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Every Best Gift - a tale of the ages

by vynnie 

Posted: 17 February 2005
Word Count: 397
Summary: The opening paras of my book.

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Where did you get this, my son?”
Muhammad Amer al-Jamil was seated in a cushioned chair at his well-worn timber desk. His thick black eyebrows were raised in the direction of his eldest son, fifteen year- old Ali, who had just placed a small roundish object within reach of his right hand.
The boy hesitated, unsure, before drawing up the breath of youth-driven courage. “From the fortress, my father.”
Muhammad swivelled his body around to face the small window, which provided the room with its principal source of illumination, and stared vacantly through the speckled glass, summoning from memory his one and only visit to the fortress of Tikrit.
Ever since the Great Uncle had risen to power, he’d made political capital from the fact that Yussuf ibn Ayyub had also been born in Tikrit, in the fortress itself. But Muhammad had not known that when he’d ventured there as a young boy and, even if he had, its sinister aspect would not have chilled him any less, or lengthened his stay by any measurable amount of time.
Its great bulk sat atop a steep cliff overlooking the Tigris, and was originally accessible only by a set of steps that climbed upwards from the water’s edge to penetrate into the heart of the once-formidable, now crumbling citadel. It had, of old, been defended on its landward side by a wide moat that was now mostly filled with the gravel and silt of centuries, although the river’s seasonal spate occasionally forced passage through the ditch.
Muhammad turned away from the window. To discountenance the boy, he narrowed his hawkish black eyes. “You were told not to go there! Now you must be punished.”
Those final words, fading away on the emphatic syllables, betrayed a hint of the automatic response. Ali began to feel a little more confident that no reprisals would be visited upon his head. Nevertheless, he lowered that head in a show of shame and circled the bare big toe of his right foot on the carpet; he had so much to remember but had made excellent use of the long journey homewards by repeating, over and over, what he had been told to say.
“I’m sorry I disobeyed your command, father, but when you see with your own eyes all that I have found, you will forgive me.”

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Comments by other Members

old friend at 09:26 on 17 February 2005  Report this post
I loved the 'feel' of this intro but what eluded me was that it gave me little idea of 'when'. The language you use can be indicative of a Fairy Story and is rather what I would call 'Hollywood English' with their idea of how an Arab gentleman would sound to a Western ear.

I also wonder what genre you would place this in? I am not a stickler for genre classifications but your comment on this would be interesting.

I did not like 'timber' desk nor eyebrows being 'raised in the direction of' but I am not being critical, really...

I thought it was an excellent introductory piece with the promise of much to come - and you cannot get better than that.


vynnie at 02:05 on 18 February 2005  Report this post

Thanks for your comments. Your question about ‘genre’ roused me to some serious reflection. Because the book defies categorisation I’ve been reduced to the description ‘general’. In essence, however, it’s a subtle version of a mediaeval morality play transplanted into the 21st century. The style is quite formal, in parts, as it is intended to induce an atmosphere of timelessness. Universal values such as ‘truth’ are presented as valid absolutes existing independent of transient human perceptions. Both fundamentalist theology and fashionable ‘moral relativism’ conflict with these values and the inevitable collisions provide the work with its dramatic tension. Perhaps a new fiction ‘genre’ needs to be defined. Your mention of ‘Hollywood’ caused me to cringe! I certainly hope that the remainder of the work contains no ‘Hollywood’ gloss and reflects no ‘populist’ sentiment.

anisoara at 08:28 on 18 February 2005  Report this post
Hi Vynnie,

I found this very well written. And just to confuse things, I liked the phrases that he did not! :-) (Sorry, Len!) To me, the language felt like an equivalent in English of the ritualised language used in a highly tradition-bound society. I would certainly want to read on from this. It does have the potential to go on in a Hollywoodish vein, I agree; I imagine you would want to guard against that as you progress (unless that is what you want, but seeing your own comments above, I don't think it is!)

Welcome to WW.


old friend at 09:50 on 18 February 2005  Report this post
Hi Vynnie and Ani,

I take your point. As I have a love for Fairy Stories and particularly the language used in many of the earlier ones, I can go along with what you say and retract my first comment. However, from reading the comments of the critics and the publishers I was expecting something different.

I am sorry that my 'Hollywood' comment made you cringe, no offence was intended, however I could not help envisaging Sabu from your first few lines.

I have carefully re-read the piece and, I am sorry, but it still gives me the feel of a Hollywood submission. To me this comes about through the language you use, particularly the dialogue. I mean this as a compliment in the sense that, as you state it is fiction, then I am sure it would appeal greatly to any Film Producer who is looking for a 'Winner'. One of the aims of any screenwriter is to capture in the dialogue the images, traditions and culture that is generally associated with specific times and societies of those times. I can also go along with fundamentals of theological and philosophical thinking and the disagreements (and limitations) brought about by the conflict of ideas, but most of this is irrelevent to my comments on this as piece of writing. I have no doubt that as I read the book, the Hollywood feeling would diminish, the intellectual quality would become obvious and perhaps even the basic tenets would have a great influence upon my personal philosophies.

I still think it will be a great read!


vynnie at 00:07 on 19 February 2005  Report this post
Thanks to all for your encouragement and valuable feedback. I think I'm going to need all the support I can get in the months to come.

I've just received a comment from Kara on the 'introduce your work' forum. Kara asks whether I've received any negative feedback yet as the subject matter 'might upset a lot of people.'

The book won't be released for another month or so and if it's reviewed or 'noticed' at all, I certainly expect to receive a lot of negative responses, especially as it will be published first in the United States. I don't mean to sound anti-US, it's just that it's home to many fundamentalist minds and they have a very loud voice in the media.

The subject matter is explosive and will certainly upset a lot of people so, just in case, I'm trying to gird myself against an onslaught of 'hate' mail.

jewelsx at 23:04 on 20 February 2005  Report this post

I just wanted to say good start, i am hooked.

I agree with anisora i liked the phrase - sorry len we are not trying to out number you. lol

All the best

I'd love to here more and about how you are getting on.


vynnie at 04:00 on 21 February 2005  Report this post

Thanks for your comments. I've uploaded some more paras today.


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