core? It’s about man’s indomitable character, about living in adversity, about courage and fear, about stupidity, short-sightedness, selfishness, intolerance, and greed. It’s about gentleness, forgiveness, and the power of love to change people’s hearts. But most of all, I think it’s about the unquenchable hope that drags us from our beds each morning, despite the individual crosses we each bear.

    A phrase came into my head, inspired by something I once heard. If it can be imagined, it can be achieved. To that I added the logical outcome of that premise. Mankind will go where hope dares.

    So, welcome to WHERE HOPE DARES.

     

    Another short excerpt:

    Death suppurated from the pile of stiffening bodies, their blood-stained clothing flapping gently in the breeze: limbs tangled at awkward angles, sightless eyes stared skywards at the circling vultures. A fly landed on Raphel’s nose and walked across his eyelids, pausing to drink at the pool of salt liquid in the corner of his eye. More flies buzzed noisily, incessantly, occasionally landing on the blood that had crusted on his leg. The body next to him had no head, but he could tell by the bone knife in the still-clenched hand, that Guddaa Mana had lost its oldest and most revered Abbaa Bokku, their village elder.

    His limbs were stiff with pain and his ribs stabbed but, apart from that one brief look in the early hours by the light of the burning houses, he hadn’t moved. He listened, as he had listened all night, to the sounds of the Northmen, their rough but melodic speech distinct from their own softer tones. Their voices were fewer now, and quieter, as if they were moving away.

    He waited, going over in his mind, again, what had happened and how he’d failed. They’d had scant minutes to get the women and children to safety after Abe had run into the village, breathless and clutching his chest. He’d helped Abe raise the alarm, running from house to house, but some had refused to leave their homes and had lost him precious time. In the end, he left them and they’d perished in the flames or by the sword. Then, he’d grabbed Jalene from her cot and headed for the caves but, when a brute of a man had hauled Temara from her home, he’d thrust his daughter into Moti’s arms and bade him run as fast as he could. Moti had tucked her under one arm, grabbed his grandson’s hand and run.

    He’d thought, in his arrogance, being the younger, fitter man, he could save Moti’s daughter but the enemy soldier had been too strong and too well-armed. He was weak, a mere story-teller not a fighter, and his slight form and simple work-knife had been no match for his opponent’s strength and fighting prowess, or his battle-axe, sword or spear.

    He prayed he’d bought Moti time to reach the cavern. He prayed Kiya was still safely far from home. His leg throbbed, and breathing hurt. He’d taken a blow to his chest, and the Northman’s spear in his thigh: had been pinned to the ground, unable to move, while Temara was savagely butchered. What he couldn’t understand was why the larger soldier had slit the smaller one’s stomach. Unable to be of any further use, he’d played dead, letting his limbs go limp when the spear was jerked out of his leg, and he was thrown over the shoulder of a Northman and hurled onto the pile of bodies.

    It had been silent, now, but for the buzzing of the flies and the mournful squawk of the vultures, long enough for the sun to move the shadow of a dead limb across his nose. Cautiously, he opened one eye and then the other. He turned his face and stared into blue, Northman eyes, sightless and staring. He raised his head. The village appeared deserted. Agony speared through his leg and chest as he tried to move.

    He crawled across the bodies, dragging his wounded leg, dizzy from loss of blood, his throat parched. Once in the cover of a stand of juniper bushes and low oaks, he rested, weak and breathless. The movement had opened his wound, but it was a flesh wound, and not as deep as he had feared: he tore a strip of cloth from his shirt and bound his thigh. He’d lost a lot of blood already, and couldn’t afford more. He slumped against a rock and waited, breathing raggedly: he had to be sure no-one had seen him before he attempted to reach the cavern.

     

  3. The Birth of a Novel - Proverbs and Destiny 7 - Labour pains

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     The Birth of a Novel – Proverbs and Destiny book blog 7 – Labour pains

    No nation is rich enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both. – Abraham Flexner

    I’ve been thinking about Alaric, the warlike character I envisage as a Viking type, and getting his background and character straight in my head. He’s an important character, and to understand the way he will evolve throughout the story, I need to understand his background. This is how I see him. He is born into a culture that glorifies war. For this culture to be understood, I need also to make a whole backstory about why this is so. What makes a nation this way? Fear, is the usual reason. Greed, after all, is only fear of not having enough. In the case of the Northmen, as will become clear in the story, they had to defend what they had from all comers, or perish. Once this culture of war is established, it becomes ingrained and doesn’t lessen the fear, and isn’t attack the best form of defence? I think we could apply this to wars throughout the ages.

    But the cost of war is not just in financial terms: as Abraham Flexner observed, it comes at the cost of civilisation. I often think of the waste of war, in lives lost, lives ruined, and the loss of achievements that might have happened had mankind devoted themselves to mutual benefit, not mutual detriment.

    In Alaric’s case, the high priestdom rules, like many religious causes that cause more wars than they prevent. Young boys are taken from their parents to be trained. Family ceases to be what most of us think of as family. The warrior status becomes all that these boys have, their duty to the high priest alone. They are brainwashed, radicalised, just as the Hitler Youth were, and young Muslims are today. Nothing really changes, does it?

    This has left Alaric with no concept of family life, love or friendship – only duty and a place in which to perform it, and when he is chosen for an important task, and taken out the natural order of his society, it is bound to go to his head. His ego is inflated, he becomes self-important, and that will prove to be very dangerous for him and the high priest, though perhaps not quite how they might expect: it leaves him open to other, quite alien emotions.

    Excerpt 7

    Next morning, Kiya woke to the sound of shouting. She leapt from her bed, grabbing her travelling clothes and doubled as the pain in her hand, and the agony inside tore through her. The memory of the day before crushed her. She felt for her knife but couldn’t grip it with her right hand. It felt unwieldy in her left, but she moved carefully to the door, aware of the pull of dried blood caking her thighs. A sliver of light shone through the narrow gap between the part-open door and the frame, bringing with it the taste of smoldering ash.

    She put an eye to the gap. Only now, seeing the Northmen en-masse, did she realize how many and how huge they really were, how little chance any of the men had had to fight them off. The bodies of the dead had been thrown in heaps, the Northmen’s dumped with the same lack of respect they had for their enemies. The dead didn’t look so many as she’d feared, this morning: maybe some had been only injured and had escaped in the night. She fingered her cäle. ‘Please, Great Goddess Atete, goddess of fate, who has the power of life, let Raphel and Jalene be alive. Let Genet and Mother be safe.’

    Alaric detached himself from the body of men and strode towards the door. She shrank back against the wall.

    The door flung open and, as Alaric stooped to enter, she raised her knife and lunged at him. He caught her wrist with a swift, effortless movement and twisted the knife from her grip. ‘You think me so stupid?’ He gestured his impatience. ‘Quickly, girl. Get dressed. Come.’

    She shrugged clumsily into clean clothes, tears of frustration brimming. She turned her back on him and fetched a box. In it were sturdy, finely-wrought pins, brought years ago by Abe from across the mountains, which she would use to fasten her cloak.

    ‘Hurry, girl.’

    ‘My name is Kiya.’

    ‘Yes, I remember. Kiya the Herbalist. Come, I need you.’ He looked at the pin in her hand. ‘If you attempt my life again, or attempt escape, I shall pick out both your eyes with that pin.’

    She raised her chin. ‘When I attempt your life again, Alaric, I shall have no need to fear my own pins.’

     ‘You have courage, herbalist. Now come, before I’m tempted to prick you again with my pin.’ He laughed at his own joke but he fetched a piece of twine from a hook on the wall and bound her wrists.

    She smiled inwardly, though her broken fingers throbbed and her wrist burned. This big man feared her. He was a coward.

    Alaric led her across the ruins of the village. ‘The men are searching for hiding places. We’re skilled trackers, taught from youth. We’ll find these women you’ve hidden.’

    She spat at him. ‘Only a coward seeks to dominate the weak.’

    He looked at her for a long moment. ‘The strong dominate the weak. It’s the way of the world… why we survive. Don’t we kill the weakling calf and rear the strong?’

    ‘In our culture we help the weak. There are other virtues than breadth of back.’

    He tilted his head to one side and considered her words. ‘This may be true in your world. It’s not our way. Come.’ He yanked at her tether and forced her onwards, past the burning ruins, past the heap of dead. She craned her neck, searching the tangled limbs and lifeless faces. Her heart lurched. Raphel? She was certain it was Raphel.

    Enemy soldiers scanned the ground and moved off towards the hillside. She stumbled after them, blind with tears, averting her face from the rock that marked the trail to the caverns. She could do nothing for Raphel, but she must stay strong for Jalene. Please, Goddess, Jalene was there safe. Please, Goddess, they had left no tracks in their haste.

    ‘Over here.’ A man gestured and pointed upwards where a thin cleft in the rock, the entrance to the caverns, painted a line of narrow shadow on the mountainside.

    They climbed and reached the cleft. Alaric pulled her closer, watching her expression intently. ‘Is this the hideout?’

    She shrugged, brushing aside tears with the backs of her hands. ‘It’s a place we played as children. It’s a small cave, that’s all. I think wildcats use it. Or maybe cheetahs. The children are forbidden to play here, now.’ She moved closer and sniffed. ‘Definitely cheetah. Unpredictable animals, but go in and check if you want.’

    ‘My shoulders won’t fit through. ‘Anson… you’re thin as a streak of piss. Check if this is a cheetah lair.’

    ‘Check it yourself, Alaric. Or send the girl in.’

    Her heart leapt at the chance of safety, but Alaric wouldn’t give up on his Gift and the orders he’d been charged to fulfil. He’d search until he found her again, or found the fissure through which they’d lowered the milk cow. She raised an eyebrow. ‘And if the cheetah eats me, you’ll be no wiser. There could be a back entrance and you’d never know I escaped. You Northmen aren’t very bright, are you, Alaric?’

    ‘Silence, girl.’ He yanked her to her knees and gestured to the men. ‘Keep searching.’

    She scrambled to her feet and followed him, her eyes scanning the rocky ground to hide her relief. The sun was sinking over the western peaks before they gave up the search. Her relief was more than the safety of Jalene, and those she loved: as the only dark-eyed woman he’d captured, she seemed to have value to Alaric, alive.

  4. The Birth of a Novel - Proverbs and Destiny 6 - The third trimester

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    painting - kes_by_ruth_coulson

    This is amusing, said the dog when asked to guard a container of cheese - Oromo proverb.

    This is Kes, my bitza. I'm sure she is smiling, and thinking of cheese.

    It’s four-thirty am GMT. Sleep? What’s sleep? My mind is bursting with thoughts that strain at my heavily-pregnant imagination. My novel is getting swollen ankles, and feeling bloated, as if the ending will never come. All  manner of perceived problems lie ahead before I can deliver my story to a waiting midwife.

    I spent most of yesterday producing a book trailer for The Silence of the Stones. It’s my first attempt at anything of this nature, so I’m quite pleased with the result, though I expect it could be better. Anyway, for what it’s worth, you can see it at www.youtu.be/a_ENzGBApk0 Maybe you’ll let me know what you think, and how I could improve it. I did rather like the ‘spooky’ music, though.

    I imagined re-writing Destiny would be a faster process than starting a new story from scratch, but it isn’t proving so, at least not in these early stages. Kiya and Raphel are very different from my original characters and, having researched the religion and culture of the Berber and Oromo peoples, even though the story is fictional and not set in the present time or the present geographical homelands of the Oromo, the history of these separate peoples must be researched, and merged and blended believably.

    Take religion, for example: the Berber are mainly Muslim and the Oromo have been influenced by Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Greek orthodoxy and other religions preached by various ‘invading’ cultures, not that that has stopped a re-emergence of their beliefs in their own god Waqqa, who lives in the sky. The Berber lay their dead to face Mecca. In Oromo culture, grass is spread on the graves so, when Raphel is faced with laying out the dead at Saanqaa Riqicha, he adopts both practices, he being an amalgam of those cultures.

    It’s this attention to detail that takes time, two lines of writing can take hours of research, but ultimately creates a believable fictional culture and scenario with rounded, believable characters.

    Alaric’s culture will prove even more difficult, in some respects, as it is a wholly fictional culture, imagined from a throwing together of a wide range of different races from the Northern hemisphere. I suppose I was partly influenced by the accepted image of the Vikings as a warlike people: fair, tall, broad, strong, argumentative but loyal to their leader. Certainly, I imagine Alaric as being of Scandinavian descent, and I mean no disrespect to Scandinavians here, but he had to come from somewhere. He is a man with no conscience and little imagination.

    Velik, the Northmen’s leader, oddly, I see as tall, slim and dark, apart from his people and yet wielding a power over them. Only now, do I realise he’s a kind of Hitler figure, and every generation has one. Someone who is no greater than any other man, but is a ‘come the moment, come the man’ figure: someone who inspires his people, ultimately not necessarily in a good way, and is supported by them, but a Genghis Khan figure rather than a Martin Luther King one. We should never forget that it is the people who allow these monsters to run riot, but that taking the first stand against a figure who is powerful in the people’s imagination takes more courage than the average person contains. Velik trusting Alaric with Kiya was like trusting a dog to guard cheese but that is his mistake, and Alaric’s, not mine.

    If you can imagine the peoples of the north moving south looking for new territory, and the peoples of the south moving north… the immovable and the irresistible... the ensuing conflict over land becomes easier to understand. Anyway, here beginneth Chapter Two and, again, apologies for the delay.

     

    This is amusing, said the dog, when asked to guard a container of cheese. – Oromo proverb.

     

    Chapter Two

     

    The stench of burning filled Kiya’s lungs. Her arm clutched in Alaric’s huge hand, she stumbled after him across the flat space in the centre of the village. Bodies littered the ground and the number of dead Northmen attested to the fight the men of the village had put up. Every male body was Raphel. Every dead woman was Genet or their mother. Every tiny body was Jalene. Too many, she recognized as much-loved friends. Wind-dried tears stiffened her cheeks: she was numb with grief.

    Some of the stone-roofed houses built higher into the hillside, still stood undamaged, but Alaric dragged her towards one of the only thatched houses left standing. It was the home she’d built with Raphel from stone and sun-dried mud… they’d cut branches for the roof timbers and gathered reeds from the lake lower down the valley. Her heart hammered in her chest as she entered the low room. Jalene’s cot was empty. Raphel was not here.

    She swung to face him. ‘Where are my husband and child?’

    ‘Dead.’ He flung her onto the bed and ripped open the fastenings of her traveling clothes. He hesitated, as if considering her fate, and she clutched her clothing around her, watching his face. If she could reach the gutting knife, she’d slit him from throat to belly like a fish. As her muscles tensed to move, he threw her back again. ‘Velik gave no orders other than to bring you with us, safe and well. If you are The Gift… or if you are not…’ He appeared to come to a decision. ‘You may die on the way, being so small and weakly, and it would be a shame to waste the spoils of war. I am The Chosen. You are mine by right. I shall enjoy breaking you.’

    She had no chance of escape, no hope of reasoning with him: no hope. Why give him the pleasure of a conquest? ‘If you leave me alive, I promise I will kill you. You’ll be forever watching your back.’

    He took her in her and Raphel’s bed, the bed where they had loved and where Jalene had been born. His manhood ripped her small body, his weight crushed her, and the stench of his rancid skin made her retch, but she uttered no sound and made no movement. He’d wanted a conquest to brag about, to massage his male ego: although he shook her and hit her, all she gave him was the passion and fight of a limp, dead fish. He stared at her, as if he didn’t understand her, and then got up and went outside.

    She rolled onto her side and carefully, holding onto chairs, made it across the room to the rack where the knives hung. She took down the gutting knife with her good hand and returned to her bed. Hiding the knife beneath the bedclothes, she curled into a ball, held her stomach with her hands and let her tears fall. Everyone she loved was gone. ‘Atete, take me. Waqqa take me. Make me spirit. Give me back to those I love.’ She lay awake for a long time, waiting for Alaric to return and take her again, or kill her, but he didn’t come. Finally, the pain subsided and she fell into an exhausted sleep where Jalene was roasted on a spit and eaten, while Alaric laughed.

  5. The Birth of a Novel - Proverbs and Destiny 5 - The second trimester

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    blog image rise early

    Image courtesy of satit_srihin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    It is said that to rise early will not help escape God. - Oromo proverb.

    I knew what I was going to write about until I sat down to type. Pregnancy, in the literary sense, has addled my brian. I think I mean brain.  I suspect it had to do with realising what’s important in life. I had a brain scan a couple of weeks ago and have been waiting for the results somewhat nervously: life on hold. I had the all clear, which is a huge relief and feel life beginning again. It isn’t the first time I’ve been in this position, and I’m sure many of you have faced, or are facing, the same thing… staring death in face, or the death of someone close.

    It does focus you on what is not important in life. Things you may have quibbled over, or moaned about, when you were happily well are not given a thought. One aspect my novels have in common is that they’ve helped me see what is important. The Silence of the Stones deals with the loss of a child, missing and never found. I can’t think of anything worse than that, so why would I even think of complaining about toothache?

    Touching the Wire deals with the holocaust and two medics trying to save women and children, the old and sick, from being herded to their deaths like cattle to an abattoir: having to make life and death choices. My mind frequently refuses to even think about it, and yet I forced it to, to bring Walt and Miriam’s story, the story of every man, woman and child sent to Nazi death camps, to a wider audience and a new generation. Did I say I couldn’t think of anything worse than losing a child? Living with the guilt of being responsible for its death?

    Destiny also has its horrors. It’s a story that makes me realise how small and insignificant I and my worries are, and how sorely we under-estimate the power of nature, to rid itself of the scourge that is man. I’m not religious, but ancient man worshipped sun gods or the god of thunder, and goddesses of water, tree and moon. It seems to me that we can’t rise early enough to escape God.

    Excerpt 5

    Moti wagged a cautionary finger. ‘It is said that to rise early will not help escape God.

    ‘Our persecutors waged war upon us, and Waqqa stopped sending them rain, and the lands around our homeland burned to dust under the hot sun, and their cattle died and man went hungry. And Waqqa sent them pestilence, and floods from the sea to drown their fertile plains, and then he sent famine.

    ‘So they coveted our land and our cattle and our water, and wanted it for themselves, and in their arrogance they took what they wanted and the people of Boorana, who held nagaa Boorana, the peace of the Boorana, above all else, were pushed closer and closer to the vast desert that bordered these lands.

    ‘It is said most of mankind was on the move at that time, trying to escape the rising water. Many of our people travelled west in search of new homes and vanished from our knowledge. And some went south and almost certainly perished. And some, our forefathers amongst them, travelled north driving their herds of goats and their huge Boran cattle before them. They followed the great river looking for somewhere to settle, but always they were turned away for every acre of fertile land was fiercely defended, and they were pushed ever closer to the Great Sahara.’

    The tallow lamp guttered: dark fingers fled from the crevices and the ring of light faded. Moti paused and indicated that he should light fresh candles. He forced aching bones to fetch some from the rock shelf and lit them. The ring of light grew again steadily, throwing the fingers of shadow dancing across the walls as Moti continued.

    ‘Many died on that journey of hunger and thirst, for there was no rain for forty days and forty nights. The old and the very young suffered first. Then the Boran cattle began dying and then the goats. Some of our people turned back and took their cattle and goats with them, but most fell by the wayside and their bleached bones lie scattered in the Great Sahara. A small knot of our men and women pushed on, skirting the great desert for some two thousand miles. When the last of the nanny goats and cows had suckled their young for the final time, our forefathers carried two fine bull calves and two heifer calves, and two nanny kids and two billy kids on their backs. And the meat and blood of their faithful cattle and goats sustained them, and for this we give thanks. This way they came finally to the foothills of Idraren Draren, which is Berber for Mountains of Mountains, and came at last to the high place we now call Guddaa Mana.

    ‘The people who lived here greeted our people warily. It is told that Birmajii, who had been Abbaa Seera, the memoriser of the laws of his village, put down the two fine bull calves in front of the strangers, and indicated that the other men should also give up the two nanny-goat kids, while he kept the two heifer calves and the billy kids. In this way he showed the strangers that we had something to share with them, and that without co-operation none would benefit.

    ‘Seeing that we came in peace and brought a fine strain of cattle and goats that we gave readily, and that we were not many, we were given a small piece of land, by the river that falls down from the mountains, where we could build our houses. And we lived in peace with ourselves, and the animals, and the land, for that is to have the blessings of Waqqa. But that was many fathers of fathers ago, and now our cultures and our bloods have merged and we speak a common language native to none, but which all can understand, though we keep some of our Oromo words and our god and our stories, for to remember the past is to remember the future.’

    Moti looked at Abe and raised a brief smile. The children were asleep.


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