Confessions of a Reader – Book Review: Road to Rebellion by George Hamilton
The way in which younger women were expected to use their sexuality to seduce older men in order to get on in life, was one of the major themes which came across in my research for Carnival of Hope. In her anthropological study of race, class, violence, and sexuality in a Rio favela, entitled Laughter Out of Place, Donna M. Goldstein highlighted some aspects of this:
- Women think the best chance of getting on in life is to seduce older, richer, usually white men, referred to as Coroas.
- Women rise in status when they prove that they can successfully seduce a Coroa.
- Women joke about receiving whiteness and wealth by moving in with a Coroa, but because the man is old, he cannot satisfy them sexually or romantically [so often they may take a young lover, also].
The scene below depicts how some of this research was used in the novel:
Earlier, Dona Benedita had helped Thereza into her best dress, the flowery one with three buttons climbing to a lacy collar. So that the cleft where her breasts met was visible, her mother pulled two buttons and opened the collar. After orange scented water had been dabbed onto her exposed skin, they weaved their way through the alleyways to Seu Carlo’s shack, perched halfway up the northern hillside. He greeted them with a look leaking surprise, but was glad to open his door to them.
Thereza sat on the bench opposite Seu Carlo’s easy chair as her mother had instructed, but her hands clutched at her knees and she stared at a wall. She had only agreed to come because her mind still swayed when she thought about what Tomas had done, and it might also be a way of making amends to Marina.
Seu Carlo offered them cachaça, and hurried to fetch it as though anticipation were gnawing at his groin. It was obvious he sensed they had come to offer him something. After he had given both her and her mother a cup, he slid into his chair and crossed his thin bamboo thighs. He licked his lips as if to make it clear he wanted her, but he wasn’t going to be bled dry to get her. ‘What can I do for you today, Dona Benedita?’
Her mother backed away, so that only she, Thereza, interrupted his vision. He snatched at the bait with a half-starved gape, staring at her over his hoisted cup of rum. ‘Thereza and I were thinking that now you’re retired, you didn’t want to spend all your time looking after a house on your own, Seu Carlo.’
‘Now I’m retired I have more time. I could have done with some help when I was working, but then I was always so busy.’
‘But with your pension you could afford some help, or maybe a wife.’
Her mother wasted no time, as she knew all about his pension, because sometimes when he went into the municipal offices to collect it, she was the one who handed him the envelope. Based on that, she had chosen him from a list of five. It was far more than the wages most there earned, but her mother had said when he collected it, he acted as though it was less than he deserved for the job he had done. Sometimes he complained that on that amount he could not have afforded to stay on in the city, so it was fortunate he had always wanted to settle in the countryside where he was born. He had hinted that he had managed a work gang at a factory further to the north, but any more than that he refused to discuss. Some guessed from his silence that he might have worn the uniform of the hated military police during the dictatorship years. But Thereza doubted if her mother would mind where the money came from. Maybe he had been sensible enough to work miles from his own town, to reduce the chances of being recognized.
‘A man like me has so many freedoms, Dona Benedita. What would I want with a wife to nag and tie me down?’ He licked a pepper-hot coating of rum from his lips and restrained a seeping smile, seemingly enjoying the game, as though it required more skill than a round of dominoes. He cast his reddening eyes over Thereza like a fisherman’s net. But her gaze scurried to the space on the floor in front of her where she had placed her cup, and her body vibrated as gently as a shallow pool which had had the thin veil of its skin pierced.
‘The women you speak of are creaking pieces of furniture, like me, Seu Carlo. But a young wife! She could revive your sap and bear you children.’
For the first time, he turned and looked at Dona Benedita when she said that. A child of his own had never slept in his arms, and no one knew why, because it was rumoured he had planted his seed in enough women. Maybe they had covered over their tracks after taking that illegal operation to get rid of them, because they didn’t trust him to stay. His thoughts seemed to descend into the barest of rooms, and Dona Benedita straightened her spine, as though she sensed it was time to seize her chance, before it vanished as suddenly as his playful mood. ‘Thereza’s young, beautiful, and has always liked you, Seu Carlo.’
‘Is that true, Thereza?’
She gazed up at the spittle stretching to fine threads and breaking between his incontinent lips, his eyes sagging like a spinster’s breasts, and then she nodded and turned away.
‘And what’s such a union to cost, Dona Benedita?’
‘Well, I’m not an expert at such things …’
‘Oh come now, I know you didn’t come here without a figure in mind.’
She held up her empty cup, and Seu Carlo refilled it before she went back to her stool against the wall. ‘Fifty reais a month is a fair price for a girl as beautiful as Thereza.’
‘You must be mad,’ he screamed, leaping out of his chair and rummaging in a cupboard for another bottle of rum to douse the shock. ‘With your knack for inflating prices, perhaps you should have been in that early ‘90s government.’
‘If I had been, then like the rest of those crooks I’d have stolen us a fortune already and we’d be long gone from this place. Then you wouldn’t get your chance with Thereza.’ With his back to them, she winked and flapped a palm at Thereza, signalling her to pull her dress above her knees and remove her hands. Thereza sneered back a refusal, but slid the dress up only an inch on a second asking and tightened her hands on the bench.
‘Seu Carlo, the girl hasn’t been touched by another man—isn’t that so, Thereza?’
With clenched teeth, she nodded as he turned back to her. His eyes glided over her as though examining ripe papayas in the market. ‘Twenty reais,’ he said, pouring himself another drink.
‘Seu Carlo, that’s not a serious offer. A sow at market fetches more than that.’
‘But they can breed eight or nine at a time, Dona Benedita.’
She swallowed her next words before they flew out and donned a blunted smile. ‘I’m not concerned with what you get up to on your own, Seu Carlo, but if Thereza comes to live here there’ll be no sows.’ He took a second to catch onto her meaning and then roared with laughter, spilling a teaspoon of rum. ‘Look at her, Seu Carlo,’ Dona Benedita pleaded.
‘There are many beautiful girls in the shanty,’ he said.
‘But they’re not untouched, and they won’t bear you children like Thereza.’
He stared at Thereza as though weighing her up like a sack of rice, because that was a little more than she would cost him each month if he agreed to Dona Benedita’s ridiculous price. ‘Do you want to live with me, Thereza? I’m a good man and will treat you well.’
Her eyes scoured the floor in silence. ‘It’s up to you, Thereza,’ Dona Benedita said, ‘it’s for all of us.’
Thereza gazed at Seu Carlo and lit a flicker of a smile. ‘The decision is already made for me.’
‘Then it’ll be twenty reais a month now and another ten when we have our first child. But we’ll only be married after the first child. That’s my last offer, Dona Benedita.’ She stuck out her hand and they shook on it, both beaming at the outcome.
Carnival of Hope is on sale ($0.99) at Amazon from 20-26 November 2014.
To coincide with an Ereader News Today Promotion on 21 October 2014, my historical saga Road to Rebellion will be on sale at Amazon for $0.99 ($4.99) until 27 October 2014. Happy Reading.
Road to Rebellion, my latest novel, is a historical saga set in Jamaica during the 18th Century. One of the main characters is Charles Morley, a sugar planter who finds himself having to mediate the confrontations between his slave lover and his wife. But Charles is also a moderator in disputes between other slaves and their owners, for the Maroons who live in the mountains, and amongst the planters who struggle to find the right balance between a harsh or humane form of slavery.
When I wrote the first draft, I had only carried out a small amount of research on the legislative government of Jamaica in the 1700s. I realised I would have to do more when Charles became a councillor partway through the story.
My initial decision to make Charles a councillor was based on the fact that an important historical meeting of councillors takes place in Falmouth later in the story, to vote on whether to make an agreement with the Maroon community living in the mountains. I wanted Dianna, Charles’s wife, to attend the meeting as a representative for him during his illness—partly to demonstrate the way women were excluded from politics at the time.
An earlier scene shows Charles fighting against a rival to be elected as a councillor. But when I did my secondary research on this area, it became apparent that the 12 councillors of the legislature, whose roles were similar to that of peers in the House of Lords in Great Britain, were not elected. The governor of the island in fact recommended them to the King, and the privy-council then selected them.
I wanted to retain both scenes, but to do so in a way which maintained as much historical integrity as possible. If I had a councillor elected, the historians would jump to correct me pretty quickly. So, I had to change Charles’s role to one of the 43 assemblymen of the legislature—who acted like Members of Parliament in Great Britain—so that he could be elected after a rousing campaign against his rival. (Incidentally, only men with a minimum annual income of £300 or net assets of at least £3,000 were allowed to run, and only free-holding men with a minimum annual income of £10 were allowed to vote.)
But in the historical accounts, only councillors attended the meeting that Charles’s wife Dianna attends on his behalf. So what to do? I decided that to have her attend on behalf of her elected assemblyman husband was a lesser historical sin than to have a selected councillor voted in. I hope this does not jar too much with the historians.
Road to Rebellion is now available as both an eBook and in paperback on Amazon. A giveaway of the eBook is being run at LibraryThing (click on the link, select sort by end date, then scroll to giveaways ending on 23 Sep 2014 to find it). There is also a giveaway of the paperback being run on Goodreads, and you can click on the link below to enter.
Thanks to all who entered, and congratulations to the 7 winners of the Road to Rebellion giveaway who reside in Latvia, Romania, Holland, Estonia, Indonesia, and Ireland. Your books have been ordered and should reach you soon. Happy Reading.
Road to Rebellion is a historical novel that had been living in my head for many years, more than fifteen at least. I was due to start writing it in September 2013, but became distracted by another story which I wrote but have not yet published.
Road to Rebellion is the story of a slave and her mistress who each raise a son for the master of a Jamaican plantation and struggle for supremacy on the Morley Estate. This brings them, and eventually their sons, to a confrontation as destructive as the Maroon rebellion which erupts in the mountains around them.
Because the novel had been living inside me for so long, every now and then I would daydream about a character (not whilst handling dangerous machinery), a line of dialogue, a plot point, and a scene, and over the years I jotted down the most compelling ideas. One of those scenes was the night on which the two women gave birth.
I was almost halfway through the first draft of the novel when I was approaching that particular flagship scene. I found myself grinning with anticipation for several days before. I knew many of the moments that were going to occur in the scene, but I did not know the precise words that were going to be spoken or the exact actions that would be taken by all of the characters. But I knew enough to tell me that this would be one of the most significant turning point scenes in the novel. So I was looking forward to seeing it written down. For me, it was like having planned an adventure holiday for many years, and now the day had approached when I departed.
The scene is one which intensifies the conflict between the two main characters, the slave Catalina and her mistress, Dianna, and pushes the novel into another direction. The boys who they then raise, Horatio, son of the slave Catalina, and Edward, son of Mistress Dianna, become significant characters, taking on the main roles two-thirds of the way into the novel, although the women continue to remain important. I was confident about this approach because it had worked in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, where in the first half of the book the adults are the main characters, but in the second half the main characters’ two young sons take on the lead. But it is also partly the way in which family sagas work, where a younger generation take on the story at some point.
You now have the opportunity to read Road to Rebellion, and I hope you enjoy the many twists and surprises within it as much as I did when they first revealed themselves to me.
Road to Rebellion is now available at Amazon
In the past, I have developed and written my blog posts about my novels after the novel has been written. This has involved me going back over parts of the novel and my notes, trying to find things to write about. At times this approach has been quite frustrating and time consuming.
This time around, I have been identifying ideas for future blog posts as I write my current novel, a historical family saga with a dose of colonial romance and a slave rebellion, set in the West Indies, and it has been a much easier and more organic process.
There have been emotional moments where the details are best captured at the time they are occurring. Such as the several days when I walked down the street with a big smile on my face as though I was preparing to go on my holidays in a few days. But that was all because I was getting close to the day when I would write one of the flagship scenes that had been in my head for more than ten years. I was excited when I jotted down the idea for that scene years ago, and it felt even better as the moment approached, as I was keen to see how it turned out, and I have to say, I am very happy with it.
Then there was the real historical character, Alexander Lindsay, 6th Earl of Balcarres, Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica from 1794-1801, who features quite heavily in the last act of the novel. How was I to pitch this character when there were two widely contrasting views as to his intentions leading up to the second Maroon war on the island? Rather than concentrating on historians’ views about who he was, I have looked at first hand evidence such as letters, considered his previous actions, and any evidence that points to his motivations. I think all these things have given me a good indication of what drove him at the time, and I hope to reflect it in the novel.
The historians are not impartial. Oh boy, have I learned that. After reading parts of R C Dallas’s The History of the Maroons, first published in 1803, it really opened my eyes to that. His view on where he saw leadership qualities as residing, in British citizens and an aristocrat if possible, is revealing in why he would have thought Maroons did not have these qualities and would be quite happy to be dependent on their British masters. He wrote such comments, even though the Maroons had previously fought a war so that they could be free and rule over themselves. So in reading historical texts, it’s important to know something about the authors world view, as it’s then possible to better interpret some of the conclusions that they come to.
There will of course be the usual things to blog about for a historical novel:
- What was society like at a time when slavery was widely accepted as the norm, especially in the Caribbean?
- When I had a choice of historical events around which to build a scene to highlight a character’s actions, how and why did I select a particular event?
- I may even blog about the nature of Georgian homes, and dare I say it, the politics behind women’s clothes.
I will write the full blog posts when the manuscript is with my editor. Then they will be posted over a period, beginning around the time that the novel is published, in about June-July 2014. So I hope you will look out for those posts.
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I try not to lock myself away, cutting myself off from outside influences as I write what I hope will be my next blockbuster. That can lead to some interesting discoveries.
While writing a novel, I think it’s a good idea to take notice of what’s going on around me, because if my theme is as universal as I think it is, I am bound to see or hear something which helps me to strengthen an element in my story. This was the case with the character flaw for Tomas in my novel Carnival of Hope, and also the theme.
I was listening to a radio program about the late Steve Jobs, and something was said of his character which made me understand better what Tomas’ character flaw and the theme of the novel was. Tomas, like was said of Steve Jobs, has “…a vision so pure that he couldn’t accommodate it to the imperfections of the world.” In Steve Jobs case, it meant him working until he thought a product was perfect before releasing it. But in Tomas’ case, living in a poor North-east Brazilian shanty with few choices in his life, his idealism causes him to wait for the perfect solution, the right time to act, while others around him who accept faith, hope, and dreams, are willing to take the incremental imperfect changes to their lives that come from acting on these. This puts at risk Tomas’ relationship with Thereza, the woman whom he loves, as she is ready to follow her dreams and win a trip to the southern Cities, via a Carnival competition, where she might find work, no matter how imperfect this may seem. Ultimately, this puts both their lives in danger as they become embroiled with ruthless people trafficking gangs. But understanding better who Tomas was meant that I was able to intensify the conflict between Tomas and Thereza.
So that’s why I don’t lock myself away when writing, I continue to engage, because my senses are buzzing with issues raised in my novel in progress, and I am bound to see, hear, smell or taste something that will find its way into my story.
Below is one of the scenes from Carnival of Hope which best exemplifies Tomas’ pure vision:
The eBook of Carnival of Hope, a suspense novel set in Brazil, is on a Countdown Deal Sale at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk from 4-10 March 2014.
Carnival of Hope is being featured on Tuesday March 4th 2014 at eBookSoda, a new readers’ site where they’ll send you ebook recommendations tailored to your taste. www.ebooksoda.com.
Have you read any stories recently where you’ve been able to say, that’s where the writer got the idea for that scene from?
When Tomas woke, the sun had lain down and a meagre calmness had returned to him. All he had to do was avoid staying in one place for more than a few hours. That way he might learn if anyone was searching for him before they found him, and also keep his mother and friends safe. He drank a mug of water and then trekked across to Thereza’s hut, using back alleyways and looking over his shoulder once or twice. Dona Benedita peered out of the cracked door with her usual foul face. ‘Thereza’s busy,’ she said.
‘What, don’t you believe me? Do you want to come in and see?’ She pulled back the door.
‘No, Dona Benedita, I’ll speak to her another time.’
Tomas turned and left. She was standing guard at the door because they were making the carnival costume. They would have gone to any lengths to make sure no one saw it and stole their idea, though come the day of the competition, dozens of the costumes would be the same. The worry was eating him raw from the insides. He went to wait at the side of a hut behind theirs, as he knew Thereza had heard him, and if she could, she would find some errand to run and come out to see him.
By the time she came, carrying a blanket over her arm, his pacing had worn a scar into the dirt. She walked a few strides one way then spun in another direction, darting into the alleyway where he was waiting. A wave of gratitude that she had made the effort rushed over him, as he was now in need of her support. His lips brushed against her cheek. ‘Thanks for coming.’
‘I can’t stay long. I told Mama that I was taking the blanket to lend to my godmother.’
‘Come.’ He took her hand and led her further behind the hut.
‘What’s the matter?’ she said. ‘You look odd.’
‘Nothing, I just woke.’ She continued to gaze into his watchful eyes, and he looked away. ‘What’ve you been doing?’ he said.
‘Helping Mama to do something.’
Making a costume, she meant. ‘Are you taking part in the carnival competition?’ he said.
‘Why are you asking me that?’ He dug into his pocket, pulled out the feather that he had found, and held it up. She took a step back with the deepest of breaths. Then her fists pressed into her gently rounded hips as if she had sprouted wings.
‘Was that you following us the other night?’
‘I wanted to make sure you were safe.’
‘You frightened Mama and me.’
‘Are you taking part?’ he demanded.
‘What if I were? There are only jobs on the plantations for you men. Then when we have children you leave us to fend for ourselves.’
‘I wouldn’t do that, Thereza, you know me better than that.’
‘Mama thought she knew some of the men she was with, Tomas, and look at her.’
‘That won’t happen to you, I promise.’
‘You can’t promise anything. Seu Jacques is sick and he’s been laid off. Mama wants me to marry one of the men on the hill to help the family out.’
‘Who? Did you tell her I’ll be on a minimum wage by the end of the year?’
‘Did you get the new students?’
He looked away and breathed a deep sigh. ‘I’m not sure about them.’
‘Maybe we could manage on what you make now while I try to find work. I could cook or clean for some of the ladies on the north side.’
‘Do you know anyone?’
‘Not yet, but someone may be hiring.’
‘I’ve lost all my students, Thereza.’
The blanket fell loose in her hand and dragged in the dirt. ‘All of them, they’ve left?’
He explained to her about the missing book and Dona Menzies giving up on him. They were silent then, as a full moon hung in a vast sky littered with stars. Tomas gazed over her head at them. How could such enduring beauty exist alongside their suffocating lives?
‘If I take part in carnival, I may win enough for both of us to go. You can’t stay here now.’
‘I can’t leave Mama, Thereza, Papa wouldn’t have wanted that.’
‘Did you really make a promise to your father, Seu Tomas, or are you afraid?’
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘You don’t get to decide if or when to eat most days, so how can I expect you to make such a big decision?’
‘I’m trying, Thereza, just give me some time.’
‘There’s more for both of us to choose from down South. I’ll find it easier to get work.’
‘Because there’s more doesn’t mean it’s any better.’
‘Well, I want to try.’
‘But … what about us?’
‘What about us, Seu Tomas? What are you doing to help us? I’m hope for Mama and my sisters.’ She snatched up the blanket and made to go, but he grabbed hold of her arm.
‘Mama says they decide the carnival winners before the dance … and the life of workers in the South is hell.’
‘It’s our lives which are hell. I’ve heard that they have everything they want.’
‘You’ve never been there, so how do you know?’
‘I’ve seen them on the TV in the municipal offices, and in the magazines.’
‘Thereza!’ Tomas laughed.
‘Then how do you suddenly know that life there is hell? What about the people you’ve helped?’
The clatter of cans and boxes caused them to fall silent, staring at each other. Tomas signalled to her to stay and wandered down the alleyway, searching between the huts, but there was no one there. When he came back, he took her arm and led her to the other side of the alleyway. ‘Is it all right?’ she said.
‘I think so,’ Tomas said, his eyes and ears pricked like an animal on alert. He watched for a while longer before returning to their conversation, dampening his tune. ‘Look, Thereza, the people I’ve helped may do better to stay here and help their families instead of chasing what they think may lie in the South.’
‘None of us knows what’s down South waiting for us, Tomas, but whatever it is must be better than this. Don’t you want to find out?’
He didn’t believe in their dreams. The dreams of the women going south and finding a rich coroa, of the men finding high paying jobs and buying their own homes. It was all the same as the wishful incantations of the candomblézeiros to their orisha deities, and nothing had changed. How could moving south put more on the table for them, when they would find men like the mayors and Giomars of this world wherever they went? He had taught those people in the hope that when enough of them were educated and ready to stand up as equal men and women, it would be impossible for the few to deny them, and then they might be able to develop their own towns and villages; that would be his perfect solution. But he had no time for the anaesthetic of dreams, which had prompted the young, fit, and healthy to seek him out in the first place, to learn to read the few words that some said would secure them a job in a car plant, or caring for the children of a rich family, leaving the old and sick in the countryside to fend for themselves.
Thereza clutched at his hand with the force of a man. ‘If I take part and win enough, we could both get work there.’
‘What about our mamāes and all the young ones? When we leave what will become of them?’
‘We can’t feed them on the ideas which remain in your head. We can help them by going.’
‘Is that what your mother says?’ Tomas prised his hand free and slid his fingers through his curled hair, black as the Sertão night. He chuckled at the thought of all those migrants having become as fat as the landowners, and once they had secured their places at the tables of the rich, forgetting about the people they had left back home. ‘Thereza, how you love to dream.’
‘At least I have seen the life I want to live in my dreams and can tell you what it looks like; have you ever seen this equality and dignity that you talk about?’
Tomas’ back stiffened. ‘Has anyone you know sent enough back to help their families, or returned to visit with all this wealth of theirs?’
‘We could do better than them. That’s why I worked so hard when you taught me.’
‘I don’t know.’
He bent to lift the hanging blanket from the dirt, but she snatched it from him. ‘If we spend all our lives here, then our minds will never be opened the way you said; I can’t accept that now, Seu Tomas.’ She turned to go, tainted with bitterness now.
‘I cannot make you change your mind?’ Tomas asked.
‘If you want me you have to do something to help yourself and us. You need to try something new.’
‘What the hell do you expect me to do in less than two weeks?’
‘Nothing, like you always do,’ she said, and retreated down the alleyway leading to her godmother’s hut.
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