June 2014

Travelling in Crete: a novelist’s thoughts (1)

One of the reasons it takes 12 years to write a novel (Cally’s Way) is that you fall in love with the place where it is set, in my case Crete. If you travel there this summer, go off the beaten track. And prepare to come back changed.

Crete’s south coast, a land of myth and history

The first time I went to Crete, in 2001, I knew nothing, except that:
a) it is the southernmost Greek island and therefore, hopefully, was warm in March, and
b) it was home to the peaceful pre-Greek Minoan culture that worshipped the Great Goddess and produced world renown statues of her, alabaster pottery and gold jewellery.  

My teenaged daughter and I rented a mountainside apartment overlooking the sea in Myrthios, away from tourist resorts along the main, north coast highway. In the mornings I holed up in the kitchen, meditating then making notes on what I was reading, thinking, seeing, feeling, with no idea why. 

My daughter sat on the balcony working on her correspondence courses or reading The Cretan Runner, a page-turner of a war memoir by George Psychoundakis, who was a shepherd until World War II, when hundreds of German paratroopers floated down out of the sky. During their brutal occupation of the island, the Cretans mounted a powerful, imaginative Resistance, working with British commandos hiding in the mountains.  

In the afternoons we drove our tiny Fiat up hair-raising, unguard-railed mountain roads, looking for the villages Psychoundakis described, imagining the stories he told of unnamed, unknown heroes, some of them boys and girls.

Sometimes we explored ruined Minoan palaces. King Minos (who owned the mythical Minotaur) built his famous palace at Knossos, but it‘s always clogged with tourist buses. I much prefer Phaistos, near the south coast, where the first linear writing was discovered on the Phaistos disk. It is so easy to imagine the famous bull jumping spectacles there, in a stone courtyard still clearly preserved 4,000 years later.

The ancient stone block archive at Phaistos

If the day was hot, we explored beaches along the south coast, swimming in the Libyan Sea beside the 14th Century Venetian fort at Frangocostello, or at Skinaria, a beach tucked away behind the headlands that nudists (now prohibited) favoured, or at fabulous, palm studded Preveli, once known as Limni Beach, where two daring submarine rescues of Allied troops took place. (See Cally’s Way.)

Preveli beach from the headland above.

I spoke no Greek but for some reason, smelling the sea air and the herbs on the mountainsides, watching the clouds over Plakias Bay, listening to the staccato rise and fall of the language in the villages, nodding hello to black-clad women of my age with whom I had nothing in common, I felt utterly, viscerally at home. 

Why? Was it because my formative years were spent in Spain, at the other end of the Mediterranean? 
Too thin a reason, by itself.

Was it because the Greek myths, many of which were born on this island, and the Greek language lie at the root of our Western civilization? Psychology, archeology, logic, democracy — so many of our fundamental social concepts are defined by Greek words. 
No. If this was the reason, why doesn’t every English speaking Western tourist feel at home here?

An ancient olive tree lives on the mountainside

Was it something less nameable then? Something to do with genetic predisposition or re-incarnation? 
Hard to conjure that, but when I was a child in Spain my father used to take me to look at the paintings in Madrid’s Prado. My favourite artist, at age nine, was El Greco. Not until I went to Crete did I find out that El Greco was Cretan. 

Life itself is a miracle, so who knows what the full answer is. What I do know is that:
a) the great power of love features in all my novels,
b) I love this island, its people, its rock, its air, its sea, and
c) love and creativity are two faces of the same force. 

Flowers in a Cretan ditch

One morning, that first year in Crete, the World War II part of Cally’s Way dropped into my head fully formed. I have been returning to the island to write every year since then. 

And now, published this spring, the book’s characters have come to life in the very place where they were born! Tourists from all over Europe can find Cally’s Way at Carol’s Workshop in Myrthios. Happy me!

Cally’s Way now on sale at Carol’s Workshop.

What makes a place feel like home? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below, or on Facebook at Jane Bow’s Novels, or on Twitter @JaneBow2.

Thanks for visiting me here,
Jane

Birth Of A Book

A newborn book is a touchable, lovable miracle.

Coming in March from Iguana Books

Conception
Quick and wiggly, the sperm of an idea lodges itself in the moist, fertile ground of a writer’s self, often when she least expects it. It then takes over her life. She might try to deny it, plunging into floor scrubbing, cupboard reorganizing, texting, Facebooking, Tweeting and emailing. But deep inside her storywords are multiplying, taking shape, beginning to move.

Cally’s Way, my new historical self-discovery novel, was conceived one morning in the kitchen of the apartment my daughter and I had rented for six weeks on the south coast of Crete.

I had been rising early every day, meditating and then writing random notes on what I was reading, seeing, thinking, feeling. In the afternoons we would drive up terrifying, guardrail-free mountain roads to visit villages where brave people, some of them teenagers like my daughter, had found ingenious ways to resist the Nazis’ brutal occupation of this ancient island during World War II. Then we would come back to Plakias beach. Behind the headland at the end of the bay archeologists have found 100,000-year old human tools.

Plakias Bay

Sun, rock, olive oil and wine, stories of glory and horror, all of these streams of consciousness coalesced that morning in the kitchen into a force that, holding me in its grip for the next twelve years, would become Cally’s Way.

Gestation
Words, like cells, grow according to some kind of pattern — a novel has to have characters and a story — but what characters? Which story? So many choices, of narrative and scene, style, setting and timing, of tone and pace and nuance, implication, resonance, discord, lie waiting in the place just beyond knowing. Storytelling guru Robert McKee says never be satisfied with your first idea. Sometimes he’s right, sometimes wrong. No one can tell a writer how to work.

Gestation of a novel is not seamless. Structures often sprout extraneous arms or legs and lopping them off, when characters are now as close as friends, is painful. Sometimes the heart of the story is so faint all you can hear is your memory of it.

So you get help. You also feed and nurture your creative energy and the emerging life and gradually, as construction continues, glimmers of the book’s soul appear.

My bulletin board while I wrote Cally’s Way

Labour
Oh boy. Who needs the endless hours of metaphorical gut-clenching, back wrenching contractions, pushing, pushing the baby book out into a world that has no reason to care whether it lives or dies?

At least now, in the birth of both babies and books, we have some choices: doctor or midwife? Hospital or home? Rather than exposing our innermost sensitivities to agents and publishers whose choices are dictated by marketing algorithms, many writers are now opting for new publishers who are literary gatekeepers, but also offer the author some control over this critical part of the birth.

Iguana Books

Delivery
Iguana Books will publish Cally’s Way in March. It is my third novel and thanks to the high quality of editing, production design and marketing expertise I have received, all this baby’s fingers and toes are intact. According to advance reviews, there is also lots of colour in its cheeks and for this, like all creators at the moment of birth, I am eternally grateful.

Birth Notices
“Jane’s love for Crete, its people and customs shines through and draws the reader in. Her extensive knowledge about the history of the island adds breadth and depth to the passion and romance that we find in Cally’s Way. The questions posed by Cally’s journey of self discovery are ones that any reader will be able to connect with. This book is highly recommended not only for those who are already familiar with the island of Crete but for those who have yet to visit.”
Kate Brusten, Editor, Rethymnon Bugle

“I loved Cally’s Way, not just the fascinating history and stunning island backdrop, but also the well-drawn, endearing characters of Cally, the beautiful but troubled Oliver and Wrecks, his dog. An engaging and compelling read.”
Hilary Boyd, bestselling U.K. author of Thursdays In the Park

“Author Jane Bow gives readers an engaging and deeply poignant picture of the Greek and Cretan resistance under Nazi occupation, but she also gives her readers an equally engaging story of a young woman’s transformation through hard-won knowledge and love.  Cally’s Way resonates deeply…”
Robert J. Begiebing, award-winning novelist and Professor of
English Emeritus, Southern New Hampshire University

Decisions Are Rocks

Once we make major life decisions, they become solid, like the ground, or a mountain, creating the contours, peaks and valleys of our lives. When I chose the man with whom I am spending my life, I gave my future a unique and distinct shape.  A different choice would have made a different life.

I’m thinking about decisions and rock because my new novel, Cally’s Way, is about how both shaped so many lives seventy years ago in Crete, during World War II. The Cretan people had a harsh choice to make: to use courage, strength and guile to resist the German occupation, or to collaborate. Click here to sample their landscape in the Kourtaliotis Gorge.

Monument to Cretan Resistance.

  
Meanwhile we have just returned to Canada from Crete, driving from Toronto’s airport to Peterborough, Ontario on a concrete highway, eight lanes congested with cars and trucks, the air tinged pink by smog.

“I know,” a bright light in the highway department must once have decided, “let’s buy prime farmland along Lake Ontario, chop down the woods, reroute streams, and cover it all with concrete.”

A highway department decision-maker

Concrete high rises, some new, others shabby with age, line the route.

Decisions like these are the bedrock of seedy, soul destroying landscapes all across America. But, wanting to move more and more stuff, to endlessly grow our economies, we keep on making them. Here in Peterborough (a place that has not grown since we came here in 1979,) City Council has just decided to build a bridge right through one of Canada’s most beautiful city parks, in the name of hoped-for progress. 

Rights to rip open the ground for mines, to destroy virgin forests for wood, to pollute whole watersheds and  ecosystems to get oil out of Alberta’s tar sands and move it to markets are being granted all across Canada. Decisions that render us uglier, sicker and poorer. Different choices would make a different future.

Once made, changing big decisions leaves scars. Divorcees hurt, their children suffer. Landscapes cry. Look at Detroit, riddled with crumbling freeways, boarded up houses, decaying high rises full of broken windows.

And yet. In Detroit homies cruise outside a corner liquor store while inside the proprietor is full of humor, toughness, generosity. Down at the bus station, outside the locked gate in the wee hours, the old boys at the taxi stand are trading jokes, the air full of laughter. Hurt people are resilient, capable of new decisions, strong growth. Nature can recover.

Bird of Paradise in Myrthios, Crete


Could it be then that hope can only come from the decisions we individuals make, moment to moment? 

Take the hours I spend on Facebook, Twitter and other electronic devices. These disconnect me from the life flowing around me, while making me so intense! And disconnected, distracted or fractured attention spans are easily manipulated. 

I can, however, also make choices during my day to restore balance, create harmony and connection. All I need is to do it. Because in the end my father, who fought in World War II to preserve our rights to freedom of choice in thought, expression and action, had it right:

“Make your own decisions,” he said, “because if you don’t, life will make them for you.” 

Sometimes, like Cally in my novel, we need history to slap us into wakefulness, snap us out of the complacency that can lose us everything, before it’s too late.

Available in print & ebook at Iguana Books, Amazon, Chapters & all other retailers