Murder and Mayhem

History never really says goodbye. History says, see you later.” Eduardo Galeano   

“There were always feuds and misunderstandings in our family,” my father said this week out of the blue. I’ve heard similar words in the past.

“And murder.”

“What do you mean?”

“Even in a family, not everyone gets along. There can be disappointments, arguments and mayhem.”

“Yes, but murder?”

“I don’t know too much because I never met my grandparents or great-grandparents. I never knew anyone in my extended family.”

And yet through coincidental encounters, we’ve been fortunate enough to meet some of our extended family, first in the United States, then in my grandfather’s ancestral home in Kyparissia. It’s these encounters and words such as murder, vendetta, and we were told never to talk about how your great grandfather died, uttered in many conversations that sent me, a fiction writer, on the journey to discover what happened in my family.

What I learned provided an outline for my new novel. Too many have gone now and along with them, the truth, or at least their version of it. So anything I couldn’t find, I made up. Who knows what else I’ll discover. Still, the way in which family history plays its way back into our lives continues to fascinate me. I love the fact that none of us can truly outrun it.

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

Canada Day

The fact is Canadians understand that immigration, that people fleeing for their lives, that people wanting to build a better life for themselves and their kids is what created Canada, it’s what created North America.” Justin Trudeau   

“We came here for a better life for you,” my father says any time I ask him why we came to Canada. “And your sister and brother.”

“Wouldn’t it have been easier to just move to Greece from Cairo. It was our homeland,” I reiterate. “And so much closer to what we all knew.”

Yes, but Greece didn’t have the opportunities Canada offered. I had a job the day after we arrived, owned a house a few years later, and was accepted and made to feel I belonged. We built a good life here for you and your siblings.”

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Power to Transform

Art has the power to transform, to illuminate, to educate, inspire and motivate.” Harvey Fierstein   

This week we completed the last in our Spring Reading Series for 2018. Four award winning authors—Chelene Knight (Dear Current Occupant), John Mavin (Rage), Arlene Paré (The Girls with Stone Faces) and Timothy Taylor (The Rule of Stephens) took the stage with our very own Rebecca Wood Barrett hosting the evening’s event.

The glimpse the authors provided into the worlds they were writing about was both inspiring and humbling to me. I left knowing that as a writer I have to continue to strive to be better and the only way to do that is to continue to practice my art.

And as event organizer (yes, the other hat I wear), I was reminded again and again of why I do what I do. Various members of the audience took the time to find me and thank me for a wonderful evening of words, stories and discussion. “Who knew you could get this in a ski town,” someone said. “What an incredible evening,” another person told me. “Thank you for doing this.”

Its the authors and our moderator that deserve our thanks. So I thank you again for all you do. Thank you to Dan Ellis at Armchair Books for always having our authors’ wonderful books available at our events. And to you, our audience, thank you for your support.  The literary arts in Whistler would not exist without you.

Now mark your calendars: this year’s Whistler Writers Festival is October 11th to 14th. Tickets go on sale on August 13th.

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

With Many Thanks

Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.” Theodore Roosevelt  

Last week I went to a friend’s celebration of life. A number of people spoke about the impact my friend had had on their lives. Each eloquent speech reiterated who he was—inclusive, loving, funny, sometimes crass and always genuinely interested in the other person’s point of view. And in the male dominated work I was doing back then, my friend and colleague treated me like an equal and that wasn’t always the case with others. But that’s another story.

His daughter also spoke. Her memories of her father were summed up in what she said he used to tell her, “If someone asks you for anything and you can give it, give it freely.”

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I Know You

With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.” William Shakespeare  

“You know what I like about Whistler?” My dad asked last week when I suggested that he come back with me the next time I visit him in July.

“The mountains, the scenery?”

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Illuminating Worlds

Better to illuminate than merely to shine, to deliver to others contemplated truths than merely to contemplate.” Thomas Aquinas   

I haven’t been blogging over the past few weeks because I’ve been visiting and helping my aging father.  He’s fine overall. His memory sometimes clear, other times incredibly fuzzy and all of these reversals in the span of ten minutes. Despite it all, I’m grateful to be here with him and to all of you who checked in to see if I was okay. I so appreciate your friendship and concern and the kind words about my blogs. Thanks for reading and commenting on them. And thanks for being in my corner.

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Buoyed By Memories

It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” Babe Ruth   

I used to work with a handwriting analyst. The work we did at the time—consulting for the Italian Ministry of Finance—had nothing to do with this skill he’d studied in university and later used during his military duty. By the time we met and worked together, he did these analyses simply to pass the time over coffee or lunch.

He was a lovely man and we had long conversations about the state of the world, the various projects we were involved in and life in general.

So when he suggested he’d examine my handwriting, I jumped at the opportunity.

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Am I Writing for An Audience or for Me?

To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.” Allen Ginsberg   

This was the question one of my students posed this week. Another said that she wrote for herself. She didn’t give a damn what anyone else thought about it. Yet another student indicated that he could never write if he thought it was just for himself. “There has to be a larger audience for my work or I couldn’t do it.”

This discussion started because the student who asked the question had used a metaphor in her submitted story that was meant to represent a place of security and safety. Not all the students were familiar with the reference. She then explained it and in doing so, her intention for the story was completely different than the way we had all read it.

You can’t really do this in a story. Well, you could. But what’s the point? You don’t want to confuse the reader. You want to enrich their experience.

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Thinkers Among Us

A bookstore is one of the only piece of evidence we have that people are still thinking.” Jerry Seinfeld  

Yesterday, April 28th was Independent Book Store Day. This movement was started three years ago by Authors for Indies. Authors take time away from their own projects to work in an independent bookstore, meeting and greeting customers and talking about books. You can’t really call that work. It was a pleasure to spend my time, giving back to one of the best bookstores in the world, Armchair Books. Dan Ellis the owner has supported both my writing career and the literary programming I’m crazy enough to organize including, the Whistler Writers Festival, the Authors in the School Program, the Writer in Residence Program and the Spring Reading Series.

None of these programs would exist, let alone thrive without Dan’s support. So this blog is my thank-you note to Dan and Armchair for years of unwavering support. I’m also very grateful to all the readers who buy and read books.

Yes, Jerry, there still exist thinkers among us. Thankfully!

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

My Two-Cents

Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” Maya Angelou

My latest manuscript spans over 100 years of Greek history starting with the end of WWI, through to what the Greeks call the catastrophe, all the way to present day. Greece has in this period (not to mention the period long before this) experienced a great deal of extremes. It is unbelievable to me how nations forget their histories and resort to populism as so many countries including Greece are doing right now.

But in a time of despair, people forget their history and their values and are too eager to blame others and look for easy, quick solutions. The governments they elect mirror, and capitalize on, what they are experiencing. And there is always the group of people who feel marginalized and who, when they find a voice that speaks to them, will rise.

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Useless Worry

Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” Leo Buscaglia

When I worry, as I have done a lot of recently, I repeat Mr. Buscaglia’s quote. I also ask myself: why are you thinking about these things? What are you afraid might happen? Sometimes understanding the underlying cause helps, other times, not so much. I run or exercise to get my mind off of my worries. Breathlessness seems to help erase anything else I’m thinking about.

Another strategy is talking things through. It takes me a while to do this. I have a tendency to mull problems over on my own before I share them. I know this is hard to believe since I’m usually such an open book. But don’t let appearances fool you.

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Endurance and Survival

We don’t know how strong we are until we are forced to bring that hidden strength forward.” Isabel Allende

On Friday, April 13th the Whistler Writing Society will be hosting the Outdoor Endurance and Survival reading event at the Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre in Whistler. You might ask yourself what does Stella know about outdoor anything? Basically I don’t. Sure, I live in an outdoor sports-obsessed community, but I remain a proud city-girl. Our audiences however, have asked for an event that showcases the writing of outdoor adventurers, explorers and athletes and I like to deliver.

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Stuck

If you get stuck, draw with a different pen.” Paul Arden

“I don’t understand how you can start with so much stuff and when you get to the middle, you can’t think of anything else.” She’s sitting in the passenger seat, her hands open and flapping as a frustrated bird might do in an attempted take off. We’ve just set off for the science centre.

So what do you do?” I ask. I’ve got two others in the back seat I’m keeping an eye on because they have a propensity to argue when they sit too close to each other. The roads are icy and the traffic is backed up because of an accident. I need to pay attention, yet I want to hear how she tackles this problem of hers. It’s mine too.

“I go over it again and again to see if I get any ideas.”

“Does that help?”

“Sometimes. But what really helps is to just keep thinking about it. When an idea comes to my head, I make notes, I don’t give up.”

She’s ten and a budding novelist and artist. I’m her 100-year-old (according to her) grandmother, and stuck at the moment too (and I’m not talking about the traffic). She’s reminded me to go back to the page. It’s been scary to do that lately. Nothing seems to come, nothing useable anyway.

The traffic has eased a bit. She looks at me. “It’s the only thing I can do. There are no other tricks to getting the story done. Right?”

“Right.”

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

Another Life Lesson

The best protection any woman can have…courage.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton

“We don’t want to put bubble wrap around him.”

Why not? It’s my job to protect him, as he did for me when I was a child. I wanted to say this, but she continued with her probing questions. I had taken my father to his yearly appointment with his cardiologist. We were in her office.

She asked him a number of questions about his lifestyle, what he’d been doing, and how he was feeling. “Oh, I feel pretty good,” he said.

My father never complains and because his memory is fading, he doesn’t remember his recent hospital stay for angina, or his need to go up and down the stairs to lug his vacuum cleaner, or that he insists on shovelling snow even though we have someone who does this for him.

I filled in the blanks and gave her the details. “I remind him that he doesn’t have to do these things, but he does them anyway.”

“Do you feel out of breath when you shovel the snow?” she asked. “Do you have any pain in your chest when you climb back up the steps?”

“No, I relax when I need to,” my father replied. “Then I start again.”

“I’m afraid he’ll go outside and forget his jacket and collapse in the snow or he might fall down the stairs or …”

“You don’t want to shrink his life,” the cardiologist said.

I’m reminded of how protected I was as a child, how I fought against that stifling we don’t want anything bad to happen cage of love and concern. I tell myself to relax. And, those of you who know me know what a feat this is. It takes a great deal of courage to let go. I haven’t mastered it, but I’m trying to let him live whatever he has left of his life. I know it’s the right thing to do, but a daughter never stops being a daughter. As I think this, I’m reminded of what my mother used to say; a parent never stops being a parent.

How is it that I’m still relearning these life lessons?

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

Oh, To Be An Artist

Many things which cannot be overcome when they are together yield themselves up when taken little by little.” Plutarch

This week, I finished another section of my new novel. It’s not really a novel yet, but I’m working on it. Every word, every sentence, every chapter, and then every section is a triumph. It keeps me motivated even though I have no idea where I’m going.

I was reminded of what it means to be an artist according to Georgia O'Keeffe (https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-artist-georgia-okeeffe) in an article sent to me by one of my students. Yes, Ms. O’Keeffe was a visual artist and I’m a writer, but the four lessons she lived by—observe the world around you, closely, hungrily, organization is key to productivity, don’t sweat mistakes, learn from them, and pay no attention to trends, be yourself—apply to all artistic pursuits.

Happy writing!

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

Roots

Roots are not in a landscape or a country, or a people, they are inside of you.” Isabel Allende

I’ve wanted to do this for a long time. I told myself it would be another piece of information, giving me more links to those connections I’ve long pined for.

I did some research and read a number of different articles including those that told me not to do it. I thought about it some more.

The website extoled the ease by which I could proceed and listed everything I would discover. So I leaped, or rather, ordered, spit (really), and then prepared myself to discover a new world and another piece of my puzzle.

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Raw And Still Sore – Apparently

Writers are not just people who sit down and write. They hazard themselves. Every time you compose a book your composition of yourself is at stake.” E.L. Doctorow

Last Saturday I gave a reading to the on-line students in Simon Fraser University’s The Writing Studio program (TWS). Prior to any reading I practice my presentation, determining which sections I’m going to read and how I will introduce them. This was the first time I’d read from both my novels in one session.

I immediately noticed that two of my key protagonists in Nicolai’s Daughters and The Brink of Freedom were children who were left behind by a parent or parents.

Writing a novel can take years (or at least it does for me). My characters become family. Even when I’m not writing, I’m thinking about them. Then the novel is published. Yeah! Someone likes it as much as I think I do (this relationship with my work is complicated: sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it).

A tour follows. I’ve read at festivals, visited book clubs and schools, and when the promotion is done, I eventually put the novel away and start something new.  

As an author, I create new characters and throw different problems at them to solve.

Or at least that’s what I thought. Well that is until last Saturday. Themes of abandonment run through my work. I’ve never been deserted. At least, I don’t think I have.  And yet here I’d created two protagonists that had been.

My family immigrated to Canada when I was about the same age as my characters.

Leaving something you were so rooted in for something completely foreign can destabilize a person. I get that. But who knew the abandonment I was writing about and creating for my characters was touching something raw and still sore inside me.

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

Exploring the Terrain

It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” E.L. Doctorow

Did you know where your novel would end? How the story would unfold? Students, book club members, and most people, who have read my work, ask me these questions.

And my answer is always the same. I never do.

This is strange coming from an obsessive-compulsive planner, but my actions and behaviour at my day job and just about everything else I do are completely separate from how I pursue and practice my craft.

My new projects start with something that catches my attention. A question or two usually follow. Why? What if? What would happen next?

And off I go. Exploring the terrain, I take in what I’m able to see in the shadows: a character’s shame, fears, and hopes. Slowly their motivations come into view. And their story unfolds.

It’s not a quick process. In fact, I have to be incredibly patient, more so than what comes naturally to me. My eyes remain wide open for every turn because along with impatience, I also suffer from night blindness. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it can be a great journey. I remind myself of this whenever I fear what’s ahead.

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

That Critic

A word after a word, after a word is power.” Margaret Atwood

I give this advice to writers all the time, yet find it hard to truly believe myself, particularly when my writing isn’t flowing. Mind you, when does writing ever flow?

Staring at my meagre daily word count I wonder how I’m ever going to complete my current project. It’s demoralizing. And then the negative self-talk begins.

Is that it? Why can’t you do more? Figure this out? Why are you such an idiot?

And on it goes. We all have that inner critic no matter what line of work we’re in.

The question is what we do about it.

In my case, I listen to that critic giving her as much space and time to hit me with whatever she’s got. Then I fight back. I shut her up by showing up, no matter the circumstance or excuse. And man, I can come up with a lot of excuses.

I draft a to-do list every night for the following day. The first thing on that list is: Write. I wake up early. I go to my desk (or plop myself on the floor in the spare room when I’m visiting my dad or in the bathroom if I’m in a hotel and don’t want to disturb my husband) and I reread what I’ve written. Those words and sentences and twists and turns weren’t there the day before. I created them. One word at a time.

Reminding myself of this moves me forward and silences the critic.

She never completely disappears, needling at me when I least expect it. But perhaps I need her. There is nothing like a battle to bolster determination.

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

Detour Ahead – Part 2

See any detour as an opportunity to experience new things.” H. Jackson Brown Jr.

I spent last weekend reading the printed pages of my new novel-in-progress. Interesting experience. And I mean that in the best possible way.

It was good to read my manuscript in one sitting, to see that I had built links in the first pages that bore fruit in later chapters. I like the story and how it’s unfolding. The characters, for the most part, are fleshed out.

I’m experimenting with the introduction of new protagonists in each section and overall it seems to work, but it’s too early to tell how successful this approach will be. Still I confirmed for myself that it’s worth pursuing.

I was also able to see some blatant inconsistencies I wouldn’t have been able to catch if I’d simply continued going forward.

On the word front, I realized how much I Iove descriptors like shiver, tremble, quiver and shake. You’d think I was writing about an earthquake. Talk about overuse. So shuddering with trepidation, I crossed out many of these lovely words. This forced me to delve further into what my characters were experiencing.

Reading my work in progress helped me map out a way forward. I’m sure I’ll get stuck again, but this detour taught me that going back is not always a bad thing.

Onward!

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

Detour Ahead – Part 1

What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it’s supposed to be.” Anonymous

The one piece of advice I give about writing is: keep going, get it down and save revision for later. For me, editing is so much easier than creation. And when I’m honest with myself I admit it’s my way of procrastinating. I don’t know where I’m going so why not tinker. But if I continue to fix and revise what I have, I’ll never get the project done. Realizing this little tidbit helped me get my first novel done.

I’m about to shake things up, take a detour.

I have printed the pages of my third manuscript this week with the intention of reading what I have and making changes longhand.

I feel a little lost at the moment with my project. Not sure where I’m going. I tell myself to keep at it anyway, but if feels a bit hollow. I’m not committed, although I have to say the more I go forward the more I discover the story. Hm, perhaps I should rethink this diversion.

Still it’s good to shake things up a bit and see where it takes me. Stay tuned. I’ll likely have more to say about this in the next blog.

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

Critique Group – A Gift

Critique, feedback, reaction to one’s work or the way they have presented it, regardless of intention, is a gift.” Mark Brand

Last weekend, I met with three wonderful writers in Squamish. They are writing in various genres and have a variety of different interests, but they’ve come together to discuss their individual projects and find a way by which they might support each other.

During this first meeting they discussed some of the issues writers face: waning motivation, finding time to write, uncertainty about where the story is going and how to know when it’s finished. These topics and other similar ones were coupled with business questions: where to submit work, what are the steps in getting work published.

They shared advice: the more you write, the more you write, even when you don’t think anything is working; show up at your desk and the story will follow; at times you might have to step away because the subject is too difficult to deal with. It’s okay, you’ll come back to it when you’re ready.

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A Time Zone, A Province Apart and Yet Still There

Being there at the moment is everything.” Unknown

You could say that again.

A few weeks ago, the phone rang just before four in the morning. I have the phone by my bed these days because I never know if I’ll get a call from my father or when he’ll need something: reassurance, advice, or help.

And yes, it was Dad. He was complaining of pain and wasn’t sure what to do about it. I’m not a nurse, but I know many of you with elderly parents will attest to how quickly you learn to ask the right questions.

The pain was centered at his side, but because he has had previous heart attacks and none have had typical symptoms (or as his cardiologist says, he doesn’t present with the ordinary indicators), I asked him to call 911 for an ambulance. At that moment, he didn’t know what I meant or what I was talking about. He seemed confused. His speech a bit slurred. I tried to explain. But he still couldn’t grasp what needed to be done. I told him I’d call him back.

I called my siblings who live in Calgary, but they didn’t pick up. I was at a loss at what to do and tried to breathe. My mouth was dry and my stomach felt as though it had dropped down to my wobbly knees.

I called my dad back. The pain was more severe. Again I told him I’d call him back.

How do you call 911 when you’re in Whistler and the emergency is in Calgary? I didn’t know so I called the local RCMP detachment. I got a message. Of course I would it was four in the morning.

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Attitude

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Winston Churchill

I want to know who brought us to this country.

I’ve just dialled my father and before any sort of greeting, this is what he says into the phone. I tell him it was his decision. I was a child and no one asked me. He laughs and says he doesn’t believe me. I had an opinion and a mind of my own even then.

It’s been twenty-five below in Calgary all week. When he opens the front door to let the homecare worker in, he feels the chill enter the house. Why don’t we buy an apartment in Greece? he asks. The same one we rented. It’s perfect.

You’re 88 years old, I respond.

So what’s your point? He says.

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That Time of The Year

I think in terms of a day’s resolutions, not the years’.” Henry Moore

Mr. Moore has a point. Over the last few years, I’ve slowly inched my way towards this mindset. You can imagine this hasn’t come easily to a planner with a need to control every possible detail of her life. Still I try to think of each day and what I want to accomplish that day. If I do that I figure the year will take care of itself.

Yes, I still reflect on the year that was. I can’t help myself. But I see the danger in this more clearly now. It can leave me feeling less than and overwhelmed with what I think I need to fix. And none of that feels very good, nor does it motivate.

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Compassion

Compassion is not a weakness and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism.” Hubert H. Humphrey

Il genti sono bravi.  The people are good. Lucky for me she speaks Italian because my Greek is at best étsi ki étsi (so, so).

I had arrived back in Athens and wondered if she was there. I’d wandered down to see. Yes, she was where she’d always been since I met her in 2014, sitting on the marble stoop of a high-end apartment building selling packages of Kleenex. Many people walk by and refuse to make eye contact. Others give money and don’t take the Kleenex. Some bring her coffee. Others, a croissant. This is how she makes a living and supports herself and her daughters.

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Maybe I Don’t Want to Remember

There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.” Aeschylus

Where is my father? Am I late for work? Is my brother still asleep? I should get him up. What happened to my mother? Where is your mother? Why do I live alone?

These and others like them are some of the questions my father asks me every day. When I remind him very bluntly that his parents, his brother, some of his sisters and my mother are dead, he looks at me with the vacancy of renewed grief and disbelief.

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The Journey – Part 5

I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession.” John Steinbeck

I returned to Canada a few days ago, so I’m still in a state of transition (jet lag, disorientation), but wanted to take the opportunity to thank everyone who made my trip to Greece possible. I’ve written copious notes (yeah, at least some writing was done) and taken lots of pictures. The information I gleaned will help me take the steps I need to complete my new novel. Fingers crossed.

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The Journey – Part 4

Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.” Desiderius Erasmus

After hearing about my latest project and my search for information regarding the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-1922 and the Greeks of Egypt, among other topics, a friend of mine, author, Bessie Livanou recommended I contact the Gennadius Library. I met with senior librarian, Irini Solomonidi this week. More about that in a minute, but first let me tell you about the library. In a word: incredible!

The Gennadius is located in a gorgeous neo-classical building near Mount Lycabettus. It was designed by American architect, Stuart Thompson and opened in 1926 with 26,000 books donated by diplomat and bibliophile, Joannes Gennadius. It now holds over 120,000 books, manuscripts, and archives.

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The Journey – Part 3

Inspiration exists but it has to find you working.” Pablo Picasso

Upon the advice of friends I’ve taken a different tack this week in terms of my writing. I’m absorbing the culture, the vibe and the information that comes my way while I’m in Athens. I write notes, things to remember, information I need to include in my novel. And I set aside an hour each morning to write.

Most of the time I sit and stare at the screen. Other times I look at a scene I’ve created and ask myself if a reader would be able to see or feel what is going on. If I’m lucky I add a little more detail. It’s not much. I know this, but I remind myself that every word is a gift and I let myself be. As a natural doer, this isn’t easy. I know. I know. I’m prone to understatements.

By sitting and focusing on story, even when words don’t come, I’m working. And in that labour, inspiration will find me and I will remember what ignited my imagination to start this project in the first place. That’s my hope.

In the meantime, onward. And for good measure, my fingers and toes and everything else are crossed.

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

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