Tuesday, January 10, 2017

When worlds collide

Truth is stranger than fiction (or it makes a decent approximation)
All my stories are just that -- fiction, made up characters, situations I dreamed up, my own private fantasies made public. But from time to time something happens, something real and memorable or just plain bizarre – a person, an event, a chance meeting, and those nuggets just have to find their way into one of my books. There are several examples, but I’m going to share just one of them here...
The first meeting between my hero and heroine in Chameleon, a book I wrote about two years ago and still one of my favourites, is more or less exactly a recreation of an actual encounter I had in Turkey. Chameleon is set in Morocco, but we allow ourselves a little artistic license, naturally.
I had found myself alone on a coach, or more accurately sitting on a wall beside a coach, using the shade cast by the huge vehicle as a way of keeping cool in the absence of air conditioning. The rest of my party had disappeared somewhere, I forget where, but they would be back before long. I sat, in my universal uniform of the Western tourist – shorts, T shirt, sunglasses, flip flops and smelling of Ambre Solaire – savouring the solitude as I gazed across the arid Anatolian landscape. A metaled road snaked away into the distance, finally disappearing over the brow of a hill. As I watched, something moved at the crest of the rise.
Almost imperceptible, I watched and I waited until it happened again. There. Definitely. Something.
A speck came into view at the very brow of the hill, swaying softly, bobbing about, growing larger, longer. Then another speck appeared, and the two continued to grow until they merged into one. Intrigued now I peered into the setting sun and after a few minutes I could make out the shape.
It was a donkey, a woman seated on its back. The pair moved in effortless synchronization as the animal ambled slowly down the incline in the forty-four degree heat. She was cloaked, her hood covering her hair and most of her face. The reins were loosely twisted around the fingers of one hand though she made no attempt to guide the donkey. No need, he knew his way. Her other hand was tucked within her voluminous blue and red zig zagged cloak.
On either side of the saddle hung a panier, each with a lid concealing the contents. I wondered what she might have in there – an iPod, a mobile phone, a few loaves and fishes…
She could have easily passed for an extra on Ben Hur, transplanted straight from a biblical scene. This woman would have fit right in on the Mount of Olives two thousand years ago, listening to talk of Beatitudes or offering to wash the Messiah’s feet.  
As she approached and drew level with me I was struck be the sheer timelessness of our world. So much changes, whirls by in the blink of an eye, yet some things remain the same. Immovable, not to be improved upon. A donkey and a thick cloak served well enough two millennia ago, and they are still the right kit for that inhospitable terrain.
As she passed where I sat I looked straight at her, and she at me. Our eyes met. I lifted a hand in a timeless gesture of greeting. She returned it, tilted her chin in a slight nod. We exchanged a smile, then she was already past me and moving away again. I watched her until she was out of sight. She never looked back at me.
Where else, I wondered, where else in the world might two women, so different, so completely opposite, find themselves in the same place at the same time and both have a perfect right to be there? Neither of them out of place, neither one be in the least surprised to see the other? Where else would they exchange a polite nod and continue on their separate ways?
This memory has stayed with me for over twenty years now, and of course I had to enshrine that enigmatic scene in a book. Here it is, in an excerpt from the opening chapter in Chameleon.

Ethan straightened again and took another long drink. As he bent to place the bottle back in the car, something caught his eye. A glimmer, a slight tremble of motion in the distance. He squinted back along the road as it snaked away across the hillside, shading his eyes to focus. Something glinted, shimmered, right out there on the horizon. He walked around to the boot of his car, where his field equipment lay stowed, and opened it to grab his binoculars from his rucksack. He raised them to his eyes, adjusted the focus and blinked in surprise as the hazy vision solidified.
A head. A woman by the look of it, heavily cloaked, emerging slowly over the horizon. Her pace slow, sedate, rolling slightly. Ethan watched, puzzled, but soon understood the reason for the curious gait. Another head, this one grey with long ears pointing straight towards the heavens—a donkey. As they crested the hill, Ethan saw that the cloaked woman sat astride the animal, perfectly in tune with its leisurely pace as the beast ambled placidly along the ribbon of tarmac. Neither the woman nor her mount appeared to be in a hurry. As Ethan watched through his binoculars, a pair of shoulders appeared, also shrouded in a heavy cloak, the fabric enveloping her small figure. She didn’t appear to be guiding the donkey. She had tucked her hands inside the drapes of her clothing, perhaps for protection from the searing heat. Her feet, too, were swathed within the cloak. The ethnic details in the brightly coloured fabric crystallised as he watched. He suspected the multihued woollen fabric to be hand-woven. When the pair came fully into view, Ethan could make out panniers swaying on either side of the beast, one with a small, rolled up carpet peeking from it.
As they made their slow, unruffled progress down the road towards where he stood, Ethan dropped the binoculars onto the passenger seat, preferring to watch them with the naked eye. He stared, unashamed, as they drew nearer, taking in every detail of this pair, so incongruous almost anywhere else yet so perfectly placed here in this unchanging landscape. Ethan strolled to the rear of his car, resting his hip against the boot. He made no pretence of disinterest, not so much as a passing nod. His fascination was total.
The woman and donkey would not have looked out of place in Biblical times, and it struck Ethan that in many ways not much had changed here in over two thousand years—at least on the face of it. He watched as the woman reached up to rearrange her cloak slightly to cover most of her features, the traditional modest feminine gesture so common hereabouts. Now she gave off no clues at all, there was no way he could surmise what might lie hidden beneath the heavy shawl. Long minutes crawled past as the pair covered the distance separating them from Ethan. He regarded them solemnly during the whole of their journey.
At last, they were close enough for him to make eye contact. On impulse—and because it seemed impolite not to—Ethan removed his Ray-Bans and met the woman’s gaze. She looked him in the eye, direct, unafraid. And certainly not so much as hinting at the timid modesty he might have expected. Her eyes were dark, lined in the local kohl, but her Berber heritage was evident. Despite having no other clues to tempt him, Ethan found her eyes oddly beguiling. Intrigued, he would have liked to know her, to chat perhaps. But that would never happen, not here. In this magical, timeless place, worlds passed within inches of each other, beings such as she and he might co-exist, but their lives did not touch, would never touch. They were a million miles apart.
The woman and donkey drew alongside, and Ethan greeted her in the way that seemed natural to him. He nodded, offering her half a smile—polite, distant, acknowledging her presence in this remote place, and his. The woman inclined her head slightly, the movement almost imperceptible but enough. Just enough. As she passed, she dropped her gaze from his, returning her attention to the road in front of her as the donkey carried her onwards.



From the back cover...


When mining engineer Ethan Savage spots the cloaked, veiled woman riding a donkey in the Moroccan desert he could be forgiven for thinking that in some respects nothing much has changed in two thousand years. She would not look out of place in Biblical times.

They pass, nod, smile politely, and go their separate ways, two strangers a world apart.

But when, moments later she rescues him from his crashed car, from the first words she utters Ethan realises appearances can be deceptive. His little Berber peasant is not what she seems.

Shifting effortlessly between her traditional roots in the foothills of the Atlas mountains, and her professional life as the Totally Five Star hotel doctor, Fleur is a human chameleon, able to adapt and blend into any environment. At first irritated, then amused by the handsome stranger, Fleur knows full well the assumptions he’s made about her. As their paths cross once more at the luxurious Totally Five Star hotel where they both work she realises he too is not all he seems. This sexy Englishman holds the key to her most secret and sensual desires, dangerous yearnings she’s kept locked away for years. Now she has a choice to make.

Ethan is only in Marakesh for a few days, then he’ll be gone and she’ll never see him again. No one would ever know, surely it would do no harm? Can she pass up this opportunity?

And once she’s trusted him with her body, experienced all he can offer, will she be able to return to her old life. Or will the sensual chameleon need to reinvent herself once again to fit into his world?

5 comments:

  1. That's a hell of an excerpt. Good choice, Ashe.

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  2. Fantastic evocation of a moment in space -- that transcends time!

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  3. Really nice excerpt, Ashe! Though I confess to some slight disappointment that the story you wrote based on your encounter in Turkey turned out hetero… By the time you wrote, "Where else, I wondered, where else in the world might two women, so different, so completely opposite, find themselves in the same place at the same time and both have a perfect right to be there?" I had forgotten about the "hero and heroine" at the beginning and had gotten primed for very hot f/f romance. ;P

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  4. Definitely an intriguing excerpt. But something about the original description appeals to me more, without any sexual implications.

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  5. Like Annabeth, I wondered about that gaze between women from different cultures, and whether it might lead to either hot sex or some other intense connection: maybe an accident or violent episode in which one woman saves the other. Or maybe Fleur discovers that she has long-lost Berber roots, or her adventurous great-grandfather fathered a child with an unforgettable tribeswoman, from whom he was separated by war. . . there were so many ways the inspiring moment could have been spun.

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