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Blogging My 2013 Oxford University Summer School Experience

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Stage 3 of Tour de France reveals more of Corsica's stunning beauty

This final stage of the Tour in Corsica started in Ajaccio where my main character, Liz Fallon, awaits her fate in a French gendarmarie following a fatal encounter between the Corsican sepapartist and the French anti-terrorist chief whose lives have been changed by her appearance on the island. The route then wound through mile after mile of switchbacks, precipitous drops, perilous downhills, and spectacular formations of pink granite rising like rugged stalagmites from pristine coastal beachers. The final desitination was Calvi, known for its beachfront citadelle and its status as the home of the 2e Régiment étranger de parachutistes or 2e REP. This world renown crack intervention unit was originally based in Bonifacio in 1963--when my fellow shipmates and I tried to sneak two of their members off the island. This real-life adventure was very much the original motivation for writing my novel. Here is a passage from the novel when she is trying to get inside the head of the island's anti-terrorist chief, Philippe LeClerc:

     LeClerc hesitated and then changed the subject. “Were they successful?”

     “No, someone snitched,” said Liz. “It all fell apart. My mother felt badly because the Legionnaires told her that they had wakened with a bad hangover in Marseille and found themselves signed up for six years.” 

     “Impossible. It is unlikely they joined involuntarily. The paras were the elite of the Legion, a special intervention force, even back then. No one would have been shanghaied from a bar.”

     “And if they’d gotten caught trying to escape?”

     “They would have been stripped, placed in solitary confinement, probably suffered a beating. Attempted desertion is still treated very harshly in the Legion.”

     Liz shifted her position on the rock and broke off a nearby stalk of rosemary, twiddling it between her fingers, savoring her skill in getting LeClerc to talk about his family. Find out about the father and you’ll find out about the man, she thought. “And your father would have allowed that sort of thing?”   

     “He would have ordered it.”

Tue, July 2, 2013 | link          Comments

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Stage 1 and 2 of the Tour de France in Corsica reveals many locations featured in Mother Tongue

I have spent two days watching with fascintion the initial stages of the 2013 Tour de France, Almost every road, every city, every aspect of Corsica's incredible landscape shown on the Tour appears in my new novel MOTHER TONGUE. I would like to share passages from the novel that include those locations which many of you may have seen on the Tour.

Stage 1 of the Tour began in Porto Vecchio, a seaside town on the southeastern tip of the island. This is where one of the FLNC attacks takes place in the novel.

     Liz stared at a shot panning across a row of cots covered with plaster dust and hundreds of bullet holes in the walls behind them. The news announcer said there had been three simultaneous attacks just after dawn, almost at the very moment LeClerc had been driving up Cap Corse. Speculation was that they were in retaliation for earlier police raids in Balange. The first video was of an attack on a police barracks in Porto Vecchio. It had been strafed right after a platoon of police trainees had left the building for breakfast.

From its start in Porto Vecchio, the Tour route took a dip south to Bonifacio. This is where I had my own Corsican adventure at age 19, trying to sneak two Foreign Legionnaires off the island. And where my main character was conceived. This is a snippet of a conversation she has with Philippe LeClerc, before he reveals he is the head of R.A.I.D., the anti-terrorist force in Corsican.

     Liz related some general details about her mother helping a group of college kids try to liberate two Foreign Legionnaires from the island. Not until the words Bonifacio and summer of ’63 did he respond. “Incroyable! My father was a Lieutenant Colonel in the 2me Étranger du Parachutists, the second airborne, of the Foreign Legion at that time. He was sent to Bonifacio after the exodus from Algeria in ‘62.”

     “Do you think he could have been the officer over the men my mother and her friends tried to sneak off the island?”

     “Je ne sais pas,” said LeClerc.

Stage 1 ended in Bastia (amid a snafu with a bus getting caught under the finish line sign) and this is where Liz meets an estranged cousin for the first time.

     Liz went through the list and settled on two listings, one in a nearby village and one in Terra Vecchia, the old port district of Bastia. No one answered at the home in the village, so after their brief conversation, she headed off on foot to explore the one located in Bastia. She walked up the Boulevard du Général Graziani, past a flotilla of sidewalk café tables sheltered under brightly colored umbrellas, and trekked on to Terra Vecchia. The ultra-modern shops of downtown Bastia with their Parisian fashions soon gave way to shabby multi-story dwellings. She couldn’t decide if the plaster hanging in ragged peels, exposing the lathe and even the plumbing underneath, was a sign of poverty or historic preservation. Her ear caught the sound of laughter and conversation, in a mixture of French and Corsu, emerging from the Irregular pattern of small windows dotting the upper stories.

Stage 2 of the Tour from Bastia to Ajaccio passed through Corte, the ancient capital of Corsica and hotbead of separatist activity where much of the action in the novel takes place. My daughter and I visited there in 2006. This is a passage as Liz drives into the city for the first time.

     Within minutes she dropped down into a valley and entered the outskirts of Corte with its modern, multi-story buildings. As she neared the turnoff to the university, she slowed to navigate a roundabout and caught her first glimpse of the Corte’s Citadelle. The ochre fortress rode atop a hunk of rock that soared hundreds of feet above the valley floor, casting a long summer-evening shadow across the landscape and almost wrapping its dusky fingers around her car.

Sun, June 30, 2013 | link          Comments


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A bit about OUSSA

I will be taking a one-week residential course on "Creating Character" by well-known author Jonathan Miles,  July 13-20, 2013, at Rewley House, Oxford


I will be joining people from the UK, Europe and further afield (me!) for enjoyable, yet serious study with some of the finest tutors in the country. For over 100 years the Oxford University Summer School for Adults (OUSSA) programme has been making it possible for everyone to take advantage of the Oxford system of expert tuition in small groups.

This intensely practical course explores character. Through examples stretching from Chaucer to Becket, you will identify the ingredients that give fictional beings life. When, does a character take on an archetypal status? When does a character degenerate into a two-dimensional stereotype? Most people feel comfortable creating characters that they know well. But what about those figures that are more distant from our everyday experience and yet who seem to demand a place in our stories? And what about the possibility that there may be no such thing as character? This writing workshop explores different ways of approaching and building rounded, interesting, recognisable but not cliché-ridden characters.

The only entrance requirement for a summer school course is enthusiasm for the subject and a commitment to undertake the required coursework before and during the summer school.