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Sunday, March 15, 2009

A WINDY WALK ON THE BEACH AND WRITING

JERICHO BEACH
I'm lucky because one of my writing groups (The Brock House Writers) is located right by this beach, one of Vancouver's finest recreation areas. So on Wednesday when I had finished my morning group and had lunch with a few of the writers, I went for a refreshing stroll down the beach. It was a brisk, windy morning, still bitterly cold but so clear with the skyline and mountains dazzling in the distance. I like to walk when I am sorting out my thoughts and working on new writing. Over this long, snowy winter I haven't had the daily walks that mean so much to my well-being but the last few days have been bright and sunny. So I took advantage of it, even though a chill wind was blowing that nearly froze my fingers as I took photos along the way. Living on the Coast you learn to take full advantage of the sunny days, and yes, it has started to rain again. Somehow I sense Spring is creeping up on us though, as the next day, while walking in the West End, I spotted the first buds of the cherry blossoms on the trees that line the streets where I have my Thursday morning memoir group.


EBB TIDE AND CITY SKYLINE

I have had a particularly busy Fall and Winter, as I took on a few extra classes in order to make a bit of money toward my planned visit to Wales and Greece at the end of May. Unfortunately it has eaten up some of my personal writing time, so I'm falling a little behind with work on SHADOW. Besides the classes, I also write four pieces a week for the online travel guide Planet Eye (check out my new stories, now with photos, at http://thevancouverguide.planeteye.com ) In addition to all this, I am editing/publishing my on-line travel 'zine. And the new stories will be up by next week so check it out at www.travelthruhistory.com (I'm not making any money on this venture -- so please click the ads so I can ) I have received many inspiring accolades from all corners of the world about the quality of the site. And I am amazed at the many stories that get contributed for the publication.

A lot of my own writing time is spent in research and my table is always piled with papers and books. Before I start each section I must go through and check and I am trying my best to be accurate in spite of the fact a lot of the 'facts' are contradictory. Then I write, then I workshop, then I rewrite -- again and again. (So often what I post here as snippets are early drafts). It's an inspiration (and also sometimes a learning experience) for me when I instruct the classes. In particular the novel-writer's workshop I have been conducting at home once a week -- a new writers who started out in my night school classes. But I find the time races by and I still have so much work to do on SHADOW just to finish the complete story. (And then the final work on the final draft which will happen over the summer. I want to have it ready enough to speak to an agent/editor at next Fall's Surrey Writer's Conference).

Most of my classes are finishing for the Winter sessions but will soon begin again in April. The Brock House group has asked me to continue right through and I'll continue with the novel writing workshop at least until the end of March. In the midst of all this business, one must take time to reflect, relax, and enjoy. So, I grab the opportunity each time we have a bright, sunny day like this one was and I head down to the Park or the beach or even just stroll the neighbourhood. I've always been a 'walking writing' and get some of my most inspiring thoughts while I am strolling along. (And always remember to have that notebook and pen handy!) I recall early drafts of SHADOW written while I was spending time in Greece, and a lot of my ideas came flooding into mind as I walked up and down the mountainside from my shepherd's village on the island of Evvia, or while I basked in the sun and swam in the Aegean Sea.

Last night I went to the theatre with my friends to see a rare production of "Coriolanus" by Shakespeare, a difficult play rarely produced. The director was a friend of mine (he starred in a lead role in my own play "The Street" back in 2000) and the play was staged in modern dress as so often is the case these days. It's an interesting, if not a bit confusing. Strangely, while listening and watching, a flood of ideas and thoughts came to me for SHADOW. Now I feel I can make some progress this week, sort out the tangled threads, and move on to THE END.




SEA GULL SENTINEL


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Sunday, March 08, 2009

PROGRESS REPORT #52: IN PRAISE OF WOMEN

TEMPLE OF ARTEMIS, EPHESUS

My busy life is getting a little more slowed down (after this week) when classes end and Spring break begins. I need some time on my own now to catch up. It's been difficult trying to get any serious work done on SHADOW OF THE LION because of my busy schedule. But I have started PART VII and haven't too much to do before I am finished.
THE END. What a thrill that will be and it will certain call for a celebration. I finished the first chapter of Part VII and have started the second chapter. When I'm doing new work it means stopping and researching, checking facts etc. as this part (the politics) is somewhat complicating with conflicting notes. Keeping in mind I am writing a 'fiction' book I still have to be as accurate as possible for events that are recorded historically. This first chapter in Part VII begins with one of my fictional characters NABARZANES, the Persian court advisor who was expelled from Pella by Olympias (because she was jealous of the attention he paid to her grandson, little Alexander (Iskander). He had set off to return to Babylonia to seek assistance from either of his friends Peukestes or Seleukos to rescue Alexander's son from the clutches of Kassandros. He has, at this point, reached Ephesus where he has spent the winter with a dear friend of his, BARSINE, who is one of the women in Alexander's histories who doesn't get much exposure -- at least, not as much as she should in my opinion. And who knows what they said about her was all that truthful? After all, she was a Persian, daughter of a prominent Persian ambassador/satrap. And for a time she was Alexander's mistress. So, in honor of INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY I have decided to post a segment of this chapter that features beautiful Barsine.
And this is especially for any woman who has been abandoned by a man who she loved.


THE AGORA, EPHESUS
Nabarzanes whipped Shaqal into a gallop and sped out of the market square and up the cobbled road to the Hill of Nightingales. A pack of stray dogs ran alongside barking and snapping at the horse’s hooves.

Barsine’s villa was high on the terraced slopes where the wealthy Ephesians had their manors. The fine painted house had belonged to her husband Memnon,. a Greek general who had allied with Shah Darius against Alexander. A garlanded marble bust of Memnon guarded the front entrance.

Nabarzanes turned his horse over to a groom and mounted the steps to the porticoe. A fat, elderly chamberlain let him into the reception hall where the antique Persian-style furniture and faded wall murals showed the signs of the house’s fading opulence.

Barsine was waiting for him. Even in her late forties, she was still a woman of great beauty, with the delicate features of Persian nobility. She was almost as tall as he and her green-gold eyes met his steadily, the expression on her face grave.

“What news do you bring?”

Nabarzanes told her about the declaration of war. “Ptolemy’s navy has invaded all the seaports of Phoenicia. The coalition of Diodochi have declared war against Antigonos. Come summer, torrents of Greek and Macedonian blood will flow.”

Barsine’s face grew pale with shock. She caught in a sharp breath. For a long time she stood silent, as if trying to absorb the news.
“If there is to be a war, perhaps we should move north to Pergamon,” she said finally. “My husband had an estate there --- “
“You will surely be safe here, Barsine,” Nabarzanes said. “Antigonos has
deployed the royal navy in order to protect these northern ports.” He paused,
weighing his thoughts, trying to hide his real concern from her. “The way back to Babylon may be blocked. Seleukos has joined with the others against Antigonos. Now Kassandros has all the Diodachi on his side.”

Barsine looked pensive. It had been years since her husband was killed in battle and she, along with Darius’ royal women, had fallen into Alexander’s hands. “When Memnon was killed and Darius fled, the whole of Persia was there for Alexander’s taking. We all knew that Memnon was the strength and brains behind the Persian army,” she said. . She rarely spoke of her husband, Memnon, but when she did it was without the touch of bitterness that showed whenever she mentioned Alexander.

“Without Memnon’s brilliant leadership Darius was nothing. Darius knew he could not stop Alexander,” she went on. “The Egyptians welcomed him as a pharaoh-god; Babylon hailed him as liberator. Now Alexander, the Lion of Macedon, is dead, and those men who stood shoulder to shoulder with him squabble like a pack of jackals over his remains.”

Nabarzanes knew it pained her to think of Alexander who she had known since childhood when her father was the Persian ambassador to Macedon. When Memnon was killed and Darius fled leaving his harem behind, Alexander had treated her with deep respect, and in fact they had become lovers. Nabarzanes remember the night when he and Barsine had sat together on this same terrace and she had told him of her despair when Alexander abandoned her in favour of Roxana, not knowing she was pregnant with his child.

“Alexander’s fame has not been very well received since the gods received him,” Nabarzanes agreed. “No-one can match his greatness, yet instead of honouring him his Successors defile his memory by fighting to destroy Alexander’s world. It will be a bitter war, one that cannot have a celebration of victory, and it could mean the end of Alexander’s dynasty. It is Alexander’s son and his mother that I am concerned about. I swore allegiance to the child at his birth and promised, when Olympias expelled me, to protect and honour him, to seek counsel from my friends Peukestas and Seluekos for they were not allied with Kassandros then.”


Barsine interrupted, her voice sharp. ““If they kill the Soghdian‘s child, then there
is always my son. Herakles is almost old enough to claim what should be his inheritance, because he too, is Alexander’s son.” She looked at him, her eyes beseeching him. “Nabarzanes, I know you are an honourable man, and Iskander-shah was like a son to you, but...”

“Iskander-shah is more than a son, Barsine. He is the Chosen One, and just as I served his father, Alexander, so I also swore an oath to serve his son.”

“But how can you now?” Her eyes glittered, and her voice grew impatient. “You cannot return to Macedon or Kassandros will have you killed. Seleukos has been driven out of Babylonia and the city is under siege by Antigonos, so it is too dangerous for you to return home. Stay here, with Herakles and me. We need you now as much as Roxana and Iskander do. Who can we trust in these uncertain times but each other? Our world, as we knew it -- Persis, Babylonia, Media - have once again fallen. Alexander may have dreamed of uniting our worlds, but his dreams now lie in ashes.”

Nabarzanes weighed his response carefully. In the months that he had been a guest at her villa his sole concern had been to return to Babylon. Now that he was rested and his horse fit to travel again, he had planned to set out for Syria, and from there follow the Royal Road back to Babylon. Now, with the ships of Egypt ranging the coast and the armies of the other Successors mobilizing on land, he knew it was best to remain here in Ephesos. Looking into Barsine’s eyes, he wanted to explain that he must go, but now he knew he could not.

He leaned forward and kissed Barsine softly on the cheek. She suddenly took his face in her hands and pressed her mouth against his. Startled, he was speechless and felt his cheeks grow hot. In spite of his honourable intentions to devote himself to rescuing Roxana and the child, he found his resolve distracted by her unexpected affection.

They sat side by side on the divan. Barsine’s warmth and the sweet fragrance of her rose to him. He felt deep pleasure in her presence though out of his respect for her he had always kept his feelings in check. He took her hand. It felt like ice. He rubbed it gently between his palms. Her fingers curled tightly around his.

“Are you afraid?” he asked.

“These are dangerous times and I fear for my son, just as you fear for yours.”

“Iskander is not my son. He’s Alexander’s,” Nabarzanes interjected.

“Herakles is Alexander’s first-born son.” Barsine’s bitterness showed in her sharp tone.

“You know that Roxana was Alexander’s legal wife,.” he reminded her gently.

“Campaign wife!” Barsine retorted.

“They were married according to the Soghdian rituals. Under the eye of Ahura, they were truly wed.”

“But Alexander was mine...“Her voice quavered. “He would have wed me if...”

‘If he had known about Herakles?”

“Yes, If only I’d had the courage to tell him.”

“You could not have held Alexander that way, Barsine. Nobody owned Alexander. And if you had tried, perhaps you would have ended up murdered like the princesses. You know the Macedonians considered you nothing more than Alexander‘s war prize.”

She trembled against him. “By our sacred oath to Ahura, we Persians cannot Lie and neither can promises be broken. Alexander said he loved me and promised that we would be together. He broke his promise. Now I want what is due my son.”

He tried to embrace her, to comfort her, but she pushed him away.
”You came to Ephesus because you were seeking help for my son’s rival. Now you want to make love to me? Why, Nabarzanes?”

He looked into her face, puzzled. “I seek no favours from you. If I can do nothing more to help Roxana and Iskander-shah, then at least I can see that you and Herakles are safe.” He pulled her close. “I’ve always thought you a most beautiful woman...a woman of great esteem.”

Barsine raised her eyes to his face. Her tone softened. “Yes, and you were a friend to me when I was abandoned by Alexander.”

Nabarzanes took her by the shoulders. “I want to stay with you, Barsine. But I made a vow, and pledged my loyalty to Iskander-shah and I must keep my promise. However, I will stay here with you at least until this tempest is past.”


HARBOUR STREET, EPHESUS


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