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Friday, December 30, 2011

READING ABOUT JACK KEROUAC AND REMINISCING

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, and in the middle, you see the blue center-light pop, and everybody goes ahh..." Jack Kerouac "On the Road"



Over the Christmas holidays I have been catching up on some reading out of the pile of to-be-read books.  My first choice was a book by the former wife of my favorite writer of the '50's,  Jack Kerouac.  "You'll be OK" was about their short, bitter-sweet marriage, and it gave me a lot of insights in this writer I have for so long admired.  Today I began another book about Kerouac  "Conversations With Jack Kerouac".  It has revived in me an interest to go back and read a couple of his famous books that had a huge impact on me as a budding writer and a young woman trying to 'find herself' back in the end of the '50's and during the '60's. 
Jack Kerouac  Mar 12,1922- Oct 21, 1969
This was my pin-up boy picture in the late '50's and 60's. ( I think I've still got it among my papers and clippings about Kerouac)

I remember my first visit to New York City and what a thrill it was to me, and how it literally changed my life and way of thinking.  I was fascinated to be in the city where Kerouac had spent so much time and especially to be staying in the Village.  On a second trip to NYC in the mid '70's I stayed in the Bronx, but near a place where he had lived for a time. In future travels I'd spend more time in San Francisco, another of his haunts.  And the two books I just read I had purchased at the City Lights Bookstore a couple of years ago on a visit there.  I remember being so excited to find a little street named "Jack Kerouac Street" and to be in that book store where all the Beat poets had hung out.
I have always admired Kerouac's free style of writing, the spontaneous writing that enjoy.  In my younger days I always wanted to write like him.  But writing historical fiction is a different genre and style.  Now I'd like to re-read some of his books and study his writing further.  Perhaps when I start writing my memoirs "Life Below the Acropolis" I could incorporate some of his style.

Kerouac's typewriter

Here is a memoir I wrote some time ago about that first visit to New York.  It's a time that I will never forget because it truly changed my life.

FINDING MYSELF IN NEW YORK CITY

In the ‘60’s I was living in a new suburb of Edmonton in northern Alberta, a young stay-at-home Mom with a toddler daughter and a six year old son in grade one and a husband who was quickly descending into the bottom of a vodka bottle. Up until the time we’d moved there, when my husband was transferred as plant manager for a big new retread plant, I’d worked in a newspaper editorial department on the Coast, with dreams of being a writer, and an interesting group of friends including some I’d met at art school.
Life in that northern city sapped the creativity out of me. I was so absorbed in trying to figure out what to do about my home-situation at a time when there were no counselors available and no family to call on for help, that soon I lost ‘myself’. I stopped writing and eventually stopped painting too. To keep busy and creative, I started up my own nursery school, mainly for neighborhood kids. And in time I saved up enough money so that I could take myself on a vacation -- the first vacation I’d had in years on my own.  Two of my best friends had moved East, one to New York, the other to Washington D.C. I was going to visit them. In Vancouver, we’d been the “Three Musketeers” and it had been several years since I’d seen them. 

It had been a dream of mine since I was a teenager to go to New York. When I got there, I thought I’d died and gone to Beatnik heaven!  There I was smack in the middle of Greenwich Village, home of my hero Jack Kerouac.  I strode the streets of New York fearlessly, in awe of everything I saw. 
My friend Bobby, on the other hand, had been living there for some time and had become totally paranoid. I couldn’t get over all the bolts and locks and chains on the door to her apartment. She scolded me for speaking to people on the street, or for sitting on the stoop in the evening chatting to passers-by.

“You can’t do that!” she said. “This is New York.”

“But I’m doing it,” I retorted. “I like it here.”  I did. I loved New York. I felt it right into my soul. I was like Alice in Wonderland. What a thrill to sit at a sidewalk cafe overhearing a conversation at another table between a man and woman who, I realized, were discussing their friend “Janice” (Joplin, that is). And another time, sitting in a small bar beside some handsome young men who were relating the funny story of appearing on Ed Sullivan (the Everly Brothers).

It was August 1969. Everyone at the time was discussing “Woodstock”.  Was I going to Woodstock? I had no idea what they were talking about.  Sometime during my visit I was introduced to marijuana and hashish. At first I was afraid, because ten years before I’d seen my boyfriend destroyed by heroin. Drugs were a bad business to get mixed up in. But they educated me. MJ was a medicinal herb, and hashish it’s derivative. I tried it. Nothing terrible happened to me except a warm and fuzzy feeling.

I spent a few weeks in New York, walking around freely, gawking at the sights, going up into the Empire State Building (then the tallest building in the world as it has become, once again) Wow! What a thrill. Walking up the spiral staircase inside the Statue of Liberty. Breathtaking! Riding the buses and subway, walking in Central Park. Every breath I took, every step along those busy, exciting streets, I got closer to finding ‘myself’. Alberta and my problems were far, far away.

My other friend, Joan, was living in Washington DC. She was the “private secretary” of a wealthy Black lawyer. I hopped a train and went down to visit her, again, stepping into another Wonderland.
Joan’s “boss” had put her up in an elegant Colonial apartment filled with antique furniture.
She was socializing with the White House crowd and rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous. As I was her out-of-town guest I had to pass the ‘inspection’, and was later invited to join her and a group of her boss’s friends at a swanky exclusive private club for professional persons of colour. She and I were the only two women in the group and the only white people in the place. Quite an experience and one that I have never forgotten, all because of a very nice African American television journalist who befriended me.

After drinks at the club, he invited me to come with him to “a very special bar” where he said there was an incredible pianist/singer entertaining.  It happened to be shortly after the Washington Race Riots, and he wanted to talk to me about it, fill me in on the situation first-hand and from an African American person’s point-of-view.

 I didn’t know the name of this bar until I found a remastered CD of this singer’s music, recorded about the time I’d been there, and released the following year, projecting her into the limelight.  The bar was known as The Bohemian Caverns. The singer, he told me, was so talented that she should be Nationally known. Her name was Roberta Flack.  It was a small, dark piano bar. She played the piano and sang and she was truly magnificent.  This was when I first heard her sing “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and I’ve never forgotten it. I’ll never forget how, at the break, I was in the washroom and she was there too and we talked. It was a great thrill. I knew I was meeting a ‘star’, although her first album was not released until the following year.  Now, as I sit and listen to her remastered CD, singing those same songs she sang that night I first heard her, I remember that night, and I remember how that visit to New York changed my life forever.

I returned to New York several days later. When I arrived at Bobby’s apartment, she was not at home. Fortunately I had the keys to get in. Shortly after I arrived, someone came to the door to call for her. It was a young man named Nickie. He was surprised to find me there and concerned about Bobby’s whereabouts. It seemed he had been with her a day or two before and they had gone to visit a friend of his. Apparently when they were at this friend’s apartment, there was a huge drug raid, because the ‘friend’ it seemed was a big dealer of LSD. Bobby was found to be carrying a bag of marijuana and had been arrested. It turned out she was carrying her marijuana in her purse because she had been afraid I would ‘smoke’ some of it. Consequently, because of her paranoia, she was incarcerated in the immigration detention centre. Seems she had been living and working illegally in New York.

 I hung around New York with Nickie after that and we visited Bobby in the big red-brick prison, took her bags of cookies and other treats. She was going to be deported. I was going to fly back to Alberta. But I didn’t want to go.

Nickie was probably one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. He showed me a different way of thinking and living. And by the time I boarded that plane to fly home I was a changed person. I had found myself. And from then on, my life would never be the same.
 

New York skyline, Sept 2006
Me, posing with a wax figure of Morgan Freeman. NYC 2006


Thursday, December 22, 2011

CELEBRATING WINTER SOLSTICE

Solstice Fire

There were Solstice celebrations in various parts of town last night. I went over to my old school at the Britannia Community Centre where they were holding ceremonies with drums, singing and a solstice fire.  The highlight of the evening would be a walk around the candle-lit labyrinth.

Solstice celebrations are old Celtic traditions and strangely, as I was riding the bus over to the Centre, suddenly my protagonist Olwen, from my work-in-progress "Dragons in the Sky" began to speak to me.  It's been many years since I channeled Olwen's spirit.  I had set aside her story back in '89 when I wanted to work on the novel about Alexander the Great's little known son.  I had thought at the time that, as I was writing it as a juvenile historical, it would only take me a  year or so, then I'd get back to "Dragons" and finish it.  Besides, I was discouraged with the Celtic novel, having been lead astray by suggestions from a writing instructor and less than enthusiastic critiques.  Well...to make a long saga short...once I decided to write "Shadow" in multiple point of view, it became very complicated and took my much, much longer than ever anticipated.  I finally finished it last December and I'm currently working on the cuts and line edits to get it in perfect shape for publishing.


Candles for Solstice

      In the meantime, i have been retyping the old manuscript of "Dragons" and workshopping it at my critique group. They love it. Especially the Bardic verse that part of it is written in.  But I had decided not to start doing any real edits on it until I am finished with "Shadow" and that won't be until the end of January.  So other than the retyping, I've not given the story or the characters too much thought.
I've certainly not heard any of them 'speak' to me.  That is, until last night.

A Solstice log blazes in the Circle of drummers and chanters.

     "Dragons in the Sky" is very much a first-person narrative, told in the voice of Olwen, a young acolyte of the Raven clan, destined to leave for the Holy Isle where she will become a full-fledged Druid priestess.  I had no idea I was going to write this story, when it began back in around 1978.  One day a voice spoke to me, a young girl, she said her name was Olwen and she wanted to tell me her story.  So I began to channel her spirit and write down what she said.  As the story progressed, some of it written in bardic verse, I was more and more amazed.  At first, I didn't know where exactly this all took place until one of my early visits to England when I was advised by an elderly psychic to visit Stonehenge and to see what spirits spoke to me in the inner circle. (That was when you could still go inside the circle).  Later, while waiting for the bus at Salisbury I had noticed a sign about an Iron Age hill fort just outside of town. As I had time to kill, I decided to walk there.  And as I approached Old Sarum I knew instinctively that this was where Olwen's story took place. 


I made a couple of other visits there later and each time more of her story unfolded.  This past summer I went again, just to research and refresh my memory before I start reworking the novel.  But until now, I have not heard Olwen's voice.  How strange and appropriate it was that she spoke to me when I was on my way to the Solstice rites.



The candle-lit Labyrinth

I walked the candle-lit labyrinth and meditated, wondering where this new year will lead me.  I know I am in touch with Olwen again and I'm glad for that.  And I am confident that "Shadow of the Lion" will find a good publishing home. 

So now, this year ends, and the New Year begins.  And the first day of wintered boded well with bright sunshine and mild weather.  Once the holiday merrymaking is over and things settle back into the new routine, I'll be returning to my work on "Dragons in the Sky" and waiting for Olwen's voice as I write down her very unique and amazing story.  (And yes, there is an Alexander connection in it too!) 



Thursday, December 08, 2011

WRITING TO MUSIC


When I'm writing or editing I like to listen to inspiring music.  If I'm working on "Shadow of the Lion" as I am just now, doing some final edits, I prefer to have classical music playing.  I find it adds a soothing background while I work. 

In the ancient days story tellers and poets always used music as part of their platform, such as the lyric poet Sappho who played a lyre to accompany her verses.  And the bards of the ancient Celts also used music to record their tribal stories. 

But I think you have to be careful what musical background you use as you write.  I could never listen to rap or current popular songs when I'm working on historical creative writing.  It's important to be able to hear the cadence of the prose as well and this would only interfere with the rhythm of the words.  When I was reworking my play "The Street" I listened to jazz, specifically the music of Chet Baker and other well known jazz musicians of the '50's.  When I was writing "Dragons in the Sky" I listened to Laurena McKennitt as her music is very Celtic.  For "Shadow of the Lion" I choose classical music, sometimes the sound-tracks from movies, to give it that "epic" feeling.

Do you listen to music when you are writing?  If so, what kind of music do you choose?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

STRATEGIES FOR PUBLISHING

The Library of Alexandria


I've been looking in to various publishing possibilities for "Shadow of the Lion".  After speaking to the agents and a few other publishers I realize that most of them insist on only 120,000 word count for a publication.  This would mean chopping Shadow by 3/4 which would simply ruin the story.  So instead of stressing over this dilemma, I've decided that perhaps the best route to take would be self-publishing
through one of the accredited self-publishers (there are 3 top ones), such as Lulu.  This would mean I'd have to check the page count, not the word count.  It would also mean I won't have to wait perhaps up to five years to see this book out in print.  I simply can't wait that long.  For one reason, I'm not getting any younger and mainly, the theme of the story is pertinent to today's world.  And I feel that this novel, which I worked so hard on for all those years, deserves to have an audience NOW, not five years from now or at the whim of a traditional publisher. 

I'm doing my research into this.  I've spoken to a couple of friends who have published through Lulu and they are very satisfied.  I realize that to make an impact, it means I'd have lots of marketing to do and some investment.  For this I'm even willing to forgo my yearly trip to Greece.  Another friend mentioned that she does marketing and would help me.  And I have a lot of connections around town where I could arrange book readings etc.  So that part of the self-publishing doesn't seem a problem to me.  I like the idea of the book being listed on Amazon and the option of doing an e-book as well, as this is a big trend these days.

What I would like is comments from any of my readers who know more about this process than I do.  Have any of you had experience with this kind of publishing?  What do you advise? I am in the process of doing another round of editing and then I'll turn the manuscript over to a professional editor.  I also need to write the foreword, afterword, glossary and bibliography for it.

If I self publish I want it to be as perfect as a traditionally published book.  I'm even going to consult with an artist friend about designing a cover for it.  Now I need to find out about IBSNs and copyrights and whether the publisher provides those.  I'd appreciate any input you can give me. Thanks.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

DOING BATTLE WITH WORDS

Wall painting on tomb believed to be King Philip's, at Vergina, Greece



I'm doing battle with words right now.  My first gruelling session left me feeling totally depressed and worn out.  Having to chop so many words from the text of "Shadow of the Lion" is not only discouraging but, after having spent so many long hours writing the story, it is a painful exercise.  But, it must be done!

By the end of the first 'battle' I was so depressed I was even having nightmares about it.  So for now I have backed off and I'm planning new strategies for the second attack.  I will eventually have a professional editor take over, but for now if I have to kill my babies I'll do it myself no matter how it wrenches at my soul to do so. 

Yes, there are passages that were part of my character development and probably don't need to be there.  Many of them I have already cut only to realize that the word count was barely going down and after all that work I had only destroyed 156 pages!  Now I am taking a much closer look:  asking myself if the scene is absolutely necessary to keep the story rolling and the tension building.  I've also cut some points of view, and a lot of places where characters were reminiscing about things.

There are certain things I won't cut:  both my critique readers and others in my workshop group have said "don't cut the elephants".  I also want to keep the women's voices strong.  And there are a couple of major characters (generals and the Persian court advisor) as well as the villain who must stay.  The story is also about Alexander's young son, Iskander, who was his only legal heir so it is important, especially in the later part of the novel, that he has a strong voice. (I decided to cut some of his points of view when he is little). 

I always wanted to pitch the story to a main-stream publisher but now I realize that to do so I'd have to cut 3/4 of the story and that simply won't work.  So my alternative is to look into self-publishing.   For one thing, I don't have years to wait and neither does the story. It needs to be out there now, because much of the theme pertains to situations in the world today. 

So I will rally the 'troops' and forge onward.  After all, this is the story about a famous conqueror and his generals.  Of course, they managed to bring Alexander's dynasty down in the end.  But I won't let them bring "Shadow" down too.  Somehow I will find a way to cut enough of the text not to spoil what is an important and exciting story!



Thursday, October 27, 2011

WRITER'S NEWS UPDATES


The first bit of good news is that Foreign Flavors has been published, an anthology of foodie stories chosen by Writers Abroad.  My story about a favorite Greek dish "Arni Kleftiko" (Bandit's Lamb) is included in the collection.  Proceeds go to a good charitable cause.  So get your copies now.  I think it will make a nice Christmas gift for some of my friends and family members.

Get it here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/foreign-flavours/18192264


My next bit of news is in regards to the status of my novel "Shadow of the Lion".  I have completed a few rounds of editing and cutting and will launch into another one this weekend.  Last week I attended the Surrey International Writer's Conference with the intention of making some editor/agent appointments, but was only successful with one. None of the people I most wanted to see were available.  I did get some good tips and this was concerning word length and numbers of points of view.  My novel is way over the acceptable word length and it's going to mean major cutting.  I also have too many points of view so I have to decide which ones I can eliminate without spoiling the flow of the narrative.  I'll be starting work on this by the weekend.

Meanwhile, in spite of being disappointed about the results of the conference a writer friend has since directed me to her own editor with high recommendations. I was sorry I missed some good presentations at the conference. I stood in line waiting to book an agent or editor all during historical fiction author Margaret George's presentation and it was one feature I really wanted to attend. However I did get in for the last 5 minutes and asked a few questions, then spoke to her briefly on my own later. And because of the two agent appointments I wasn't able to take in as much of the other presentations of my choice but did get some good tips about pitching and queries.

After that full day at the conference, the next day I taught an all-day memoir writing group which was excellent.  Then on Sunday morning at my journalism class, it was disrupted by a crazy woman who burst in two hours late and hurled insults at me and the class as well as physically attacking me.  Very upsetting!  I was barely getting over that and had classes every morning until today as well as one night school class. Fortunately, most of them went well other than my yesterday's Write from the Heart group where there were some small disruptions.  And it isn't even a full moon?

Well today the sun is out and I should hurry with these little blog tasks and get myself out for a nice walk.  I'll post more news about the editing of Shadow of the Lion and other writing news as soon as I get some time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

THE ARDUOUS TASK OF EDITING

I've had my nose to buried in my manuscript of Shadow of the Lion for hours most days lately getting the editing done.  The critique and reading notes my friends have helped me with have been so much appreciated.  So now I have the pages marked up what to correct and what to eliminate, I must start the final cuts.  For me, anyway.  Because I will try to get a professional editor to do the absolute final work.  It's just too difficult for me to be objective about how much or what needs to be eliminated and a professional editor will be able to do that without any problem.  Of course, it's going to cost me!  But that's all part of the publishing game.

Ancient Writing Implements


Next, I have to start working on my synopsis. Although I've had one written for some time, it isn't quite right and the synopsis must be perfect.  It's your ticket into the publisher's office.  And to get it really in acceptable shape I'll have to pay to have that edited as well.  I've heard that can cost up to $100 hour.  At least it's only 5 or 6 pages and I'll try to get it as perfect as possible before I submit it to an editor.

Then there is the Forward and Afterword, the Cast of Characters and the Glossary.  Thankfully my friend Renate has compiled a pretty good glossary for me while she was doing the reading critique.

I'm attending the Surrey International Writer's Conference on Friday.  I paid to go the whole day, hoping to get appointments with a couple of specific agents but unfortunately they were not available.  I have chosen someone else who does historical fiction.  Usually I volunteer at the Conference and thought this would give me a chance to nab other editors/agents in the hotel lobby or at the workshops, however now I have to teach classes on both Saturday and Sunday so will only be able to attend the one day.  Keeping my fingers crossed that I can make some good contacts.

A lot of people have asked "Have you got your novel published yet?"  They have no idea of the amount of work it takes to get the manuscript into the hands of an agent/publisher.  I've also been asked if I'll self-publish or go through one of the popular small presses, but because Shadow of the Lion is an epic story and literary fiction, I prefer to first try the bigger publishing houses.  I do have a couple of 'leads' however if that fails.  So, wish me luck.  The writing tasks are almost over.  Now comes the read hard work!
Alexander's Name in Hieroglyphics

Friday, September 30, 2011

WRITING EVENTS: Keeping Inspired

I'm always thinking of writing, even when I set off for a day of walking in the park.  Therefore, I always carry a notebook with me.  And sometimes I take my journal along as well.  I have been somewhat remiss in keeping up my journal and vowed to try to write 10 minutes a day in it (so far haven't quite met the quota, but trying).  The other weekend I went for a lovely, quiet walk in the woods at Central Park.  Part of my purpose was to clear my mind and meditate.  And at one point, as I sat by the duck pond enjoying the serenity of the moment, I wrote in my journal.  A man came by and commented on it. "Ah! A writer!"  I wanted to stop writing and ask if he was a writer too, but decided to keep the pen moving.  You have to do that sometimes.  And my purpose for being in the park that day was to write!


There have been a number of inspiring writing events recently and more to come later in October.
Last weekend I went to Words on the Street, downtown at the Public Library.  In spite of a sudden windstorm and rain that suddenly blew down some of the tents and had people running for cover, I managed to take in several excellent (free!) events at the site.

There is always so much to take in at Words on the Street that this time I marked my program with colored stickers indicating the place and time of the events I wanted to see.  My first trip had been to the poetry tent but they were evacuating as soon as I arrived there.  So I walked around and listened to the Carnival Band for awhile as I have a friend who plays in it.  Then I made my way to the Magazine Tent in time for the Haiku in Canada where people were writing haikus about hockey! (I'm not a hockey fan but I thought it was a unique idea!)  Then I stopped by the author's tent and heard some excellent readings including a script reading by a playwright, Lucia Frangione,"Paradise Garden"  which was interesting to me as I also have written plays.  Next was a most amusing monologue by Fringe Festival favorite, TJ Dawe reading from his text of "Labrador. My main purpose of being there, though, was to hear the Chilean Canadian playwright/author Carmen Aguirre presenting her new book publication, "Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter."  Because of my close association with my dear late friend Anibal, anything to do with Chile and the revolution is of keen interest to me.

As the rain was still coming down and the wind blowing, I holed up downstairs in the library after that taking in several excellent panels - everything from helpful hints to increase your writing income, memoirs, book business plans and how to get published.  Very useful information for me at this point in time when I am preparing my novel for publication.

The whole day was inspiring and interesting. Besides that, I ran into lots of friends from the literary scene in Vancouver, and it's always great to net-work!

Writing is such a huge part of my life, in fact ALL of my life at the moment.  So every chance I get to attend literary events is important to me.  In a few weeks I'll be attending the Surrey International Writer's Conference and hope to make some agent/editor appointments.  In the meantime, I'm keeping busy with edits and cuts on my manuscript "Shadow of the Lion" making sure it's ready to be presented to the world.  Lots of work ahead, I know, actually far more than I'd been anticipating thanks to all the information I got at those panel discussions.

Friday, September 23, 2011

THE TRICKY TASK OF WEEDING THINGS OUT!

Alexander the Great Mosaic

I'm beginning to feel a little bit like a warrior wielding a sword as I chop my way through doing edits on my novel "Shadow of the Lion".  The biggest problem is, for the most part the writing is as near perfect as I could get it and the story is as exciting as ever, even after having read it through countless times.  So knowing what to cut is really a problem for me.  I've already chopped several chapters out and repetitious passages, but I'm still way over the required word count.

I just had another reader's critique and line-editing done by a friend of mine who did a thorough job. She says she has marked a few passages that can be chopped, but for the most part she loved the story the way it is.  As soon as I finish this round of going through the MSS myself, I'll go back and follow all her advice which includes spell-checks and punctuation, although most of that was done on the last round.

Macedonian kopis, weapon used by soldiers


Recently, another published writer friend, advised me to just go by my own feelings as what to cut. I had been discussing the problem with her and said I was so afraid of 'gutting' the story, taking out something vital, and spoiling the story-line by doing so.  It's a complicated political history story with a lot of sub-plotting, but this was necessary to build tension and draw out the characters as well as to explain what was going on in Alexander's world that eventually leads to the end of his dynasty.


I'll be attending the Surrey Writer's Conference in a few weeks.  I'd hoped to get appointments with a couple of particular editors/agents but found they were not available the day I am attending.  I at least hope I can perhaps nab them in the lobby.  I do have another appointment scheduled but was disappointed not to get the ones I'd counted on.  My aim is to start pitching Shadow by the end of October so it's vital for me to get as much of this final editing done as possible by then.  I do know that if I can get a publisher interested their own editors will do a lot of cutting, but I think it's important to make sure I've done the best I can before that time.  It might mean I will have to hire a professional editor to do the final cuts.  I know this can be very expensive.  But if it means getting the manuscript into perfect order for publication I'm willing to do that.


Meanwhile, it's 'slash and burn' and hope for the best...a compelling, clean copy to hand over to a publisher!



Sunday, September 18, 2011

RETURN TO CAER GWYN

author's drawing of Caer Gwyn

Caer Gwyn is a fictional Iron Age hill fort, circa. 4th Century BC, located where today's Old Sarum is near Salisbury, England.  There have been settlements in this area since the Bronze Age.  Old Sarum is a Roman name for this ancient site. 

Back in the late '70's, a voice spoke to me.  It was the voice of a young girl named "Olwen".  The story she told me, which I began to write, titled "Dragons in the Sky", tells of her life growing up in a place called Caer Gwyn.  She had been a foundling, left at the great Stone Circle (Stonehenge) and taken in by a Druid she called "Grandfather Maelgwyn" and a priestess/healer named Essylt, who she called "Auntie".  Olwen was an acolyte of the goddess.  They were members of the Raven clan, a tribe of people who lived on the Salisbury Plain. 

I wasn't sure of the location of Caer Gwyn until my first visit to Salisbury after a visit to Stonehenge, when I happened to notice a sign that said there was a hill fort just outside the town. I was killing time waiting for a bus back to London, so I decided to walk there and see what it was like.  As I hiked down the highway, the closer I got to Old Sarum, the stronger the feelings of deja vus and by the time I got there, I realized that this was exactly how "Olwen" had described her village to me.  This was Caer Gwyn!

Old Sarum
In the next couple of years I made two trips to the site and each time those feelings of deja vus grew stronger and Olwen's story became clearer to me.  I had been on my way to visit Greece on that second trip to Old Sarum, and as I traveled I became aware of Olwen's story unfolding, and how there was a Greek connection for her as well as for me. 

I worked on that novel for several years, including during the 5 years I lived in Athens.  But previously, when I'd first started writing it, a writing instructor kept insisting it should be told as a third person narrative, rather than a first person account in Olwen's voice.  I tried switching points of view. It wasn't working.  And after I returned to Canada, when I resumed attending writer's workshops, the critiques I was receiving proved quite discouraging.  So after finishing half the novel I shelved it in order to work on another, "Shadow of the Lion", which is about the fall of Alexander the Great's dynasty.

It took me many years to finish this massive work but now it's ready to go out to a publisher and I want to resume writing Olwen's story.  So far I am just retyping it as the early work was written on a manual typewriter and I must record it on the computer.  But I'm work shopping the chapters as I retype them, and my writer's critique group is loving every bit of it!  I realized when I started working on it again what an unusual and enchanting story it is:  historical fiction but almost 'fantasy' too.  It is written using some Bardic verse and very poetic prose. I recall trying to capture the Welsh lilt to the voice of Olwen and once I'd given it to my Welsh dad to read to see if I had the cadence correct.  Now, in re-reading it, I can hear the voice clear and strong.  But I can't remember how I wrote all those words. Where did they come from?  How did I do it?  I know, for sure, that I was 'channelling' this girl from long ago, and maybe "Olwen" is even me in another lifetime.
Was this the site of Caer Gwyn settlement?

The last two times I went back to England and Greece, I stopped at Old Sarum again to try and conjure up Olwen's spirit.  This last summer when I was there I had a chance to stroll around on my own and absorb the feeling of the place.  I even learned a few more details about the Iron Age settlements that I didn't know before.  And for some strange reason, the first times I had been there I didn't even go to the top of the earth mound where the remains of the fortress walls are (though these are Roman period ruins). 

Young students at the site of Old Sarum

I'm excited about working on "Dragons in the Sky" again.  I realize that it's a unique story and that the first person point of view is necessary for it to be told the way it is in Olwen's voice.  This is her story and it is a compelling story of a young girl's coming of age, her first love, and an adventure led her to another world where she learns to survive and find herself.  As I retype it I am getting in touch with her again, listening for her voice to guide me as the story unfolds.  It's an exciting revelation and I am so glad that I didn't give up on it even though it's taken me many years to retell.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

DORA'S SUNSET

Note: While I was on the island of Poros this summer, I learned that a very dear friend and member of our Scribbler's writer's group, had passed away.  All of us who knew Dora were devastated.  This poem is in remembrance of her, written on Poros the day after I learned she had died.  June, 2011



DORA’S SUNSET


The night I learned you had left us,
I walked the seaside promenade
by Poros’ harbour
and paused, remembering you.

The sunset had turned the sea
into a pool of crimson
and against the blazing sky
a four-masted sailing ship
lay at anchor

I remember you, the free spirit,
You who wore purple
and buttercup yellow.
You danced in floral frocks,
amused us with funny stories
about an old lady named Clover.

I still hear your sweet voice,
singing, laughing.
I search that crimson sunset sky,
say prayers, remember you.

The next day, on Kanali beach,
I wade into the water.
A gull soars overhead,
a small white bird circles
as though it is watching me.

Is it your spirit
soaring over the blue Aegean sea?
My tears mix with the sea salt.
I hear the gentle trill of your voice,
telling me not to cry.
How could it be that you are gone,
taken from us too soon?





Dora, you will always be remembered.

From the collection of poems written in or about Greece,
"Songs for Erato" 


Sunday, September 04, 2011

LAMENT FOR THE OLD ONES

Note: Another poem from my collection "Songs for Erato".  I used to live in the Plaka, Athens and spend a lot of time there each time I am back in the city.  It used to be a place where my friends and I partied and for us women, there was no end of attention from all the handsome Adonis who hung out or worked at the tavernas there.  I wrote this poem one day while sitting at a souvlaki ship reminiscing about the old times.

The Plaka, Athens Greece


LAMENT FOR THE OLD ONES

 What has happened to those
beautiful Greek boys,
those Adonis who used to
captivate us with their sweet talk?

Where are the Zorbas
who danced with passion
on broken plates
and later broke our hearts?

 Are they these
bald, grey-haired, unshaven men
who laze away their days at kafeneions
bemoaning the state of the economy,
reminiscing of the days
they sailed boldly into foreign ports
like pirates,
seducing the local girls?

They used to loll in Plaka Square,
kamakis poised,
enough of them
to make a girl’s head dizzy,
oozing their Mediterranean charm.

Today I see only tired old men,
ancient as their myths.
Where are those beautiful gods?
Where is Eros
who struck our hearts with
his golden arrows?

 Now they work in tavernas
on hot summer days
slogging beer and souvlaki to tourists
while I sit and watch
remembering those golden days
when Plaka Square was filled
with laughter and love.

 Written in Plaka Square,  Athens.

(note: a kamaki is a 3-pronged fishing spear.  The guys who go out 'fishing' for women are nicknamed Kamakis) 

The Plaka at Night

My friend Aris who I have known since my first trip to Greece in 1979.  He's retired now and gone to live in Patras.  I miss him!

DELPHI'S MAGIC

Note:  Almost every time I visit Greece I make a pilgrimage to Delphi.  But this poem is written about my very first visit there, when I spent the night on the mountainside with a friend.  Delphi is one of the most sacred places on Earth and the ancient Greeks actually considered it the 'navel of the earth', with a carved navel stone to symbolize this.

The Temple of Apollo, Delphi


Delphi's Magic

To Kos

I remember how you stole
pomegranates from a tree
and put them on the stone ledge
with the grapes,
sweet grapes from Delphi’s vines.

We stumbled down
Parnassus’ rocky slope
clambered over
shrubs and granite
to find a place to sleep
beneath the stars.
and laid among the holly oaks.




Silver lights winked
from the edge of the distant sea
We would not know til morning
that we had made our bed
on the chasm’s edge.




In night’s chill
we warmed each other
The full moon shone on us
We watched meteors
shower golden trails
across the heavens.

We felt the presence of the gods
understood the mystery
that brings men to this
Sacred shrine.

I keep these memories
forever in my heart
And every trip I make
to Delphi
I remember you,
and the full moon,
and how we were enchanted
by Delphi’s magic.                              





W. Ruth Kozak

Delphi, Greece  1982


Thursday, September 01, 2011

THE GHOSTS OF VIRONOS STREET

This is another poem in my collection "Songs for Erato".  Vironos Street, in Athens Plaka, is named for Lord Byron who used to stay at a small monastary where the Lysikratis monument is at a corner we called "The Dirty Corner" because of the dust from excavations.

#14 Vironos Street, Plaka

THE GHOSTS OF VIRONOS STREET 
 I walk past #14 Vironos,
touch the gate
recall my life there:
Kyria Dina’s scarlet geraniums
The little spitaki in the courtyard
occupied by writers, artists,
Robbie sipping krasi
expounding on his life
as an Argentine exile

Roberto Hallberg (Robbie)

 At the Dirty Corner
( named because of the dust of the excavation)
the tripod monument of Lysikratis,
won by a chorus at the Dionysus Theatre.
This was ancient Athen’s theatre district.
Poets lived here: Byron, Shelly…
(Vironos is Byron’s Street).
Lysikratis Monument, next to the monastary where Bryon used to visit.

Once these tables at the milk shop
were crowded with friends
sharing wine and stories.
We lived the Greek zoe,
bared our passions to the passersby.
Artists, mad poets,
writers, scholars,
expats and locals.
So much flotsam tossed on
Aegean shores.
Tales were told,
Dreams shared.
Dramas enacted on this street stage.
Relationships began and ended here.
Once I threw a wine glass at Mikalis.
Missed.

On winter nights
we sat inside the milk shop
huddled around a heater
sipping Metaxa brandy.
the Katherine Hepburn of the Corner
her maniac Canadian boyfriend,
Mary Rogers, the faded debutante,
with a bottle of vodka in her handbag
an entourage of toy-boys in tow.
my soul-brother, Robbie,
telling stories about
his beloved Buenos Aires.
We shared our lives
on that Corner,
knew each other’s secrets and
sorrows.
Now the milk shop is a ritzy café-bar
the dust of the excavations
swept away
along with the memories
Old friends have disappeared,
Left for other places.
Some taken too soon.
Yet their presence
lingers still.
Do the tourists who sit here
sipping frappe and wine
know the Corner’s history?
Can they feel the presence
of the ghosts ?

Last night as I walked,
out of Vironos Street
across the Areopagitou
I saw him,
walking in his slow amble
toward the Dirty Corner.
I recognized
his slender frame,
long grey pony-tail and beard.
Robbie looked up,
caught my tear-filled eyes.
I heard him say
in his mischievous way,
“Misbehave!”
Then, like a shadow,
he was gone.
 So many memories
on that little corner of Plaka.
Yes, the ghosts are there
I see them,
hear their laughter 
as I pass by.

The "Dirty Corner" (now posh and expensive!)


(note: This summer when I passed by #14 Vironos and stopped to touch the gate and peer inside as I always do, the whole front was covered by an iron sheet with a bolted door, sealing all the ghosts inside!)