During the month of December, my publisher, Crooked Cat Books, has been offering a free ebook each day and very kindly donating to a charity chosen by the author of that book. There have been some very worthy charities in the fields of cancer, dementia, children in need and animal welfare.

Neither Here Nor ThereSo, why have I chosen a charity that helps young people who have decided to change their lifestyle?

First of all, it fits my romance, which is free today: Neither Here Nor There. The heroine has just left the closed haredi community in which she grew up and has to learn to cope in the outside world.

But mostly it’s because I’ve realised how difficult that transformation is. Children have no choice in the sort of family they’re born into. If they then come to the conclusion, by themselves, that the only lifestyle they know isn’t for them, they need a lot of help before they can fit into the new lifestyle.

I stress by themselves, because Hillel stresses it, too:

We believe that all people have the right to choose the lifestyle they want, and we therefore never try to convince anybody to change their lifestyle – we only help those who have already made an independent decision to become less religious.

I believe Hillel does a very important job. Thank you, Crooked Cat, for donating to them today.

To download my book for free today, go to the Crooked Cat Books website, click on the little Father Christmas and use the coupon code to ‘purchase’ the book. (If the Smashwords page looks strange, go back, right click the link and choose ‘Open link in new tab.’)

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Poster by Ailsa Abraham

Yes, I’m interviewing myself. Why not?

Q: Hello, Miriam. I’m delighted you could join me today.

A: I’m delighted to be here. Thank you for inviting me, Miriam.

Q: Tell me about your novel, Neither Here Nor There.

A: It’s a light romance, set mostly in my home town of Jerusalem and partly in my former home town of London.

Q: Oh come on, it can’t be that light with such a background. It must involve terrorist attacks and killing and all those scary things that go on all over the Middle East.

A: No, there’s none of that in my novel.

Q: So it’s a utopian sort of novel – the way you’d like your country to be.

A: No, it depicts everyday life in present times, just as it is. The fact is, there’s so much more to life in Israel than those troubles you hear about on the news. We follow the news, of course, and we’re so very sad about the lives that are lost. But most people go about their lives without encountering any danger at all. And so the story of Esty and Mark and all the characters in my novel is perfectly realistic.

Q: So you’re saying this is just another romance.

A: No. While it can be read as a simple romance, it also brings up some complicated issues – issues most readers will recognise in some form or other.

Q: What sort of issues?

A: Arranged marriage, living in a closed community, escaping from a closed community, emigration, life-changing decisions.

Q: Yes, some serious issues there. Tell me about the closed community in your novel.

A: The haredi community. I call it that for simplicity, although within that group are several sects, some very much opposed to others. They live in various parts of the world. Many of your readers will have noticed their distinctive dress. The men wear black hats, black suits and white shirts, with tassels hanging over their trousers, and they have beards and sidelocks. There are some who wear stranger garb. The women always wear long sleeves and long skirts, and married women cover their hair with scarves or wigs. Some people even think that all Jews or all Israelis dress like that.

In Jerusalem, they used to live only in specific districts like Mea She’arim, but they’ve expanded to other areas due to lack of space. The men often don’t work, spending their time studying the holy books. That leaves the women to support their large families, as well as caring for children and doing the housework.

Q: The women must feel very bitter about that.

A: I don’t think so. Most of them believe that’s how they’re supposed to live and never question it. They’re proud to have husbands who are able to study for long hours.

Q: What about arranged marriage? How does that work?

A: I want to stress that their marriages are arranged and not forced. They’re allowed to choose their marriage partners, but their choice is limited. They’re expected to choose one out of the few they’re introduced to.

Q: Do you think that works?

A: It seems to work as much as our system of random meetings does. The divorce statistics show that. I think a couple can grow to love each other after marriage, although I don’t have first-hand experience of such a relationship.

Q: How do other Israelis regard the haredi community?

A: There’s a lot of resentment. They generally don’t have to serve in the army, and they get grants for studying, which many view as a complete waste of time. On the other hand, they do jobs that no one else wants to do. There are at least four major associations run by people from the haredi community and serving the population at large. There’s one that deals with everything surrounding burials. One that provides all sorts of medical equipment. One that provides food for hospital visitors. And one that picks up and identifies all body parts following an explosion.

I saw an accident once at a junction in Jerusalem. I looked down from the top of a hill and saw a man lying on the road, having been thrown off his motorcycle. Immediately, someone got out of a car and started redirecting the traffic. Someone probably phoned for an ambulance. Two minutes after the accident, a haredi man who happened to be passing stopped his car, took a first-aid kit out of the boot and rushed over to the victim.

Q: Well I think we’ll leave it there. Thank you for coming, Miriam.

A: Thank you, Miriam.

Neither Here Nor There, published by Crooked Cat Publishing, is available from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iTunes and elsewhere.

Miriam Drori can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, Wattpad and on her website/blog.

Stop press: Neither Here Nor There is on sale for a few days on Amazon. In honour of that, several bloggers will be featuring the novel. I’ll update this post as those posts appear.

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.

Letters from ElsewhereFictional characters sometimes do uncharacteristic things when their authors pull the right strings. That’s how I can bring you Leah today. Take it away, Leah. Ah, that means… let’s hear from you.

BS″D

Dear Readers,

It feels very strange for me to be writing this letter. Usually, we keep ourselves apart from all the infidels who haven’t yet learned how to live as G-d wants us to. I feel blessed to have been born into a righteous, G-d-fearing family, who brought me up to fulfil all six hundred and thirteen of G-d’s commandments – or rather, those that apply to women.

Now I have a family of my own. I was lucky enough to marry at sixteen. My husband is a good, studious and pious man. He gets up very early every morning to lay tefillin and pray before going to study in the yeshiva, where he spends long hours. I get up early, too, of course. When I’ve said my prayers, I have to tend to the children and the flat and help my mother in her grocery store.

Bli ayin hara, I have three wonderful children and with G-d’s help I will have many more. I feel so proud to be able to fulfil the commandment: Be fruitful and multiply. My eldest is a boy. He has beautiful long flowing hair, which I comb every morning and tie in a ponytail. I will be sorry when he reaches the age of three and has to have it cut short, but I’ll also be proud to see him become a real boy with peyot, and wearing a kipah and tzitzit, a boy who is old enough to do good deeds. The other two are girls; I love them all.

My life has changed so much and so quickly. Not so long ago I was a young girl, playing, studying and helping my mother with the chores. Truth be told, I never did study much. It was hard for me to concentrate. I was never like my friend, Esty, who thought deeply about the things we learned. I remember her trying to discuss them with me, but I wasn’t really interested.

May G-d forgive me for mentioning Esty’s name. I can’t help thinking about her sometimes and wondering why. She was so pretty and clever. How could she have done such a stupid thing?

I saw her the other day in the Interior Ministry office. I’d gone to register the birth of my little one. I was just wheeling out the babies, my son holding onto the pram, when she called my name and I instinctively turned round. I was shocked at what I saw. She stood there, in the hallway, wearing a man’s clothing – trousers and short sleeves. She knows what a sin it is to do that, but she did it anyway.

I just stood there, transfixed. I couldn’t talk to her, of course, but I should never have turned when she called my name. Fortunately, my son called to me and I turned back to him and we continued to the lift. I don’t know what I’d have done otherwise. She could have become a light to the women of our community, I know she could. She was clever and wise, but she threw it all away. I’ll never understand why.

Well, I must go. The baby needs a feed and I have plenty of chores to do before the Sabbath. Life is good, thanks to G-d.

A peaceful Sabbath,
Leah

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.

The competition I ran for Indie Authors Appreciation Week was won by Cathy Bryant, who will shortly receive a signed copy of Neither Here Nor There. Congratulations, Cathy.

Front50%In chapter 1 of Neither Here Nor There, Esty, as a first step in the process of leaving the haredi (ultra-orthodox) community in which she was raised, has to phone Avi, who volunteers for an organisation that helps people like Esty.

There were two competition questions:

1. How does the person Esty calls on the phone react when Esty tells him that she wants to leave the haredi community?

Cathy answered: “The man on the phone reacts by carefully explaining the risks, and making sure that Esty understands that she can go back – that she still has a choice. He outlines what might go wrong.”

2. Why do you think he reacts in this way?

Cathy answered: “I got the impression that he was trying to make sure that she knew what she was doing and wasn’t acting on impulse – as a representative of his organisation he has to be responsible. After all, she’s taking a very serious step.

Both answers are correct. But I wanted to point out something else. The members of the organisation must be aware that they could be accused of tempting young people away from their families and their way of life. They need to make absolutely clear to everyone that they become involved only after the person has made that crucial decision.

***

Neither Here Nor There is available from Amazon, Smashwords and The Book Depository.

I’m joining in the Meet My Main Character blog hop, in which I answer a few questions about my main character and pass the baton on to two or three other writers. I had a little problem with the latter, as you’ll see later.

I was tagged by fellow Crooked Cat author, Michela O’Brien, whose latest novel, A Summer of Love, was released in January 2013.

What is the name of the main character? Is she real or fictitious?

Esty Sherman. She is fictitious. The name Esty is short for Esther.

When and where is the story set?

This is a contemporary story that takes place over about four months in Jerusalem, apart from a brief trip to London.

What should we know about Esty?

Esty was born and brought up within the closed haredi community. But she has long felt she didn’t belong there and has decided to leave everything and everyone she knew and start afresh.

What is the main conflict? What messes up her life?

Contacts with people from her former life make her current life very hard. She is finding it hard enough to acclimatise to new ways of life without constant reminders from the past.

What is Esty’s goal?

To become part of her new world and to become a permanent part of Mark’s life. At least, these are Esty’s goals for most of the time.

What is the book’s title?

Neither Here Nor There, because Esty is no longer a member of her old community but still feels she doesn’t completely belong  in the world she has chosen.

~

As I mentioned, I had a problem finding people to continue with this. All the ones I asked had either done it before or were much too busy.

If you would like to answer these questions, please let me know. I will edit this post to tag you, and you can post your answers next week.

My world and your world. Their world and our world. Where am I? Where are you? Where are they?

Somewhere, further down in this post, I will talk about tomorrow’s book launch. If you don’t want to read my prattle, you can go there now.

Things used to be easier in the old days. Worlds kept themselves separate. Facebook brings them all together. It’s hard.

One minute I’m reading about the topic that’s uppermost in the mind of all Israelis. Three teenagers were kidnapped by terrorists. Parents look at their children, knowing it could have been them. How can a sixteen-year-old cope with being held by people who want us all dead?

The next minute, without even scrolling or clicking, I see a joke and I try to laugh. Then there’s a beep and I have to read and comment on a totally unrelated topic. Yes, have to, because it’s part of my job of being a writer. I have to look away from my world and become part of yours for a while.

Yes, I know it’s happened to you, to. There was 9/11, 7/7 and all the rest. But when those things happened, all the worlds were feeling similarly shocked. Now, it’s just us. For everyone else it’s business as usual. Who cares about three boys?

Then there’s their world: the world of those who are euphoric over the news. I see that, too, when people post their pictures and comments, before I look away in disgust.

But I really wanted to talk about another world, one that is right here in Jerusalem. The other day, I walked into the haredi world to take pictures. But when I was there, I didn’t feel good about photographing them, even though no one took any notice of me at all.

Signs that make me feel unwelcome, Mea Shearim

Signs that make me feel unwelcome, Mea Shearim

I hurriedly snapped a few photos and escaped from another world where I don’t belong.

A street in Mea Shearim, Jerusalem

A street in Mea Shearim, Jerusalem

Esty, the heroine of Neither Here Nor There, did belong there. She grew up there. Her family and friends and everyone who knew her expected her to remain in that world for the rest of her life.

And they expected her to meet her future husband two or three times, sitting far apart from him so as not to touch him by mistake, before making a decision about whether to spend the rest of her life with him.

If you look carefully below the Old City walls that are lit for the Jerusalem Festival of Lights, you can make out the man on the left and the girl on the right

If you look carefully below the Old City walls that are lit for the Jerusalem Festival of Lights, you can make out the man on the left and the girl on the right of the bench

In my novel, I don’t make any judgements. My characters make judgements occasionally, but mostly this is a novel of discovery. The characters find out about the other world on their doorstep.

I’ve said enough for now. If you want to join in tomorrow’s festivities, which will include a competition, go to this Facebook page. You can join it now.