What inspires a writer to imagine a novel? It might be a person or a place or in my case a quotation that caught my eye, combined with memories of places that have stayed with me over the years.
In THE HOUNDS OF SAMARIA I began with a quotation “Most people have the ability to describe and experience events and places that are blocked from ordinary perception.” To develop this idea I chose to situate the story in the south-west of Crete, a stretch of coast I got to love during several “hippie” summers back in the 60’s and early 70’s. Historically it is a mixture of WW2 events – the occupying German army had to contend with stubborn resistance in the White Mountains – and Minoan temple rituals (3000BC). The occult element stems from a true story I heard about a woman who, during the nine months of her first pregnancy, dreamt regularly of an unknown man. Finally she consulted a “clairvoyant” in London. She sat at his desk and without exchanging a word, he drew her a sketch of the man in her dreams. This developed into the final story of a English soldier of Cretan origin who had repeated dreams of a girl who seemed to be a dancing priestess in a Minoan temple. When he is sent to Crete in 1941 to organize resistance, he has visions of the same girl and is forced to conclude eventually that she had been the officiating priestess at a ceremony during which he, 3000 years before, had been the sacrificial victim. The book is written in the “stream of consciousness” style – no chronological order, numerous flashbacks – but what interests me most is the music in the words. Since as far back as I can remember I have been surrounded by music (classical). With the frequent use of alliteration and compound adjectives I try to make my sentences sing. (poetical prose).
I continue to use this poetical style in my other novels. THE TIDE OF DESTINY was inspired by three things : a quotation “In the years of trial, when life was inconceivable, from the bottom of the sea the tide of destiny washed her up to him”(Boris Pasternak: Doctor Zhivago). I chose to situate the story in another part of Europe that I love, the mountains of southern Switzerland and the Ligurian coast in Italy. I live not far from the Great Saint Bernard Pass, crossed by Napoleon’s army in 1800 on the way to Lombardy and the Battle of Marengo. The fortunes of a simple Swiss peasant boy are caught up in this turmoil.
THE WINTER SHOULD PASS is situated at the turn of the 20th century in Snowdonia, an area I have visited several times to go climbing. I am a lover of solitude and silence and the idea of living far from civilization and creating a home there has always appealed to me. As with the other two books I try with my descriptive prose to pay tribute to those wild unspoilt places fast disappearing. In THE WINTER SHOULD PASS I have taken a quotation by Euripides, “The gods visit the sins of the fathers upon the children”. The story illustrates the lengths people can go to in order to make love eternal.
Friends who know me well and have read my books all come to the conclusion that in every case the hero is ME. Well, that’s inevitable. I’m the person I know best. In fact my heroes are people I would like to have been. The poet Shelley* wrote “I am what I might have been”. As the reflection is always better than the reality, my characters are only reflections of an inferior reality.
UNDER TABLE MOUNTAIN is a biographical novel that takes place in Cape Town at the time of the Boer War. The inspiration for this book came directly from the fact that I knew the heroine, who lived the last years of her long life (she was born in 1894) in my village. Through the many stories she told me I was able to paint a historical portrait of that period and the many famous people who visited the home of her father (a Chief Justice and Speaker of the Cape Parliament).
To conclude, my priority will always be to explore style rather than concentrate on plot. My love of beautiful music will always push me into trying to make my prose sing, and that is enough to make me “excessively happy” (Shelley again).
*I have already completed the first draft of a 3-act play about the last three weeks in the life of Shelley, who died in Italy in 1821. – AN INCOMPATIBLE PASSION.