by Jane Bow
Shortlisted for its Ken Klonsky novella award, Homeless was published by Quattro Books in 2018.
Now an ebook, free during the pandemic! Click on link below.
Shortlisted for its Ken Klonsky novella award, Homeless was published by Quattro Books in 2018.
Now an ebook, free during the pandemic! Click on link below.
This Prague diary is about my trip to research my new historical novel. I am looking for the Communism Museum. Mild multiple sclerosis requires me to use walking poles and I am concentrating on planting my feet squarely on the cobblestones when suddenly a sense of familiarity envelops me.
‘Moser,’ says my brain. I look up and there it is: Moser’s crystal gallery, a place where stunning beauty has a practical purpose.
When I lived here, during a gap year between high school and university one of my jobs, as daughter of the Canadian ambassador, was to take visiting Canadian dignitaries to see Prague’s sights. Moser was a favorite stop.
Forty-six years later, in the same ornately paneled rooms, white plaster Cupids still look down from the ceiling at sculptures and vases, at eggshell thin goblets embossed with gold. Tumblers are luminous yellow, amber, rust, mauve, aquamarine, black. Scenes — a pheasant taking flight, a quail ruffing its feathers, an antlered deer in the forest — are etched into some of them.
And look, here is Moser’s signature collection of stemware, each glass with its own distinctive shape and personality: one with a round bowl and short stem, another tall and thin, another shallow, open, each one designed to best deliver a different kind of aperitif or wine or liqueur.
Here is the table where seventeen-year old me was taught to hold stemmed goblets at the base, with thumb and forefinger at a 45-degree angle, so the heat of my hand would not disturb the glass’ contents.
Observing my limp and walking poles, a saleslady approaches. She introduces me to a portrait of Ludwig Moser that I do not remember. A
19th Century engraver, he created his unique lead-free crystal, then set up a factory in Karlovy Vary, not far from Prague. When the Austro-Hungarian emperor and England’s King Edward VII bought his crystal ware, it became famous across Europe. Ludwig’s son Leo took over the business but, because they were Jewish, the family was forced to sell the company and leave the country in 1934.
The Beauty And The Beast fairytale comes in a variety of forms, but in this true story, the Nazi beast was annihilated by a second beast. Czechoslovakia’s Communist government was trading on Moser’s name when I lived in Prague, using his creations to bring badly needed hard currency into the country. At the Karlovy Vary factory I saw artists in uniform brown aprons etching the beautiful scenes.
Now, home from my trip, I park my poles and think about beasts, how they can be political, economic, social or physical. Always they force us into futures we would not have chosen. But always, too, beauty endures, and nurtures us.
Today, Moser’s creative beauty is alive and well all over the world. In Canada, lights in my dining room corner cabinet shine through the coloured crystal glasses I have inherited. Their beauty and their message thrill me every time I look at them.
We haven’t even left the tarmac in London when a horrible feeling sucks the air out of my stomach. Which is ludicrous. I have been excited for months about this historical adventure, returning to Prague after 46 years to research my new novel, and my son and daughter-in-law will be waiting for me at the other end. I close my eyes, let the feeling reveal itself.
Memory stores itself physically, apparently. Fifty years ago I made this same trip three times a year. My parents had been appointed Canada’s ambassadors to Czechoslovakia and, because there were no English-language high schools behind the Iron Curtain in Prague, I was incarcerated in England’s Roedean School for Girls. Each time I buckled my seatbelt at the beginning of school holidays, I wondered what would be waiting at the other end.
Tensions were often high in a house full of state appointed servants and Cold War microphones, and I was not allowed to make friends with Czechs. To be seen with a Westerner meant ruin. Just before I left Prague for the last time, in August, 1968, one of the Russian tanks that would crush President Dubcek’s Prague Spring ten days later rolled down the street outside our house.
Forty-six years later my plane lands in darkness. A taxi whisks me down wide new roads into a city that appears to have awakened from a long, long sleep. I see the medieval towers at either end of the Charles Bridge, and the Rudolfinium, and the National Theatre, and palaces that fifty years ago were bleak, soot-stained monuments to a past that was deemed not to matter. Now their beautiful carved stone exteriors are lit up, the gold highlights on their statues polished.
“Come on, Mom,” says my son, “you need to eat.”
And now I’m walking through 700-year old streets I remember, but only the cobblestones are familiar. Buildings once silent and grey now gleam with brightly-lit shops. People flowing past me are speaking Italian, French, German, Russian. A fairy tale church spire just past the Estates Theatre, where Mozart conducted the premiere of his opera Don Giovanni in 1787, chimes the hour.
In a restaurant up an alley that has been here since before Columbus discovered America (and features in my new novel) we feast on roast goose, pickled red cabbage and dumplings, washed down with wine and then slivovice, a Czech specialty.
Maybe somewhere along the way I died, I think, and have been lucky enough to be admitted to the unlikeliest of Heavens.
“Accomplished and lyrical… romantic but tough-minded in a beautiful setting…” Kirkus
5 stars at Amazon U.S., U.K. & Canada
(see purchase details below; news, reviews & interviews on Media page)
Cally’s Way is an adventure about love and loss, mothers and daughters, and the way historical horrors shape our identities whether we know about them or not.
(see purchase details below)
The Oak Island Affair takes readers into the history of an international, multi-million dollar treasure hunt on a little island off Canada’s east coast. Vanessa a freelance writer, is fleeing the pain of an unraveling relationship when she goes to her grandmother’s house on Canada’s east coast, near Oak Island.
One morning, while I was writing Cally’s Way on my mountainside terrace, an old woman wearing a kerchief stopped by on her way to the steep vacant lot next door, where herbs and artichokes grow in profusion. Pulling a sprig of fennel out of a cloth pouch attached to her apron, she smiled.
“Very good with potatoes.”
I watched her spend the next half hour climbing, bending, squatting, reaching and twisting as she filled her bag with fresh greenery before walking back up the mountainside to prepare dinner. She is well into her eighties, a typical Cretan grandma.
Artichokes merit their own trip to the vacant lot. Cretans put them in casseroles but I can’t wait that long. Boil, then strip and dip is my method. The impossibly lush heart of this tough and prickly mountain plant needs only lemon juice or salted and peppered olive oil.
|An artichoke from next door|
At the bottom of the mountain fishermen bring their daily catches to the Plakias fish shop. You can eat fresh sea bream, sardines and other lovely fish, or squid, sometimes cuttlefish. Or, why not buy a newspaper cornet of shrimps? Poached for a couple of minutes, they still hold the flavour of the sea.
Local lettuce, tomatoes, onions, or a bag of horta (a mixture of greens) and a bottle of local Cretan olive oil are available anywhere. Add a $6-bottle of wine from Sitia, on Crete’s north coast, and Presto, you have one of the tastiest, healthiest, most economical dinners in the world!
|Cuttlefish stew – Yum!|
Then there is the meat. Lambs gambol about on the mountainsides, and a few days before Easter shotgun blasts make clear the connection between raising and eating animals. Roasting lamb on an outdoor spit is a Greek tradition that goes back thousands of years.
Why is lamb on a spit so good, I asked my friend Nikos, who ran Nikos Souvlaki in Plakias for many years.
“Because, where was this lamb three weeks ago? Out on the mountainside eating oregano, thyme, rosemary!” (Those who have read my new novel, Cally’s Way, will recognise this interchange.)
One of the best places to find this meal is at Le Vieux Moulin Taverna in the inland town of Agyroupoli.
If you want a gastronomic treat and have a few extra Euros, drive up to Milia, high in the western White Mountains. A 16th Century village, Milia was built as a summer pasturing place and then abandoned until World War II, when it served as a hiding place for its families during the Germans’ brutal occupation of Crete. After the war it was abandoned again until two of its owner families rebuilt the village as a totally organic, locally sustainable mountain resort. A two-minute video here will give you a tour.
|Milia in spring, from a hiking trail|
Milia features in my novel Cally’s Way. How could it not, when the book intertwines the story of Cally, a young woman trying to find a way to make a life in a world that promises very little security, with that of her grandmother Callisto, a runner in the Cretan Resistance, who lived in a high mountain village? A story summary and reviews are here. Read a sample chapter here (click on cover.)
And happy eating, wherever you are!
Why not share your experiences by commenting below?
Thanks for visiting,
Crete’s World War II story interests readers of Cally’s Way because it is told from the point of view of women.
|Buy HERE or HERE|
On May 20, 1941, when hundreds of German paratroopers floated down out of Crete’s blue morning sky in the Second World War’s first airborne invasion, most of the island’s men were away fighting with the Greek army on the mainland. Only a few thousand Allied troops from Britain, Australia and New Zealand, and the local people were there to defend Crete. Grandfathers fought with ancient swords left over from the Turkish wars, grandmothers with pitchforks. Women hoisted rifles, manned machine guns.
|Knives and dishes used in WWII. Plates have swastika on bottom.|
Twelve days later the swastika was flying in Crete but, situated in the eastern Mediterranean, south of Europe, north of Africa, just west of the Middle East, this island has been invaded again and again for more than two thousand years. Even its monks were militant resistance fighters.
Callisto in Cally’s Way is fictitious, but the hair raising submarine rescues at Limni Beach, just below Preveli Monastery, really happened. And so did so much else in the book. Teenaged boys and girls became messengers, nurses, hiding and helping Allied soldiers who were trapped on the island. When they were caught, whole villages suffered gruesome reprisals.
|Limni Beach from cliff top.|
Unsung Cretan WWII heroes must include the girl who carried food past German patrols to two Australians hiding in the Koutaliotis Gorge, and the girl who rowed a British soldier fifty miles out to Gavdos, an uninhabited island off the coast. Machine gun fire, strafing the boat from the air, opened the soldier’s side. The girl made him lie in the sea water flooding into the boat, to stop the bleeding and keep the wound clean.
Seventy three years later, travelling in Crete, you’ll find old ladies dressed in black out on the mountainsides, filling pouches attached to their aprons with horta, edible greens. They were there; they remember.
You’ll also find busloads of German tourists hiking, swimming, frequenting the tavernas, bringing badly needed Euros into the Cretan economy. How do the Cretans feel about this?
The elderly curator of Sougia’s war museum, who fought as a teenager, smiled when I asked him:
“Those Germans are not these Germans.”
Pragmatic #forgiveness: what an example for so many parts of the world right now!
Tell me what you think. Comment below, or on FB at Jane Bow’s Novels, or on Twitter @JaneBow2
Thanks for visiting me here,
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 southern–most 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.|
Thanks for visiting me here,
A newborn book is a touchable, lovable miracle.
|Coming in March from Iguana Books|
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.
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.
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|
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 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.
“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
Mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, is there a bond more powerful? More influential? Full of hitches and glitches, joy, pain and confusion, a mother’s love gives shape to her child’s life. Protecting, nourishing, nurturing a new little human, is there a greater challenge, or gift?
Every mother is her mother’s child, however, and Mother Mary is the only saint I know of who had a kid. Action and reaction, the messy, muddled motherhood continuum goes on and on, creating through its tapestry of trial and error the flawed, unique beauty that is every living soul.
|New life in the Cretan countryside|
Cally’s Way, my new novel set in Crete, is all about the mother-daughter bond, and the fact that, through it, historical horrors create our identities whether we know about them or not. When the novel opens, 25-year old Cally knows very little about her mother, who has just died. Here is her first encounter with the enduring power of motherhood:
“Apparently no one in Crete wore motorcycle helmets. She hugged Oliver’s back, watching over his shoulder as he gunned the engine up the mountain road, twisting around hairpin bends, the bike’s headlight cutting a swath through the darkness, higher and higher… the sea now thousands of feet below… They crested a steep hillock on the edge of the village of Sellia. There was a church at the top.
A great palm tree stood guard over a wrought iron gate. Inside, waist-high marble tombs decorated with crosses, angels, doves were lit by oil lamps in glassed-in shrines at their heads: rows and rows of tiny lights flickering under the moon and stars. Cypress trees at the top of each row, sculpted nearly horizontal by the mountain winds, looked like Japanese ink drawings against the sky. She had never seen anything like it.
“Cretans like to build their graveyards as close as possible to God,” said Oliver.
Beside the oil lamps inside the shrines, people had placed a few flowers, some fresh, others plastic, and a crucifix or a prized medal or a candlestick or a toy. Always a photograph, several in ornate silver frames…
Something squeaked in the darkness above her… There it was again, a single squeak in the trees. A bat? Strangely, she felt no fear. Death, all around her, was beautiful in this nighttime world of flickering souls and answering stars. Removed from light, bright day life, the departed connected with eternity, and were free to come alive. To be with you.”
|A Cretan grave|
On Mothers’ Day this Sunday I would like to celebrate every mother because, no matter who or where she is, she is doing the best she can with what she’s got in every moment.
Also, this year please help me send loving energy to the 234 mothers and daughters caught up in Nigeria’s latest kidnapping horror.
|A summary & reviews are here; you can buy it here or here.|