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No Giller Prize For Margaret Atwood … Or Me

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Much literary note has been taken that, although Margaret Atwood has won (jointly) her second Booker Award (for The Testaments), she was not even a finalist for the most prestigious (and lucrative) book award in Canada – The Giller. In some small way I can feel her pain (if, indeed, she cares at all).

I was in the fancy downtown Library a few days ago. When I left, I took a different route than usual. On the non-street side of the library, for its whole length, there is a walk/bike/delivery area. Down at the auditorium end, three chaps were unloading a van. I was surprised when one of the men smiled and waved at me.

He is a musician acquaintance who – oddly – I come across in similar circumstances, at other places, two or three times a year. This time he and his mates were unloading their equipment for a gig later in the evening at the library. They were going to play ‘background’ music for an event concerning the Giller Prize.

I have since looked it up on Google. It appears the Giller finalists are being presented at a half dozen venues across Canada, to be part of some type of panel about writing.

Anyway, while explaining what they were doing there, he told me he was so out of touch with Canada’s literary world, that he wondered if I was there because I was a finalist for the Giller, and on the panel.

I believe that we were both disappointed.

Kafka And A Hungry Bird Give Thanks

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[Franz Kafka and his sister, Ottla.]

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the many diary entries Franz Kafka either did not make, or destroyed after the fact. He would have made no references to an actual ‘Thanksgiving Day’, but I feel this is close enough.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

30 September 1917

There was a knocking at the window this morning. A polite and concise rap rap rap. It awoke me while the room was barely light.

Who could want me so early? And then again, an insistent rap rap rap. I was confused, wondering where I was. The panic of Prague weighted down the covers, and I was sorry I had opened my eyes. The room, the smells – even the bed – was not familiar, so I was both bothered and assured by the strangeness.

When I realized I was not in Prague – for who could knock on my third floor window – I remembered I was in Zurau, where things were different. Here my window looked onto a yard, and anyone could  be at it. Was there something wrong? Was Ottla after my help? I even wondered, as I searched for my slippers, if her young man had somehow arranged leave from the army, and after much travail had managed to reach the wrong room. I could understand that very well.

I walked hesitantly over to the window, and cautiously pulled back the curtain. Such a commotion ensued that I stepped back in some fright. A bird flew immediately past the glass, its wings frantic as it screeched in agitation. It had been perched on my window ledge, pecking away at the frame. Ottla says it may have been after insects or grubs settled in for the winter.

“Insects in the walls of the house?” I asked.  “Yes.” She was quite matter-of-fact.  “It is a warm place for them during the cold months.”  I was not inclined to argue with the logic, but neither had I thought I would be existing in such close proximity with the tenants of nature.

Houses for warmth and bugs for food. It is a blend of the base and the subtle which I can appreciate. Much – I like to think – as does the annoyed bird.

Margaret Atwood Travels Further Than Ever – Blessed Be!

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I have noted some folk looking at this post from a couple of years ago. I had put it up because of the success of the television series, A Handmaid’s Tale.

Now, Ms. Atwood has produced a new novel, The Testaments, [which, by the way, has a brilliant front and back cover] with an international launch from London, England. I can humbly state that my part in her literary life remains the same.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was not my intent to piss off Margaret Atwood.

The opposite, in fact. I wanted her to know she was an inspiration.

She was giving a reading at the University of New Brunswick in my student days. I attended, but there was quite the gathering and she was whisked away at the end. However, I overheard there was a ‘gathering’ in her honour. Invitation only, of course. Academia and literati.

I crashed the party (that was the term used by the professor who clapped his sturdy hand upon my shoulder but – happily – did not thrust me into the night).

But Ms. Atwood was kept deep in many a learned conversation and I had no opportunity to converse. I did, however, overhear where she would be spending next afternoon – the historic University Observatory.

Next day I knocked upon the Observatory door.

It was not a cheerful Margaret Atwood who answered, and answered with alacrity.

She asked my name.

She asked my business.

And she asked how the hell I knew where she was. She had stolen the day to do some writing. Some ‘real’ writing, in this window-of-opportunity grudgingly offered on the book tour.

At least I was there to praise Atwood and not to bury her with some essay question.

Nor had I a manuscript to hand to her.

I might not have garnered a smile, but her curt thank you was reward enough.

For me, at least.

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One Wedding And Twelve Tuxedos

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Until this month, I would have said the strangest thing I have researched – and written about – for one of my novels, was the chapter in my first Onion novel, where my characters built a bridge over a river in 3rd Century Italy.

Alison Alexandra seems destined to edge me even further.

In There Was A Time, Oh Pilgrim, When The Stones Were Not So Smooth, I currently find myself writing about a wedding ceremony where the bride is dressed in a tuxedo, as are all her attendants. She is a fashion designer, and has created a line of female tuxedos. She is unveiling them at her own wedding.

Peaked vs. shawl lapels – to say nothing of all the colours.

One aspect of Alison Alexandra – rarely alluded to – is that in her teens and early twenties, she was a fashion model in Europe. She left the job from boredom after five years, but it is from this enterprise she gained enough sustainable income (via investments) to be left alone, and live the life she lives.

However, her mentor – the fashion designer, Bellissima Isobella – has called her back to do a favour. Bellissima Isobella is getting married, and has created a line of tuxedos for herself and all her attendants. What better way to promote them?

There is the aspect of the tail wagging the dog in this research. And, let me tell you, the Interent is awash with photos of ladies in tuxedos.

Oh – yes.
Alison Alexandra will be in red.

Louie-the-Dog Becomes Part of The NATO Family

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An excerpt from: The Bonner Prediction – a NATO thriler, for International Dog Day. Louie is a Cane Corso, adept at both defence and attack. In this scene, he has earned (trust me) a little down time.

05:14:31 ZULU Time

“I’ll sweep the house.” Bonner puts the keys on the dining room table.

“That’s fastidious.” Bess looks at her watch. “It’s a quarter past one in the morning. Who’s going to visit?”

Bonner gives her a closer than usual look to make sure she is kidding. She winks and sets out to find dishes. He stops her with a hand on her arm.

“Are you familiar with NATO safe houses?”

“Nope – never been in one.”

“Don’t try to use the back door.” Bonner points through the kitchen. “It’s wired with explosives.”

“You call this a ‘safe’ house?’

“Makes it safer for us.” He removes his hand. “It will explode if someone aggressively attempts to break it down.” He smiles. “We can also detonate if from here, if necessary,”

“But this wasn’t your idea?”

“No – alas.” He starts away with his handheld. “But I approve.”

The house is conventional in its layout, ready for a family. She wonders if there are families any more. If these buildings have been relegated as guest accommodations, she doubts either diplomats or military travel with a family.

She removes the food from the containers and places it on dishes. As she puts them in the microwave, Bonner passes with his electronic handheld. She thought he might give only a cursory search (no one can possibly know they are staying here) but – no.

The walls, the light fixtures, the electrical outlets, the appliances, the taps, the windows, the doors are all given a sweep for tell tale signs of transmission. The doors are closed and their locks are tested. As with any place of sanctuary, every room can become a ‘safe’ room. If this dwelling is like others she has experienced, the windows can even withstand an RPG.

When Bonner is finished, he goes to the cupboards and removes napkins. On his way past the fridge he takes out a bottle of wine. He shakes his head disapprovingly.

“Screw top.” Bonner carries the wine and napkins to the table.  “Not the usual standards of NATO.”

“I was planning on Sprite.” She looks toward the kitchen as the microwave beeps. “NATO lives it up while we Swiss live in parsimony.”

“If NATO inclined towards having us live it up, they would have put us in more graceful accommodations.” Bonner twists off the cap. “At least it’s white.”

“Where’s the dog food?”

“They’re a tidy group. I bet food will be in the kitchen.”

As Bess takes the food from the microwave and hunts for plates, Bonner searches for dog food. Not only does he find a bag in the corner, together with a foil pack of dog treats, but there are two shiny, new, metal dog bowls – one for food, one for water. Bonner guesses that a member of the supply personnel is a dog lover and raided the stores of the guard dogs.

“How much?”

“Two scoops.” Bess is putting the salad into a bowl.

“What about treats?”

After.” She looks at him. “I bet you don’t have kids, either.”

“Nope.” Bonner puts two generous handfuls of food into the dish. “I’d make a lousy father.” He runs water from the tap then fills the other bowl. “There’s time.”

“Not that much time.” Bess takes their food to the dining table.

“Ouch.” Bonner has little interest pursuing this thread. He opens a cupboard and takes out two wine glasses. “Louie is fed and watered.” He carries the glasses to the table. “And now, soon to be us.”

Bess looks over to Louie. He is attentive to her, but also has side glances to the kitchen.  She waits until he is only looking at her, and then makes a hand gesture.

“Go.”

Louie is out of the room before Bonner can pick up the wine bottle. His claws clatter across the kitchen floor, quickly followed by crunching and the scrape of the dog bowl on wood.

“He’s not going to savour, is he?”

“Nope.” Bess takes her wine glass. She is about to take a drink but stops. She extends the glass toward Bonner. “It’s been a night.”

“But our wee family is safe to home.” Bonner clinks her glass. “Though Louie’s table manners could be more refined.”

R/Jane-the-Ghost Is Not The Ghost Of Christmas (Past, Present or Future)

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“That is a peculiar-looking ship.”

“It is,” agrees Alison Alexandra.

She agrees because it is a peculiar-looking ship. She is studying it through her military-grade binoculars as she stands near the edge of her cliff, leaning against a waist-high barrier she had constructed just for this purpose.

Three sturdy posts painted blue.

There is a wooden knob atop each post, painted red. Four broad boards, painted white, are securely nailed to the posts, with slight gaps between them. There is room for five people to stand side-by-side.

Alison Alexandra has never had more than one person at a time accompany her on this venture. A slight problem at the moment is that this is not one of those times. She is standing alone, binoculars to eyes, looking out to the ship in the harbour. The peculiar-looking ship.

“In fact, it is not just peculiar-looking, it is actually peculiar.”

It is,” agrees Alison Alexandra, who does not lower her binoculars. “Though that is not the only peculiar thing at the moment.”

“It is not?”

“It is not,” says Alison Alexandra. “One other peculiar thing is that I am standing here by myself.”

“I see.”

“I don’t,” says Alison Alexandra.

“I’m out of your vision.” The voice does not falter. “I’m R/Jane-the-Ghost.”

“R/Jane-the-Ghost?” asks Alison Alexandra.

“Yes,” confirms R/Jane-the-Ghost.” Yes.”

“A for real ghost?” asks Alison Alexandra. “Not a figment produced by an undigested piece of potato?”

“I like that idea,” says R/Jane-the-Ghost. “Being a Dickensian ghost. I liked reading Dickens.”

“As do I,” says Alison Alexandra.

“But – no – no Dickensian ghost am I. I bring no warnings.”

“”No festive cheer?”

“Nary a candle.” Says R/Jane-the-Ghost. “No bony finger have I, pointing at anything.”

“You did – in your way – point out the peculiar ship.”

“In my way.”

“Point taken,” says Alison Alexandra.

There is a low chuckle, bordering on hearty, close beside her right ear. She does lower her binoculars at that, and moves her head to look. Her view is unobstructed all the way down her cliff. The water sparkles.

 

[Image] http:/cdn.notonthehighstreet.com/fs/06/90/c0b3-fff4-4518-b7d7-527c4703c9d8/original_little-ghost-acrylic-brooch.jpg

Kafka Never Slept In This Prague Hotel

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When I visited Prague to research my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I went to many of the places that were part of  Kafka’s life. One such place – the small house where he wrote a whole book of short stories – became a setting for a third of my novel.

However,the building where he was employed, The Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia in Prague, I only saw at a distance across a Square. It was not a happy place for Kafka, though he was very successful at his employ, and rose to an administrative position of importance. It was not really much of a setting for my novel.

 

That building is now a fancy hotel, and Kafka’s office is a room for rent. It is even designated The Franz Kafka room, and contains mementos. It is where I plan to stay when next I visit. I hope there is not a long list of folk wishing to spend the night there, too. It even includes a restaurant named after his fiancée, Felice.

 

Following is some information about the hotel, and some photos of the room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The hotel is situated in the heart of Prague, next to the Old Town Square, where the famous medieval astronomical clock is mounted on the southern wall of the Old Town City Hall. The Neo-Baroque building was built in the 19th century by Alfonse Wertmuller, a famous architect in Prague. It was formerly the office of the Workers’ Accident Insurance of Kingdom of Bohemia, where Franz Kafka worked as an insurance clerk from 1908 to 1922. His spirit can still be felt in the hotel, as his bronze bust welcomes guests in the lobby in front of the majestic stairs.
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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In addition, this is one of the few diary entries I wrote, set in his office building,

 
Excerpt from Kafka In The Castle

16 February 1917

There was a commotion at the office today. It was late morning, and from far below, coming up the stairwell, I could hear a voice bellowing: “Doktor Kafka. Doktor Kafka.” It was a terrible voice, full of blood and darkness.

I got from my desk and went to the door. There were other voices, trying to calm, saying: “He can’t be disturbed.” But the voice was louder, more horrible, close in the corridor.  “Doktor Kafka – for the love of God.”   My secretary wanted me to stay inside, hoped the man would just move along the corridor until the police were summoned.

But – I was curious; the man had my name, and his voice was … terrified.

I opened the door and stood in front of it.  “I’m Kafka,” I said. The man lunged at me, and went to his knees.  “Doktor Kafka?” he said.  “Yes, I’m Kafka.” He reached out, grabbing for my hand.  “Jesus, Jesus, for the love of Jesus – they say that you’ll help me.”

He was a heavy man, and looked as if he had the strength to pull off doors, yet the tears burst from his eyes.  “I can get no work. I fell from a bridge, and my back is twisted and in pain.” He slumped against the wall, looking at my eyes.  “I have a family, Doktor Kafka. A baby not a year old.”  “You were working on this bridge?” I asked.  “Yes.” His voice slid down his throat. “I was helping repair the surface.”  “Then you deserve your insurance. Why can’t you get it?”

He straightened up, and tried to stand. “I have to fill in papers; the doctor can see no wounds; the foreman said I drank; because my brother is a thief, I am not to be trusted.” I held out my hand, and he slowly stood. “I’m telling you the truth, Doktor Kafka.”

“If that is so,” I said, “you’ll get the money due you.”  “I’m so tired,” he said.

I gave instructions to those standing around – no other work was to be done until this man’s case was decided. I took him to my office, where he sat.

He sat – practically without a word – for five hours. I summoned a prominent doctor to look at him. The doctor prodded, and the man screamed. Officials from his village were telephoned. I helped him with the details on the forms. His truth was in his pain. He left our stony building with money in his hand, and his worth restored.

The people who assisted me had smiles on their faces.

A man had needed their help.

You Can’t Take it With You

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So, it’s like this.
 
Alison Alexandra is going to meet her mentor for the first time in ten years. Her mentor, Bellissima Isabella, is the couturier who started, and managed, Alison Alexandra’s modelling career when she was a teen.
 
They are going to meet in front of the Gucci Museum in Florence. Alison Alexandra assumes they are going to go in and look around but, oh no. Belissima Isabella has nothing but disdain for any other couturier.
 
I knew that when entering the Gucci Museum was going to be suggested, Belissima Isabella was going to decline, saying it was full of “Gorgeous Gucci Garbage”. But, what was missing, was an oath of derision, which she might say a few more times as she struts across my stage in There Was A Time, Oh Pilgrim, When the Stones Were Not So Smooth.
 
So, I am right at the moment of writing the oath, not a thing in mind, and she comes out with “Emanuel God Cunt”. A philosophic twist. I can live with it.
 
I finish my writing, come down to the computer, look at odds and ends, one of which is Linkedin. There is a request from a chap for me to add him to my Linkedin Network.  His first name is Emanuel.
 
Might I suppose God is chuckling along with me?

War And The Army And Kafka

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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.

[Image] https://www.ndr.de/kultur/buch/tipps/kafka115_v-contentxl.jpg

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