Saturday, 21 April 2018

Blog tour and guest post - The Black Earth

Today I join the blog tour for The Black Earth by Philip Kazan.

Look at the beautiful cover doesn't it just make you want to know who the people are and what is happening in their lives? well you can find out by reading this book. I still have that to look forward to but as the book is set in Greece I am really looking forward to reading it this summer.

Here is a post The author, Philp wrote for my blog when I asked what led him to write his latest novel:

Guest Post: by Philip Kazan

The Path to The Black Earth

My latest novel, The Black Earth, is my seventh, but strangely enough it was the thing I began when I first decided to see whether I could write, about twenty years ago. 

My wife and I had moved into my grandmother’s old house in West London, which had been neglected since her death a decade earlier. It was a temporary arrangement: we were living there rent-free in return for renovating the place, so the two of us were knocking around in this enormous late-Victorian red brick house in Ealing, ripping up carpets, sanding floorboards, stripping paint from cast iron fireplaces. 

It was an odd time for me: Tara and I had recently moved back from New York and got married. I’d hit one of those periods of flux in my professional life (I’m just saying that for effect: I’ve never had what most reasonable people understand as a professional life) and was temping and working as a freelance editor, doing some gardening, writing blurbs and spending a lot of time alone in my grandmother’s old house, which held some very powerful memories.

My grandmother, Andromache, had come to England in the early 1920s to marry a man she’d never met. Arranged marriages were still common in Greece in those days, and so Andromache was put on a boat in Thessaloniki and sent to Southampton, where she was met by my grandfather and his two brothers. “I hope he’s the tall one,” she thought, when she saw them on the quayside. He was the short one. Andromache - always Yaya to me - never adjusted to London, though she lived there for nearly 70 years. Her home was a whole different country to me, a boy growing up in deeply rural Devon, with a very British father and a Greek mother. Her kitchen smelled of exotic things. There were icons on the wall, and a hand-tinted photograph of Kastoria, the lakeside town in the far north of Greece where she had been born. She taught me to cook, and I listened to her tell the stories of her childhood, and of her family - my family. I wish I’d listened more carefully.

The house had kept barely anything of Yaya’s presence as a palpable thing. It had been rented out, mistreated, abandoned, and now we were ripping it to bits and reassembling it. But still, I felt very close to her. All the stories I’d never quite paid attention to were still there, lurking in corners, tugging at my sleeve with the fragment of Macedonian embroidery I found in a cupboard, with the stack of old letters with pre-war Greek stamps in a drawer in the cellar. Up until then I’d spent my career, such as it was, in the publishing industry but I’d always wanted to write something myself. One day one of my uncles lent me a book, in Greek, about the Macedonian Struggle of the 1900s. I couldn’t read it but I suddenly remembered Yaya’s stories. How her father and her uncles had fought the Turks and the Bulgarians. How wolves had run through the streets of Kastoria on winter nights. 

We’d just bought our first computer, a huge Gateway PC (the one with the cow-print box), and I found that I quite liked typing on it. So one day I sat down and began to write about Kastoria. About wolves, and Turkish occupiers, and anything else I could pull out of the atmosphere in that partly colonised, partly haunted house. I had the basic bones of the story: an Englishman and a Geek woman, and their pasts, separate and combined. I wanted to write about memory, and the Greek diaspora, and about being someone with a foot in two worlds, and also with a foot in neither. There was a war, and exile, and…

I didn’t get any further than that. The story that I thought I had worked out, suddenly became far more complicated than I could handle. I wasn’t a writer yet. I had no idea about plotting, or about self-control. My Greek book burned itself out in about a fortnight. I dropped the whole thing, spent another fortnight attacking fireplaces with a blowtorch and a wire brush, then went back to the Gateway. I didn’t have a plot now, I just had a person, a feeling, and the Medieval history degree that everybody had said would be completely useless. My person turned out to be, not a 19th Century Greek freedom fighter, but a 13th Century novice monk. In a few days I had a chapter, then two, then three. We moved back to America soon after that, but I kept writing and Relics became my first published book. I wrote another three books about Brother Petroc, then turned to Renaissance Italy.

I came back to writing about Greece by accident, almost. Back in England, I’d decided to write about the bohemian art scene in Soho in the years on either side of World War Two and started fleshing out a plot. I’d been talking to my mother, who had been part of the scene in the 1950s, about the people she’d known. Somehow I decided that there needed to be a Greek character in the book. Then my mother told me about a cousin of hers who had survived the Smyrna Catastrophe of 1922, been orphaned, lost everything, had ended up in America, and had come to visit my grandparents after the war. I’d been listening to a lot of Greek music and one day I heard a song called Gazeli Neva Sabah, sung in 1934 by a woman from Smyrna, Rita Abatzi, who had become a refugee in Athens. Something in her voice - some quality of desperation, of loss - carried through the scratchy recording. I abandoned Soho and found that, finally, I was in touch with the ghosts in my grandmother’s house. It wasn’t the story I had set out to tell twenty years ago, but then again, perhaps it was the story the ghosts wanted me to tell.

My thanks to Anne Cater at Random things tours for arranging and inviting on the Blog Tour.

If you'd like to read more about the book here is the blurb:

1922. When the Turkish Army occupies Smyrna, Zoë Haggitiris escapes with her family, only to lose everything. Alone in a sea of desperate strangers, her life is touched, for a moment, by a young English boy, Tom Collyer, also lost, before the compassion of a stranger leads her into a new life. Years later when war breaks out, Tom finds himself in Greece and in the chaos of the British retreat, fate will lead him back to Zoë. But he will discover that the war will not end so easily for either of them.

You can find a copy for your kindle here on Amazon and at all good bookshops

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