Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cool runnings!

Well, he did it. Of course he did it.

On Sunday, G successfully completed his 8th London marathon and we can all sit back and feel proud (and relieved) once again.

Many, many thanks to those people who sponsored him to raise funds for ALD Life. Thanks to y'all, we've raised more from one single event than we ever have before.

Needless to say, we'd be more than happy if people carry on donating. The site stays open for several weeks and you can donate safely and securely here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Winging it with John Baker

I love my job. I love writing my own words. I love critiquing other people’s writing and seeing what works and what doesn’t. And I also love reading. I’m sometimes asked if having to read critically and analyse manuscripts as a job ruins my ability to read for pleasure. I reply that the reverse can be true. Because some books are so extraordinary that an awareness of the author’s skill can only add to the pleasure of reading their words.

Another great aspect of this writing life of mine is that I occasionally get to use my blog to host an author I really respect and admire. So today is a good day for me, as I’m delighted to be joined by John Baker on his virtual tour to launch his new book, Winged With Death.

You know what I said above about some books being extraordinary? Winged With Death is a prime example. With a narrative that weaves between Uruguay in the 70s, the present day and the narrator’s childhood, it takes real craft to hold the clarity of the timeline, maintain the disparate threads, mesh them together seamlessly and ensure the reader is always enthralled but never confused. And of course, threaded throughout the book is the dance. Always the dance.

But there’s still more: violence, disappearance, uncertainty, death, betrayal, the concept of time itself … These are wide sweeping and complex themes, but John handles them all with impressive insight, sensitivity and consummate skill.

Let me come clean here. The scenes set in the brutal dictatorship in Uruguay literally took my breath away. The resonances with my personal experiences as recorded in the Revo Blog were so acute they caused me physical pain.

He’s got it so right, you see. If I hadn’t written my posts before reading Winged With Death, I might question that I was unintentionally plagiarising the book. Similarly, if John had read the posts before writing his book, I could well have suspected he had borrowed from me.

But I didn’t. And he didn’t. He’s quite simply a very good writer. To find out just how good he is, read on and hear how he came to create those utterly credible scenes and convey the related emotions without ever setting foot in Uruguay or living through such knife-edge times.




In a way Winged with Death is a result of writing several serial novels. I wrote the Sam Turner novels; and then the Stone Lewis novels initially because that's what my publishers wanted from me. (They still do, which is one of the main reasons I've moved to a new publisher).

I don't think that there's anything wrong with writing serial characters, although it does become limiting after a while. The Stone Lewis novels emerged because of Sam Turner's limitations. I wanted to write more overt political novels and Sam was too laid back and too damn old to change his ways.

But as a writer it is important to me to learn all of the aspects of my trade, not just to expand characterization, but to explore the limitations of plot, to experiment with different tenses and voices, and to generally push the medium as far as I need to take it, etc. etc.

What's it like to write about completely different characters and settings? In a word, it's liberating. It's also frightening, as any writing is frightening until it begins to fly.

A writer has to remain flexible; once he or she becomes stuck it is the end of the road. And that stuckness or not stuckness is a subtle thing. Some writers (I'm thinking of Chandler, but there must be others) manage to continue writing serial characters and not get stuck. Those writers use the character and keep a part of themselves, deep inside, completely free. They delight in the poetry or psychological complexities of what they are doing, while seeming to be writing about the same old gumshoe. Hammett is another example. As a creative artist he almost always managed to wrestle a free space and time for himself.

My way (and I'm not comparing myself to the greats) was to leave the series characters behind and strike out again, as though with a first novel, with nothing to help me but some stout shoes and a toothbrush. And that was a whizz. I loved it. I want to do it again (and again).




Uruguay came to me in a dream. Not Uruguay really, but the city of Montevideo. I woke one morning and I'd been wandering around in a strange city, one that I'd never visited and knew very little about. I knew where it was, and the dream had been in colour, so I knew somehow, magically, what it felt like.

First I brought some photographs of the city up on the internet, then began reading about its history. I knew there was a tango connection, and that it was there, in Montevideo and Buenos Aires that the dance had been developed towards the end of the 19th century. I'd been looking at using the possibility of dance as a metaphor, and suddenly I had a place that fitted. By this time the scent of the place was in my nostrils. It belonged to me.

In the UK nobody knows anything about Montevideo. I spoke with the Uruguayan Embassy in London, trying to locate a street map of the city, but nobody could help me. The only way around these blocks was to virtually meet people who lived there. I'm not a great traveler. I don't fly; and I didn't want whatever Montevideo happens to be now, I wanted my own vision of it during the seventies.

I looked up people who lived in Montevideo and who were registered on sites like The Lonely Planet, made contact and asked for help. Soon I had my street map, and, it seemed, anything else that I needed. People who had never heard of me listened and bought me local maps and pamphlets and sent these things half-way across the earth.

Through a book site I met a wonderful contact in Buenos Aires, an English professor, an ex-student of Borges who had family connections to Montevideo and who taught me about local customs, the drinking of mate tea, the best tango orchestras, the climate and wild life etc, and who then went on to check my manuscript for further inaccuracies.

A lot of people were involved in the writing of Winged with Death.




It's a difficult question, Debi, because I can't honestly remember exactly how the novel developed. The dance as a metaphor has been with me for many years, only I've never found a way of developing it before. Similarly with time; it's a puzzle and a concept that I've mulled over for as long as I can remember. But I suspect these themes were not meshed together in any conscious way at the beginning of writing the novel. They came together during the process of writing.

Perhaps the first time I realised this was a preconscious realization? Reminds me of this, from Flannery O'Conner writing about her short-story, Good Country People.

"When I started writing that story, I didn't know there was going to be a PhD with a wooden leg in it. I merely found myself one morning writing a description of two women I knew something about, and before I realised it, I had equipped one of them with a daughter with a wooden leg. I brought in the Bible salesman, but I had no idea what I was going to do with him. I didn't know he was going to steal that wooden leg until ten or twelve lines before he did it, but when I found out that this was what was going to happen, I realised it was inevitable.”

And this, of course, is what most writers know, or come to know at some point in their writing career; that the creative process represents, more than anything else, an act of faith. The first draft of a novel – perhaps of any creative work, is to discover what it is going to be about – and it requires a special talent. The ability to accept and live with something that is wholly imperfect – until you can make it better.


It has never been an easy thing. I was lucky to get my first novel published. It was sifted out of the slush-pile in a backroom of the old Gollantz offices by my first editor, Mike Petty. In those days there was still a glimmer of the traditional publisher about. They didn't expect a first novel to be a resounding commercial success, still believed that you had to nurture a writer along, have patience, wait for a breakthrough to take place after a few years. If the breakthrough didn't happen it was not regarded as the end of the world, there were many writers regarded as mid-list authors, they didn't make big bucks but they covered expenses and brought in some profits if you paid attention to their backlist.

That's all long-gone now, of course. Publishers are run by men in suits who have to justify every penny they spend. If an author doesn't show an almost immediate good profit he or she will be unlikely to secure a new deal.

They come up, sometimes, with weird formulas. I have been asked more than once by an editor to write a novel close to or exactly like (put your own favourite and commercially successful author in this space) - which, of course, is fine if you're a hack but in creative terms is an impossibility. A good writer spends years developing an individual voice and at the end of the day, that is all he or she has.

Am I answering your question? It has been difficult to secure new publishing deals, and in the present climate it is certainly not getting easier.



John Baker's blog is here.

Read reviews for Winged with Death here.

Details of the virtual tour with dates and links can be found here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Revo Blog. Part 21

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. Sickness and signs
The Revo Blog. Part 7 - relationships
The Revo Blog. Part 7a - Faye's film
The Revo Blog. Part 8 - Sept - Oct 1983. Rumours
The Revo Blog. Part 9 - Oct 1983. The Last Days of the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 10 - 19th October 1983. Coup
The Revo Blog. Part 11 - 20th October 1983. Curfew. Day 1
The Revo Blog. Part 12 - early morning 21st October 1983. Breaking curfew
The Revo Blog. Part 13 - curfew continues
The Revo Blog. Part 14 - 24th October 1983. 'Back to normal' day
The Revo Blog. Part 15 - 25th October 1983. Invasion - the first 2 hours
The Revo Blog. Part 15a - Faye's journey continues
The Revo Blog. Part 16 - 25th October 1983. War - the next 4 hours
The Revo Blog. Part 16a - photos
The Revo Blog. Part 17 - 25th October 1983 - midday onwards
The Revo Blog. Part 18 - 26th-27th October 1983 - the war continues
The Revo Blog. Part 19 - 28th-30th October 1983 - more war
The Revo Blog. Part 20 - 31st October - 2nd November 1983 - defining 'normal'

Thursday 3rd November - the lunatics are taking over the asylum

In the morning, N comes round and H, C and I go with her to the Governor General's residence to see if we can find a way to get a message home. It's over a week since the invasion and ten days since we were last able to phone. We're very aware of the dreadful state our families and friends must be in, imagining what's happening to us and with no means of finding out if we're safe.

A press conference has been scheduled and the area is buzzing with journalists and film crews, including the BBC and ITN.

We spot the guy who bought our first films from us. He's reading a book by a freelance journalist who covered the Vietnam war. Having heard that this guy is drawn to conflicts, taking appalling risks to get to the world's hottest hotspots, but then coming up with such crap material it can't be used, I find his choice of reading matter hilarious and burst out laughing. It seems we all have these self images that determine the parts we play, but his is the ultimate cliche. Unsurprisingly, he's not amused by my hysteria.

From there, H, N and I try to hitch to Birch Grove, where we hope to get some fresh produce, but when we can't get a ride we walk instead to Mt Parnassus and from there to Richmond Hill. The plan is to see again if it's possible to get any help for N's brother who had been an inmate in the mental hospital and escaped when it was bombed by the Americans on the first day of the war.

Richmond Hill. Scene of so much of the drama of these last days and weeks. Here we see the house where Maurice was kept under house arrest and freed by the people on 19th October.

A ruined PRA anti-aircraft gun stands guard at one of the forts.

And when we see the ruins of Maurice Bishop's mother's house and shop, we wonder if this was the result of one of the bombs we had watched fall on the first day of the war.

But far worse than any of this, is the scene awaiting us at the crazy house.

It's an image plucked straight from a nightmare, but it's the smell we notice first. A dense fug of disinfectant, layered over but not diminishing a sickly sweet stench that sticks in your mouth and throat. Without asking, we all know what this is. It's been ten days since the bomb was dropped on the hospital. Ten days in the sweltering sub-tropical heat.

Gulping and silent, we climb some stairs and turn a corner and see confirmation of what we have already assumed. The wards are decimated, twisted and mangled beds sprouting from the wreckage. A small group of men, their mouths and noses covered by masks, are working to bring out more bodies buried in the ruins.

We don't stay long. It's clear there's no one here who can help us with N's brother and we've seen enough to give us fodder for nightmares for years to come. As we turn to go back down the stairs, a journalist is coming up in the opposite direction. He glances at our cameras and assumes we must be colleagues and kindred spirits.

'Anything good happening up there?' he asks.
I gawp at him in horror.
'They're bringing out more bodies,' I reply, naively thinking this information will shame him into a reaction.
'Great,' he says and pushes past, his ghoulish enthusiasm evident.

I'm too busy gagging to think up a suitably withering response.

We head back to the Governor General's. This time we manage to speak to a secretary from a phone at the gate. She gives us another number for the GG's PA. It's all very frustrating and we still can't get to talk to anyone who will be able to send a message back home for us.

But some parts of the outside world are determined to communicate with us. When we reach back to our yard, there's a telegram waiting for H from her sister in Zimbabwe.

Forward with resistance. Yankees go home.

I reel with the implications. Just as we were feeling at our most vulnerable, terrified that we might be on the US radar, this arrives! We've been smiling sweetly and keeping a deliberately low profile and I'm really anxious this will draw unwanted attention to us. H is delighted to hear from her sister, but I'm furious with her for sending it and possibly endangering us further.

And anyway, such empty slogans come nowhere near defining the complexities of Grenada's current struggle.

Friday 4th November - life's a beach

We decide to check out the scene at Grand Anse. C and I go to The Limes, where many of the international workers had been living, but they've all gone. Further confirmation that we are among the very few foreigners who haven't chosen to be evacuated.

From there we head for Carifta Cottages. This is the housing development where C had been staying when she first arrived in Grenada, before we found her the yard in Tempe. The place is eerie and deserted as we pick our way through the rubble. Three of the cottages have been completely demolished by direct hits and many others are badly damaged. The devastation is disorientating and it takes us some time before we can confirm that the cottage where C had stayed is one of those that has been destroyed.

We stare at the ruins of her former home reeling in shock, reflecting on how different things would have been if she hadn't moved to Tempe.

We walk past the American medical school which is pockmarked all over with bullet holes and then onto the beach. This is perhaps the most heartbreaking sight of all. The two miles of golden sand are crisscrossed with rolls of barbed wire and dugout trenches. The wreckage of a crashed helicopter juts out from the shallow water of the beautiful Caribbean. A palm tree has been chopped down to be used a shelter.

And everywhere - everywhere - is the litter of discarded brown ration packets.

Back home, we hear on the news that sixteen people have been confirmed as dead at the mental hospital and sixty six are still missing. During the night, the dark sky is ripped open by phosphorescent flares.

Saturday 5th November - remember, remember the 5th of November

We're awakened by some quick bursts of rifle fire. Is it really still not fully over yet? The amnesty announced three days ago runs out today. From this point on, any members of the PRA and militia who haven't voluntarily handed themselves over to the US soldiers at Queen's Park will be considered to be deserters and will be 'treated accordingly'.

Once again, we find this both confusing and chilling. How can the US treat enemy soldiers as deserters? And 'treated accordingly' can surely only mean execution. Is this just a scare tactic to persuade anyone still fighting to give up? And if they haven't done so now that the amnesty is over, does that mean there will be no alternative to their death?

And if all this is so, the inescapable conclusion is that only now is it becoming clear that the invasion, which so many have seen as saving us from a worse fate, will in reality just mean Grenada has substituted one set of ruthless oppressors for another.

There's yet another big argument at home. Now that our lives no longer seem to be at immediate risk, these battles on the home front are becoming daily occurrences. H, C and I go into St Georges and find it swarming with journalists, camera crews and soldiers.

When we get back to Tempe, we find the junction has been totally transformed in our absence. It's no longer called Kaunda Square, supposedly because Kenya didn't come to Grenada's aid in the crisis. It's Ralphie Square now and we're told he was a local man who was imprisoned by the Revo and died in prison - supposedly of slow poison.

All the old Revo symbols and slogans have been painted over and replaced by a professionally-executed wall painting.

God bless America.
Long live the US and Caribbean heroes of freedom.

25th October, 1983.

When aligned to a doctrine, prepare for the backlash.


We're told it was painted by local people, but it's clear that it is the work of the Americans. Part of their psyops, no doubt. But the name change to Ralphie Square shows that local people must have had input too.

This new stage in the battle for hearts and minds is proving to be acutely depressing. It feels like they're trying to erase all the good memories of the Revo and ensure it will always be equated in people's minds with repression and horror. They're beginning to dismantle the Revo billboards too in this attempt to rewrite history.

The problem is that people are still so deeply traumatised. It makes us all highly suggestible and open to manipulation and I have fears that the blatant propaganda will be effective.

It's round about this time that we hear that one of the first acts of the invading forces was to alter the billboard sign at Pearls Airport. It used to say Welcome to Free Grenada. The Americans covered up the word 'free'. You said it, guys.

Sunday 6th November - whose truth?

According to the news, Bernard and Phyllis Coard, together with Hudson Austin and the other high profile prisoners, have been taken from the US ship where they had been held and have been handed over to the Caribbean Security Forces. They were blindfolded and handcuffed, with the men stripped to the waist and are now in individual cells at the prison.

It's impossible to summon up any sympathy for them. The overwhelming perception is that they and not the US are responsible for the death of the Revo and the situation we are now all in.

The evening news announces that hundreds of people peacefully demonstrated today in St Georges against Coard and the others. What??? Can this be true? We've heard nothing about it. No one we know was there or saw any kind of demonstration. And anyway, there's supposed to be a state of emergency prohibiting any kind of demonstrations ...

And this then marks yet another new stage. One where we're told what is happening even though we know it can't be true. The effect is confusing and disorientating, once again keeping people off balance and heightening anxiety levels. We can only assume it's a deliberate tactic. Another element of so-called 'psyops'.

It's just the beginning of our education into how propaganda works. So crude, but oh so effective.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Just popping in (or is it out?)

Another brief break to catch up on other news.

It's less than a week to go to G running in the marathon and we're deep in the grip of the annual countdown mania. Donations to ALD Life are still coming in and so far we've raised more than we ever have before in a single event. Many many thanks to those of you who have donated. Needless to say, further donations will be more than welcome. You can do so online here.

I'm delighted to announce I will be hosting John Baker on the next stop of his virtual tour to promote his latest book, Winged With Death next Monday. I'll be posting a review, but I'm telling you now, it's a mighty fine book ...

I've started co-leading one day workshops for The Writers' Workshop with Emma Darwin. The next one is on Saturday at Waterstone's in Piccadilly. Apparently there are still a few places available, so if you fancy spending a day focusing on self-editing your novel, you can see more info here.

Meanwhile, if you're missing more news and views on the literary front that I would normally be posting here, do pop into Bookarazzi's jazzy new site.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Revo Blog. Part 20

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. Sickness and signs
The Revo Blog. Part 7 - relationships
The Revo Blog. Part 7a - Faye's film
The Revo Blog. Part 8 - Sept - Oct 1983. Rumours
The Revo Blog. Part 9 - Oct 1983. The Last Days of the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 10 - 19th October 1983. Coup
The Revo Blog. Part 11 - 20th October 1983. Curfew. Day 1
The Revo Blog. Part 12 - early morning 21st October 1983. Breaking curfew
The Revo Blog. Part 13 - curfew continues
The Revo Blog. Part 14 - 24th October 1983. 'Back to normal' day
The Revo Blog. Part 15 - 25th October 1983. Invasion - the first 2 hours
The Revo Blog. Part 15a - Faye's journey continues
The Revo Blog. Part 16 - 25th October 1983. War - the next 4 hours
The Revo Blog. Part 16a - photos
The Revo Blog. Part 17 - 25th October 1983 - midday onwards
The Revo Blog. Part 18 - 26th-27th October 1983 - the war continues
The Revo Blog. Part 19 - 28th-30th October 1983 - more war

Monday 31st October - another 'back to normal' day

Today all shops and businesses are supposed to open as normal. But what will 'normal' be under current circumstances?

We soon find out. After mentally preparing ourselves for the next stage, H, C and I go into town. As soon as we climb down from the bus in the market square, a film crew homes in on us. We're surprised, as we didn't think any international media would be around yet. But they are. And we're obviously conspicuous.

The main man tells us they're from ABC TV in the US and they got to the island after a gung ho perilous journey by boat. (We later find out that this guy is a freelancer who has a reputation for launching himself into global conflicts but then coming up with material so dire it can't be used.)

They interview us (I never found out if the interview was aired) but more importantly, they pay us $300 US for our first batch of films, which they promise they will send onto London after they have used them.

We walk on to Cable and Wireless, but there are still no international phone calls. At S's school, the signs are still up: No Bishop. No school. No work. It's a poignant reminder of just how little time has passed - it's less than two weeks since the high point of the Revo (people taking matters into their own hands and releasing Maurice from house arrest) was followed so swiftly by the ultimate low point (the coup).

While we're stocking up on fresh produce at the market, trucks bristling with GIs are coming down Market Hill. The brakes fail on one of them and it slews into a wall. The soldiers, not knowing the cause, leap from the truck, guns at the ready. A ripple of panic spreads through the square as people realise how volatile the situation still is and how easily it could descend again into violence and chaos.

Back home, our friend N is there with her young son. At this point we realise how much of our personal experience of the war was the result of having no children of our own. In contrast, N and her kids had a terrible time. They had no food for days and spent much of the time hiding under a table.

Worse still, N's brother had been an inmate at the mental hospital. When it was bombed, he escaped and made his way through the bush to her yard at Happy Hill. Unsurprisingly, by the time he arrived he was crazier than ever. N went to the mental hospital today to ask for help and saw at least ten bodies banked up against the wall and more rotting in the bush and cane fields.

At about 3.30pm, we find the current is back on at last. H and I go to the Blue Danube for bread and find it well-stocked. On our way back, we see a sack lying in the road with bullets spilling from it. Feeling unable to ignore it, we stop a truck of Caribbean soldiers and point it out to them. At the Coke factory, we're stopped by GIs who are searching vehicles and bags.

Tuesday 1st November - defining 'normal'

The day starts with L and I having a huge argument. We're all still so stressed and traumatised, it's inevitable that this tension often spills over.

H and I go into St Georges to try to get gas. Town is crawling with soldiers and journalists, which is a new development. After a struggle, we manage to exchange our empty canister for a full one but are unable to get the new regulator we need for the cooker, so we still won't be able to use it.

This is a petty irritation compared to what happens next. We've suddenly panicked about the information we gave about our political background when we were hoping to set up the mobile library. We had gone into minute detail at the time, delighting in being able to lay all our radical cards on the Revo table. Now we're terrified about who may have access to those files.

We go along to the Ministry of National Mobilisation but we're told the guy we originally saw is out of the country and there's no one in charge. So where are the files? Are they still there lying on a desk or in a drawer? Or were they moved out - maybe to Butler House? In which case, were they destroyed? Or are they even now being read by the CIA ...?

As we make our way back home, we come across a road block at Springs and Belmont. We're told there is still fighting there. Spice Isle Radio confirms that there are still people resisting in the hills. We're also told again to stay inside from 8.00pm to 5.00am and for the first time since the invasion, this is described as a curfew.

And here's a weird one. It's announced that the PRA have three days in which to give up, after which they will be treated as deserters. Now what does that mean? What's the difference between being enemy soldiers and deserters? The suggestion seems to be that no prisoners will be taken after the deadline - instead, anyone captured will be executed.

So we've had a 'back to normal' day - just like after the original curfew.
And now we have a curfew - just like the original one.
And they're implying there will be executions.

We're beginning to question just how much things have changed.

Oh - and the US have admitted to their mistake in bombing the mental hospital.

Wednesday 2nd November - chronic

If you see the events of the last few weeks as a disease, we seem to have moved from an acute phase to a chronic one. And just like a physical illness, this stage has its own hideous characteristics.

H and I decide to try our luck at the Ministry of National Mobilisation again, hoping to track down our files. We're greeted by a stomach-churning sight. A GI is relaxing on the balcony, his feet up. The building has been taken over - by Psyops. Psychological Operations. Clinging onto a fragile thread of hope, we go to the old Ministry of Education. Maybe our files were transferred there? Predictably, this turns out to be a vain hope.

So what are the implications? If they have got hold of our info, will they come to pick us up? Interrogate us? Forcibly remove us from the country? This last seems the most appalling possibility and we talk about them having to drag us onto the plane kicking and screaming.

On the other hand, the information may have been destroyed or misplaced. We have no way of knowing ...

We walk to Queen's Park but there's nothing much new happening there. At Tempe Junction, we're stopped by paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne. There's a Russian tank up the road on fire with 17 gallons of gas and 200 rounds of live ammunition on board. While we wait for the fire to be put out, the paras chat to us quite amiably. Another has the inevitable 'Better Dead than Red' slogan stenciled on his helmet.

They tell us Hudson Austin was found at St Paul's and that lists were found at a 'house of the People's Rebellious Group or whatever they're called'. They also say that they are leaving on Saturday but will be replaced. They reckon the troops are 'here to stay'.

Meanwhile, there are still no international phone calls, commercial flights or post. And Spice Isle Radio announces a State of Emergency: no torches, drums, noise or firearms. Punishment will be $500 fine or six months in prison or both. The list of things forbidden is eclectic enough to be unsettling and maintain heightened levels of anxiety. Firearms you can understand, but torches? Drums? And just how much noise is too much?

Yes. This is 'normal'.

Tomorrow won't be. We're going to go to the crazy house with N ...

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Revo Blog. Part 19

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. Sickness and signs
The Revo Blog. Part 7 - relationships
The Revo Blog. Part 7a - Faye's film
The Revo Blog. Part 8 - Sept - Oct 1983. Rumours
The Revo Blog. Part 9 - Oct 1983. The Last Days of the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 10 - 19th October 1983. Coup
The Revo Blog. Part 11 - 20th October 1983. Curfew. Day 1
The Revo Blog. Part 12 - early morning 21st October 1983. Breaking curfew
The Revo Blog. Part 13 - curfew continues
The Revo Blog. Part 14 - 24th October 1983. 'Back to normal' day
The Revo Blog. Part 15 - 25th October 1983. Invasion - the first 2 hours
The Revo Blog. Part 15a - Faye's journey continues
The Revo Blog. Part 16 - 25th October 1983. War - the next 4 hours
The Revo Blog. Part 16a - photos
The Revo Blog. Part 17 - 25th October 1983 - midday onwards
The Revo Blog. Part 18 - 26th-27th October 1983 - the war continues

Friday 28th October - still fighting

Yesterday we heard that the Americans have arrested J, a friend in Tempe. This makes no sense. J was never a big supporter of the Revo. He is a merchant seaman and was one of the people who welcomed the invasion with open arms, dancing in the street and celebrating.

This morning, we hear the story from his own lips. He was in Queen's Park with the hordes of people greeting the troops when someone with a personal grudge pointed him out, saying he was active in the militia. He was dragged into the stadium which was packed with other Grenadians. They were all forced to lie spreadeagled and silent on the ground, surrounded by armed guards. It was only when J's frantic wife rushed back with his merchant's seaman's papers that they eventually let him go. He's very shaken but relieved to be free.

Meanwhile, the close fighting is continuing sporadically, there's still no current, looters have cleared the shops, casualty figures are mounting according to regional radio reports and there's more stress and conflict between the men within our own yard.

Where do the radio stations get their information from? It can only be from US sources. With the sea and air exclusion zone still in operation, a fly couldn't get into or out of Grenada right now. And that means the US can do anything they like without fear of being judged by the rest of the world.

4.00pm - BBC World Service - the marines will leave shortly to go to Lebanon, the Airborne division will remain. All Grenadian embassies abroad will be closed. The Governor General, Sir Paul Scoon, will be the only civilian authority until such time as elections can be held.

5.00pm radio 610 - the 240 US students at the medical school have already returned to the States. (Only later do we hear that the 'rescue' of these students was the official justification for the invasion.)

6.00pm radio 610 - the Red Cross are not being allowed in. There are accusations of contravention of the Geneva Convention.

The US has total control over our lives.

During our wandering round the area, we find that Caribbean troops are taking over at the Governor General's house. These are the first non US soldiers we have encountered.

There's a roadblock on the hill just past Westmorland School with about 15 GIs searching all vehicles.

Lagoon Road is packed with people looting a warehouse, encouraged by GIs who are also carting off goods and supplies.

Each time we're spotted by soldiers, they ask if we want to be evacuated. When we refuse, they're confused. What does this mean that we choose to stay in a war zone when we're clearly not Grenadian? Some of them just shrug, others view us with narrow-eyed suspicion, while some turn distinctly hostile. We realise with a jolt that there can only be a handful of white people left on the island who are not soldiers. Most of the others, both tourists and politicos, have evacuated. We couldn't be more conspicuous ...

This is just the beginning of a new phase in which that visibility becomes more and more threatening.

Not that it's safer to be Grenadian. P comes in late at night with 9 stitches in his arm. He got into a fight with a guy and GIs threatened to shoot them both.

Saturday 29th October

Radio 610 says that the United Nations has censured the US for flagrant violation of international law but pockets of resistance consisting of Cubans and diehard Grenadians are expected to last several more weeks..

Incredible! All these thousands of troops, armed to the teeth with the latest technology, yet they had to call for reinforcements. And just who are they fighting? Less than a thousand Cuban engineers and what must be a mere handful of Grenadians who still believe there's a revolution worth defending. The mightiest army in the world, yet they have trouble subduing a tiny island where the majority of the population welcome them.

H and I walk into St Georges. The police station has been burnt down. The ruins look like something out of a spaghetti western. There are conflicting stories about who was responsible, with some people suggesting it was the Commissioner of Police, ensuring records didn't fall into the wrong hands. Supposedly, men in camouflage gear were seen running away.

We walk to Tanteen and chat to US and Caribbean soldiers there. One of the marines agrees to send a message to our families, who we know must be frantic. We give him their names and phone numbers and he promises they will be contacted and assured we're alive and unharmed. (NOTE: this message was never delivered.)

We want to get our films to the outside world. It feels important. A half-baked plan sees us attempting to hitch a lift to the international airport at Point Salines, but when this isn't successful, we give up and get high instead. Life goes on.

Back home, we find the local radio is broadcasting on 990, but only between 10-12am and 2-4pm. There's a statement from the Governor General. He says businesses should all reopen on Monday and everyone should report back to work as usual that morning. But people are urged to stay inside between 8.00pm and 5.00am. A sort of voluntary curfew?

A 'back to normal' day. We had one of those before, exactly a week earlier - the day between the ending of curfew and the invasion. It's mindblowing how events have followed one another so fast, piling up and distorting time. So much can happen, so fast, and life can change - or end - in a blink of an eye.

We've just heard! Coard and his family have been found in a house just up the road in Mt Parnassus!

This is evidently true but the rambling word-of-mouth information that follows seems less convincing and we realise that we need to be careful not to take anything at face value. For example, we hear that secret plans were found in the house, proving that arrangements had been made for Russian, Cuban and Libyan troops to mass here in November. This same person tells us that Maurice disagreed about the timing of this Communist military presence and that was the root of the disgreement between him and his comrades.

This just doesn't ring true. For starters, November would have been before the international airport was open, so makes little sense. And all of this - including the disagreement with Maurice - was in these 'secret papers' stored in Coard's keeping? How very convenient. And anyway, even though the seeds of suspicion have been sown and people are aware that they knew little of what was really going on behind the scenes in the country they believed they ruled, I refuse to accept the Central Committee were planning some kind of genuine military threat to the US.

No. This smacks much more of standard US paranoia than the reality of the Revo.

And so another stage begins. In spite of those 'pockets of resistance', the bulk of the fighting is over. The battle for hearts and minds has begun in earnest. With a technique that is sometimes heavy handed and obviously 'wrong' and at other times is subtle and effective, the US propaganda machine is swinging into action. And even if we reject much of what we hear, it is enough to sow seeds of doubt and confusion into the minds of a people deeply traumatised by the events of the last ten days.

Ten days! That's all it is! Ten days that have seen revolution, popular uprising, coup, slaughter and terror, curfew and repression, invasion and war. Is it any wonder that the propaganda is so effective when those it is aimed at are so deeply traumatised?

2.30pm - we tune into the new radio station on 990. This is Spice Island Radio, broadcasting from Barbados. We will tell you the truth!

We cautiously welcome one piece of news: twelve reporters are now being allowed in. They are coming via a four hour helicopter trip and have pledged to share their findings with other journalists. It feels like a small sign that things are moving forwards and won't continue like this for ever.

We're about to listen to a statement by the Governor General but lose the radio signal. Damn! It doesn't help to know that his house is just up the road from us!

L comes back from Grand Anse having been told the beach is mined and no one can go on it.

And it's still not over. In the evening I count seven jets circling overhead. As soon as it's dark, flares begin to drop on Richmond Hill and the planes switch on their searchlights. There's masses of traffic movement on the hill behind us. This continues all through the night.

Sunday 30th October.

10.00am radio 610 tells us there are Cuban troops on Carriacou!

Yeah right. This suggestion is so ludicrous we dismiss it instantly. But we're beginning to see - this is how the propaganda works. The mere suggestion that the Cubans might take the opportunity to fight the US to the death on Grenadian soil is enough to make people anxious that the war will go on without end. That there could be even worse to come. And this blatant lie also helps to entrench attitudes against anything that looks remotely like Communism, which is associated directly with Coard and all the troubles. And reinforce the concept of the US as saviours ...

Spice Isle Radio is even more wily and specious. In a direct appeal to any members of the PRA still fighting the announcer says that we have nothing against the soldiers personally. We only want your guns. Give them up and we will leave you alone. We won't insist on taking your names. The US soldiers might even give you food. You are hungry, aren't you?

The final news of the day is that Hudson Austin has been captured. There are no further details yet.

Today was the quietest day in Tempe since the invasion. Maybe the end of the war is in sight after all.

Though we have no way of knowing what will come next to fill the vaccuum.