Andrea Faye Christians
When that great power - known to some of us as God or Allah and to others as just the Universe - plucked my soul from eternity and sent it down into an earthly body I wonder what it was thinking. I'm sure I was quite happy up there zipping around the cosmos as some celestial orb or whatever I was. Indeed, the question of what I am exactly doing here is one that has plagued me intermittently all my life and now, in my fifth decade, I'm no nearer to answering it.
All I know is that it often isn't easy being here. The Buddhist principle is one that that life constitutes suffering and, although I don't exactly buy into that, there have been many times that just getting through the day has been a challenge. Some time ago I stumbled upon the phrase artistic temperament and bandied that about for a good while until it wore thin to be replaced by the less glamorous eccentric and offbeat. Whatever the word, all I can truly say is that my life has been full of ups and downs interspersed with long periods of tranquillity. But through it all there has been one real solace that has brought me endless comfort and a sense of purpose, and that is writing.
Putting pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard is something I've been doing for as long as I can remember. I still recall my mother’s “What Now!” expression as a teacher called her to one side at a parents meeting. I was the child who could have earned air miles for my trips to “the naughty corner” and I can still see the look of astonishment on my mother's face as the teacher revealed page after page of stories written in my five-year-old hand. The writing was on the wall way back then.
I had a box full of half written stories and ideas tucked under my bed. While II spent most of time in my imaginary world, my childhood was also filled with garden walks and tales of fairies sleeping in flowers that came from my wonderful grandmother (whom I take after) along with climbing trees, hiding in secret dens, riding bikes and ponies, chipping teeth while roller skating, and devouring a good proportion of the local library.
Fast forward a few years and the post-pubescent version of me thought I'd have a crack at writing a Mills and Boon romance that were all the rage at the time. Inspired by feminist, Germain Greer, I wanted to make it just make it a little more edgy. I still remember sending off my manuscript - that bulky brown envelope winging its way, along with my fifteen-year-old dreams of becoming a ground-breaking young writer. I never heard anything back, which I suppose qualifies as my first rejection.
My first job after college is in the Police Control Room in my birth city of Swansea, South Wales, where, after a couple of weeks I am told that I'm to present the traffic news on the local radio station A sleepless night ensued with the script shaking in my hand as the microphone clicked live at 7 am the following morning.
The presenter down the line was friendly and chatted with me to help calm my obvious nerves. It remains a memorable occasion as, little did I know then, that I had just met my future husband and that this was the start of a twenty-year radio career that would eventually take me to work in Malta, a former British colony, nestled between Sicily and North Africa.
Several years later, and still in Malta, my new partner and I welcome a baby girl into the world as a sister to my six-year-old son. With no immediate family and two young children, my radio career goes on hold, and I start to write for magazines. By the time my daughter is at preschool I'm working for several along with writing for newspapers who are often in competition with one another. Thank goodness for pen names!
The Millennium was a milestone for everyone and for me signalled a return to work in British radio. Six years pass during which I work for two radio stations and rediscover my childhood love of horses. In April 2006 I did what all intelligent people do: give up a great job, sell the house, and pack up my family that now also included a dog and five horses, and drive a 30-foot truck to begin a new life in a dilapidated farm in Sicily.
The dolce vita beckoned but getting there didn't prove easy, and I'm eternally grateful to Monty, our ingenious South African friend who had come along for the ride. The 1,300-mile journey ended up taking eight days and saw us driving in rush hour Paris with half a gear box and literally running the lorry down a hill to get it onto the ferry in Calabria. When one of the horses showed signs of distress, we drove against the clock with the vet driving 200km to meet us.
I can’t remember ever feeling so exhausted in my life, but the jungle drums had been sounding and despite arriving at 4 am in the morning with a police escort through the mountains as the roads had been damaged in recent floods, half the local village turned out to welcome us.
That new chapter seemed a perfect time to start memoir, and I promise myself that I will one day finish Candle in My Ear as the horse-riding holiday centre we set up has, to date. hosted 65 nationalities and witnessed flash floods, wildfires, a nearby mafia murder and all sorts of shenanigans that make for perfect writing fodder.
The last decade has been no less tumultuous. With a son based in Malta and a daughter in Sicily I ricochet between the two neighbouring islands. Writing, through all the ups and downs, has remained the one constant; a way of making sense of what is going on around me - but perhaps never as much since a diagnosis of breast cancer in July 2019.
There's' nothing quite like staring your own mortality in the face to make you appreciate each day. In that respect I regard my illness as a gift as it made me realise that we are all slowly dying – just some of us faster than others. I count myself lucky. During my remission, my illness gave me the motivation to sit down and complete one the many stories in that box under the bed.
The story that became Suspension had been formulating for several years. Every time I flew back to the UK and returned to where I grew up in Swansea, I would pass below the Clifton Suspension Bridge and marvel at the magnificence of a structure that was so ahead of its time. That bridge is also near a major film studio and a fitting location, I thought, for a film or a mini-series.
As I researched local history a story took shape. Some of Suspension is influenced by historical events, along with events from my own life and from those of people I've met. Writers are, after all, like sponges and things that happen to me or those around me have inadvertently found themselves onto the pages. For example, the opening scene at the beginning of Suspension was related to me by a friend whilst Buster the dog really exists (her name is Buffy). Others are composite characters with attributes taken from real people - such as Carla's mismatched eyes of brown and blue that were attributable to my grandmother Winifred, whilst the red hair is my own.
Encouraged by a friend I finally competed Suspension, the first novel in the Time Binder series, while healing from surgery. At the time, finishing was my only goal, and it didn't occur to me to think about publishing but, as fate would have it, I was to get an introduction to Echo Garrett and Lucid House Publishing through a mutual friend, Marcia Scaggs, over a lunch in Sicily. After sending off what I had written, I was delighted when a week or two later Echo came back to me asking for the remaining chapters.
During the process I came to realise that writing a novel requires significant stamina and that, above all else, it's about staying the course, even when shrouded by self-doubt and despair. I thank Echo, friends and loved ones, for encouraging me to keep going during the dark times. Soon after finishing my first novel, I knew that a shift had occurred, a door unlocked, and it wasn't long before I had a sequel in mind. If all goes according to plan the second book in the Time Binder Series will be finished in the not-too-distant future and promises some surprises. I have faith that the stories and characters will lead me to decide whether a third book will follow.
I know of people who like to read two different books at any one time. The same goes for writing and I've also started to simultaneously work on a project that is very different. On my journey to recovery, I was privileged to meet met some incredible people – patients, doctors, and nurses. I saw blind courage, acceptance, grief, and hope in the eyes of those alongside me in chemotherapy and Chemo Club is a tribute to them and their loved ones. It is a work of fiction but includes many of my own personal experiences, and I identify strongly with Emily in the book. Other characters have traits drawn from people met along the way and include a dear friend who fought a courageous battle and who, whilst dying, taught me how to live.
I've laughed and cried whilst writing Chemo Club, as have friends who have read excerpts, but feel compelled to continue as cancer, in its many forms, is a disease of this epoch. It touches us all in some way or another and, for many, it is their greatest fear. Above all else, Chemo Club is a book about living. After all, life is short and all we really have is today.
Now I find myself living in a 700-hundred-year-old farmhouse in a hilltop hamlet in Malta. My office is a quirky nook that formerly housed the oven of this one-time bakery. Surrounded by these old walls that whisper of the past, I can’t help but wonder what tales they would tell, making this, the perfect place to let my imagination fly.
Andrea Faye Christians
( Dec. 2021 )
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