Book Trailer: A Prison in the Sun

I’m delighted to share this book trailer for a Prison in the Sun, created by PR Manager and author Henry Roi.

http://mybook.to/prisonsun

“After millennial ghostwriter Trevor Moore rents an old farmhouse in Fuerteventura, he moves in to find his muse.

Instead, he discovers a rucksack filled with cash. Who does it belong to – and should he hand it in… or keep it?

Struggling to make up his mind, Trevor unravels the harrowing true story of a little-known concentration camp that incarcerated gay men in the 1950s and 60s.”

Read more about my novel here – https://isobelblackthorn.com/canary-islands-novels/a-prison-in-the-sun/

Isobel Blackthorn is the author of a Canary Islands Mystery series, including A Matter of LatitudeClarissa’s Warning and A Prison in the SunThe Drago Tree serves as a prequel. Find her author page and easy access to her writing here author.to/IsobelBlackthorn

Let my tell you about my muse

What is a muse? One of nine goddesses presiding over the arts, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. Or a woman, or a force personified as a woman, the source of inspiration for the creative artist.

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Using this latter definition, I can say that my own daughter Liz functions as my muse, as she certainly inspires me. But I prefer to think that she has a direct line into me, or that my muse, Scarlet, has a direct line out to her.

I named my muse Scarlet long ago, back when I had no idea who she was. All I knew was that she existed in my psyche and she was dangerous. Who is she?

I hold with Stephen King’s depiction of the nature of the muse in his memoir, On Writing. He describes his muse as a fat guy in the basement, smoking a cigar. Which all seems stable and almost businesslike, although I think that guy would be a controller. Just like Scarlet.

Here’s the story of Scarlet. I’m a survivor. Back when I was very small things happened that so terrified me that bits of me went into hiding, while other bits of me learned to cope. The first bit of me to flee was my muse, that inner self that lives deep in the unconscious, right in its centre, whose only purpose in life is to create.

The muse is the synthesiser, the one who puts all sorts of things together and comes up with something new. She or he is the bearer of inspiration and enormous joy. Those aha moments belong to the muse.

Without her, I was a creative cripple.

Scarlet fled into a dark corner of my psyche and over the years I locked her in a cage. I locked her in a cage because she could behave like a banshee. She had so much energy and it manifested as blind rage. I couldn’t deal with her. Frankly, she was embarrassing.

Every now and then she’d burst out of me and I’d write something, but I was ashamed of what I wrote. I had no confidence, no self belief, and the feedback I sought from others was not good.

She was persistent. Whenever there was a still moment in my life she’d rattle her cage. I’d feel compelled. I’d pick up a pen. Only to rip up or even burn the outpourings of song lyrics, poetry, stream of consciousness writing or part chapters of a novel.

Of course the life of a survivor is not an easy one. I had a lot to deal with both within myself and with the people I attracted into my life.

I battled with an absence of self worth. I even got a PhD thinking that would help, but it didn’t.

Thankfully I got some good advice along the way. And some of the therapy I underwent to make myself whole again was amazing. Through it I learned to recognise Scarlet and understand her needs. I found her to be a wild voluptuous woman who wore a long red gown as if she’d come straight out of Wuthering Heights. The crown of thorns she insisted on wearing a blatant statement of her suffering. Meek was not in her vocabulary.

Sometimes I visited the cage but the circumstances of my life meant I had to keep her under lock and key. I had no choice but to deal with the vicissitudes that had befallen me. She waited. The years rolled on. Then, in the forty-seventh year of my life, Scarlet had had enough.

On the day she broke out of her cage and roamed free I felt an upsurge of energy. Ideas for a book flooded my mind. I became edgy and impatient for change. She’d begun a revolution.

Before long she took over my decision making. She cleared out all the dross of my life. She demanded my full attention. I found her reckless and obsessive. But I let her have her way.

Now I’m fifty-four. I’ve lived for seven years with Scarlet’s ruthless resolve.

The entire contents of me have realigned themselves around this new creative centre. I feel her energy. She has me up at dawn. She has me writing every day. She has me pushing away everything that does not serve her needs. She sucks me inwards, into her realm, and I have become her slave.

In some ways I live a life out of balance. But in the scheme of my whole existence this extreme, out-of-balance way of life is simply bringing me to equilibrium. I would have it no other way.

Love you Scarlet.

 

After the fanfare

9781922200365-Cover (1)So, I’ve published a book. That’s fantastic news! All those years of slavish labour coming to a glorious culmination – the release. The Drago Tree is my second novel published by Odyssey Books in this auspicious year of 2015. My year! I’ve made it. Crossed that line that feels like the Grand Canyon. There’s the endorsement. There’s the kudos. There’s the fanfare of the press releases, the radio shows, the launches. Fans grab their signed copies. Friends congratulate me on my success. It’s such a high. Then…

You wait…and nothing happens.

No Google alerts. Nothing on Goodreads. Or Amazon. You run an eye down the urls in your daily book x self x review search and all you see is, ‘be the first to submit a review.’

Doubt kicks in – They don’t like it. They’re not even reading it. They’re using it as a door stop. They’ve left it, face down at page two, on the bus. They think it’s too long, too short, too, too, uninteresting.

You wait…

Someone writes a great review. You’re swinging from the chandelier. You post, blog, tweet, pin it. You get as much mileage out of it as you dare.

You wait…

You think of recycling that one review but pride won’t let you.

You wait…

Is the story really that bad? All those review requests you sent out last week and only one reply? Perhaps you haven’t got the review request tone right. Face it, you’re no good at this game. Then there’s the timing. Requesting book reviews at the end of the year is bad timing. All the prestigious blog reviewers have shut up shop for the year. But what’s to be done? The publishing calendar doesn’t end in August.

You wait…

…feeling jinxed. Review copies go astray in the post, no doubt making the journey from Canberra to Melbourne via Marble Bar. Anticipation has morphed into despondency. You wake each day feeling heavy. You no longer feel a frisson of optimism when you search for a book review.

You wait…

You stop yourself from searching for that one person who told you in a comment on Facebook how much they loved your book, and begging them to join Goodreads.

You wait…

Your local press and community decide not to join in your fanfare and launch promotion. ‘You’ve had a lot of coverage already this year with your first book, Isobel. Now it’s someone else’s turn.’ Turn? Ouch. You know it’s irrational but the rock-solid support you thought you had feels like gossamer. You begin to wonder if anyone will turn up to your launch. You begin to wonder who your friends are, or even if you have any.

You wait…

You bury yourself in your latest work. Tell yourself you’ve raised your expectations way too high and the world doesn’t revolve around you and your book.

Face it, you’re too impatient. It’s only been a few weeks.

You remind yourself of persistence, perseverance, resilience – that’s what it takes to be a writer. You tell yourself not to be so, needy.

You wait…

On Gilgamesh by Joan London

I’m about halfway through Joan London’s Gilgamesh and toying with writing something on Goodreads. Just now I scrolled through the reviews to read what others were saying but stopped when I realised there were over 1,800 of them. I really only have one word to add – bleak.

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And I realise much of the bleakness comes not from the story itself but from an absence of emotional reaction on the part of the main characters, along with a paucity of introspection. As is typical of much Australian writing the feeling in the story is embedded in the action as the main character, Edith, goes through the motions of her difficult life. She isn’t the responsive type and I’m left feeling empty.

The story is straightforward. In 1937, on a tiny farm in the town of Nunderup, in far southwestern Australia, seventeen-year-old Edith lives with her sister Frances and their mother, Ada. One afternoon two men, Edith’s cousin Leopold and his Armenian friend Aram, arrive, taking the long way home from an archaeological dig in Iraq. Among the tales they tell is the story of Gilgamesh, the legendary king of Uruk in ancient Mesopotamia. Gilgamesh’s great journey of mourning after the death of his friend Enkidu, and his search for the secret of eternal life, is to resonate throughout Edith’s life, opening up the possibility of a life beyond the farm.

Alongside the myth of Gilgamesh, there is a motif of perversion running through the narrative, stated almost in passing in the most matter-of-fact manner. It’s a motif that evokes revulsion and a sense of doom. 

Overall the narrative is restrained. I think the idea behind this style of storytelling is that the reader is free to have their own emotional reactions, unimpeded by those of the characters. The downside is that the characters are more like automatons. The rich roundness of their beings duly muted in the rendering, they are at risk of appearing one-dimensional.

In it’s favour I have to say that the narrative is superbly crafted and poised, the prose elegant. Gilgamesh is definitely a book I would recommend.

Well, that was more than one word!

Narrative as Navigation Through the Self: Isobel Blackthorn’s Asylum

(‘Narrative as Navigation Through the Self: Isobel Blackthorn’s Asylum’ by Ness Mercieca was originally published in the October 2015 edition of  The Tertangala)

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They say the mind does not create, and that it only cuts and pastes the stimulus it receives from the outside world.

Author Isobel Blackthorn has a talent for this, in fact, I often get the feeling with her that she is cataloguing my idiosyncrasies. I suspect I am not the only one to suspect this, and that she has an arsenal of our traits and habits to be appropriated for the right character at the right time. It’s the literary skill that brought us Plath’s The Bell Jar, and it goes by the name of semi-autobiography.

When I asked Isobel about her creative process, her words confirmed what John Cleese (whose name my computer insists I correct to Cheese) once said about creativity, that the subconscious will reward you with an idea if you spend long enough contemplating a topic. Here it is in Isobel’s words; “I let the story brew inside me for a while, sometimes years, and when some other far larger part of me has it all figured out, I have a powerful irrepressible urge to write. And I go into lockdown and give that other self total freedom.”

The true art to Plath and Blackthorn’s (Plath-thorn’s, if you like) literary style, however, is dissecting the self. Most authors do it; a mood or thought is isolated. It becomes the embryo from which a new self germinates, and it becomes a complex character. (Ever wonder why writers think of their characters like children? Well, there you have it.) Entire books can be populated by these alternate selves of the author, and a narrative becomes the ship through which the self is navigated.

Who’s at the helm, you ask? Isobel speaks not only of smaller selves, but of a larger one who personifies her creativity; “I prefer to think of my source of inspiration as some other greater me deep inside,” she says, “and every time I write a first draft, I’m paying homage to her, to the muse.”

Isobel’s most recent book, Asylum, is the story of such an alternate self. Yvette Grimm speaks with an incredibly honest voice from the perspective of an illegal immigrant waiting to be told to leave Australia, but having no-where else to go. She has been given a personal prophecy that she will meet the father of her children in Australia, and her hopes of permanent residency depend on meeting him very, very soon.

What resonates the most with me, however, is the creative block that all of this brings about in Yvette. Blackthorn made me want something, as a reader, that a book has never made me want before; I wanted Yvette Grimm to paint. Blackthorn played on a knowledge we all have that when you find inspiration, it’s probably because you’ve found something else too.

The relentless march of Empire

So the sugar cane roots that decimated the land of Central and South America, were taken there by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage from a source on the Canary Islands. Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano.

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That source was in large part Tenerife, where native forests had been clear felled to make way for sugar plantations.

It seems timely to remember what Empire did to hundreds of millions of people, in Africa, and in the Americas, and the world over. How it was the short-sightedness and avarice of the Spanish and Portuguese, and the calculated and shrewd opportunism of the Dutch and the British, that created a situation of unimaginable cruelty in the name of gain.

Lanzarote, the setting for The Drago Tree, was squarely in the path of this massive expansion of Empire. The island effectively linked the African slave trade to the South American silver and gold and cash crop exports.

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Something about the exodus today of millions of people from war ravaged lands makes me thing of our recent human history (of, say, the last 600 years). Of the arrogant way the major powers choose to treat other nations and their peoples as if the mantle of Empire were still wrapped around their necks.

The Drago Tree is out now at Odyssey Books and through all good booksellers

Lanzarote: the fulcrum of an empire

The history of the Spanish conquest of the Americas upon the famous voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492, pivots on an earlier conquest, that of Lanzarote and the Canary Islands.

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Sailing is largely dependent on ocean currents. The Canary current sweeps down from Spain and Portugal along the West African coast, until it reaches the Equatorial current and shoots off into the Atlantic all the way to South America. Lanzarote is the first island in that current’s path.

Lanzarote had long been favoured by marauding Spanish adventurers covetous of the profits procured from dyes and slaves, when, in 1402, Norman knight and ambitious conqueror, Jean de Bethencourt left La Rochelle with Gadifer de Salle and a retinue of men-at-arms. Bethencourt and Gadifer were determined to take possession of the “Fortunate Islands” on behalf of any Kingdom willing to strike a good deal. Following in the tradition of Church-sanctioned conquest, they took with them two priests, Pierre Bontier and Jen Le Verrier, who documented the conquest in a journal that would later become, The Canarian.

And in The Canarian the priests depict Lanzarote as wooded with brushwood, olives and higuerilla. There were natural springs in the foothills of the mountains. There were plains and broad valleys of tillable land. And plenty of rocks to build shelter. And a small and amenable indigenous tribe, (later known as los Conejeros, or Guanches). 

After ‘subduing’ with empty promises the tribal leader, King Guadarfia, Bethencourt sailed back to Cadiz to strike a deal with Henry III of Castile that would make him conqueror and owner of all the islands.

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Bethencourt was a greedy opportunist who knew the islands would bring ample wealth. He’d been keen to acquire the blue dye of the orchilla that clung assiduously to the malpais, and the sanguine sap of the drago trees, for use in his mills back in France.

After much betrayal, treachery and a series of attacks and counter attacks worthy of a Johnny Depp movie, King Guadarfia was a hero defeated. When Bethencourt returned with provisions, men and arms, and of course his permission by King Henry III to conquer all the Fortunate Islands in the name of Castile, Guardafia and his people were worn out and demoralised.

Bethencourt returned to a hero’s welcome. According to the priests, the natives surrendered and were duly baptised. At this point the priests claimed that all present had rejoiced, the heathens brought to salvation at last and a legitimate society born on this beleaguered land.

Of course the priests were biased. Guadarfia had no choice but convert or die.

The stage was set for a later conquest, that of the Americas. Lanzarote was the trading post. Ships laden with gold and silver and other treasures  would put in to harbour en route to Spain, and so began a new wave of piracy.

We’d know a whole lot more about Lanzarote had the island’s official records not been destroyed in 1586, when renegade Jan Janz – Dutch privateer taught by the infamous Red Beards, turned Algerian pirate, Morato Arráez – went on a bloody carnal rampage.

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Based on extensive research for The Drago Treereleased 29 September by Odyssey Books. Available at all good bookstores.

Open Vein’s still bleed

Who has read Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano?
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To my mind no book could be more timely or more apt. For what occurs now in Syria, in the Middle East, and the ensuing exodus of a traumatised people, is merely a repetition, possibly the culmination, of what went on in the 70s in South America, not only upon the pretext of, ‘Kissinger would not tolerate another Cuba in America’s own backyard,’ but because back then, behind the scenes, the neoliberal model of governance was poised to be implemented, and who better to do that than Pinochet, who rolled in his tanks on the 11th of September 1973. 
Now neoliberalism has grown into the Beast it was always destined to become, and the ugly mess it creates is evident in ‘its own other,’ Daesh.
(I coin the phrase ‘a thing is its own other,’ to point the finger back to the source, the one doing all the complaining and accusing, being the exemplar of those very qualities. It’s also to be found in the verbal abuser’s handbook, as any victim of domestic violence will attest)
Reading Open Veins on the back of The Men who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson seems fortuitous, as the latter portrays the sorts of crazy sinister goings on behind the scenes of the military and of course of our beloved CIA, which leaves the reader thinking they wouldn’t put anything past that lot.
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Open Veins, depicts the consequences of such shenanigans.
We are currently witnessing a human tragedy on a scale not seen since WWII, as the media perpetually reminds us. And this tragedy invokes in many of us a sort of paralysis. Our response is both humanitarian, whether born out in protest, in donation, in actual physical help, and at the same time, befuddlement that such events could be occurring.
And of course many of us are horrified by Daesh. We sense that Daesh is to blame and must be stopped. We have a sense that we should never have invaded Iraq. We are troubled by all the troubles that won’t go away, in Palestine, in Afghanistan, in Lebanon, in the Kurdish lands.
Life likes irony, I’d say it was born to it, and there is no greater irony than the current influx of refugees into Europe, as many tens of thousands of innocents seek sanctuary in the very nations complicit in the downfall of the Middle East.
Much the same took place in South America, as vast numbers of asylum seekers sought sanctuary in Spain, its old Colonial oppressor.
The difference between then and now is the methods of the ‘conspirators’ have changed. In the 70s in South America, military dictators were installed in nation upon nation, with the covert assistance of the American military and the CIA.
Whereas now, military dictators are being toppled in favour of, ‘the completely failed state.’ A much better situation as it allows for far more $$ to be made and one doesn’t have to deal with a belligerent tinpot junta, a little despot with his own ideas.
Better to have no ideas. Better to have absolute mayhem and quite a lot of carnage. Blow the cities and the towns to smithereens and then we’ll have plenty to rebuild. Yahoo! That’ll keep us busy for decades.
If I were a European citizen, I’d be pissed off with America for cultivating the conditions which have led to the current social cataclysm as Syria implodes. And of course America is not alone on the geopolitical stage. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel, France, Britain, Germany et al, all have a vested interest in the catastrophe that spans from Libya through to Afghanistan.
Really, what we are witnessing isn’t a pot pourri of national interests playing geopolitical chess, but a single, unified interest, and that interest is disaster capital. While nations posture and threaten and invade, vast corporations are adding the dollars to their tills. Which is why, after I have finished reading Open Veins, I shall be turning to, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe, by Antony Loewenstein.

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So now, as I contemplate the current exodus from war-ravaged lands, and as I delve into the recent past of the 70s and trace the roots of that wave of Empiric atrocity, I do so knowing that the War on Terror and the Cold War before it, are veils, excuses. The root causes of both lie in the deep plans of neoliberalism and the ruthless reckless manner in which those plans are imposed on humanity.

A premise for horror

A premise for horror: If domestic violence is a pyramid, with murder at the apex, then beneath that apex exist all manner of violence. From battering, and below that threat of battering, below that tirades of verbal violence, below that… and so it goes.
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Really, it isn’t a pyramid. It just is.
Domestic violence exists when a person is scared (apprehensive) of their partner, of what they might do or say next. Abuse = a misuse or corruption of power or privilege. Doesn’t have to be violent but it always violates.
And of course we all nod and say yes it sucks, but how many of us can spot a perp? How charming, how seductive, how manipulative they are. They may well have their family and friends and neighbours convinced of their perfection.
I know heaps of people who honestly believe that person X is a, ‘really nice guy.’ When I know for a fact that X is a bloody nightmare. I’m not immune either. I may think Y is a really nice guy, until someone whispers in my ear that they are not.
And if you go to a friend or a family member or the police and say, ‘person Z is gonna kill me,’ then you should expect to be believed and action taken.
We live in a world that is dominated by a perversion of the male archetype. Following Jung’s four archetypes of manliness, The King becomes The Tyrant, The Magician becomes The Manipulator, The Warrior becomes a Sadistic Bully, and the Lover becomes the Rapist. (This is a fuller explanation)
Women are not immune. They, too, can and do adopt the perverse male archetype mantle, especially when they walk into positions of power.
For humanity lacks an awareness of power, let alone mastery of it. Therefore we are seduced by power and as it enters us and we welcome in that delicious Uberman sense of it, our awareness is eclipsed and we are from then on addicts.
It all needs to change. So, what’s to be done? Educate. Educate. Educate. Teach Jung. Start in Kindergarten.
We already know how to change things. But inertia and the pull of the status quo hold sway.
Above all, our desire and our capacity for denial hold sway.
Which makes for a damn good premise, for a horror novel.