Monday, 25 July 2011

The Influence of Place on Plot

If you enjoyed Under the Tuscan Sun, and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, you will probably agree with me that the locale was vital to both of these stories. The first could only have been successfully placed in Italy, and the second was totally dependent on both the historic period, the Second World War, and the place, the Greek Island of Cephalonia. The stories grew out of their settings.

My novel, The Memory of Roses, is a tale that I believe could only have happened on Corfu. In it, I have tried to capture the innate beauty of that particular Greek Island, its hills and mountains, its forests of olive trees punctuated with tall cypress, its sandy beaches and small fishing villages, and its wild profusion of flowers, and I have also tried to reflect the indomitable spirit of the Corfiots who are fortunate enough to call this small piece of paradise home. I cannot imagine this story set in a different time or place.

However, for an American woman in her thirties, coming head to head with the immovability of an irresistible Greek male six years younger than she, is an unsettling experience. Brit thinks she is looking for a short fling. Andreas wants more. Much more.

In the following scene, Brit and Andreas are in the ruins of an old Corfiot cottage on her property.
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From the distance there was an ominous rumbling. Andreas went to the door. Great thunder clouds were blotting out the horizon, moving rapidly toward them. The sky was almost black. A streak of lightening illuminated the sky, followed closely by a loud clap of thunder. Then the rain came in great sheets.

He turned back to Brit to discover that she had turned quite white.
“I’ve never liked thunder storms,” she confessed. “When I was little, my father told me that Zeus was angry, and was throwing thunderbolts. He always assured me they were not being thrown at me, but, to this day,” she gave a small mirthless laugh, “to this day, I always want to run and hide when I hear thunder close by.”

Andreas pulled her close. “I’ve done nothing that could anger Zeus. Just stay here safe in my arms until the storm passes.” He kissed the top of her head. “Brit, I love you so. Why do you keep resisting me?”

Brit nestled her head against Andreas’ chest. “After what happened last night between us, how can you possibly say I resist you. You are without a doubt the most irresistible man I’ve ever known.”

He shook his head in frustration. “That’s not what I mean, and you know it. I’m not looking for a short affair, however sexually satisfying. I want marriage. I want a home, a wife, children.”

Brit pushed him away with a short, sarcastic laugh. “That’s the woman’s line, Andreas. That’s what the woman always says, isn’t it? I want a home, a husband, children. But I’m not saying that to you. You have never heard me say those words to you.”

Her voice took on a harsh, angry edge. “You’re too young to even know what you want. You think you’re in love with me? What will you think when I’m forty and you’re only thirty-four? When I’m sixty and you’re still a man in his prime?”

Andreas looked at her, shock written on his face.

With a sob, Brit turned and ran outside into the storm. Swearing, Andreas ran after her. By the time he reached her they were both soaking wet. He scooped her up effortlessly into his arms and walked swiftly with her the rest of the way back to the villa. There he stripped off her wet clothes, dried her body and her hair roughly with towels as her teeth chattered, and dumped her unceremoniously onto their bed, covering her shivering body with a thick down duvet. Then he stripped off his own wet clothing and joined her. Wordlessly he made love to her, bringing her body quickly to the heat only passion can create.

When they lay, exhausted and still, he murmured, “I will want you when I am eighty-five and you are ninety-one. I will go to my grave wanting you.”……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Watch for the release of Blair McDowell’s newest novel, The Memory of Roses in October.

My Love Affair with Venice

I have been carrying on a secret love affair with Italy for years. When I wrote The Memory of Roses (to be released in October by Rebel Ink press), I set it on one of my favourite Greek islands, Corfu. But I could not resist putting my characters at least briefly in Italy. The denouement of The Memory of Roses takes place in Venice, to my mind the most beautiful city in the world. A city made for lovers.

The last time I was in Venice it was late October. October can be a very chancy month in northern Italy. It can be mild and sunny, or it can be dismal, windy and rainy. The Bora, a cold wind from the north, comes all the way down from Russia. We watched from our balcony one day as it swept in suddenly, bringing hail in its path. One minute people were strolling along the wide walkway beside the Grand Canal, the next, everyone was scurrying for shelter from the icy bombardment.

The wind from the south, the Scirocco, is a warm wind. It brings even more problems. This is the wind that brings the aqua alta, the flood waters, to Venice.  There are only three openings to the sea in Venice. The southern wind pushes the waters of the high tide inside the lagoon, into all of Venice’s waterways, and doesn’t allow it to flow out. When the next high tide comes, it is piled on top of the already high water levels.

We were there once for an aqua alta. The night before, we wandered in the Piazza San Marco and saw what looked like platforms piled all around the arcade. We wondered if a performance of some kind was scheduled for the next day. We were correct. The performer was Mother Nature at her worst.
The next day, in the Piazza San Marco, we were walking on those platforms, above two feet of water, while water shot into the air from all the drains as if from fountains.  Vaporetti, the water buses everyone uses to get around, were not running on most routes, because they could not get under the many bridges that connect the islands that make up this city. The water levels were too high.

Aqua Alta routes were posted at every vaporetto stop.  These were pedestrian routes, and in Venice, everyone is a pedestrian. The only modes of transportation are boats and feet.

Our innkeeper told us that two massive installations are now being constructed that will help prevent these frequent and damaging floods. Gates that will close off two of Venice`s three waterways to the sea, preventing high tide from piling upon high tide. We hope they will work. Venice is a work of art. It`s loss would be immeasurable.

Four million people a year visit Venice. This is a city with only sixty-five hundred inhabitants. According a hotelier we spoke with, most tourists spend only one night in Venice. This man, who used to be a concierge at the Danielli, one of the most prestigious hotels in Venice, told us that ``tour groups would check in at six pm, take a gondola ride, have dinner, and check out the next day, having seen Venice.`` He said that Venice was sinking as much under the weight of tourists as under the aqua alta.
Be that as it may, if Venice isn`t on your Bucket List, it should be. It is the most magical of cities. If you can only give it a day, so be it, but if you can spend a week or more there, do so. If you do, I guarantee you will return. It gets into your blood.

Which comes first, setting, characters or plot?

Without question, for me it is setting. When I find myself in an intriguing or particularly beautiful or historic place, somehow characters suggest themselves. And once they have, the story unfolds, often very completely, in my mind. In a sense, the setting and the characters tell me the story. 

In The Memory of Roses, (scheduled for late fall release by Rebel Ink Press) it was the view from my balcony at a little inn perched high on a hill on the Greek island of Corfu. I looked out over masses of olive trees with their clusters of ripe fruit, a sea of dark green, and thought “What if…”