THE DROWNED PHOENICIAN SAILOR

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My novel The Drowned Phoenician Sailor takes its title from a passage in ‘The Burial of the Dead’ in T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland.’ It’s a reference to the Tarot card the Ten of Swords, signifying the darkest hour before the dawn, which shows up in a Tarot reading made for Fynn early on in the novel by her mother. But the title came much later, and it wasn’t what inspired me to begin writing the novel.

I had that itchy feeling writers get, like a place somewhere you can’t reach that nags away at you. I could hear my muse calling – well to be honest it was more of a shriek. The kind of shriek that wakes you up at night, wondering what on earth is happening. Is it a fox hungry for love? Or one of those werewolves other writers write about? Oh no, it’s just a dream – something really important although you can’t remember a word of it. Adrenalin starts pumping, and your heart beats faster, and then your mind begins racing. It’s not the most comfortable of states to be in, but it’s familiar enough now that I know what it means. Some alchemy has been at work in my psyche, and is desperately trying to push the results into my conscious mind.

What this means in practice is that I start noticing things in a different way, and making inspired connections – not necessarily where they are meant to be. I find myself getting excited by certain concepts, playing the “What if…?” game with myself. And it was exactly this process that brought into being the first rough draft of The Drowned Phoenician Sailor. I remember seeing two unrelated newspaper reports from two entirely different sources, each of which fired my imagination. Neither of them had anything remotely to do with the story that evolved and ultimately became the finished novel. But they set me thinking about assumed identities, deceit, the aftermath of grief, and what it might be like to have died with unfinished business. Out of this grew my list of ‘what ifs’. I am intrigued by cause and effect, both short and long term, and the way that ripples spread out from seemingly random events, and I have been asking questions about what happens after we die since I had my first attack of existential death anxiety at the age of four. These two elements combined to create the first creative glimmerings of my story.

One of the Amazon reviewers of the novel asks whether the cat was really necessary to the plot. This was a question I asked myself as I began writing it, but it soon became obvious to me that Morpheus was an essential ingredient. That’s something you either get or don’t as a reader, and without peeling back the layers (I always feel it’s a mistake to analyse a book to the extent of taking away the mystery) I promise you that the cat is as important a character as the rest. I enjoyed describing his personality – in its own way as complex and revealing as Fynn’s. I had no data about any of them when I began it, and the characters arrived on the page and wove their complicated dance of interaction with a logic that defied much intervention from me. I had an idea of where we were going, but wasn’t entirely sure what form the journey would take. But then it became clear to me that although I hadn’t set out to write anything remotely resembling a romance, the two main protagonists – Fynn and Jack – were destined to develop a relationship, despite Fynn’s reluctance and Jack’s denials. The concept of destiny occurs in a number of my stories. Is life utterly meaningless, apart from the meaning we attach to it, or is there some larger and grander plot behind the scenes? I know I’m not the first writer to wrestle with this notion. An existential interpretation of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ is a great example.

There was something immensely freeing for me as a psychotherapist to begin the novel with the death of one. It was no coincidence that I began writing The Drowned Phoenician Sailor at the same time I made the decision to retire from practice. Paul became in some ways my alter ego, released from the constraints of the role, no longer confined by boundaries and able to bring more of himself into his relationship with Fynn. He remains to some extent something of a mystery, and yet some might say he is as much a main player in the novel as either Fynn or Jack. You as the reader will come to your own conclusions about whether or not he is objectively real in his ghostly form. The same applies to Fynn’s sister, whose regular visitations were the cause of Fynn seeking out a psychotherapist in the first place. If you believe there is a continuation of life after death then the ghosts in the novel will be satisfyingly plausible in their remarks and actions. If you take a more psychological viewpoint, there is an equally satisfying explanation about the powerful effect of grief. Does it matter? Perhaps it matters to you. But you won’t be disappointed, either way.

I romped my way through writing The Drowned Phoenician Sailor. I had enormous fun with the characters, and fell in love with Phoebe – Fynn’s mother – as soon as I started writing about her. Someone has suggested that I write a prequel to the novel that sets out to tell Phoebe’s story, and I’m tempted. But then again, someone else has said they want to know what happens next, and can’t I write more about Fynn and Jack – especially Jack, whose story seems in some respects to be just beginning at the end of the novel. But that’s part of the point of a novel, I believe. You don’t see the edges of the picture, only the piece that exists within the frame. You are left to join up the dots with your own imagination and make the experience of reading the story your very own. It has touched you uniquely, in whatever way it has managed to do that. It speaks to you, in the end, with your own voice.

If you haven’t already read The Drowned Phoenician Sailor then perhaps this all seems rather incoherent to you. The best advice I can offer is that you try it for yourself. (Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I?) I am interested in your opinion, dear reader, and will welcome any reviews.

The Drowned Phoenician Sailor is on kindle at Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1511444789 If you live outside the UK this link should take you there: http://bit.ly/1KAT1X1
More details can be found on my website: www.lesleyhayes.co.uk

A FIELD BEYOND TIME

FRONT COVER FINAL

I took the title of this novel from one of my favourite quotations from the poet Rumi: “Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” When you’ve reached the end of the book, I think you’ll understand just why I chose it.

The novel was a long time in gestation. It began for me with Daniel’s story, his account of his time in India when he was in his early twenties. In the book this is revealed piece by piece in his journal entries, but for me it came with all the hurricane energy of a tormented soul desperate to be heard. When I began to write for Daniel it seemed to come from somewhere else: a voice that demanded to speak, to tell every last detail of the truth he needed to share. It took me over, and wouldn’t let me rest until he had said all he needed to. And after I’d finished telling his tale I was left still wondering just who this Daniel was. I needed to write the rest of the novel to find out.

I hadn’t entirely shed my own role as a psychotherapist when I embarked on writing it. It’s a moot point whether it’s a role that can ever be entirely shed, as it’s so much more than the work, and an intrinsic part of my personality. It seemed inevitable that Daniel would be a psychotherapist, and not just because I know what it’s like to sit in a room with someone else and care more for their suffering than my own. He is a wounded man, and has used his understanding of his own tragedies to find the way in to helping others to heal. It was important for me when I wrote about Daniel in the present that however much he was haunted by his past, he would be freed ultimately by facing it. What this turns out to mean for him you will need to read the book to discover. No spoilers here!

When I am writing there is a curious process that occurs, much as there has been for me when working as a therapist. I fall in love with the characters, the more real they become. And the more I fall in love with them, the more of themselves they reveal to me. When my characters first walk through the door of my mind to join me on the page they have yet to give away their deeper motivations for coming. By the time I’ve got to the second or third draft we are old friends, and I’ve reached the stage of never wanting to say goodbye. Although, much as it has been with clients, the time comes when the rest of their lives will continue elsewhere, no longer between the pages of my book. Hopefully, with clients, we have both been changed by the experience of our meeting. I always hope that this will also be the case for you, as a reader.

A number of elements came together that inspired me to write this particular novel, otherwise it might simply have remained as Daniel’s story: a narrative that had no context in which to place it. Events in my own life made me think deeply about the effects of childhood trauma, and the identity that evolved as a result. Some people believe that our identity is fixed from the moment of birth – before birth, in fact – and dictated partly by our genes and partly by some mysterious element that we might call ‘soul’ or even ‘karma’. Another view is that whatever the blank canvas is that we start out with, life experience, environment, parental and societal influences, all contribute to painting the unique portrait of the person we become. Perhaps there is something of both in forming our identity. We seem to develop a script about what life means for us very early on. We absorb the messages we receive from those around us and from the universe that presents us with our experience, kindly or unkindly, and we soak them up like the eager little emotional sponges that we are. What we learn intellectually is nothing compared to the life lessons we receive, good and bad, that make us decide where we stand in the greater scheme of things and whether we ourselves are good or bad.

There are underlying themes in the book which touch all of us at some point in our lives. Betrayal is one of them. There are some betrayals that are obvious, but how subtly and sometimes unconsciously do we otherwise betray one another – and can those betrayals be forgiven? We first meet the main characters in this novel as sudden turmoil begins to turn their safe, known world inside out. In different ways both Daniel and Mira are trying to make sense of who they are, and heading for possible destruction. Daniel and his wife Callie are faced with choices about whether to trust, and whether to hold on to secrets that if uncovered could risk their relationship. They are all three complex, confused human beings, confronting truths about themselves.

The truth is a theme that arises frequently in my stories. Its slippery, shape-shifting, often perplexing nature taunts me as I examine my own life and that of other people. Is what we believe to be the truth all there is to know? Doesn’t our perspective change as we draw back from close up and see the bigger picture? And yet discovering and claiming the truth is often what fires us into action and forces us to make judgements. Mira is a valiant and determined torch-bearer of a truth she holds as the fulcrum of her identity. I wanted to explore with her, as with Daniel, just what had shaped her into being the person she has become, and to question how possible it might be to bring about a change of heart.

I was discussing the themes in ‘A Field Beyond Time’ with a friend who had just finished it. He said he had sat up till 2 a.m. reading because he couldn’t put it down until he had found out what happened at the end. What was it that had kept him gripped? “I had to know if Daniel would find the resolution he needed,” he said. “From the point in the novel when I started reading his journal entries I was hooked. His story was so compelling.” Well, obviously I’m not going to give the game away here, but it was interesting to see that it wasn’t just me who felt in some way possessed by Daniel and his plight.

I hope you will be as touched by the characters in this novel as I was while writing about them. I came to love them in their flawed, imperfect human beingness. Did they all find the resolution they needed? Whether or not the novel keeps you up till the early hours, I hope you too are spurred to find the answer.

‘A Field Beyond Time’ is published on kindle at Amazon

www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00K3Q9FDE

It is now also available in paperback

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Field-Beyond-Time-Lesley-Hayes/dp/1514159902

It is also available in both kindle and paperback format at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/Field-Beyond-Time-Lesley-Hayes-ebook/dp/B00K3Q9FDE