The full review for Otti’s Escape

Otti'sEscapeFrontPageTroubadour51-1Ottis Escape succeeds in being intimate and epic, skillfully interweaving the past and present with Norway’s majestic landscape and its pervading chill. Ottis presence – like a chill- is felt throughout the story – even when she is absent- through the impact she has on the two men in her life, Frederik and Bernard, her daughters (especially the painfully fragile Monika), and Mrs Risen- her charismatic mother and nemesis.

Ottis dealings with rejection, family, marriage, parenthood, trauma, death, grief and impending loneliness are chilling and unapologetic; and and following a series of devastating incidents beyond her control, and perhaps subconsciously of her doing, we finally and satisfyingly get to the heart of this enigmatic character who frustrates and beguiles in equal measures.

Ottis escape is a subtle and compelling page turner; a fraying and often familiar tapestry of manners, traditions, unrequited passions, betrayals, and ultimately survival. In addition to its poetic sweep, captured each time like a few strokes from an artists brush, the storys other strength, and its driving force, is the authors ability to inhabit the psychology of each character so that we are left rooting for them-warts and all; and no less so for Otti whose epiphany reveals a wound that is also a deeply touching statement about the effects of war on a frightened little girl.

by anthony grant


How to write a novel

How to write a novel…if only I could tell you…
There must be as many ways to write a book as there are writers, so here I go again: On the walls of the bedroom is the blueprint of the next story. Well, not directly on the wall, in my case, but on a rolled out line of wrapping paper that is by now nearly covered over in ‘post-its’describing various elements of the heroes and villains to come.

Otti’s Escape was a stop and start kind of affair, a bit of organic exploration of personalities and ideas, and many years later after a lot of ‘weeding’ and rewriting, it all started to make sense. Something in the way of a story and some acceptable language slowly emerged. No wall posters or ‘post-its’ involved that time.

This one will be different! I have a plan. I have a storyboard stuck up on the wall. – and having announced my intentions I had better stick to it! Ouch!

Did I mention that I am starting in a new 9-5 job this week? – just so you don’t hold your breath just yet; it will be getting up at 5 again and writing until 7, before getting the bus to the office. It might take time.

But if you write you write and needs must and all that… stories have to be told!

In the mean while, perhaps I could amuse you with something I wrote at creative writing class:

Soup-kitchen blues

All afternoon Jasper hid behind the curtains, he made sure they were tightly drawn. He had woken up early, the morning sun pressing on his window, and so he had turned away towards the wall and pulled the blanket over his head. But nothing seemed to help. The birds where chirping in the treetops.
Then he had been stupid enough to get out of bed and take a look outside. Yes, he saw the bright yellow signs heralding spring, right there across the road. Primroses and daffodils. They were out.
Spring was supposed to bring something good. It was about the rebirth of nature, the complete turning of the wheel of seasons, the triumph of resilience and optimism. He knew what it meant but he hadn’t felt familiar with those sentiments for years. When the sun shone, he saw more clearly the darkness within himself. The only sunshine he could remember were the smiles of Elisa and Petite. Elisa had been his girl and their daughter, well, Petite wasn’t really her name, but she had been so tiny growing up, Elisa had always called her that, and the name stuck. Fourteen years Elisa and he had been together, until the drinking and the constant quarrels had finally got too much.
When Elisa walked out Petite’s frame had still been dainty but the gob on her was everything but. That girl knew how to swear. Where she had got it from he could not imagine!
He had not seen them again, not for eight years now.
Jasper chuckled to himself. The thought of them both made him feel a longing in his body so strong, it felt like a Hoover in his stomach, something trying to suck him dry. Or a bit like being pumped at the A &E. He smiled again to himself; those had been crazy heady days, before he had gone tea-total. The nearest he ever got to the action now was when he was serving at the soup-kitchen down town.
As the afternoon sun finally moved east and let go of his windowpane, Jasper felt his tense contracted body ease up a little. He had got through the day but the suction was still there in his stomach. There was nothing else for it, he decided, it would be a soup -kitchen day. Having made the decision he felt better and quickly threw on some old jeans and a jumper. They were always glad for his help at the shelter when the homeless came in for their dinners, served between five and seven.

It was cold and drafty at the shelter, the heating budget was always kept to a minimum, but the steam from the long row of Bain Marie’s kept Jasper snug and warm. Besides it was busy work.
“Here you go, my love.” He handed the plate over to a skittish young man in too little clothes, his arms were red and dry from cold, before he turned to the next in line. It was a woman. You didn’t get many of those visiting, it was mostly men that ended up needing room and free dinners. She had a bruiser of a black eye and was huddled inside a faded red coat. The coat had gold buttons and was much too large for her, but she wore it as if she had acquired a treasure. Jasper smiled and offered the woman a choice of dinners.
“Give me the lamb, with the mash and two sausages on the side.” The woman ordered. Her voice was raspy and warm. “And none of that carrot stuff!”
In a daze Jasper held the full plate forward and stood watching his own empty hand as the woman took it and started weaving her way out of the throng towards a distant table. He would have recognized that voice anywhere. And the ‘none of that carrot stuff’, too. It was her! Elisa had stepped back into his life, if only for the receiving of a plate of hot food. But she had not recognized him. The beard, he thought to himself, it was because he had grown a full beard. It would have to come off, and quickly, too, he did not want Elisa to walk back out on the streets without even having seen his face.
Jasper excused himself and rushed out of the canteen. A moment later he was standing in the steam of the shower-room, shaving foam and a new disposable blade in his hand. “There it goes,” he said out loud to himself as he scraped the razor over his cheeks and then the chin. “Get it all off! Now…” He took a long look in the dim metal mirror and wiped his face dry with a towel. There he was. The old Jasper was back. She would remember him now.
He returned to the canteen just as the sliding doors were closing behind her large red coat. “Elisa! Elisa! Wait!” In a moment he was out the door after her and grabbed hold of her shoulders, remembering to fully extend his arms and slightly duck as she turned around. He knew well her sharp left hook, and from the way she looked he imagined she might have had reason to practice it lately.
“It’s me, Elisa, it’s Jasper.”
“Goddammit-me-muffin, so it is!” Elisa burst out laughing. “Now, what have you done to your face, you’ve got cuts all over it!”
“Oh, I shaved, I shaved for you Elisa.” He laughed too, suddenly feeling shy, but she seemed to appreciate seeing him so he threw his arms wide and shouted out load: “Come here girl, hey, give old Jasper a hug!”
“Oh you daft old bugger,” Elisa spat at him. “Those days are gone. “I’ not hugging no one. Walk up the road with me,” she added.
Jasper felt his spirits soar. The warmth of the soup- kitchen and now this, seeing Elisa again! It all felt like coming home.
“Hey, here’s a song,” he suggested, as they started walking side by side along the road:
“Thought I’d never see you again
Pa-dum, pa-dum”,
. Elisa continued:
Thought the golden liquid was my only friend
Pa-dum, pa-dum
They both burst into a raucous laughter. It was just like the old days.
High above a window slammed open against the wall and a voice thundered down at them. “Oh will you shut the f*** up, you crazy old hoboes! Take your cat’s meowing somewhere else or I’ll call out the pigs, you flee-bags. Now shuh!”
Both Jasper and Elisa looked up in amazement. Then they both started jumping up and down shouting: “Petite! It’s Petite! It’s our girl! Hey, it’s us! It‘s us Petite!”
Japer could not believe it, all three of them together again at last! Suddenly he felt this was surely the happiest day of his life!