Two very different men facing different times, crises, and politics, but each sharing a common motivation: to inspire their embattled nation.
Hero Number One:
How many of us can think of a single act of valor so symbolic to a nation that it defines the rest of the actor’s life? I’m talking on the scale of Hans Brinker’s little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke sort of stuff.
One such act occurred on the night of May 30, 1941 in Athens when two Greek young men, 18 year-old Manolis Glezos and 19 year-old Apostolos “Lakis” Santas, climbed to the top of the Acropolis and, under the noses of the occupying Nazi forces, tore down a huge Nazi flag flying there since the Nazis first entered Athens thirty-three days before.
Santas & Glezos
Their action is credited as the seminal act inspiring Greek resistance to Nazi occupation and turned the two men into folk heroes.
Santas died in 2011 at the age of 89, but his colleague, Glezos (a subject of this post), remained an active, outspoken member of the left, serving in the Greek parliament at 90, in the European Parliament as its oldest member at 91, and leading demonstrations pressing his political convictions well into his 90s—exposing himself not to just the risk but realization of injury. This hero to so many passed away last week at age 97. God rest his soul.
There are many who disagreed with Manolis Glezos decidedly leftist politics, but he clung to his beliefs all of his life, enduring nearly a dozen years in prison and several death sentences, including one shared with Santas issued in absentia by the Nazis for their daring nighttime attack on the Nazi flag. He’s also received international recognition for his commitment to his beliefs, including the Lenin Peace Prize.
For a more detailed discussion of this remarkable patriot’s life, here is a link to his obituary in The New York Times.
Hero Number Two:
Greece Prime Minister Kyriakis Mitsotakis
Occupying a decidedly different position on the political spectrum is Greece’s 52-year-old Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Harvard and Stanford educated scion of a prominent political family. As different as their backgrounds, is their politics, yet each in his particular moment in history faced an existential threat to their nation and found a way to inspire his nation to persevere.
To be sure, the Prime Minister has his critics, but in a nation still debilitated by a more than decade long financial crisis, forced to fend for itself as the European Union’s utterly neglected primary filter trap for refugees, and under siege by a pandemic threatening to devastate Greece’s tourist season, he is receiving high marks for demonstrating the sort of leadership qualities that inspire confidence in his fellow citizens there’s a steady hand on the tiller navigating them through difficult straits.
As for what those qualities are, I fear describing them might be construed as if I’m tossing barbs at other nations’ leaders. So, I shall take the easy way out, and respectfully suggest that you take a look at his interview conducted three days ago by CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour to make up your own mind as to whether Greece’s Prime Minister is a hero for his time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-c9Gb4UbN0
There is a third hero I must mention, one over whom I’m certain there’s little dispute. I’m talking about my granddaughter who turns seven today. She’s seen her school year end abruptly, her play dates disappear, and her long planned birthday party cancel. What hasn’t changed at all is her loving, confident, curious, and optimistic approach to mastering all in her life…including her Zayde and Yaya. Happy Birthday, Miss R, we love you...and shall sing to you soon on FaceTime.
Today I am interviewing Mr Neil Broadfoot to find out how a writer of action packed thrillers is managing to write during lockdown.
How is your creative mind coping with the lockdown?
Not too badly… so far! I’m getting a lot of ideas about
lockdown-set thrillers and the like, but not anything down on paper. Yet. I’m
lucky in that I’ve been editing the next Connor thriller, which is out in
September, so that’s given me something to focus on.
What do your rather fabulous dogs contribute to your
writing process? Or are they a constant
The dogs are great, and rarely a distraction, unless
I’m late with dinner! I invariably fall into thinking about books and plots
when I’m out walking them, so they’re a great help from that perspective, and
Skye (the eldest) has taken to sleeping beside me while I work – which is great,
but the snoring can break the concentration a bit.
Morning or afternoon writer?
I’ve got three dogs and a six-year-old, so I write when
I can! If I had a choice, I’d prefer the evenings though – after more than a
decade in newspapers, when the shift started at 3pm, I find I’m more productive
If you met Connor in a pub, would you enjoy his
company? What attracts you to writing about him? Is he ever going to get a lady where it is not
complicated? Does he like Marmite?
Ah, to be able to go to the pub and have a pint! I’m
not sure how I’d get on with Connor, he can be fairly intense. But he’s honest,
and I appreciate that, and it would be good to have a conversation with him
that’s not isolated (sorry, bad pun!) to my head. I doubt it would ever be
simple for him on the ladies front, ultimately, he just wants a quiet life, but
reality just doesn’t work that way. As for Marmite, I’ll ask him the next time
Do you think it’s easier to write fiction with a journalist’s
Easier? Not really. But a background in journalism definitely
helps shape the approach to writing. I often joke that writing is a job that
never feels like work, but the bottom line is, it is a job. Being a journalist
trains that into you – there’s no time to wait for the muse to arrive, you’ve
got a wordcount to hit and you hit it. It also takes a lot of the ego out of
the editing process, when you get a manuscript back that’s scrawled with notes,
you see it as a job, not an insult to the writing.
I have inter viewed all three of these at once.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
I suppose procrastination is a form of writer’s block,
and yes, I suffer from that. But because I never plan any of the books, I’m,
always keen to get back to what I’m working on and see what’s going to happen
next, which helps motivate me to power through. And, as I said, this is
ultimately a job that I have to get done.
As a journalist, have you stumbled on a really good
true story that ethically you cannot tell?
No comment, your honour. Coughs yes coughs
Neil probably flung somebody off the top of this..
Are you a sadist? Do you really enjoy putting Connor in
to difficult situations and watching him
trying to get out?
Hah! No (at least, I don’t think so!). But thrillers
are based on drama and conflict, so I need to put Connor in tough situations to
see how he gets out of them. But, as I don’t plan, I have no idea what sort of
trouble Connor is going to get into when I start a book, so it’s as much a
surprise to me as to the reader!
What’s next for you and Connor?
I’ve just delivered The Point Of No Return, which is out
in September. Then it’s on to the next
Connor thriller, which is a book I have to write. I was doing an event last
year and a woman asked if I was going to tell Paulie’s story next. I said I
would and she told me to hurry up as she really wanted to read it but wasn’t
sure how long she had left (she must have been in her eighties). So I’ve got to
do that, and quickly! But it’s the book I’ve been building to with Connor, the
idea for it came to me when we first met Paulie in No Man’s Land.
Neil and some other crime writey bloke called Craig….
Photo from the Edinburgh Reporter
You do write some of the best fight scenes I’ve ever
read? Is this from personal experience?
Thank you! I boxed a bit and did martial arts in my
misspent youth, so I guess that informs the part. But mostly it’s about
choreographing in your head – who’s going against who, what weapons are being
used – and then just trusting the scene to form. It probably also helps that I
watched waaay too many action movies growing up.
And if fight scenes are as difficult to write as sex
scenes….and what about that first line?
I have no idea where that line came from! I was working
on another Connor story completely when it just popped into my head. I tried to
ignore it, but it kept insisting, so I went back and did the one thing I
promised I would never do and wrote a sex scene (sort of). And from there, No
Place To Die just sort of fell into place.
In your WIP are you referencing the pandemic at all. My
next book is set June 2020 so everybody is short staffed!
Good question. I’m just about to start my next book
and, like a lot of writers, I’m trying to figure out how to reference this.
Part of the problem is we have no idea what the world is going to look like in
six months to a year’s time. I want to reflect a believable world in my books,
but what world will that be. I’m open to suggestions!
Douglas whose jokes have been known to drive people to murder
And he took his own photo!
What’s the strangest thing you have ever come across in
Apart from Mark Leggatt and his nuns? Douglas Skelton.
Without a doubt. But he is a great source for background – he helped me out
with the Ice Cream Wars for the last book, and the information he came up with,
based on his work in true crime, was invaluable.
The last book!
Ideally, free of children and dogs ( which is not ideal
I know), what books would you like to be
in extreme lock down with?
Ooooft, good question. I’ve a teetering TBR pile so I’d
take a few of them to try and catch up. For books that I could go back to again
and again, it would have to be Craig Russell’s Lennox series and The Ghosts of
Altona, Complicity by Iain Banks and Derek Farrell’s Death Of… series, which is
whip smart and funny as hell.
And of course a question you have been asked many
times, why Stirling ? Have the tourist
board ever had a word with you?
Like just about everything else connected to my
writing, Stirling was a complete accident. I was in town for Bloody Scotland
when the idea of dumping a body up at the church just occurred to me. I took
the idea for a walk and soon enough, Connor was born. I’ve not had any contact
from the tourist board, but I guess I’m putting Stirling on the map, just maybe
not for the right reasons.
pretending to be somebody else....
(Photo from STV)
You do find ingenuous ways to kill folk, and more ingenious
body deposition sites. What inspires
that? Watching the news? Your former work
colleagues, stupid people? Fellow crime writers ?
Well, working with and knowing Douglas Skelton
definitely feeds my homicidal rage. Joking aside, I’m not sure where it comes
from. Mostly, it’s just a bolt from the blue, and random ideas forming into a
fairly gruesome idea. I’ll see something- like the church in Stirling or The
Scott Monument in Edinburgh, and I’ll think those magic words, “What if”. After
that, it’s just a case of following the story and seeing who will die and why.
I've blogged about these four before.... they explode nuns. What more do you need to know?
And finally, if you raced Connor in the 800 metres, who
Connor, no doubt. My knees are shot!
Caro Ramsay In Lockdown with Mr Neil Broadfoot.
Stanley – Thursday
I’m finding it very difficult to know what day of the week it is. I have been in formal lock down for a week and informal closer to three weeks. Every day is like every other day. There is something mesmerizing about it.
The silver lining – other than avoiding the virus – is that I have time to write. Not that it comes easily with all this time on my hands. No! Time slips by as I sit by myself, mind disengaged. However, I occasionally shake myself out of my lethargy and try to get words on paper.
The current book Michael and I are working on is set in the northwest of Botswana on the banks of the Kavango River just before it spreads out into the magnificent Delta. It never ceases to astonish me to see the verdant paradise that is the Okavango Delta embedded in the Kalahari Desert. You can drive along a road and on one side there will be water and reeds and trees and birds, while on the other side there is nothing but sand and a few scrub plants struggling for survival. The divide is that abrupt.
Since water is crucial to people’s existence in this area, we dug around to see what local beliefs existed concerning water. Are there water gods? Are there ceremonies to ensure water abundance?
Out of this emerged Mami Wata, the water spirit.
I’d never heard of Mami Wata, yet she is widely acknowledged in most of sub-Saharan Africa. Mami Wata is usually female, frequently taking the form of a mermaid, often with a serpent wrapped around her with its head between her breasts. She is often depicted as having a mirror, which symbolically is meant to represent this side and the other side, or the real world and the spiritual world.
Headdress from Sierra Leone
Not surprisingly, she takes on different names in different places. However, the name Mami Wata or minor variants appear everywhere.
Intrigued, I started reading about her.
As with many beliefs from areas with few written records, there is little consistency. She takes on different forms in different places, and her powers differ from one place to another. She is respected and feared, and has a balance between a dark, divine, mysterious, and angelic existence.
Mami Wata appears in the oral histories of early African societies. The Dogon’s creation myth tells the stories of Mami Wata and traces her existence to more than 4000 years ago. Mesopotamian myths also tell of the great water goddess in their story of creation. There she was known as Mami Aruru - the creator of life.
African cultures believe the etymology of her name is Coptic. In the Ethiopian Coptic language, the word “mama” was used as a description of truth and wisdom and the term “uat-ur” meant ocean water. Another definition of the name traces to the early Sudanese society where the word wata referred to a woman. The name is often linked to a single entity but represents the strongest and most significant of all water spirits that exist.
However Western scholars have a different perspective, probably due to the obvious incongruities. First, the name: it is thought that it is pidgin English for Mama Water. Second, the mermaid shape also smacked of Western influence since many old sailing boats had a mermaid prow.
As far as I can see, all African cultures regard her as the guardian of water, and some cultures don’t fish or swim on certain days to give her a chance to rest.
I wonder if this is a place of worship or just exterior decoration.
She is regarded as providing spiritual and material healing to her worshippers.
For women, she is a giver of fertility and protector of women and children.
However, she has a nasty side too. With a number of variations in story, she seduces men then demands that they remain faithful to her. If they comply, she promises them great wealth and success. If they don’t, death or failure.
Man being seduced.
Worship of Mami Wata is so widespread in West. Africa that a church has emerged to worship her. Wikipedia has the following to say about the Mati Wata priesthood:
In the coastal region from Benin, Ghana and Togo Mami Wata is most prominent deity. An entire hierarchy of the Mami Wata priesthood exist in this region to officiate ceremonies, maintain the shrines, conduct healing rituals, and initiate new priests and priestesses into the service of various Mami Wata deities.
On February, 15, 2020 at 9:00 AM in the city of Cotonou, Benin, Hounnon Behumbeza, a high priest of Vodou and Mami Wata. was officially appointed the Supreme Chief of Mami Wata. As an indication of how revered Mami Wata is in the region, Hounnon Behumbeza's coronation as Supreme Chief of Mami Wata was broadcast live on various television news programs, and featured in local newspapers. The coronation was attended by hundreds of priests from around the region, and the highest dignitaries of Vodou and the Mami Wata tradition. Also in attendance were Benin Republic's minister of culture and several local government officials.
Hounnon Behumbeza, Supreme Chief of Mami Wata
It has been fascinating reading about Mami Wata. I had no idea beforehand that she even existed, let alone that she had such a widespread following.
Where we are in the book, Kubu is heading off to the banks of the Kavango River to meet Mami Wata. As pantsers, we can't wait to see what happens.
You can listen to renowned South African trumpeter, Hugh Masakela play his Mami Wata song here.
And you can watch a bizarre short video about Mami Wata here.
And you can visit her Facebook page here.