Friday, April 29, 2005


"To rejoice in life, to find the world beautiful and delightful to live in, was a mark of the Greek spirit which distinguished it from all that had gone before. It is a vital distinction."
Edith Hamilton, 1867 - 1963

Ever since my first trip to Greece in 1978, I have been imbued with the Greek Spirit. Greece has become part of my soul -- or perhaps it always was -- going back to my first long novel, at the age of seventeen, when I immersed myself in the character of Adele, a young Theban girl who is captured on her wedding night by the Macedonians. That was when I 'fell in love' with Alexander and with Greece.

Many times people have said to me, "Do you believe you might have lived there in those times?" When I read back over that old manuscript, the descriptions of the countryside (which I only knew from library books) I had described everything so clearly, and accurately it was uncanny. Many time, in traveling around Greece, I've had deja vu experiences: from the first day I went out into the street in Athens in 1978 and wandered into the ancient agora, 'seeing' it just as it had been, to my visits to Delphi, especially the time I was sitting by the path leading to the stadium and had a clear vision of a youthful Alexander walking by me with his companions. When I am in Greece, I am transported to that other time, the ancient world of philosophers and heroes.

"The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece
Where burning Sappho lived and sung..." George Noel Gordon, Lord Byron

When I lived in Athens in the '80's, I lived on Odos Vironos, Byron's Street, in Plaka, just below the East flank of the Acropolis, not far from the Theatre of Dionysos. That was the actor's district, in ancient times. And you could feel it, sense it from the energy. I lived in a little apartment below Kyria Dina's house and shared a lovely courtyard with Roberto, an Argentinian artist, who lived in a little spitaki in the courtyard. Behind his house was another, used by one of the curators of the Acropolis museum, a scupltor who was working on restoring the fabled Caryatid's so there was a plaster casting of one of these Maidens out in his courtyard. I was surrounded by writers and artists, along with the flotsam and jetsom of ex-pats who hung out down at the Dirty Corner, where Lysikrates monument stands (one of the last remaining tripod monuments awarded to a winning choir at the Theatre of Dionysos.) We called it the Dirty Corner because of the dust blowing about from the new digs there. Once that monument, now cemented in, was a place where Lord Byron used to sit and write when he stayed at the monastery that used to be on that corner. Running at an angle off Byron's street, is Shelly Street, named after Percy Byce Shelly, Byron's friend. And near that is Odos Tripodon , the street of the Tripods which at one time was lined with monuments awarded to choirs.

"O bright and violet-crowned and famed in song,
bulwark of Greece, famous Athens, divine city!" Pindar 518-438 B.C.

I grew to love all aspects of Greece, from the noisy pulsating city of Athens to the idyllic, pastoral countryside (where Pan still holds court!) and the lovely, serene islands.

The two years that I had the privilege of living part-time in the little shepherd's village of Lala, on the island of Evvia, was probably the most memorable of my lifetime. To me, Lala was the Garden of Eden. There was magic on that mountainside. There you could experience perfect peace and solitude.

I remember one day, as I sat on the hillside above the mill where the waterfall splashed down , I looked up and saw my shepherd, Mitso, standing just above me, with his sheep.
He spoke to me, about "the zoe", the life, how beautiful it was. How perfect.

I can close my eyes any time and in that instant I can be there, anywhere my thoughts take me: sitting on that stony path talking to my shepherd; sitting by the sparkling teal-blue sea at a tavern eating marinated octopus and sipping krasi; sharing the day's adventures with my frineds at the To Kati Allo taverna on Hatzichristou Street (though some of them are gone now, their spirits still reside there.) Memories of the infamous "Dirty Corner" linger in my mind; the Parthenon lit with a golden light under a full moon; the view of the red tile rooftops of Plaka from my favorite perch on the pathway below the north flank of Acropolis.
I hear the bouzouki music, the elegant lilt of the Greek language, the sound of sheep bells on the mountainside, the cicacdas chirring in the trees, the plaintive sound of the koukouvia calling down the mountainside at night; the traffic, the wheeze and clank of the trollies as they pass under my window.

"Athens, the eye of Greece, mother of arts and eloquance." John Miller 1608-1674

This is the zoe, the life. This is what you will remember:
The quality of light, the colours, the earthy pine-scented fragrance of the air; the way people there never forget you. This is Greece.

"Fix your eyes on the greatness of Athens as you have it before you day by day, fall in love with her, and when you feel her great, remember that this greatness was won by men and with courage, with knowlege and their duty, and with a sense of honour and action"
Thucydides 460-400B.C.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


"I was trying to write then and I found the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing truly what you really felt, rather than what you were supposed to feel, had been taught to feel, was to put down what really happened in action; what the actual things were what produced the emotion that you experienced...the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion and which would be as valid in a year or in ten years or, with luck and if you stated it purely enough, always." Ernest Hemingway 1899-1961

The classroom in which I teach my night school writing classes, is an English Lit/ creative writing class. The teacher (who is going to retire this year) is obviously a dedicated person who encourages young writers/readers, and his classroom is set up to stimulate and inspire.
The students even publish an impressive collection of short stories each year.

I wish, when I attended high school, there had been such a class for me. I recall that often my teachers were exasperated with me, the dreamer who was more interested in creating stories than studying math and science. There didn't seem to be much (if any) encouragement in those days for the budding novelist. It wasn't until I graduated (barely, as I spent my last year working on a novel), that I landed a plum job as copy-runner in a large daily newspaper and began my 'apprenticeship' as a journalist, that I got any real encouragement to hone my skills and pursue the life of a writer. And it took many years after that until I finally achieved that goal. Perseverence! I can't stress that word too often in my classes of new writers.

This new novel class of mine is proving to be very inspiring. It's a small class, and I like that, as there is more time to discuss and critique and get that feeling of camaraderie that is so important for a group of writers, especially emerging and beginning writers who are shy about sharing their work. I generally enjoy all my writing groups, but this one has really given me new inspiration. I felt the positive energy there from the first night, and although it's only a six week class rather than eight, I am certain the writers in it are going to achieve some measure of success. There's nothing more exciting than to hear a first-time or emerging writer read out their work and know that person 'has it', has not only the talent, but the enthusiasm it's going to take to finish what they've started.

Writing a novel takes a great deal of dedication and patience. I can usually tell after the first week or so if the students in my class are going to stick to it. In the past, a number of them have and a few have actually got their books out to agents. Several members of my Scribbler's workshop group came from my novel writing classes. And it has given me a personal thrill to see how they have developed their talents and blossomed in their writing skills.

I get a lot out of the classes myself, each week is a kind of learning curve for me as well as my students. And it certainly helps to keep me focused and enthusiastic about writing.
From my travel writing class, a number of people have been published, and a couple have become successful travel journalists. That makes me proud! For sometimes you stand up there in front of them, and think "Am I making sense? Do I sound like I know what I'm talking about?"
So when there are success stories, you know that some things you were teaching them worked!

Now, if only I could reach the point where I could teach a class on
"How to Get Your Novel Finished!"

"You can declare at the very start that it's impossible to write a novel nowadays, but then, behind your back, so to speak, give birth to a whopper, a novel to end all novels."
Gunter Grass "The Tin Drum" 1959

Sunday, April 24, 2005


" As the Spanish proverb says: ' He who would bring home the wealth of the Indies, must carry the wealth of the Indies with him.' So it is in travelling, a man must carry knowledge with him if he would bring home knowledge." Samuel Johnson 1709- 1784 (written April 17, 1778)

Today begins the countdown. Four weeks from today, and my friend Ingrid and I will embark on our journey to England and Greece. Today, over breakfast, we discussed our plans to hike the Wye Valley Walk from Chepstow, Wales to the magnificent ruins of Tintern Abbey, and back via the Offa's Dyke Path. This was one of the favourite destinations of the Romantic poet William Wordsworth. While in London, we also plan to attend the New Globe Theatre to see Shakespeare's "The Tempest." In Wales, we will be walking in the footsteps of Dylan Thomas, although I'm not sure we'll have time to go to his haunts near Swansea.

From London we will fly to Greece, May 30. We have several destinations in Greece planned (I will be Ingrid's tour guide as she's never been to either England or Greece before.) One day trip we will go on is to the island of Hydra, where the Canadian poet Leonard Cohen lived during the '70's. We will also travel to Kefalonia (one of Lord Byron's haunts) and cross over to Ithaka (made famous by the blind poet Homer). Perhaps, if there's time, we'll make a short trip to Messalonghi where Byron died to see the small museum in his honour there. In Greece, Byron is a heroic icon.

It occured to me that this journey is taking on a poetic theme -- journeying in the footsteps of famous poets. For me, a travel writer, it gives me a new focus for some articles. Usually I'm researching ancient history when I'm in Greece. The last trip there, two years ago, I concentrated on Venetian sites mainly in the South Peloponnese. I won't be making a trip up north to visit the Alexander sties this year as I usually do. The one 'new' place I hope to visit is the island of Amorgos where there are some Byzantine monasteries.

"Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience. He that traveleth into a country before he hath some entrance into the language, goeth to school, and not to travel." Francis Bacon 1561-1626 "Of Travel"

I started travelling in Greece in 1978. Before that I focused mainly on England and Wales, which is the homeland of my parents, and where I have several cousins living. My on-the-shelf work-in- progess "Dragons in the Sky: A Celtic Tale" was researched in the area of Salisbury and Stonehenge. It also has an Alexandrian connection. My current work-in-progess "The Shadow of the Lion" has been researched in Greece, at various sites, and also in Asia Minor.

When I first went to Greece, I understood very little of the language. Soon I could read the alphabet and follow rudimentary conversations. I actually, by now, should be fluent, but because I don't use the language when I'm at home, I tend to forget. So what a thrill it was Friday night to find myself sitting on a bar stool next to two Greeks at the L.Q., eavesdropping on their conversation. Amazing how instantly, hearing the spoken words, I began to remember. I even surprised one of them by speaking Greek to him. So this week I have my tapes and my books out, and I will review and hopefully pick up what I have forgotten.

"The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are. " Samuel Johnson 1709 - 1784

I became a travel journalist in 1982 when my first article "Listen to the Earth Music", about Leros Island, Greece was published. I started writing travel stories because I wanted some publishing experience before attempting to market a longer piece of work like a novel. Because I'd had an early training in journalism (I worked in the editorial dept. of a major newspaper right after I left high school), and I was starting to travel on my own I decided to try my hand at travel journalism. When the first article I sent out got published it convinced me that this was a genre I could easily write and make some money at. (note: Don't quit your day job! You don't make enough to live freelancing on unless you're employed by a publication)

From 1993, when I was offered help by the Greeks to continue research for my novel, I began to combine my historical research trips with travel journalism.
My website
"Travel Through History", is mainly dedicated to my historical writing but also has links to published travel articles. All of my travel articles contain a historical slant. This summer's will follow the paths of the poets.

While I'm away I'll post some travel e-journals and share my adventures with friends at home.
I've found that writing travel news-letters (and, of course, keeping a written travel journal) are important sources later on of writing up the travel stories for publication.

So, the countdown begins. I'm already feeling excited.

"For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." Robert Louis Stevenson 1850-1894 "Travels With a Donkey" 1978

Friday, April 22, 2005


"What is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?"
Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) 1832-1898
("Alice's Adventures In Wonderland" 1865)

I was born with the gift of the gab, inherited from my Welsh father. Dad was also, like me, often a silent, meditative person. I still have fond memories of walking along beside him, he with his hands clasped behind his back, head down, humming as he walked. He did this when he was planning a new sermon or thinking about things. I do the same. Dad started out his oratory career by speaking at union meetings for the mines and in miner's chapels in Wales, when he was 17. Later on, after he'd lost his mining card and immigrated to Canada, he became a preacher.

I started writing dialogues when I was about 8, and wrote little plays for my class at school.
Later on, I expanded and began writing stories, and now I write novels too. I, like my Dad, don't mind speaking publicly. I've always done this, even though I do have a shy streak, and once imagined becoming an actor. And of course, there's nothing finer than good conversations with friends.

Dialogue is an important part of a story. It helps keep the pace going and is also a vehicle in which to develop your characters. Characters have to talk to one another, just like in real life. The trick is, to make those conversations meaningful so that they are not just 'empty words' but provide information and forward the plot.

For the past week I've been writing important dialogues, political debates between the Macedonian Assembly members in one chapter and the Athenian City Council in another. It's been tricky. I've had to keep rereading my research notes (most notably Plutarch) and hope that I have untangle the web of intrigue enough to make it clear to the reader because this is crucial to the plot. Would I rather be writing erotica? Yes! I'm not particularly a politically hep person but I can tell you, I've learned a lot about this particular historical time in having to put myself into the heads of these ancient diplomats. And the interesting thing is, things weren't so different then as they are now!

Here's some samples of what I've been writing: Setting: The Council Hall in Athens, Sept 319 B.C. PHOKION is the military governor of Athens. POLYPERCHON is the Regent of Macedon. Three years before, after the Lamian War, the Macedonians had placed a military garrison in Munychia, near the port of Pireaus, in order to control the city and put down insurrections against Macedon.

When Athens received Polyperchon's edict, the City Councillors were enjoying their noon meal at the Council Hall. The envoy handed the documents to Phokion. He scanned them, and looked around with a mixture of worry and anger.

"Polyperchon of Tymphaeia, Regent of Macedon, has issued this edict to the citizens of Athens on behalf of King Philip Arridaios."

He was interrupted by a few jubilant cries of "Democracy! Democracy!" Then, the question: "Has he agreed to remove the garrison from Munychia?"

Phokion stood, silent a moment, to gather his thoughts. He read aloud from the document. "Democratic government will be restored...all citizens are called upon to exercise their political rights according to their original constitution. All those dispossessed or exiled shall be given back their property and reinstated as citizens. Let all Greeks pass a resolution not to wage war or do anything against us under penalty of exile or confiscation of property."

Here and there men jumped up waving their fists. Far back in the room he heard a shouted curse. "Bird lime! What about the garrison? Must we live forever under the yoke of Macedon?"

Phokion continued. "All citizens' rights will be defended in return for loyalty to the Kings."

The Council Hall erupted in cries of disbelief. "Their imbecile king, Phlip Arridiaos? And that other one, Alexander's foreign by-blow? Never will we swear loyalty to them!"

"Polyperchon's edict is a further insult to us. He wants us to hand over the city to him, promising us democratic rule, but he refuses to remove the garrison. We will not accept this!"

Phokion responded firmly. "As much as you resist and may hate the Macedonians, their presence here has kept the city peaceful these past three years. We have lived in prosperity since Philip established the League of Corinth, and during his reign, Alexander was fair to us and respected our intellecutal achievements. I know that to you, fellow Athenians, all things foreign are a threat. You have refused to accept Macedonians as brothers. For you, they will always be backward hill people. However, I fear that if we accept Polyperchon's terms and allow the trouble-makers and demagogues to return, Athens will once again fall into decline. So we must find a diplomatic solution."

Do they find one? The debate goes on, as debates to in any senate meeting, with arguments between the pros and antis. Finally:

Amid continued grumbling, the Council dismissed and the City Counsellors left the Bouletarion. Outside, the air was hot and heavy. Heat radiated from the paving stones and beat down relentless from the cloudless sky. The agora was already clambering with the news. From the narrow alleys lined with potters sheds in the Kerameikos to the broad paved avenues below the high embankments of the Acropolis and the Hill of Ares where state and legal buisness was transacted, swarms of people had gathered.

The steps of the Bouletarion were crowded with people. They hung back, making a wide path for Phokion, as if he might inflict them with some deadly disease. Many of the throng of bystanders booed him as he passed. He could read in their faces what they thought and the words he heard were alarming.

"He's become Macedon's sycophant. Before you know it, the Macednians will be in control of everything."

From the back of the crowd, a lone voice argued plaintively, "Phokion is our greatest Archon!"

Once he had been saluted by all of Athens, now they scorned him and he was sobered by their harsh judgement. Had they been planted there by his enemies, he wondered, or had the citizens truly turned against him?

He walks along, contemplating the days events and his own life.

He looked up from his reverie and found himself walking beside General Dercyllus. Neither man spoke, both were grim-faced.

Finally Derycllus said, "Out of respect for you, Sir, I will stand by whatever decision you make."

The sky was brilliant blue, the sun dazzling. Phokion shaded his eyes and looked back toward the Sacred Rock where the great statue of Athena of the Vanguard stood on her pedestal before the Parthenon. A glimmer of light radiated from the Goddess' spear point.

"The Goddess will decide," he said.

Dercyllus raised a brow. "Is that a prophecy?"

Phokion stood a moment in thought, rubbing his chin. "A feeling in my bones," he said. "I know my countrymen."

He grasped Dercyllus' hand and bade him farewell, then turned wearily up the cobble path to his house.

"Conversation is the socializing instrument par excellence, and in its style one can see reflected the capacities of a race." Jose Ortega y Garcia 1883-1955

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promotory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; and man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." John Donne 1572-1631

The funeral bells are tolling again in Athens. Another soul has crossed the River. I got the word early yesterday about my good friend Graham. I knew he had been hospitalized some weeks ago and operated on for stomach cancer. We all hoped he could be treated for it but he never recovered from the operation. The full impact of his passing hasn't struck me yet, but it will when I arrive there in June and see the vacant chair at the To Kati Allo Taverna, and watch for him coming down Hatzichristou Street (like I still watch for Roberto). We spent so many hours there sitting over carafes of krasi talking about music (he was a jazz/blues aficionado and used to play the saxaphone) and discussing world or current affairs. He was also a writer. Being a cynic he wrote tongue-in-cheek satire. He was part of the group there. I've known him since the late '80's. Most of us were ex-Pats, drawn together by a common bond, living beneath the Acropolis. Graham was a retired accountant from England and he'd recently bought a house on Evvia where he planned to spend the rest of his retirement.

I laid awake last night counting all those who have gone. There are so few of us left now. And each time I go back there are more vacant places. In their memory I
composed a list of those for whom the bell has tolled:
Arden, Fritz, Keith, Eleni, John (Iannis), Giorgos, Roberto, Mitso, Kaye, Graham
And there are more, the casual passers-by who we knew by name or sight. I have heard that several more elderly village folk have passed on since last I visited and no doubt there will me other vacant chairs at the taverna.

Of those who are gone, one was an actor/model, several were writers, one was an artist, one a psychic, one a shepherd. One committed suicide, a couple died of alchohol-related disease, one of a heart-attack, the rest from cancer.

It gave me pause to wonder what has become of James, the poet. When last seen (in Plaka Square two years ago), he bequeathed to me his 'final' work, a hand-written book of poetry and a sheaf of papers declaring that it should be published 20 years after his death. (Did he think I'd be around for that much longer?) He had previously put me in charge of a box of poetry manuscripts (which I still have). Some of his work is brilliant and definitely should be published, but it sits in my closet because I have no idea where he is and if he's even still on the planet. He looked pretty bad when I saw him last, not the bon-vivant magician of the '80's when we first had met. He definitely had seen better days. When he parted, he claimed he was going back to California. He said he'd probably die in a homeless shelter there. I didn't believe he'd go at first (he was a noted con-artist) but in fact, he did leave. And the email address he gave me is worthless so now I have no idea where he might be. Is he among those for whom the bell has tolled? Perhaps I will never know. But I do have his poetry and don't really know what to do about it. I would never throw it out.

I have pictures on my wall of Roberto (my soul brother), Mitso (my shepherd) and now I'll add a few more. Memories. Those were the vibrant hay-days of the '80's in Athens. Now it's the end of that era. I can count on one hand those of us who are left.

post script: Today was Graham's birthday.

"I can scarcely bid you good bye even in a letter. I always made an awkward bow. God bless you!" John Keats, 1795-1821 (letter to Charles Armitage Brown, Keat's last letter, Nov 30, 1820)

Monday, April 18, 2005


"Not even Achilles will bring all his words to fulfillment." Homer 700 BC

Rejection slips are part of a writer's reality. These are the little impersonal notes attached to a returned manuscript or query telling you "thanks, but no thanks". We don't have to consider these to be real 'rejections' though. A rejection slip collection (you might get enough to paper a wall) represents a step toward being a published author. Rejections represent experience.
Every known writer has had their own collection of rejection slips. It's all part of the process of achieving your goal as a writer. If you can't handle rejection you're in the wrong business. In fact, perhaps they should be called persistance slips.

I've been a travel journalist since 1982 when the first story I sent out was accepted. Since then I've had a lot of stories published, but also a lot rejected. The best method to deal with this, is to have a list of markets ready and when your story is returned send it out immediately to another publication. Eventually it's going to find a home. The submission game is kind of like "Bingo". Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but play for long enough and eventually you will win something.

Sometimes though, stories get published and there isn't any monetary returns for them, just the joy of seeing your words in print. This can be satisfying, although somewhat disappointing. However it helps in adding to your writer's portfolio, and at least when the story has been accepted and published you know it's worth sending out again to another market that does pay.

I have a story out there, The Coal Pits of Wales: A Tribute to my Family's Heritage." A travel magazine in Britain is currently holding it for possible publication. They pay well, though it's a new magazine and hopefully it will survive awhile. Meanwhile, I sent it to a few other places and just this week it was published in a widely distributed (but free) publication The Celtic Connection. I picked up a copy yesterday. It looks good, a two--page spread, and includes several photos. Unfortunately I'm told there is no payment for this though. So I will continue to find another home for it. (That's the nice thing about travel journalism, you can republish as the Rights are yours once it's been in print.. Never sell anything to a magazine that buys ALL rights.) I was also contacted by an on-line publication last week who says they are going to publish an article about Morocco I submitted recently. I am not sure if this publication pays either. I sent the articles out to several places at once and hoped for the best. But, it would be really nice to see some rewards for my efforts.

Being able to submit on-line is helpful, but unfortunately I've found a lot of the on-line editors do not respond to your submission, so you must keep track and follow up. I think I prefer the old hard-copy method, but that takes time and money. You have to be persistant in your marketing, remember to research your markets beforehand, keep pitching and keep writing new material or revising old material that hasn't sold. It's also important to keep track of where and when you've sent you story out. My rule of thumb for magazines is three months, for newspapers six weeks, and then I query. It's also helpful, in travel writing, to get the publications yearly schedule and that way you can see well in advance if your story will fit their needs. Yes, marketing isn't always easy and if you want to be published you really have to work at it. (I haven't even begun trying to sell my novel as yet -- though I did a few years back -- because I'd rather wait until it is at least at the final draft stage. ) Books are much harder to sell. At least, in the meantime, I'm getting lots of publishing experience with my travel stories.

You can see some of the published ones by following links on my website:

"Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book!"
The Holy Bible Job 19:23

Saturday, April 16, 2005


"Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend." Theophrastus 278 BC
(from Diogenes Laertius, "Lives of Eminent Philosophers" bk V, sec 40)

Spring break is over. Now it's time for the balancing act or, as they say in writing "Balancing the Narrative Modes", spending equal time on all aspects of my busy daily life.

BALANCING NARRATIVE MODES: dialogue, thoughts, action, description, exposition
It is important to examine the balance of the five modes in your writing because occasionally you may favour one over another for the wrong reasons. (You can use too much of one). This affects the "Pace" of your story..."

Just as in writing, it's important not to do too much of one thing, as in the old adage:
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." In the same vein, too much play is not good either, if one has important work to finish, such as me, trying to finish my novel.

"Lost time is never found again." Benjamin Franklin 1706-1790

So how do I do it? Here's the run-down of this past week (which is pretty typical).
Monday I started out at the fitness centre for an hour work-out, then I had some errands and appointments. I squeezed in 2 hours of writing before having to leave for my Scribbler's writing group in the evening. (This counts as my writing time especially since that night I was reading some of my new work to be critiqued.)
Tuesday I managed four hours of writing before leaving to work a four hour shift at the daycare. From there I had time for a leisurely dinner at a cafe before going to the school for my first Spring Novel Writing class which I teach. (That 3 hours also counts as writing time.)
Wednesday I spent around five hours making notes and revising and in the evening I started my first 'Prompting the Muse" class. From night school I went to my favourite haunt on the Drive, the Latin Quarter, to listen to some jazz, ran into some guy friends and spent the rest of the evening in interesting conversation.
Thursday morning, up early and on the bus heading downtown to teach my Memoirs group which is a really fun group. Afterwards I did my usual routine of browsing in the shops up Robson Street, bought a Bavarian smokie with saurkraut, chips and iced tead and took it over to the Art Gallery bench where I ate my lunch and watched the passing parade of people and entertaining events that are always going on around the Art Gallery. In the afternoon when I got home, I did about another hour of revisions before a friend came over for a visit and chat. Then it was time to head for the night school Travel Writing class. After which I went to the Drive to a new jazz bar and met my Havana buddy to listen to some excellent music.
Friday I had to work at the daycare all day. I went shopping on Robson street for new shoes after work, came home intending to do a bit of writing but got a message that a friend had comp tickets to a play. Rushed out to meet her. Enjoyed the play, in particular paying attention to the monologues in hopes of getting some good ideas for my Sappho play.
I went over to my friends after for a couple of glasses of wine and an excellent chat, then headed down to the L.Q. to meet up with friends and dance a little salsa.
Saturday, today, I had tidying up to do to clear out the clutter in my work space so I can settle in for some serious writing tomorrow and the coming week. (I hate working in a clutter!)
Then I put together some photos and a story about the Welsh Coal Pits I'm going to give my twin nephews for their birthday gift. Now I have to go shopping. No time for writing today, except writing this blog counts. This evening is the big family gala birthday party and a chance to visit with my sister who lives in another city.
Sunday, tomorrow, I will write. If it isn't raining (as it has been on and off all week!) I will perhaps go for a walk which I find helpful for sorting out thoughts and quieting my mind.
In the evening I will watch a video movie about Cuba that my chileno friend got me from the library.
And, that's my week. A lot of work, a little play, and some good dialogues. A bit of exercise too although I had intended to make it three times this week but didn't and I usually go to waterfit Tuesdays but this week the pool was closed. Will try next week to get more fitness time in. (I've wrecked my back from sitting too long at the computer over the Spring Break when I was writing every day for hours.)

"A little time for laughter, a little time to sing
A little time to kiss and cling..." Philip Bourke Marston 1850-1887

P.S. I didn't get the 'kissing and clinging' in, and I could have danced a lot more than I did!

Monday, April 11, 2005


"When I find a well-drawn character in fiction or biography, I generally take a warm personal interest in him, for the reason that I have known him before -- met him on the river."
Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) 1835-1910

You can imagine my surprise that day, a few years ago, when I walked into a post office in Asprovalta, Greece, and saw my General Perdikkas sitting behind the desk! I was in Macedonia (Northern Greece) researching for my novel, and had stopped to camp a few days at Asprovalta, a lovely sea-side community not far from Amphipolis, the site where Alexander's son and heir was held prisoner and eventually murdered.

I couldn't believe my eyes! The man behind the desk in the post office fit the description I had written about Perdikkas, the general who seized control of the Macedonian army after Alexander's death. He was dead-ringer. Needless to say, I made many trips to buy stamps in order to watch him, record his gestures and body language and just to fix his image in my mind. Being able to actually 'picture' a character really helps you get in touch with them.

The characters in your fiction are real people, human beings.

My novel is written from a historical plot, so most of the characters in it actually did exist.
During my stays in Greece I have looked for people who fit the descriptions that I have written about them. For me, it gives a living face to someone we know about only from history books, or if we are lucky, from marble sculptures, paintings or imprints on coins.

Once I saw a young man in the bus depot of Thessaloniki who came close to resembling what I would imagine Alexander to look like: small, bright-haired, compact build. Two years ago, in a seaside taverna on the island of Thassos, my friend and I spotted a waiter who was the exact image of Alexander as portrayed on a coin (I have a ring made from a copy of this coin.) The profile was exact, the curly hair. Only trouble was, he was much taller than Alexander would have been. Nevertheless I went back twice for dinner just so I could gaze on him and fix his image in my mind.

Once, in Athens, when my friends and I were at the taverna, my friend Roberto pointed out a group of men who were nearby. "Watch those men. They are Alexander's soldiers!" I watched and made notes, gestures, facial expressions, body language, the way they interacted. I did the same when I saw group of young soldiers on a ferry boat. They were Alexander's cadets. These little recorded details have helped me make my characters live, even the minor characters.

Just as people get to know each other in real life, this method shows up in fiction.

I have found that once I have established a visual image of the person it is easier to develop that character. In my novel writing classes, I suggest that people start bio files on their characters, write a back-story, descriptions, all the things you might need to know about that person. You won't use everything in your writing, but it helps you get to know them better.

Sometimes if I haven't established this kind of contact I'll have a bit of trouble developing them. But usually I've been lucky enough to get a really well-rounded idea of them as a living person by observing similar characters in real life.

One night I was in my local bistro and a man walked in who caught my eye immediately because I knew in an instant that he was my (fictional) character Nabarzanes, the Persian Court Advisor. He fit the description, and the more I watched him the more I could see a living Nabarzanes. I observed this man for a couple of weeks and eventually was introduced to him. I wasn't too far wrong. He was from Baghdad. (Nabarzanes was from Babylon). He is a Sumerian, an artist, an educated, elegant man just like my Nabarzanes. As a result of this meeting, the Babylonian and I have become very good friends. And the more I see of him, the more like Nabarzanes he becomes.

People-watching is an interesting past-time, and a necessary one for a writer. Be observant.
Jot down what you see and hear in your notebook (which you should always carry with you!)
It will help you make your characters live and breath.

"It seems that the analyses of character is the highest human entertainment, and literature does it, unlike gossip, without mentioning real names."
Isaac Basevis Singer 1904-1991

(If you want to read more about these characters who people the world of SHADOW OF THE LION, you can find links to them on my website: )

Saturday, April 09, 2005


"O bright and violet-crowned and famed in song,
bulwark of Greece, famous Athens, divine city!" Pindar, 518-438 B.C. Fragment 76

I spent all of yesterday in the Agora of ancient Athens. Not in person, though I've strolled those age-old footpaths many times. I was there in my mind, time-travelling back to 319 BC

Inside the marble-pillared Bouleuterion, below the steep rock cliffs of the Acropolis, the Archon had called an assembly of the Senate. The elected senators, all dressed in their white robes of office had come to petition the Governor on behalf of the citizens.

Phokion, governor of the City, was a respected general and there was a burst of applause as the tall, lean man rose to take his place on the speaker's platform. He was loved for his terse, severe demeanour, an honourable man and a wise administrator who made concessions to please the people. His policies were always aimed at preserving a state of peace.

I will never forget the first time I set foot in the Agora. It was on my first trip to Athens in 1978. I had arrived by train from the north during the previous night, and went to a small hotel, the Tempi on Aeolou St. near Hadrian's Library. I had no idea of my surroundings. So early in the morning I stepped out on the street and said "Feet, take me where you want me to be." I walked down Aeolou, turned the corner past the ruins of the Roman agora, and kept walking toward Monistiraki. A left-hand turn, and there I was in the ancient Agora!

I remember suddenly looking around and it was as if I could see everything exactly as it had been in the past, one of those rare deja vu moments of having been there before. The feeling was so strong that I burst into tears. As I explored the pathways, the stoas, the ruined temples and public buildings of old, and walked on the smooth big stones of the Panatheanic Way, I was transported back in time. I've been to the Agora many, many times since then and I always get that same feeling of being in a familiar place, 'feeling' the spirits of the people of ancient Athens, imagining the hustle and bustle of the public life back in those times.

There isn't much left of the Bouleuterion, only the foundation stones, but still I can visualize what it must have been like that day Phokion addressed the Senate.

Even though the Council Hall was cold on this damp spring morning, as usual Phokion wore no cloak and stood barefooted on the stone platform to address them. He looked drab as a beggar in his well-darned grey homespun tunic.

"Athenians, Friends, we have gathered here because some of you are seeking to close the Macedonian's garrison at Munychia. I can not agree to this."

There was a rumble of voices and many of the senators exchanged looks of scandal and dismay. He held up his hand to silence them. "I know you have all felt humiliated by the presence of this garrison and demand it be disbanded. In the first place, it was established by Antipater when political agitators, led by Demosthenes, instigated an insurrection after Alexander's death. I know you see it as a threat to your civil liberties. But I have found the Macedonians no threat to our freedom. Their garrison has not harmed us in any way. Menyllus, the garrison commander, is a fair-minded man and a friend. We Athenians must learn to tolerate outsiders and live with these changes in power. In fact, there is no other choice."

The Senate House eruped in loud jeers as the senators shouted to be heard and raised their fists demanding Athenian justice.

"We are tired of bowing ot Macedonian oppression. We want freedom for our city!"

(It has occured to me that there is some similarity in the Athenian's plea to certain situations in today's world.)

I leave the Council House and make my way through the bustling avenue where Phokion faced a throng of protesters.

Always self-assured and dignified, he was never so afraid of his citizens that he retained an escort of armed guards. As usual, people stepped aside to let him pass, though he hard clearly their angry complaints and today, there was an absence of applause.

"They can try to make me act against my wishes," he said curtly to Demades. "But they shall never make me speak against my own judgements. They are lucky to have a general like me -- one who knows them so well. Otherwise, they would have been ruined long ago."

He is walking with his friend Demades, leader of the propertied Democrats who had risen to power by serving the interests of the Macedonian Regent, Antipater, but he was a politician who usually agreed with the people's demands.

The two men came out from the bustling streets of the agora and strolled through the quiet pine groves of the Hill of the Nymphs until they came to a cobbled roadway leading to a cluster of modest houses. There, in a dusty old olive grove, stood the house of Phokion, not a splendid villa like those inhabited by the elite Athenian aristocracy, but a simple, unpretentious dwelling made of stone and mud-bricks, the walls decorated with plates of bronze bearing inscriptions of honours bestowed and battles won.

Later, Demades goes to Macedonian to plead for removal of the garrison and he is brutally assassinated by Kassandros, the Regent's son.

Segue to the Agora six months later. Kassandros has replaced the garrison commander Menyllus, friend of Phokion, with his own man. There is civil unrest and rioting in Athens. The new Regent, Polyperchon, has sent a decree to Athens promising to return their democracy, allowing the poor landless exiles to return, but still refusing to disband the Macedonian garrison.

Phokion: "Our city has lived in peace and prosperity these past years since Philip and Alexander reigned. Alexander respected us for our intellectual achievements, and Antipater was a fair and just Regent, a friend to us. As much as we resisited and hated the Macedonian dominance, Antipater's placement of the garrison here has kept the city peaceful. I fear if we accept back these renegades and demagogues, Athens will fall once again into decline."

Later, as he is discussing peaceful terms with the new garrison commander, he says:
"Just a stone's throw away from here is where Socrates met his fate. I expect, if they have their way, I'll be served the same bitter cup."

These are familiar paths to me. I have visited the supposed site of Socrate's prison on many occasions. The site is not well marked, and lies just at the foot of the Hill of Nymphs. There are some fragments of floor mosaics, a few foundation stones, of the villa where the philosopher was said to have lived his final hours. Evidently excavations at the site revealed several small vials the size used to contain the deadly hemlock.

Phokion's statement is in fact a foreshadowing of his own doom at the hands of the dissatisfied citizens.

The Council dispersed. Phokion found himself walking beside Deryllus (one of the generals)
Neither men spoke, both were grim-faced. Finally Deryllus said, "Out f respect for you, Sir, I will stand by whatever decision you make."

The sky was brilliant blue, the sun dazzling. Phokion shaded his eyes and look back toward the Acropolis. "The gods will decide."
Deryllus raised a brow. "Is that a prophecy?"
"A feeling in my bones," Phokion said. "I know my countrymen."

It was a good day for writing yesterday and I became so entrenched in that other time that in the evening when I went out to a party at my friend the Babylonian's house, I was still very much back in the Agora. And so I will return again tomorrow, and for the coming week, while I dabble in Athenian/Macedonian politics and seal the fate of Phokion.

It's important to paint a picture with words of the settings in your story so that the reader can imagine being there. I'm fortunate to have such a deep connection with Greece, to have spent so much time living below the Acropolis, walking nearly every day in the Agora and venturing north to Macedonia to walk in Alexander's footsteps. I am grateful to have had these experiences and opportunities and thrilled that soon I will be back there, strolling those cobbled pathways where the citzens of Athens, senators and philosophers once walked.

"Fix your eyes on the greatness of Athens as you have it before you day by day, fall in love with her, and when you feel her great, remember that the greatness was won by men with courage, with knowlege of their duty, and with a sense of honour in action..." Thucydides 460-400 BC

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


"Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy." F. Scott Fitzgerald

"Shadow of the Lion" is the title of my work-in-progress novel. I've been living in the Shadow of the Lion for several years now. It's the story of a boy's long voyage of self discovery as he grows up in the shadow of his father, Alexander the Great. It is also the story of how ruthless ambition, greed and the quest for power corrupted and destroyed a World Power.

"I forsee great contests at my funeral games." Reported deathbed words of Alexander the Great.
"They asked him when to perform the rites, and he said, 'When you are happy.' "
The death of Alexander, Babylon, June 323 B.C.

I first became interested in Alexander the Great when I was a sixteen-year old high school student. I spent my last year of school writing a lengthy Alexander-themed novel about a girl, Adele, who is captured by the Macedonians in Thebes on the night of her wedding.
I have had a fascination about the young Macedonian king since then, spending long hours in libraries reading and studying about him, devouring everything I could read. It seemed as though the characters were alive, that I had somehow met them before.

Many years later I began a new novel, this one a first person Celtic tale "Dragons in the Sky" which connected the Celtic chieftains to Alexander when he was organizing his army to invade the Persian Empire. The protagonist of this novel, Olwen, is kidnapped by a renegade Celtic chieftain and finds herself in Macedonia, and is thus introduced to the young warrior king. This novel was shelved some years ago and is still unfinished because of technical problems. During my research for it, I had run across several vague references to Alexander's only legal heir, Alexander IV, born after his death to his Soghdian war-bride Roxane.

"Born with no father to protect him, the boy ws carried about, even as an infant, from camp to camp, province to province. He became the watchword of the parties, cloak for ambitions, excuse for murders. In the charge of two homicidal women (his mother and grandmother), he was gradually neglected, confined and imprisoned, and while titular lord of all the Eastern world, he became the captive of a cruel and relentless despot. At last he died, without leaving a trace of his chracter or person. The imperial child is but a name, and yet so tragic a figure that few of the greatest sufferers known to us can claim a higher place in the hierarchy of human martyrdom." John Pentland Mahaffy "The Story of the Nations: Alexander's Empire."

This is how my idea for writing "Shadow of the Lion" began. I first thought of writing a juvenile historical about Alexander IV. But after a year of writing I realized that the story was too political, too vast and complicated to do it justice by writing for only young readers. On the advice of a well-known children's author, I began again.

"Write it the way you want to," she suggested.

So I started over, writing from a multiple point of view, giving a voice to not only the child, Alexander IV (known by his Persian name Iskander in my story), but to the other 'victims' of the power struggle that ensued after Alexander's death.

"But the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it." Thucydides 460 - 400 BC

As the after-shocks of Alexander's death brought disorder in his Empire from Macedon to Persia, a deadly power-struggle began over who would rule. Every character in Shadow of the Lion remembers Alexander through their own eyes, always according to the conditions under which they were involved with him. We see him through the eyes of the Persian whom he conquered, and from the point-of-view of his generals and soldiers who loved and admired him. We see him through the eyes of the women who came under his charismatic spell. And we see him through the eyes of his enemies.

Shadow of the Lion is a story of political intrigue, ruthless ambition, racial prejudice, child abuse and exploitation. It is a true story, with all the ingredients of a Greek tragedy. The 'shadow' and spirit of Alexander is the golden thread woven throughout this vivid tapestry, the differences between the opulent, aristocratic Persians and the rough highland warriors of Macedon provide a colourful contrast in the warp and weft of the prose.

Writing Shadow of the Lion has been a long, arduous journey. It has been a journey that I took not only through history books, (I've had the privilege of researching at the Gennadius Library as well as the British School Library in Athens, Greece), it has brought me in contact with archaeologists and Classical Scholars, all to whom I owe many thanks. It has taken me to places where I have walked in Alexander's footsteps, and in the footsteps of his family members. I have stood at the place where Olympias, his mother, was stoned to death and visited the fortress where his son was held captive and murdered at the age of 14. At Vergina, a royal tomb belonging to a Macedonian Prince was discovered next to the tomb that is believed to be that of Philip's (Alexander's father). It is thought to be the tomb of Alexander IV. Inside the tomb were spears, one wrapped in gold foil, a cuirass of linen with gold epaulettes, and a pair of gilded bronze greaves. They are too large to fit a young boy of 14. I asked the archaeologist at the site about this. He said often the grave offerings were gifts, not necessarily personal belongings. I wonder if those greaves and that cuirass had belonged to Alexander when he was a youth of eighteen, leading the west flank of the Cavalry against the fabled Sacred Band of Thebes at the Battle of Chaironea.

The characters in Shadow of the Lion live in my imagination. I live the shadow of Alexander. Sometimes I feel as though I was meant to be the spokes-person for the boy, my Iskander, who until now has been forgotten in history. His early and tragic death at the hands of Alexander's life-long enemy Kassandros, was the end of Alexander's dynasty.

I have had the ending of the story written for some time, but I am currently filling in the final pictures of this massive tapestry and hopefully will soon complete the project which has almost become my 'life's work'. I don't regret all the years it has taken me to write it. I have taken my time, created Alexander's world in words. It is a Greek tragedy, and I have chosen to use a certain cadence of prose that suits this kind of Homeric epic. Hopefully I will do justice to this amazing story of valour, and political corruption.

"If you are very valiant, it is a god, I think, who gave you this gift." Homer, 700 BC

Sunday, April 03, 2005

"THE PLAY'S THE THING" Shakespeare "Hamlet"

"In the creative process there is the father, the author of the play; the mother, the actor pregnant with the part; and the child, the role to be born."
Konstantin Sergeevich Alekseev Stanislavski 18630-1938

I attended an interesting play last night, "The Waiting Room" by Lisa Loomer. A friend of mine was directing it and except for three equity actors, it was performed by students of Studio 58, from Langara College's drama department. One of the lead roles was played by the actor who played Sally, the street kid in my play "The Street" when it was produced four years ago. It was lovely to be back in a theatre setting among actors again. I went with my pal Cliffy, and afterwards (my director friend Di and her husband and friends) we went to a local pub for further stimulating conversation.

"The Waiting Room" deals with the issues of women's quest for beauty, linking past and other cultures to the present and examines the balance of power between men and women, eastern and western cultures, and conventional and unorthodox medicine. Beauty Comes From Within. Something important to remember!

It seemed a day, yesterday, to visit my own interest in plays and playwriting. Earlier, I'd gone with my friend Ingrid to pick up our plane tickets and shop for travel items. As well, we stopped in the Greek supermarket to get a taste of Athens, and then went for late lunch at a Greek restaurant. Of course the talk was all about trip plans, where to go, what to do. One of the places we've decided to visit is Lefkada, in particular, Cape Lefkas, where the famous "Sappho's Leap" cliff is located. A few years ago, while lazing on the beach beneath the cliff the ideas for my play-in-progress House of the Muses was born. I had to set the script aside a few months ago, discouraged and disheartened by poor critiques in the playwright's workshop, and decided to leave it awhile while I worked on my novel instead. I am hoping that a return to the place where the kernel of the idea was first planted in my mind, will encourage the idea to grow and develop. House of the Muses has the potential of becoming an excellent drama if I can ever sort it out.

Seeing my young actor friend playing a lead role in The Waiting Room, talking to my director friend Di, and being back in a theatre setting, reminded me of the wonderful success my own play The Street had. Di asked what I was doing with it. Well, I had waited (in vain) for another theatre company to do a reading of it and had sent out several scripts to theatre companies around the Province, but no responses. I had a short, successful reading of it two years ago, and my dramaturge said with another full production I should easily be able to get it published. Since then, nothing else has happened with it. I guess I should just go ahead and send the script to a play publisher (with the reviews from it's one production) and see if I can get it published. It seems a shame that it's lying there in my files without a performance place.

Meanwhile, I have been focusing all my writing attention on my novel. It's almost like writing a play as I see my character's actions as if they were performing on stage. And it is very much a Greek tragedy (just as the story of Sappho in House of the Muses is a tragedy. The Street is a modern tragedy.

My next theatre events will be attending The Tempest at the New Globe Theatre in London on May 26. And some time during June, I'll take in a Greek drama at the ancient theatre of Epidaurus in Greece.

For now, it's back to the world of Alexander, setting the stage for the finale of the tragedy of Shadow of the Lion.

"Players and the painted stage took all my love,
And not those things that they were emblems of."
William Butler Yeats "The Circus Animals' Desertion" II st 3

Friday, April 01, 2005


"Talking is a hydrant in the yard and writing is a faucet upstairs in the house. Opening the first takes all the pressure off the second." Robert Frost

I've spent the last two evenings in the company of writers. There's a big conference in town this weekend, The Associated Writing Program Conference (which I could not afford to attend) and as a result there are spin-off readings in a couple of different venues to accomodate writers who have come here from across Canada and the States.

Last night I went to a reception at a downtown lounge hosted by Talon Book Publishers who were also supporting the Pandora Collective of whom I'm a board director (my recently acquired position). It was a free event, but Pandoras was collecting books for Zimbabwe at the door (for a kids learning program.) The reception was quite the deal, well attended, trays of snacks put out and a cash bar (expensive though). There were couches and comfy chairs strewn around though this is obviously a disco place during the weekends. I settled in with my friends to listen. Unfortunately, before too long I was almost snoozing!

These are all popular writers, in particular a couple of the poets are supposed to be top-knotch (One is the poet laureate of Canada). One popular local poet is a total nut-case who performs gibberish (not a single word could be related to the English language. It was like Martian).
This is poetry?? The P.L. is rather pompous and his poetry was a tad dull. The only poet I liked out of the bunch was a young lady from Chicago. Among the prose readers there were only two I'd even consider buying books from. The rest were really boring. And this wasn't only my opinion. These are the published writers and it only served to remind me what a good writer I am and also several of my friends, though we haven't as yet had books published. So it makes you feel you have to keep working at it because maybe some day....(and I hope nobody says my stuff is boring. But I suppose if you don't like historical fiction you might.)

Tonight I spent the evening with magical realism and it was delightful. Most of the readers were from the States, but a couple were local. All are published and all very good. It was hosted by Bolts of Fiction, which I've been associated with and co-hosted by MARGIN an e-zine of magical realism from the States. Everyone was asked to write their definition of magical realism on a paper and submit it into a basket. Prizes were given for those drawn.
It was a lot of fun.

Afterwards there was a story circle, however by then it was midnight and I hadn't brought a story along. My friend did though, and it was her debut at reading publicly. She read two very well-written short pieces. I was proud of her. And especially since she's been in a couple of my writing classes and I know she's very talented!

I was thinking I wouldn't mind trying some magic realism myself. I do enjoy the Latin American writers. So I'm going to suggest we try some for fun on our next writer's group retreat weekend which will be the end of April.

As for my own writing program: I spent most of the afternoon today fighting with my darn printer. Yesterday I installed a new colour cartridge and bought new paper. But the stupid thing keeps stalling on me whenever it comes to a line typed in colour. It took me ages to print out part of what I needed today and by then I was totally frustrated. Let's hope for a better day tomorrow. (Yesterday, by the way, was the anniversary of the exectution in 317 BC of Phokion the Good, the military governor of Athens who I have been researching and writing about this week. I thought that was quite an interesting coincidence!)

So, on this April Fool day, here's a couple of thoughts for writers:
"A bad book is as much of a labour to write as a good one: it comes as sincerely from the author's soul." Aldous Leonard Huxley 1894-1963 "Point Counter Point" 1928 ch 13

"It is absurb to think that the only way to tell if a poem is lasting is to wait and see if it lasts. The rapt reader of a good poem can tell the moment it strikes him that he has taken an imortal wound -- that he will never get over it."
Robert Frost : "The Poetry of Amy Lowell. From the Christian Science Monitor. May 16. 1925"