Seven lines from the seventh page of current work in progress: ‘The Highs and Lows of Leticia Dombrowski’
‘Then the thoughts take on a different form. Had he – his teenaged self – really been so sharp with his loving, warm, over-needy Mama; disenchanted with the sometimes cloying atmosphere of the home he really loved? He shrugs, briefly recalling the testosterone-absorbed years. His Papa came into focus, bearded, prematurely white-haired, sharp-featured (‘That nose could pierce a can!’ from his Mama), and serious. How he had insisted on absolute commitment to learning Hebrew, the Talmud and Russian! That he, Daniel, held a very different opinion on organized religion soon came to light…’
Thank you very much Joy for inviting me over for an interview… it is a great pleasure.
Where you born and what was your first memory?
I was born in Wickham, a village in Hampshire, not far from Portsmouth. My parents lived in a house that my mother grew up in from about the age of 8 years old. Her step-father was the village butcher, with a shop in the main square. We went to Ceylon, as it was called in those days, when I was 18 months old for two years, and my first memories were of noisy monkeys. Small macaques lived all around us in the forest, and they would come into the house at any opportunity to thieve food, my father’s cigarettes and my mother’s jewellry. I also have vivid memories of the scents and sunshine, and I remember swimming at a very early age in my rubber ring, following my sisters everywhere including into the water.
Most poignant memory?
Probably my most poignant memory is visiting my grandfather’s grave for the first time in 1998. He died on November 2nd, 1918 and was buried in a small military cemetery in the village of Poid-du-Nord , close to the Belgium border. My sister had done the research to locate his grave and taken my mother there for her first visit in 1996. David and I were living in Brussels and we took my mother back to lay a wreath on the 80th Anniversary of his death. She was only 12 months old when he died, and therefore never knew him. But it was still very emotional for us all. He was 31 years old and left a legacy behind that he could never have imagined. I am sure he would have been proud of his daughter, who lived to 95 years old; travelled the world, and his four grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
What place you’ve lived or visited has remained special to you?
We have moved around so much as a family, and David and I have lived in six countries since we married in 1980. If I had to pick one place it would be our home in the mountains to the north of Madrid where we lived for 17 years. We had panoramic views from where we lived at 900 metres, across a valley to another mountain range and also over a plain for 50 miles. The weather was alpine with long hot summers, very dry so a lovely heat, and very old, crisp winters with snow. The sun was usually shining for about 250 days a year which was wonderful and I swam every day for two hours from May to October. The friends we made were amazing and we loved the lifestyle, spending most of our time outside. Great people, wonderful food, fabulous weather and memories.
Did anyone inspire you to write or was it something you naturally turned to?
My sisters read me bedtime stories and as soon as I could read I was off like a rocket. I was like a sponge reading books way above my pay grade. Every author I have read inspired me to write; as a child I would make up stories at the drop of a hat… especially when I decided at seven that I would take the odd day off school to enjoy other activities! I began writing short stories and song lyrics as a teenager, really getting serious when I had time on my hands during our two years in Texas in 1985. I used to write a lot of business reports and budgets during my career, and there was probably a hint of fiction in those too.
If you were invisible, what three things would you like to do?
I would love to have the additional superpower of being scent free so that I could get up close and personal with wildlife. I am a huge fan of Jane Goodall and would love to have worked with primates. What an amazing thing to be invisible and be able to observe these wonderful creatures unnoticed.
There are certain people who might benefit from having a poltergeist in their lives for a day or so. For example, world leaders who need to be knocked down a peg or two, and given a scare that makes them stop and remember their own mortality. They seem to feel that they are omnipotent, and some flying crockery, levitating tables and chairs, and home truths uttered in a deep and profound tone, might just do the trick.
I wouldn’t want to waste this invisibility; there are plenty of small but helpful things you could do, to bring some happiness, fun, surprises and gifts into the lives of friends and family and strangers you come across who need help, without them feeling obligated to you.
If you could pass two new laws, what would they be?
Although it is law that dogs should be micro-chipped in Wales and the UK since 2016, it is not being enforced, and thousands of dogs are still making their way into the rescue centres unchipped. Clearly that is not working. I think it is time to bring back dog licences which was abolished in 1987. This time however, I suggest that they make the dog licence free. It might encourage more to register their dogs and the benefit would be a card that gives you 15% off your annual pet check and vaccinations at the vet. Which are horrendously expensive. I would also like the government to set up free mobile vet clinics which will do the rounds in high risk areas offering free treatment as long as pets are registered. The cost of taking care of strays and rehoming is far more expensive in the long run.
I would also like much longer jail sentences for drunk or texting drivers who kill or maim others. A car is a lethal weapon, and if you get behind the wheel when you have had too much to drink, or you are in the act of texting, it is in my view, as bad as premeditated murder.
What two people would you like to invite for lunch (famous, dead or alive).
I would love to have Wilbur Smith to lunch. I have read his books since the age of 11 and bought every one he has written. I am just about to start his new autobiography with great excitement. He is one of the authors that inspired me to write and would love to ply him with wine and pick his brains.
The second person would be my grandmother who I was named after. Georgina was left devastated after losing my grandfather so near to the end of the war. He had been wounded three times and was back at the front for the final push. I can only imagine how desperate she must have felt each time he left for the front wondering if she would see him again. She struggled to bring up my mother for seven years before remarrying, and she suffered badly from asthma, long before there was medication to help. She died several years before I was born, at only 52, and my mother felt that her heart was broken. I would like to tell her that she is not forgotten, share stories about us all, and remind her that both of them live on in the younger generation and all those to come.
Name two of your favourite writers.
Well, I let the cat out of the bag with Wilbur Smith, but I do read everything that Bernard Cornwell writes, and love the way he brings history to life. I am looking forward to the next in The Last Kingdom series.
And I read and enjoy so many authors that I have come into contact with in our community and I would be hard pushed to name favourites.
What would you wish for if you could have ANYTHING?
Another 38 years with the love of my life….. Although he might look upon that as a penance!
What makes you crosser than anything else?
Oh wow, how much time have you got? More than anything I cannot abide bad manners. Courtesy at all levels of society, is one of the few cultural concepts, that prevent us from tearing at each other’s throats. It is part of the socialisation process of young children into responsible adults. It is clear, when you read the papers and see the stories of moped muggers, acid throwers and stabbings, that there is definitely a lack of socialisation in far too many homes and at school.
I get really miffed when I am watching a drama on television or a movie and people do not say please or thank you when given some form of service. It sends completely the wrong message and it will only get worse. The teachers say it is the responsibility of the parents and the parents say that it is down to the teachers. Someone needs to take control and sort it out.
Apart from reading and writing, what other ways do you like to relax?
I love music and movies. My husband and I have different taste in music, but both love fast action thrillers, epic adventures and films adapted from good books… Such as Dr. Zhivago and The Last of the Mohicans.
In the past we have enjoy travelling to various places but the glamour of flying has definitely lapsed. There is so much to see here in Ireland that we will be sticking close to home.
24 hours left on the planet!. How would you spend them?
I presume that this is for all of us…..I would probably leave a quick message of love and hope for all my friends on social media, wishing them luck in the next life. Then switch off everything and if possible sit outside with my husband and family, have a great meal, lots of good wine and make sure that we leave nothing unsaid. Then a last glass of Cava and a handful of pills and drift off to sleep holding my husband close. (I have read On the Beach by Nevil Shute, so have this all prepped should it become necessary).
Many thanks Joy for allowing me to speak my mind and share some of my experiences. It has been great fun.
About Sally Cronin
I have lived a fairly nomadic existence living in eight countries including the Sri Lanka, South Africa and USA before settling back here in Ireland. My work, and a desire to see some of the most beautiful parts of the world in the last forty years, has taken me to many more incredible destinations around Europe and Canada, and across the oceans to New Zealand and Hawaii. All those experiences and the people that I have met, provide a rich source of inspiration for my stories.
I have been a storyteller most of my life (my mother called them fibs!). Poetry, song lyrics and short stories were left behind when work and life intruded, but that all changed in 1996. My first book Size Matters was a health and weight loss book based on my own experiences of losing 70kilo. I have written another ten books since then on health and also fiction including three collections of short stories. I am an indie author and proud to be one. My greatest pleasure comes from those readers who enjoy my take on health, characters and twisted endings… and of course come back for more.
As a writer I know how important it is to have help in marketing books… as important as my own promotion is, I believe it is important to support others. I offer a number of FREE promotional opportunities on my blog and linked to my social media. If you are an author who would like to be promoted to a new audience of dedicated readers, please contact me via my blog. All it will cost you is a few minutes of your time. Look forward to hearing from you.
Our legacy is not always about money or fame, but rather in the way that people remember our name after we have gone. In these sixteen short stories we discover the reasons why special men and women will stay in the hearts and minds of those who have met them. Romance, revenge and sacrifice all play their part in the lives of these characters.
Commonly known in writing circles as a ‘hook,’ a lot has been said over the years about the opening sentence, or two, of a tale. It’s common sense to try and grab a reader asap, be it with something dramatic, curious, unusual or quirky. Not all writers do, of course. I’ve read some bland opening sentences over the years and yet – reading deeper – some books have ‘delivered’ more than promised. It is, nevertheless, a good idea to give careful thought to those first words which confront you when you open the cover. As I always have piles of read and unread books everywhere…I picked five at random and checked them out.
The first one: Kate Granville’s The Lieutenant began: ‘Daniel Rooke was quiet, moody, a man of few words.’ Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8) by Sandy Balfour, simply said: ‘Let me take you back to December, 1983.’ Both openings were an invitation: to know more about the ‘quiet, moody, man’ in the first instance, and a direct request to return to December, 1983 in the second. So, both subtle hooks… The third book, called The Seed Collectors by Scarlet Thomas starts: ‘Imagine a tree that can walk. Yes, actually walk. Think it’s impossible? You’re wrong.’ The fourth book titled Amsterdam, written by Ian McEwan, begins: ‘Two former lovers of Molly Lane stood waiting outside the crematorium chapel with their backs to the February chill.’ Both openings intrigue. A tree that can walk? And who was Molly Lane? None of the authors are amateurs. They knew what they were writing.
The fifth and final book, a favourite by Carlos Ruiz Zafon The Shadow of the Wind states: ‘I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time.’ Another interesting, mind-winding opening.
Fast-forwarding to Writers’ Ink member, Nigel Grundey’s, latest novel, The Vienna Connection, let’s see what his hook is…Take his first paragraph; ‘Can we trust the messenger?’ asked Harry Ward slowly as the tall Warrant Officer scratched at a scar on his cheek, then returned the hand-written note to his commanding officer. ‘What it says is believable, because the Nazis broadcast their plans for Rome and Paris before liberation. But why wait until now to reveal the details?’ Again, intriguing.
Just think what we would have missed without the rich, apt, quirky characters of so many worthy authors. Of course, everyone has their favourites, but for me, Dickens is squarely in the spotlight for such a wealth of them. The sad but brave Tiny Tim, put-upon Oliver, the evil while wonderful, avaricious Fagin; doomed Miss Havisham and David Copperfield. Then there’s the resilient, long-suffering Jane Eyre from Charlotte Bronte’s pen, Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird – who epitomized the good in man, and countless more noteworthy fictional human beings, enough to fill a large tome.
Once you have your story/plot figured out, how interesting it can be to people your work with characters. One of the many joys of writing, is the freedom it gives you to do – within reason – whatever you like. Most authors will have a pretty good idea of the genre of their book, and of the beginning, middle and end. Not all though. I’ve read of some writers who only have a rough plan and let their characters pave the path forward. You can read a plethora of ‘how to’ books, some with similar advice, some with original ideas, but, when it comes to YOU as author, the words will emerge from YOUR mind, which – remember, is totally unique.
Over the years, I’ve attended one or two writing groups where a few of the members have had only the woolliest ideas of how to write a novel, and our very intelligent, experienced teacher of one, tried guiding them in the right direction. One man was hung up on sex and paid little attention to characterization; he didn’t stay the course. Another, a sweet-natured woman, wrote a thick book wherein the sun always shone, everyone had irreproachable manners and the characters wouldn’t say boo to a goose. When gently criticized, she lost her temper and departed. Fortunately, most serious writers want to learn, and while I’m ‘rich in years,’ I know that the more I absorb, the more there is to learn….and that’s part of the joy of writing. Curiosity usually pays off, if it doesn’t polish you off….If you push yourself beyond your self-imposed limitations, you’ll doubtless improve. While, self-satisfied writers, I’m sure, are two a penny, serious writers should always strive to better themselves and give due attention to all aspects of their work, from the story-line/plot -. which is vital – to characterization, which could put YOUR book up there with the greats.
Every now and again, most writers come across – or have a fascination for – . a word which either has contrary meanings or some peculiar draw, don’t they? My word of the moment (and for a while now), is labyrinth. I’ve used it several times and thought I knew what it meant. Wrong! Well, it wasn’t completely incorrect, as many other writers have used it in the same way…I’ll explain… (Have your cocoa and slippers ready…)
Labyrinth is defined as meaning “A complicated, irregular network of passages or paths, in which it is difficult to find ones way.” Or “A complex structure of the inner ear.” (While, of course, interesting to anyone with ear problems, I’ll respectfully put the second definition to one side.) The Cambridge English dictionary, however, defines the meaning as being a tad different (and an aid to pen chewing scribblers, or unsure key tappers) It’s added boardwalk, esplanade, pavement and bridle path, etc., And, in Greek mythology, a labyrinthine structure was built underground to house and confine a monster with the head of a bull and the body of a man called a Minotaur, belonging to King Minos of Crete. (Although why he couldn’t have purchased a Persian Blue feline or a Cocker Spaniel, from the local pet-shop, goodness only knows…) Some people do like to muddy history, don’t they?!
I digress…The first time I used the word labyrinth. I was writing about Dylan Thomas and Laugharne, where he compòsed Under Milk Wood and a whole raft of poems. Being half Welsh, I was on yet another trip to one of my favourite places in Wales: the third. The sun had shone on all three occasions, which was noteworthy in itself…It was Spring, tra la, and the synonymous daffodils were nodding approval, lighting the edge of the estuary like a stage-set. My imagination was way ahead of me, as I walked up the steep – wait for it – “labyrinthine path, under a dense, and untidy umbrella of green foliage – darkly mysterious while beckoning…” Suddenly inspired, the story/novel was to be called The Herons of Laugharne and I even had them (the herons) “picking their delicate way across the shallow waters like corn-footed ballerinas” I had , roughly, mentally written the first chapter before I reached the top of the labyrinth…Sadly, it’s still lurking somewhere between other, forlorn, quarter/half-finished attempts…Hey ho.
Being satiated by everything Dylan – from the modest shed in which he slouched over lines of poetry for days, his trusty whisky bottle rarely far away, to the Boat House where he lived with his wife Caitlin. I moved on. I did wonder what else he could have written had he not succumbed to the ‘devil drink,’ dying at the early age of 39 after downing around ‘13’ shots of the hard stuff ’ in New York city, but he left us some memorable lines and characters. How, once read, could you forget the words
“Do not go gentle in that good night.
Old age should burn and rave at close of day.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
One, WONDERFUL, book which did, most deservedly, see the light of day, written by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, is called THE SHADOW OF THE WIND, and – if you haven’t read it, please do. A man in Spain, who had inherited a book-shop from his father specializing in rare, collector’s editions and secondhand books, took his young son to the: ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’ and bade him choose any one from the thousands secreted there. “Pleased with my choice, I tucked it under my arm and retraced my steps through the LABYRINTH , a smile on my lips.” That word again. Zafon’s writing is an absolute delight, his characterisation memorable. Anyone who writes: “…a waiter of such remarkable decrepitude that he looked as if he should be declared a national landmark.” And “The man’s oratory could kill flies in mid-air.” passes muster with me. As time passes and the young lad grows up, people seem to find ‘the book’ inordinately interesting, and literary curiosity becomes a race to discover the truth behind the life and death of the author: Julian Carax, and to save those he left behind.
As the Observer observed: “The language purrs along. While the plot twists and unravels with a languid grace.” And Stephen King said: “…a novel full of cheesy splendour and creaking trapdoors, a novel where even the subplots have subplots…one gorgeous read!” There’s not much I can add to that.
After the unmitigated triumph of my novel STRANGLERS IN THE NIGHT some twenty plus years ago, I strode purposefully forward in my Bali Manic shoes and Chanel suit, inhaling the sweet smell (No.5) of success, sipping champagne en route to a glittering literary future. And then the cookie crumbled, as they say…
The head Judge in the competition which led to my book’s meteoric rise, was foolhardy enough to admit having bribed the other judge as he was hopelessly in love with me… Sales ceased, interest flagged, and talk of a film was out the window. I was totally flabbergasted and cast down; as was the overweight, aged Judge who managed to bankrupt himself. A deep abyss yawned before both of us. I was vaguely flattered, but how could he have done such a thing?!
If you believe that, you’ll believe anything! I don’t even know where it came from… Do us writers EVER know? There must be some mysterious conduit into our psyches. Who cares, as long as it happens and continues.
Now the semi-true bit…
I woke up at 4.30 am thinking about characterization, but obviously, lines were somehow crossed.
Having worked hard on a collection of short stories, I had five in the bag. All eclectic and a bit zany. One was titled TAKING TIME & OTHER THINGS (confessions of a kleptomaniac), another HARD FEELINGS(the intimate memoir of a concrete manufacturer). The sixth was proving a problem. I tapped my teeth with a pen, as writers do, and realised it was just limping along, (the story that is)…Why? That trusty light bulb then pinged on. Of course, it was my antagonist!. He had as much menace as a new-born baby. Totally unsuitable. There lay a teaser…What to do? I’d interviewed a few ‘baddies’ before he arrived and begged me for the role. In a weak moment, being a soft touch, I said yes. He was in my office awaiting further instructions and I felt deep dismay at what I was about to do. But it had to be done.
Morning, Kevin, I said. You okay? How’s your mother’s leg now?
Mornin;’ better. He replied, looking crestfallen as if anticipating the worst, took a pristine hanky from a pocket and blew his nose. Loudly. He then drew himself up to his full five two height, sniffed and said:
You’re gonna fire me, aren’t you?
Was that a tear in the corner of his pale blue eye?
Fuck it! he said, mildly shocking me. He never swore… and continued…
I’ve played the role of Tiny Tim on the stage … been someone’s cowardly younger brother and died of tuberculosis in a film, but I’ve never been a hero or a villain. Thanks for nothing! And he marched out of the room, missing my pathetic Sorry, Kev!
There were two more hopeful candidates sitting outside my office, I invited the ugliest one in. He was chewing gum.
Morning! Please take a seat. Name?
Any acting experience?
Yep, was in HOW RED WAS MY VALLEY and VAMPIRE LEADER, he told me, still chewing.
I took in his shifty, dark eyes, his tall, rangy, but wiry build, and his cauliflower ear and quickly said:
Today, it gives me much pleasure to welcome seasoned author Don Massenzio to my humble patio. He has travelled from northern Florida, fortunately safe from the devastation and threat of the recent hurricane.
Don was born in Syracuse New York to first generation Italian/American parents, and wasn’t sorry to leave the cold winters behind!
Welcome to my corner of Spain, Don. At least I can offer you blue skies and sunshine! Now we’ve had our refreshments, you can sit back, relax and tell us more about yourself.
Thanks! It’s great to be here. That beer and the tapas were mighty welcome. So, fire away!
Did anyone inspire you to write?
I had a second grade teacher who helped me find my love for reading. I would say that authors of the books I read inspired me to write. Earlier on, there were Dickens, Harper Lee and Tolkien, and later Stephen King, Jonathan Kellerman and a great list of authors.
In what genre do you prefer to write?
I love to read detective stories and watch classic detective movies and television shows. This is the genre in which I feel most creative. I do, however, enjoy writing short stories in many genres.
Have you a strict routine?
Quite the opposite. I write when I have the time. I travel 45 weeks per year for my day job, so I write in airports, in planes, in hotel rooms, in cars and on trains. Whenever and wherever I have free time.
If you were shipwrecked, who would you take with you?
My wife and daughter for sure; I’d also like to take someone who would know where to find water and food!
What three objects would you take with you?
My Kindle, loaded with thousands of books and something I could use to write, along with a solar-powered generator.
Do you have any hobbies, Don?
I am a musician. I actually went to music school for a couple of years and played professionally. Now I play the piano at church.
Have you any quirks or foibles you’d like to tell us about?
I am clumsy. It might be because I’m left-handed, but it’s a bit of a family joke. The more Massenzios there are in a room, the more accidents happen!
Have you a pet hate?
Yes, if I’m at a performance, like a concert or play, I’m very sensitive to other noise and disturbance. I know what it’s like to be on a stage, and it’s my view that, if you paid for a ticket, you should be quiet and devote your attention to the performance. If you don’t, it shows a lack of respect.
If you could pass a law, what would it be?
Hmmm, great question. No cell phones at the dinner table would be great. I think we’re losing the art of conversation because of these devices. If I didn’t have to carry mine for work, I wouldn’t use it.
What is your hope for the future?
Another great question. I feel like the world has taken a step backwards and is becoming more divisive. I have a nine year old daughter and I don’t want her to grow up in a country where racism and hate are rampant as they seem to be now.
If you could invite two literary figures (alive or dead) to dinner, who would they be?
Ernest Hemingway and Stephen King. I would just sit back and listen to their stories and their interaction with each other.
How would you like to be remembered?
I would simply like to be remembered. By my daughter for being a good Dad, by my wife for being a good husband, and by everyone else to be remembered as someone who tried to be and do good.
Thanks, Don. It’s been a pleasure meeting you and putting you under the microscope! Have a safe journey back to Florida and give my best regards to your wife and daughter.
Some of Don’s published work:
THE FRANK ROZZANI DETECTIVE STORIES 1-3
LET ME BE FRANK
THE ULTIMATE GUIDE FOR INDEPENDENTLY PUBLISHED AUTHORS