January 2016


Letters from ElsewhereMy visitor today is Rivka, mother of Esty, the heroine of my novel, Neither Here Nor There. Rivka was called Rose in her previous life. I’ll let her tell you more.

BS”D

Dear Readers,

At first, I was pleased to receive this opportunity to explain myself and my actions to you. I thought I’d write it all down and then it would make sense. But when I sat down with a pen and a blank sheet of paper, doubts filled my mind. I’m not sure I can explain it logically to myself. How can it make any sense to anyone who hasn’t experienced what I experienced? How can such people comprehend the decisions I made?

Don’t get me wrong. I have plenty to thank G-d for. I love my husband and my children – all of them. I have much joy from watching and helping them to grow up and take their places in the world. I take pride in trying to steer them in the right direction – in the path of good and righteousness, but I know that eventually I will have no influence over them.

Mea Shearim 2014 Street

A street in Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, where Rivka lives.

Esty, my first-born, has chosen a different life for herself, away from the fold. I miss her so much, even though I see her occasionally. She was such a good girl, always ready to help me with the housework and the little ones. That’s not why I miss her. It’s because she’s one of mine, but she’s no longer one of us. Also, it’s possible I’m a bit jealous, because a part of me wants to be out there with her, although I do my best to suppress those feelings.

It’s easier for people who’ve always lived this life. My husband, for instance. It’s all he’s ever known. He’s never considered any other lifestyle. But I grew up with no religion at all. I could have stayed in London, studied at university, worked and settled down there. And kept in touch with my parents. I do regret making that break. And it wasn’t necessary. I suppose I worried they’d try and influence me to return to their way of life. I suppose I doubted my ability to stand up for what I’d chosen.

How can I explain why I gave it all up? How, at eighteen, I thought I was grown up enough to make my own decisions without any help from anyone. How I thought I’d found everything that was missing in my life – the spiritual stuff – and was happy to give up all the rest, even seeing my parents. I didn’t miss them then. It was only when the babies started arriving that I realised how much I missed my parents and how much they must miss me. Only then, when it was too late, did I realise what an awful thing I’d done to them. Their only child. How could I have left them like that?

No, I don’t expect you to understand. I don’t expect you to empathise with my situation now. I will endeavour to concentrate on being a good and pious woman and thank G-d for everything He has bestowed on me.

Yes, that’s a message I can leave you with – one that can be understood whatever culture you live in. Be thankful for what you have.

Rivka

Thank you, Rivka, for sharing your worries with us. I’m sure you didn’t envision all these difficulties when you decided to join the haredi community. Readers may remember the letter from Leah, Esty’s ex-friend, who has none of these doubts, having been born into the community.

Neither Here Nor There

Neither Here Nor There CoverSo much more than a romance, this is a tale of transformation in an exotic setting. Esty’s life was laid out for her from birth. She would marry one of a handful of young men suggested to her and settle down to raise a large family in a tiny space within the closed community of her parents, near to and yet far from the modern world. But Esty has decided to risk all by escaping while she still can. Will she make it to the other side? Mark, who is struggling with his own life changes, hopes that Esty will find a way through her troubles. He is fast falling in love with her. Separately and together, in Jerusalem and London, Esty and Mark need to overcome many obstacles in their endeavour to achieve their dream.

Neither Here Nor There is available from Amazon, Smashwords and elsewhere.

Miriam Drori

Me with Neither Here Nor ThereMiriam Drori was born and brought up in London and now lives with her husband and two of her grown up children in Jerusalem.

With a degree in Maths and following careers in computer programming and technical writing, Miriam has been writing novels and short stories for eleven years. Two of her short stories have been published in anthologies and others have been published online. Neither Here Nor There is her first novel.

Miriam began writing in order to help raise awareness of social anxiety. Since then, the scope of her writing has widened, but she hasn’t lost sight of her original goal.

I’m delighted to be joined by Emma Rose Millar, who has come to tell us about her novel, Five Guns Blazing, published by Crooked Cat Publishing and on sale this week.

We stood out on deck, overlooking the river while the captain, the gaoler and witnesses signed the transportation bonds, my mother chained by the neck and ankles to five of the most miserable creatures I had ever seen. Also in her gang were: Ezra Corey – theft of a cupful of raisins – seven years; Martha Eales – theft of a pair of stockings – seven years; Ellen Nutt – theft of a handkerchief and gold ring – fourteen years; Johnathan Ward – theft of two flaxen sheets – seven years; and Sarah Wells – theft of a silver watch – fourteen years. We were taken down to one of the lower decks which was dark and airless. I stumbled and clung to the walls to find my way, sliding my feet along the planks. I heard my mother cry out as one of the other convicts bumped against her, with the galling of her chains. Then a single lamp was lit beside the door and through the gloom I saw a floating dungeon of only about fifteen feet long, with a ceiling so low that most of the men could not stand, but yet more people kept coming in, convicts chained together in gangs of six, until there must have been at least eighty of us crammed into the hold.

I had thought that the first night must surely be the worst, when the lamp was extinguished and the rats came scurrying amongst us in the pitch black where we lay, when the darkness was pierced by the shrieking of women against the vile assaults taking place below deck. Then there was the bestial grunting of men as they stifled their screams, the filling of the necessary pots whose stench became sickening and foul. But as we sailed through Dartford and Gravesend then finally through the mouth of the river, along the coastline to Portsmouth and into the wide, open sea, the waves grew high and tempestuous and the wind began to howl. There were rolls of thunder, forks of lightning way out on the horizon which lit up the hold through holes in the rotten timber.

Redemption was tossed around like a matchbox on the crashing Atlantic waves as the storm lashed against the ship, lifting its bow from the raging ocean while the captain fought to bring her under control. We slid from one end of the hold to the other. My mother’s skin where her collar chafed against her neck became bright and horrible in shades of purple and crimson and black as it peeled back and rubbed away, but while others screamed now at every movement of the ship, my mother stared icily into the gloom, as if she was no longer there at all. It was only then, as I imagined land fading into the distance, and the vast expanse of sea that it hit me: my old life was gone forever.

(Five Guns Blazing – Emma Rose Millar and Kevin Allen)

meBut what of the real men, women and children who were sent to the colonies during the eighteenth century? Most surviving accounts of transported convicts focus on notorious criminals or scandalous circumstances.  The overwhelming majority, ordinary men and women, convicted of petty offences, have been forgotten.  After being handed down their sentences they promptly disappeared from the history books. However, a few of these records still survive.

stockingsOn December 1st, 1722, Margaret Hayes went into a shop and began to barter with the owner, Elizabeth Reynolds over the price of a pair of stockings.  In the middle of their discussion, she grabbed the stockings, which were on display and ran out into the street.  Alerted by Elizabeth’s cries, Margaret was pursued by a number of people and dropped the stockings to the ground just before she was apprehended.  At the trial she denied ever having gone into the shop but was found guilty of theft.  As the goods were priced at the princely sum of two shillings, Margaret faced a penalty of death by hanging.  Often in these cases the jury would take pity on the felon and devalue the stolen goods.  Mercifully, this was exactly what happened to Margaret; the jury devalued the stockings to ten pence and she was transported to the American colonies for a period of seven years.

The only reason we know anything about Margaret is that she was one of the passengers on board the Jonathan, which sailed from London on February 19th, 1723.  The Jonathan was a former slave ship and was bought by Jonathan Forward for his fleet.  The difference with this vessel was that records were kept of all the convicts on board.  From the ship’s records we know that Margaret was thirty years old, she was a widow with a dark fgbcomplexion.  When I was writing Five Guns Blazing, this unknown woman caught my interest.  I wondered how desperate a person must have been to have risked going to the noose all for a pair of stockings.  I wondered whether Margaret had children, and if so, what happened to them, how she would have felt being torn from those children and having to leave them behind.  I tried to build a character around one of these unfortunate, petty criminals and through her, show the plight of women transported to the colonies during the eighteenth century.

Conditions on board the ships were horrendous; many of the convicts died during the voyages of cholera and typhoid.  Those that survived were severely weakened by scurvy, dysentery and fever.  Convicts went on board shackled and in chains.  A hatch was opened and they went below deck, where they would spend the rest of the voyage.  Usually the chains were removed in the prison deck but sometimes not.  They were allowed on deck at intervals for fresh air and exercise.

If they survived the voyage, convicts were sold to plantation owners and worked alongside indentured servants and African slaves.  The status of convicts varied depending on the plantation; some were treated in line with indentured servants while others were subjected to the same forms of degradation as slaves, the big difference being that the convicts were only sold for the terms of their criminal sentences.

Nobody knows what happened to Margaret, or whether she made it as far as America.  Most of the convicts at that time were illiterate so there are very few surviving journals.  The Jonathan caught fire after it landed in Maryland and never made it back to England.

FIVE GUNS BLAZING

“Never had she imagined she would be brought so low, and all for the love of a very bad man.”

1710:

Convict’s daughter, Laetitia Beedham, is set on an epic journey from the back streets of London, through transportation to Barbados and gruelling plantation life, into the clutches of notorious pirates John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham, Mary Read and the treacherous Anne Bonny.

In a world of villainy and deceit, where black men are kept in chains and a woman will sell her daughter for a few gold coins, Laetitia can find no one in whom to place her trust.

As the King’s men close in on the pirates and the noose begins to tighten around their necks, who will win her loyalty and her heart?

Five Guns Blazing is now available on Amazon.

Letters from ElsewhereIt’s been seven months since I interviewed Tim Taylor. Today I’m delighted to welcome him back to introduce a special guest, who has travelled all the way from Messenia. Not to mention the number of years he has traversed to get here. Hello Tim!

Tim TaylorHello Miriam!

Many thanks for inviting my character Diocles, from the novel Zeus of Ithome, onto your blog today.  Before I let him get on with it, I should give your readers a bit of context.  Diocles is a runaway ‘helot’ slave from Messenia, a country conquered by Sparta centuries before.  He took up with Aristomenes, an old Messenian rebel who still dreams of throwing off the Spartan yoke, and travelled with him towards Delphi to consult the oracle.  Aristomenes was injured on the journey and had to rest at the house of a friend, so Diocles continued to Delphi alone.  Here he met the (historical) Theban general Epaminondas and, after agonising over what to do, became convinced that the cryptic advice he had received from the oracle meant that he should go to Thebes with Epaminondas.  This is a letter he later writes to Aristomenes.

To Aristomenes, in the house of Nicomedes in the town of Naupactus, from Diocles son of Dotades, in the house of Epaminondas in the city of Thebes.

Aristomenes, I hope you can read this letter.  It is the first one I have ever written in my own hand – Epaminondas is teaching me to read and write!  I have had some help from Manes the scribe, who is very rude about my spelling and made me write it several times before I got it right.

I hope you are well and that your wound has healed.  Please give my greetings to Nicomedes and Ianthe – I shall always remember their kindness. Thank you for sending me your sword.  I was very glad to see it, because I thought you would be angry that I had not come back to Naupactus after I left Delphi.  I still feel bad that after you entrusted me with the task of going to consult the oracle, I did not return in person to give you her advice. 

As I said in the letter Manes wrote for me before, I believe the oracle’s advice meant that I was fated to meet Epaminondas in Delphi and to travel with him to Thebes.  And now that I have been here for a while, I am sure that I did the right thing.  Epaminondas is the cleverest man I have ever met, and he is an important person in this city.  The Thebans hate Sparta as much as we do and Epaminondas has plans to break their power over Greece.  And there are soldiers here who are as good as – no, better than – even the Spartiates themselves.  The Sacred Band, they are called, and they have already beaten a Spartan force in battle!  Their leader, Pelopidas, is a friend of Epaminondas and he has agreed that when I have finished my basic hoplite military training, I will be allowed to drill with his men.  So I shall learn the arts of strategy from the wisest man in Greece and those of combat with its best soldiers! 

Zeus of IthomeThat is not all, Aristomenes.  War is coming between Thebes and Sparta.  Everyone knows it.  I shall be needing that sword of yours quite soon.  I believe that these Thebans will win this war, and when they do, that will be the moment for Messenia to rise up.  I have told them all about our struggle and they will help us, when that time comes.  Epaminondas has given me his promise, and he is a man I trust. 

So I shall return to Naupactus and to Messenia.  When I do, I shall no longer be the runaway helot you took under your wing, but a trained warrior.  And you and I shall complete the task to which you have devoted your life.

Until then, my friend, fare well.

 

You can read more about Zeus of Ithome (e-book currently on special offer at 99p/99c for one week only!) here.

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Tim was born in 1960 in Stoke-on-Trent. He studied Classics at Pembroke College, Oxford (and later Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London). After a couple of years playing in a rock band, he joined the Civil Service, eventually leaving in 2011 to spend more time writing.

Tim now lives in Yorkshire with his wife and daughter and divides his time between creative writing, academic research and part-time teaching and other work for Leeds and Huddersfield Universities.

Tim’s first novel, Zeus of Ithome, a historical novel about the struggle of the ancient Messenians to free themselves from Sparta, was published by Crooked Cat in November 2013; his second, Revolution Day in June 2015.  Tim also writes poetry and the occasional short story, plays guitar, and likes to walk up hills.

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Thank you, Tim and Diocles.

In the meantime, I have been interviewed by Margaret K Johnson about challenges I’ve had to overcome in order to write.

Jane Charlesworth and the novel she comes from, Rebellious Cargo, were featured in my series, Letters from Elsewhere in October.

The novel is one of three featured this week by Crooked Cat Publishing.

All three are romances – two historical and one contemporary: rebellious shenanigans in the Scottish Highlands in Cathie Dunn’s Highland Arms; romantic adventures out at sea in Susan Lodge’s Rebellious Cargo; and unexpected surprises in a dating agency in The Love Shack by Tina K Burton.

More posts about these stories will probably appear on the Crooked Cats’ Cradle.

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I’m continuing to write for the English Informer about life in Israel. My latest post is about Sundays. Do you know what we get up to on Sundays?

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My husband takes wonderful photos.

Nahal David with Dead Sea in background

At Nahal David, Ein Gedi with the Dead Sea in the background

Hidden waterfall at Nahal Arugot

Hidden waterfall at Nahal Arugot, Ein Gedi

Hyrax at Nahal David

Hyrax at Nahal David, Ein Gedi

Sunset2016

Sunset in Tel-Aviv

Letters from ElsewhereMy visitor today must be rather clever. Despite being a character in a novel, she knows about two other novels about to be released. I suspect a certain Olga Swan had a hand in this!

Here’s Jenny’s letter, dated 1986.

Monday

To:  Naomi Klein

From: Jenny Mazowski

Dear Naomi,

OlgaSwan - 3rdDegreeMurderHaven’t heard from you in ages. So much to tell you.  You know I got that secretary job at my local university?  Well, it’s been mind blowing. I work for this terrible professor. His name’s Axel Sloan and I’d like to take an axe to him myself. He’s really anti-semitic. You’ll never believe this but last week he actually asked me whether circumcised men were better in bed?  Honestly!  I didn’t know where to put myself.  And then there’s a PhD student from Bangladesh in our department who alleges she was actually raped by him right in his office here!  I know.  She’s such a lovely girl, too. We get on really well together. I remember last Xmas when we giggled together over whether we should send each other a Xmas card or not, like the rest of the department. Well, we both agreed. Enough’s enough. We’re gonna make a formal complaint to the V-C against Prof. Sloan. Trouble is I don’t like the V-C either. There’s something about the way he looks at the male students that’s a bit odd. Anyway I’ll let you know what happens.

OlgaSwan - LamplightSo, what about you? Has your cousin started writing that story about the Klein family history yet? I guess it’ll take a long time to write. Wasn’t there someone called David Klein in your family who got involved in Nazi Germany during the war? And, didn’t he even parachute in to Vichy France too? Wow!  Hope the story doesn’t take too long to finish as I’d really love to find out what happened. Sounds amazing. Let’s hope your cousin finds one of those lovely boutique publishing houses that are springing up everywhere now. I’m sure they’d jump at the chance to publish it. What was the title again? Lamplight! Yes, that’s it. Gives a real war-time feel to it. Maybe the Vichy bit should be a second novel. A good title for that one would be Vichyssoise – you know, like the chilled, green soup they have in France. Can’t wait to read them.

OlgaSwan - Vichyssoise

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Must dash. Prof. Sloan is back any minute from lunch and I haven’t finished his grant application yet. If not, there’ll be 3rd Degree Murder for sure!

Love,

Jenny x

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3rd Degree Murder, a university intrigue by Olga Swan, is available here.

Lamplight – Book 1 in the David Klein war reporter series – is due to be released in February 2016.

Vichyssoise – Book 2 in the David Klein series – is due to be released in May 2016.

Read Olga Swan’s weekly, Sunday blog about life as an expat in France. 

Letters from ElsewhereSue BarnardMy guest today is Marie, wife of John Hunter, who has been directing an amateur dramatic society’s production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Marie, who comes from The Unkindest Cut of All  by Sue Barnard, has been kind enough to share an entry from her diary.

Monday 10th March

Well, that went pretty well for a first night, considering all the problems we’ve had.  It didn’t help that Brian arrived five minutes late, which sent John into a blind panic before we’d even started.  But then, that’s Brian for you.  Always thinks that normal rules don’t apply to him.  To be quite honest I’ve no idea how anyone ever puts up with him.  The play’s the thing, I suppose.

After all this time, I find it hard to believe that we’ve actually got to this stage.  John has been eating, breathing and sleeping that wretched play for the past two months.  Well, longer than that, I suppose, if I include all the time he spent reading and studying it before they started rehearsing.

Heaven alone knows why he wanted to do Julius Caesar.  I know he’s always loved Shakespeare, but it definitely wouldn’t have been my first choice of play.  And in any case, why pick a tragedy, when there are so many good comedies to choose from? But then, as Sarah pointed out, at least John didn’t go for Titus Andronicus.  We should be grateful for small mercies.  Maybe it was the timing – Ides of March, and all that. 

I did Julius Caesar at school.  I didn’t remember a great deal about it, apart from one lesson when we were reading one of the scenes in class, and at the point where it says Enter the Ghost of Caesar, the classroom door opened and in walked the headmistress, who must have been pushing sixty and looked like something out of a horror film.  It seemed absolutely hilarious to us at the time. 

Nobody could accuse me of not remembering a great deal about it now!  But it’s always the same.  When John gets his teeth into a task, it takes over his entire life – and mine – for the duration. By the time we get to performance week, I reckon I could be the all-purpose emergency understudy for the whole cast.

Thank goodness for Sarah.  She’s been an absolute trooper, taking over only a couple of weeks ago when Diane fell ill.  Nobody’s quite sure what was the matter with Diane, but her mother rang me this afternoon to say that she’s been rushed into hospital.  Poor girl.  I know she felt really bad about having to drop out. I’m going to go and see her tomorrow.  The cast all signed a card for her after the performance tonight.  I hope that might cheer her up a bit.

One down, five to go.  Maybe when the week is over I might actually get my husband back!  But we’ve still got to get through the rest of the run first.  Here’s hoping nothing else goes wrong between now and Saturday evening…

.TheUnkindestCutOfAll

 

The Unkindest Cut of All, by Sue Barnard, is available for download – and from today for the next seven days, it is on special offer at a princely 99p.  For more details, click here.

 

 

Girls spreading rumours

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about bullying. Time to bring it up again, methinks.

This post from May, 2014 describes a study that shows the impact of bullying can last a lifetime.

To me, the results of the study are obvious. I would have been surprised if they had been different. But I’ve heard the opposite account:

I was bullied as a child. It made me stronger and better able to stand up for myself.

And I say (under my breath): well done. I’m happy for you. But don’t ever make me think I’m to blame because that wasn’t my experience.

Probably when people have said this, they didn’t intend to apportion blame to others. Probably it was simply the way I viewed it for a long time. Fortunately, I have learned to change that view. The way I coped with the bullying then was what caused it to influence my adult life. But I couldn’t possibly have known then what effects my coping method would cause.

I have read two excellent Crooked Cat novels that feature bullying: Myopia by Jeff Gardiner and Once Removed by KB Walker.

In the first, the victim is unlikely to have lasting effects, as the experience is short-lived and he is a popular child. In the second, I think effects could continue. It depends how her life spans out.

Are there any novels that continue past the childhood experience? I haven’t read any. But one of the novels I’ve been working on of late attempts to do just that. I hope it sees the light of day soon.

By the way, the post mentions three signs that show that something is wrong: children not wanting to go to school, failing grades, crying. While these are common, they’re not universal. None of them applied to me.

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