Over the last few months Paul Andruss has become a most welcome and popular fixture in the Smorgasbord community. His posts, that pick apart myths and legends, and then reassemble them into glorious clarity, are the hightlight of the week for me and those who drop by.
Banana Passion Flower (Andruss)
Every week, when I either post an exclusive post for Smorgasbord, or one I have raided from his archives, I give the usual ‘about’ but today I thought that I would do something a little different.
You might wonder why I have a Banana Passion Flower at the front end of this book reading and interview… and the answer is that Paul is a passionate gardener with a wonderful knowledge of this world of plants and blossoms. In fact when I mentioned that I was going to be starting to bring some colour into the garden, he immediately wrote a two page email with a wonderful guide to what would grow here, what I could plant now and what would be good for later in the year.
In the relatively short time I have known Paul I have discovered that apart from being an exceptional writer he is a warm and very generous friend to many not just myself. I have some wonderful mates that I am delighted to communicate with on a regular basis that I have met online, and don’t let anybody tell you that it is not the same as being face to face. It actually is. So this is Paul on a personal level and here is the official bit about his writing.
Paul Andruss is a writer whose primary focus is to take a subject, research every element thoroughly and then bring the pieces back together in a unique and thought provoking way. His desire to understand the origins of man, history, religion, politics and the minds of legends who rocked the world is inspiring. He does not hesitate to question, refute or make you rethink your own belief system and his work is always interesting and entertaining. Whilst is reluctant to talk about his own achievements he offers a warm and generous support and friendship to those he comes into contact with.
Now to hand over to Paul who is looking forward to answering your questions which you can put into the comments section of the post.
Great to have you in the hot seat for a change Paul and perhaps you could tell us about your chosen genre of books that you write and why?
I write coming of age novels or (wait for it…) Bildungsroman.
Bildungsroman forms some of the oldest literature in the world. In Jungian psychology it pervades the collective unconscious as the archetypes of the child and the fool; signifying innocence. The hero as a fool or child (usually the younger son) is common to many myths and folktales.
In Finn Mac Cool, Finn is the fool because he is thrown into an alien world he knows nothing about; modern Ireland re-enacting its ancient myths after a devastating plague.
Thomas the Rhymer is about an 11 year old boy who sees a fairy queen kidnap his older brother. In true Bildungsroman tradition, young Jack grows up by overcoming challenges. It is safe to say, most of us had a rough time growing up and so identify with a courageous struggling youngster. Under all the layers we accumulate with age, that youngster remains in each of us.
Which book in your opinion is the best you have ever read and why?
Gore Vidal’s 1981 novel Creation. I was interested in ancient history at the time but knew little about it. Creation was the springboard to a lifelong passion.
Written in the first person, Creation tells the story of Cyrus Spitama, living during the conflict between the Persian Empire and Democratic Greece: the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae; the Battle of Marathon.
Cyrus gives the Persian side countering Herodotus, ‘the Father of History’, who invented the term with his book ‘The Histories’ meaning ‘inquiries’. In his old age Cyrus becomes the Persian Ambassador to Athens during the golden age of Pericles – when the Parthenon was built.
Cyrus is the grandson of Zoroaster. Zoroasterism was an early monotheistic religion, influencing Judaism, Christianity and Islam. During his life Cyrus travels to India and meets Buddha. He also visits China during the Warring States period when the totalitarian Chin tribe triumphs. Here he meets Confucius and Lao Tsu, the founder of Taoism. The book ends with a postscript by Cyrus’ nephew, a Greek philosopher, who tells us science is now replacing myth to explain the natural world.
Although the book takes some historical liberties, we witness the very birth of our modern world. And of course, Vidal is such a beautiful writer that every page is a master class.
You write about ancient history and also modern icons and legends across the entertainment world. If you could drop into a time and meet just one of those you have written about… who would it be?
Gore Vidal of course, aged 60, after he has written most of his major works. I would like to ask about American history.
Vidal wrote the successful and accomplished novels ‘The Narratives of Empire’ which examine the decline of the proud Republic, founded on equality, to a state as tarnished as any of the Old-World European empires. Vidal was also step brother to Jackie Kennedy and knew the family well.
‘Burr’ starts with the elderly Aaron Burr, demonised for killing Alexander Hamilton, recounting his memories of the American Revolution.
In ‘Lincoln’ Vidal takes an unpopular stance, saying the Civil War was as much about pre-eminence of Federal government as the Abolition of Slavery.
1876 looks at the Republic’s first century after its unprecedented territorial expansion with the Louisiana Purchase and the acquisitions of Florida, California, Texas and Alaska; and the consolidation into a single super-state after the Civil War. Using the Monroe Doctrine as a pretext (which states the American hemisphere must be free of Europe) the now mighty Republic hungers for Empire.
‘Empire’ covers Theodore Roosevelt and begins with the War in the Philippines, America’s first foreign territory. ‘Hollywood’ examines how America became involved in World War 1 and ‘The Golden Age’ in World War 2 and the coming Cold War.
Quite enough hot topics for a single cold supper, I should think.
Having written across the centuries about events and people.. What do you think are the key elements that a writer will showcase in 100 years?
Social media dominates our world. As Marshall McLuhan predicted, we increasingly embrace the medium not the message. It’s the latest app; not what you say.
I have no idea what the next 100 years will bring. Facebook allowed proper messages. With Twitter the message was reduced to a soundbite. The latest is Snapchat: short videos and pictures that self-destruct after a few seconds of being viewed. When we all are using Snapchat what, if anything, will we be saying?
Like those before it, Snapchat is valued at billions, yet losing money. This is because advertisers are champing at the bit to exploit our thirst for novelty. In contrast, their previous favourite Twitter has seen share prices fall.
Social media often seems like a billion people standing on mountaintops screaming ‘Look at me!’ People play with their phones everywhere: in the cinema, falling downstairs, stepping into traffic. I had a friend who would text rather than watch a sunset – I was often tempted to take a photograph of the sunset and send it to her. Although with Snapchat she could now watch it in real time without bothering to look up.
There is hope though. Other fads died out as mysteriously as they came: hula hoops, klackers. Perhaps one day we will get fed up with social media dominating every waking moment, with the spam and the trolls, and close our accounts.
What a great idea.
Should I tweet it?
It might go viral!
Do you have a favourite quote? What does it means to you as an individual?
‘It is not the duty of an author to deliver a message when writing. A writer is not a postman!’
This slight misquote is from the Russian American novelist Vladimir Nabokov who wrote the 1955 novel ‘Lolita’ about a middle aged man who becomes sexually obsessed and then involved with his 12 year old stepdaughter.
Disgusting I know, and it’s a classic… ‘one of our finest American novels, a triumph of style and vision’
I think we write because we have something to tell the world. Yet, with inexperience, passion can swamp technical fluidity. The story we want to tell is lost in what we try to say.
The only way to engage readers is to have them read you. And you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. In actual fact, you catch most flies with sh…
Let’s not go there, eh?
The moral is… don’t beat your point home with a big stick. After all, we are not postmen.
Think instead of what the delightfully irascible Dorothy Parker said when asked to define horticulture… ‘You can lead a whore to culture… but you can’t make her think!’
Is anything in any of your books based on real life experiences or is it purely your imagination?
Thomas the Rhymer is about a boy is stolen by a fairy queen. A large part deals with the impact on the family.
My younger brother ran away when he was eight. He made it all the way to Grandma’s and was so embarrassed he spent the night in her shed. It wasn’t until the following day she found him. In those days, a lot of people in the UK (like Grandma) didn’t have phones. My uncle brought him home.
My parents were distraught. Mum was crying all the time. Dad dazed. The police came. I didn’t really understand much. I remember sitting in front of the TV wanting to be invisible, keeping quiet and feeling lost.
From there, it wasn’t such a leap of imagination to wonder what a youngster would do if something inexplicable happened. Like an old woman turning young and beautiful, as fairies do, and then vanishing with your bother before your eyes.
I wanted the boy (I felt more confident writing a boy) to be hitting puberty. Jack is aged 11 – the same age as I was. At that age you begin to doubt your childhood beliefs, but don’t dismiss things like an adult.
He also had to be well-adjusted, but without friends. To keep the plot simple, I made the family move town when he started senior school.
I wanted the plot to start at the beginning and moved seamlessly to the end. Someone suggested starting with Jack coming home dazed and working backwards to the fairy abduction. I felt it was an unnecessary complication of a simple story.
Paul has chosen an extract from Thomas the Rhymer which I can personally recommend.
Thomas the Rhymer took its name and some ideas from the traditional Scottish fairy tale about a young man who meets the beautiful Queen of Elphame and goes to her palace as her prince. After a few days, he thinks he should go home to tell his family where he is. When he does he finds many years have passed.
In my novel, Thomas the Rhymer was a 14 year old boy kidnapped by fairy queen. Some 60 years later (with him looking only slightly older) they get separated. While looking for her Rhymer, the queen kidnaps Jack’s 16 year old brother.
A weird creepy tramp has been stalking Jack and his new friends. Now he is about to catch them.
Less than halfway to Jack’s house, Ken announced, “He’s back.”
Jack looked around the deserted street. “I can’t see him.”
“Trust me, he’s here.”
“Let’s run,” Catherine suggested.
“Which way?” Ken whimpered, beginning to panic. “How do we fight what we can’t see?”
“He’s there in front of us!” Jack exclaimed with relief as the tramp shimmered into view.
“Back to the High Street,” advised Catherine. “We can hide in the crowd at the bus station.”
They ran down the road, occasionally passing people who did not even look. Typical, chased by a weirdo and no one bothers Jack thought bitterly. Before remembering no one could see the tramp. Perhaps he’d cast a spell and nobody saw them either.
By now Ken was wheezing and could go no further. Spotting an alley behind some shops, Jack made a split second decision and bundled the breathless Ken into it; thinking they could hide behind skips and bins piled high with rubbish and cardboard boxes.
“What are you doing?” Catherine panted, following.
“We can’t run forever. Hide here, might be a way out!”
Seeing Ken snatch a puff on his inhaler, she realised they had no option. There was a slim chance the tramp might go past.
Squeezing down behind a skip, they peered out.
“Here he is!” Jack whispered.
“What is he doing?” Catherine hissed.
“Looking around! I think he’s going. No, wait, he’s coming. Was there another way out?”
“No, I checked!”
“He knows we’re here!” Ken snatched a hasty puff. He was red in the face and breathing hard. “His mind’s weird,” he wheezed.
Jack shushed him. “It’s all right Ken. Just let me think!” A moment later he turned to Catherine, “Run while I keep him busy.”
“No Jack!” she uttered, horror-struck.
“Jack!” echoed the tramp as if he heard her. “Master Jack, Cracker Jack… Jack be nimble,
Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick.”
“Is he mental?” Catherine gulped.
“No, he’s fairy,” Jack reminded her, as Ken nodded in agreement.
“Here I am,” Jack said, bravely stepping out from behind the skip.
“No!” Catherine wailed.
At the sight of Jack, the tramp started crying.
“Master Jack, Tom’s a lost. Master Jack, Tom’s a cold. Master Jack, don’t be cross! Master Jack, take Tom home! For I did dilly and did dally, dally and did dilly, lost my way and don’t know where to roam. Now you can’t trust a story like old Jack-a-Nory, when you can’t find your way home!”
Jack stared stupidly at the tramp.
“It’s all right, he won’t hurt you,” Ken shouted.
“You’ve changed your tune,” Jack shouted back.
“I was wrong. He’s not trying to scare us. He’s scared. The noise, the people, he’s not used to it. It’s driving him mad.”
Coming from behind the skip, Ken walked to the tramp with hands held in front of him as if feeling the air around the man.
“He’s living rough,” he informed Jack. “I don’t think he’s had a good night’s sleep for weeks, or a proper meal, been eating out of bins! Oh dear, he could do with a bath.”
“I know he pongs!” Jack agreed.
Putting his head to one side, the tramp smiled.
“There’s something else, he might look older than us, but inside he’s about our age.”
The tramp smiled again, saying proudly, “For a year and a day I grew away, and I grew straight and I grew tall, and I was the fairest of them all, and she did love me, love me do, but now I’m lost. It’s sad but true.”
“Hello,” said Catherine, following Ken from behind the skip.
“Good day to you mistress mine, Thomas am I, Thomas of Rhyme.” The tramp gallantly bowed.
“Thomas? That’s what she called Dan! She was looking for you, wasn’t she?” Jack said to the tramp.
“Aye,” wailed Thomas, “that she were! Though she loved me most, kissed my cheek and stoked my hair, a new Sir Thomas does she boast and on him lavish all her care. And I am gone, like those before, belovéd once, beloved no more.”
“Why?” asked Catherine.
“Though I both complain and moan, ‘tis no one’s fault but my own. She warned me true when she did say not to dally on the way. Off went the court with my good queen too. Tom followed on but what did Tom do?” he shrieked, slapping his own face and shaking his head wretchedly.
“Tom did dilly and did dally, did dally and did dilly, lost his way and don’t know where to roam. Now Tom’s afraid and all alone, and can’t find his way home.”
With outburst over Thomas blew his nose noisily on his sleeve and smiled a brave little smile.
Telling the strange man to stay put, Jack called a conference.
“What are we going to do?” he whispered.
“We cannot leave him. It is obvious he cannot take care of himself,” Catherine announced.
“Well, I can’t take him home,” Jack countered. “What would my parents say?”
“I’ll take him home.” Ken spoke quietly. “He can sleep in the spare room. Mum will know what to do with him.”
-END OF EXTRACT-
My thanks to Paul for his wonderful responses and now it is your turn to ask your questions. Please put them in the comments section and Paul will come back to you as soon as possible.. oh and if you have a gardening question he probably won’t mind that as well.
Safari Sunset Protea (Andruss)
Thanks for dropping in and look forward to hearing from you. Sally