Categories
After Paris Historical Fiction Torn Asunder

Ripples On The Water

One of my favourite books is Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. In a nutshell, set in London after World War 1, the main character, Clarissa Dalloway sees her job as creating connections between people and to that end the story focuses on a party she is throwing. During her preparations for the party, Mrs. Dalloway’s mind continually travels back and forth across time and in this way the reader is in both the past and the present, raising the concept of endless possibilities that could/might happen through these human connections.

When I wrote my second Historical Fiction, After Paris, I was inspired by an old photo album of my grandmother’s. She (Mary Thomson) was a Dutch nurse who went to Paris to work in WW1.

Text Box: Figure 1 Mary Thomson_Max Meijer

Although the Netherlands was neutral during WW1, Dutch benevolent societies funded medical teams to support the Allies. Mirroring my grandmother’s experience, my main character goes to work in a hospital fully funded and staffed by the Dutch ‘Ambulance’ situated in a fine dining restaurant (still there today) called Le Pré Catelan in the Bois de Boulogne (Paris), which, for the duration of the war was transformed into a hospital.

The story continues after the war as my character struggles to fit back in to society, and with the loss of her career and confidence she makes a series of poor choices on her journey to reinvention and self-awareness.

The reason I am so bold as to mention both Mrs. Dalloway and After Paris in the same piece is because a reader of my book reached out to me to tell me that her grandmother had also been a Dutch nurse in Le Pré Catelan. Through a series of email notes and a scour through my photo album, I discovered a photo of her (Laurie’s) grandmother. There, in my grandmother’s writing was the name of her friend, Catherina Theadora Warnsinck (nicknamed ‘To’).

How magical is it that more than one hundred years after the end of WW1 a woman in California (Laurie) forges a connection with a woman living in rural Ontario Canada (me!) because two Dutch nurses were friends..and because of a book?

Being an author is a constant delight to me. It’s a thrill to tell stories that people read and enjoy. It’s an honour to follow in the footsteps of Virginia Woolf and all the other great writers as I try to reach out and make connections in a world that is increasingly alienated.

The influence that each of us writers (authors, bloggers, reviewers, marketers, poets and journalists) have is often little understood. My new book Torn Asunder looks at this question of influence. Here’s a short summary of what the book is about:

He is an inspiring journalist, but Emmet Ryan has no idea that his words have the power to destroy those he loves the most. Opening in 1916, this is a story about a conflicted man set during one of Ireland’s most turbulent eras.

Torn Asunder is now available in all the usual places – amazon, smashwords, and kobo.

Like the expanding waves that ripple out from a stone falling into still water, our words reach out and touch people in surprising ways.

I’d love to hear from you!  You can reach me at renny@rennydegroot.com

Categories
Short Story

Hostile Water

Photo Credit: Photo via Good Free Photos

Round Two submission for the NYC Midnight Short Story Contest

Heat 17

Genre: Thriller
Subject: Territoriality
Character: A bus driver

Ajay Bell decided to saunter over to the three men huddled over a map spread on the hood of their red Chevy Suburban, unaware that for the rest of his days, he’d regret this as the worst decision of his life.

It wasn’t that he longed to talk to the men with their ball caps and tattoos, but he was keen to put some distance between himself and the passenger who he thought of as ‘the barnacle’, otherwise known as Lorrie.

Ajay nodded towards the men. “Those guys look lost. I’ll just see if I can help. You stay here by the bus and when the others come out of the restaurant, tell them I’ll be back in a minute.”

Ajay raised his eyebrows when one of the men balled up the map and tossed it aside. A blue-green snake tattoo slithered out from under his khaki t-shirt as his bicep flexed in the angry throw.

 Ajay grinned. “Hiya. Can I help you find some place?”

Two of the men seemed struck dumb by Ajay’s question, but the map-thrower frowned. “You know your way around here?”

Ajay thumbed back to the tour bus. “I’m the driver. I know every nook and tree around here.”

Snake man nodded to his two pals. One opened the back door of the car and before Ajay understood what was happening, he was shoved into the back by Snake man. The one who had opened the door pulled a pistol out from the back of his jeans and slid in as Ajay frantically searched for the door handle to escape.

Ajay froze when he saw the gun.

“Don’t think about moving or shouting. You’re coming with us.”

Ajay’s mouth dropped open. And then, with a shriek, Lorrie was shoved into the car as well, the gunman sandwiched between them.

Snake man slammed the door and jumped into the passenger side while the third man belted around to the driver side and gunned the engine to tear out of the lot.

Ajay wondered if any of his passengers had seen them. Probably not.

Lorrie sobbed. “What do you want with us? My family doesn’t have money for ransom. Oh God, oh God, please don’t hurt me.”

Snake man turned and drawled. “Shut the hell up. I didn’t want you. If you had stayed out of it, you wouldn’t be here, but you pushed your way in by squawking. Just shut up and you’ll be fine. If you bug me, I’ll leave you at the first lonely place, with a bullet in your brain.”

Lorrie gulped and bit her lip.

Ajay stared and licked his lips. “Why me?”

Snake man, the obvious leader, turned again. “We’re lost. Our GPS doesn’t work and none of us reads a map.” He smirked. “Think of us as your new tourists. Guide us.”

Ajay glanced at Lorrie and tried to give her a reassuring look, before asking. “Where do you want to go?”

The left arm that rested along the back of the seats had a large tattoo of a Confederate flag. “Great Slave Lake.”

Ajay frowned. “That’s a long way from here in Maple Creek. It’s probably eighteen hours or so.”

“You got somewhere else you’d rather be? What’s your name anyway?”

Ajay blinked. “Ajay. I’m just saying it’s far, in case you didn’t know.”

The driver looked in the mirror at Ajay. “Is that like A and J or is it a Pakkie name?”

Ajay stiffened. Haven’t heard that slur in years. “It’s all one word and my parents were born in Canada.”

Snake man nodded. “Now you know where we’re headed, tell Tyler the way.”

“Take the SK-21 to the AB-14. Follow the signs for Edmonton. Look, it’s straight-forward. You don’t need me, and you definitely don’t need Lorrie.”

Snake man didn’t turn. “Robbie, remind Ajay who has the gun here.”

Robbie lifted the gun and pressed it against Ajay’s temple. “Just give directions. Keep all other opinions to yourself. People like you don’t have any right to opinions.”

Lorrie whimpered. Ajay closed his eyes and swallowed, feeling his gorge rise. Don’t throw up. Don’t throw up. Ajay knew he wasn’t a brave man. His wife laughed at him for all his fears. Thunderstorms. Big dogs. Watching his five-year-old son cycle without training wheels.He felt tears burning. I’ll never see Katie and Michael again.

Ajay swallowed again. “What’s in Great Slave Lake?”

Robbie, waved the gun, and laughed. “What’s normally in a lake? Right, Snake?”

Ajay frowned. Jeez, the guy’s name is actually snake.

Robbie subsided when Snake turned to glare. “Water. You have it and we want it.”

Ajay forgot the gun for a moment. “You want our water? I don’t understand.”

Tyler snorted. “Of course, you don’t.”

Snake nodded. “We’ve got droughts. Every year it gets worse. I had a vision that we needed to come and stake a claim for the water.”

Lorrie squinted at Ajay, as if to question if she had heard right.

Ajay’s palms were clammy, and he wiped them on his uniform pants. “You want to take our water?”

Snake shrugged. “It’s the tenth largest lake in the world, and it’ll be our water soon.”

Ajay gritted his teeth. Nutters. These guys are nutters. And they want our water. No sir. Not happening.

***

Hours passed, and Lorrie moaned she needed to stop. In the village of Consort, Snake told Tyler to pull in at a gas station. Robbie escorted her to the ladies while Tyler filled the car and then moved it around the corner of the building, out of sight.

Snake stood too close to him while they waited for the others, and Ajay flinched away, his arms pimpled with raised hair. Ajay smelled his own fear. A sour, sweaty stink.

Robbie and Lorrie were almost back when she made a break for it. She swivelled and ran. She didn’t stand a chance and within steps Robbie had her and dragged her to the car. Just before he shoved her inside, he swung the pistol backhanded against her face. Her scream was muffled when he pushed her in, face buried against the seat.

Ajay grabbed Robbie by the shoulders. “Don’t hurt her!”

Snake pulled Ajay off Robbie and pinned his arms as Robbie punched. Ajay felt a rib crack. Felt his nose crumble and tasted blood in his mouth. Felt the warmth of the blood stream from his nose down his chin to drip on his light blue shirt.

Snake released Ajay. “OK Robbie, enough. Now Ajay. Do you still need a piss, or have you wet yourself?”

Ajay stood heaving gusts of air until Snake put his arm around Ajay’s shoulder. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

When they returned, Snake pushed Ajay to the driver’s side. “You’re driving, but remember, the sooner we get to where we want to be, the sooner you’re done.”

Ajay slid into the driver’s seat and saw Lorrie’s face in the rear-view. Swollen eyes; left one purpling. Deep gash on her cheek. They won’t let us go. Her and me, we’re worth nothing to these guys.

Ajay drove through the afternoon, thinking. Despite the pounding head, nose clogged with dried blood and pain in his ribs, he tried to plan. He skirted Edmonton without seeing a chance to attract the attention of police. In the back-seat Lorrie and Tyler slept. Robbie, his hand curled around the gun kept watch. Snake looked at the road signs as they passed, satisfied that they continued in the right direction.

Ajay spoke quietly. “What’s the plan, Snake? When we get there? We’ve seen your faces.”

Snake shrugged. “You’re leverage if we need it, but the world will know our faces, so I don’t care about that. We’ll be heroes. We’ll stake a claim near the mouth of the lake and declare it for America.”

Ajay shook his head. “This isn’t the gold-rush, man. You can’t just come into Canada and stake a claim. We’re neighbors. That’s not how things work.”

Snake laughed. “And who’s going to stop us? The likes of you?”

Hour after hour passed and then they saw a sign “Slave Lake, 20 Km”

Snake sat up. “I thought you said it was eighteen hours. Hey, guys wake up! We’re here.”

Ajay furrowed his brow; stayed silent. This is Slave Lake, not Great Slave Lake. They approached a picnic area. “Can we stop here for a piss?”

Snake was jubilant. “Sure, if there are no other cars, stop.”

Ajay stopped, and he and Robbie went to the outhouse. They let Lorrie go alone this time. She had learned her lesson. Ajay sidled up to Lorrie when the other three huddled together making plans.

Ajay spoke quietly. “They think we’ve arrived.”

Her voice was dull. “They’ll find out soon enough. They’re going to kill us, aren’t they?”

“Snake says no, but I don’t believe him. I have a plan.”

She looked at him. “Tell me.”

“We’ll be going along the side of the lake soon. It’s a dangerous spot. The road almost overhangs the water. When we get there, I’m going to slow right down and then you and I are both going to jump from the car. It’ll keep going right into the lake. Do you think you can do that? Can you open the door and jump? It may be our only chance.”

She closed her eyes. “Oh my God. I don’t know.” She exhaled. “Yes, OK. How will I know?”

“I’ll look at you in the mirror and I’ll say: ‘It’s not far now.’”

“OK.”

Snake turned to them. “Get in. Let’s go.”

Ajay slid behind the wheel. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that Lorrie insisted she sit at the window instead of the middle because she felt car sick. She didn’t put her seatbelt on, but no one noticed.

Snake peered out the window as they drove.

Ajay glanced at Snake. “I know a good place for you, right by the water that would give you good control over lake access.” Ajay’s heart throbbed in his throat, knowing his words were nonsense.

“OK, take us there.”

They turned on to Route 88. Ajay rested his right arm across his lap, ready. His heart pounded. Up ahead the road made a left sweep. This is it.

In the mirror, he drilled Lorrie with his gaze. Earlier, he wanted rid of this barnacle. Now he prayed that she would be alright. “It’s not far now.”

He pressed the brake. Slowed, slowed some more as if searching. Only a rusted guardrail separated deep blue lake from the road.

He clicked the release for his seatbelt and as the car beeped in protest for the open belt, he shouted “now!”

Ajay threw open his door and flung himself out, straightening the steering wheel as he went, to send the car on a trajectory straight into the lake. He rolled on the gravel verge, his ribs and shoulder flaring in agony. He heard the screech of metal on metal as the heavy suburban went through the guardrail.

Ajay stopped rolling and crouched. “Lorrie?”

He spared a second to watch the vehicle sink. He shouted again. “Lorrie?”

There! He saw her body on the highway. He hobbled to her, calling her name. She sat up, pushed herself into a crouch and then stood. “I’m alright.”

They hugged and stood, trembling in the roadway. They walked back to the edge of the lake. The vehicle was gone, sunk deep into the water leaving a flat, still surface.

Ajay rested his hands on his knees, exhausted. It’s over.

Lorrie stepped back, eyes wide, hands over her mouth. She moaned “No.”

Ajay straightened. Saw the water shiver as something from the depth surfaced. A head broke the water.

The otter flipped on its back and grinned at the audience.

It was half an hour before a logging truck came along and called for help. The driver patted Ajay’s shoulder. “You’re one brave guy, buddy.”

Categories
Awards

Easter Harvest

My Round 1 Submission for the NYC Midnight Short Story Contest

Update April 3, 2019: My story was selected #1 in my heat. Now I’m on to Round 2!

The assignment was:

1. Genre: Action/Adventure

2. Subject: A Harvest

3. Character: A Truck Driver

Emmet Ryan woke with a start. He lay still for a moment on the hard floor of the barn and felt the hair on the back of his neck rise as he thought today I will probably die.

Most of the men around him, groaning and coughing as they stretched stiff muscles in this drafty barn in County Meath, outside of Dublin, were older than his nineteen years, but they were as one. The 5th Battalion of the Dublin Brigade, known as The Fingal Volunteers. A crop of locally grown men engaged in the fight of their lives. The Rising had started four days ago on Easter Monday, 1916. The fight for a free Ireland. So far, he hadn’t been in any real danger, but today would be different. He said a silent prayer. Please God, give me the courage to face whatever lies ahead.

Emmet sat up and shook out the balled jacket he had used as a pillow. He tugged it on, straightening the Volunteers brass pin on his lapel before going outside for his morning ablutions. He stood at the barrel and splashed ice-cold water around his face and hair. He had no comb and pushed his fingers through his dark curls to tame them before joining the line-up formed at the cooking fire.

Cook grinned when he handed Emmet a plate of sausages and a couple of thick cuts of brown bread. “Get stuck into that and come back in a minute for yer tea. Water needs to boil again.”

His stomach growled, and Emmet found a place near another fire to sit and stretch out his legs. He folded a sausage into the bread and took a big bite.

His best pal Liam joined him. “This is better food than I’d get at home.”

Emmet thought of his own mother and the porridge she made each morning before he set off for work but didn’t want to admit he’d prefer that. “Yeah. It’s good.”

“I’ve been talking to Lieutenant Mulcahy. He’s got the assignments.”

Emmet shrugged. “I know my assignment. I’m driving the lorry.”

Liam nodded. “That’s a cushy job. I wonder if it keeps you safer or makes you a target.”

Emmet narrowed his eyes. “It’s a troop carrier not an armoured car. I don’t know how I could be any safer than you.”

Liam held up his hand. “Fair enough. I’m going to learn to drive when this is all over. I thought your job as a delivery man was boring, but it’s turned into a good thing now.”

Emmet nodded. “You should learn. It’s the way of the future. So, what’s your assignment then?”

“I’m with Mulcahy’s column.” Liam pointed to the open door of the barn where the Lieutenant picked up a lantern and carried it inside. “Speak of the devil. There’s him and Ashe. Looks like the briefing is ready to start.”

Emmet took Liam’s plate along with his own and dropped them in the tub of greasy water near the cooking pot. He gave one quick glance to the not-quite boiling water and sighed as he gave up the idea of a mug of tea. He followed the others hustling to the barn in the grey morning.

Emmet pressed in against the men already gathered and felt others push in behind him. Everyone wanted to hear Commander Ashe speak. The smell of sweat and damp woolen jackets mingled with the odour of hay and stable.

Thomas Ashe stood before a map nailed to the barn wall. He was in his late thirties or so, tall and lean with a square chin and chiselled face. His beak-like nose was accentuated by a wide waxed mustache. His collar was loose around his long, thin neck.

Ashe took his fedora off and wiped his brow with his sleeve. “Today’s mission is to continue the important work begun yesterday. Today, they’ll be more prepared for us though. Some of you will be assigned to destroy the railway line, while the rest will come with me to see what we can reap from the barracks in Ashbourne. Yesterday’s harvest of weapons from the Donabate Barracks almost doubled our arsenal with only one wounded, and since he was a constable from the Royal Irish Constabulary, he doesn’t count.”

Ashe waited for the laughter to die down before he continued. “Alright men. Pick up your weapon from Quarter Master Lawless and form up in your column. If you don’t know yet where you’re assigned, come and see Lieutenant Mulcahy.” Ashe’s second in command waved his clip-board in the air.

The fifteen men of Mulcahy’s column clambered in the back, while Ashe pulled himself up into the cab of the truck beside Emmet. They waited until the other column, each man on a bicycle, most with their Howth rifles strapped to the bar, went out the farm gate and on their way.

There was no conversation over the roar of the engine as Emmet drove. He knew the area like the back of his freckled hand and drove with confidence, cranking the gear shift to tackle the hilly countryside. They were within a couple hundred yards of the barracks now and Emmet glanced over to Ashe, who nodded.

Emmet pulled in at an access gate built into the stone wall edging a farm field. It was a good spot, hidden from view of the barracks by a hill. He killed the engine and the ticking of the cooling metal seemed loud in the sudden quiet. The men needed no orders to silently pile out of the lorry and gather on the side of the hill. Emmet knew his job was to stay near the truck, but he needed to see what was happening as well.

When the men had dispersed, bellied up to the top of the hill and watched while Sections Two and Three took up positions on either side of the road just north of the cross roads. Section One made their way up to the barracks. Emmet heard Ashe shout to the police inside the barracks to ‘surrender in the name of the Irish Republic’. Instinctively Emmet ducked as someone inside the barracks broke an upstairs window and began shooting.

The men of Section One took cover behind the stone wall surrounding the barracks. For nearly 30 minutes, there was a fierce fire-fight from Section One. Sections Two and Three were too far to be of any real help but were told to hold their positions.  As Emmet watched, one of the rebels threw a home-made smoke bomb at the barracks. From within, the gun fire slowed. Emmet raised his head again. A flag made from a white towel tied to a cane was waved from the window. Surrender! They were surrendering, with no casualties on the rebel side.

Emmet leaned up on his elbows to watch and wait for the police to emerge. A bullet whizzed past from the cross-roads shocking him and he crumpled down, his face in the grass of the hill.

He crawled along the top of the hill for a better view of the cross-roads and saw a police column with more than 20 cars approaching along the side road. The white flag had been a trick and a stalling tactic as they waited for reinforcements. Emmet was frozen, watching the slow crawl forward of the police vehicles entering the ambush. Emmet’s eyes widened as it began in earnest. Sections Two and Three fired from their dug-in positions on either side of the road, spraying the convoy. The police scrambled out of their cars now, some taking cover underneath while others dashed for safety behind the stone walls.

Emmet kept his head low, watching as Section One slowly made their way back towards the cross-roads. Liam was with Section One. A man was down. Liam? No. Blood blossomed on the man’s chest but the others of Section One kept moving. Emmet’s ears rang with the noise of so much gun fire. A cloud of cordite smoke drifted towards him, choking him. His eyes watered, and he slid down behind the safety of the hill to pull his handkerchief out but froze in the act. Police. Three RIC constables had abandoned their vehicle and crept around intending to surprise Section Two from behind.

Every fibre screamed for him to lay low. They hadn’t seen him. No one will know I saw them.

Emmet crouched. He pulled out his Mauser 96 pistol. The long barrel gave it the range he needed.

He lifted it, arms outstretched, left hand cradling the right. Aimed it at the head of the lead constable.

His arm trembled. Sweat burned into his eyes. The constables were all young. Like Emmet himself. They were Irish men even though they worked for the enemy.

The three kept moving. In a minute he’d miss his chance.

He stood and shouted. “Stop. In the name of the Irish Republic, you are under arrest.”

The first two men stopped and dropped their rifles, but the third lifted his.

Emmet darted down the hill, jogging a few steps left. Then shifting to his right. He zig-zagged down, getting closer to the trio. Still the rifle’s eye followed him. He saw a red flash and the retort of the weapon roared against the backdrop of other gunfire.

Emmet felt a white-hot knife of pain flare through his left shoulder. He saw the two who had dropped their rifles bend over. If he didn’t act now, he was a dead man. Adrenalin coursed through him and the pain numbed, his left arm now useless. He gritted his teeth and his training kicked in. He took a stance, steadied his right arm. Sucked in a deep breath and thought in-two-three. Out two. He held his breath and time slowed down hold and squeeze. He fired, aiming for the knee and finished exhaling. The weapon jerked upwards from the recoil and Emmet saw the constable’s thigh explode in a mass of bloody pulp and white bone. The man went down screaming and the other two abandoned their weapons and threw up their hands in surrender.

Emmet stood still, sucking in his breath through his nose and out through his mouth, fighting the vomit that rose in his throat. He swallowed. Swallowed again.

He trotted forward, closing the gap between them and kicked the three rifles out of reach. “Pick up your comrade.”

The two constables lifted the injured man, making a chair with their crossed arms. He was weak with pain and loss of blood, but he clung to their shoulders, moaning with every step.

 Emmet gestured towards the parked lorry. “Move.”

***

The RIC had been pinned down. Their leader tried to rally his men by standing up on a bank, only to be shot down. After that, surrender snaked through the column of RIC constables until all were captured. Many captives had been brought to the lorry to join with the three that Emmet had.

Liam pushed a captive of his own forward and saw Emmet. “Jaysus. Are you alright?”

Emmet attempted a smile. “Grand.”

“Are these three yours?”

Emmet nodded.

“Good man.”

Emmet heard the surprise and admiration in his friend’s voice. “Not a bad haul.”

With the men from the barracks, there were too many captives for the Volunteers to manage. They were ordered to gather in the middle of the crossroads where Ashe gave a speech which ended with “On behalf of the Irish Republic, you are now pardoned, but if you ever lift your hand against members of the Republic again, you will be shot.”

The doctor of the Volunteers organized transportation for all casualties to hospital, assigning men from the Constabulary to serve as drivers of their own vehicles to take the wounded.

Ashe looked at Emmet’s drying blood. “Do you need to go to hospital or are you alright to have Doc look at you back at camp?”

Emmet nodded. “I’m alright. I’m not sure I can drive though.” His left arm was limp and throbbing.

 Another Volunteer drove them back to camp where doctors tended to the wounds. Emmet’s shoulder was grazed but no serious damage.

At supper Liam grunted. “It hardly seems worth it. Not much of a harvest, just to let everyone go again.”

Emmet nodded towards the barn. “We collected a ton of arms. It was worth it.”

Liam grinned. “And we showed them the Fingal Volunteers aren’t to be messed with.”

“Got that right.”

Liam nodded. “I heard tomorrow we may be sent to reinforce Dublin.”

They all went to sleep early. Emmet flexed his left hand as he drifted to sleep, getting ready to drive his lorry in to Dublin, to the heart of the fight for Ireland.

***

The next morning, it was fully daylight before the briefing was called. Ashe stood waiting for silence.

Liam grumbled to Emmet. “We should be on our way by now.”

Ashe’s forehead was a deep furrow. “Men. The orders are in. Lieutenant Mulcahy has verified the orders, so there’s no denying them.”

The man standing beside Emmet shifted uneasily from foot to foot.

Ashe continued. “I have here an order, signed by our Commander-in-Chief, Padraig Pearse, instructing us to surrender.”

A moan of pain and disbelief went through the group.

Ashe held up his hand. “I will read the order in full.”

Emmet felt the man beside him wipe tears from his eyes. Emmet felt a sob building in his own throat and swallowed hard, listening as Ashe read.

In order to prevent further slaughter of the civil population and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers, the members of the Provisional Government present at headquarters have decided on an unconditional surrender, and commandants or officers commanding districts will order their commands to lay down arms.

Ashe now looked up, took a deep breath and gulped, his Adam’s apple jumping visibly. “The order is signed P.H. Pearse, Dublin, this twenty-ninth day of April 1916.”

The weapons were stacked, like so many shocks of wheat sheaves.

The men formed up in their sections, and then Ashe nodded to the section leaders.

The orders rang out. “Men, atten-tion.”

Emmet stood with his comrades. Row upon row.

The man on his right spoke quietly from the side of his mouth. “Show no fear, son. Today is theirs. Tomorrow will be ours. One day Ireland will be free.”

Emmet straightened. Chin up. Shoulders back. Today I didn’t die. This was not our season, but it will come, and I’ll be ready.

Categories
Life

And So This Is Christmas (thank you J.L.)

As Christmas approaches, it is once again the season for reflection. I am a bit of a ‘hoarder’ and as such enjoy reading through old correspondence occasionally. Today I read some letters from a former military comrade. In particular I read some that he wrote to me while he was posted to Sarajevo. See the image for an excerpt from one of those letters.

The letters reminded me of two things that are especially relevant right now.

  1. Bravery is not the lack of fear. It is all about simply going forward and doing the job despite how you may feel deep down inside. This holds true for all first responders like the fire fighters who worked day after day in Northern Ontario and California this summer. It certainly is true for our members of the Armed Forces and when I say ‘our’ I mean my Canadian colleagues as well as our allies. I am especially thinking of those Americans who are currently in chaos in Syria as they attempt to reconcile their glad anticipation of going home with the horrendous knowledge of a job and people about to be abandoned. I also think, of course, of the Allies left behind to somehow carry on in the vacuum.
  2. As a Canadian, I am continually thankful for this peace-loving, safe and beautiful country that I live in. I am free to think, speak and act as I choose as long as I don’t hurt others with my choices. I breathe fresh air. I drink abundant clean water. I live a charmed life and know how lucky I am to live it.

Reading my friend’s letter again, I think of today’s refugees attempting to simply find a safe place to live. I’m glad that Canada is a welcoming country and know that we as a society are better for being that way.

Thank you, Bill, for your letters of ’92 and ’93 that I can continue to read and be reminded about how lucky I am – in so many things, including the blessings of good friends.

Categories
Book Chat Historical Fiction

Book Review: Triumph of a Tsar

For anyone who would like something a little bit different in the history genre, check out my review of Triumph of a Tsar by Tamar Anolic, a well-written Alternative Historical Fiction.

Triumph of a Tsar is a work of alternate historical fiction in which the Russian Revolution of 1917 is averted, and the hemophiliac Alexei, son of Tsar Nicholas II, comes to the throne. In August, 1920, sixteen-year-old Alexei is enjoying his birthday celebrations when Nicholas dies suddenly. Overnight, Alexei becomes tsar of an empire that covers one-sixth of the world’s landmass.

Thank you to the author Tamar Anolic for a complimentary copy of this novel.

It’s been a while since I read a story of Russia, although those I have read stay with me in a way so many books don’t. The detailed psychological and philosophical explorations one can expect tend to set Russian novels in a category of their own.

With this novel, Triumph of a Tsar, the author takes us on a journey in the traditional style of the great Russian novelists. The sweeping portrayal of Russian aristocracy woven with true historic events evokes a strong sense of place and time to the point where we forget that this is alternative historical fiction. Anolic has created a world peopled by characters that are believable in their behaviours and actions. The protagonist, Alexei is thrust into a role before he is ready, and yet he steps up to assume the mantle of responsibility in a way that we can see and feel. Despite those who would see him fail, he learns and grows. We, the reader, find ourselves concerned about his concerns; his health, his enemies, his family and most of all the survival of his country.

As in any good book, we need to feel connected to the story and characters, and Tamar Anolic has successfully given us that connection as we consider Alexei taking great risks while he attempts to do what he feels is right amid contradictory priorities and advice. Who amongst us has not gone against the guidance of others to forge our own path?

The author uses dialogue to great effect in moving the story forward. We hear from the characters themselves how they are coping with the unfolding dramatic events. As WWII threatens Russia, Alexei calls his family together:

“During a pause in the food service, after the borscht and pickled fish had been cleared, Alexei called the table to order. “Thank you for coming,” he said. “I know you’re all busy with the war effort, and I want to thank you all for everything you’ve done. Having the imperial family visibly involved has made a large difference, both in morale, and in our fighting strength.”

He took a deep breath. “I’ve asked you all here on something of a more personal note. The Germans have already invaded Russia’s frontiers, and they’ve set their eyes upon both of our capitals- first Moscow, and now St. Petersburg. I fear that as members of the Imperial family, we will become the Germans’ targets- not only our persons but our palaces as well.”

 

“You think the Germans would bomb our palaces?” Ioann asked. “They’re our homes!”

 

“That’s precisely the point,” Alexei said. “Besides, our palaces are huge buildings that make for easy targets for the Luftwaffe.”

This is a well researched piece of writing. The story flows and while it offers an alternative to what really happened, it still provides enough history to leave the reader satisfied.

Congratulations to Tamar Anolic on creating a fascinating book. I give it four stars and recommend it to anyone who is interested in something a little bit different.

 

About the Author

“Triumph of a Tsar” is Tamar’s second novel. She has a history of writing about the Romanovs. Her first book, the nonfiction biography entitled “The Russian Riddle,” was the first biography of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich. In addition, one of her short stories focuses on Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich and his sons: “Rumors of War,” published in The Copperfield Review in May, 2017. Tamar’s first novel, “The Last Battle,” was published in 2017.

 

 

Categories
Book Chat Historical Fiction

Consumable History – Virgin to Victoria

Virgin to Victoria is a powerful retelling of the history of the British monarchy, beginning with Henry VIII’s daughter, Elizabeth I, as she comes to the throne. Charting Elizabeth’s incredible journey, Virgin to Victoria travels in time through the confusion of the Stuart dynasty, the devastation of a Civil War led by Oliver Cromwell, horrific battles for the throne and the turbulent Hanover dynasty with its intricate family squabbles. Despite her amazing legacy, Elizabeth failed England in one vital area. She never married, nor did she leave an heir to the Tudor family. In making this one fateful decision, the Virgin Queen left the path open for a take-over and life would never be the same.

Thank you to the author for providing me with a complimentary copy of the book.

To be honest, I generally don’t read non-fiction, and had I realized that this is what the book was I probably wouldn’t have taken it. Having said that, I’m so very glad that I didn’t know, because I would have missed out on an excellent read.

Using a unique story-telling voice, the author skillfully crafts this creative nonfiction in a way that captures and holds the reader. She draws vivid scenes of the era and takes the reader by the hand to lead us through. As an example:

“Let’s take a quick walk around London in this era. Imagine it’s been a rainy day and you’re out for a walk. Water puddles had formed in dark alleys and the drains have overflowed down the middle of the cobbled streets as people huddle in their bedraggled hats and cloaks under dripping eaves. A horse-drawn carriage with clattering wheels speeds past on the uneven stones and carelessly splashes water on anyone who has braved the inclement weather. Normally the streets are packed with people and carriages and most days a blanket of smoke hangs over the city. The pollution gets in your eyes and stonework of every building is blackened with it…”

Now, if you aren’t in 1600’s London with that, I’m sorry for your lack of imagination.

I was drawn in to this book from the start and was delighted to learn the fascinating tid-bits of the royal families and to gain a better understanding of those that influenced and were impacted by the politics of the times.

Hughes has created a book that is both interesting and a great resource for anyone writing of the times, as the reader gains such a strong sense of the era. The settings are detailed, using all the senses to truly take us there. The characters are well-rounded and come to life in a way that usual history text-books never achieve.

According to Lee Gutkind of creativenonfiction.org, Creative Nonfiction is “the most popular genre in the literary and publishing communities” right now. According to Gutkind, the goal of this genre is to ‘enthrall’ the reader in the same way that fiction does. I would whole-heartedly agree that Hughes has achieved this goal with Virgin to Victoria.

I very rarely give a ‘five star’ review, just because I’m Dutch and we have a firm belief in the fact that there is always room for improvement, but I would have to say that for this book, I have to give Five Stars.

Congratulations Trisha Hughes.

About the Author, Trisha Hughes

Trisha Hughes is a best-selling Australian author who now lives in Hong Kong. Trisha attends workshops for children’s creative writing groups and is a mentor of a yearly young writers competition. Her first book was published 18 years ago, a best-selling autobiography called Daughters of Nazareth. Trisha has also published the first book in this historical trilogy, Victoria to Vikings.

https://www.amazon.com/Virgin-Victoria-Trisha-Hughes/dp/1912362392

Categories
Awards Historical Fiction

Feeling Grateful

Spring seems to have finally arrived in Southern Ontario and it brings with it a renewed sense of purpose as the grass greens and buds hint at the arrival of new leaves. It’s with this joy in all things gardening that I’m especially honoured to be the recipient of a Len Cullen Scholarship. This (one of two) $500-dollar scholarships is awarded by the Writers’ Community of Durham Region annually and sponsored by the Cullen family in memory of their father, who was of course, a household name in landscaping and gardening. What most people don’t realize is that Len Cullen was also a prolific poet, and his poetry could often be found in the newsletter he produced for several decades.

I look forward to applying this scholarship towards some writers-coaching to help me take my novel-in-progress (called Asunder) to a new level.

Thank you to the Cullen family for this amazing support in helping to grow my skills (which I hope will flourish more than my poor hydrangea) and to WCDR for all the encouragement, critiquing, and emotional sustenance on my writing journey.

Categories
Events

Read An Ebook Week 2018

Read An Ebook Week 2018

I’m delighted to participate in this exciting event. Both my ebooks are discounted by 50% when purchased through Smashwords. Check it out now:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/649211

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/401486

 

Categories
Events

The Greatest Story Around

Only two more weeks until Bookapalooza. I’m very excited to be part of the scavenger hunt. Come on down and find your great read from this book extravaganza!

 

 

Categories
Events Historical Fiction

Such Excitement!

At the Gallery opening of When We Came From Away. November 2017

I recently had the pleasure of being part of Northumberland County’s project to celebrate our 150th birthday. The County has created a book and show at the Art Gallery of Northumberland County called “When We Came From Away”. It showcases accounts of people coming to Canada, now living in the county. The accounts and photos of the people and cultural artifacts is a joy to see. Take a trip to Cobourg to check it out!

In other news – mark your calendars for BOOKAPALOOZA!! November 25, 10 am to 3 pm in Whitby – All things for the book-lover. Authors, books, readings, prizes. Come and start your Christmas shopping!

 

Hope to see you there.