Exchanging emails with a friend of mine a few weeks ago, she commented that she’d recently finished reading my novel, Song of the Sea Goddess, which I’m pleased to say she enjoyed. Knowing this part of the world, she commented that she could see how my trips up the west coast of South Africa had inspired me. She also said she found it interesting that a monkey should appear again. Was there a reason for this?
Good question! I had to think about that.
Fingers and Toti, my two monkey characters are very different creatures and have different roles and functions in the stories in which they appear.
Fingers provides some of the comedy in my earlier novel, You’ll Never Walk Alone. He also helps to reflect wheeler-dealer, Bob’s character, showing a softer side to a character who might not otherwise be perceived as such. Through Fingers we are shown elements of Bob’s relationship with his Nan and learn about her character, since we never actually meet her. Right from the first time Fingers is introduced we are shown his naughty side and his thieving tendencies (scouser-trope alert!) although he’s never malicious, in fact he turns out to be quite the hero thanks to his light-fingered antics.
Toti, who appears in both Song of the Sea Goddess and Spirit of the Shell Man, provides a means of reflecting some of her fellow cast members’ characteristics and personalities by the way that they react to her and interact with her. But mainly she’s the bookish Professor’s little companion; in particular, she provides a foil for his thoughts so that he isn’t talking to himself all the time. Toti actually crept into the book as a male monkey called Felix, but he didn’t fit. The gender switch and the African name worked so much better. Now in her second novel outing, Toti’s character has developed and she’s becoming a player in her own right.
Subconsciously though, I think there might be another reason for the appearance of monkey characters in my novels. Meet ‘Monkey’ (and Luna, of course).
Listen here! There’s something a little different on Luna’s online this Friday.
We have a splendid sight and sound combo from da-AL’s Happiness Between Tails, in which she introduces her new podcast page. We also have a helping of carrot cake and a dancing delight: the tango – que romántico!
This week I did more writing on my novels … plus… happiness!… It’s been since forever — gulp! since quarantine! —that my husband and I haven’t danced. No classes, no practicing on our own, no nuthin’. And as much as we’ve missed it, we’ve missed…
Let me introduce you to these two fine gentlemen: on your right is my husband, Cliff (he had hair then!) and on the left is Andreas, the man who made the best chips we’d ever tasted! It’s because of him that the fictional little town in my novel, Song of the Sea Goddess, has a café owned by a Greek, who makes the ‘best chips on the whole of the west coast’.
Back in the late 1980s and 1990s, we spent almost every holiday island hopping around Greece. I was counting them up, and we’ve visited twenty islands over the years (several more than once) and adding all those visits up, we spent at more than a year altogether in that beautiful country. We’d go at the start and end of the holiday season, two weeks in both May and September, taking any cheap flight we could find. Then, armed with a laden rucksack, a few guide books and book of ferry timetables, off we’d go.
We became increasing adventurous over the years and would try to seek out the less well-known islands and the more off-the-beaten track locations. We avoided the popular places plagued by package tourists, seeking a more authentic Greece (and escaping the Brits on holiday). I’d do my research in the local library, poring over Greek guide books on a Saturday morning after the unavoidable weekend shopping. One year, a photograph of some unusually decorated buildings caught my eye. My reaction? We have to go there!
And so we did! Here are a couple of photos from our visit. You can just make out the shaded roof garden at the top of the picture on the left. ‘Captured’ by Dmitri off the afternoon bus from the port of Chios, he offered us his rooftop room for rent. Accessed by a rather precarious metal stairway, it had all we needed, including a wonderful view.
On the right is an example of the xysta, the intricate wall decorations that first caught my eye. These adorn many of Pyrgi’s houses and are unique to this medieval village. These patterns aren’t painted, they are scratched into the surface plaster. They are everywhere!
The centre of the village is dominated by a large square, filled with chairs and tables belonging to a handful of tiny bars and restaurants which ring the square itself. In the evening, we found the square was filled with people eating, drinking and chatting while their children played on the periphery. It was here we came across Andreas, who owned the tiniest of restaurants in one corner of the square. His menu was simple, but fresh and delicious – and he made these wonderful chips, served with a generous dollop of tzatziki (thick Greek yoghurt mixed with salted and drained cucumber, garlic, mint and olive oil). Over several evening visits we came to know a little bit about his past, particularly about his time in the merchant navy, an occupation he shared with Cliff’s younger brother.
Spool on to November 2019, when I started writing Song of the Sea Goddess and although I’d not thought about him for years, Andreas suddenly stepped out from the doorway of a building by the harbour in my fictional little town on the west coast of South Africa. He seemed to be very at home and he hadn’t aged a bit!
You can take a little tour of Pyrgi on this clip I found on You Tube:
I hope you enjoyed that. Now, let’s see what my version of Andreas is up to in his little harbourside café.
Excerpt from Song of the Sea Goddess
Later that morning when Porcupine returns to the harbour, Andreas is picking up the battered tin bowl that has been licked clean by the scruffy little dog, which he’s taken to feeding with scraps from his kitchen. He raises a hand in greeting to Sam and Jannie.
‘There’s coffee still in the pot,’ shouts Andreas.
‘Should we tell him about the gold?’ Sam asks as they across the yard.
‘Could be he knows something about treasure like that. He was at sea far longer than I was and he sailed in different waters,’ says Jannie. ‘But I’m not so sure. You know he gossips like no tomorrow.’
Sam shrugs. ‘We don’t have to tell him the whole story.’
‘You mean say it’s something we just heard…’
‘…from a friend of a friend.’
The two men grin at each other.
The two conspirators enter through the back door of Andreas’s little café. Moments later they’re sitting at the counter while Andreas fills two tiny cups with thick, sweet Greek coffee and sets them down on the counter in front them.
‘So what’s new?’ asks the café owner as he resumes his slicing and chopping in preparation for lunchtime. Andreas serves up a simple menu from his native Greece: fried fish, kebabs, chips and salad. He makes the best chips on the whole of the west coast and if you can’t afford meat or fish, you can always dip your chips in his thick, garlicky tzatziki. It is this that he’s busy making.
Andreas frowns as Sam explains about the friend of a friend and the strange pot of gold coins which no-one can touch with their bare hands. The wiry old Greek listens until Sam has finished, then throws his head back and laughs.
‘Well, you must know what that is,’ he exclaims.
‘What d’you mean?’ Jannie asks. ‘I sailed around the South China seas and in the cold waters of the far north, but I’ve never heard of such a thing.’
‘Really? And you’ve never heard of the ‘treasure that can’t be touched’?’
Jannie shakes his head.
‘They say it’s the old gold of Atlantis.’
‘Yes, you know, the lost city…’
Jannie shakes his head. ‘That’s just a legend. It doesn’t exist.’
Andreas chuckles. ‘Well, gold coins that burn your fingers don’t exist either.” He shakes his head. ‘Come on guys, I’m having a joke with you.’ He pours them a second cup of coffee. Then he notices the coin shaped scar on Sam’s right hand. He points to the scar and raises his bushy grey eyebrows. ‘Don’t tell me. That’s how you got that scar?’ Andreas’s eyes widen. ‘That’s what you were off-loading earlier, is it?’
‘What do you mean?’ asks Jannie. He cocks his head sideways feigning innocence.
‘Well,’ Andreas leans forward on the counter, his chin resting on his hand, ‘when Porcupine first entered the harbour this morning, she was sitting very low in the water. I thought Sam here had made it big. A net full of snoek maybe. But after he tied up the boat, rather than landing his catch, he called you over, Jannie. Then a few minutes later, deep in conversation and looking a little shifty by the way, you were both on the boat and heading out of the harbour.’
Andreas pauses, looking from one friend to the other. He grins. ‘I figured it wasn’t an illegal haul of perlemoen, since that wouldn’t have weighed so heavy. Nor crayfish.’ He wags his finger slowly from side to side. ‘And in any case, neither of you would do such a thing, would you?’
Sam and Jannie remain silent for a moment.
‘Okay then, Sam,’ Andreas says. ‘Where did you find this treasure you can’t touch? And what have you done with it?’
I’m still not entirely sure how this particular creature hopped into my consciousness to become the eponymous rabbit in my historical fantasy novel, Following the Green Rabbit, but it is he, or at least one of his cousins, that leads my two young heroines, Bethany and Bryony, and their tutor, Mr Eyre, through a portal into the past. Somehow he seemed to fit the bill, since I needed an unusual animal to appear in order to pique Bethany’s youthful curiosity and engage the interest of Mr Eyre’s enquiring mind.
Here’s where the two sisters come across the rabbit for the first time:
They had been silent for a little while, when suddenly they heard something rustling in the bushes by the fence behind them. They looked round to see an enormous rabbit emerge, nose twitching. His fur was grey-brown with a slight tinge of green. He nibbled on a piece of long grass, and then hopped past them. He was so close that Bryony could have stretched out and touched him. He stopped by the first tree and sat up on his hind legs. Then he turned and looked directly at them.
“That’s the biggest rabbit I’ve ever seen. Look at his fur.” Bryony whispered.
The rabbit’s ears twitched. “Do you think he wants us to follow him?” Bethany whispered back.
Bryony laughed. “You’re not Alice.” It was only last year that Bryony had read ‘Alice in Wonderland’ to her.
“But look, Briney.” The rabbit had raised a paw in their direction. “I’ll just go a bit nearer.” She stood up slowly so as not to alarm the creature, then took a few steps towards him.
The rabbit hopped off as far as the next stand of apple trees. He stopped and turned, looking up at Bethany with his dark brown eyes. His left ear bent quizzically. She looked back at Bryony. “I’m going to follow him.”
(Of course, I couldn’t resist tossing in the Alice in Wonderland reference as the prelude to what was about to happen!)
But back to the actual green rabbit…
I took the two photos of the rapidly retreating rabbit at the top of the page while travelling on a tourist bus through part of the Atacama Desert in Chile on a trip to the El Tatio Geyser fields, some 14,000 feet above sea level, where the air is very thin and very cold.
Here are two more of my holiday snaps from that trip: one El Tatio geyser and two vicuñas in the Atacama Desert.
Since we would be travelling high, high up into the mountains over the 50 mile journey to reach the geysers from our base in San Pedro de Atacama, at breakfast early that morning I’d taken the precaution of consuming several cups of coca leaf tea as a protection against altitude sickness. On the way back from the geysers, when I saw this huge, green-tinged ‘rabbit’, I wondered if I’d actually consumed a little too much of the coca tea, such a curious creature it seemed to be. Actually, although coca leaves are the base for cocaine production, the amount of the coca alkaloid in raw coca leaves is minimal. Still, a green rabbit it a curious sight, even if you’re only suffering a little light-headedness from descending from the breathless heights of a volcano ring.
In fact, it’s not a rabbit at all. Let me allow Mr Eyre to explain:
Bryony came upon Mr Eyre in the library. He was sitting at the large reading desk which had been placed in the window overlooking the small garden. He was slowly leafing through her papa’s ‘Illustrated book of World Animals’.
He looked up as she approached. “I came across this when I was unpacking your father’s books. I thought I’d see if that green rabbit fellow of ours was listed in here. I’m pretty sure it’s not native to the British Isles.”
Bryony sat at the desk opposite him, watching him turn the pages. “Ah, what’s this?” He turned the page towards her. It was a picture of a large, green-tinged rabbit looking animal. The inscription below read: ‘Viscacha, a rodent in the Chinchilla family found in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru’.
“It certainly looks like him, but what would he have been doing in Bluebell Woods?”
“I don’t know Bryony. Maybe there’s a doorway to other parts of the world too?”
Maybe Mr Eyre is pointing us to another adventure? I’m sure he’d jump at the opportunity!
In the meantime, I’ve attracted my own little following of rabbits:
You can do some ‘green rabbit’ watching for yourself. The accompanying music is rather splendid too!
Microphone in hand, TV reporter Jason Joslyn strode towards the shiny pink limo as a svelte figure emerged to a flurry of flash photography. ‘Ms Kitty Katz, do you have a few words for our viewers?’
Kitty flashed her pearly whites for the cameras. Hollywood star turned politician, the eyes of the entire world were upon her.
Jason addressed the TV audience. ‘For those of you who’ve been off-planet these last few weeks, Ms Kitty Katz has won the nomination as leading opposition candidate in the race for the Presidency. These are exciting times, Kitty, how are you feeling?’
Kitty Katz’s reply was drowned out by a loud explosion. Smoke billowed from the grand arena in which her latest rally was about to commence. A host of stars staggered out in a shower of shredded sequins.
The feline film star’s campaign had been dogged by intimidation. It had started small with threats and minor outbreaks of violence against her supporters, but this latest incident was an outrage! What she couldn’t understand was why. Surely those behind such strong-arm tactics realised they were only reinforcing her resolve and perking up her popularity in the polls?
Undaunted, Kitty rushed towards the entrance, while Jason and his camera man followed at a discrete distance. Fortunately nobody had been seriously hurt, although the combined dry cleaning bill was going to cost a small fortune.
Kitty’s cellphone vibrated in her pocket. She flicked a delicate paw across the screen. The video call revealed her friend and aide, Freya, standing over a familiar orange-faced figure. Two thin curlicues of smoke rose from Freya’s pretty purple nostrils and behind her, Kitty could see the golden drapes which framed the White House lawn smoldering gently.
‘He’s confessed, Kitty. This idiot and his Russian friend are behind the intimidation. I’ve got it all here.’
Kitty held up her phone and beckoned to Jason. ‘Show this to the world; the new Hollywood dawn is here!’