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Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Excerpt from Chapter 5 of Mine to Avenge

That evening, while washing the dishes, Caterina remembered she needed the olive wood box for the children’s birth records. Alcandor had produced it on their arrival in Australia to prove their identities, but she couldn’t remember seeing it since then. She turned to Alcandor who was sitting at the kitchen table reading a Greek newspaper.
‘Darling, I need the children’s birth records from the olive wood box. Where have you put it?’
Caterina was unprepared for his response. Her husband’s body stiffened and his knuckles whitened as he gripped the pages of the newspaper. He didn’t raise his eyes, and hesitated before answering her with an unfamiliar abruptness.
‘What do you want it for?’
‘I need to take the children’s papers to the school so they can be enrolled.’
Caterina stood motionless, her hands dripping sudsy water onto the floor as she faced her husband. Without looking at her, Alcandor stood up and roughly pushed his chair aside.
‘I’ll get them for you. Don’t trouble yourself.’
Caterina turned back to the sink as Alcandor left the room, her face flushed with shock. He had never spoken to her like this before nor denied her access to the wooden box. The box belonged equally to both of them. It was a family treasure. Why was there a problem now? And why did he speak to her so harshly?
Caterina’s thoughts returned to the last day at the village when she saw Alcandor receive the note from the unknown man. During the weeks after that incident, his behaviour had been odd and erratic, but since arriving in Australia he had been fine. Her request for the olive wood box had stirred up something in him again.
Alcandor brought the papers back to the kitchen and placed them on the table.
‘I’m going for a walk,’ he told her, and abruptly left the house.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Touching on research

Someone recently asked me to write a blog entry about how I researched aspects of Mine to Avenge.
Keeping track of events and dates was an important part of writing Mine to Avenge, given its generational span. I had to blend the lives of the fictional characters with actual historical events and dates.
As I wrote, I kept a running chronology of the real and fictitious events. I thought this would be a useful device to employ when I realised I had written one character into a scene after determining her to be dead at an earlier stage of the story.
I also compiled a family tree for the two families in the novel to record birthdates and marriages. One of the family trees will be included within the novel as a reference, but the second one contains plot-spoiler details, so has been omitted.
Some of the historical events and elements I researched for background were Greek village life pre World War 2, Greece’s involvement in the war, post war Greek emigration, Greek cultural life in Australia, and also the September 11 attacks, particularly the layout of streets around the World Trade Center. I have a wonderful friend in the US who helped me with the Manhattan scenes, giving me the background detail needed to add authenticity. I also studied eyewitness accounts and footage of the September 11 event to bring drama and realism to the few chapters where the event is central.
I also researched weather records to write certain scenes for particular dates, such as when a particular character was run down by a car on a rainy night. I was almost caught out with dates when writing a particular scene involving a school. I ascribed a date to the scene without first finding out whether it was actually school term time on that particular date. When I finally thought to check, I found that this particular date fell during school holidays, so I had to change the scene accordingly. I was unable to change the date of the event because it would have created a continuity problem elsewhere.
Readers are smart, and there is always someone who knows what the weather was like on a certain day, or that a particular event couldn’t have occurred in a certain way because of factors overlooked in research. I have endeavoured to be accurate where I can, and where there was any doubt, I either left it out or wrote in a deliberately general or non-specific way.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Extract from Chapter 4 of Mine to Avenge

They departed within an hour of receiving the note, and turned the cart to the south in the direction of Athens, as a dusky twilight fell over the village. Alcandor stopped the cart for comfort as the children needed, but didn’t stop to sleep until it was nearly midnight.
Caterina noticed that Alcandor was alternately pale, then flushed, and occasionally he muttered to himself. Many times he looked back over his shoulder and asked the children if anyone was following the cart. The children spoke only to Caterina, if they needed to speak at all, for their father’s strange behaviour frightened them, along with the notion that someone might be following them.
All the way to Athens, Alcandor was nervous and jumpy. Caterina wondered if the threat of the children being evacuated was greater than she realised, and she began to feel nervous too. She remained vigilant, particularly at night, and fought against sleep, not wanting to close her eyes, because then she wouldn’t be able to watch over her children.
They arrived in Athens to learn of a mass exodus of people to foreign lands, and Alcandor quickly decided that his family was to be part of it. He wasn’t sure where to go at first. People were heading to many different far-flung corners of the globe, but as he listened to conversation, one place began to settle in his mind above all others. He heard of a sun-drenched land of opportunity, far away from the ravages of post war Europe. He told Caterina that he had decided they would go to Australia.
During the next few weeks in the city, while waiting for passage, Alcandor continued to drift in and out of some strange fear. Occasionally, Caterina heard him muttering about changing their names. She hoped that things would improve once they were on board the boat, but she wondered whether the years of war and his sickness had taken their toll on her husband. She had heard many stories of men who had lost their minds and wondered if this was happening to Alcandor.
For the first two days on board ship, Alcandor nervously observed the other passengers and wanted to know where the children were at all times. However, after the first two days he began to relax. He slept for most of the third day and was himself again when he awoke later in the afternoon. He remained settled for the remaining month-and-a-half of the voyage and became his old self once again, sharing the excitement with his wife and children at the prospect of the new life ahead of them.”

Thursday, 24 May 2012

On the subject of endings

This evening I received the ultimate compliment for a writer. My editor isn’t even half way through the novel yet but she has been looking ahead and having a ‘sneak-peak’ at the end because she is getting into the story now, and wants to know what happens. It gives me hope that other readers will enjoy the story as well.

Continuing on with a little more background to the creative process behind the novel, I recently heard of an author who starts the writing process with the last sentence of his story.  I didn’t come up with the ending for Mine to Avenge until the story was almost at the end, and it sat untouched for some months while I waited on some inspiration and insight. It was a frustrating situation to be in, thinking that I possibly had a reasonable story, with no satisfactory way of ending it. As an ex teacher who has read many student essays in my time, I found that the ending makes or breaks a story. I lost count of the essays I read that ended, “And then I woke up.”
I have also seen many movies that had me glued to the screen, only to finish with an ending that made me wish I had been doing something more constructive for the few hours I wasted watching it.
I didn’t want my story to end this way and hope readers will find the ending satisfying and complete. All major plot elements are successfully resolved, but there is also potential for some ‘loose threads’ to be picked up in a sequel.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Excerpt from Chapter 3 of Mine to Avenge

“Suddenly, Alcandor felt warmth, comfort and strength flowing from his daughter’s tiny hand, clasped within his own. He remembered the experience afterwards as if her tiny hand were clasping his, keeping him from falling into the open grave. Damaris was only a little girl, but he was glad for the strength of her hand.
However, the reassuring warmth suddenly became a consuming heat.  The blood rose like a boiling tide from his churning stomach, washing up over his neck and into his head. He thought he was about to suffocate. The sudden rush of heat speared like a javelin into a focal point at the back of his skull, and he knew then that Constantine’s eyes were upon him.
The sudden awareness of Constantine watching him caused him to release his grip on the anaemic white flower in his left hand. He watched it twirl and spin on invisible currents of air, until it settled softly atop the flowers that had gone before. He thought of the eternal rest awaiting it, and envied it intensely.
He stood upright and his eyes met Constantine’s. The blood that had rushed to his head a moment ago, drained rapidly away to the soles of his feet, and he shivered. The gaze lingered no longer than a second. Neither of them spoke.”

Monday, 21 May 2012

Cover Design and More Creative Processes

I was sent three potential cover designs to choose from this morning. Two of the designs had aspects that appealed, but parts of the design weren’t quite right. The third cover however, seemed to hit the spot in its simplicity, so I approved the design this afternoon.

Continuing on with some details about the creative process of Mine to Avenge:
In the previous entry (May 18th) I explained that the origins of the novel began with a concept about eight years before I had a plot. While researching the background of September 11 and studying the immediate vicinity of the World Trade Center site, I uncovered some facts that led me towards the cultural background to the story, and from there to the consequent plot line. 
The plot line impacts several generations of two families, so that involved a lot of historical research as to the cultural background of my central characters, particularly during the First and Second World Wars. Sometimes I was able to incorporate things I discovered into the plot line.
Chapter 1 begins with September 11, 2001, but chapter 2 takes the reader back to the past, to explain the historical background to the characters.
Manhattan 2001 is only one part of the story. A significant part of the family history is set in Greece, but the majority of the plot takes place in Australia, with different parts of the story playing out against the backdrop of South Australia’s Riverland, Hindley Street of the 1960s, the Clare Valley and the Barossa Valley and Adelaide of the present day.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Extract from Chapter 2 of Mine to Avenge

"Constantine knew something was wrong, even before he arrived at the house. From the lane, in the gathering gloom, he saw the muslin curtains fluttering over the windowsill of Helena’s bedroom. In the shadows around her window, the red geraniums in the window box appeared to be larger than he remembered, and were tumbling from the window deeper in colour than when he last saw them. He suddenly felt the chill of the air about him.
‘She should have closed the window by now,’ he worried. ‘She’ll catch her death.’
Constantine began to run, with Alcandor close behind him. He flung open the picket gate and strode across the kitchen garden, crushing thyme and marjoram beneath his boots as he came to Helena’s window, dropping his gun and hunting kit on the path. He saw that the geraniums hadn’t grown further out over the wall at all, but a large patch of something red had spilled over the window ledge and blended into the whitewashed wall behind, looking like a smudged mass of geranium petals.
Close behind him, Alcandor stopped in his tracks by the side of the kitchen garden, as his friend leaned his body through the window into the dim interior. He watched in frozen horror as Constantine dropped to his knees, tilting his head to the sky, his face contorted in an agony that Alcandor hoped he would never know himself. He knew he would never, ever forget the cry of bitter anguish from Constantine’s lips as it reverberated on and on for a seeming eternity, echoing eerily back and forth, against the forest-clad slopes of the blackened mountains."

Friday, 18 May 2012

Creative Process

 One of my friends following this blog has asked me whether I can describe the creative process behind writing Mine to Avenge. This was one of the things I originally planned to write about when I started the blog. However, I’ve found it difficult to know where and how to start with this because the creative process was very much plot driven, in that the starting point of the story gave me the first plot element which led me to the second plot element and so on. If I write in depth about the process it will give away certain aspects of the plot.

I used my son as a sounding board to discuss this today, and he thinks it could be done with some creative and non-specific turns of phrase. So I thought I would have a go, rise to the challenge and make a start by trying to explain the genesis of the novel.
The creative process began with the tragedy of September 11, 2001. As I watched the drama unfold in the media over the ensuing days, a specific thought came to me, and it is this specific thought that I can’t reveal, as it’s a major plot spoiler. I knew at the time that the thought was a great concept for a story, but didn’t think seriously about it until I was on annual leave in January 2010. During that time I often mulled over the idea, but a story remained elusive.
So I sat down in January 2010 and started to give some concentrated attention to the concept, and also began to research the September 11 event in search of a story line. It took about 2 weeks of deliberately entertaining the thought and marrying it with some incidental data I discovered about September 11 to know which way the story was going.
So to briefly sum up - the origins of the novel began with a plot line, or concept, but the story line didn’t come until some eight years later when I sat down to look for it.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Joys of editing - and extracts from chapter 1

The editing process has been an interesting and helpful experience. It can be difficult at first to have someone tell you that a particularly descriptive passage you’ve written has come across to them as a little confusing, when it makes perfect sense to you as the writer. But in most instances I haven’t had to remove the descriptive passage. I have just had to change a few words, reorder something, or put in a little extra to clarify.
I have worked on the story for two and a half years now and I am very close to it. I know my characters well and can pick up inconsistencies. But being too close means that you sometimes view your writing through rose-coloured glasses - like being attached to a particular phrase or passage because of its poetic ring or descriptive tone. Sometimes other things need to be discarded because they add nothing to the story or might even bog it down a bit.
Having that fresh pair of eyes not so closely bound to the story helps to weed out the flaws that you can overlook when you are too close. I am hoping my story with entertain and excite, and anything that gets in the way of that needs to go.

Hoping to whet the appetite and pique the curiosity of potential readers, here are two extracts from the edited first chapter:

Extract 1 -
Nina knew that Nicholas was looking forward to seeing his younger brother again and was grateful for this diversion in their lives. For three months now, Nicholas had been troubled by something, but he hadn’t confided in her, keeping his worries to himself.
As well as being withdrawn and secretive, Nina noticed other things that puzzled her. Nicholas was overly preoccupied with their financial affairs. At first, she gently asked questions to try to find out what was happening, but was brushed aside. She sometimes woke at night and heard him in the study, working at the computer and opening cupboards and drawers. Once she even heard him sobbing quietly.
She remembered that there was some talk of insanity and mental breakdown in the men of her husband’s family. Her husband’s father and uncle both disappeared mysteriously years ago, after months of odd behaviour, and nothing was ever heard of them again. The police assumed they had both had a breakdown and committed suicide. Nina was possessed with the fear that this awful thing was now becoming apparent in her own husband.

 Extract 2-
Suddenly they heard a plane flying low overhead and they looked up, shading their eyes with their hands. They couldn’t see the plane, but it sounded close. Seconds later, there was a sickening boom, and the ground rumbled beneath their feet. It was 8.46 a.m.
Everyone on Liberty Street stopped to stare in disbelief as a plume of puce-coloured smoke curled its way skyward from the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
The family gasped with horror, along with many other people standing nearby, as they realised that the plane had flown straight into the side of the building.
Nicholas was the first to speak.
‘Nina, take the children back to the hotel – quickly. Theo and I will follow soon.’
Nina looked anxiously at her husband.
‘Can’t you come with us? Why do you want to stay? What are you going to do?’
‘Don’t be scared,’ said Nicholas, hugging her. He bent down to Alethea and Mila and put his arms around them.
‘Mila, Thea, go with your mother. Theo and I will come soon.’
The children waved at Theo and Nicholas with one hand, the other holding tightly to Nina as she hurried them away.
They continued to look over their shoulders until the growing crowds hid their father and uncle from sight.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Backcover Blurb

Well, the editing process has started.
I was asked by the publishers this week to write a ‘backcover blurb’ for enticing readers to buy the book. I decided that I would post that today, to give any potentially interested readers an idea of what my story is about.

When Alcandor is blamed for the tragic death of his friend’s sister in Greece in 1940, little does he know of the repercussions this will have for him and his family for the next 70 years. Unable to forgive himself, and wanting to give his young family a new start, Alcandor leaves Greece and brings his family to settle in the Riverland of South Australia in 1948. Although Greece and his past are far behind him, Alcandor harbours a terrible secret and he remains a fearful man.
Alcandor subdues his fear, and he and his family adapt to an idyllic life of freedom and opportunity. However, eighteen years after leaving Greece, Alcandor learns that his past has caught up with him. His family needs to know the truth, but circumstances tragically intervene before he can warn them.
Years later, Alcandor’s sons show signs of odd behaviour hinting at possible mental instability, before disappearing without a trace. And in the next generation, Alcandor’s grandson exhibits the same strange behaviour not long before he is killed in the tragedy of September 11, 2001. It is not until 2010 that Alcandor’s great granddaughter, Alethea, discovers that there is far more behind her family’s tragic history than mental illness, and little does she know that the threat against her family is much closer than she realises and very far from over.”

Thursday, 10 May 2012

A novel journey begins

I thought I would like to share my journey to my first published novel, Mine To Avenge, for those who are interested.  In one sense, the journey is closer to the end than the beginning, in that the book is already with the publisher and is only a few weeks away from being ready to release, but I don’t think it really matters much. It might be the end of the creative journey for volume one, but I still have to get the book launched successfully - a journey in itself -  and I also have some ideas tossing around for potential sequels, so I am also at the beginning of several other journeys, which I hope will prove to be just as exciting.
I was finally able to accept that it is really happening when the publisher called me yesterday to discuss cover designs, and today I was assigned an editor. For any writer, these are exciting moments when you know your ‘baby’ will be in your hands in a few months.
My ‘baby’ was conceived back in 2001 with the tragedy of September 11, but I don’t want to give too much away at this point. Perhaps when the book is out, I’ll share more of the creative processes behind it.
I didn’t start writing with the intention of incorporating sweeping themes and I think I have been successful in avoiding anything too deep. I started writing with the simple goal to tell a good story, but found that themes found their own way in, threading their way through the story like a tapestry.
I can discuss the themes at this point - the story involves themes such as justice, vengeance and guilt, and challenges us to consider how far we might go to protect our loved ones when they are threatened.
I believe these themes are of interest to everyone. We all have strong opinions as to whether it’s right or wrong to seek revenge when a wrong is done. And how many of us would choose to do nothing if our loved ones were threatened with harm? Would we let it happen or would we take the law into our own hands? I don’t attempt in any way to make a statement on what I think is right. Truthfully, I don’t know how I would act if my family was in the circumstances described in my own story. The scenario has also challenged me. I am hoping primarily that the story will entertain, but also hope that it provokes some spirited discussion between readers, and maybe even via this blog once the story is out.