Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wednesday Words (on Thursday again)

I had an early start this morning and wasn’t home until late.

So all my ideas for a post tonight have gone out the window.

So to keep things quick tonight I am going to put up two pieces of my work.

The first is Chapter Eight of my book Veiled in Shadows. If you want to read it please click on the tab above.

I took a break from my WIP over Christmas, but I am commuting again today and hence I was writing.

Here is a possible extract from my WIP Veiled in Storms. It is a piece written from the perspective of Valentina who is Ronnie’s flame earlier in the book. I say possible, because I literally wrote this on my way home tonight, and while I know events like this will happen to Valentina they may well disappear into “back story”. And to be honest I haven’t had time to properly reread this to decide if I can build a good second draft from it.

So in Valentina’s words:

Valentina Meshcova 1943: Baptism
Clinging to the ground like I once did to my mother's skirts I inched forward. Above my head whizzed German bullets. Bullets that were being very deliberately fired to kill me.
With my right hand I dragged myself forward, with my left I towed the straps of a medical bag and a machine-gun. My destination, a shell crater, lay only a few metres in front of me. I felt like screaming in terror, I had never been so frightened, but somehow I forced myself to keep inching forwards.
Finally, I reached the relative cover of the low bank of earth thrown up by the exploding shell. I rolled on to my side and looked up at the bank, even as I watched spurts of dirt were thrown up as bullets slammed into the top. I couldn't think of how to get over without being killed.
I looked back the way I had come, a shallow slope led back down to our trenches. Scattered across that slope lay eighteen bodies, in greenish-brown Russian uniforms. I had crept past many of them checking for signs of life on my tortuous way to where I now lay.
An hour and a half ago some idiot of an officer had ordered an attack on a German trench in front of me. Most of the boys had been cut down, a few had dragged themselves back wounded and one had been seen signalling for help from the crater.
I lay still and tried to remember Svetlana's arguments for why us girls should volunteer for the Red Army. None of them seemed to make any sense now, surely I would contribute more to the war by finishing my studies at medical school rather than getting myself killed here.
The shooting eased off and died away. I risked lifting my head a little and waving back in the direction of our trench. The sergeant there had promised that when I got near they would 'lay down covering fire'.
Whatever that meant.
Nothing happened, it was very quiet for a moment. I thought I could hear a mumbling voice beyond the bank inside the crater, someone was still alive. I waved again.
I found out what covering fire was.
Machine guns and rifles all suddenly began firing from the direction of our trenches. Again bullets screamed past, it didn't feel much better than the Germans shooting at me.
Hopefully it was worse for the Germans. Dragging my gear with me I hurled myself up and over the bank, sliding down into the hole beyond...

Now finally, and in case you think I am making up female Russian medics, a piccie of a real heroine from Russia’s ‘Great Patriotic War’ which we in the West know as WWII.
Medics like this woman were common in the Red Army during the war, and many were highly decorated for saving men at great personal risk. However, many photos like this were staged, but in this one she looks more tired than 'patriotic,' so I guess it might be a genuine shot.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fort Queenscliff Part II

I started posting about Fort Queenscliff before Christmas. Then of course I got distracted by my 200th post Q&A.

So in the tradition of my (semi-mythical) Uncle Harry I put on my tour guide’s hat and resume with a guided tour of Fort Queenscliff.

The Fort sits on the southern outskirts of Queenscliff guarding “The Rip”. The defences at Queenscliff and around Port Phillip Bay were built through the second half of the 19th century, to protect Melbourne from invasion by hostile foreign powers.
These hostile powers were identified as the French, the Russians and, at one stage during the American Civil War, the United States!

When you approach The Fort from the landward side you see a decidedly unimpressive brick wall that forms the rear defence. Originally there was a dry moat and there are dozens of loopholes for rifle fire from inside. But with my knowledge of military technology I was unimpressed. Yes the fort was built in the Nineteenth Century but it was clear that any force bringing even light artillery to bear on this wall would have quickly overcome these defences.

However, I wasn’t quite ready to write the fort off, it was after all designed to protect the entrance to Port Phillip Bay from the sea.

Inside the fort the tour starts with the interior buildings. One is the Black Lighthouse which I posted about previously. Standing next to this is an old signal tower. Fort Queenscliff was only one of a chain of forts built around the entrance to The Bay.
Any defence of Port Phillip Bay would have been coordinated by signals sent through this tower.

Next you pass this Georgian style building. Before The Fort was built this was the civilian post and telegraph office for the town. When the fort was built it was closed to civilians, the offices were shifted into the town. This building became part of the Fort’s hospital.

Then you approach what was the real business end of the fort. These bunker walls form the back side of a massive earth bank that is the front wall of the fort. Set into the bank are a number of heavy gun emplacements.
This is a Nineteenth Century “disappearing gun”And from below. The concept of the gun was that once it was fired it would drop out of sight so the crew could safely reload it. The massive hydraulic ram would lift it up to be fired again.

This is the latest in 19th century communication technology, a brass speaking tube to pass orders to the original magazines deep beneath the base of the guns.

Down below is a whole network of tunnels to allow communication and troops to move around The Fort while under fire.One feature I liked was the original brass oil lamps set in alcoves in the walls. These were locked behind glass to prevent accidents setting off the tonnes of high explosive that were once stored down here. The modern electric lights make things much easier

Back up top we then saw the emplacements built for twentieth century shore battery guns.Impressive until you realise they are dummies. The shield is the original from gun that was sited here in the 1930s, but the barrel is a fake.
With World War II there was a sudden realisation that Japanese naval air-power could easily target these guns. So they were moved to camouflaged positions near Point Lonsdale. The dummies were placed so enemy aerial reconnaissance or spies would report the guns were still in place and waste effort targeting a ruse.

This final photo is of the command bunker used in WWI and WWII.Allegedly the first angry Allied shots of WWI were ordered from here when a German merchant vessel attempted to make a run for the open ocean.

By the 1880s Port Phillip Bay was the most heavily defended port anywhere in the British Empire. Would anyone care to guess why?

Uncle Harry signing off.

Friday, December 24, 2010

200 and Counting! And Merry Christmas.

Well it is Christmas Eve and I have had the pleasure of coming home early so. Here we go…

This is my 200th post!

Now for some prolific bloggers that number is nothing flash, given they post daily. But I don’t. About three times a week seems to be my average which means my blog has been running along for just under 18 months.

So as a celebration of this milestone I thought I’d give my readers a chance to quiz me.

Without further ado:

Samantha asked
“If you could spend New Year's Eve with one person unknown to you, alive or dead, who would it be? (By unknown, I mean not your family, friends)”
Well Samantha, I always find this kind of question surprisingly difficult to answer. There are just so many possibilities given we are including those who have gone to God.
Now a few people have asked a question a little along these lines so I get the fun of picking more than once. In this case I am going to say Winston Churchill.
Why Churchill? As well as being the leader of the British in their finest hour he was also an historian, a writer and a brilliant orator. I suspect you could have a good chin wag with him and I would love to know how close he came to throwing in the towel and surrendering to the Nazis in 1940.

Kat wanted to know: “ I'd like to know if you're an animal lover and which do you prefer, cats, dogs, or both?”
A cat person. No a dog person! No both :-)
Let me explain, when I was really young I had a little terrier for maybe a year. After that Mum would only let us have cats so I loved cats and we had some fantastic cats when I was a kid.
My other half is a dog person (although she like Siamese cats too) so when she came into my life dogs did too. I have really liked all our dogs over the years, but our last dog was Molly a golden Labrador. Molly was an absolute sweetheart of an animal, and although we got her because Deb wanted another dog she really became attached to me and me to her. So I am very much a convert I would have another Labrador tomorrow if I could.

Christine asked: “If you could spend a day as someone from the past, who would it be and why?”
I guess to answer this I might jump back over 1500 years. I think Hypatia of Alexandria is one of the most amazing women in history. I would find it a privilege to spend time with a woman who stood up against all odds for knowledge and wisdom in a very dark time. A very tragic heroine, I doubt I’d have the courage of my convictions like she did.

Hilary wondered: “Where in the world is the gate and it's wrong way round granite book-ends? Looks UK like to me??!”
Bingo! You’ve guessed right this photo was taken in the UK, to be precise near Housesteads fort in Northumberland, England. More about the gate below…

Hart said: “That IS a great pic, and a very cool looking place... as to the favour... well... because you included the 'U”, (I suspect Hart might be having a little go at my use of the Queen’s English. We are only half way to becoming ex-colonial here in OZ and one of the things we have kept along with the Queen is British spelling)
Hart then went on to ask: “If your writing hit it really big, so you could live however you wanted, how would you set up your life?”
I have to laugh I was actually having a conversation very like this today. My ultimate fantasy is to retreat to a rainforest hideaway here in Oz and live a very simple life most of the time. I’d need to have enough money to provide something of an income and to travel extensively from time to time. For research of course :-)

Wendy R, wondered: “When, where and how would you live if you had the power to do so?”
There are plenty of places I would like to time travel to: Ancient Greece, Rome; Shakespeare’s England to name but a few. In reality though for all its problems I think we live in one of the best times (at least in the West). For a start women are for the most part allowed to do what they want and live life according to their own terms.
It is a terrible injustice, perhaps the worst ever that has seen women treated as ‘lesser’ beings for so much of our history (ongoing in many places even today). I like that my daughters can be their own women.

Jennifer said: “I do like the strange broken alcove around the gate!!!
Ooh question!!!!! Erm.... know any good jokes?”
Yes Jennifer I do know a number of good jokes, but they are all far too rude to be repeated here :-)

Sarah (aka Falen) asked: “LOVE that first photo! Do you think there used to be an arch above the gate?”
Yes, there once was a complete arch above the gate. More about the gate below…

Tasha asked: “What's your favorite book?”
That is one of the most difficult questions of all, there are just too many wonderful books to pick just one. I am going to go sentimental and say either: AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh (I most firmly indicate I do not mean Disney’s version of Pooh); or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

Deniz said: “Ooh, good idea. Hmm, well, along the lines of everyone else's questions - which fictional character would you like to have over for dinner?”
Oh dear another toughie: Jane Eyre or Gandalf (how is that for contrasting characters?)

Susan said: “I answered reader questions a while back and it was so much fun - I loved writing those posts!
My question: What is your favorite holiday, and why?”
I agree it is great fun answering these questions. I will answer this question in two ways: my favourite ever holiday was to northern England in 2005 (I took the gate photo then); but my favourite place to holiday is the South Coast of NSW, the little fishing village of Eden is very well named.

MT asked: “Is there something you'd like to photograph that you've yet to have the opportunity to do so?”
A colleague just came back from a holiday to Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Her photos of the ancient city of Petra have me drooling. I want, no need to photograph Petra!!

Denise (aka L’Aussie) presented the following: “ What lead to your love of photography?”
I have always been a very visual person, but I could never get art to look anything like I imagined. With photographs I often capture exactly what I want and some times it is even better than that. I guess the simple answer is photos are an art form I manage to express myself through.

Yvonne cheated (just a little) and asked several questions: “Is that a part of Hadrian's Wall. We saw a section but it was only a couple of feet tall, crumbling in the undergrowth with sheep all about. A you hang a Christmas stocking? Have you ever hung one with it only to end up empty?”
Yes, to the first question the collapsed arch is part of Hadrian’s Wall. The best stretches are roughly in the middle. No, I no longer hang a Christmas stocking; but I did when I was a kid. Once it was empty but Mum couldn’t fit my new bike in it :-)

Jemi also asked a string of questions (although I will let her off the hook because they are all related): “When did you get your first camera? Do you remember the first photo you took that made you realize you were really good with the camera? What's your favourite subject to photograph?”
I got my first camera when I was about eleven. It was a little Kodak 110 instamatic. It took really bad photos, but boy I had fun with it.
I’m not actually sure I am really good with a camera. I have an idea of what I want a photo to look like when I compose it, but I take a lot and pick the best.
To kind of answer your question I guess I was pretty happy with some of the piccies I took way back in the 1970s. This one was taken in about 1975 of a Bird of Paradise flower. It’s not great but I was 11 and it was a very bad camera. This was taken in about 1977 with the same camera.My single favourite subject is ancient ruins, but they are a little far between in Oz. So on a more daily basis I would say landscapes closely followed by wildlife.

For those of you who might be curious (I know I would be) the gate in my piccie is on Hadrian’s Wall in Northumbria England. It is the remains of the north gate arch in Milecastle 37. Originally the remaining wall was the base of a tower with an arched gate. At some point in antiquity the Romans blocked off most of the archway making it only wide enough for one person at a time.
The stretch near Housesteads fort is probably the best preserved if anyone is interested in having a look.
Why is the wall a ruin? Well for hundreds of years all the local farm houses, villages and field walls were built largely with stone taken from the wall. It was much easier to demolish part of the wall than to quarry it.
So that is it for tonight.
Thank you all for asking some great questions. I have really enjoyed the game.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Al Goes in Circles Or 199 Posts. And Al asks a favour

Back on the 8th of July last year I posted my first ever blog post.

Tonight I am posting my 199th post.

Which means my next post is my 200th post!

So not quite 200 post ago I was saying a few things about myself and posting some of my piccies.

Including this one:The above piccie is one of my favourite ever photos. Not only because I am happy with the way it came out but also because I really like the place it was taken. And I was having a great day that day.

Now apart from going in circles with the piccie, I thought I would go in circles in another way and make my 200th post about me.

But just to make it a bit different I will get you, my dear readers, to participate. What I thought was I will make this celebratory post one where I answer questions about me.

So what I would like is for you to ask me a question (or several if you chose). It can be about anything, but preferably it will be about me.

Then in my next post I will do my best to answer what ever questions you have for me.

Now another piccie because I can.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fort Queenscliff: Part 1 ‘The Rip’

Back in November I offered a choice between posting about Mum’s place and Fort Queenscliff. There were more votes for the personal, and since then it has slipped my mind to post about the fort. Looking at the piccies I want to post I’ve chosen twenty odd, which seems a few too many for a single post.

So I’ve decided to talk about the fort in two separate posts. Here tonight is the first part about ‘The Rip’ which is the channel that Fort Queenscliff once guarded. This first piccie is taken from the fort looking across the narrow mouth of the bay to the Mornington Peninsula near Portsea.

The Rip with a container ship passing. As you can see the channel is quite narrow, only about 3 km (1.8 miles across) and in fact the navigable width for a ship of this size is only 250 metres or so.

Given that the bay has a surface area of 1900 square kilometres that means there is always a powerful tidal current running in or out, hence ‘The Rip’. The current going either way is usually around 6 knots.

To add to this difficulty the ships have to change course part way through. To assist with navigation of the passage not one, but two light houses stand in the grounds of Fort Queenscliff.

The Black Lighthouse, This is one of a handful of black lighthouses in the world. Most are painted bright colours (usually white) to help warn ships off rocks. Unusually this light house was not built to warn ships away from nearby rocks. More about that in a minute
(The wooden tower in the above piccie is not a light house. It is a signal tower from the early days of the fort.)

Interestingly most light houses in the British Empire at this period (the late 1800s) were built to a common plan. This produced a strange feature on the Black Lighthouse.
The original door was built about 20 feet above ground level. This was because the design was also used on rocks that were covered by high tides. The Government architect was so rigid that this lighthouse had the same door although it is hundreds of metres from the sea and at the top of a high cliff.

Apparently the lighthouse keepers had to climb a ladder to get to the door until nearly 50 years had passed and the door was finally shifted to ground level!

The second lighthouse in the fort is the White Lighthouse. Because the fort is still a military establishment I wasn’t allowed closer to the White Lighthouse.

This Lighthouse a few miles away at Point Lonsdale is almost identical.So why are there two light houses in the fort one black and one white?
Any guesses?

Well to demonstrate the answer the question I drove a couple of kilometres (1.5 miles) north to the Queenscliff Harbour. At the harbour is this new space age looking viewing tower.Up there are some beautiful views: of the MarinaAnd of The Rip.
In the foreground is the boat house that once housed the lifeboat that saved people from countless wrecks in The Rip.
Fort Queenscliff stands on the cliff on the right side of the piccie.

Now if I zoom in (please excuse the poor quality the piccie was taken through salt encrusted glass) you can just about see what the two light houses are used for.
The Black Lighthouse is closer and you can just see the top of the White Lighthouse over the trees.Now you can’t quite see (because we are off to one side) the cargo ship in the distance is being lined up with both white and black lighthouses. The Pilot knows that if the ship is travelling on an imaginary line that passes through both lighthouses it is aiming for the deep channel.

The incoming ships are then turned hard to their starboard (their right, to the left side of this piccie) when they get to about where the smaller boat is to follow the channel as it curves around in to the bay.

So these are friendly light houses that say “come here” rather than the usual standoffish loner light houses that are found around most coasts.

Friday, December 17, 2010


I for got to hit publish on my posted chapter yesterday!
If you want to read Chapter 7 of Veiled in Shadows hit the tab above.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Veiled in Shadows Kindle Edition discounted + Words not on Wednesday

First up, following the advice of Christy Pinheiro, I have cut the price of my Kindle Edition of Veiled in Shadows, it’s now $2.99. By the way Christy has also added a review of the book on Amazon. Christine from Inwardly Digesting has posted a review on Good Reads.
Christy has two helpful blogs about self publishing, while Christine runs a lovely blog about writing and life in her patch of northern England.
Thank you both!

I’m going to have to stop calling this regular post ‘Words on Wednesday’ because once again it isn’t Wednesday.
Maybe ‘Tales on Thursday’?

I have been planning to post something more from my family history, but I just haven’t had time to think about writing something down. I am writing on the train every day, but I am jealously guarding that time for my WIP.

Once again I have posted a chapter of Veiled in Shadows (click the tab for Chapter 7 above). For those of you reading along as I post here you will find that Ebi has been making enquiries about what has happened to Katharina.

Another habit I am indulging in is to post a taste from my WIP. Last week I posted a strong passage about Stepan and Ksenia, I have been working on their part of the story all week, but while I know where they are going I’m not happy about posting any of that tonight.

The bit I am posting tonight was originally a piece I had as a provisional prologue. But it won’t fulfil that function now, I think it will make it into the final version but I will have to redraft it.

By the way those few of you who have read Veiled in Shadows may recognise this scene, only from a different perspective.
How’s that for a tease? You really are going to have to buy Veiled in Shadows aren’t you?

Now I have finished the sales pitch for tonight.

I give you David in Veiled in Shadows, my WIP:

Loved Ones: Poland - October 1940
David Schiller
‘David, that engine is smaller than the one you are going on.’
I squatted down next to my little brother Benjamin, anything to divert my attention from Mama's grief, ‘Are you sure?’
His five year old face creased with concentration, ‘Yes, silly,’ he pointed, ‘Yours is longer and it has more wheels.’
Despite my efforts Mama was not to be avoided, ‘David, you make sure you write to us every week, and be careful of those communists.’
Papa intervened, ‘David will write when he can.’
There was an uncomfortable moment, the guard's whistle blew.
Papa wrapped his arms around me and held me tight, releasing me he took my hand and shook it. I was surprised, Papa had never shaken my hand before.
He tried to smile but I could see he was close to tears. ‘Take care of yourself, none of us will be happy until you come home.’
I gave Mama a kiss and a hug. Then I hugged my sister Jena before climbing onto the train. The engine's whistle blew and the train lurched before slowly moving along the platform. ‘David!’
It was Jena, at fifteen she was only three years younger than me. Yet, with her blonde plaits bouncing on her shoulders, as she ran alongside the train, she looked much younger. She came to the end of the platform and stopped her eyes streaming with tears as she shouted after me, ‘David, don't forget me.’
I leant out shouting back to her, ‘How could I ever forget my only sister? I'll write, and I'll be back before you know it.’
I waved until I could no longer see her.
I pulled my head in and sat back, ‘First time away from home?’
The question came from an old lady sitting opposite. I nodded, ‘I am going to Moscow.’

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Our Weekend

As I said on my last post we were out to dinner with friends on Saturday.
We parked near their flat and caught a tram into town. They took us to a favourite of theirs a Japanese restaurant on Flinders Lane called Hako. Gorgeous sashimi and sushi!
For those of you who have never tried sashimi give it a go. I love seafood of all kinds, Deb on the other hand doesn’t usually like fish, but she loves sashimi.

Anyway after a late night out Deb and I were out and about on Sunday.
We did a bit of exploring, we didn’t see much of great note. However I did stop on this little dirt road to take a couple of piccies. One shows how threatening the sky was.The other feature what I really stopped for. Someone must have been mad keen on practising kicking goals on this farm. This is about the first time I have seen someone with their own nearly full size set of Aussie Rules Footy goals.

I pondered given how overgrown these are how long it is since they were used. I also wondered if someone who was so keen ever went on to play professionally. A kind of country boy done good thing.

Enough for tonight because it has been a really long day!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A very quick post tonight.

It is still very wet down this way.

In the north of Victoria a number of towns have been flooded.

Further, north in NSW huge areas are cut off with SES (State Emergency Service) beginning to air drop relief supplies. In QLD there have been a few deaths, (mostly people trying to drive across flooded streams).

Here around Melbourne the flooding has just been at nuisance level.

So we are lucky.

Anyway the rain stopped long enough for me to get out and about and catch these piccies of floodwaters near Yarra Glen.

The flooded fences give idea of the depth of water.

I guess this farmer won't be selling too much produce for a little while
I thought the light behind this abandoned railway trestle bridge was worth a shot.

Thank all of you who left supportive comments about my extract from my WIP on Thursday.

Now, Deb and I are off to have dinner with friends in the city.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Words but NOT on Wednesday: WIP and a Chapter.

Obviously it isn't Wedneday, this post was meant for last night but I ran out of steam.

I’ve posted a chapter of Veiled in Shadows again tonight. In Chapter Six Peter is having some terrible problems with fog. While Ebi is trying to cope with some strange behaviour from Katharina and then her mysterious disappearance. If you want to have a look click on the tab above.

Writing on the train is still progressing well. I am knocking of 500 to 800 words most days. It’s all very rough and at best a first draft. But I am happy it is progressing faster than it has for sooo long.

Veiled in Shadows is written with multiple narrators and I am using the same approach with my WIP. Usually I find myself writing one section featuring one character in a session and then jumping somewhere else on the next.

This morning though I continued with a section I started last night, I worked on it again this morning and finished on my way home. It features two characters I have not mentioned before. Stepan who was a medical student before the war, but who now finds himself in the NKVD and Ksenia a young nurse and a deserter.
It is as before a first draft (although I have read through it and fixed the most glaring errors) but I have a feeling this one will make it into my final work, albeit probably reworked. It is quite long and makes up most of a chapter in the first half of the book.

Stepan narrates, although he talks about himself in the third person.
Warning: it’s not cheery.

Ksenia: Russia - September 1942
Stepan Avelin
Stepan groans and rolls over, 'What do you want?'
'This one is different. I don't know what to do.'
The speaker is Ilyin one of Stepan's Corporals. His mind is still thick with sleep as he struggles to pull on his boots. Lieutenant, how strange that sounds.
The Red Army is again in retreat, falling back in the face of the second German summer offensive. Stepan has done nothing to earn promotion. Nothing that is but what he has done since the previous autumn, organising checkpoint after checkpoint. Yet the NKVD are often the last to leave a battlefield, so his regiment has taken casualties. Significant casualties, hence his promotion to take the place of a lieutenant trapped and killed by German tanks in the last retreat.
The benefits of rank: a warm bed, if there is one to be had; someone to clean his boots; and more pay, useless unless he ever gets leave. The negatives: a feeling of responsibility when one of his men is killed; and rather than simply following orders he is the one who decides who will live, or more realistically who will die. Such choices deepen the darkness of his soul.

Following Ilyin, Stepan enters the kitchen of the little house he has made his headquarters. Two uniformed figures stand with their faces against the wall. Another of Stepan's men, Gavrilivich, stands by the back door covering them with a submachine-gun.
Faceless though the prisoners are, Stepan can see instantly what has disconcerted his men. The baggy uniforms do not conceal that the shorter of the two has the slight, but curved figure of a woman.

A woman! Stepan is momentarily alarmed, what should he do? A woman, but she stands before him in a Red Army uniform, should he not treat her in the same manner as any other? Should it not simply be a bullet after a cursory inspection of papers? It perhaps should be, but it is not so simple, some taboo rears its head. Instinct perhaps? Or is it rather a learned response, nice boys don't hurt girls.
Stepan is both surprised and a little pleased at his response. Perhaps if he can recognise a taboo there is still a trace of human dignity to be found somewhere within himself. Still though there is the fiction to be maintained for his men, he is a cold heartless officer. 'What orders do the prisoners have?'
'None, however they are from a field hospital.'
'Do they have papers?'
The man half turned, 'We have...'
'Quiet unless the Lieutenant addresses you!' Shouts Gavrilivich.
Ilyin hands over the pay books taken from the prisoners. Stepan no more than glances at the man's, not looking at his name, it is better if they remain nameless, instead he looks at the rank and for any reason to not simply dispose of the problem.
Stepan can see no reason, other than common humanity, to spare the him and common humanity is a scarce commodity in 1942.

Stepan throws the first pay book on the table and looks at that of the girl. He reads aloud 'Ksenia Kitzova'. She turns around: she is young, no more than maybe nineteen or twenty; Stepan can see she is pretty even though she is dirty and dishevelled,
more than that though she has a presence. It is as if somehow she is more alive than the others in the room. Stepan hides it as best he can, but he is dismayed, how can he possibly rob such a person of life.
Her pay book is no different from her comrade's, she is like him an army private. Stepan can see no reason to exempt her from the fate of so many others.
'What is your role in your regiment?'
'I am a surgical theatre assistant, Comrade Lieutenant.'
A more rear echelon role there cannot be, is it enough to let her live? But Stepan must be careful, being too lenient is dangerous. Too big a mistake on his part could lead to his own death.

He will take the risk. If the worst happens he will tell his captain he was simply waiting for instruction. Stepan points, 'Kitzova sit on that chair. Do not move.'
He spins on heel to face the other, he jerks his thumb towards the door, 'This one outside, shoot him.'
Stepan hears a desperate, breathless, 'No!' from the girl behind him. He ignores her, focusing on his victim. The man slumps submitting quietly as so many do. A minority cry or beg, a tiny number resist violently but most go quietly like this one. Stepan has often wondered if it is a Russian stoicism, or if all people would behave so.

Stepan turns back to the girl, he bites back a startled exclamation. She is livid with rage, her eyes bore into his with an unconcealed malevolence. She sits at the kitchen table her fingers interlaced, one hand gripping the other so hard the knuckles are going white. Stepan feels empty he sits slowly down on the Chair opposite the girl. He should bury his head in shame but somehow he meets her eyes.
They are beautiful eyes he thinks, dark, almost as dark as Svetlana's. But filled with such hate, Stepan is sure he has never felt anything with the intensity with which this girl hates him.
His eyes were still held by hers when the sound of a single rifle shot ripped through the room. The girl jumped, her eyes involuntarily snapped to the direction of the sound.

When her eyes returned to Stepan's they were spilling with grief. For an instant she shared her agony, but her hate flared up anew, she spat her words at him, 'You monster.'
Stepan held the word up and examined it, as a connoisseur might hold a glass of wine before the light, 'Monster? Monster? I don't know. Immoral weakling probably, coward yes definitely. But I am no monster.'
'You bastard you killed him.'
'I have no power in this. I am ordered to execute all traitors who have deserted their posts. I may have killed myself by sparing you this long.'

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Arthur: The Birthday Present Part II.

I ducked into a hollow under the overhanging fringe of lantana. In the shade I stood up.
Then I froze, I stood absolutely still…
Just a yard or so in front of me sprawled out in the cool shade lay a fully grown Bengal Tiger…

She stared at me. I stood rooted to the spot. With absolute terror I realised two things: her massive paws were just in front of me, she could so easily swat me like a fly; I had a gun but as I was painfully aware it was slung over my shoulder.
Not knowing what else to do I stood as still as I could. It seemed an age, but was probably only a few moments. Her huge yellow eyes stared unblinking into mine. Then she yawned, her huge mouth opening wide exposing her huge fangs. My heart jumped, but still I stood as motionless as I could.

Then slowly, almost casually she rose and stretched like the gigantic cat she was.
Again she fixed her eyes on mine before stepping forwards.
Then with her shoulder she pushed me almost gently, but still very forcefully aside as she slid from the shade out into the sunlit river bed.

I stood, not unmoving now because I was shaking like a leaf. Then after a moment I turned and ducked back into the sunlight. The tiger was almost at the opposite bank of the river, strolling towards the jungle.

I swung my gun off my shoulder and grabbed it awkwardly. Still shaking like crazy I brought it up, but probably because I was shaking so hard it discharged harmlessly into the air. The tiger picked up her pace and disappeared under the vegetation that covered the opposite bank.

I stood there watching the jungle she had disappeared into and sighed with relief. Relief because she had chosen not to harm me, but even more relief because my shot had gone wide and had not harmed her. I had brought up my gun without thinking, but as soon as I did I realised how wrong I would have been. For whatever reason she had chosen to spare me, it would have been very poor form to have repaid her with death.

I remained in India for more than another forty years. I went on many hunts, taking game of all kinds.

I should say of almost all kinds; I never hunted tigers after that day.
I decided that I had a debt to tigers that I would repay by sparing them, as she had spared me.

Arthur Russell contemplating a Madhya Pradesh Landscape 1965,
in forty years the area had gone from mostly jungle to predominantly farmland.
There are still Tigers in MP, but they are terribly endangered

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Arthur: The Birthday Present.

The following is a story told to me by my Grandfather Arthur Russell. He told it to me a number of times when I was young. I know he also told it to my father Rupert when he was a child. Arthur was a real story teller and had an amazing ability to bring his experiences to life as he recounted them. This story is told essentially as he told it with little embellishment. The story is about an event that happened in the dry season in 1925. The location was near his family’s hunting lodge which was situated close to a tributary of the Narmada River not far from Jabalpur in what was then Central Provinces and is now Madhya Pradesh.

My father gave me a brand new 20 gauge gun for my sixteenth birthday. As was normal for the time in British India we were a family of hunters. Our house in Jabalpur and our lodge were festooned with trophies. If you have been to my brother Bill’s house you will have seen many of the trophies from those times.
Naturally I was very excited and wanted to try my new gun out as soon as possible. But although I was home from boarding school on holiday I had work to do before my father would let me out.

It was close to noon by the time I was out. It was very hot, as is normal in the dry-season and in reality if I wanted to find something to shoot I would have been wiser to have waited until it cooled a little in the evening.
But I was young and keen, so I ignored what I knew and hurried out as soon as I was allowed.

I headed down to the river because it was the usual way we threaded our way into the thick jungle. Because it was the dry season the river had stopped flowing leaving large standing pools in its sandy bed. I weaved my way along the river bed, leaving a trail of footprints in the dry sand.
As I went, I looked for tracks in the river bed as my father had taught me. Half an hour went by, I had seen nothing and the jungle was quiet except for the throb of cicadas high in the trees. My pulse quickened with excitement as I saw the pug marks of a leopard, but then I realised they were days old. I walked on.

The scenery was beautiful, the thick jungle on either side, and lantana thickets shading the banks of the river. The sun threw dancing reflections off the pools of water.
It was terribly hot, even for a boy who had lived his whole life in India. My gun began to get heavy so I slung it by its leather sling over my shoulder.
But I was not going to give up, so I went on.

Eventually, hot and tired I came to a stop. I stood and thought about what to do. I really wanted to bag something with my new gun. But I finally had to admit I was not going to find anything along the river in the heat of the day. Perhaps, I thought, if I went into the jungle proper I might at least find a jungle fowl. Or if I was really lucky I might bag a peahen for dinner.

My decision made, I turned ninety degrees and made my way to what looked like a lower section of the bank under its canopy of lantana.
I ducked into a hollow under the overhanging fringe of lantana. In the shade I stood up.
Then I froze, I stood absolutely still…
Just a yard or so in front of me sprawled out in the cool shade lay a fully grown Bengal Tiger…
Image: Wikipedia, Wild tiger in Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh

Friday, December 3, 2010

Tonight some brilliant news!

I last posted about Kathleen Jones because she gave me a copy of her new biography, Katherine Mansfield: The Story Teller.As I have said before Kathleen has one of my favourite blogs, A Writer’s life.

Kathleen has been reading a copy of my book Veiled in shadows. Anyway a couple of weeks ago she sent me some interview questions about my writing. Well she has posted my responses. Check it out.

But it gets better still! Kathleen has also reviewed my book Veiled in Shadows and she has posted her brilliant review on her book blog. To say I am chuffed is a major understatement. Thank you Kathleen!

Swan Watch XV: Wet Down Under

The record-breaking drought seems to be a long distant memory. Melbourne (and Victoria) are getting weather more reminiscent of our tropical north rather than the Mediterranean-type climate we usually have. We are experiencing large thunderstorm systems passing through every day or two. The downpours on already sodden soils are causing localised flooding.

These couple of shots were taken at the nearby town of Whittlesea the other day. They show a park near the main street. The Plenty River has burst it’s banks and is spreading across the parkland.

Nearby, someone has spread bird-seed. It had attracted some local birds, neither of which I have shared with you before.
Crested pigeons.Aren’t the colours on their wings beautiful?When they fly their wings make a distinctive whistling sound.

And I snapped away and didn’t realise until after that these cockatoos weren’t the long-billed corellas I have shown you before. These guys are actually another species called little corellas.

On the subject of birds our baby swan is still well. Baby is still much shyer than when mother swan was around, which is good, it helps keep him/her safe. He/she is still growing and is getting closer to adult colouring.Just in case you missed my post of last night Kathleen Jones posted a wonderful review and interview on her blogs yesterday. Sorry to keep banging on, but I am excited (Kathleen's Blogs are well worth a look anyway).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Words on Wednesday: Progress on my WIP

Once again I have posted a chapter of Veiled in Shadows.
In this chapter Katharina argues with her father over her love affair with Ebi. Also an engagement is announced.

Now to what I am going to talk about tonight…

I said last Wednesday that Deb surprised me with a new Netbook.

My time on the train has suddenly become amazingly productive. On my way into the city my station is the first on the line so I always get a seat. I put on my headphones to block out the World and I write (or think) for a solid hour before I have to get off at my stop.

On the way home mine is the fourth city stop so the train is usually full when I get on. Standing room only! But somewhere between a third and a half of the way home enough people get of to allow me a seat. So there is another precious 30 or 40 minutes to work.

This is simply bliss. My WIP (Veiled in Storms) has been languishing while I have been getting Veiled ready for publication. Now suddenly it is full steam ahead again.
You’ll have to forgive my nautical metaphor, but I’m writing about Ronnie my Royal Navy character at the moment.

Now a sample of what I wrote today. Please bear in mind that this is very much a first draft. I’ve done nothing to it (not even a rough edit this is literally just pasted out of my “scribble” file) and the way I write this scene may never make it into the book. It could easily end up just as ‘back story’.

With out further ado I give you Ronnie somewhere in the North Atlantic:

The light on the destroyer's bridge flashed and stuttered so fast that I couldn't keep up. I turned to Rogers, my signalman, 'He makes '"Goodbye and good luck", sir.'
'Respond, "At least we shan't have to put up with any more haggis" '.
Rogers grinned, and began frantically clattering on the shutter of our signal lamp. I stared at the wake of the departing destroyer. She was escorting the battered convoy of merchant ships that we had helped shepherd on our way north, back to Loch Ewe in Scotland.
They were going south, but I was returning to Russian waters in my tiny ship. I had ninety men on my little vessel, but suddenly I felt more lonely than ever before.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Al Draws Prizes:

Well after posting about my Dad on Saturday I have a change of pace tonight.

It's time to draw the prizes for my giveaway!

I drew the second prize first. The lucky second is: Falen (aka Sarah Ahiers)

Now for the big one: Drum Roll…

And the winner is: Old Kitty (aka Jennifer). Thus proving the benefits of taking a little bribery and corruption :-)

Well I am in a generous mood this evening soooo

I am changing the prizes.

First prize is now:
Six 8” by 10” prints of any of my piccies from this blog; the winner chooses the piccies they want.
OR as an alternative prize, a copy of my book Veiled in Shadows AND three 8” by 10” prints.

Second Prize:
Is now three 8” by 10” prints of any of my piccies from this blog OR a copy of my book .

I know Old Kitty has been printing my extract pages to take on the train, so now you can have a copy that is easier to hold if you choose.

As to Falen, well I know you wanted a copy for Christmas. Now you have the option to get a copy early (if you wish).

So what will you both choose? My book ,or my piccies? Here's a sample
So dear winners you will have to email me and let me know what you want to do.