Tag Archives: Dubrovnik

Flash Friday – ‘Double Cross’

Local fisherman, Yugoslavia. CC photo by GothPhil Image sourced: flashfriday.wordpress.com

Local fisherman, Yugoslavia. CC photo by GothPhil
Image sourced: flashfriday.wordpress.com

Double Cross

Andrej gazed at the walls of old Dubrovnik while Josip threw the nets.

‘God’s blessing,’ Josip muttered. Andrej crossed himself quickly and drove the boat on.

A sudden boom made them look toward the city. Clouds of yellowish dust rose from the walls.

‘Starting early,’ Josip murmured.

‘Vuković’s ‘modernisation’ won’t wait.’

‘Walls that stood against all comers, brought down by one of our own.’

‘One of our own? No Croatian would do this.’ Andrej’s pulse raced.

‘But he has the Crown Prince’s command.’

‘Forged. Forced, maybe.’ Andrej spat.

‘You opposed the Cathedral’s razing,’ said Josip. ‘Didn’t you?’

‘As did every loyal Croatian,’ Andrej replied, too quickly. He turned to meet Josip’s calm gaze, and knew.

Josip’s hand rested lightly on his gun.

‘But – you prayed. You spoke the old faith!’

‘Just words, comrade.’

The hammer landed with an empty click.

Andrej smiled. ‘If you’re going to play the game,’ he whispered, drawing his knife, ‘make sure you know the rules.’

**

I agonised over this week’s Flash Friday contest (which explains the late posting of my blog, for which I apologise!) We were given the prompt of the two fishermen in their boat, and we were told they had been photographed off the coast of Dubrovnik. We had to include a politician. And this story, about a corrupt government official and his crony – who got his comeuppance in the end – is what my brain came up with.

Anyone who has ever played Scrabble with me will tell you one thing I’m not good at is tactics and machination. I would most decidedly not be a good politician – the to-ing and fro-ing of power structures leaves me cold and confused, usually. I wish there was no such thing as corruption and favouritism and power games and political manoeuvrings. Also, because I have been to Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro at various times in my life (including a wonderful holiday in the utterly beautiful Dubrovnik several years back), I know two things: its city walls are breathtaking, and the history of this region is painfully, terribly complicated. Dubrovnik, as it was when I visited, was my idea of heaven – but not even its ancient beauty was spared from the bullets and bombs during the former Yugoslavia’s long struggle toward peace. I make no pretence at understanding the nuances of the war, or the reasons behind it, and this story is born from my fragmented ideas about the religious, cultural and political differences that have caused so much strife in this beautiful part of the world.

But I agonised over writing it, because the last thing I wanted to do was cause any offence. So, if I did, I apologise.

If you haven’t been to Dubrovnik, go. See the walls, wander the ancient streets, visit the Elaphite Islands, explore the sun-drenched countryside, get to know the people. The countries of the former Yugoslavia are among the most beautiful in the world, and if I’m ever in a position to go back, I’ll be on the first plane out.

Have great weekends, everyone. See you all back here tomorrow for another book review – until then, dovidenja!

Writer, Plain and Small

So, I’m reading a book at the moment – you know, in between sending out submissions, trying to write an actual book of my own, attempting to lay the foundations of a future business model and not (repeat: *not*) sliding down the helter-skelter of All The Crazy – and, as I came to the end of Chapter 5, something struck me like a haddock across the back of the head.

Just like this. *Exactly* like this, in fact. Image: s1263.photobucket.com

Just like this. *Exactly* like this, in fact.
Image: s1263.photobucket.com

I am a really boring person.

No – no, wait! Just hear me out on this one.

Okay, so the author of the book I’m reading is vastly younger than I am. Her author bio at the start of the book lists the year she was born – a year I remember well, because I spent most of it covered in glitter and scrunchies, singing along to Cyndi Lauper and falling out of trees. I had years of living under my belt by then, during which time I could’ve been doing stuff like starting research toward my first Nobel Prize or being a child prodigy at something besides jumping in cowpats or, even, stowing away on board a ship to see the world. Instead, I was reading everything I could get my hands on, exploring rockpools at every given opportunity and actively avoiding having my hair washed for as long as I could get away with.

Oh, the missed opportunities.

To make matters worse, this author person is an elected fellow of an Oxford college. Already. At her exceptionally young age.

But, the nadir of it all is that the book I’m reading is not her début, and she is – and I quote: ‘currently working on her doctorate alongside an adult novel.’

Right, so I did a doctorate. That’s not a secret. And, it therefore follows that I know how darn complicated it is to write one. I didn’t do mine at Oxford, either – doing anything at Oxford is bound to be fifty-squillion-kazillion times more difficult than it would be anywhere else, because Standards, don’tcha know.

And this person’s doing all that – as well as writing an adult novel and as well as publishing two children’s novels? Oh, and did I mention she grew up – in Africa?

Crying Girl, Roy Lichtenstein (1963) Image: en.wikipedia.org

Crying Girl, Roy Lichtenstein (1963)
Image: en.wikipedia.org

What have I been doing with my life?

I have always lived in one country, and it’s a rather small and squishy one, at that. I haven’t travelled much. I’ve experienced the whole gamut of human emotion, sure, but then you can say the same of anyone. Well, anyone who isn’t a sociopath, at least. I am an ordinary girl in an ordinary corner of the world.

But do you think a person can be too ordinary to be a writer?

Does it follow that a person who grew up in the savannahs of Africa, or the steppes of Mongolia, or the frozen wastes of Siberia, or in the hissing eternity of a desert is going to have a wider imaginative base to draw upon than a person who grew up in a tiny terraced house on a nineteenth-century street in a small Irish country town? A person with the self-confidence, talent and gumption to have published two books by their early- to mid-twenties, alongside doing a doctorate at Oxford, is going to be a more interesting person than one who worked in a succession of dead-end jobs before her health started to fail, and who then took a crazy chance on following a dream, surely. A person who has travelled is, don’t you agree, necessarily going to be better placed at writing imaginatively than a person whose only real engagement with the world has been through reading about far-flung places?

Maybe.

Then, I have felt the Adriatic breeze on my face from the walls of the old town of Dubrovnik; I have heard the Liberty Bell ring out across the city of Valletta. I have seen the sunlight sparkling on the river Leie as I walked through the beautiful city of Ghent. I have watched the Eiffel Tower lit up with spotlights from the smallest hotel room in Paris, and I’ve seen the Mona Lisa. I’ve done more than some, this is true.

But I still feel inadequate, or somehow unequal, in comparison to a person whose life experiences are so richly different from mine.

However, maybe it’s also important to remember that there’s no restriction on imagination. So, I’ve never lived in Africa, and I have never seen most of the places I dream about. I’ve never been to Scandinavia. I’ve never seen the Northern Lights. I’ve never been to Rome. But that doesn’t mean I can’t dream about all these things, and create them in my mind. Perhaps it’s not so much what you’ve done in the time you’ve had, but what sort of thinker you are – one who looks out towards the rest of creation and embraces it with an open heart, or one who locks themselves away in a fit of pique, refusing to open their eyes. One who is too involved with themselves to see the wonder of others.

I’d like to think I am definitely the former.

Image: saligiastock.deviantart.com

Image: saligiastock.deviantart.com

My small, plain life might not stack up against that of the author of my current book-crush. She has, it’s true, lived more in her years than I have in mine. But that doesn’t mean that my story is invalid just because she has chosen to tell hers; it doesn’t mean that my dreams have to take a back seat to anyone else’s. Our experiences shape our minds and the breadth of what we can imagine, but it’s what we choose to do with what we have that counts.

So, I choose to let this story inspire me – not only the book itself, but also the lesson I’ve learned from the life of its author – and I choose to respect the experiences I’ve had, be they ever so humble, because they are my unique gift to the world.

And the same goes for all of us.

One of Those Days

Today is a day like any other, but it’s also extraordinary. It’s December 12th, 2012, the last date anyone now alive will ever see which can be written as a repeating number – i.e. 12/12/12. It’s a rare and special thing, but also a fleeting and ephemeral treasure.

The other day, I came upon a fridge magnet among my possessions. It was purchased in Dubrovnik, years ago, when I was there on holiday with some friends. At the time I bought it, I intended it to be a present for my grandmother, but I never gave it to her – when I came home, she became ill, and we lost her not long after. I suppose, in the confusion surrounding her death, I put the tiny present away and forgot all about it. When I found the fridge magnet again, it brought back all sorts of regret and sorrow that I thought I’d dealt with, and it made me miss my grandmother with a hollowing ache. I loved her (and still love her) very dearly; her photo sits on my hall table, so whenever I leave my home or return to it, she’s there, smiling at me. I think of her every day with gentle remembrance. But I crumpled over that fridge magnet, full of remorse and loss. I realised that I hadn’t really treasured my grandmother enough while she lived – she was always just there, living in the house next door, pottering around in her back garden, laughing at the drop of a hat – and it was only when she left us that I understood how dear she was to me.

old hand being held by young hands

The fridge magnet was cheap; just a souvenir, like any other. No doubt it will fall off the fridge one day and smash to pieces on the floor, or the magnet will come away from the back, and the tiny plastic reproduction of Dubrovnik’s medieval wall will skitter away under a cupboard, never to be seen again. It (like the date, like today, like a life) is ephemeral – a temporary treasure. I’m going to use it, though, and look at it every day until I lose it, as I know I will. Knowing that something is temporary should give you an even greater need to appreciate it, but as happens too often in life, things (and people) are taken for granted, and we only miss them once they’re lost.

Make the most of this unique day. And treasure everything.