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Posts tagged ‘travel fiction’

Donald Finnaeus Mayo about women’s fiction, spycops and divided societies (Interview, Part II)

June 22, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

KOB: Both of your novels are driven by strong female characters. Would you consider your work to be “Women’s Fiction” and if so, how do you feel your position as a male novelist impacts your female-centric writing?

DFM: I have noticed that women seem to respond well to my work, which I’m happy about because they buy far more books than men. However, I’m not sure about this notion of “Women’s Fiction”. There seems to be this idea in publishing that men write bang-bang-shoot-em-ups, while women pick apart dysfunctional relationships over the kitchen table with a large glass of red wine. Publishers like to categorise books into genres, I guess it makes it easier for them to target the audience they think they’re after, but so far as I’m concerned there’s only good fiction and bad fiction. I don’t really mind whether it’s packaged as crime, romance or a thriller, if it’s well written and captures my imagination I’ll read it, if it doesn’t I won’t. I think one of the most important traits you need as a writer of fiction is the ability to see the world from someone else’s point of view, whether that’s a politically engaged Irish woman, a Timorese teenager or a corrupt ageing Indonesian army officer. It’s the only way, in my view, you can create convincing characters that readers will relate to and care about.

      

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KOB: The recent Lush cosmetics campaign against Spycops has brought the issue tackled in The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal to light. Decades after these incidents took place, do you believe justice can eventually come from the public enquiry?

DFM: To me the Spycops scandal offers a perfect example of what can happen when a group of people in a position of power who aren’t publicly accountable to anyone for their actions lose sight of what they are there for in the first place. For those who aren’t familiar with the background, what happened was that in the 1970s a group was set up within the Metropolitan Police to infiltrate political organisations that were deemed a threat to society, and in doing so gain intelligence about their activities, plans and intentions. For obvious reasons no one knew about this group, and it didn’t seem to be answerable to anyone outside the Met. There was never any proper debate about what constituted a threat to society, or how far this group could go in order to counter it. As it turned out, the targets were typically peace campaigners, animal rights or environmental activists and other groups the government of the time didn’t particularly like, but who were engaged in legitimate political protest. Even if they did occasionally cross the line of the law, by comparison to the type of terrorism we see today, their activities were benign, almost charmingly quaint. We’re talking about people breaking into a laboratory and releasing a few rabbits destined for experiments, or tearing down some barbed wire outside a missile base, not some fanatic walking into a crowded concert hall and blowing up a hundred people. What has always staggered me about the Spycops scandal is how much effort, resources and moral compromise went into these deceptions when the stakes were so low and the threats to society so trivial. Over the years undercover officers infiltrated these groups and entered into intimate relationships with female members of them, sometimes going to far as to have children with them. At weekends they might go back to their real families; then there would come a time when they would be recalled and simply disappear from the lives of the women they had betrayed, leaving them to wonder what had happened. The collateral damage to the women and their families was mind-boggling, and no one in a position of power wanted to know or do anything about it.

The campaign to bring justice to these women seems to be pretty well organised and it’s certainly very determined. The Guardian newspaper has done and continues to do an excellent job keeping the story in the public eye, so I think despite all their prevaricating there’s a good chance the British Government will eventually be shamed into owning up and paying compensation where they haven’t already. Whether that constitutes justice or not is another question, as the real damage was done years ago and can’t be undone.  There was no excuse for it in what’s meant to be an accountable democracy, and it was an absolute disgrace it was ever allowed to happen. What I was interested in pressing in The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal is whether it is ever possible to justify engaging in that level of deception, when the stakes are much higher, when innocent lives really are at risk, and what happens when you decide they are and go down that road.

KOB: Both Francesca and The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal are focused on divided societies. What draws you to explore stories of such societal division?

DFM: The divisions in society, both in Europe and America, are becoming more extreme each year, and it’s something I find very worrying. It’s one of the biggest issues we are currently facing, and in my view is behind a lot of the political turmoil we have experienced, such as Brexit and the election of Trump. History tells us that whenever societies start to experience severe inequalities on the scale we are currently seeing, when people feel they have lost a stake in their society and have nothing to lose by overturning it, it generally ends badly all round. Just ask the French or the Russian aristocracy. Can we achieve a more just society through peaceful means as opposed to violent ones? I’d like to think so, but right now I’m not overly optimistic.

The other thing about divided societies is that people often end up in situations they could never have imagined in a more stable, peaceful environment. I have always been fascinated in what happens when people are pushed to extremes, how moral lines can become blurred, how they will do things and behave in ways that would have astonished and horrified them but a short time ago. How does a football mad kid who likes collecting stickers become a soldier capable of murdering innocent civilians, and what was the process that paved the way for that to happen? It’s only by exploring these threads and understanding them that we have a chance of preventing the worst aspects of our history repeating itself. You only have to look at some of the appalling things people did to each other during the Northern Ireland troubles to realise we are deluding ourselves if we think we are too civilized or sophisticated to go down that road. Bosnia was the same. These things weren’t done by animals, they were done by people like us. That’s the frightening thing about it. We can go down that road any time we choose. The camps are closer than we think. If fiction can wave a red flag and alert us to some of the dangers, then in my view it’s serving a useful purpose.

KOB: While both novels explore divided societies, they also both examine issues of family and human connection. Would you say that this is a major preoccupation of your writing?

DFM: For most people their families – and that concept can be understood in the loosest sense – constitute the arena where they engage in their most intimate relationships, where they feel free to reveal the innermost parts of themselves. And that is certainly a rewarding seam for a writer to mine, so to speak. I am fascinated by our human connections, which interestingly enough is a theme that Forster grapples with in Howard’s End. As a writer, your topic is the human condition and how that plays itself out. Connections are an inescapable part of that. Fiction is all about conflict and collision, whether it’s between world views and wills of the characters involved, or people and their external circumstances. If there is no conflict there is no drama, if there is no drama there is nothing to keep the reader with you. So, yes, I would say that’s a fairly major preoccupation of mine.

For adepts of serious summer reading:

Francesca is available on Amazon and Book Depository

The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal is available on Amazon and Book Depository

 

Donald Finnaeus Mayo about journalism, modern history and inspiration (Interview, Part I)

June 20, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Kelly O’Brien: Both of your novels, Francesca and The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal are set in the 1970s and 1980s, is this period of time significant to you? What interests you in the writing of historical fiction?

Donald Finnaeus Mayo: Most decades have something interesting to offer, and if you have lived through them your recollections will obviously be coloured by your own experiences. Though to hear the 1970s and 1980s described as historical fiction makes me feel very old! I tend to be drawn to subjects or events as opposed to specific decades, but I also think you sometimes need a bit of time to elapse before you can gain a proper perspective of an era. If you’re too close to an event you can end up writing reportage rather than fiction. I remember a slew of novels about 9/11 came out a few years after the twin towers came down, and people didn’t seem ready for them. They had already digested all the documentary coverage they could take, and it begged the question as to what fiction could add. It takes me a long time to percolate ideas and work out what I really think. Possibly there’s an element of nostalgia to it as well. In writing about an era I get the chance to immerse myself back in it; what music people were listening to, what was happening in the world, what they were wearing, what they feared and where their hopes lay, recreating that world for people who weren’t there or may have forgotten what it was like. Right now I’m writing a novel about the impact of the 2008 financial crash on a small town in the American South.

KOB: Francesca follows the story of a young woman in East Timor during the Indonesian invasion of 1975, a moment of history that is potentially not very well-known, is this what inspired you to tell Francesca’s story?

DFM: It was more personal than that. My father worked in the oil business, and I spent a number of years as a child living in Indonesian Borneo. This period coincided with the invasion of East Timor, which ended up costing the lives of almost a third of that country’s population. Cocooned in our expat bubble, we were completely oblivious to what was happening. That was deliberate – journalists, human rights activists and anyone else who might cause trouble were kept well away from the place by the Indonesian government. With no social media, mobile phones or internet, it was possible for a military dictatorship to effectively shut a region off from the outside world in a way that seems inconceivable today. Western powers such as the United States and Australia, who did know what was going on despite what they may have said publicly to the contrary, were happy to sit by and let Suharto’s troops embark upon this genocide because he represented a bulwark against communism, which they were terrified of spreading throughout South East Asia. Saigon had only recently fallen, and there were worries revolutions could be sparked off through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and beyond. So poor old East Timor, who had never threatened anyone, was forgotten and left to suffer. It was only many years later, when I was working as a volunteer for Amnesty International in London, that I started coming across all these cases of human rights abuses from the region. When I examined them more closely, I was shocked to discover this mass murder had been taking place just a few hundred miles from our tennis courts and swimming pools. No one talked about it, no one wanted to upset the cosy relationship between the Suharto regime and the western oil companies. The genesis of the novel lay in the idea of what would happen if these parallel worlds jumped off their rails and collided.

KOB: You have worked previously as a radio journalist for the BBC. Do you bring any of your journalistic skills or knowledge to your fiction writing?

DFM: I’ve always been interested in politics, and in newsrooms you’re surrounded by people who live and breathe it, so you get some great conversations going with bright, witty, well-informed people. They are fairly cynical environments, and there’s a lot of cut-and-thrust between the reporters, peppered with a fair amount of black humour. It’s no place for shrinking violets. Journalism taught me discipline when it came to writing. You need to check your facts, and you need to get your point across quickly. A radio news story might be less than 100 words, so you have to make sure each one counts. On the other hand, it can be quite restrictive in what is deemed important and worthy of coverage. What’s not reported is often as significant as what is. You can end up thinking the entire human experience amounts to plane crashes, political clashes, sport and celebrity intrigue. Journalism is also very workaday and practical. There isn’t any of the mystique of the tortured writer struggling to come to grips with the essence of life as there is with fiction. Complain to a news editor you’re suffering from writer’s block and he or she will inform you the deadline’s less than an hour away and politely suggest you just get on with it. You learn very quickly to push through the barriers when the muse has taken the morning off. That helped me a lot when I was trying to juggle novel-writing with looking after young children.

KOB: You begin The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal with a quote by E.M. Forster. Was Forster a particular influence on the narrative of the novel?

DFM: Not especially, other than the quote, which came from one of Forster’s essays rather than his novels but seemed to sum up the essence of The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal. I read a lot of Forster as a teenager, but haven’t really returned to him much since they made all those Merchant Ivory films of his books. I suppose the main thing I have taken from Forster is his emphasis on creating three-dimensional characters, which is something I have always tried to do in my work. I don’t believe in goodies and baddies per se, even one of the most odious characters in Francesca, Benny Surikano, is partially redeemed by the love he has for his son. I suppose one of the most interesting things about Forster as a person is his struggle to live a double life as a gay man in an era when that could not only destroy your reputation and livelihood, but land you up in prison. You just need to think of what happened to Alan Turing to appreciate just how repressed certain aspects of people’s lives had to be for their very survival. Having made one of the most spectacular contributions to Britain’s effort to defeat the Nazis by cracking the Enigma code, he was subsequently hounded by the police for a gay indiscretion to the point where he committed suicide. How those forces played themselves out in Forster’s fiction is a matter of ongoing debate. I know some literary scholars get very irate when everything he wrote is viewed through this lens – others see it as the only way to understand him properly as an author.

   To be followed on Friday, June 22nd, 2018

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“A gem for real noir fans” – a new review of BORDERLAND NOIR

February 26, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Original review published on February 25, 2018 here: http://nudge-book.com/blog/2018/02/borderland-noir-edited-by-craig-mcdonald/

I came across this anthology when I was looking into a feature on Mexican crime fiction, also published this month on BookNoir. I’m glad I did because there is some fine writing here; there is a genuine connection between the stories based at La Frontera, the border. Equally there is a decent variety of interests, style and purpose in these tales. Naturally I have some favourites but I found each piece engaging and thought-provoking, for the main part the fiction is edgy, exciting and original. I think this is a gem for real noir fans.

McDonald has collated eleven short stories, a couple of excerpts from longer works and two short essays. Borderland Noir has contributions from Ken Bruen, James Sallis, Sam Hawken, Martín Solares and several other respected crime writers.

“All roads lead to borderlands of one sort or another”, says Craig McDonald in his introduction. La Frontera has a mystical hold on the imagination of the crime reader, it’s not so much the reality as the myth. “That delicious, dark-eyed myth of the border”, Tom Russell (song writer). The border conjures images of The Day of the Dead, Narcotraficantes, refugees, mariachi and the north/south divide (the rich and the poor). McDonald is keen to point out that borders are a state of mind, it’s not just the physical border, it’s not just about a place or a geographical location. You can imagine it even if you’ve never been to the borderlands.

These pieces reflect on people’s experience as refugees, economic migrants, victims and perpetrators as well as on their desire and desperation. Wider themes are memory, history, corruption and crime – the value of life, and it’s infinite variety along the border. What the frontier does to people and the light we see them in. Villains include a rapist, people slavers, right-wing border guards and vigilantes. These stories are influenced by the best noir traditions, by writers like James M. Cain, novels like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and literary writers like Graham Greene.

Coyote’s Ballad by Mike MacLean deals with two mules (people smugglers), Cruz and Miguel, transporting ten pollos (chickens/people), across the border to sell. Humans as commodities. A young girl is raped and murdered. Rough justice is served but not for the sake of the girl, for greed and for expediency.

To Have To Hold by Ken Bruen (an Irish man surely knows about borders!). Charlene is a mad Johnny Cash fan and she is in a pickle for killing a man.

Trailer dear Fuego by Garnett Elliott. Tench beats a prisoner to make a point for the inmates and the other guards, to establish that ‘the jungle’ has enforcement if not law. Actions have unforeseen consequences in a case of poetic justice.

Reading the Footnotes by John Stickney deals with two men in a car, Federal Agents or killers or both. Postulating on Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and echoes of Breaking Bad.

The Work of Wolves by Bradley Mason Hamlin. Devin is pondering the nature of evil. Talking about getting away from his family, going to Universidad, all the while torturing and murdering a man who can’t escape and has to listen to his rambling monologue.

Traven by Martin Solares is an homage to Ben Traven, writer of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Sam Hawken deals with a man murdered in his hotel room with a six-inch stiletto and Tom Russell muses on murder and recent history around Ciudad Juárez.

There are two brilliant essays. One on Touch of Evil, the Orson Welles movie, and the other on Pancho Villa, revolutionary and bandit. Zeltserman tells the story of one of the great noir movies, a tale that happens across the border. Vargas, Charlton Heston, a narcotics investigator in Mexico, witnesses a murder. A businessman and his stripper girlfriend are blown up in their car. As the explosion occurred on the American side of the border Hank Quinlan is called in to investigate, Orson Welles. Marlene Dietrich is brothel owner Tanya. Quinlan frames a boy but he turns out to be guilty, Vargas knows he is framed. A battle for the truth develops between the two men. Dietrich delivers the classic noir line at the end of the film:

“He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about People?”

Pancho Villa is a potted history of the notorious bandit, raising his own army, his role in the revolution, decline into banditry, raids on the US, falling out with other leaders, tawdry death. Short but not lacking in insight.

Both are excellent encapsulations of important border stories.

The anthology is sectioned into North, South and on the Border. The tales are spare; noir prose, short meaningful stories, pithy dialogue and all direct to the point. This is the heart of noir. Darkly entertaining, a really interesting mix of stories and essays.

Paul Burke

 

Donald Finnaeus Mayo about writing FRANCESCA

March 8, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

FRANCESCA: Genesis of an idea

FrancescaIt’s easy to forget just how different the world was back in the mid-1970s. No mobile phones, no internet, no Starbucks on every street corner. Easier, too, for dictators to keep a lid on their shenanigans. You could take out a town, empty a region of its population without any fear of pesky demonstrators posting evidence of your atrocities on YouTube for all to see.

So it’s hardly surprising the Indonesian invasion of East Timor passed me by, even though I was living in the region at the time, an expat teenager whose father worked in the oil business. The local media was strictly censored, whilst foreign correspondents who might have kicked up a fuss were for the most part unable to access the place. Besides, who was interested in what was going on in a backwater most people had never heard of?

It wasn’t until the early 1990s that I encountered East Timor again. Doing some volunteer work for Amnesty International in London, I kept coming across cases from the conflict. The more I looked into it, the more shocking it became. Worse, I realised I had been in Indonesia when this tiny country was gobbled up by its neighbour and large parts of its population annihilated.

War DiliSeveral hundred miles away our lives continued in their cocooned luxury, oblivious to what Suharto’s soldiers were doing. No one mentioned it, no one spoke out, no one did anything that might upset the cosy relationship between the Indonesian government and the western oil companies. Everyone was making money, and besides Indonesia was on our side, a bulwark against communism.

Discovering these parallel worlds inspired me to write Francesca. In particular, I was interested in people who straddled both, the ones with the fullest picture. As they created their own dramas, sorrows, joys, tragedies and triumphs, a novel was born.

— Donald Finnaeus Mayo, March 2016

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Readers’ praise

“A full-bodied tale of love and war set against the complex political and commercial landscape of Indonesia in the 70s. Its a moving and sensitively written story that draws you in from the start.”

“Francesca has all the ingredients of a great novel – a compelling and interesting story that engages you from the start, genuine characters with whom one can feel real sympathy and powerful descriptions that creates a real sense of atmosphere. If I have any criticism of the book it is that it could be longer – the character development is such that you’re left wanting to know what happened to them in more detail than there is in the book – but then maybe it’s always good to leave the reader wanting more. In any event, it’s a great story that will provide a powerful insight into a period of history that has only recently started to get the coverage it deserves.”

“The sense of location is sparkling. The tension is high. The author is an accomplished storyteller, with journalism experience, who captures the destruction of war in convincing detail. He demonstrates a beautiful way with language and a clever ear for dialogue.”

Timor jungle“Beautifully written, historically educational, sharp insights into human nature. Highly recommended as a Book Club read.”

 

“A fascinating story inter-weaving a cast of characters around one woman’s journey through life.”

 

Summer in Capri with Kat, Edward… and Jackie Mallon

June 5, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

Friends on the beach 1

    Excerpt from Silk for the Feed Dogs

   A barman accepted the fifty, distracted during the aperitivo rush, so we had a little money until new funds arrived. We figured it would stretch farther away from the city, and the next morning we headed for Capri. I expected to see descendants of Brigitte Bardot and Audrey Hepburn, hopping off sailboats, flitting along bougainvillea-lined walks in striped tops and wide-brimmed hats. Instead, I saw grotesque subjects of an embalmment process that had stepped out of the formaldehyde early, painted their faces, and donned teenagers’ clothing.

Dietro, liceo. Davanti, museo,” commented Edward.

The women of Capri, suntanned, slim, with their golden hair rippling in the sun, exuded youth from afar. Up close, they were relics clutching with sheer desperation onto the last vestiges of the bella vita. From the back: high school. From the front: museum.

So we boarded a northbound ferryboat and alighted at Procida. Sleepy, wild, and full of adventure, we found we had much in common with the island. We ate catch of the day with spaghetti, local bread, and oil, washed down with cheap wine in squat little cups. We asked about room rates there but were told there were no vacancies and received a worried look. Undaunted, we strolled on, and then sunbathed where we fell on a patch of faded grass. In my mind’s eye, I was the fiery village girl played by Maria Grazia Cucinotta in Il Postino, despite my sunburned shoulders and outfit of Edward’s short shorts, beaded boob tube, and green turban set off with brooch.

It was only towards evening, when the last Bed & Breakfast door was closed on us, its sign that read Ospitalità della Natura swinging in our faces, that we confronted our plight.

“It looks like l’ospitalità della natura is exactly what we’ll be at the mercy of tonight,” I said.

“Who knew this poky little island would be such a popular destination,” said Edward. “Are you sure we’ve been to all the hotels?”

“Procida’s the size of my flat. We saw it all by our second lap.” I shrugged off my rucksack and dropped onto the sand dunes, burrowing my legs into the warm sand to reach the cooler layers underneath. “Ah, that feels nice.”

“Good. Tuck yourself in. I’ll be back.”

He raced off, leaving me trickling handfuls of sand onto my knees. I lay back and stared at the sky. It was the same blue as the robes of the Virgin Mary statue that welcomed (and turned away) guests at the corner leading to the last guesthouse. I would have had no trouble staying right where I was, just breathing in and out, tasting the robust air until I fell asleep. There was silence, except for muted communications between fishermen along the beach and some seagulls. It brought back memories of tramping about alongside Da, out in all weathers, bits of the earth lodged deep under my fingernails and the fresh air clinging to my hair and clothes.

Edward came panting through the dunes. “I know where we can sleep!”

I sat up, straightened my turban, and repositioned my shades.

“Come on!” He flew off again kicking up sand and I had no choice but to follow. I found him by an old upturned boat, one side propped up on four stones. “What do you think?”

“What?”

“It’s almost a little hut.”

I surveyed the flakey blue paint, the damp, exposed wooden slats, the tendrils of seaweed hanging over the ‘doorway’ like wind chimes on a front porch.

“I’m game if you are,” I said. “But remember how you roared the place down when Ginevra trapped that mouse? Who knows what beasties the night will unleash? I say, it calls for some hard liquor. You make yourself at home. I’ll go see.”

“What do you mean, beasties? Where are you going?”

“Be right back!”

There was a little tavern in the central piazza, and I arrived at the same moment as the fishermen. When I explained our circumstances, the barman seemed quite decided and pulled from under the counter an unmarked bottle. “Superalcolico,” he cautioned. The fishermen greeted my query about the likelihood of snakes or scorpions on the beach with laughter.

“Well, if there weren’t any before you drink that, there will be after.”

As the sun was setting, Edward and I crawled inside our little bivouac.

“May the roof above us never fall in, and those gathered below it never fall out,” I said.

We lay on our bellies, looking out at the swaying navy and silver waves, passing the bottle back and forth.

“Well, we wanted to see the other end of Italy. Milan can be kind of one-note. Monothematic: la moda,” slurred Edward, extending his arms wide. “Whereas this is the unseen Italy. The corners that fashion forgot.”

A single kiss

February 12, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

1-bottlenose-dolphin-tursiops-truncatus-jumping-out-of-water-sunset-rene-frederick“A shooting star zipped across the sky. I watched it streak behind the mountain on the other side of the island as I thought about the woman against the opposite side of the concrete wall, so very different from me – or anyone. She was a genuine being, pure in spirit and without pretense, willfully removed from possessions, greed, artificiality, and guided, not by tradition like the fishermen, nor by desire or competitive­ness as I’d been, but by her imaginings and passions and, to use her word, interpretations. Either because of or in spite of her past, she’d become a culture unto herself, far removed from anyone or anything I’d ever known and, for that, there was something uncorrupted and beautiful within her – unlike myself, the waste of a man beside her, who’d been given much and only wanted more, and who’d traded love and purpose for the grotesque satisfactions of a smirking man.

I turned around, reached for her dirty hand through the bars, and kissed it; and nothing in mind and memory seemed more honest, more true than this single kiss.”

— Excerpt from THE LAST ISLAND by David Hogan

 

 

Available here: http://viewbook.at/thelastisland 

The Last Island is currently on promotion in Australia.

 

Australia, I’m Coming…

February 6, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

…just not in person. Nope. They’re sending Kat and Edward.

You see, Silk for the Feed Dogs is now on Kindle Promotion for a limited period in Australia!

Time to let everyone know Kat and Edward have landed. I’m calling all my Aussie blogging friends; poking on Facebook my fashion lovelies who are ahead of the trend by a whole other day; reconnecting with the Adelaide backpacker I met on a train in Austria when I was twenty-one; digging out the address of my old school pal whose family owned the town’s only ice-cream shop but who emigrated to Brisbane and left us ice-cream-less; tracking down the girl from my MA who dropped out and went off to save the Great Barrier Reef ( leaving us all behind to sew in rainy drizzly London)…Basically I’m asking anyone in the sixth largest country on the planet with its awesome displays of mountains, deserts, reefs, forests, beaches and bookstores to look out for the colorfully assorted pair and make sure they don’t get lost.

Read more here: Australia, I’m Coming….

SILK NEWx2700   Australia Drawing 2

Love to travel? Read from THE LAST ISLAND by David Hogan

February 6, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

The Last Island is currently on promotion in Australia.

 

“A full white moon glistened above and lit my way along the dusty road back to the cove. The walk was pleasant, and
I took it leisurely, thoughtfully, kicking up rocks and staring at the sky, until I turned off the road into the unpaved
path that led to the cove. Because of the trees, the path was darker than the road, and I kept my eyes on the light coming from within the tree-tunnel just ahead. When I got there, I cleared the branches away with my hand. Just before I broke through the opening, I heard a chopped laugh and a big splash. Then there was laughter again. I stopped and stood in the loose dirt of the tunnel. Still in the dark myself, I was able to see ahead where the moon lit up the cove like a spotlight.

There, a woman traveled through the sea at incredible speed – but without kicking or moving her arms. In fact,
there was no motion at all and no sound or evidence of a motor or propeller or mechanical device – only a slight
ripping sound. The woman’s head, framed in shadows, was thrust forward and strands of shoulder length hair
flew behind her as she moved through the sea like the cap of a small wave. As she approached, only her head and
shoulders were visible; the rest of her body was beneath the surface but somehow suspended, as if she were surfing on her chest. She stopped at the ladder and sank softly into the water. Grabbing onto the second rung, she shook her
head violently like a dog, spraying water everywhere. She laughed, and the ripping sound stopped as the wake behind
her silently formed a widening V.

Thin, with long wiry muscles, she climbed the stairs looking at the sea behind her. Her smallish breasts bounced
slightly and her stomach flattened and tightened as she rose.

Then she stood naked on the dock and seemed, above all, triumphant, like a predator reigning over the cove.
Another sound began, different from the one before; it was a type of etching noise but with a high pitch. The woman
turned to face the sound, her back to me now. I watched a single drop of water wind down her back, creating a glazed
stream that disappeared into the crease of her loins. Taking two large steps, she hurled herself up into the moonlight, gently spreading her arms and legs, her reflection gliding over the mirror of the sea. Landing in the water, she went down and then emerged, flying once again.

She sped away from me, the back of her head getting smaller and darker. She went to the edge of the cove, to the
start of the open sea, and then began a slow circle back, almost levitating on the water, and rocking ever so slightly. When the circle was completed, she came to rest near the ladder. A sigh escaped her lips as she rolled onto her back. And there she floated, nose pointing at the stars, tiny ripples lilting over her stomach…

I don’t know how long I stayed in the tunnel and watched the woman floating. Eventually, she climbed the stairs and
dried herself with the red towel. When she finished, she spoke to the water and, exposed and proud, walked back to
her shack.
Then the cove was deserted, silent and calm. And now the bright, limpid moon dangled far away, over another portion of the Aegean Sea.”

— from The Last Island by David Hogan

 

Get it here: http://viewbook.at/thelastisland

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Love fashion? Read from SILK FOR THE FEED DOGS by Jackie Mallon

February 5, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

Silk for the Feed Dogs is currently on promotion in Australia.

 

“I got into my dress and new Prada shoes, smeared Ravish-Me-Red on my lips, and arranged the netting of my hat
over one eye. I grabbed my coat and couldn’t get out of that draughty warehouse fast enough. Instead of traffic, the streets were now filled with attractive girls and boys striding purposefully in every direction like they were part of a city-wide ad campaign. Confidently, I clipped along as if one of them. I turned the corner off Viale Piave, and the crowd changed. I passed the newsstand that was twice the size of all the others to accommodate its extensive range of porn magazines and DVD’s, vintage and current. I was slightly curious to know why it drew such solid business but not enough to raise my head. I hurried by the ogling men and across the intersecting tram tracks.

Edward waited by an entrance policed by dark-suited bouncers wearing earpieces. Despite the dark, the gleam
from his patent shoes reflected the animation of the city as he paced back and forth, and Debbie Harry twinkled from
underneath his tuxedo jacket. I snuck up behind him as he self-consciously arranged a ruffled evening scarf over his
shoulders like some grand dame waiting to be escorted on board her transatlantic passage.

“God, I thought you’d never get here!” he said. “I’m bloody freezing.”

“Von Dazzlington, I presume?”

C’mon, let’s just get in and get a drink down us. I could be wearing five of these patches, I’d still kill for a smoke.”
A girl consulted a list, the bouncers parted, and we tiptoed through. There was another triad of bouncers and two
more imposingly draped entrances through which the sounds of a DJ flown in from London beckoned from somewhere just beyond. Edward, unable to contain himself, stopped and broke into a shimmy causing me to crash into him.

“Steady. Keep it together,” he cautioned, importantly tossing his scarf and swatting me in the nose with it. “Let’s
not get chucked out before we’re even in.” We stepped through the final curtain and gawped.

“Bloody Nora!” I spluttered.

Edward concealed his first impressions more successfully.

“How entertaining,” he remarked.

Like a pair of boulevardiers, we strolled along a bar that stretched the length of one wall. Its lacquered surface was
laid with rows of cocktails, an invisible line dividing the gin tonics from the vodka tonics, the rum and cokes from the
whisky sours. All the straws faced east like the whole regiment was engaged in a formal salute of welcome. As drinks were snatched up, the infantry of topless barmen swooped in and lowered fresh ones into the gaps.

I selected a gin tonic but Edward hovered indecisively.

“Gin makes me sin.”

I could almost see the film reel of possibilities unspooling in his mind. But after a quick scan of the room, he said,
“What the hell, it looks like I’ll be in good company.”

We withdrew to an observation post, twirling and stabbing our straws in our glasses. What had been a state-ofthe-
art raised catwalk that afternoon had become a pulsating dance floor for a jumble of twiggy, writhing bodies.
They were silhouetted against a grid of lights and the effect was almost pagan, like watching a bonfire’s flames dancing between the tinder. There were low-hanging chandeliers and gold-trimmed cushions of Brobdingnagian dimensions for communal lounging: a tricky proposition as women in skimpy printed dresses tugged at hemlines but continued to reveal too much, and men with slicked back hair and baroquely patterned shirts aimed for a macho, spread-legged nonchalance but resembled toads on lily pads.”

— Excerpt from Silk for the Feed Dogs by Jackie Mallon

Get it here: http://viewbook.at/silkforthefeeddogs 

Australia Drawing 2

Helmut Lang Exhibition by Jackie Mallon

January 30, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

Jackie Mallon

Kirsten for Lang back in the day Kirsten for Lang back in the day

As a devotee of his runways in the late 90s and early aughts, I was mighty curious to see this exhibition. The press release describes his use of materials “with a certain history, elements with irreplaceable presence and with scars and memories of a former purpose.” Right then. I was all ready for a nostalgia trip, a slideshow of campaigns featuring his favorite model, Kirsten Owen, captured by his favorite photographer Jurgen Teller, washing softly over my eyeballs as I walked to the Bowery.

Inside I was rewarded with an opportunity for contemplation that would last longer than the time I spent in the gallery and it looks like I won’t arrive at any conclusions during this post either: there’s always time for ruminating on the longevity of fashion; the recycling of clothing; the myth of a fashion icon and the destruction of…

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Kindle edition of GIFTS free this week!

December 17, 2014

BetimesBooksNow

Christmas is not always magic but good books always are.

Whether you love or hate Christmas, you might enjoy a good story.

Our collection GIFTS: NINE BITTERSWEET CHRISTMAS STORIES is free on Amazon this week: getBook.at/FREE_GIFTS

 

Nut-Tree-11-e1320956127184-495x400

Donald Finnaeus Mayo on our Christmas Collection: “The perfect Gift for anyone who loves writing!”

November 28, 2014

BetimesBooksNow

Donald Finnaeus Mayo

GIFTSx2700 Take the pain out of giving this Christmas – look no further than Betimes Books’ Gifts

In many ways, it was born out of frustration. Frustration with editors who want the same formulaic junk that sold by the bucketload last year, frustration with editorial decisions being made by accountants, frustration with marketing departments who reserve their entire budget for the same half dozen or so big names, frustration with being constantly depressed by the gloomy state of the publishing industry.

People still like to read good books, don’t they? I know I do. They can’t all want the latest ghosted biography from some C-list celebrity or yet another Andy McNab knock-off.

So I was delighted to join the list of Betimes Books, a new imprint designed to retain the best elements of publishing (good taste, rigorous editing, high production values) whilst taking advantage of the digital revolution that, frankly, caught…

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“Outside your Bedroom Window in the Rain” by Colin O’Sullivan

November 24, 2014

BetimesBooksNow

Colin O' Sullivan

Been struck down with the neck hernia thingy again, thus the posts here have been a bit scant.

Never  mind, I’m still rifling though old poems and stories and casting them out to see where they land. Who knows, there may be a “Collected Poetry” book someday, or a “Complete Shorter Fiction of”…you never know.

Here’s a poem, from the mid-nineties I reckon. Another one about rain (must be the Irishman in me).

Outside your Bedroom Window in the Rain

Wrapped,

a warm blanket,

your rich black hair

festoons the pillow.

Wrapped

in home things:

the soft rug that

takes to your toes,

the piano

you tinkle

every now and then,

the grandfather clock

and its quaint chime.

No need to stir

I’m outside

upping my umbrella.

Rain beats a thousand rhythms,

we’re both as sheltered.

Tonight you do not hear my puddle dance,

tomorrow you will not know my…

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Flanagan’s Booker win a breath of fresh air

October 20, 2014

BetimesBooksNow

About the Booker winner Richard Flanagan who highlighted the struggle writers face to make a living from their craft

Donald Finnaeus Mayo

images-3 Man Booker Prize Winner Richard Flanagan

There was something particularly heartening about Richard Flanagan’s Booker Prize win for his novel “The Narrow Road to the Deep North”. Here is a writer at the top of his game, receiving one of the most coveted literary awards in the English speaking language, admitting that on completing the book he almost gave up writing to work in the mines of northern Australia so he could support his family.

Although I’ve never met Richard Flanagan, I’ve followed his career, not without a touch of envy, for a number of years. I first came across his work when I was in Tasmania back in the 1990s working on an early draft of a novel I was writing. I was out on some wilderness tracks in the far western part of the state bushwalking with my cousin and some friends, some of whom knew Flanagan from…

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“The Practices of Compassion and Cruelty” by David Hogan

October 16, 2014

BetimesBooksNow

David Hogan - Writer

Blacktailed Jackrabbit

“I don’t understand these people trying to help animals when there’s so much human suffering in the world. Shouldn’t they be helping humans instead?”

I was asked this question at dinner the other day. One of the characters in my novel, The Last Island, is an animal rights activist. The questioner thought that her passion, like that of many other animal activists, was misplaced. I answered the question as best I could at the time, but after some thought I realized that my response was inadequate. I’ve since come to a new conclusion.

Simply put, the advocacy of animal rights is a matter of compassion. Compassion is a practice, not a resource. It’s not limited and can’t be depleted. Like any other practice — meditation, prayer, kindness, love – it’s something within which one can grow and improve. Given that, compassion for animals does not displace or re-direct compassion…

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War is over… not quite yet

September 12, 2014

BetimesBooksNow

“You don’t write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid’s burnt socks lying in the road.” ―Richard Price
Read here an excerpt from FRANCESCA, when the heroine’s home town of Dili, capital of East Timor, was invaded by the Indonesian army:

Donald Finnaeus Mayo

You hear it everywhere as we approach this time of year – in the shopping malls, on the radio, the optimistic crooning from John and Yoko’s classic: “War is over, if you want it”. Seems like we don’t want it, or not enough anyway.

I don’t think there’s been a time in recorded history when someone, somewhere hasn’t been fighting, killing someone else. Some months ago the British Army thought 2015 might be the first year in a century when it wouldn’t be involved in a conflict somewhere. With events in Syria, Iraq and Iran unfolding as they are, that hope looks less likely by the day.

Iraqi Freedom Image courtesy of soldiersmediac

It’s easy to get war fatigue, to throw up one’s hands in despair and tune out of it all. For me, it’s the civilians caught up in war, especially the children, who haunt me most. Here’s an extract from…

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“Hogan’s adept storytelling makes us ponder our spiritual essence.”

September 8, 2014

BetimesBooksNow

About THE LAST ISLAND in a Greek American newspaper The Greek Star:

http://www.thegreekstar.com/index.php/art-literature/item/2455-book-review-the-last-island

Novel Explores Themes of Redemption, Escape, Love, Our Flawed Nature

Playwright David Hogan offers an intriguing novel, “The Last Island,” based on a fictional Greek island in the Sporades. The Bostonian who lived in Athens for many years and has spent much time on the island of Skopelos, examines the human condition, our flawed nature, and more.

There, he witnessed the island change from a traditional fishing society into a modern, tourist-based economy.

“I wanted to capture something of that transition, what was lost, what was gained and the effect it had on the people, the animals, the island itself.”

“During that time, I was alternately mystified, amused, excited, frustrated, and delighted, as I would have been anywhere else, but in Greece, I think, those emotions were heightened.  I can remember moments when I was swimming in the Aegean at sunset or standing on a mountaintop at dawn where the history and urgency and majesty of the place would course through me. At times, I can still feel it.”

Hogan’s protagonist – unnamed throughout the story – is any of us, an everyman struggling with regrets, searching for meaning, asking himself, ‘now what?’

“He’s as flawed as any of us. Perhaps the one thing that sets him apart is the level of his self-awareness when he recognizes who he is and what he’s capable of.  This understanding comes to him abruptly and confrontationally. Most of us will never experience such a defining moment, but that’s one of many reasons to read novels.”

The protagonist flees his everyday life as a Boston fireman and heads to a Greek island. His grandmother was Greek, and he learned some of the language as a child. He seeks refuge there, where no one knows him, no one knows he can understand some language; he’s just another person. It’s the perfect place to get lost – to lose his former self and begin anew. But redemption is not so easy.

He finds work at a taverna. Immersed in island culture, he meets a mysterious stranger, named Kerryn, who teaches him much about life, getting back to basics, and also about protecting the environment.

Kerryn, like Hogan, is an environmentalist. She’s shedding all her possessions in an attempt to get back to a simple, more natural life, where man and nature live in complete harmony.

“She hasn’t found an answer yet, hasn’t quite found a new way of being, but she’s searching. I’d like to believe we all are.”

She befriends a dolphin, and risks her life to make sure the waters remain wildlife-friendly. Their growing friendship pulls him into her quest to save the island from losing its old ways, and ultimately, helping the dolphins.

Two unlikely beings, shedding their own pasts teach each other about life, love, and human nature. One has previously crossed ethical lines, while another does it currently. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? What if the end justifies the means? Is man more important than nature? Are the new ways better than the old? Have we made life too complicated, and if yes, can we return to simpler ways and times? Do we know what we are really capable of? Hogan’s adept storytelling makes us ponder our spiritual essence, and to reflect on who we are, where we have been and where we are going – and how things so different can really be so much alike.

“The Last Island” is a contemporary fiction bestseller at Amazon UK, reached Number 1 at Amazon Australia, and was a finalist for the San Diego Book Award. Hogan has recently completed a stage play and is currently working on a new novel.

Indonesia remains true to form over French journalists in West Papua

August 12, 2014

BetimesBooksNow

Why Mayo’s novel FRANCESCA is still relevant despite being set in 1970s

Donald Finnaeus Mayo

Unknown-4 West Papua, part of Indonesia, and the neighbouring independent Papua New Guinea

News that two French journalists have been arrested in West Papua should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the way the Indonesian government traditionally deals with threats to its authority.

Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat were arrested on August 6th, allegedly for working in the province without a proper journalist visa. The pair were shooting a documentary for the Franco-German TV channel Arte on the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM), which has for years waged a low level insurgency campaign against the Indonesian government.

Since it gained its independence from the Dutch after World War II, and certainly since the Suharto regime came to power in the 1960s, Indonesia has traditionally taken a firm stance against any internal dissent. The most well known example occurred in East Timor in the 1970s; only it wasn’t so well…

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Travel with our books

August 7, 2014

BetimesBooksNow

Travel to Ireland, Indonesia and Greece with our books KILLARNEY BLUES, FRANCESCA and THE LAST ISLAND featured on www.TripFiction.com TripFiction covers-page-001 (2)