Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Next Big Thing - an Author's Blog Hop

The Next Best Thing – an Author’s Bloghop

Lloyd Lofthouse, the highly successful author of My Splendid Concubine , recently asked me to follow him in The Next Big Thing, an author’s Blog Hop. In this authors invite another five authors to follow them from blog to blog something in the manner of a chain letter. But much more fun! And no one is going to get some dire bad luck or the tax man after them if they don’t follow on with the chain. So I accepted and the ball is rolling nicely.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the author of My Splendid Concubine (2nd edn 2007) and My Hart (2010)

The book was published in 2009 and is already an winner of several prestigious awards.

My Splendid Concubine is a fascinating illumination of nineteenth-century Chinese culture and the complex Englishman Robert Hart, the father of China’s modernization. Hart’s struggles adapting to Chinese culture, always feeling the pull and force of his Victorian British background, are compelling. His relationships with his concubine and his concubine’s sister are poignant—the novel is as much a study of the complexities of love as it is anything else. A powerful novel... November 2008, Judge's commentary from Writer's Digest Self Published Book Awards --

If even half of Lofthouse’s narrative is true, it’s a stunning work that enmeshes imperialism, modernity, miscegenation and plain old desire in a sweaty matrix of destruction and painful birth.” CITY WEEKEND Magazine (Beijing; Shanghai; Guangzhou)

May 8, 2008 issue, Lee Mack, Deputy Managing Editor --

There are many such reviews with nothing but praise for this book.  Lloyd has since published Our Hart (an elegy for a concubine which has also been just as well received.

How The Next Best Thing Blog hop works: an author answers ten questions and then tags five authors to do the same thing the following week on the same day, which in this case is a Wednesday. This assumes that each author that agrees to continue the Blog Hop knows five other authors and so on.

So here goes.  Here’s my take on the questions proffered:

1) What is the working title of your next book?

The title is Dying Phoenix

The Phoenix was a fabled bird that lived for a long cycle. When the time came for it to die, it self-immolated in an inner fire and from the ashes came forth a new bird.  It was associated with the sun and its long cycles and eclipses.  Later on, it became a symbol adopted by the early Christians who saw it as a symbol of Jesus and his resurrection.  The colour purple is said to be connected with the precious purple dye traded by the Phoenicians. It has always been considered a colour to be worn by royalty or the church.

The reason for calling the book The Dying Phoneix is because this symbol was adopted by the Military Junta who took Greece over in April 1967.  They believed they were about to renew Greece, bring the country back to morality and proper Hellenic culture.  But in the opinion of many, the phoenix never rose from its immolation again during the seven year rule of the Junta.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

Dying Phoenix is a sequel to my first book, published seven years ago, called The Long Shadow. That story was set in Greece in WW1 and later in the 1930’s and charts the love affair of Andrew's mother Dorothy with a Greek officer during the war and the consequences thereof.  Andrew later goes in search of his roots and his identity in Greece and his life is changed by his encounters there.. The story takes place mainly in Greece but also in England.  The saga progresses to the next generation and how they are caught up in the rise of the three Colonels and their opressive right wing dictatorship which tolerated and actively eliminated anyone who varied from their policies. Again, most of the action takes place in Greece but a great deal also happens in England. 

3) What genre does your book fall under?

I have had my books described as 'Intelligent Historical fiction' which is nice.  They also caome under Historical Romance but not of the bodice ripping genre!  These stories are about love relationships and the complex and problematic feelings between the protagonists as much as the historical background.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Often an author has a distinct picture of an actor who might play the parts of hero and heroine (we're always hopeful, you see!) My heroine, Nina, is a feisty young woman but she needs to look Greek as her father is Anglo Greek and her mother fully Greek. 
My favourite contender is Marissa Triandafyllidou pictured left.

Who will play Max Hammett her husband?  He is very English, fair.  I love him.  Well, it has to be Dan Stevens..who else?  Rumour has it he's trying to escape Downton Abbey, anyway.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Oh, good grief, haven't got that far yet!  But maybe something like:

Max and Nina Hammett flee from the emotional problems of their unhappy marriage only to become deeply involved in the turmoils and dangers of a tyrannical Greek dictatorship.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

So far I've no idea.  I shall wait and see.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

It's been slower than usual as it’s a complex historical time I'm describing and still in living memory. I needed to go back to Greece and talk to people about it - which I did in October 2012. The publication of Middle Watch took up a lot of time as well this year. Marketing is very time consuming. So it’s taken me about 10 months and I’ve still about another four chapters to write. But it’s my New Year resolution to finish it by February.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I notice that Vivian Hislop keeps pinching my ideas about Greek novels and has written one set in Thessaloniki…which is where The Long Shadow is set. I joke, of course, she is a great writer and I’d like to say my writing is something along those lines. I’m hoping she won’t beat me to it with one about the Colonels as well.  But if she does, well that’s life.  Louis de Berniere would be the other one who writes serious romances set in Greece so perhaps I can compare myself to him as well..

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’m Anglo Greek and really find that writing a story set in Greece is what I enjoy most. I have tried other locations such as Victorian London which also fascinates me. And Middle Watch is set amongst the lighthouses of Britain which was also a great adventure to write about and research.  But I really get into the Greek scene and people; they are after all in my genes - as one Greek lady remarked.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

Greece is a hot topic and I'm hoping that people will see how cyclical situations can be.  The current problems are echoes of the past.  I hope that the philosophy behind my story will appeal to readers and also the scenes set in mainland Greece.  So many people only meet Greece and the Greeks through the islands.  That's not really engaging with Greece.  It's like judging the British from a visit to the Orkneys, or the Isle of Wight.  How about the contrasts of London and Newcastle?  And in Greece there is contrast indeed between Athens and the northern city of Thessaloniki.

The authors who will follow on with the blog hop in the order they agreed to enter :

Gordon Thomas author of The Harpist of Madrid is now retired and lives with his wife in Surrey. He worked in the Home Office as a scientist and administrator. Latterly his responsibilities were in security technology. He is currently chairman of the International Carnahan Conference on Security Technology. The Harpist of Madrid is his debut novel and he has just finished a sequel called Esmeralda.

Gordon’s web sites: Blog:

M Howard Morgan, author of First Fleet travelled extensively throughout Europe, the Far East, Oceania and N. America. An interest in genealogy resulted in the discovery of an ancestor who was a marine with the First Fleet of Australia in 1788. This triggered an investigation into the history of the Golden Age of Sail and tangentially, the conflicts with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France.

First Fleet is a debut novel with a sequel now in progress set in 1794 and the first major naval engagement between the two; The Glorious First of June.


Elisabeth Storrs author of The Wedding Shroud is passionate about legends, myths and history, having studied Classics as a student. Inspired by a terracotta sculpture of two ancient lovers, she wrote The Wedding Shroud, 
the first novel in a trilogy set in early Rome.

She blogs at Triclinium 

You can learn more about her book at her website.

L .J. Hippler’s writing style has been most influenced by Anton Chekov, and Laura Lippman. Hippler's premier novel, Cathedral Street, is set in Baltimore. Three brothers find they are joined forever by the secrets of a painful family past. His latest novel, The New Road, is also set there.

I have read all these books and assure you they are all very well written, completely diverse in subject.  These are all exceptional authors and well worth reading.  No excuses not to buy or download their books...they will make a great Christmas read or wonderful and much appreciated presents.

Have a Great Christmas, friends!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Blood, Sacrifice and an Obsession with World Endings

Aztec Calendar

Might as well add my voice to the current fascination with the Mayan Calendar which apparently ends on 21st December 2012. This fact is supposed to predict our sudden hurtling into the void or abyss or being struck by a giant meteorite or whatever other dire and cataclysmic event we can imagine.  Whether this is actually what the Mayans thought, we don't really know but the idea has seized the popular imagination.

 There has always been a tendency each century to imagine the world will end though lately these apocalyptic fears seem to have become even more prevalent.  Maybe that's because the world has become so much smaller.  Maybe it's the love of the morbid and of death and endings all of which were certainly obsessions of the ancient Mayans.  It's almost as if we are so dismayed by the current state of humanity and it's apparent inability ever to use simple common sense or learn how to behave from looking back on our bloodstrewn history that we yearn for its ending.   Deep down, this yearning is for something newer and better, some Golden Age to dawn, when all will be peace and harmony, sweetness and light.  Or simply annihilation of our species...let's leave the world to what's left of the animals and plants.

I doubt such a thing will ever be while this world as we know it exists, the world ruled by Nature, because we are, after all, part of nature though we struggle against it. Human beings are also red in tooth and claw.  We still make human sacrifices to the Gods of War and blood is shed to satisfy their appetites. The Mayans, with all their brilliant learning and sophistication were horrified by the relentlessness of Nature and the way in which it makes human endeavour seem pointless...all to be swept away by Time and the endless cycles.  In some ways, this is perhaps what the Mayans understood.  They understood the relentless battle of opposites of Nature, the circle of consuming and devouring, eat or be eaten.  The innate longing for a Golden Age, Heaven, Valhalla, Paradise are ideal and spiritual images that are truly human by which we look to something that is beyond Nature and her exquisitely organised round of existence.   We want to survive in some form untouchable by this dictate, we don't want to be eaten.

Chichen Itza in Yucatan

So what's this business of the world ending?  A sense of disillusion comes to every person who has lived for a good many decades.  The older generation always feels that everything new and different, any change to the order of things they knew in their own youth must be bad and must be wrong.  Their world has ended.  I know that I look back on the Forties and Fifties and see another world view, another type of people, different manners, customs and attitudes.  Sometimes I long to return to the past.  But was it really that much better or simply cast in a golden glow of hindsight? All the same, the modern world is now a puzzle to me.  But it's meaningful to the young who have made it and live in it.  In time, their world will also end.  The world is always ending. 

The Mayan's were a strange set of people and their view of life was particularily depressing, gloomy and fearful.  They were brilliant mathematicians and even discovered the zero before the Arabs.  They were also great astronomers, building huge observatories and their mapping of the skies was very accurate.  They created astonishing temple buildings.  To many these are beautiful, like the famous one at Chichen Itza in Tinum, Yucatan.  It does have a beauty of its own, but to me they are terrifying places in their square, solid, ugliness.  There seems no space, no air, nothing but a solid immoveable block which typifies the immoveable, unchanging, fixed quality of the Mayan religious beliefs and of the whole of that civilisation.  In some ways there is a similiarity to Egyptian pyramids and their solid, sturdy enormous temples.  But the Egyptians had a far more hopeful outlook on life and there is much beauty in their art objects.  This is personal, and many may disagree, but Mayan art is fierce, ugly, there is never any depiction of a beautiful face or form such as the Greeks and Romans excelled in, no space, harmony and elegance in the buildings. 

Women godesses were mainly like Kali or the Morrigan, death bringers, fierce and cruel and associated with all that was dirty, sensual and sexual.  There was a goddess of beauty but the depictions of her are not the generally accepted ideals.  The attitude to women and sex was very puritanical.  Mayans sought purification after sexual acts often in sweat lodges or by blood letting such as piercing themselves with thorns and sharp objcts and their main aim in procreation seemed to be to create a warrior class who would fight constant wars with neighbouring peoples.  The aim of this was to secure prisoners of war who were to be used as human sacrifice.  As we have seen, the Mayan Gods were dark, terrifying, cruel and imperturbable.  Life was frightening, at the whim of nature and the deities who played with thunder, fire, storms, and the after life was no better, simply a journey similiar to that on earth with the fear of horrible extinction at the other end.

Lady Xoc

Human sacrifices became more and more prevalant toward the end of the Aztec rule in 1519 when Cortez arrived in Southern Americas and discovered their amazing cities and civilization.  Sacrifical victims were considered to represent the gods and thus treated well before being taken up the 365 steps of the temples where a priest would then cut out the living heart and hold it aloft to the god.  After this, the body was flung down the steps to be taken away, cooked and eaten.  The flesh was now sacred and was eaten with reverence.  It is said that the temples and steps were covered in blood and reeked worse than a Spanish slaughterhouse.

It's hardly surprising that the Mayans took easily to Christianity with its own notion of 'eating the body and blood of Christ' which was at least symbolic and not an actuality.  Plus Christ in some way resembled their peaceful, vegatation god, Quetzelcoatl, who was one of the gods of resurrection, dying to be reborn in Spring as ears of wheat rather like Hiawatha.  But above all, there was hope that sinners could repent and that there was an afterlife that promsied a heaven to those who were pure and good.  Fear was banished and a more joyful hope could rise in its place.


The Mayan calendar, which takes a 5125 year cycle, is in fact said to be slightly innacurate as the Mayan mathematicians did not use fractions thus making the calendar out of sync with the tropical year.  They no doubt adjusted this in some way but the date of 21.12 2012 is in some dispute even amongst present day Mayan elders and peoples.  And the general view of present day Mayans is that it may certainly herald a time of great change but like all changes, it may ultimately be for the betterment of Mankind.  There is an interesting site below which may give more insight into the complexities of the calendar.

My friend Dianne Eppler Adams, a very remarkable astrologer and visionary has this to say:

The Winter solstice happens every year. Contrary to what Greg Braden wrote in Fractal Time about the Earth aligning with the center of the Milky Way galaxy on 12/21, it has actually been in alignment for several years and will for several years more. Further, since the alignment happens once in 25,000 years, it's impossible to pinpoint the specific day when it occurred.

What I think we can all agree upon is that we are living during profoundly challenging times when much of what we took as foundational to our lives is showing cracks and falling away. The dysfunctional aspects of life are dying off more quickly than at any time in our memory. Some folks are frantically trying to hold onto the past, an approach that is only creating more suffering.

And in the end, it all comes full circle and the young turn into the old and still feel their world has changed.

Dianne Eppler Adam's website:

A description of the Aztec calendar can be found here.

Favourite Quotes

  • My home is my retreat and resting place from the wars: I try to keep this corner as a haven against the tempest outside, as I do another corner of my soul. Michelle de Montaigne
  • Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony: Mahatma Gandhi
  • Friends are people you can be quiet with. Anon.