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How sword-fighting saved my life!
8/14/2011 6:23:31 PM
Why I write what I do.
Has anyone seen that old historical movie Scaramouche, with Stuart Granger and Mel Ferrer? I did. Eleven times! It was the sword fighting that got me; the longest sword fight in movie history, I believe, and it held me spell-bound from beginning to end for all eleven of those long, stair-leaping, curtain-swinging, swashbuckling sessions.
I was thirteen and impressionable, in my first year at boarding school, far from home, alone and miserable. Only a few weeks earlier I had been on our farm at the other end of the country, roaming the hills behind with my dogs and three African companions of the same age; children of the farm labourers. Boarding school, by comparison, was like being thrown into a prison filled with dangerous inmates and big hairy guards bent on making your life as miserable as possible.
I spent all my pocket money and more on Scaramouche. It brought colour and excitement into my life when I needed it most. It was escapism of the first magnitude. A fantasy of fighting back and regaining self esteem, just like the character in the movie. But it didn’t remain fantasy for me. I was so impressed that I decided I was going to learn to be a sword fighter too. When I discovered that fencing lessons were being held every Friday night at the Bulawayo Town Hall, I was ecstatic. I bunked out to watch them. Unfortunately, you had to be eighteen to join, and thirteen-year-old kids, it seemed, were not even allowed to watch. Undeterred, I managed to slip behind the stage wings when no one was looking, and climb a ladder to the catwalk above, where I was able see everything perfectly.
It was not at all like the swashbuckling swordplay of Scaramouche. The fencers, many of them women, wore masks, protective vests, and stopped every few minutes to have long discussions about nothing in particular. It was all very subdued and boring, hard not to fall asleep, and certainly not worth the caning I received the next day from the housemaster.
Somewhat disillusioned, but still captivated by the magical sense of excitement I had experienced with the movie, I looked for other ways to escape the drudgery of the new world I had found myself in. At home on the farm every day had been an adventure, and the days too short to fill, now every day seemed a long and drawn out lifetime of emptiness. Thankfully, Zane Grey and Biggles, read clandestinely at night in the toilets by candlelight, came to the rescue and filled some of the space, giving me dreams that I could take back to my cold bed in the dormitory.
I took to reading in a big way during those formative years - reading mostly adventure stories and westerns, and the virtual world of fantasy helped keep my self esteem intact and my thirst for adventure unquenched. I travelled the world and fulfilled most of my boyhood dreams, and the stories I write reflect those dreams. I write about Africa, and particularly Zimbabwe, because I was born there, it is what I know best, and it is where my passion lies. I am now a reluctant refugee, but in many ways it is an advantage, for I remember how it was, and my passion has not been dulled by the unpleasantness of the present reality.
All my novels are page-turners and pure escapism, with no high-end theme or motive other than to entertain and take the reader on a colourful journey of make-believe. I do however, base them on fact, so there is an opportunity to learn as well as being entertained. But whether or not the Phoenicians were the discoverers of Sasos, or the gold found there provided the gold for Solomon’s temple, as related in my latest novel, The Pilot, I can’t say for certain, although I believe it did. The period is filled with mystery and controversy, so it makes for a good tale and provides plenty of food for thought, so hopefully at the end you can look back and think “…well, yes, I guess it could easily have happened that way…”
At its heart, The Pilot is an adventure and a love story, sometimes slushy and sometimes swashbuckling. So if you admit to being a romantic, like I do, believe in old fashioned values and standards, in love and romance, and try to sniff quietly and dab unobtrusively at your eyes in sad – or even happy – movies, like I do, then you have come to the right place.
And while you are here, if you would like to comment about my books, my blog, or whatever, I would love to hear from you, and I promise to answer as soon as I possibly can.
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More Blogs by Jerold A Richert
How sword-fighting saved my life! - Sunday, August 14, 2011