GREECE:THE ROMANCE OF THE RUINS

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GREECE:THE ROMANCE OF THE RUINS
In Athens they are rebuilding the mighty Parthenon which sits on the Acropolis rock overlooking Athens. Very few sights in the world can match that of the Parthenon lit up in the evening as you sit outside at one of the many restaurants. The rebuilding is very meticulous and is likely to restore it to something very like what it was in the 5th century B.C. The only major absence will, I think, be the giant statue in gold and ivory of the goddess Hera herself unless someone finally locates the great work of Phidias from a very large vault somewhere in Istanbul or Rome.
This loving, meticulous recreation of the past in the modern capital is, to my mind, much more than just an acknowledgement of how influential Athens has been. As you go round the modern country you find an abundance of ruins. In doing so you become more and more aware that the distinction between the past and the present is not as clearcut as you might have thought. There can`t be many experiences which can so clearly remind our confused age of what humanity can achieve and also of what power a close partnership with the natural world can provide.
Sadly, you can also see how blindly destructive can be the effects of an unthinking commitment to a creed or a religion. A slavish devotion to a simple-minded version of democracy sent triumphant Periclean Athens to its horrific downfall in declaring war on the robotic military machine of Sparta. Those in the UK appalled by the Brexit referendum might wish everyone had been forced to read how a very similar vote had tolled the deathknell of Athens. Then Romans took over Athens but treated it with laudable respect unlike the Christians and Muslims who came near to destroying the Parthenon forever.
This book records what I have seen, experienced and photographed on a number of visits to mainland Greece and the islands. Whether your taste is good food and wine on a warm evening by the Aegean, basking in the hot sun with moussaka or souvlakis in prospect, being lost in admiration for the wonderful sculptures of ancient Greeks or admiring beautiful and varied countryside the experience of Greece is one of immense richness.
The large number of colour photographs in this book make it the most expensive book I have published so far. They appear well in the e-book versions on the more modern Kindle –type readers and that is only a little more costly at £6.37 in the UK $9.00 in the USA or the equivalent in other currencies. The paperback, inevitably costs a lot more at £18.00 in the UK and $33.00 in the USA. I`m delighted (and a little surprised) that both versions have already had sales in the first week of being available. This is a sample from my first sight of the ancient sanctuary of Apollo the sun-god at Delphi. Unfortunately on that first visit the god was not very much in evidence. Nonetheless, it was an unforgettable experience:
“I found Pitho rooms and had a warm welcome from Giorgios and Vikki who run it along with a splendid souvenir shop on the ground floor. My experience in most countries is that souvenir shops are a display of quite drab items you would be embarrassed to present to a friend. Greek ones are different. They usually offer a wide range of very good quality replicas of ancient pottery and sculpture from the classical age. I decided to spend some time in it later in the week. My room was modern, bright and very comfortable. After settling in I decided to defy the weather by walking the mile back along the road to Ancient Delphi. I was very glad I did this.
I began to walk along the main street which was quite free of traffic at this time in the early evening. Only when I came to a gap in the buildings on the right did I see for the first time one of the features that make Delphi unforgettable. The little town is quite high up in the hills. Through this gap I could see in the fading light down the hillside over farmland that holds Greece`s largest olive grove to the distant water of the Gulf of Corinth. This is the wide stretch that separates Central and Western Greece from The Peloponnese, the southern area that includes the legendary Arcadia, the ancient city of Sparta, historic Olympia and, in the far south, the wild, unruly area known as the Mani. All that joins these and prevents the Peloponnese from being an island is a narrow strip of land, the four-mile wide isthmus, a little west of Athens at the spectacular site of Heraion of Perachora. Despite the heavy cloud and drizzle this was a magnificent scene. Even without historical associations it was splendour. If you had read a bit you would know that the Spartans had crossed that water under Leonidas to face and repel the huge and mighty Persian invading army under Xerxes in 300 B.C.as they defended the pass at Thermopylae. You might know it was the waterway along which Socrates must have sailed from Athens to consult the Delphic oracle in his celebrated visit. Its waters were then the scene of the momentous confrontation between the Ottoman Turks and the alliance supporting the Venetian fleet to prevent the Turks from taking Cyprus. That was the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. One participant on the Venetian side was none other than the great Don Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra, better known just as Cervantes, author of Don Quixote. Another, possibly, was the great general Othello, the Moor, assuming Shakespeare`s heartbreaking tragedy had some basis in fact. Lepanto was the Venetian name for the Greek town called Nafpaktos which I later visited.
I continued to the edge of the new town and on for around a mile. It was still raining heavily but, strangely, this was an advantage. Normally there would have been groups of tourists along this road but I was entirely alone. Leaving the buildings behind I got an uninterrupted view down the valley to the Gulf. The road curved slightly to the left and as I rounded this bend I saw the ancient ruins of the sanctuary of Apollo climbing the steep hill that was one side of Parnassus. To my right the hillside continued sharply down to the ruin of the circular structure that had been the Temple of Athena. This is often referred to as the “Tholos” of Athena. This word is used in modern Greek for the dome of a cathedral and so it is describing a similar structure. Now all that is left is the circular base and three pillars. To my left was the modern museum which was now closed for the day as was the site itself. Beyond that a path climbed up to the sanctuary, a climb I would undertake the following day. Standing alone by the roadside with the great height of Parnassus on my left, its slopes hosting the ancient ruins and on my right down to the Tholos and the gymnasium before the land sloped steeply away towards the Gulf I felt my trip and my braving the falling rain were fully justified. It was a scene of mighty grandeur in its timeless silence. I could not say whether it was mainly the great beauty of the natural setting itself or the melancholy grandeur which ruins often have or the awareness that this was the site that in ancient times persuaded fiercely warring states to come together in reverence. No doubt all of them contributed to the sense of majesty I enjoyed. Despite the rain which was now easing a little I felt it was a rare privilege to stand alone and insignificant on the hillside as old as time, looking at the silent presence of one of humanity`s true inspirations. I decided to forgive Apollo for having withheld his gift of sunshine from me this one time. It seems in my memory that no sooner had I thought this than I saw an immense rainbow form over the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia a little downhill to my right and on into the far distance down the valley, just like a smile from the great god.”

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Both versions are available from Amazon and other online book retailers. Further information on my books can be obtained on http://www.rngnovels.co.uk.
GREECE:THE ROMANCE OF THE RUINS

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Democracy

I may have ventured into difficult territory. I hoped my examples might make the point but perhaps I should develop it in my own mind as I go since I think it is so important. It was my reading, or actually re-reading, of the mighty Plato that made me articulate what I had been aware of before. Plato said democracy was the worst of all forms of government. First time round I dismissed this as simply a lapse by the great man. It wasn`t This also explained to me why he abandoned Greece, a country I love, to live in Italy, which I also love but not more than Greece. Athens at that time operated a form of democracy like our referendums or like the Arkansas method whereby the populace voted to dictate policy. This led them to declare suicidal war on Sparta-rather like our declaring war on the USA. Then they decreed that Socrates, Plato`s great friend and teacher, should be executed. Plato knew that the populace were whimsical, sometimes bloodthirsty, often delusional and rarely prepared or able to grasp the facts of a situation before making their demands. Only through time and the deliberations of many fine minds did we develop the parliamentary system which appoints people who, one hopes, work at trying to understand an issue fully before making decisions. They have to justify their view in debate and are held accountable for their actions.  One of their duties may well be to appoint advisers who are competent and able, not advisers who are simply favourites of the people because they perform on Have I got news for you. If these representatives choose responsibly then the advisers are likely to be of much higher quality than elected ones because none of us knows enough about enough people to make sane judgements about dozens of candidates. Choosing one member for our parliamentary constituency is difficult enough. Well chosen representatives aware that they are accountable should, I think, be the basis of a good democracy which must, of course, be subject to the rule of law built up over time by responsible parliaments. To demand a system whereby we elect the second chamber, the advisers, the European commission, the President of the European council etc. is to be sure that our democracy is feeble if not actually dangerous. The issues involved in Brexit are of immense complexity. There was never any chance that even the most highly intelligent and educated members of the population could make a rational decision about more than a tiny fraction of the countless  aspects of our life that are affected. So, I am totally an advocate of representative democracy as opposed to direct democracy ( aka mob rule).

Zombies and Other Unexpected Visitors

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I first came across zombies when as a child of perhaps five my parents took me to see a film called, I think, Abbot and Costello meet the Zombies .Abbot and Costello were a popular American comedy duo and, as far as I remember, the film was very funny. I didn`t know anything more about these confusing beings until I was a bit older. Then when I was preparing to visit Savannah, Georgia, I learned a bit more. I`m really not very interested in the usual run of zombie and vampire stories and films but I have always been curious about what lay behind them and whether in certain circumstances I might take them much more seriously. The title story of this collection The Savannah Zombie recounts a recent visit I made to Georgia and a peculiar sequence of events. Whether they happened exactly as reported here or whether the Savannah atmosphere had a strange effect I don`t really know.
Not long after this I visited the Bermudas. We normally refer to them in the singular but in fact there are 181 of them. The Bermuda Triangle history is not by any means the only set of paranormal events allegedly linked with them. Their `spooky` history dates back to their first discovery by Portuguese and Spanish sailors in the 16th century. I think readers will agree that this tale of surprising passion is all the more touching because of its ghostly element. As with the first story it made me look at the paranormal and the most tender of human passions in a different light.
The final story is set in the remarkable island of Cuba which I visited some years ago. The island is beautiful and the Cubans are irresistible. It is an island of endless music and dance, but it has some disturbing history from its connection with slavery by inhuman transport from Africa and the different kind of slavery brought in by the baleful presence of the Mafia. The Mob made a fortune out of its opportunities as a pleasure ground for the rich during the American prohibition period. Alcohol was cheap and readily available and, sadly, so were the beautiful and sensual young women. That history has left deep marks on it but I didn`t expect them to have cast a shadow on me also.
So, this book of stories from The Bermuda Triangle, all with a paranormal element, all resulting from visits I made, is now available from Amazon either as an e-book ( at just over £2.00) or aprint book (at just over £4.00). Not a lot of money for three stories which will, I think, be quite different from anything else you have read.

THE READING OF THE RUNES -The Creatures of Monster Winter

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The latest case for the legendary Spanish detective Rojas is set in modern Spain. It moves between the energetic modern city Barcelona and the sunny resort of Altea with its hinterland of beautiful old Spanish towns and villages. However, the strange world of the Viking sagas is ever present in its events. The image of an eight-legged horse is itself peculiar. It is not a rune but a mythical creature. However it points towards the world of the runes. The word `rune` means `a mystery` and it was used to refer to the alphabet of the Old Norse people such as the Vikings. These runes are credited with strange powers of magic healing and divination.

The Reading-cover

So, very strange that murder in modern Spain arises from the same desire and evil as was foreseen one thousand years ago in the ancient poem that describes `The Creatures of Monster Winter`. Chief Inspector Miguel Rojas is called on by the Colombian ambassador to unravel this strangest of crimes. Amid the sunshine of Altea in Valenciana by the blue waters of the Mediterranean he finds the most unexpected of clues.

The Reading of the Runes is now available from Amazon as e-book or print book.

Krakow- Inspiration and Warning

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Cloth Hall, Krakow

Krakow
This is the elegant, Italianate Cloth Hall in the centre of the magnificent main square of Krakow in Poland. The city deservedly has a reputation for being beautiful. I have just spent a few days there and can confirm that this is the case. The city is also very friendly with lots of thriving young enterprises and a rich musical and cultural life. It has existed for around 1,000 years and in that time has experienced many changes of fortune. Like all of Eastern Europe it has been very unfortunate in its choice of neighbours. Throughout its history it has suffered the arrogant, expansionist attentions of Austria, Prussia, Nazi Germany and Russia. before that they had to deal with the Mongols and the Ottoman Turks. For some 150 years the country simply disappeared from the map only to rediscover its identity at the end of The First World War. That, of course was simply a precursor for some of the most horrific events of all human history at the hands of Nazis and Bolsheviks.
One evening we went to a concert of Chopin piano music in an elegant small palace off the main square. The very fine pianist Bartlomiej Kominek played an array of the intricately beautiful piano pieces of his countryman. It reminded me that one of the first Chopin piano pieces I ever heard was the spellbinding Revolutionary Etude (etude no. 12 in C minor) which the great composer, then resident in Paris, composed to express his rage at the brutal repression in 1831 of Warsaw by the Russians.
In the modern city it is impossible entirely to escape the dark history of these events and a visit to the Jewish Kazimierz district brings back the Nazi attempt (almost successful) to exterminate the entire Jewish race. Sometimes the Nazis like modern Islamic State, like the perpetrators of the appalling Stalinist purges are referred to as `animals` but what they did was very much worse than anything any animals have ever done. It is therefore inspiring to see the free and recovering country foster business, education and liberty. One of the many beautiful cafes is Soprano`s near the Collegium Maius, a tribute to the survival and revival of beauty and style.

Cloth Hall

Another is in the Jewish district itself, near some of the events depicted in the Spielberg film, `Schindler`s List`. It is a Jewish cafe and civic centre. It had a warm, welcoming atmosphere along with excellent produce. Books lined the walls and people sat playing games, chatting, eating or drinking in beautiful surroundings.
Ironically, the most moving scene of our visit was a McDonald`s restaurant beside the Florian gate. This was the first western, private enterprise business to open after the collapse of communism in 1989. People queued for hours in their best clothes to visit this with more reverence than any shrine in any church because it symbolised the return of freedom to Poland. Personally I am not very fond of McDonald`s restaurants and would far rather eat and drink in the others I have mentioned but I too felt reverence for the place.

The Jewish cafe
Perhaps more than anywhere else I have ever visited this underlined for me the vital importance of democracy, of ensuring that power is never again solely in the hands of one faction or party or individual. Those in comfortable democracies like the severely misguided Russell Brand in Britain do not understand the world at all when telling people not to vote. All democracies, like all human systems, are imperfect, but the citizens of Krakow can tell you how vital the democratic system is. It is also vital that we do everything we can to ensure our democracies aim for the highest standards of civilised behaviour. I also reflected on the very sad rise of anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe. The ignorance and stupidity underlying such attitudes is very dangerous.

More about my books and writing can be found on  http://www.rngnovels.co.uk. My latest travel book Coffee with the Colossus is about visits to modern Greece. My latest novel is the mystery story The Moves of Murder set against the political machinations of Ukraine and Spain.

QUO VADIS IN THE TROSSACHS -Or a lot of bull

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Loch Katrine

One of the most celebrated areas of Scotland is The Trossachs. That is an area in The Queen Elizabeth Forest Park where you would find mountains, dense forests, pathways into the wilderness and very beautiful lochs like Loch Achray, Loch Venachar and, most legendary of all, Loch Katrine. The  fame of Loch Katrine has both poetic and practical roots. Practical because its immense volume supplies Glasgow with its water supply in a remarkable feat of engineering. For that engineers laid extensive pipework that is totally invisible now to the visitor who treks through the pines and mountain ash and birch trees. Poetic because it is the setting for Sir Walter Scott`s The Lady of the Lake. This long poem is not much read nowadays but its publication in 1810 caused an immense stir throughout Europe. Composers such as Rossini and Schubert wrote major works under its influence and it was probably the main reason for the journey of the young Felix Mendelssohn to Scotland to see the now famous author. Unfortunately Mendelssohn arrived just in time to see the great man set off for a journey to London. However, Mendelssohn did not waste his time and his magnificent Hebrides Overture, sometimes known as Fingal`s Cave was one outstanding result. Another, far less well known, is his piano piece A Scottish Fantasy which is a wonderfully evocative piece of romantic writing which I have only ever heard once, played on the BBC many years ago by the great Cuban pianist Jorge Bolet. The poem is often credited with having sparked the revival of interest in Scotland and the Highlands that continues to this day with the multiplicity of tartans, ceilidhs (a Scottish party with wild dancing, music and the occasional beverage) and the whisky trails all over the country.

Angus

Aside from all this however the frequent or the fortunate visitor to this area will know that there is another reason why The Trossachs deserves a visit. If you go to the restaurant and visitor centre at Kilmahog on the way to the lochs you can have fine food and coffee and Scottish wares. However, the real attraction is the noble Angus. Angus is a highland bull. This splendid half ton beast surveys his domain and his many human fans with august disdain. He is well aware of being beautiful, a bovine George Clooney with no need of fine clothes and certainly not of a haircut. He is more of a Samson in that respect in that his shaggy hair is a large part of his glory. Visitors can buy brown bags full of carrots and turnips to feed him which he casually accepts as if conferring a regal favour on those who offer. I once visited him in the company of a vegetarian friend of mine. She pointed out that Angus had reached a level of strength no human had ever reached without the need of meat. The moral of course was that I too could be stronger and more charismatic if I ate bags of turnip rather than the steaks and casseroles I enjoy. I pointed out that by that reasoning a diet of turnips would also give me a huge spread of sharp horns which I would find inconvenient. This argument was not well received by my friend although I felt Angus did offer a complacent smile.

It was on that visit that I made use of Angus for an experiment I had always wanted to try. As a youngster I had read a novel called Quo Vadis by a Polish writer called Henryk Sienkiewicz, a very good novel I might add. In it some Phrygian christians are ushered into the Colosseum in Rome to provide entertainment to the world`s most sophisticated audience by being publicly torn apart by a variety of wild beasts. One of the christians is a beautiful young princess called, if I remember correctly, Lygia. Even the love of the Roman general Marcus Vinicius for her has not saved her. However, also in the ring with her is her servant, the giant Ursus who adores Lygia. The first beast to be introduced to the ring is a huge, wild bull under strict orders to do very nasty things to the christians. Ursus, however, steps forward and faces the charging monster. He grabs the bull`s horns and twists them until he breaks the bull`s neck. I was impressed by this when I read the book and perhaps more so when I saw the Hollywood film. For decades I had wondered whether it was at all feasible that even a very strong man could do this. So, as we fed Angus on this particular visit he casually turned his great head from side to side as he munched, displaying his wide, magnificent horns. I grabbed one with both hands to see if I could restrain him at all from turning his head. The result was humbling. I don`t think Angus was even faintly aware that I was employing all of my mighty, steak and casserole-fed muscularity to restrain him from turning his head. If I had not let go at the last minute I think I would have been flung nonchalantly into the piles of mud and dung on the other side of the field. I left thoughtfully, wondering if I should re-read the novel to see if there is any mention of Ursus eating turnips.

My latest travel book is Coffee with the Colossus about remarkable visits to Greece and my latest novel is The Moves of Murder another in the Rojas Casebook, the mysteries of the eccentric Spanish detective. More information is available on http://www.rngnovels.co.uk

Farewell My Lovely

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Farewell my Lovely

Human beings have always enjoyed reading about their fellows being murdered, sometimes in quite brutal ways. Lots of killing happens in Homer`s Iliad and hideous infanticide is central to both the Euripides play Medea and the fifth century Norse epic Atlakvida. From Cain and Abel onwards the Bible has plenty of killing. The Elizabethan plays of Shakespeare, Marlowe, Thomas Kyd and others are full of it. The four greatest novels of Dostoyevsky are all murder stories. Modern films and bestselling books frequently deal with murder, its occurrence, its detection, its motives and methods.
So, why do human beings enjoy reading about death? Does it suggest we are more comfortable with evil than we would like to admit? Does `the dark side` simply fascinate us? Wouldn`t nice people prefer to spend their time watching romances with happy endings or hearing improving reports of noble, selfless deeds.? For most of us neither of these options makes the blood run hot. We`d prefer to reach for something in the wide range from a disturbance in the tidy, ordered world of an Agatha Christie to the brutal sordid realism of recent Scandinavian output. I suspect the reasons for this choice can be complex and varied. I don`t think either the writer or the average reader of a current, gritty potboiler has much in common with the output of Dostoyevsky.
Let us begin at the other end, the writer. Why is the murder/detective genre what you would want to write? Do we simply rejoice in the pain and sufferings of others? Is sadism an essential part of being a writer along with a reasonable vocabulary and some wordprocessing skills? Actually there is a section of the market, quite a big one, where that does appear to be true. I can`t say I understand that and can`t say anything useful about it. There is, however, a larger section where, I think, the motivation is quite different.
Consider some of the attractions of detective stories for reader and writer. First of all, there is one that applies whether the detection is concerned with murder or, less commonly, some other mystery. The story has a natural structure which is absent from everyday life. Normally the story will begin with the appearance of the mystery, probably a murder, and will continue until the mystery is solved or, occasionally, abandoned. Normal life doesn`t have that type of structure. It flows on from one minor incident to another. If there are major ones they are often sudden events like an illness, a car accident, a house fire. They are dramatic but they don`t usually offer much of a story.

Dragon Tattoo
Another major attraction of murder stories is that they often bring together very different personalities who would not necessarily be involved with one another for other reasons. You can examine the hidden motivations of a lawyer, a lover, distant relatives, a local tradesman, any number of contacts. If you are interested in human nature the opportunities are endless and that is one of the greatest attractions of reading fiction. Again in normal life passions and motivations are rarely as open to examination as in a murder inquiry. The fact of murder often means people have been pushed to limits that normal life would not reveal.
Then there is the obvious charm of the murder story that it usually allows unexpected interventions. People may appear without warning. Others may disappear. What we thought we knew about characters may suddenly be revealed as a deception. Whilst these things happens in everyday life it`s rare for them to be dramatic. In the murder story these events may take place in the home or in the world of business, politics, sport or any other human activity. The location can be humdrum or exotic and can switch from one to the other.
So, the murder story has attractions for those who like some structure, who find human nature interesting and who like the excitement of the unexpected. They can also appeal to those who enjoy a puzzle. A well-written murder story may present the reader with all the clues needed for the solution, as does a good crossword puzzle. By contrast with the crossword puzzle however it should be very enjoyable even for the reader who doesn`t want to solve it or who fails.
So, the many fans of detective fiction need not worry that their addiction implies they are bloodthirsty or heartless. They can indulge their pleasure with a perfectly good conscience. Even so, there is a huge difference between the style, humour and poetry of Raymond Chandler on the one hand and the graphic cruelty of The Killing. Superb as that production is the description of what happens to the young victim is likely to be upsetting for most people but almost as difficult is how powerfully the suffering of her family is depicted. Maybe a murder story is as good an exercise in self-knowledge as we can get in relative safety.

 

The_Women_from_Crete_Cover_for_Kindle

The Women from Crete, The Moves of Murder and The Celebrity of Anders Hecht are all detective stories in The Rojas Casebook and can be bought from Amazon online. Currently only The Moves of Murder can be bought from other online retailers and bookshops. More information on http://www.rngnovels.co.uk

Vampires in Crete and Iceland

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On visiting the Greek island of Crete, writing about it and discussing it later I have found the subject of `the undead` arising from time to time. For centuries belief in vampires has persisted in a number of Greek islands such as Rhodes and, principally, Crete. In Crete they are known as katakhanadhes Elsewhere in the Greek world they are known as Vrixolakas. The 19th century traveller, Robert Pashley, provides a number of accounts of this in his Travels in Greece, published in 2008. I write more about Pashley, a very interesting character, in my book Coffee with the Colossus. Pashley was a highly educated man but one with a very open mind about beliefs and legends. He was enough of an investigator to establish that some of the tales were more convenient than frightening such as the one of the poor farmer who was disturbed to hear strange sounds coming from the bedroom where his daughters slept. In the morning when he questioned them he was told a blood-curdling tale of how vampires had entered the room and tortured the girls mercilessly. The farmer was devout and had learned that prayer and incense would dismiss even the most determined of such demonic visitors. Despite his earnest endeavours in this practise he heard the sounds again on the following night. On the third night, in despair, he burst into the room with a shotgun to see the `vampires` climbing out of the window, looking strangely like a couple of the village boys.
More intriguingly, Pashley cites stories from the wild, remote region of Crete known as Sfakiá. I did some research on this fascinating area when I wrote The Women from Crete. I drew for that novel heavily on a most interesting book about Sfakiá by Peter Trudgill, simply called In Sfakiá. Admittedly, the only supernatural phenomenon reported by Peter Trudgill in the region was the level of hospitality which, he said, `verged on the insane`. Pashley, however, collected stories of a more chilling nature. In the isolated valleys and pastures of Sfakiá some of the very hardy and self-reliant shepherds of the region reported much more physical encounters with vampires. In my native country, Scotland, we have plenty of tales of the supernatural but our ghosts in the main, are less sturdy. Vampires are more susbtantial as Bram Stoker has informed us in his novel about the most famous one of all, Count Dracula. This character was probably based on the fifteenth century Count Vladimir (the Impaler) Draculesti. This nobleman became renowned for resisting the onslaught of the Ottoman Turks who eventually swamped much of Eastern Europe. As his nickname suggests, he dealt with his opponents in an unpleasant manner.
This `substantial ` feature of vampires is not unheard of elsewhere. Medieval Iceland was home to some of the greatest storytellers in the world. One of the finest of its great tales is Grettir`s Saga. Grettir was the strongest man in Iceland and acquired a reputation throughout the sparsely populated island as a `ghost-slayer`. That terms seems odd to those of us in places like Scotland who expect our ghosts to have the decency to be already dead before embarking on a haunting career. However, the ghost Grettir encounters in the saga is the giant Glámr who has already killed some of the farmer`s cattle and one of his slaves. Grettir`s fight with this giant is gripping and the effect of its `evil eye` on him is chilling. Why Iceland and Crete, geographically and culturally so far apart should share details of this odd phenomenon I don`t know. Both are large islands which,for different reasons, were cut off from the cultural mainstream of Europe. Both have wild, mountainous areas where shepherds would have spent many a lonely night. No doubt both had a supply of some warming alcoholic beverage which might have clouded their judgement. Why, however, if they were simply under alcoholic influence, did they come up with such similar descriptions for these supernatural invaders? Perhaps I`ll have to investigate further.

READING LOLITA IN TEHERAN AND SCOTLAND

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Lolita film 2

Writing can bring strange connections. You tell your story in the most entertaining way you can and someone points out connections you never thought about. I have always admired the great Russian writer, Vladimir Nabokov, not least because he was able to speak and write equally comfortably in Russian (his native language), English and French. Most people only know him as the author of a notoriously non- PC book ,Lolita, about the lust of a an aging widower, Humbert Humbert, for young teenage girls in general and one in particular. Especially in this age of widespread publicity about sexual misdemeanours some think the book outrageous, barely redeemed by the fact that it is written in remarkably stylish English prose. At the same time it is usually cited as one of the finest novels in English of the twentieth century. Detractors would be very surprised perhaps to read the remarkable book Reading Lolita in Teheran by Professor Azar Nafisi. In the first place you might not expect any woman to be so approving of such an apparently sexually exploitative book. Then, if you share the widespread (and possibly true) view that modern Iran is an extremely sexually repressive place it seems more strange. However, Professor Nafisi and her female students at the University of Teheran became great admirers not just of this book but of all of the work of Nabokov. What they saw in the novel was a very intelligent study of tyranny. The main character, Humbert, believes he has every right to exploit teenage girls for his own pleasure. Similarly, Professor Nafisi saw the Islamic revolution as bringing in a tyrannical attitude with women`s rights ignored totally and some of the punishments administered more like nasty forms of sexual perversion than any kind of justice. The admiration extended to other works of Nabokov like Pnin and Pale Fire. He was not the only writer studied or admired by them but apparently he was the one who most spoke to their plight. These books formed the core of a silent protest and demand for the elementary rights and freedoms all human beings should enjoy.
Nabokov was a wonderful, humorous, inventive stylist in English with his books providing many types of pleasure. In real life he was also a lecturer in English, an expert in butterflies, a tennis coach and a composer of intricate chess problems. As his novels suggest, he had strong views about tyranny and personal freedom. I hadn`t thought about any parallels between his own writing and mine until I received an interesting email from a woman who had read my novel The Moves of Murder. There is the obvious initial parallel that my novel opens with a chess match, but one that, we soon learn, is overshadowed by some very sinister politics. Both are quite probable Nabokov territory. Then there is Montariol, the influential French politician. His attitude to sexual exploitation only differs from Humbert`s in being directed to an older age-group. However, just as Humbert`s obsession eventually causes him prolonged pain and suffering Montariol`s agony comes more quickly from Kristina, an expert in the art of self-defence, although she also has a much more devastating pain in store for him in the long term. These parallels interested me since I had not even considered them. I thought more about it. The theme of politically driven East Europeans who believe any act, even murder, is justified to impose their undemocratic will very differently expresses one of Nabokov`s major obsessions since he knew that kind of tyranny at first hand.
Humbert Humbert is more of a romantic than Montariol. He is in love with Lolita, even if that love and its expression are illicit. Narciso, the tormented priest in my book, suffers equal agonies with a love that is illicit in a very different sense. I wonder what Nabokov would have made of my detective, Miguel Rojas. Apparently he is as impervious to temptation as Humbert is vulnerable but he is human so he must have a weakness. Would Nabokov have spotted what it is? Would he have bothered reading my book in the first place? A writer can hope.
The message has tempted me to go back and read Nabokov`s work again. However, I`m sure other writers who know his books will understand when I say I`m a little afraid to do so. His style is so dazzling and his use of English so creative it is likely to be infectious. At the same time, although Nabokov`s subtleties are interesting and amusing any writer has to remember that novels should be gripping and entertaining. They are not crossword puzzles. Nabokov`s books are very readable even if it doesn`t occur to you they might be metaphors for tyranny or exploitation.
I was very flattered that anyone had given such thought to my story. I was also surprised that such parallels could be found. All writers will agree with me you`re happy if readers enjoy your book in any way that suits them.

The Moves of Murder is published by Belvedere Publishing and is available from most online retailers and soon from most bookshops. More information about and excerpts from my books on http://www.rngnovels.co.uk