Leighton Gage lives in Brazil. His fourth book in the Chief Inspector Mario Silva series, Every Bitter Thing, will be published by Soho Press in December 2010. In the post that follows, he tells us how his grandfather came to influence his writing – and his life. Welcome, Leighton!
I have vivid memories of my maternal grandfather.
He was a Yankee sea captain, descended from a long line of Yankee sea captains, who began his working life in the days of sail, ended it in the days of steam, and lived the kind of life the young men of today can only experience through books.
He ran guns to Pancho Villa, smuggled whiskey and rum during prohibition, and was shipwrecked twice. He survived hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and Typhoons in the China Sea.
Once, he was forced to kill a man.
My grandmother, a Bermudian whom he met in Hamilton, married him at 17. He was 43.
He claimed he’d never been married before, but my grandmother always had doubts about that. Together, they circumnavigated the world seven times.
My mother’s earliest memories (she was raised aboard ship until she was four years old) were mixed with the straining of ropes, the creaking of masts and the slapping of sails.
Many years later, my wife and I had a sailboat. We’d invite my Mom to spend nights on board.
The sounds on that boat, reminiscent of those of her childhood, would always lure her quickly to sleep.
Captain Leighton (Leighton was my mother’s maiden name - something else I owe to him) had an insatiable hunger for two things: travel and the written word.
He passed both of them on to me.
I remember him reciting Kipling’s lines from The Sestina of the Tramp Royal:
Speakin' in general, I 'ave tried 'em all,
The 'appy roads that take you o'er the world.
Speakin' in general, I 'ave found them good
For such as cannot use one bed too long,
But must get 'ence, the same as I 'ave done,
An' go observin' matters till they die.
And then, later, in the same poem:
It's like a book, I think, this bloomin' world,
Which you can read and care for just so long,
But presently you feel that you will die
Unless you get the page you're readin' done,
An' turn another -- likely not so good;
But what you're after is to turn 'em all.
I came to recognize, only later, that Kipling’s words were a succinct summation of his philosophy of life. That’s what he believed, and that’s the way he lived.
Another favorite writer was Joseph Conrad. He told me Conrad’s work was reminiscent of a conversation between one sea captain and another. Precisely true - because that’s what the writer and the reader both were.
Grandad liked mystery authors a lot – and many of them later became favorites of mine.
I don’t think it ever crossed his mind that I might become one myself.
Certainly, he never tried to make it happen.
But it did happen. And I don’t think it would have had it not been for him.
Well over half a century has passed since my grandfather died. And now, approaching the magic age of seventy, I, too, am able to look back on a pretty adventurous life.
I speak Dutch to my grandchildren, Portuguese to my wife, English to my daughters.
I visited Spain in the time of Franco, Portugal in the time of Salazar, South Africa in the time of apartheid, Chile in the time of Pinochet, Argentina in the time of the junta, Prague, East Germany and Yugoslavia under the Communist yoke.
I spent a year bicycling around Europe, another six years working in the Netherlands and Germany.
During our three years in Australia I traveled extensively in Asia.
I lived in Brazil during the time of the military government.
Most of the time, I live there still.
And, like granddad, I’ve managed to read a heck of a lot of books.
My taste in reading is eclectic. I like both fiction and non-fiction, but when I pick up a mystery, I lean toward the ones that feed my taste for travel in space, or time, or both. The ancient Rome of Lindsey Davis, for example, or the modern Greece of Jeffrey Siger, or the nineteenth-century Vienna of J. Sydney Jones, or the Stalinist Russia of Tom Rob Smith.
Among the most common advice given to authors is write what you like, write what you know.
I follow that advice. My Chief Inspector Mario Silva series may not be everyone’s cup of tea, no books ever are, but, if you elect to read me, there are two things I can promise you:
1. I’m going to tell you a cracking good story.
2. You’ll learn a good deal about Brazil and its people.
I’ll thank you for giving me a shot.
As I thank Beth for past kindnesses, for the two feijoadas she cooked for us in her home, and for giving me an opportunity to meet with you here on her blog.
[For a review of Leighton's most recent crime novel, Dying Gasp, click here.]