Tuesday 13 August 2013

Extract from The Girl Under the Olive Tree by Leah Flemming

I am very excited to be bringing you an extract from the fabulous new novel by Leah Flemming, The Girl Under the Olive Tree.

Penny George and Rainer Brecht, unknown to each other are re visiting the island of Crete in 2001 for the first time since the war. Both of them , once on opposite sides, are viewing a popular tourist spot through eyes honed to their past experience.

Galatas Beach, 2001

               It was a glorious sunset on Galatas beach, the sun sliding down
               into the sea like a ball of fl ame. We parked on the busy main
               road from Chania, walking down steps past a littletaverna and
               onto the sand. I’d forgotten where the turning was into the old
               hospital barracks, but there was now a campsite in the trees, and
               far in the distance a small white chapel. Perhaps it had always
               been there and I had forgotten. The caves were exactly as I
               recalled them and just as uninviting.
                  Lois wanted Alex to take photos, but I was reluctant to be a
               tourist here. How could I explain that you don’t takesnap-
               shots in a cemetery. I wanted to remember it as it once was.
               Now it was just a sandy beach like many other suntraps. The
               view to Theodori island was unchanged and there were no
               reminders left now of how this place had once been, only the
                  I’d been dreading this return and wanted to get it over with
               so   we   could   enjoy   the   rest   of   the   holiday   without   sombre
               reminders. It was throwing up images and flashbacks of scenes
               I’d tried to keep buried all of my life.
                  It was a vision of hell in those fi nal days. That terrible unex-
               pected encounter in the street . . . I could feel my pulse racing.
                  ‘I need a stiff drink,’ I announced, but Lois ignored my plea,
               taking my hand.
                  ‘Just come over here and see the carpet of flowers clinging to the   rocks,   all   the colours          of   the   rainbow.   You’ll   know   their
              names; I’m hopeless.’
                 There      were   flowers     and    poppies     of every    hue,    white
              mallows,   silver   stachys,   yellow   euphorbias,   purple   sea   holly
              and tiny rock roses. How strange that so many of my own
              herbaceous perennials from the garden at Stokencourt were
              growing   wild,   unfettered,   on   this   very   spot,   and   I’d   never
              known they were here. Who had time to notice such things in
              an air raid?
                 The sea was the colour of expensive jade, the mountains still
              snow-capped, even at the end of May.
                 ‘Just give me a minute, ’ I said, walking away from them for
                 Alex was bored. There was nothing for him on this deserted
              beach. He couldn’t see what I was seeing: those German troops
              laying posts and fixing wire, turning my hospital into one vast
              cage for the captured soldiers brought in after the surrender in
              Chania. There were guard towers just like the ones you see in
              war films. It was a camp with few facilities left standing, a few
              tattered   tents   and   marquees,   poor   latrines   and   slit   trenches,
              battered chairs and utensils scattered on the sand. How many
              wounded soldiers lost the will to live corralled into this bug-
              ridden space already full of dirt and disease?
                 Deserting my patients was one of the bleakest moments of
              my life. Other, far worse, things happened later but never did
              I feel so alone. Now I was reliving the anguish of having to
              relinquish my post, leaving the weakened men to the tender
              mercies of an indifferent army bent on revenge for their own
              losses. I had my own problems. There were decisions to make
              about     my    own    future    and   pressure    was    coming     from    an
              unlikely source.
                I thought again of the officer, my German patient, my rescuer
              – how that time haunts my mind like old wartime music. It was
              here I thought to give him the slip, but he had other ideas.
The Limani Ouzeria was a good spot for watching the world go
               by. It was early Friday night and families were out, enjoying a
               stroll round the harbour. One by one the lights flickered on in
               the   cafés   and   restaurants,   and   the   touts   were   out   with   their
               menus, trying to attract tourists inside with their smooth patter.
                  This   place   suited   Rainer   well,   overlooking   the   old   Firkas
               Turkish fortress, now the Naval Museum. A place he had no
               desire to revisit.
                  Most of the old harbour houses had been rebuilt over the
               years. There were bars and gift shops. One or two were still
               crumbling ruins in need of repair, like bad teeth in need of filling, but that somehow added to the charm and character. He’d
              just browsed in the harbour bookshop, which had a good selec-
               tion of novels and maps in English, German and French, and
               bought a detailed map of northwest Crete to refresh his memory
               and plan his next trip out into the mountains. His memory for
               place names often failed him these days, but there were one or
               two here that were etched into his brain: Kondomari,Kandanos,
               Alikianos. Who could ever forget what had gone on there?
                  He sipped his ouzo, watching the water clouding into the
               spirit, tasting a plate of meze: squid, tiropita, sausage, cheese balls.
                  Chania was now a bustling tourist destination, a vibrant city
               full of life. The local families walking past him were well dressed,
               pushing      prams,    old   yiayias   clustered     round     tables   in   their
widow’s weeds, hair dyed all hues, laughing and shouting as
              only the Greeks can.
                 He had chosen this place for old times’ sake, and as he turned
              to look into the dark recesses of the tavern, ancient men were
              busy playing backgammon, smoking, arguing, entirely unaware
              of him. How many of these old men had fought and suffered in
              the old days? How many would shake his hand now if they
                 The swift-filled sky was noisy with their screeching as dark-
              ness descended and the young of all nations came out in their
              finery: African students, lean-limbed, selling fake CDs; Asian
              girls with trays of trinkets; Roma children pushing roses onto
              the unwary; American military from the NATO base, out on
              the town in baggy shorts and baseball caps. There were Scandi-
              navian girls of such beauty, white-haired and leggy in sundresses,
              and his fellow countrymen with cameras and portly wives. How
              different it all was from the last time he was here, this pulsating
              mass of humanity smelling of aftersun, all mixed together.
                 None   of   these   revellers   would   be   reminiscing   about   such
              dark days of the past. He was sober and silent, solitary and in
              need of company, but there was no one of his age or nationality
              sitting close by. The memories kept flooding into his mind of
              the first time he had sat in almost this very spot, and all he could
              feel was the pain of being young and overwhelmed by respon-
              sibility. Why must duty always clash with personal desire in a

About Leah Fleming
After careers in teaching, catering, running a market stall, stress management
courses in the NHS as well as being a mother of four, Leah Fleming found
her true calling as a storyteller. She lives in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales but
spends part of the year marinating her next tale from an olive grove on her
favourite island of Crete.
She was short listed for the Romantic Novel of the
Year in 1998 and for The People's Choice Pure Passion Award 2010 for
Remembrance Day. She won
Her epic tales cover centuries and many generations with a strong sense of place and time.
include The Captain's Daughter, a Titanic drama and Orphans of War, and her work has been translated
into five languages. She has also had many stories published in national newspapers and magazines. The
Girl Under the Olive Tree is her eighth novel. For more information please go to www.leahfleming.co.uk. 

I'll be bringing you a review of the novel very soon, but until then, you can get your own copy by clicking here.

1 comment:

  1. I am reading this one right now, and it is wonderful.
    I cannot believe I have not discovered Leah's writing before now.