Tuesday 30 October 2012

Wind and shadow, Croatia

The Lantern has another foreign language outing today - published in Croatia under the Italian title of The House of Wind and Shadow and the British cover design. 
Rather touchingly, the blurb reads (allowing for a few tweaks to the Google translation):
"British writer of poetic prose Deborah Lawrenson masterfully connects the real and the supernatural, past and present, in a brilliant book. A seductive blend of ghost story an modern romance set in the beautiful landscape of southern France is breathtaking and hypnotizes the reader. [An author] whose flair pervades a wonderful novel that has won the affection of readers and critics."   
Yes, yes, I know they want to sell as many copies as they can, but those are just the kind of words to spur on the author as she sits in solitude working away on a new book!

Thursday 25 October 2012

Much life concealed

Shutters closed. An upstairs window open in shadow. No sign of life. I have an awful feeling this is what a writer's life looks like to the world outside. Certainly mine does while I'm working steadily on a new book. (And my shop window, this blog, is looking a little neglected and tired in the display area, with slow turnover of goods.) 
It can't be helped, I'm afraid. There are times when writers have to write and for me the most enjoyably productive way to do it is by retreating into my study and losing myself in the work for weeks on end. Hours vanish into days as the story takes shape and the search becomes all-engrossing for the right words to tell it, to build a compelling characters and atmosphere. Behind the closed front, there is much life concealed. 

Thursday 18 October 2012

Vagabond Dreams

"There were fears in there too, of course. Fear of ending up with a conventional life. A feeling that I'd never really lived. And the fear that unless I did something about it, I would forever live my life in the third person, reading about other people's adventures without ever having one of my own."
Even as he struggles to get his bearings in Panama at the start of his Central American odyssey Vagabond Dreams, Ryan Murdock is travelling to test and understand himself as much as the world he has come to see. And what he wants to know is: how much of your life is really what you want and how much do you accept because it's easy? Is there ever a possibility of being a different person in a new place?
European Editor-at-Large for Canada's travel magazine Outpost, Murdock is an uncompromising adventurer. In other travels he has taken on some of the most inhospitable places, from North Korea to Mongolia. He's an engaging tough-guy lyricist, and his writing in this volume is as poignant and immediate as ever. In Costa Rica he paints a vivid word picture of a bus station, capturing the scratched plastic containers of pineapple dragged by vendors and the particular discomforts of heat and noise, sing-song sales pitches and harsh blaring horns of departure:  
"I'd slept in and missed the bus I wanted, and so I waited there for two hours, reading on a crowded bench of slatted wood, elbow to elbow with the other patient waiters. When I was finally able to leave, it was a one-hour ride to the Pacific Coast, past mile after mile of crippled cacti swept by the invisible serpents of a desiccating wind. In the fields, bony cattle grazed on patches of burnt grass: their hips stuck up beneath their skin like dinner plates covered by a towel on a dish rack. It was the end of the dry season and the land thirsted for rain." 
All along the way - the Mosquito Coast, Nicaragua, the tiny Corn Islands and on - he has full command of the telling sensuous detail: the sweet stickiness of mango juice in a dark kitchen, the dark icing sugar of windblown volcanic sand that sticks to the sweat of a body, the the metallic tap of the steps to board a plane.
The people he meets along the way are captured on the page with a novelist's eye. In the end, the strangers he encounters and befriends are the key, for they hold up the mirror to the changes in him.
"The greatest gift of travel is [the] ability to reinvent yourself. I had the freedom to try on hats and costumes of my own choosing because no one out there knew me. They couldn't shove me back into the context of my past."
Out on the road there are no boundaries imposed by well-meaning family, friends and associates at home. Murdock is a literary romantic who discovers that he can be at ease anywhere in the world when he is at ease with himself. "Central America had become a state of mind, a mental construct, a place of no fixed geological borders. It was something I carried with me."
This is a book that teems with life, not always pretty but vivid and painfully truthful at times. It will open your eyes, but take you willingly along for the bumpy ride to acquire "road wisdom". Because I think we all wonder, at times, what it would be like to dare to drop off the map and see what we find.
To find out more about Ryan Murdock's work, click here for his website.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Space to imagine

A weathered wooden door opens...who wouldn't be enticed by this glimpse of a courtyard beyond? There's space and light (so much more than expected), a sense of serenity, and possibilities too. Imagine it by night, glowing candles set in lanterns and a long draped table laid for a party...or early morning, when you could drink coffee and eat a perfect croissant under a tree to the sound of birdsong. What would you do if it were yours? 

Saturday 6 October 2012

Céreste: Spirit of Place

The old heart of Céreste looks sleepy and unassuming. The quiet medieval part of the village occupies a small hill to the north of the main road between the market towns of Apt and  Forcalquier, seemingly set apart from the swooping thoroughfare with its grander buildings dating from Napoleonic times. Easy enough to pass by without even noticing the ancient stone houses hidden behind the main street's shops and cafés shaded by great plane trees.

In essence it can't have changed much since it was a secret Resistance stronghold during the Second World War, ideally placed to watch the activity of the occupying forces between the area's two main towns, yet with ready access to the hills. Céreste's narrow alleys twist down from the highest, oldest point like rivulets. Even in bright sunshine there is a maze-like quality to the calades, most too tapering to take a car. Imagine what it must have been like at night, seventy years ago, when all was silent and dark and every footstep was suspect.

The poet René Char, code-named Captain Alexandre, had a safe house here - crucially, a house with two exits, that was wrapped by electrified wire to alert him to any approach: it made the radio crackle.

The old village is still quiet, though the tumble of interlocking houses has been much spruced up even in the past decade or so. As I walked around with notebook and camera, taking advantage of an open-house art show that enabled me to go through doors that are normally closed, it wasn't hard to feel I was looking for ghosts of the past and finding nooks and crannies they might have known in courtyards and cool vaulted ground floor spaces.

When I write a novel, I want the setting to be authentic. I want the reader to feel he or she is seeing a place and inhabiting it with the characters. And to do that, I have to have been there myself, and to 'be' there as I write, to capture the atmosphere as best I can. Others have called it The Spirit of Place, and I think that's a perfect expression.

Of course, what we see and record is selective, especially if chosen with a particular creative aim in mind. And that morning in Céreste what I saw was light and shadow, the constricted, enclosed pathways that could be traps, and the sense of secrets held in stone.

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