To my mother I owe my writing career (she urged me to publish CONTACT my first book), my love of food, (she was a great cook who produced amazing meals in some of the most challenging places on earth) and nursed me back to health, even though she hated the sight of blood, when I came out of hospital for the fourth time weighing 90lbs.
She died in 2000 with dignity and grace having fought breast cancer for over fifteen years, but not before urging me to keep writing and to love and respect my wife Krystyna. In her own quiet way she was a remarkable woman, and her memory still continues to give me great strength. The photograph below was taken two months before she died.
Some of her poignant recollections of the countries we lived in – Hong Kong, Iran, India, and Libya – she began to write in a book she titled “Beyond the Rainbow”, a book she could not finish, but passages from which I used in my book AN UNQUIET AMERICAN.
As authors, so much of our life experiences go into our stories, whether we realise it or not. They give our stories context, flavor, depth and credibility that we can share with people around the world. Sometimes we succeed, but like cooking and sailing, sometimes the recipe looks great, we think we’ve set the right course, but it just comes out wrong. Perhaps because of too much input on the wheel, too much spice in the sauce and not enough balance in our efforts to tell the story.
Cooking, sailing and writing are so similar in so many respects, but the most important thing seems to me to be that, if we try too hard everything goes in the wrong direction.
Planning, feeling, instinct and taste all play a role. When I write I want to feel the characters, the locations, the incidents, the smells, tastes, sights and sounds so that I am carried away on the current of the story.
My style of writing is stream-of-consciousness. I have the story, the plot and the characters in my head before I start, but once the pages start to fill, everything takes on a life of its own. Life itself is unpredictable and so are people. It is the thrill of giving up control to my characters that makes writing such a fantastic experience. I’m sure every writer knows that feeling of joy when tapping on the keyboard is just plain fun and not a chore.
My parents gave me extraordinary experiences in countries around the world that enriched my life beyond measure; gave me an appreciation of other cultures, and a zest for life. My mother in particular gave me a sense of compassion, a balanced view, a quiet understanding and a keen sense of being aware of every facet of Life. I was with her when she died, held her hand and felt a great privilege that I could, at the very least, be there to honor her life. My brother’s and I sang her favourite song, Matt Monro’s “My Kind of Girl” at her grave and I felt a happiness and gratitude that she had been there for me and gave me the strength to publish and continue writing.
CONTACT has been selling for nearly thirty years, and is now in its new eBook format. A testimony not only to the soldiers I served with, but also my mother and her faith in me, and the book.
My mother wanted us to have a party at her funeral, be happy and celebrate, she didn’t like – as she put it – “long faces” around her. So every one of my books, no matter how dark the story may become, always finishes with Hope.
As Jake in my book DRY TORTUGAS says:
“Some days the problems amounted to no more than the decision whether to dive, or whether to make love to Sigourney. And each day he smiled, for he had discovered that the Essence of Happiness was no more than a Celebration of Life itself.”