Letters from Elsewhere

Well, well, well! I didn’t think this feature would return, but here it is, brought out from the woodwork by eighteen-year-old student, Dan, who is keen to show us a letter to his younger sister, Sharon.

Dan has popped over from the pages of Revelation, a new novel by friend and author, Jo Fenton. In fact Revelation was released just three days ago.

Dear Sis,

Thanks for your letter. It’s great to know that I have one family member who cares about me. I can’t talk too freely here for reasons you understand only too well. How is Dad? Did he see my last effort?

I was too upset to say much when I last wrote, and I had a bad headache, which I’ll explain more about today. I think I just mentioned that my friend, Rick, was found… I can’t even write the word. My hand’s shaking so much, but you can probably see that from my writing. I hope it’s not too illegible.

They still don’t know if it was accidental or if someone hurt him on purpose, but he was such an amazing person. Why would anyone like that have enemies?

Becky’s trying to find out more. I think I told you about her last term. She’s pretty cool, and a good friend. I found out we’d met a while back through a national Jewish youth weekend. Somehow she remembered me. I’ve no idea why. I don’t usually stand out in a crowd. As you know, I’m usually the quiet, geeky one in the corner.

Anyway, to go back to that day, Becky reminded me that I was the last person to see Rick alive, and I freaked out and went for a long walk. It was so cold that day, and it started to snow. I slipped and hit my head on the ground. As you know, I’m not good with the red stuff, and I passed out on top of everything.

I came round to find this bloke squatting on the ground next to me. His name’s Alan, and he’s very kind. He’s some sort of religious leader, and he’s into Kabbalah – you know – Jewish mysticism.

You remember we were told in Hebrew classes that no one can start learning that stuff before the age of 40? He thinks that’s a load of rubbish, and that everyone should be able to access it when needed. He wants to help me, and told me about his group when he took me to the hospital to get my head stitched.

I’m not sure if it’ll help. There’s a hole inside me the size of a glacier and twice as cold. I can’t breathe sometimes.

The only time I felt like this was when Mum passed away. It took well over a year before I began to feel anything close to normal again, and I dread each anniversary, birthday or Mother’s Day. I know you feel the same. Dad never seems to care. He’s too busy with his blasted business.

Maybe in a year I’ll begin to feel normal about this too, but that feels a lifetime away, and the only way I’m going to get through this is with you and Becky, and perhaps with this guy Alan (who, I’d better add, is not my type. Excuse the small writing here – hopefully too small for his lordship to read.)

Look after yourself. I hope you’re okay. The phone situation here is crap. 1 phone between 46 people. Maybe if it’s quiet one evening, I’ll be able to give you a call. Don’t hold your breath though.

Love Dan.

If, like me, you’re left with a lot of questions, who know where to find the answers.

About RevelationRevelation by Jo Fenton

Manchester, 1989

A student, Rick, is found dead in halls of residence.

His friends get caught up in the aftermath: Dan, who was in love with Rick; and Becky, who is in love with Dan.

Their fraught emotions lead them into dark places – particularly a connection to a mysterious Kabbalistic sect.

Will Becky discover who killed Rick in time to save her best friend?

Find Revelation on Amazon.

Jo’s two previous books are also on Amazon: The Brotherhood and The Refuge.

About Jo Fenton

Jo FentonJo Fenton grew up in Hertfordshire. She devoured books from an early age and, at eleven, discovered Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer. She now has an eclectic and much loved book collection cluttering her home office.

Jo combines an exciting career in Clinical Research with an equally exciting but very different career as a writer of psychological thrillers.

When not working, she runs (very slowly), and chats to lots of people. She lives in Manchester with her family and is an active and enthusiastic member of two writing groups and two reading groups.

You can find Jo on social media at her website, Facebook and Twitter.

I hadn’t thought of that momentous day for ages, but when Lorraine Mace included this in her interview of me: “Tell me something about yourself your readers might not know“, I was reminded of something good that happened to me when I was twelve.

I won a bicycle!

There was a competition in my girls’ magazine. I had to answer questions on the rules of riding on roads. I even asked my mother whether she thought I should send in my answers and she said yes, never expecting me to win, but I did.

I had asked for a bike before. My parents hadn’t agreed. They said it was too dangerous. Yet my brother had always ridden a bike. I remembered the story of how my dad had taught him, running with him. I never saw my dad run and he didn’t teach me. (I learned to ride on the bike of a friend’s little brother. It was so low to the ground that I wasn’t afraid of falling off.)

“That was different,” they said in answer to my pleas. “We lived in the country, then.”

It was always different for him. The country, the boarding school, being a boy.

But I won a bicycle and so my parents couldn’t stop me from getting one. I remember we ordered a bike suitable for my height, but the one that arrived was adult-sized and so it lasted for years.

Bicycles

Cycling in Devon, UK

I don’t have a bike in hilly Jerusalem, but I’ve enjoyed some good times riding, over the years.

Last week, we joined a trip to our neighbouring country.

Egypt 2020

Our happy guide

This was our second visit to Egypt. Thirty-five years ago, David and I toured the country on a limited budget and completely alone. This time, we travelled in style and with a group. Both trips were amazing, although they couldn’t have been more different; I’m still writing an article about the differences.

Karnak

One of the few photos from 1984. In Karnak.

Back at home, I caught up with a series of emails from people I was at school with. Some of them are retired and talk about having time on their hands. I’ve never been busier. Here are a few of the items on my to-do list:

  • Finish Egypt article.
  • Finish editing short story for darkstroke anthology.
  • Finish editing new version of Neither Here Nor There.
  • Choose new title for new version of Neither Here Nor There. (Hard)
  • Start submitting new version of Neither Here Nor There.
  • Work on new novel – crime genre.
  • Lots more.
Valley of the Kings, Egypt

Valley of the Kings

If you want to see any more of our photos, some of them are available on Facebook for all to see at:

The others will appear when we have time.

I read an article recently. I don’t have the link any more, but it was headed something like: I’m Jewish. Please wish me Merry Christmas. The article went on to explain that although in the author’s family Christmas wasn’t celebrated, the day was meaningful to him as a day off – a day when they, as a family, did joyful things together that were out or the ordinary.

I get it. I remember, all through my childhood, spending Christmas Day in the home of my aunt, uncle and cousins, eating different foods, doing different things. So when I changed schools at the age of eleven and was introduced to Christmas carols, drawing Christmas trees and exchanging Christmas cards, I joined in. In any case, my aim at school was always to fit in, even though I never succeeded.

The trend continued to university and work. Christmas was always a special time, so it seemed natural to exchange Christmas greetings with everyone.

Then I moved to Israel and, for the first time, Christmas didn’t exist, apart from a few cards I still sent to and received from friends abroad. Christmas Day was spent at work. That’s been the case for most of my time here. Recently, with social media and the ability to listen to BBC Radio 4, the prominence of Christmas has again increased, but it’s still not part of my life. That’s the difference between me and the author of that linkless article. He lives in the US while I live in Israel.  Like him, I’m not offended when someone wishes me Merry Christmas, but for me it’s meaningless.

“Yes, but even if you don’t celebrate it, you do something special on that day,” people say.

“Actually, no.”

However, this year, I will be celebrating Chanuka at the same time as Christmas, lighting candles and eating doughnuts at home and at folk dancing.

Chanuka2012Miriam

Celebrating the sixth night of Chanuka in 2012

But Chanuka isn’t time off, except for schoolchildren and teachers. And us, last year:

Chanuka and Christmas in Vietnam

David Drori celebrating the 7th night of Chanuka in Vietnam, 2018

Whatever you do, enjoy the next few days, the whole of 2020 and every other year. May whatever you wish for come to fruition.

I admit it. For the first time, I cheated  this year at NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo? You know – that month when crazy people all over the world try to write a novel in a month?

True, I typed every word, but they weren’t all new words. I was rewriting my debut novel, changing third person to first and past tense to present, adding more thoughts and new scenes. I love the way it turned out, although it still needs more work.

The Rewrite Process

In NaNoWriMo terms, I “won” easily. I reached the target of 50,000 words on 19th November. Then I continued to the end of the story, and even found time to go back and add things that were left out.

I’m clearly not the only cheat. The NaNoWriMo site even has a name for cheats: NaNo Rebel. Yay!

I'm a NaNo Rebel

Despite cheating, or maybe because of it, I learned new things.

What I learned

  • I have plenty of time to devote to writing. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to “win” every year.
  • I write best and fastest on my own at home.
  • I still love write-ins, where we discuss our novels and also write together.
  • I can write with background noise, but get distracted by songs I know and love.
  • I need a detailed plan. It takes me too long to create new scenes as I write, if I haven’t planned properly.
  • I love NaNoWriMo. Yeah, I knew that before.

For those who still don’t get it, don’t be put off by the words “write a novel in a month.” We all know we won’t end up with a completed novel. It’s only a first draft, and even that won’t be complete, as most novels are longer than 50,000 words. But, even if you don’t “win,” you end the month with something to work on. It’s much better than a blank page.

This post was inspired by this one by fellow writer, Joan Livingston. I’ve even used the same title. I hope she doesn’t mind.

I’ve moved around in my life, possibly not as much as Joan, but I did move countries. In fact I just celebrated that anniversary – forth-three years, which is at the same time hard to believe and feels obvious. As I was fairly young at the time of the move, I hadn’t acquired enough stuff to warrant sending a container. I just took what I could in my suitcase.

My Oldest Books

What books did I bring with me? I don’t think I brought all of these in one go, but I brought some back with me on each visit. So, these are all books I had in the UK, which arrived in Israel, either on that first day or soon afterwards, and have remained with me ever since. There might be more; this is what a cursory search produced:

The Golden Treasury of the Best Songs and Lyrical Poems in the English Language, selected and arranged by Francis Turner Palgrave

I inherited this book, published in 1952, from my big brother. There are poems by Tennyson, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Byron, Milton, Keats, Scott, Wordsworth, Browning, and more.

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

I haven’t read much science fiction, and this is probably my first read of the genre.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

I haven’t read any of his books for a long time, but he used to be a favourite of mine.

The History of Mr. Polly by H.G. Wells

I had to read this for ‘O’ level English Lit. Even so, I enjoyed it.

Exodus by Leon Uris

This was probably one of the first things that influenced my decision to move to Israel.

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

Funnily enough, I recently saw the film and the story came flooding back to me.

How to be a Jewish Mother by Dan Greenburg

I loved this book when I was quite little. I still remember at least one joke:

Give your son Marvin two sports shirts as a present. The first time he wears one of them, look at him sadly and say in your Basic Tone of Voice: “The other one you didn’t like?”

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Another ‘O’ level book I enjoyed.

The Star and the Sword by Pamela Melnikoff

The book I would never lend! First of all, it was the first book I read in which I identified with the main characters. Even though it’s set in medieval times, the two Jewish children felt closer than any from books by Enid Blyton or any other story I’d read up to then. Also, this book contains a note to me from Gabriel Costa, a lovely man who lived in our street. He was in his nineties when he gave me the book in 1965, and still wrote book reviews for newspapers.

Note to me from Gabriel Costa

The Oxford Companion to Music by Percy A. Scholes

This hefty volume helped me get through ‘O’ and ‘A’ level music. Who would buy a book like that, these days, when all the information is available online?

How about you? What books have always accompanied you?

And while you’re thinking about that…

Remember my books, available from Amazon: Social Anxiety Revealed and Cultivating a Fuji.

It’s the beginning of October. That means it’s less than a month to…

NaNoWriMo Writer

…NaNoWriMo! (That month when people all over the world go a bit crazy, trying to write 50,000 words, all in November.)

The question, this year, was never whether I was going to join in. I didn’t even consider missing out on all the fun (and hard work). It was what I was going to write.

NaNo2Small.jpg

At a NaNoWriMo Meetup in Jerusalem, 2018

I decided on something. I created the book on the new NaNoWriMo website, complete with cover, description, Pinterest board and playlist.

Then I changed my mind. I’m going to rewrite my novel, Neither Here Nor There. When I’ve reached the end, at a date that hopefully will coincide with the end of November, I’ll examine the two versions and decide which parts to keep and which to discard.

Now I have to do some plotting. I’ve already made one decision: the title is going to change. The current title is One Foot. But I might have second thoughts about that. Or third thoughts. The cover will definitely change.

OneFootCover

Temporary cover for a probably temporary title