Hello. I had the pleasure of being able to speak with Geoff Nelder about his latest release, his life, and writing.
Why did you decide to take a vacation in Malta?
For many years there has been a close relationship between the Mediterranean island of Malta and the UK. England took it from the French in 1800 and the islands became a protectorate until independence in 1964. The relationship deepened in the second world war when British and Allied forces defended it when the Axis forces tried to bomb it into submission because of its strategic position between Suez and Gibraltar. If you go to Malta you’ll see England everywhere in telephone boxes, pubs, clubs, and English is widely spoken. It’s a natural holiday resort for the English because they are made welcome in their own language in a warm sunny climate.
You've just added Malta to my list of places I need to visit. It sounds beautiful.
What led you to discover that the whole town of Xaghra was abducted?
Ah, if only it was just Xaghra whose people were taken in 1551. The pirates took every person from the whole island of Gozo. About 5,000 people, leaving only a few very old and infirm behind. Some others who wouldn’t fetch a good price were thrown overboard en route to Tripoli. I found out via an exhibition for tourists in their capital, Victoria.
I didn't know that many people disappeared on an island. It's a shocking number. I need to know one more thing.
Why do you think history books have left out the town of Xaghra being abducted?
History is written, or at least shaped, by the victors? It’s not that the mass abduction is completely left out, but barely featured. Maybe it’s because such horrors were relatively common in that era. That pirate, Rais Dragut (sometimes called Turgut Reis 1485-1565), had butchered thousands in various campaigns. It was a brutal time. He was captured himself for a while and made to be a galley slave. So, Gozo was maybe the worst example of wholesale captivity of innocents at that time. Why little mention in history and fiction books? I found few on Gozo getting steamed up about it. Maybe because they were descended not from the abducted, who were mostly taken to Tarhuna, Libya and stayed there, but from others who came to take over the empty houses. Someone had to beat the drum for those Gozo people and it’s ME!
Rais Dragut was another person left out of the history books I read. I'm glad you are beating the drum for those Gozo people. Someone needs to step forward and let those voices be heard.
What got you into cycling?
My dad had to cycle to travel between his army barracks and home – a round trip of 120 miles every weekend. He couldn’t afford a car and enjoyed the wind in his hair and the sense of achievement of topping the hills. He took me on long rides too and the exhilaration is still there. My legs get withdrawal symptoms after 3-non-cycling days.
What advice would you give someone who's looking to get into cycling?
Assuming you can keep upright at more than walking pace, don’t be afraid of drop handlebars and migrate to using cleats on your pedals as soon as you can. They make your body more efficient and hence enjoyable. Read French Revolutions by Tim Moore (2001) hilarious and inspirational.
Are you currently working on any freelance work? If you are, please tell us about it if you can.
I often write articles for cycling magazines and edit other people’s novels and short stories. I’ve just competed a ghost writing assignment. A cross between Fifty Shades and Gardner’s World. If your mind is boggling, so were my fingers. Luckily, my name won’t feature.
What genres do you write?
With my novels as examples: mostly science fiction as in Exit, Pursued by a Bee and Chaos of Mokii.
Medical mystery / scifi as in the ARIA Trilogy.
Historical fantasy as in Xaghra’s Revenge.
Humorous thriller as in Escaping Reality
Straight thriller as in Hot Air.
What's your favorite genre to write in?
I love taking my imagination into them all but science fiction is where I can escape the most.
If you had to pick one book that you've written for everyone to read, what would it be?
I would say ARIA: Left Luggage is a surprise for non-science fiction readers who think the cover art of an astronaut means it’s in space when really it is a medical mystery on Earth. There’s lust, romance, mystery, adventure, preppers, escape, survival, human relationships and the beautiful scenery of a real but hidden valley in mountainous North Wales.
I was surprised by this answer. I thought it would have been Xaghra’s Revenge. ARIA: Left Luggage sounds like a great book to read also. They are both added to my list to read.
What if… I hadn’t gone to Malta on a holiday and discovered an awful, yet generally unknown truth: the mass abduction of a whole island into slavery? Only a handful of historical novels touched on this event and even the local historians didn’t seem to think it worth shouting about. I did. I wanted revenge for those 5,000 abducted souls and gave it to them in Xaghra’s Revenge.
Xaghra is a real town on the small Mediterranean island of Gozo. I chose it to begin the story because I’ve been there many times. It’s the site of the world’s oldest building, The Ggantija Temple – older than the pyramids and Stonehenge! I’ve hugged those huge limestone blocks and the vibes touched me. I’ve stood in the spot where Stjepan hears the alarm bell, where he sees his friends chased by pirates, and outside his house. It’s personal.
This opening sets the story with a contrast and conflict: an idyllic rural and family scene versus a worrying incursion threatening to disrupt everything.
CHAPTER ONE from XAGHRA’S REVENGE published 15th July 2017 via Solstice Shadows, imprint of Solstice Publishing.
The Mediterranean island of Gozo 1551, July 24th
Stjepan leaned on his hoe and listened. His beans needed rescuing from the bindweed, but they’d have to wait if that was the warning bell coming from the city.
Five… He stepped up onto a low limestone wall and scanned the horizon. A flock of starlings created an air sculpture – God’s chariots chasing each other. It always lifted his heart.
Six… The Citadel topped the hill to the west; the clock tower visible, but he couldn’t see if people were running up the lanes to the city walls.
Seven, eight… He strained to see, but hills prevented a clear view of the ocean even though Gozo was less than a day’s ride across.
Nine… Perhaps a pirate ship had been seen again. The damned Turkish corsairs raided more often these days. Pirate dogs. He spat at the soil. His short sword lay under his cot at home.
Ten... In spite of the heat, he shivered at the thought of his wife and four-month-old son thrown into the dank belly of a corsair galley.
Eleven, twelve… He held his breath as if that aided hearing. The starlings swirled around the citadel as if they knew something. His heart sank.
Thirteen, fourteen… curses.
He drove his hoe into the stony soil, wishing it was Dragut’s black heart. Stjepan picked his way through berry bushes and olive trees until he reached his village, Xaghra. Karlu, his neighbour, called as he walked in the opposite direction towards the capital, Rabat.
“Ho, Stjepan, you’ll get fined again.”
“I’m not going without Lidia and my son. Your wife?”
Karlu stopped, scratched his head and twitched his moustache. “In Rabat, staying at her mother’s. She’s been coughing up hairballs.”
“That’s cats. Ah, you never liked Senora Angelina. I’ll see you there.”
In spite of the humour, panic tightened his chest as he ran across the central square. Stjepan saw his marmalade cat, its tail upright. She possessed a sense for trouble. “Heket, you’re supposed to be Lidia’s guardian.”
He frowned pushing past neighbours then saw Lidia waving at him outside the church.
“Father’s tripped on the steps. He can’t walk to Rabat.”
“He’ll have to go on the priest’s cart.”
Stjepan gnawed on a knuckle while his brain raced. He couldn’t afford another florin fine, yet the alert was probably another false alarm.
“I’ll carry your father.” Blood seeped through Alfredo’s grey robe from his knee. His eyes apologised.
Stjepan crouched before the old man. “Come on, I’ll carry you on my back.”
They crossed the wide village square. Stjepan found the old man lighter than he expected. Nevertheless, he stopped.
“What about Calypso’s Cave?”
“No.” Lidia breathed heavily carrying infant Pietru. “It’d be too obvious a hiding place. Keep going.”
He did, with increased pace until he reached the top of the steep scarp slope. The lane wriggled as it fell to the valley floor before climbing the Citadel’s slopes an hour’s walk away. They could see the exodus along the most direct route from Xaghra to Rabat.
Lidia stopped. “No.”
“What?” He followed her free arm pointing to the north. A dozen men ran along the valley floor lane. Their scimitars flashed in the midday sun, and their white turbans gave them away as Turkish corsairs. Stjepan put the old man down, then cupped his hands.
A mistake. Noise travelled far in this rock-lined valley. Karlu stood and turned to others around him, who’d also stopped. Instead of rushing on to the safety of the huge stone-walled Citadel, they walked back towards Stjepan, but it was too late. The Turks reached the escaping group. The Gozitans were overpowered in moments.
Now that route was barred, Stjepan picked up Alfredo and walked back to the deserted village.
“There might be more of them.”
“Then we’re not safe here either.” Lidia sat on a stone block.
“I know a place big enough for Pietru and your father.” No one else in the village knew about a discovery he’d made a year ago in a pile of rubble to the southwest of the village. He was digging out a well. Tingling had travelled up Stjepan’s back when he was a couple of spade lengths down. At night he began having dreams of discovering a jewelled cave. All he found was a dank, dark hole, and yet there was something special down there. He’d kept it quiet. It was Stjepan’s magic place, because he always sat with a calm, relaxed air down there. Maybe it was because he couldn’t see poverty, and in the cave he’d found a small figurine of a reclining woman–all breasts and buttocks. His elation at his private find continued that night during his lovemaking with Lidia. He’d convinced himself that Pietru was conceived as a result of magic emanating from the fertility goddess, if that was what she was. Tzabib, the mythical Spirit of old Gozo.
“So this is where you sneak off to when you’re supposed to be working,” Lidia said, after Stjepan pulled back shrubs to uncover the laddered hole.
“By keeping it a secret, none of the villagers will be able to lead the pirates to us.”
* * *
To read more of this chapter head over to Amazon Kindle http://myBook.to/Xaghra Free on Kindle Unlimited
There’s another excerpt from Chapter two where two modern young lovers have their inauspicious and suspicious first meeting.
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Feature Author – Geoff Nelder