Kafka recorded the beginning of the First World War in his diary this way:
August 2, 1914: Germany has declared war on Russia. Went swimming in the afternoon.
That was it.
But, regardless of his lack of enthusiasm, Kafka believed in the duties of the citizen. He tried to join the army to fight. In fact, he tried to join a number of times. He was always refused because the government deemed his civil/government job was too important for him to relinquish.
But, near the end of the war, when Kafka was so sick he had lengthy periods of leave from his job to recuperate, the army came calling. Kafka had to appear before authorities with medical proof of his illness.
In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I ‘fill in’ one of his diary entries describing such a situation.
07 February 1918
I find I must go to Prague at the end of next week. Such knowledge is proof that one should not open one’s mail. The Military yet again wishes to snare me, and I must once again prove that my hide is not worth the effort.
There were time (very rare) when my father would despair. Not his usual anger at the general incompetence and perfidy of the world around him, but a resignation to the belief that things would never get any better.
“If they want to drag me down,” he would say, “Then I may as well join them. I’ll go out into the street and let myself be swept away by the mob. I’ll become part of their common, grubby life, and let them wipe their boots on me.”
That is much as I feel right now. Let the army take me, dress me in their uniform, point me toward the Americans, and have some cowboy shoot me. Going into battle could be no worse than going into Prague.
The sea plays a big part for Alison Alexandra in my manuscript There Was A Time, Oh Pilgrim, When The Stones Were Not So Smooth. This is at the beginning of a night that is going to last a long time.
There seems to be a touch of mist coming over the ocean as Alison Alexandra looks from the windows of her prow of a ship house on the top of her cliff. Well, she calls it her cliff and no one – yet – has said ‘nay’. But then, she thinks of it as her ocean, so what is someone going to do with that?
She turns the lights out in her prow of a ship room and settles into her comfortable winged chair. The sun is in its last minute of setting and Alison Alexandra concentrates on the positions of the ships settling in for the night. There are always ships that have no space for a berth until the next day. One or two always seem to have to wait until the day after that.
The vagaries of shipping and commerce, and the whims of an erratic sea, can only be predicted with moderate success. The tides and the winds and the atmospheric pressures high and low make merry over and under the endless horizons. They whirl and they twirl and they scud and skip with gay abandon. ‘Catch them and predict them?’ – well, Alison Alexandra knows better than that.
As it is, her sea eye – well-honed after these many years of coastal watching – is certain the touch of mist that kisses the top of the waves in a most flirtatious manner is deciding whether or not to settle in for the night and become mistress to sea and ships and those swabbies who – oh, so quickly – will be told that the watch must be doubled.
No matter that they are within sight of shore and already have their imaginations stirred by what will be offered at fine establishments such as The Tugboat Wharf And Seafood Lounge with its All You Can Eat Beef Buffet and waitresses who are never going to give them the attention they crave but will still be a damn good source to stroke the imagination and then they can hit the streets and hope to find some pliable bodies with whom to hit the sheets if only by the hour.
There are rumours (none of them started by me) that Kafka had direct dealings with Einstein, Joyce, and even Hitler.
The first two are more than possible. Einstein taught at Charles University when Kafka was a student there. Joyce was in Prague when Kafka lived there. It is quite probable they travelled in the same literary circles. Went to the same coffee houses (which Kafka frequented). Attended the same readings, or literary events, or even book stores.
The Hitler connection is far more tenuous, but based on fact. Hitler was treated, in Munich, by a doctor who had dealt with Kafka’s family in Prague. And Kafka did visit Munich in the right time frame. Kafka did, after all, predict Hitler’s world as much as he did the Communists.
Although I have, in my novel about Kafka, “filled in” his missing diaries, I never give him such speculative encounters – tempting though it was. All events in my Kafka novel are based on detailed research from his own writings, writings of his friends, and multiple biographies.
I have written one short story that is totally speculative, where Kafka is encouraged to meet “the Austrian with the tiny mustache”, so as to kill him and stop an impending terrible war. And save his sisters from the camps. But that doesn’t happen in my fiction, either.
I first visited Europe years before the Euro was the accepted coin of the realm. In fact, there were many coins of many realms, and all that money caused a fuss. This was partially rectified by using Traveller’s cheques. And though Traveller’s cheques are still available, their use is not recommended, as so many places won’t even take them.
I kept a daily diary of this trip, and plan to make it a part of any memoirs I might write. So I’ve hauled it out and will make some blogs from it. But they will be greatly abridged
Berlin, a city (to say the least) that I had heard about, once upon a time. It’s most noteworthy fame, in my opinion, the capital of Hitler’s Germany. And the present, the only city cut in twain by a wall – that infamous wall which causes so much consternation. And I was landing there – and walking into history.
We eventually arrived at the Youth Hostel, or Red Cross building, or whatever it really was. It was a cold, grey, imposing stone structure that reminded me of a second-rate castle somewhere in the Alps. It was plain and simple, there was never any hot water. I was very tired and dead feeling, so I grabbed a bottom bunk and rested/slept for a few hours. I eventually roused myself and went to take a shower. I do not know how the Germans managed to do it (they manage to do many things), but they were able, by some device, to get their water straight from the head ponds of Siberia.
I went out for a walk after my shower, not so much to sight see as to thaw. I didn’t go very far, just looked in some store windows, and went down to the end of the road, a short distance really, for it ended quite quickly with an old, decrepit-looking wall. I thought to myself, that if this were all the East Germans had to get over, there wouldn’t be much trouble to do it.
A few days ago, Alison Alexandra unceremoniously ended my chapter. I had planned another week of work to arrive at the ending. She did away with my ending, put in her own, and ignored the intricate back story I had planned.
So, I sat myself down and wondered what would happen in its place. It turns out Alison Alexandra wants to take a vacation, and the one place where she might just get away from herself (as she seems to desire) is the . She previously had a few pages (literally writing-years ago) on the train.
Sounded good enough for me.
A half hour later, the Face Book page for the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express popped up in my feed.
Full steam ahead, think I.
The following is a portion of Alison Alexandra’s previous trip on the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express.
In the reflection in the glass of her for-the-time-being-stateroom window, Alison Alexandra notices the glances from people on the platform watching her peering, and she doesn’t want to give them any ideas of turning into spies themselves so she stops and turns from the train and continues to walk its length to the engine. Of course, she is looking for spies herself, as befits the aura of the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express. Spies and temptresses and writers and countesses and moustached gentlemen of natty appearance with zee little grey cells working overtime. And criminals and murderers and explorers and adventurers and (no doubt) adulterers and placid businessmen with fettered imaginations and the old wealth and the nouveau rich and folk on the run from the past and folk hoping to run to the past and not once in her complete walk to the engine did she once stop for all those posing to take a Selfie with the Orient Express in the background because – really – if you can’t remember it with your own memory then what’s the point?
She looks up at the engine and realizes that it has never belched billowing smoke and that it never will and she has been prepared for this disappointment – but still. It is a pleasant fantasy as is the whole trip as is the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express itself since the *real* train stopped years ago and even then there had been so many variations with so many destinations that someone could have taken several “Orient Express” trips and travelled on several different routes. In fact, two of the most famous books set on the Orient Express”, Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express and Greene’s Stamboul Train, are set on two different trains, neither of them the “Orient Express”. So Alison Alexandra is not really miffed there is no smoke-belching engine with escaping steam. She can make her own fantasy as others have done before her.
She returns along the platform, rubbing her fingers across the side of the blue-and-gold Waggons-Lits Sleeping Cars. She has kept out of the way of the ceremonial line-ups of the train staff greeting passengers. Enough attention has been paid. She again peers into her compartment window of the S-Series sleeper – slightly smaller and slightly less ornate – more suitable for a sole traveller who plans no assignations. The train is five minutes away from leaving. Alison Alexandra will indeed change for her evening meal. Not all her interests in the fashion of her youth have dissipated. And- after all –she is on the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express. She is not present only for the transportation.
Alison Alexandra wants to blend in and not be either a fashion statement nor a fashion disaster. Black is always the new black, so she enters her Waggon-Lit, enters her compartment, opens a travel case much older than she, and slips into spiffy clothing and accessories that would have allowed her to slip into any of the fantasies of the fantastic Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express with nary a comment of discord but with a nod of appreciation.
In the Etoile du Nord dining car, she has the desire to sit with three other people instead of one. She has made her request known, and will be hailed by a seated trio. She hopes for the best but her anticipation is tinged with a trace of concern. She does not want to be bored, nor does she want to spend the meal warding off unwanted attention. She felt it futile to make such stipulations up front. Sometimes you have to go with the flow.
“Hello.” A face turns up to her. “Are you Missy Alison?”
“I told you so.” Another head turns in her direction. “Your black attire will slide right well into a trio of three widows.”
“Now, Blanche.” The third voice speaks without raising her head. “We’re sisters first, and widows second.”
“Which one of our husbands would have gone on this trip?”
“So that’s why we’re here.”
“Is that why you’re here, Alison Alexandra?” The sister who has yet to look at her now does. “Death allowing you to escape into life?”
“No widow me.” Alison Alexandra looks at each face in turn. “Nor wife neither.”
“Do you still want to sit?”
“Oh, yes.” Alison Alexandra pulls out the final chair. “And as I am the only one in black, might I suppose your widowhoods are not recent.”
When adapting a novel manuscript to a film script, I realize it will take a whole host of other people to tell me how successful I might be. I’ve done this twice before, and realize that I must not only ignore my usual method of writing, but often go exactly against it.
I attempted to “learn” how to write for film. I read many instruction books, attended classes and workshops, and had meetings with people. I read many film scripts, which did help me accept the (to my eye) arcane format. But the one thing that actually turned me visual, was the comment of a writer/editor friend who said, after reading my attempt, “I can’t see it.”
That is, it did not cause visual action in her mind.
And I understood.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle is to accept that a movie is not a book, and that changes, additions and omissions will be necessary. As with a play, there is a finite time limit, that generally clocks in under two hours. The threads and plot points of a movie are different. And the characters (I swear) feel this freedom, and choose to accentuate other aspects of themselves than revealed in a novel.
The very fact their paragraphs of dialogue are best reduced to two or three lines makes them uppity. And because they can, in mere seconds, be in diverse locations, performing radically different actions, they become exact without apology. They don’t have to fill in the spaces.
The writer has to fill in the spaces however, and do so with visual stimulation. The transitions have to be swift and their descriptions exact. The road is always the fast lane and the characters kick the tires with gusto.
Unicorns are mentioned eight times in the Holy Bible. So – there they were. The list is below.
Therefore, when I have Druids, and their affiliated unicorns, go to Jerusalem in my novel A Lost Gospel, to make sure Jesus gets crucified, I feel I was on solid ground. And when one of my druids, Ogma, has the following experience, I believe it possesses a symmetry of Biblical proportions.
Unicorns are mentioned in the following places of The Bible:
God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.
From A Lost Gospel
“Are you lost?”
Ogma was taken by surprise, but he did not turn toward the speaker. He had no desire to start a conversation, he just wanted to be left to himself.
“Yet you are a traveller to these parts.”
Ogma knew only too well the interest local people had for strangers in their midst. It was an interest which could easily turn into suspicion. He was alone, and he did not want to have trouble in this unknown land.
“I had business in Jerusalem.” Ogma shrugged. “The desire came upon me to feel earth under my feet, not paving stones.”
“And you find yourself here.”
“I turned from the main road at a whim.”
“What did you in Jerusalem?”
“I do not intrude thus in your life.” Ogma kept a steady gaze across the field, though he could not keep irritation from his voice.
“Yet you do intrude – for here you are.”
“If I’m on your land, I apologise. I thought it was a common road. There is no barrier in place to warn me otherwise.”
Ogma wondered if it was time to leave the way he had come, or to stay and talk. Despite the words spoken, the other man’s voice displayed no anger, or annoyance.
“Do you find no peace in Jerusalem?”
“I’ve had a troubled time in your grand city.”
Ogma suddenly realised he had things he wanted to say, which he could not discuss with the other druids. He finally turned to the man, wondering if he should explain further.
“By the gods of death!” Ogma stood back in fear. “This is not possible.”
“There are no boundaries to what is possible.”
“I saw them hang you up.”
“You saw flesh. And blood.”
“Then what do I see now?”
“More than a man of sorrows.”
“Glarus was right.” Ogma began to move further away, but stopped himself. “I’m not to fear you, or the change you bring.”
“Truth deserves acceptance, not fear.”
“Do you know of my burden?”
The other man raised his arm and pointed. Ogma turned to follow the outstretched hand. He saw the two unicorns standing close together among the trees.
“Have they brought me here?”
“They have led you to a place you sought yourself.”
“You know of Glarus.” Ogma stopped abruptly, and his voice lowered. “The gods I understand believe in trade. Take me instead of her.”
“You care so much?”
“I know the worth of things.” Ogma stared directly at the other man. “It is better to have her alive than me.”
“No man knows his own worth.” Yeshua touched the small man, then held him close. “My father’s love does not barter.” He released Ogma with a smile. “Return to Jerusalem. You travel with companions.”
“The beasts accompany me?”
“Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.”
(image)Unicorn Tapestries at the Cloisters – New York, New York https://assets.atlasobscura.com/media/W1siZiIsInVwbG9hZHMvcGxhY2VfaW1hZ2VzL2VmYjZmYmVkZjk1MzNhMDgyZV9GOTNBMjc5My5qcGciXSxbInAiLCJ0aHVtYiIsIngzOTA-Il0sWyJwIiwiY29udmVydCIsIi1xdWFsaXR5IDgxIC1hdXRvLW9yaWVudCJdXQ/F93A2793.jpg