Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

“Bury me on my feet; I have spent my entire life on my knees.” Romani proverb

With my novel’s release date in sight, I have started to put some notes together about how the novel came to be. Holding it my hands this week when it arrived in the mail, I was very emotional. Actually, I sobbed.

Some of the tears had to do with the subject matter and the plight of the people I met along the way. As for the rest of the water works? I think they came from sheer exhaustion. As many of you know a great deal of effort goes into any writing project. To finally see it come to life is, well, in a word, emotional, and draining and a little bit sad too. I guess that’s more than one word.

Why sad, you ask. Well, I’m saying good-bye to friends who have kept me company for years. That’s one reason. Another reason: there’s no more tinkering with it or with the lives of my characters. Their lives are bound now inside a beautiful cover. As a writer, I only hope that I did justice to the stories I heard in real life and the one I created in The Brink of Freedom.

With the novel in my hand, it’s time to retrace my steps. This process may help me with letting go. Perhaps it will help me identify the lessons learned so I might apply them to my next project (doubtful, but here’s hoping) or it may help others: writers, readers, and book clubs interested in discussing the novel.

Let me start at the beginning. This may take a few blogs so I hope you’ll stick with me for the ride. It’ll be one of discovery for me too because looking at my novel now as I write this blog, I’m also wondering, how did I come to write this book? And how the heck did a thought and a few notes turn into a 300 plus page novel?

I lived in Europe for three years, from 1997 to mid 2000, first in England, then in Italy. It wasn’t until I moved to Italy that the issue of asylum seekers came into focus for me. Nightly, the discovery and detainment of yet another boatload of rifugiati was reported on the Italian news. Police in boats and helicopters scanned the coastline on the look out for people-smuggling operations. These refugees were mostly arriving from Eastern Europe.

In 2006, I spent a month in Spain. Again, Spanish news outlets covered the growing problem of asylum seekers. This time, most of the refugees were from various parts of Africa.

In Italy and in Spain, governments spoke about the growing number of refugees, but there didn’t seem to be any political will to do anything about it.

The problem continued to grow, further exacerbated by the increasing number of conflicts in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Suddenly, large numbers of people were on the move, many of them using the Mediterranean as their way into Europe.

In 2014, between January and September, the number of refugees arriving in Greece totalled 6,919, according to the Greek Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection. In the first seven months of 2015, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) reported 124,000 people reached Greek shores by sea, a seven-fold increase over 2014 numbers.

This mass migration came into full view when I was in Greece in 2012 finishing my novel, Nicolai’s Daughters.  At the time, I lived in the neighbourhood I describe in The Brink of Freedom. It was close to a Roma camp, which was torn down by the police in 2012. I was there when it happened and could see the desperation on the faces of the people who watched their homes (such as they were) being destroyed.

This was the beginning of my road to The Brink.

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