Last Thursday, my friend and fabulous author, Sue Barnard, launched her new book, Never on Saturday, published by Crooked Cat. She held a launch party and I was delighted to be given a slot in it.

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During the slot, I announced a competition to win a signed copy of Neither Here Nor There. Contestants had to write a short piece that had some connection with Jerusalem.

Now I can announce the winner, who is…

Ailsa Abraham

Here is her entry:

JERUSALEM

Oh please don’t sing Jerusalem
While puffing out your chest
You don’t care about that place
Cos England is the best.

You make me sick when singing of
Our “green and pleasant land”
Not caring for a second
Of a city in the sand.

While you are belting out the song
The folks out there are dying
But if you shed a little tear,
It’s for patriotism you’re crying

No it was not “builded” here
Your grammar causes guilt
It was in the Middle East
Jerusalem was built.

So think when singing, or abstain
Please, my friend, you choose
But think, if you are singing
Of Arabs and of Jews.

 Isn’t that lovely? Thank you, Ailsa!

I’ve chosen two reviews – one for each book – to highlight here. Both are detailed and well-thought-out. Sometimes their authors understand the characters in different ways from me. That’s fine. When interpretations differ, that’s a sign of a book that gives readers plenty to think about.

Neither Here Nor There

Neither Here Nor ThereThis book had such meaning for me- it was, in simple terms, about feeling confined in a lifestyle you no longer agree with: that is no longer right for you. That’s Esty’s story, she doesn’t belong, and feels like an alien- an imposter- so, she decides to leave the haredi lifestyle (the lifestyle of an Orthodox Jew) and moves on. Of course, as expected, there are a number of hurdles she has to first get over: her family doesn’t seem very accepting, her community disapproves and then there’s Mark.

She likes Mark and, believes he may be good for her. But, will she fit into his secular lifestyle? She can’t hold his hand without flinching, she finds it wrong whenever they sit too close. But, funnily enough, it can’t be more right. She’s moving on, independently. But will she be able to keep going?

I liked this story, mostly because I could relate: I don’t always feel as though I’m free to take up certain things- because of my religion, though I’d say it was more to do with culture. And I sometimes battle with my thoughts, when I’m rebelling against what my culture’s principles dictate. It is difficult to leave behind, or ignore, your upbringing- it’s your community. Not only do you face isolation, but confusion- you hardly know what goes on behind the other side of the fence. How the other half live, and the author of this book acknowledges that.

I just had a slight issue with the main character, she was making a big life choice and it seemed weird that she didn’t know what she was getting herself into- then again, she was a young nineteen year old. But I felt that seemed to imply she was too naive to know any better. Then there was how she automatically fell for Mark, describing him to have been handsome and the connection between them. It was too fast, and seemed improper, a stark contrast, from her actual attitude towards men- as is revealed later when she is hesitant towards Mark’s touch. Though, aside from this- the book was a delightful, engaging, read.

This book reminded me of a poem I once read titled, ‘Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan’ by Moniza Alvi. Both this book, and this poem, represent the feelings of disillusionment, confusion of one’s identity and isolation, the idea of being an ‘in-betweener’, neither here nor there.

The Women Friends: Selina

CoverFrontThis book is perfect for fans of historical fiction, with LGBTQ characters as well as an honest depiction of the “just before” Hitler claimed Austria during WW2. It’s an important read for those reasons, as well. We can all too easily forget that it did seemingly happen “overnight” because these were emotions and opinions and feelings that had been brewing in the citizens minds well before Hitler came to power, before he stepped foot into Austria. He came to power because people were already agreeing with him about everything, including the final solution.

We start off with Selina Brunner who has decided to move from the countryside to Vienna in hopes of escaping the destitute conditions world war one left much of the European countryside suffering from. She has experienced sexual assault in her past, and this is immediately brought up as one of the reasons why she was so eager to move; she needed to put her past permanently behind her. She struggles with this at first and it is not until she meets Janika, a Jewish muse of Gustav Klimts, that she is able to put action to her feelings and she falls in love with Janika. Their love is not to be, and after Janika marries a man, Selina is forced to meet other people. We see Selina meet a national socialist woman, but while they live together for a time and she does introduce her to her parents, they do not fall in love nor do they stay together.

In the end, Selina makes a choice between staying utterly true to herself and how she identifies, or marrying a Roma man to help him escape.

The entire book, while simple in some areas that begged for deeper character exploration, is one that I would say is important to read, especially right now with the way politics seem to be turning. It is a lie to say that things aren’t already bad; that’s how things like the Shoah happen. Things that were already bad, were purposely ignored until they had no choice but to come to a head in a way so horrible, there are no words to express. The author does a wonderful job of showing that it wasn’t just Hitler that caused the Shoah to happen, but the people as well. And it was also people like Selina Brunner who helped others during this dark time so that it wasn’t their last; while this story is fictitious, the heart of it rings true from page to page.

“So, Miriam Drori,” says Kirsty Young and I’m thinking: why isn’t Roy Plomley here? because his is the name I associate with this radio programme. “As a lover of music, you must have had a hard time choosing just eight pieces.”

“I certainly did,” I answer confidently, because of course this is all made up, so I might as well make myself and my communication abilities up, too.

“How did you narrow your choices down to just eight?”

“I chose pieces connected to my life,” I say, because it’s what they all say and it happens to be true. Turntable-floating-view

I continue to answer Kirsty’s questions with ease and to explain why I chose these particular pieces of music.

  • Ledavid mizmor… (the prayer): The synagogue played an important part in my childhood, and my father often led the services there. I particularly remember this tune, for a prayer that is said only on special occasions. Most of the members of the congregation didn’t know the tune and so my father’s beautiful tenor voice easily rose over the rest. (I listened to several Youtube videos but couldn’t find the tune I know.)
  • Ma Nishtana: The seder night – the first night of the festival of Passover – was a specially fun time in our family. I enjoyed my moment of fame with this song, traditionally sung by the youngest person present. I was always the youngest.

  • Beatles – Here Comes the Sun: I grew up with the Beatles. I had to include them in my list. So I chose one that’s lively and good to dance to. I expect I’ll do plenty of dancing on the desert island.
  • Bach’s Double Violin Concerto: This is one of the pieces I studied at school, and it’s one that I love.
  • Paul Simon – Something So Right: I’ve always felt this song is about me. “They got a wall in China. It’s a thousand miles long. To keep out the foreigners they made it strong. And I got a wall around me that you can’t even see. It took a little time to get next to me.”
  • Rolling Stones – Brown Sugar: At university, this was the song I loved dancing to the most. I had no idea what it was about; I just loved it.
  • Back Street Boys – I Want It That Way: My daughter was just six when this song was popular. But she heard it a lot because her big brother liked to play it. So she learned it – words and all. No wonder she became a singer!
  • Vatikach Miriam: I had to include a song from the many I’ve danced to at Israeli folk dancing sessions. And why not one that’s lively and includes my name!

“Thank you, Miriam Drori, for letting us hear your Desert Island Discs.”

“Thank you for inviting me,” I reply. “I’ve enjoyed it immensely.”

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Author of the Day

Stella Hervey Birrell knows about being concise and keeping to rules. All the posts on her blog are exactly 140 words long. She also draws simple pictures to accompany the posts. When I submitted a guest post for her blog, I managed the first but not the second, and was delighted with Stella’s rendering of Neither Here Nor There. Stella writes women’s fiction and is the author of How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right? – a novel I enjoyed and recommend.

(This is where I get to reveal the gorgeous new book cover.)

What links my first book, Neither Here Nor There, with my second, The Women Friends: Selina, written together with Emma Rose Millar?

Not a lot. It would be easier to list the differences:

  • Contemporary – Historical
  • Romance – Story of love, but not romance
  • Light – Dark

One link is orthodox Judaism. Esty in Neither Here Nor There leaves the ultra-orthodox community in which she grew up. Janika, the second of the models in The Women Friends, does something similar, but that’s described in the second novella. In the novella to be published by Crooked Cat on December 1st, Janika takes a big part but is not the main character.

The other link is orange, which is what makes the two covers so distinctive.

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When my first book, Neither Here Nor There, was published, I didn’t know what to expect. Would anyone buy it? Would anyone read it? Would anyone like it?

Neither Here Nor There Cover

 

Two years on, I’m proud of what my little novel has achieved. It’s informed some readers about things of which they had no knowledge, it’s rung true with many of those in the know, and most of all, it’s brought joy to many readers.

One thing I did know in advance: not everyone would like it. I think that’s true of any book. If every review of a book has only praises for it, you begin to think something is rotten in the state of Goodreads.

I knew in advance that some readers would find the story not to their taste. Not everyone likes romance; not everyone likes sweet and gentle stories. That’s why I was particularly pleased with the words of the mentor of my writing group, D.r. Brauner, who is “not normally a fan of seesaw romances.” He wrote:

An extra-ordinary book that takes romance writing to a higher level.

I also knew that some readers would be against the very idea of anyone leaving orthodoxy for secularism.

BuddhaAngry

Some readers don’t like the plot

BuddhaSad

Some readers don’t like the style

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BuddhaHappy

Many readers love the novel

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Yes, I’m proud of all the reviews of my debut novel on Goodreads, Amazon UK and Amazon US, and I’m very grateful to everyone who has gone to the trouble of writing a review.

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Author of the Day

D.r.Brauner writes excellent fiction, which deserves to be better known. His novel, ANOTHER GOD: a novel of Independent Scotland, is available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Disclaimer: this post is in no way political. (Well, that’s almost true.)

It’s time for a CHANGE. I’ve been feeling that for a while. It’s time to make that happen. Let me explain.

History of An’ de walls came tumblin’ down

The Point of the Blog

I began this blog over seven years ago when I was in a very different place. I wanted to write about writing and about social anxiety – especially social anxiety. It had been my ambition for some time to tell the world about this common but little-known disorder. I began anonymously, because I was afraid  of negative reactions. (In all seven years, I haven’t had any at all.)
ClosetGradually, as I became more confident, I added my first name, then my whole name. And with that came the other secret: I live in Israel – the place I felt everyone loves to hate. I don’t know whether that turned anyone off, but I still had readers after that revelation. And some readers even said they wanted to know more about what living in Israel is really like. So I added a category: Everyday Life in Israel, because I was scared to mention anything controversial.

Only occasionally – very occasionally – I felt I needed to write about something more serious. And I put it under Everyday Life in Israel, because that was all there was, even though the serious topic was far from ‘everyday.’

So, for me, as far as this blog goes, the walls did come tumbling down. In real life, well, that’s much harder, especially after nearly fifty years of SA.

Swerving Off the Path

Then, at the beginning of 2014, I received some wonderful news: my novel, Neither Here Nor There, was going to be published by Crooked Cat. I was thrilled… ecstatic. I’m still very grateful and happy that Crooked Cat accepted me and my novel.

Letters from Elsewhere

Farewell, for now

From that time, I became a member of a large and ever-growing community of writers. Many of those lovely writers hosted me on their blogs and I hosted them on mine. I started the series Letters from Elsewhere, in which characters sprang out of books to share their letters or to write directly to blog readers. It turned out to be popular among the writers.

During those two-and-a-half years, I hardly wrote about Israel or about social anxiety. I lost sight of the point of this blog and it became just another writer’s blog. Don’t get me wrong – there are many blogs that are solely about writing and are interesting, because their owners do it much better than I can. But I had a different purpose for starting this blog and it’s time to return to it – not as that frightened, anonymous individual who began it, but openly, as me: Miriam Drori, an author who lives in Jerusalem and who still lives with social anxiety, as do many others all over the world.

What’s New?

As well as social anxiety and Israel, I will talk about writing – my writing, starting with some very exciting news that hasn’t even made it onto this blog yet. I will also mention my fellow authors, at the end of each post, with links to their blogs and books.

With that decision in mind, I have changed some of the categories. That will be a problem for old posts, but it needed to be done.

There may still be guest posts; I’m hoping there will be. But guests will have to relate to Israel (or Jews) or social anxiety in their posts.

This decision isn’t set in stone. If you have any further ideas, do let me know and I’ll consider them.

 

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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.