Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Revo Blog. Part 9

Previous posts in this series:

The time has come - how I came to the decision to blog the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 1 - background to Grenada
The Revo Blog. Part 2 - background to me
The Revo Blog. Part 3 - Feb-March 1982 (1 of 2)
The Revo Blog. Part 3a - why 'Revo'?
The Revo Blog. Part 4 - Feb-March 1982 (continued)
The Revo Blog. Part 5 - April 1982 - June 1983. London
The Revo Blog. Part 6 - June-Sept 1983
The Revo Blog. Part 7 - relationships
The Revo Blog. Part 7a - Faye's film
The Revo Blog. Part 8 - rumours

October 1983. The last days of the Revo

Saturday 15th October

The mood in town is tense and very angry. After my first trip to the hospital I go to the market square. Kenrick Radix, a member of the People's Revolutionary Government (PRG), is in the square, drumming up support for Maurice. A demo begins with placards saying, 'We want Maurice'.

You have to understand. This is a place where, for four and a half years, the people have been led to believe that they are in control of what happens in their country. Now things are happening that they're not even being told about. They've even been instructed not to talk about them! Taking to the streets to voice their concerns has always been an integral part of the Revo and was the logical next step to ensure their voices were being heard.

I meet another party member who's keen to give her version of what's going on. She tells me Maurice had been 'misbehaving' for some time; holding back development, misdirecting funds, hanging onto power for himself ... She even hints at a possible CIA connection but says the party's hands were tied because of the popular support Maurice has.

She's twitchy, as well she might be given how out of step her perceptions are with almost everyone else around us. The Central Committee are now in control of the country, she confides, and they're organising house-to-house visits to explain the situation. She tells me that the problems have been going on for a year but the Central Committee's hand has now been forced. The alternative is bloodshed. The Committee are currently meeting to decide on what action to take.

It sounds so plausible, but I don't buy it for one moment, and neither does anyone else I speak to. For the first time, I hear Hudson Austin's name mentioned. He's the chief of the People's Revolutionary Army (PRA) and L tells me he backs Coard. That means it's unclear where the army's loyalty lies. From her hospital window, H saw troops mobilising on the beach last night, though she couldn't see what they were up to.

Each time I come home from the hospital, I switch on the radio. Regional stations report confusion and sketchy details. Flights are still ok but phone communications have apparently been disrupted. On Radio Free Grenada (RFG) a spokesperson denies reports from elsewhere in the Caribbean that several members of the government have been arrested but he gives no further info.

In other words, we're being told what's not happening, but are given no clue as to what is.

So ... H is in hospital, B is both physically and mentally sick and L is making himself scarce. In the evening, I stay home, glued to the radio. The Prime Minister's office (just who the Prime Minister is at this point is a question not addressed) states,
'No questions will be answered to journalists in this period.'
What is it that they are hiding?

At 6.00 pm there's a new development. Leon Cornwall, a PRG and Central Committee member, who, with Hudson Austin, heads up the People's Revolutionary Army (PRA), delivers a statement. It's still a confusing mish-mash of rumour and counter rumour, but this time Maurice is finally mentioned. He's directly blamed for starting the original rumour and criticised for holding onto power for himself. The same rules apply to everyone, he says, and that is why action had to be taken against Maurice.
'The party will tolerate no one-manism. The army is united down to the last private,' he warns.

The tone of the broadcast is very heavy and repressive. As I sit scribbling down his words in my diary, a chill runs through my veins. Nothing like this has been heard before. It's clear we've entered a new stage.

The 7.00 pm news says that Kenrick Radix resigned two days ago and that a number of the organisers of today's demo 'and other people involved' have been detained. It's not clear if this includes Radix or not. So now people are not allowed to demonstrate in the tradition of the Revo and they're not allowed to conjecture about what's going on. The news makes no mention of the earlier statement by Leon Cornwall on behalf of the PRA and the omission leads to a feeling of unreality.

This can't be happening ...

Sunday 16th October

In between hospital visits I catch the midday news, which confirms that Radix is among those arrested. It's announced that an 'important statement' will be made this evening at 10.00 pm.

In the event, it's not 'til midnight, long after most Grenadians have gone to bed, that the statement by Hudson Austin on behalf of the PRA is broadcast. Austin confirms what I heard from the party member yesterday: that Maurice wanted power, that the problems had been hidden from the people for the sake of unity, that he is responsible for the current situation.

I sit alone in the dark and wonder if they really believe the people will swallow this line. All along people have been demanding to hear Maurice speak for himself and there's no sign of that being allowed to happen. They're not allowed to talk about what's going on in case they're arrested for spreading rumours and they're not allowed to demonstrate. They've gone from being in control to being controlled. And they're expected to just accept their new status? Surely, those who now are clearly the ones holding the reins of power must know that's not going to happen ...

Monday 17th October

Another demo was supposed to take place today but the rain is pouring down in sheets and people are keeping their heads down.

Tuesday 18th October

H is discharged from hospital and I bring her home. Though she's still weak and far from well, it will be a relief not to have to make the twice daily trips into town. She has to be on a very restricted diet - no fats at all while her liver recovers - and that's going to stretch my powers of invention.

C tells me she attended a NACDA political education meeting today. A spokesperson from the Ministry of National Mobilisation was grilled by the co-op workers. The questions they ask demonstrates their clear grasp of the issues:
'Who has more power - the party or the people?'
'Who has more power - the party or the security forces?'
'What's the reason why we're not allowed to see Maurice?'
'How is it decided whether a person is a comrade or not? We've noticed that RFG has started referring to Kenrick as "Mr" Radix, while others are still referred to as "comrade".'

The spokesman let slip that Jacky Creft, the Minister for Education and Maurice's partner, is 'up there with Maurice'.
In a frantic attempt to claw back lost ground he says that she's only there because Maurice asked for her. This response is met with jeers of disbelief.
'So she's under house arrest too,' observes an astute co-op member.
'No one's under house arrest,' the hapless spokesman protests. 'Maurice is confined to his home for security reasons.'
'What's the difference?'
'There's a difference in law. Radix, on the other hand, is detained ...'

Weasel words and no one's taken in.

On the 7.00 pm news we're told that Errol George, Maurice's security officer, has made a statement implicating Maurice. Three hundred people demonstrated in St Andrews earlier today, marching to Pearls airport, the newreader tells us.

Then - bizarre and surreal - there's a business-as-usual statement about the economy. As though all this is just a blip and everything is going to be fine.

I go to bed that night filled with dread and unable to sleep.

But nobody knows at this point that the sun has set on the last day of the Grenadian Revo.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Revo Blog. Part 8

Previous posts in this series:

The time has come - how I came to the decision to blog the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 1 - background to Grenada
The Revo Blog. Part 2 - background to me
The Revo Blog. Part 3 - Feb-March 1982 (1 of 2)
The Revo Blog. Part 3a - why 'Revo'?
The Revo Blog. Part 4 - Feb-March 1982 (continued)
The Revo Blog. Part 5 - April 1982 - June 1983. London
The Revo Blog. Part 6 - June-Sept 1983
The Revo Blog. Part 7 - relationships
The Revo Blog. Part 7a - Faye's film

Right. You know about Grenada. You know about the Revo. And you know about me. I've set the scene and assembled the cast. There's nothing for it now but to embark on the part I've dreaded the most. From here onwards, I'll be using the detailed diaries I kept at the time to ensure accuracy.

So this is it. The beginning of the end.

September-October 1983. Rumours

On 23rd September, the last of our overseas guests leaves. R is a good friend and I'm very sad to see him go, though I relish the thought of having our space back and being able to focus on our reason for being here.

On his last evening, R and I climb to the top of the hill behind our house. From here, we can see for miles in every direction, across seas and forests and mountains. But what we have come for is the light show in the West.

As we stand awestruck, the sun drips into the ocean, staining sky and sea alike with colours so vivid and outrageous, no artist could recreate them and be believed. It's one of those Caribbean sunsets that is so over the top, it's almost too much to handle.

'Y'know,' I say, 'When you get something like this that's so spectacular that it's overwhelming, it's a good idea to tear your eyes away for a moment. What you see as you look in the other directions may well be more subtle but just as beautiful in its own way.'

As I speak, I pivot slowly on the spot. As I turn my back on the pulled-out-all-the-stops sunset and face East, I gasp, tears welling up in my eyes. High in the sky is the thinnest brightest sliver of new moon. And curved over it with flawless symmetry is a perfect rainbow, arching over the crescent like a protective mother sheltering her newborn child.

I don't know whether I say the words aloud, but I do remember thinking them.
Sometimes it feels like life here is too perfect.
R leaves the following day and we attempt to occupy our space and regain our focus. But life has a habit of ignoring the agenda you've composed for yourself and imposing its own. There are tensions between the men in the house and inevitably these spill over onto us.

On 1st October, a week after R leaves, H becomes ill with a high fever. Her lover, B, has never been what you'd call gregarious, but is now becoming more and more withdrawn. The two of them retreat to their room, emerging rarely. Over a week later, H is still ill. N and I are sponging her off and are alarmed to see the sweat is literally spurting from every pore. It's clear she is seriously ill with something that isn't going to just run its course and be shaken off.

H is admitted to hospital in St Georges on 13th October and diagnosed with Hepatitis B, probably contracted from an insect bite. In the hospital, she has a bed and medical treatment. But that's all. Sheets, pillows, food etc all have to be brought in. I will have to get up in the morning, cook, take the food to hospital, sit with H a while, return home to cook again, then back to the hospital ... There isn't much room for anything else.

At home B has gone down with bronchitis, but, more worryingly, his mental state is giving cause for serious concern. When we'd first arrived in Tempe, we'd taken up the carpet floor tiles, worried they might get damaged. One of B's many anxieties centres round his feet coming into contact with the concrete floor. He lays tracks of carpet tiles around the house, linking the bedroom with the toilet, bathroom and kitchen and on his rare forays from the bedroom he follows these tracks with a rigid intensity.

People fear madness. It's too close and too real. It's almost as if we're scared it's contagious. And who knows, maybe it is. Whether or not that's true, with H in hospital, B's condition freaking out anyone who comes into contact with him, and constant arguments raging, our home has moved in the space of a week from being a cool place for people to come and hang out at all hours of day and night to a hollow shell filled with bad vibes and a tense and poisonous atmosphere.

It's a micrcosm, the turmoil within echoing the increasing tension in the island as a whole. The day after H is admitted to hospital, we hear that Maurice has been placed under house arrest. On my way to visit her, I find town is buzzing and rumours are flying. People are angry and confused, demanding to know the reasons for the arrest and to hear Maurice speak for himself to explain. Although the determination is clear, I sense an undercurrent of fear too. There are crowds gathering in the market square and lots of army vehicles visible on the streets.

In the afternoon, Radio Free Grenada relays a statement from Coard's office, saying he'd resigned as a result of rumours circulating last week that he and his wife, Phyllis, were plotting to kill Maurice. The statement goes on to say that 'certain elements led by an insurance company owner' had then seized weapons with the intention of killing the Coards.

There follows a message from the Security Forces - saying that anyone found spreading rumours will be arrested! After that, there's the news in which we're told that Maurice's chief of staff has been arrested for starting the original rumour.

The news says nothing about Maurice's current whereabouts and neither confirms nor denies that he is under house arrest. So rumours, now apparently illegal, are the only thing left to fill the vacuum. On the streets I hear various versions: that Maurice is being held at home, in prison, on a Cuban ship ...

A party member who I know slightly tells me that Maurice had refused to share power and had started the assassination rumour himself and had therefore been arrested. It's vital to point out that he is one of only two people who I hear criticising Maurice and attempting to lay the blame for the crisis on him.
Photo of Maurice Bishop and Bernard Coard from IPS News
To add to the confusion, L tells me he's seen the insurance company owner mentioned in the radio statement and that he's still free and walking around. No one knows what to believe or who to trust. Maurice himself is the one certainty. He could explain what's happening, given the chance. L also tells me that people in St Paul's are ready to take up arms to defend Maurice.

Except no one knows where he is. And those who do know, aren't saying.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Revo Blog. Part 7a

Previous posts in this series:

The time has come - how I came to the decision to blog the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 1 - background to Grenada
The Revo Blog. Part 2 - background to me
The Revo Blog. Part 3 - Feb-March 1982 (1 of 2)
The Revo Blog. Part 3a - why 'Revo'?
The Revo Blog. Part 4 - Feb-March 1982 (continued)
The Revo Blog. Part 5 - April 1982 - June 1983. London
The Revo Blog. Part 6 - June-Sept 1983
The Revo Blog. Part 7 - relationships

Faye's film

If you've been following this series of posts from the beginning, you'll know that it was triggered by meeting a woman, Faye Anne Wilkinson, who plans to make a film about the Revo.

Faye was born in the UK. Her mother is Grenadian and Faye was a baby when the events I've been relating took place. The film is about her own personal search for truth and understanding and she hopes that it can be screened on TV to coincide with Black History Month in October.

Faye's planning to go to Grenada with a small film crew in March, for the 30th anniversary of the Revo. As a teaser to attract potential funders, she has put together a trailer for the film, which you can see here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Revo Blog. Part 7

Previous posts in this series:

The time has come - how I came to the decision to blog the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 1 - background to Grenada
The Revo Blog. Part 2 - background to me
The Revo Blog. Part 3 - Feb-March 1982 (1 of 2)
The Revo Blog. Part 3a - why 'Revo'?
The Revo Blog. Part 4 - Feb-March 1982 (continued)
The Revo Blog. Part 5 - April 1982 - June 1983. London
The Revo Blog. Part 6 - June-Sept 1983


Since this is a personal account as well as a historical and political one, there are some missing details in the previous posts that I've realised I need to fill, coming under the heading of 'relationships'.

When I was back in London, somewhere between operations 2 and 3, I happened to overhear a conversation at a party in which Grenada was mentioned. I spoke to the woman afterwards and she told me her story, which bore a remarkable resemblance to that of mine and H.

and her sister had visited Grenada on holiday and had the same emotional response as we had. Like us, they too planned to return but then her sister fell pregnant and C told me she was planning to go on her own. We promised to look out for each other.

H and I had been settled in Tempe for some time when C came to visit us. She was staying with a group of women in Carifta Cottages - a housing development on the south side of Grand Anse - but the others were due to leave shortly. C asked if we knew of anywhere she could rent. We asked round and found out that the little board house at the entrance to our gap was available.

C moved in and we became (and remain to this day) close friends. With a background in community development in the voluntary sector, she was working in Grenada as a volunteer with NACDA, the agency responsible for developing and encouraging co-operatives, the method that she had chosen to use her skills and experience to conribute to the Revo.

N was a local woman living with her children in Mt Parnassus who later moved further up the coast to Happy Hill. We became very close early on during our second stay and she devoured our collection of books with infectious enthusiasm, providing us with gratifying evidence of the need for the mobile library. In return, N taught us to cook and took us on day long trips into the country, from where we'd hitch back together, laden with sacks of fresh produce.

PC was a local mover and shaker in Tempe. An older man, he took it upon himself to act as our mentor. His street wisdom, connections and sheer good sense, as well as the respect people had for him proved invaluable for us. It was PC, for example, who took H and I into the ghetto - considered off limits to outsiders. The ghetto was a tiny warren of shacks just off the Carenage in St Georges. As soon as we walked in, our presence was challenged. PC only had to say that we were with him for the protests to cease.

It was strange; at first I would often be conscious of being the only white person in a particular place. I never felt vulnerable, but I certainly felt conspicuous. After a while though, as our faces became familiar and our presence drew less attention, I wouldn't even notice. Yet at the same time, it was vital to retain an awareness of who I was and where I came from. My story may have been running parallel to that of the people I met and became close to, but the truth is that I could never forget I was there by choice and not by birth or history.

Another regular visitor to our yard was R, a 10 year old diabetic boy who would come into our kitchen and cook up batches of plantain crisps. And then there was Y, who taught us belly dancing. And M, who'd had a scene with J but stayed on in our yard after she left. And ... and ... and ... many more people who made up our daily landscape.

And then there was L. I have to talk about L.

Remember the background? When I returned to Grenada in June 1983, I had just come out of a disastrous 6 year relationship. I was determined to remain single, aware that I needed the space to sort my head out and work out how and why I had clung for so long to that particular shipwreck.

But remember too what I said about the tourist scene? A single woman was always going to be seen as available. As soon as we arrived, H resumed her previous relationship with B. No matter how much I protested that my single status was a choice and was not negotiable, I was under constant pressure from men wanting to be my 'personal friend'. I didn't kid myself that I was irresistably gorgeous, knowing the lure was what I represented, not who I was personally.

One person stood out from the crowd who would approach me each time I went out and congregate at all hours of the day and night on our balcony. Not because he was any more persistant than the others, but because he was the only one who I felt made the effort to get to know the real me. I'd met L the previous year and had felt the connection then too, but had never acted on it. This time, L was determined to establish a relationship. I was equally determined to remain single.

I lasted two months. Two whole celibate singleton months, before embarking on the most tempestuous and passionate relationship I'd ever had. L of course had many years experience of being with women tourists. And I was certainly no blushing virgin.

Even so, I think it was clear to us both early on that what we had together was different from anthing either of us had ever experienced before.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Revo Blog. Part 6

Previous posts in this series:

The time has come - how I came to the decision to blog the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 1 - background to Grenada
The Revo Blog. Part 2 - background to me
The Revo Blog. Part 3 - Feb-March 1982 (1 of 2)
The Revo Blog. Part 3a - why 'Revo'?
The Revo Blog. Part 4 - Feb-March 1982 (continued)
The Revo Blog. Part 5 - April 1982 - June 1983. London

June-September 1983

No stopovers this time. We change planes at Barbados and then it's straight onto Grenada, to our new home in Tempe. J is staying for two months. H and I have open tickets. As far as we're concerned, we haven't come for a holiday. This is life we're living.

Geographically, Tempe is in a shallow bowl. Behind the house is a steep hill leading up to the Governor General's residence on the top and then down into St Georges on the other side. On the opposite side of the house is another hill leading up to the Lord Chief Justice's home. From my bedroom window, you can see yet another hill, with three forts, the prison and the mental hospital (known locally as 'the crazy house') lined up along its spine. Of the two other roads branching off from the strategic Tempe crossroads, one heads towards Queen's Park and the coast road and the other leads to Mt Parnassus and the interior of the island.

Our new home is a 'wall' (concrete) house down a small track with just five other 'yards'. On the ground floor lives A, a single man who tends the land and watches over the property. We have the first floor: a balcony, two bedrooms, a living room, separate toilet, shower and kitchen. Luxury indeed. The house is surrounded by trees, with a vast mango tree looming over the back. Beyond the grove at the back of the house is a stream and behind that, more trees and then the road.

Things should have been perfect. It's soon clear, however, that we have made an unfortunate error of judgment. In our enthusiasm to spread the word about the Grenadian revolution, we've encouraged everyone we know to come and stay with us. In our heads, we see this as giving people a unique opportunity to experience the Revo firsthand, as well as being good for the island economy. We'd failed to predict the kind of problems it might cause.

For the first four months we're there, we have a constant stream of visitors, lying on pieces of foam in every corner of the house. Although many of them are people we love dearly, they are there for a holiday, while we have a very different agenda. We'd visualised our guests being independent and just using the house as a base from which to explore. The reality is that we feel people have expectations from us as hosts and tour guides. The sheer numbers of people passing through means that at times it feels like we're living in a 20th century version of the Big Brother house. It was a tricky situation and in retrospect, I don't think we handled it well.

We're so preoccupied with these group dynamics, it proves difficult to pursue our own objectives. H and I do go along to the library in St Georges and meet with the head librarian to talk about the mobile library proposal. She's gratifyingly positive and says our next move should be to register ourselves and our proposal with the Ministry for National Mobilisation.

Our visit to the Ministry is one of the high points of those early months in terms of advancing our plans to contribute to the Revo. We have an informal chat about the library, talking about our plans to obtain funding and showing publishers' lists, and we also share our intentions to take photos in a semi-official capacity. We're given a form to complete - a sort of CV giving our personal background.

As we fill it in on the spot, we laugh at the contrast to any similar form we might encounter back home. There, we would take care to make no mention of our political activities. Here, the reverse is true. Delighted at the liberation of telling the whole truth on an official form, we list every one of our involvements, giving info that the authorities back in England would no doubt rub their hands with glee over. We hold back nothing. Checking the form, the comrade nods in approval. He tells us that the next stage should be to arrange a meeting with Maurice to discuss our plans in detail.

Imagine that. We hope to set up a relatively small-scale project and are told after just two meetings that our next step should be to meet up with the Prime Minister! And that's what it was like ... This process is as good an illustration as any of the unique nature of the Grenadian Revo and the pivotal role that Maurice played.

You see, Maurice not only embodied the Revo, he was the living, breathing personification of it. In the evenings, he could still be found sitting in roadside bars, drinking, playing dominoes, chatting and listening. Always listening. He never put himself apart from the ordinary people, let alone above them.

Universally perceived as open, humble, trustworthy - his skills had been recognised by his comrades in the Party. He had buckets filled with the sort of charisma none of the others possessed. While things were going well, his comrades were happy to exploit Maurice's ability to inspire trust and confidence. Only later, was this twisted to show evidence of his so called 'one-manism' and petit bourgeois tendencies of self-promotion. But that was later and I'm not there yet ...

Before things started to unravel, the people had all the evidence they needed to prove Maurice trusted them as much as they trusted him. When they said they wanted a mixed economy, that's what they got. When they said they'd like to move towards elections, if only to silence their critics, Maurice agreed.

Put at its most simple, Maurice wanted the Revo to move at a pace and in a direction dictated by the people. The trust the people had in him was absolute. It was also mutual.

The problems were already beginning to rise to the surface by that time, though we were perhaps less aware of them than we might have been if we hadn't been distracted by our stream of guests.

While Maurice was sitting in roadside bars talking to ordinary people, his comrades in the government were sitting in closed rooms talking to each other. While Maurice was convinced of the innate ability of ordinary people to get to the heart of the issues and come up with the best responses, his comrades felt very differently.

They were educated. They were well-versed in Marxist theory. They were the elite, the vanguard. Of course, they knew the correct direction for the Revo to take - far better than the uneducated lumpen proletariat masses.

It's sad evidence of how far removed some members of the PRG were from the reality that they should have had that impression and got it so wrong. It seems they had no idea of the true miracle of the Revo: the way ordinary people had responded and risen to the challenge of controlling their own destiny.

They certainly understimated the will of the people, but I'm getting ahead of myself again. The extent of the alienation wouldn't be clear for another few months yet.

There are indications that all is not well though, in those first few months of our second stay in Grenada. Distracted though we are, I can see the signs of changes since the previous year. Individuals selling coral and other crafts by hustling direct to tourists are being - if not outright harassed - certainly strongly discouraged. We meet fewer ordinary people involved in the network of meetings, while Party members working directly for the revolutionary cause seem drained and exhausted.

A gap seems to have opened up between the Party and the people. Or maybe between the government and the people. Or the Central Committee ... Or perhaps it is between certain members of the government ...

But one thing is becoming clear: wherever this gap is, the mass of the people are on one side as opposed to being part of a unified whole.

'Where's JH?' I ask one day, remembering a Rasta I'd met the previous year.
'He's up at the camp,' I'm told.
'Camp? What camp?'

And so I hear about this place where 'undesirable counter-revolutionary elements' are held without trial or any due process, for purposes of 're-education'. On further inquiry, I discover more about the definition of 'undesirable'. There are lots of Rastas up at the camp, I'm told, as well as anyone considered unsuitable to be around tourists. Most are not criminals as such, nor are they accused of organising political resistance. Put simply, these are people perceived as 'not fitting' with the image the revolution wishes to project.

Yes. Now I think about it, the signs the Revo had reached a crucial stage and was struggling were there by then, the fourth year of the Revo.

But it was still far from clear who was on which side of the gap that had opened up or how deep and wide it would become.

Images from Cafe Urban

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Walking the White Road with Tania

I have a confession. I sometimes have a problem with short stories. They can leave me with the feeling of having nibbled on a somewhat bland sandwich, when what I really want is a 3 course hearty meal.
Tania Hershman's stunning book, The White Road and Other Stories, definitely does NOT fall into that category. To continue the food analogy, think of delicious tiny nibbles, each created with love and care ... every mouthful unique, providing an exquisite explosion of taste ... stimulating, uplifting. Her stories are sometimes shocking, sometimes sad, but always compulsive and leaving you wanting more. Not in the sense of feeling unsatisfied, but because they feel like a rare gift.

With the word economy of the poet and the rich visual inner landscape of a dreamer, Tania has woven her stories and flash fiction together into a book that cannot fail to move any reader lucky enough to hold it in their hands. I'm delighted and honoured to be providing the final stopping post on her virtual tour.

Hi, Tania. Welcome to my humble virtual abode. I’m very aware that this is your last stop on a grueling global tour and that the other hosts have proved a tough act to follow.

We do things a bit differently here, so I have a glass of virtual champagne for you and do please help yourself to chocolates. They’re organic and fair trade, of course. It’s snowing outside, so let me know if you’d like a blanket to snuggle under.

Are you comfortable? Do you have everything you need? Then let’s go …

You live by choice in a part of the world that is almost always in turmoil. Can you tell us what impact that has on your reasons for writing and also if it is a factor in the content you focus on in your stories?

It's interesting that you say that, "by choice", because that must be how it looks from the outside, but actually this is the only place I have ever felt at home, so in that way I am not here by choice, I am here because something pulled me here and because I feel very attached to this place. I am not sure anyone would necessarily see living here as a rational course of action! My parents certainly don't, and I have been here for 15 years already.

If I felt constantly stressed and under pressure, I wouldn't live here. What I mostly feel is joy, every day, waking up in Jerusalem. I also don't feel unsafe on a daily basis, not the way I worry walking around London, where I grew up, even in daylight. London makes me nervous, the amount of "ordinary" crime there horrifies me.

Life here is different, I walk around here at night with no second thought at all. I'll say again: I would not live here if I felt constantly scared. That would be an extreme form of masochism, no? Life is lived here very much in the moment: the ever-present threats dictate that we be spontaneous, and that is something I thrive on. We live now, and we live as much as possible.

As for the impact on what I write, I really am not sure. None of the stories I write are ever set in
Israel, I don't write from "real life", I enjoy living in my imagination. In my imagination I am at the South Pole, in Las Vegas, Sweden, Outer Space, the Middle Ages. But I am sure every writer is influenced by every aspect of their lives, we are the sum of our experiences. Perhaps I would need some distance from here to see that more clearly, or perhaps it's not for me to say!

I can understand what you mean about choice and how that can be defined. Relating that to writing, I'd say writing isn't a choice either for many of us. It's simply a way of being in this world.

I have family in Israel so I know what you mean about living there, though I'm sure many people would struggle to understand. Wages are low, the cost of living is high and, although I believe you when you say you don't feel afraid, the threat is nevertheless real.

I'm sure some would want at this point to mention the way many Palestinians live, especially in Gaza at the moment, but I don't think that should be my role in this conversation.

Personally, I do think that our experiences have a direct impact on what we write – and maybe how and why too – even if it's not explicit. One of the things that blew me away in your book was the sheer range and scope of the content.

So ok, if you could choose when and where you were born if not here and now …

That is such a great question. I have to say that I do have a yearning to be born at a time when I could be part of a writers’ group like the Bloomsbury group or any group who got together on a regular basis to thrash out ideas and inspire each other. And not just artists but scientists too. I remember visiting the Kafka museum in Prague a few years ago and being jealous of his particular set of intellectual buddies (I don't think there were any women). This doesn't happen any more, or not anywhere in my vicinity. Yes, there are blogs etc.., but I yearn for those dimly-lit, smoky cafes and intense discussions about philosophy, physics, creativity, art.

I also sometimes have a feeling that so much has been done already, it is hard to be truly innovative anymore. Everyone has access to everything at any time, I do occasionally wish I was living in an earlier time when there was still much to explore and invent. But perhaps the grass is always greener.

To be more geographically specific I often feel that in a previous life I was a New Yorker and I lived in Paris, two places I am often drawn to and feel quite at home in. But not necessarily the New York and Paris of now but of some earlier, romanticised era, steeped in literature. Of course, I am conveniently ignoring all the hardships that would come along with life one hundred years ago or more - and the lack of Internet!

Well, that brings me neatly to the next questions. What difference do you think the internet makes to us as writers? Does the online community make up for the lack of real life café society you describe?

The Internet has a huge impact on my life as a writer. I haven't found a local community of English-speaking short story writers here in
Israel and that has led to me feeling quite isolated. The Internet has brought me that community, albeit in virtual form, and the wonderful blogger/writers I have met through writing about myself and my writing on my blog, TaniaWrites, I have found this to be a warm, generous and open community, we celebrate with each other and commiserate, and speak honestly about the struggles involved in doing what we do, emotionally, mentally, and practically. I also belong to several online forums where writers share work, which are also very valuable to me.

However, nothing beats the sheer delight of actually meeting fellow writers, as I did in September at the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Festival in
Ireland. To just sit and talk about short stories? That was heaven for me! And I feel that I miss out on that by being here. I am sure that are communities of Hebrew-speaking fiction writers, but that wouldn't give me what I need. I make regular trips to the UK and the US to get the "fix" of personal contact with writers, and that sustains me for at least a few months. I will be reading at Jewish Book Week in the UK in February, which I am looking forward to, and that'll be a good chance to mingle with some literary folk.

Great! That means we should hopefully get the opportunity to meet in real life at some point in the not too distant future. When those of us who meet via the blogosphere then make the move into Real Life, we truly know the value of this medium.

You said earlier that you believe there is less to 'explore and invent' now. Do you not think the technology has opened up new opportunities that didn’t exist previously?

The Internet has opened up markets to me as a short story writer with no local publications to submit to. I have had many stories published in online 'zines, and I submit stories almost exclusively by email - which is cheaper and greener than using the post!

There has been a discussion going on in one of the online writers' forums about the worth of having stories accepted by online 'zines, most of which don't pay or have a huge readership. But for me, as someone who writes only for herself, to move myself or make me laugh, to have just one other person, the editor of one of these 'zines, tell me they loved it, they connected with it, is very meaningful, very powerful. Because while I do write for myself, I do also want and need some of my stories to be published, to be out there in the world. I don't just write them and shove them in a drawer.

For me, writing is about connection. Somehow, and in some way. And the Internet enables that, as I see from the statistics of those visiting my websites and blog, which include visitors from Bulgaria, Switzerland, Turkey, Australia, the US, Canada and Sri Lanka. That's a global community.

In terms of my point about there being less to invent, I guess what I mean is that everyone knows everything now, there are no dark corners to hide away, information is freely and instantly available. Whereas, in terms of scientific exploration anyway, it used to be that you worked quietly and privately on your particular research project without necessarily knowing what anyone else was doing. Having too much information can be off-putting, I feel, could stifle attempts at innovation by forcing competitors to work faster and faster in our ever-speedier society.

I watched a wonderful BBC documentary drama about Einstein and Eddington, which showed how they corresponded by letter between the UK and Germany. The waiting time in between letters gave them space to contemplate, and being forced to write everything in one piece of communication at a time meant that they had to really think about how to phrase what they wanted to say, something that can only have aided in their work, in their thought processes.

I often feel dulled and dizzy with the pace of emails and blogs etc..., I find it hard to stop myself looking at everything, all the time. I do think it is a type of addiction.

You’re so right. The sheer scope and range of what’s available at the click of a mouse is overwhelming and I often have the urge to run away and hide. But I also know its value …

Anyway, I see we’ve got through the champagne and you’re looking a bit tired. So, to round off, can you tell us what benefits have come from this virtual tour, which is almost at an end now?

Back to the more positive aspects! Despite not having to travel the globe and doing it all from my home, the Virtual Book Tour has been exhausting, forcing me to think about many, many issues related to me, my writing, my life, my ideas. I love being made to think, and being asked to word my responses concisely (or not!) to make them suitable for the blog interviews, but it was also difficult to keep digging deep inside myself every week for 11 weeks. I couldn't dismiss the impression that I was boring the pants off everyone!

Ha! As if …

Do you think there’s been a direct effect on sales? Because I seriously do urge anyone reading this to get themselves a copy of your book without delay …

Thanks so much for saying that, Debi, it always helps coming from someone who isn't me - or my mother! I don't know about how it has affected book sales - I think the
reviews I have had so far may have more impact, but it is hard to determine what affects what. But needing to publicise the Virtual Book Tour online has certainly inspired me to be more creative in terms of marketing, not something I was experienced at!

Facebook has been a tremendous tool, I don't think I could have managed half as well without it, in terms of creating a page for the tour, a page for the book, sending out regular updates, posting links.

Oh yikes. I’ve been avoiding Facebook and MySpace and Twitter and …and … and …

But all things considered, it’s been positive?

All in all, it has been great, but I am craving a little seclusion, no-one asking me what I think or feel, for a while, in the hope that I will be able to get back to some writing.

I am also greatly looking forward to being on the other side and hosting several book tours in the next few months, for Fiona Robyn and her wonderful novel, The Letters, and then fellow Salt author Elizabeth Baines and her stunning collection, Balancing on the Edge of the World. I get to ask the questions, yippee!

Tania, thanks so much for sharing. It’s been a great pleasure having you as my guest. I hope you’ve got as much out of this end-of–the-road party as I have.

Thanks so much for having me, Debi, and asking such great questions. The last choc is mine, right? I mean, if no-one else is going to...

I’m sure everyone will join with me in wishing you a happy, healthy and above all, peaceful new year. Go ahead and have that last chocolate. You’ve earned it.

Follow the White Road here.

Previous stops on Tania’s tour:

12/26/08: Thoughts from Botswana
12/23/08: Kanlaon
12/16/08: Kelly Spitzer's Blog
12/10/08: Eco-Libris
12/2/08: Eric Forbes's Book Addict's Guide to Good Books
11/26/08: Tim Jones: Books in the Trees
11/17/08: Sue Guiney: Me and Others
11/9/08: Vanessa Gebbie's News
11/5/08: Literary Minded
10/28/08: Keeper of the Snails

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Revo Blog. Part 5

Previous posts in this series:

The time has come - how I came to the decision to blog the Revo

The Revo Blog. Part 1 - background to Grenada
The Revo Blog. Part 2 - background to me
The Revo Blog. Part 3 - Feb-March 1982 (1 of 2)
The Revo Blog. Part 3a - why 'Revo'?
The Revo Blog. Part 4 - Feb-March 1982 (continued)

April 1982 - June 1983. London

Our plane touches down at Gatwick, but in our hearts, we're still flying high.

We're determined to return to Grenada as soon as possible, though logistically, the problems seem insurmountable. My 5 year relationship with F is at an end, I have nowhere to live, no job and no savings.

But you know how it is. When you're feeling positive, it can seem as though life itself is charmed. F meets us at the airport. When he hears our intention to only remain in the UK for a few months, he agrees I should stay in the flat we've shared in Acton, maintaining our relationship, but moving into the spare bedroom.

Within the first week, I'm contacted by a friend who tells me there's a vacancy where she works for someone to do stock control and accounts to provide maternity cover. The pay is far more than I have ever earned before.

J and I start a self-defense class. We're such naturals, the instructor keeps us behind after every class to give us free extra sessions.

Sorted. Everything's going my way. I have an ongoing relationship (which had always been non-monogamous), somewhere to live and an income that will enable me to save. Once we come up with a practical plan, we should be able to return to Grenada well within the year.

If this was fiction, you'd know something would go wrong at this point. When the main protagonist believes everything's going her way, she'd better look out.

Well, this isn't fiction, but ...

On Mayday, 1982, J and I go off to our self-defense class. This is no fancy martial arts technique we're learning, but rough tough street fighting. Each week we've compared bruises and pulled muscles after our extended session. On this day, one of my injuries is to my knee. It's not 'til I get home, put my feet up and watch my knee balloon before my eyes that I realise this is more serious than the usual knocks.

To cut this part of my story short, the following year is filled with appalling pain, daily grueling physio, 3 operations and a long period when I'm totally bed-ridden. Meanwhile, my relationship is disintegrating round my ears, culminating with F moving another woman in soon after I get home from hospital after the first op.
The knowledge that eventually I will be returning to Grenada is the only thing that keeps me going. There are few bright spots in that difficult year, and they're all connected with a tiny island half the world away:

  • The management where I'm working are really supportive and understanding. They arrange for me to have lifts into work and take time off each day for physio. During the weeks and then months when I can't get out, they deliver work for me to do at home and collect it the next day. I do it sitting up in bed, leaning on my Grenada tray.
  • Since I'm not in a position to go anywhere, at least I can save all my earnings.
  • I meet a guy at work who's Grenadian. He has a house in Tempe, just outside St Georges, and agrees we can rent it from him when we eventually return.
  • H and I come up with a scheme whereby we believe we can contribute something meaningful to the Revo. We know the revolution has gone along way to eradicating illiteracy on the island, but there is a lack of decent reading material. There's a library in St Georges, but it's underused and stocked with literature left over from the colonial period. Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy are all very well, but there are few if any contemporary or more relevant books. Meanwhile, in London, we have access to an outpouring of wonderful literature from authors like Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. Books by writers in the US, Caribbean, South America, Africa ... We come up with the idea of a mobile library, regularly visiting all areas of the island including the remote rural villages, stocked with all these amazing books. If we could set it up, with funding and donations organised here, we could stock it, get it on the road and then hand it over to the Revo.
  • I also buy a decent 35mm camera and we sign up as stringers for a leftie photo agency based in London.
So, theoretically, everything is in place. All we need is for me to be fit enough. It takes a year. In the end, I get there with the help of a wonderful osteopath, a change in hospital and a move out from the poisonous atmosphere of the flat and into a short-term place in a communal house in Shepherds Bush. I'm, finally able to put aside my walking stick and, together with H and J, book my ticket for Grenada.

Armed with a list of exercises and a supply of homoeopathic remedies, we bid farewell to family and friends and set off to fulfill a dream.