mjhearle

Month: June, 2012

Rhodes, Greece

Greta and I catch the ferry from Fethiye to Rhodes. We arrive a little before eight in the evening. The sky is awash in hazy golden light as the taxi driver drives us to the hotel. Days are long in the Aegean. After dumping our bags we begin exploring the city. So much exposed skin. I’ve grown accustomed to travelling through a Muslim country. All the bikini clad bodies and shirtless youths are overwhelming. A feast for the eyes. My arm is still bruised from indulging my sweet tooth. Greta’s patience only goes so far

Averting my gaze from the nubile bodies, I notice the shops. With all the General Pants, Zara’s and the like I might as well be walking down Pitt St in Sydney. The surrounds are comfortingly familiar which is why, I suppose, there so many Western tourists. Lots of blonde hair and blue-eyed folk.

The city of Rhodes sprung up around the Old Town, a two thousand year-old, cobble-stoned labyrinth encircled by high walls. This is what we have come to see. We cross a bridge over a dry moat and pass through a gap between the town walls. These walls were designed to keep out marauders, but the way the locals greedily swarm over us, I can’t help but think of them as a herding pen. Everywhere we turn someone is trying to sell us something. Escaping into an alley we discover pockets of beauty away from the main thoroughfare.

Here, twisting stone corridors slip through shadow and lamp light. Concealed doorways reveal weathered crests. A fisherman lived in this dwelling centuries ago, a stone mason next to him. Bunches of dried sage hang over windows, pagan wards against evil spirits. Above them, crucifixes sit darkly against the stars, survivors of the Ottoman occupation. Cats follow our progress from the parapets, jumping nimbly between the crumbling buttresses. They do not come near the proffered hand. One passage empties into a courtyard where a fountain burbles quietly. We pause to rest and notice a bric-a-brac shop with an Australian flag hanging in the window. Somewhere close by a gypsy child plays an accordion. Badly. The discordant melody is strangely fitting for a place so at odds with itself.

We leave the Old Town behind and head home, past the hen’s nights and stag parties. Drunken Europeans amidst a land rich in historical wonder. It seems wrong somehow to treat Rhodes as just another stop on a pub crawl. There’s the shadows of an ancient world to discover if you’re willing to step off the neon lit track.

M.J.

Fethiye, Turkey

Tonight, Greta and I had dinner at Mosaic in Fethiye. The food, like everything else we’ve eaten in Turkey, was uniformly delicious. Before our starters were served a small boy came up to our table with scales under his arm. Not fish scales – the boy wasn’t some crazy  amphibious mammal mutant – but the kind of scales you stand on to feel depressed about your body. He asked us if we’d like to be weighed, presumably for a price. We declined and the boy went on his way. While this encounter was strange enough, what propelled it into Twilight Zone territory was the fact it wasn’t isolated. Three more boys approached us over the course of the evening, each carrying scales, each with the same offer. I’m not sure how these boys make money but assume they must. There is no supply without demand. Evidently, Fethiye is full of weight obsessed tourists.

Sharing dinner at Mosaic with us was an utterly charming American family, The Cramer’s, we’d met on a gullet cruise three days earlier. Before the cruise, I admit I was a little apprehensive about getting on a ship with thirteen strangers, knowing that, whether I liked them or not, I’d be confined to their company for three days. However, I couldn’t have asked for better shipmates. Along with The Cramers’s,  there were two Aussie couples (Jason & Sarah, Rob & Shannon), two Spaniards (Joseph & Afrika), an English lady (Carla) and another American (Mary). Everyone got on extremely well and it was fascinating to hear the disparate group’s stories during the voyage.

The Mediterranean is as blue as you imagine, warm as a bath and salty as a McDonalds French frie. Because of the high salt content it’s easy to float on your back, which for this Aussie was a welcome discovery. I have unusually high bone density and usually sink like a stone in the water. Whilst on the boat I swam every day and doubt any of the seas back home will ever treat me as gently as those in Turkey.

In between the swimming, sleeping and eating I managed to get some writing done which alleviated some pent up guilt. Part of being a writer is always feeling like you should be writing. I don’t holiday well but dammit I’m trying.

Tomorrow we say goodbye to Fethiye and set sail for Rhodes. I’m looking forward to visiting the Old Town and sampling a culture which, despite being only across the water from Turkey, promises to be quite different.

Until then,

M.J.

Hoyran

Hoyran, Turkey

Today, I saw a girl from the village riding a donkey and talking on a cellphone. She had a faded red scarf covering her hair and dusty bare feet. I smiled and waved at her as she passed, and she smiled back. Behind her was a stone ruin from 500 bc – an ancient cistern. A little further on was a crumbling structure which looked as old as the ruin but had a rusty satellite dish jutting from the roof. Someone’s house. This jarring contrast of past and present is typical of the area. Hoyran is a village caught between several different historical periods, belonging to none.

The air smells like wild rosemary and garlic calling to mind images of mashed potato and pasta. No such dishes will be served at our guest house. Fresh salads, olives, bread, and fish are the meals on offer. Such a healthy way to eat. After dining like this for only one week, I feel lighter; thinner. The mirror reveals these thoughts to be delusional. It must be the beer. Creamy and cheap.

Before visiting this village, I thought Australia was unique in its abundant entomological life. I was wrong. Hoyran is teeming with bugs. Black locusts and yellow crickets hop underfoot. Spiders scurry between cracks in the hot rocks. I’ve lost count of the different varieties of flying beetles which thrum the air. Frightening wasps buzz over our dinner plates and I don’t know whether to swat at them or run away. My ankles are pink and swollen with mosquito bites

Reptiles too, slither and crawl in formidable numbers. Everywhere I look a lizard suns itself, jet black snakes run through the undergrowth like rivulets of spilled ink. Turtles ambush us on rocky mountain paths. At night, frogs swim lazy laps in the guesthouse pool.

Afternoons are the time for exploring, when the sun has lost some of its fierceness. Greta and I walk in the hills. There are broken tombs everywhere. No bones remain in the hollow cavities, just cesspools where bugs breed. A goatherd ambles by, leading his goats through the scattered sarcophagi. The goats regard us with bright suspicious eyes. The sun is setting and the granite slabs are now cool. A fine spot to rest. Heat lightning crackles over the mountains in the distance. Come evening though, no rain will fall. We watch the red light play across the graves. Hoyran has sprouted from a Byzantine necropolis. Life from death. It is an enchanted place and I’ll be sorry to leave.

M.J.

Despatch from Olympos, Turkey

Apologies Shadudes and Shadettes for the radio silence of late but I’ve been on holiday. Am stil in fact on holiday in Turkey with my better half, Greta. Apologies also for the brevity of this post but I’m typing on an iPad and find the virtual keyboard a little clunky

So Turkey…

It’s hot. That may seem a little pat but at the moment it’s my overwhelming impression. Another tourist might wax rhapsodic about the delicious (and cheap) food, the friendly locals or the landscape rich in history and geographical splendour, but for this particular fair skinned fellow it’s the heat that stands out. As such I’ve spent much of this first week skulking in the shadows like some kind of night beast. Please don’t think less of me. It’s not my fault I have the complexion of an Irish potato farmer.

The benefit of being UV-challenged is that I’ve been able to get some writing done. My ‘Claudette’ short story – which should have been finished months ago – is finally nearing completion. I think it’s a good story. In particular, I’ve enjoyed writing exclusively from a sociopath’s perspective. Not sure what it says about me, but it’s fun tapping into such a damaged character’s mindset. Dexter ain’t got nothing on my Claudette.

So Turkey’s hot but it’s also provided me with bouquet of vivid memories: the sun setting over the Blue Mosque while the call to prayer rises and falls; a cavernous underground city in Cappadocia; giant termite-like hills used by the ancient Aesthetes as home and church; a misty canyon traversed by hot air balloon; Roman ruins littered with Coke cans; an icy mountain stream winding its way down from Mt Olympos where secret fires burn eternal.

All this in one week. I look forward to discovering more over the next three. So long as I can find a decent sun block.

M.J.

Author Commentary: Winter’s Shadow Chapter 2

Winter drew her jacket tightly around
her body as she 
crossed the threshold.

Lots of atmosphere building in this chapter. A good trick when establishing location is to list the various sensory stimulations a character experiences. Evoking smells is particularly useful as it’s strongly linked to our memory centre.

“When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered· the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls· bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory” -Marcel Proust “The Remembrance of Things Past”

Pilgrim’s Lament isn’t haunted but I wanted it to feel haunted. Like a cold hand could fall on Winter’s shoulder at any moment. When the chapters are light on action I try and compensate by ladling on the atmosphere.

It suddenly occurred to Winter that this was the first time
she’d been in a church since her parents’ funeral six 
months ago.

The second mention of Winter’s deceased parents. Exposition is always a bitch to deliver but I think I did okay in this instance. At least it’s relevant to be thinking about her parents in a church. I like the way she pushes the memory away. It’s a realistic human response to grief.

Winter lifted the Nikon to her eye and began
snapping images of the shadowy disarray.

I wish I’d played up Winter’s photography interests more. When I started writing the character I was wary of her becoming just another version of Twilight’s Bella Swan – i.e. a character only defined by her love for someone else. What were Bella’s dreams beyond being with Edward? Did she like writing? Painting? Watching horror movies? What did she want to do for a career? It was important to me that Winter felt like a real person – not just a blank canvas for the reader to project themselves onto. Her interest in photography was an attempt at fleshing her out a little. In an early draft I had a whole chapter devoted to her messing around with photographic chemicals, making artistic prints. This stuff fell by the wayside as I searched for a more direct way to get at the story.

Winter felt as though she was walking through the
carcass of a huge, rotting leviathan – some horrible dead
monster that had been left to decay on the mountain
and was now nothing but bones and dust.

With these passages, I wear my Stephen King influences proudly. He’s the master of infusing dread into environments. While most would probably point to the Overlook as being his greatest achievement in the realm of haunted places, it’s the Marsten House from Salem’s Lot that scares me.

A flash of colour drew her eye to the far eastern wall.

The stained glass window sequence is me playing ‘art director’ again. The church is such a drab and lifeless place I felt like a needed some colour in there. Church iconography is always spooky. Especially if it’s broken or tarnished in some way. When the sacred becomes profane you’ve got the beginnings of a decent horror sequence.

…previously obscured from her view by a large 
column – one of the few remaining roof supports.

This feels like a phrase I added on the advice of my publisher. It’s a bit of foreshadowing for the eventual roof collapse.

She wasn’t alone.

 A nice little narrative sting to end the chapter on. I try and do these whenever I can.  Anything to prompt the reader to turn the page.

Some random observations:

What strikes me about this chapter is that it feels a little over-written. There’s lots of adjectives and long sentences. This slows down the pace. One of the most significant notes I received from my publisher was ‘vary my sentence rhythm’. It’s something I always do now when I’m writing but probably wasn’t too aware of in these early passages. I’m curious to see if I start implementing the technique as the book goes on.

My interest in cinema is very prevalent in this chapter. The concept of a girl with a camera walking around a derelict church probably works better as a visual sequence than it does a written one. It’s easy for me to imagine this chapter as a scene in a movie. I can break it down into series of disparate images and aural effects – a chorus of unearthly voices on the soundtrack, pigeons fluttering in the eaves, dust motes circling lazily in the shafts of grey light, the whir of the camera as Winter takes various shots of the church, a slow push-in on the broken stained-glass window, the coloured red and blue light falling on Winter’s face. If the books ever garner a big enough audience translating them into films will be a cinch.

M.J.