Today, I am pleased to have author Michelle Peach, stop by to feature her debut novel, Gazelle In The Shadows.
This is accompanied by her lovely Guest Post, “How Much Of Gazelle In The Shadows Is Autobiographical?”, which will help explain why this book is so personal to her.
Michelle is represented by the lovely Kelsey, at ‘Book Publicity Services‘.
So, without further ado, I’ll hand the page over to Michelle …
‘GAZELLE IN THE SHADOWS‘
In the mid 90s, Elizabeth Booth is a young British college student studying Arabic at Durham University.
With some travel and work already under her belt, she excels at her studies and is sent to Damascus to immerse herself in the language.
Taken aback by the generosity and kindness of the people there, she easy slips into a life in the ancient city. She has friends, her studies, and even a handsome boyfriend.
But things aren’t always what they seem. Soon, in a world where mistrust and disloyalty are commonplace, Elizabeth finds herself navigating a web of lies, betrayals, and even murder involving MI6, deadly terrorist factions, and the shadowy Syrian secret police.
If those ‘First Lines’ are all important to you in helping to define a book and author, then surely these opening paragraphs, as shared by Yvonne, will have you keep on reading!
Hi! I am author MICHELLE PEACH
It is my real name, even though I happen to live in the state of Georgia, which by coincidence, a peach is the symbol of.
I was born in Chester, England and grew up in Plymouth, Devon.
I graduated from Durham University with a BA (Hons) in Arabic with Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies.
I worked for the Foreign Office in London in the News Department; I was posted to the British Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen Arab Republic; and I was in Yemen during the unification of YAR and PDRY and during the Iraq/Kuwait war.
I travelled to Beirut, Lebanon to research and study in the American University where I translated documents for Dr. Andew Rathmell; and I also freelanced for UNHCR.
I met my husband, then in the US Navy, while I was working in Dubai and moved to America in 1998.
We have been married for 20 years and have three wonderful children.
I am a stay-at-home mom, who loves hiking, gardening, and socializing with family and friends.
You can keep up with all the latest news at my website.
Follow me on Twitter
Connect with me on Facebook
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“HOW MUCH OF ‘GAZELLE IN THE SHADOWS‘ IS AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL?“
This is a question I hear often. I usually answer that it’s about three quarters true but I haven’t truly applied any kind of mathematical analysis to it.
My career as an author all began because I wanted my children to know what I had done before my marriage and about the many adventures I had experienced in my life overseas. In addition, many friends encouraged me to write a book about my life because they found it extraordinary. So, my novel was born. The end is fictionalized but many of the chapters are my life.
Gazelle in the Shadows is my first book. It was a labour of love that took three years. At first, my writing was slow as I mapped out a story arc. I had been a devoted journal writer up until I had left home and although this was a story of my life, writing a novel was very different. I needed to piece my life experiences together with a good story arc, which required elements of fictional writing. To help me, I read several books on creative writing, one of my favourites was Writing with Emotion, Tension & Conflict by Cheryl St. John, in which I learned how important it was to show not tell, which was opposite to the style of my journal writing.
My career in the diplomatic service and my studies overseas during university years were full of extraordinary stories. One such story took place during my first year in Yemen.
“One weekend, while working in Sana’a, Yemen Arab Republic, my colleague, Michael and I drove to Marib, located in the middle of the country in the depths of the desert. We had arranged to stay on the base of the American Yemen Hunt Oil Company with some oilies, the nickname given to the employees. The purpose of our trip was to visit the ancient Marib Dam, reputed to date back to the days of Queen Sheba. As we began our descent from the Sana’a plateau, some 8,000 feet high, my ears began to pop. I gazed out of the window, listening to classical music being played on a grainy cassette which Michael had inserted into the cassette player of his Landrover. It was a rusty old car passed down from diplomat to diplomat. Fortunately, we had diplomatic plates to ensure our permission to travel in the country. As we sat in silence for the first hour, I was mesmorised by the high mountainous ranges and deep valleys. Every so often, I saw villages perched on top of steep escarpments, their red mud buildings camouflaged against the volcanic rock.
When we reached the top of yet another mountain, we were met by a taxi flashing its headlights and partially blocking our way. Michael pulled over to the side of the road. The driver slowly approached our car. Driver window to driver window, I stared across at a Yemeni man who yelled at Michael in a high pitch voice, gesturing erratically. Michael was fluent in Arabic and immediately replied in his usual calm manner and nodded in acknowledgement to the man. Then, he rolled up his window and switched off the engine.
I looked at him questioningly, waiting for an explanation.
“There’s a tribal conflict ahead of us. He told us not to move until he indicates for us to do so.”
“Tribes? Here?” I had always associated tribes with Africa.
“Yes. There are many. In this region, it’s probably the Hashids fighting amongst themselves.” He answered nonchalantly.
With my eyes peeled to the serpentine rocky road ahead, I watched the taxi speed around the corners to the bottom of the valley floor. Within minutes we could make out the sound of gunfire. The peppering echoed around the valley. I had never heard shooting bullets before. My heart raced even though we were far enough away that they could not reach us. Small puffs of smoke from the gunpowder rose from the dry river bed until eventually the popping slowed down and then stopped entirely.
The taxi drove at a slower speed towards us flashing his lights.
“That’s the indication.” Michael started the engine.
We wound our way down the road, passing the taxi driver on the way. The road levelled out as it crossed the river bed. I looked down along the valley and saw a line of open bed Toyota vehicles and men hanging from the metal frames with Kalashnikovs in their hands. It was unnerving to pass so many men armed to the teeth with freshly fired guns. I looked at Michael’s speed. He was maintaining a reasonable 40 mph but I wished he would put his foot down.
As we ascended the opposite side, we heard a renewal of shooting and realized that the tribesmen had not finished their warfare. We had just experienced a small ceasefire.
“They were thankfully not interested in our car perhaps because we have diplomatic plates.” John was trying to reassure me that our lives were never at risk”
When I told snippets to friends and neighbours, I received a variety of reactions; astonishment, admiration, encouragement and sometimes disbelief. Living in a small town in Georgia, I never spoke much about my former life, being busy and content bringing up my family. My former life was in a stark contrast to the ordinary life I led in suburbia. Sometimes even my own experiences seemed farfetched and unimaginable, so I told very few people.
But my stories were real and I needed my children to know about my life in Yemen and Syria. Also, given the ongoing conflict in both countries, I wanted them and readers to know about the kindness I had received from the people and the beauty of their country, traditions and culture.
Admittedly, as Elizabeth Booth, the MC. portrays, I was naïve and too trusting of people whom I met but I, like her, matured personally, politically and intellectually from those experiences. One image I included in the novel to symbolise this was how Elizabeth first wore floral skirts and a hijab but later, she discarded them for jeans and a Syrian army coat. After all, it is a coming of age story in which she becomes emboldened and saves not only her life but that of a friend.
That, my friends, may or may not be fictional. My lips are sealed.
Selecting the ‘Gallery’ page on my website menu, will show you pictures from my time in Yemen and Syria.
Drop me a line as I love hearing from readers. It’s the best part of being an author.
Thank you so much Yvonne for inviting me to be a Guest Author on your blog, it has been such a pleasure and honour!
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