The Guardian, one of Britain's premier newspapers, has “Riding a Strong Wind” front and centre on the first page in their question to readers, “What book would you give to someone you love?”
It's in the Guardian Witness section, and here's the link:
Many thanks to the reader who submitted my book for this prestigious lifestyle feature! It is an honour and a thrill to be featured next to recommendations for D.H. Lawrence and Nobel prize winner Pablo Neruda.
Back tomorrow with something entirely different.
My final daily excerpt comes from the shortest story in the book, with the enigmatic title of “Tobago – Having Lost The Boy”. This one is pure fantasy but I have very fond memories of the beach described in the narrative and there are a few lines taken from the lyrics of one of my songs called “The Raging Broom”. Tobago is a funny little island, a bit dusty and arid, but the sea surrounding it is bewitchingly beautiful, although the weather can turn suddenly savage.
“That night she had a house-servant drive her out on the small road that ran behind the beach.
He was there, with his tent set up for the night and he sat in his chair playing a rather out-of-tune guitar and singing softly to himself in a flat voice.
She wound down the window and listened.
“Where are the hills I so long to see
Where are the deer, I hope running free
Where are the friends so dear to me
Maybe it's time to go
Up and on with the show”
She suddenly felt very sad and she wondered at the ache inside her. He continued on:
“Night seems it's closing in
Hope grows incredibly thin”
She rolled up the window and touched her driver on the shoulder to move on. She was embarrassed and puzzled at her own emotion and to find she had teared up.”
Today's excerpt comes from the story entitled “Amalfi Coast” and this particular scene is based on a real event. Losing my brakes and hurtling down those steep inclines is something I will never quite forget, for obvious reasons.
“So they were now drinking in the Amalfi coast, the coastal road's rugged character and undoubted charm, and those dreadful cliff edge turns. As they reached the crest of the descent into a picturesque village, the scene looked like a painting, the sky was blue, the houses seemed washed with light and the whole scene sparkled with a bright freshness from the top of the day.
The road, twisting down to the bottom, was made with many turns, probably to assist in diffusing the demands of a straight route down. Those turns would help mediate the force of gravity, and the steep incline.
As they drew close behind a dithering Fiat, David noticed that he was labouring a little harder to obtain a response from his brakes. The turn helped and the Fiat shot forward as the erratic driver chose, but the next turn was harder and David was becoming concerned that, in essence, his brakes had gone. He had now, none. The turns were helping but he was gathering speed nonetheless.”
My workout this morning consisted of forcibly pushing my old, bust, lawnmower over tufty grass, although afterwards I did manage to do 4 km in ten minutes on my Ellifit elliptical cross-trainer. I looked at the dial. It showed 120 heart rate, and told me I was going at 24 km an hour … really? Because I was starting to have dreams of the 5,000 metres at the next Olympics.
However, another consideration broke through and I realized that would not be a possibility, as I feel I don't really look cool enough in those running shorts!
OK, enough frivolity. For today's snippet from my book, I have chosen the opening paragraphs of “Amsterdam”. The story is fictional but my experience pushing tobacco down the chutes is real, albeit many, many years ago. It's what you do when you're stuck abroad and need the fare home.
“He sat in the lounge of the bar at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport and watched the departures screen flick over the flight numbers and destinations. It didn't really change much, and he wondered if it was automatically refreshed by a timer, or was there ever any actual progress to report, to lighten the leaden, boring wait of travellers.
Opposite him sat a friend whom he had not seen for many years, but due to the chance meeting of today, here in the airport, a fellow prisoner of the waiting lounges. They had shared a drink and reminisced about earlier, more penniless days.
“You lived or stayed here for a while years ago, didn't you?” his friend threw out lazily, the boredom of the airport pressing him to find some subject for conversation. He looked out over the aircraft, all neatly tucked against their accordion tubes, joining the craft to the body of the building. He wondered casually about the materials used, but it was of little note. He turned back towards James and refreshed his thought.“Yes, ... you lived here, right?”
Caterina de' Medici, a Florentine noblewoman and Queen of France, created the famous Les Tuileries formal gardens, located between the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre Museum in Paris. On the occasion of her birthday, today's excerpt from my book comes from one of the longer stories, entitled “Montmartre”. The action takes place along one the picturesque paths in the gardens.
“They talked and they wandered, and the afternoon started to darken with some heavy cloud turning the Jardins dramatic and atmospheric.
The park was almost deserted now as visitors sought shelter in advance of the impending downpour. And as they turned to leave, there were four burly-looking men in their path, and there was no doubt about the focus of their intended mischief.
“Allez!” one of the bruisers said to the others, and they advanced on Rory with obvious intent. In the hands of one, a knife, and in those of another, a rusty iron chain.
“OK, mes amis ... qu'est que c'est ceci?” Rory called to them, but they were closing in on him. Giselle looked very frightened, and was demanding of them, in rapid French, to stop their menace and leave them alone. They were only feet from him now and desperately he looked left, and then right, wondering from where the first blow would come.”
I started using the KlarFit Ellifit elliptical cross-trainer today and, man, that was harder than I thought it would be! I was all ready to be doing maybe twenty minutes for a first day … I mean, what's the problem? I'm in fairly good shape, swimming more towards the sharp end than the other, and here I am with a cold realization that after three minutes, my legs are singing.
So it's harder than it looks but, being serious, it's probably going to be great for developing my leg power. We shall see. If I don't post a blog tomorrow, you can take it that I couldn't get out of bed, for the tightness in my thighs !! I did persevere and totalled 7km on the machine in four sets.
Anyway, here is today's excerpt from my book (you've already heard me mention its title ad nauseum), and it's from the story “Barra” about an American movie actress seeking seclusion, away from the glare, in the Hebridean Isles of Scotland.
“As the shop emptied out, with the friendly groups leaving together, engrossed in excited conversation, Ruari took the opportunity to ask the shop mistress about the 'movie star'.
“Who is she then, Maggie? Is she really a movie star, and if she is, what's she doing on Barra?”
“Och she's hiding” - she busied herself organizing the display of the morning papers - “She's running away. Joseph at the bank says she's wanting to become a reckless.” And she nodded a knowing confidentiality.
“A reckless, are you sure you have that right, Maggie? Do you mean a recluse?”
“Aye, aye that's it, a reckless recluse, exactly … she's a bit odd y'know, and you mind now just how much you're tied up with her, that's all I'd say.” And she stood back relaxed, having ordered and tidied the papers to her satisfaction.”
I have decided to take a break from pool work and instead concentrate on my core fitness and my leg muscles by using an elliptical cross-trainer. So I spent the morning putting together my new KlarFit Ellifit elliptical cross-trainer and, from my brief test trial, I think it will substitute admirably for legs-only in the meantime and give me a good cardio workout. I hope to be back in the pool within the next two weeks, but sometimes variety can be the spice.
Now as today's excerpt relates to a major Games, this might be of interest to those who were swimming in the late sixties.
Today's story from my book “Riding a Strong Wind” is called “Santa Barbara” (on sale for 99 cents on Amazon.com, and 99 pence on Amazon UK).
"The teams lined into their respective placings for entry, they would be marshalled to enter alphabetically and hold position and decorum, until after the officials had made their closing speeches. There would be time for rejoicing, but that would be after all official ceremonies were concluded.
There were even two or three bands inside at their station ready to let it rip and entertain at the appointed hour, but first would be the serious business of sedately closing these Games with a touch of regret, a little sadness, and some hope for the future. Oh yes, they had their plans and protocol very well organized.
However ... however, one does not restrain 2,000 fit athletes on a warm night when - their tasks done, their business concluded, and their medals won - they are feeling good. Feeling good about the night, good about life and filled with athletic edge."
I have just had an idea. I usually get two or three ideas a year: two of them are invariably bad, and the other one is only moderately bad. Anyway this idea is that, for the next six days, I will post an opening excerpt from some of my short stories.
This coincides with the Countdown Deal for “Riding a Strong Wind” - my Amazon Kindle book - on sale for a week at 99 cents on Amazon.com, now, and 99 pence in the UK, tomorrow.
So here is today's dose, the opening of “Florence – La Certosa”.
“In the evening they sat in his car, high on a hill, and looked out over the city, the lights glittering below turning Rome into a carpet of warm, soft terracotta, an Aladdin's cave of delights.
They sat together and planned, although they did not talk about it, but in their separate minds they planned, and each knew they were planning.
The coffee aroma from a nearby catering van drifted through the warm night air and leant an added charm to the gloriously soft summer night. The city stretched before them, and they were slightly hesitant with each other as they both knew they were feeling the seriousness of their bond grow.
Was it the night, the stars, the view, or the ease of summer? Was it real or was it the atmosphere? Hector was not sure, but he had a pretty good idea … and it wasn't the atmosphere.
They talked 'discovery' small talk, and found ways of exploring each other's past without betraying their serious interest. It was just conversation, ... yes, just conversation, but each word and story built the background, and cemented the knowledge each had of the other.
Their evening was coming to a close and it was just a short drive to the apartment where Alessandra lived with her parents. He leant over to kiss her gently, one more time, before they must part. He held her face and tried to fix it, as it was now, in his permanent memory. He wanted to always remember how she looked right now.”
Yes, it's been a while since I wrote anything … no cheering at the back.
Yes, it's been a while and I have been busy, occupied etc. with what one could loosely call “the creative processes”.
Now I realize that may not have much to do with swimming, and that WAS how this whole blog thing started. But I do not live by swimming alone, and so I have been embroiled in “compositions”.
Strangely they are a compulsive force to be reckoned with, and they come as they wish and then leave when done. No “sorry to have interrupted” or “thanks for your time”, no they just do as they please and come and go with the breeze.
So I am, as I said, going to post something soon, however, in the meantime remember, “There is no time like the present”… and in fact there ain't no other alternative, as far as I can see.
Something coming presently.
~ Author of fiction