the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other authors

Happy publication day, Joe Siple

I’m delighted to welcome Joe Siple to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter. Joe is an established author published by Black Rose Writing, an independent press based in Texas. I was so impressed with Joe’s debut novel The Five Wishes of Mr. Murray McBride, I decided to submit my second novel to Black Rose Writing and this has now been accepted for publication. In the meantime, Joe’s sequel The Final Wish of Mr. Murray McBride will be published today, 21 January 2021. I was fortunate to be an early reader of this splendid sequel and I’m thrilled Joe has agreed to join me for an interview. 

About The Final Wish of Mr. Murray McBride

Jason Cashman has reached the goal he spent the last twenty years seeking, but instead of feeling content, he feels empty. When he meets Alexandra Lopez, a ten-year-old America-loving girl facing deportation, he is inspired by his old friend, Murray McBride, to give her five wishes before she must leave.

They set out to check off as many wishes as possible, but when Jason’s transplanted heart begins to fail, he must choose between his obligations to the past and his hope for a future.

The interview

 Q. I’m fascinated by the relationships between characters in your novels and particularly the strength of intergenerational friendships. What inspired you to write about this?

A. I’ve always been intrigued by how similar most people are, at their core. Yet people of all kinds–young and old, black and white, religious and atheist–seem so different on the surface. I find it fun to explore relationships where the characters find a way to get beyond their superficial differences, to the closeness we all crave.  

Q. In The Final Wish of Mr. Murray McBride, your young protagonist faces an uncertain future in America due to ill health and her family’s immigration status. Why write about such a contentious issue?

A. There are two reasons. The first is a result of a family trip to Guatemala. During this “volunteer vacation” we saw the difference between people who were receiving money from a relative in the U.S.–some in the U.S. illegally– and those who weren’t. And I realized that if I were in their situation, I would also do whatever it took to provide for my family’s well-being. We also met many kind, gentle people there and I realized just how human they are, which is easy to lose sight of in the debate over immigration in this country. 

The second reason was the result of the change in U.S. immigration policy that separated young children from their parents as a way to scare others from trying to cross the border illegally, as well as the “Remain in Mexico” policy that forced innocent families into territory run by Mexican drug lords. I knew that writing about these things could anger some readers and potentially hurt my career, but it was important that the people I reach with my book see the humanity in these people. I also think it’s important to note that I don’t believe we should have “open borders” and let anyone in. But I do think we need an immigration policy that treats people as human beings. That is the point I try to make with this book, and I believe making that point is worth the risk. 

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Squeezing the pips in Antigua

It’s my last few days in Guatemala and I’m determined to  make the most of them. Today I went on a bone-crunching bike ride around the villages on the outskirts of Antigua. You can imagine the difficulty of cycling over cobbled roads like this:

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Thankfully it was a bus ride to collect the bikes in San Juan del Obispo so the cycling to Antigua was mainly downhill.

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I never tire of visiting ruins in Antigua. Some are churches, others are convents but all the damaged facades are endlessly captivating. Here are a couple more ruins that have me enchanted:

Tomorrow we have a Spanish School outing to the coast. I’m looking forward to having lessons at la playa de Monterrico.

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How to learn Spanish in Guatemala

I’m now at the end of my third week in Antigua, Guatemala, I have one more week here so I want to make the most of this fabulous opportunity to learn Spanish. It was after a fortnight that I noticed I was able to contribute more to the Spanish conversation around the dinner table and I certainly feel much less self conscious when trying to make myself understood. I’ve made a determined effort to learn the conjugations of a few important verbs and can now pose and answer simple questions using the past, imperfect, present and future tenses. The next step is to apply the rules to a greater range of verbs.

Much as my vocabulary in Spanish is growing, I seem to be losing the ability to recall words in English. I frequently have afternoon tea at a garden centre close to the school and when I walk around the grounds, I simply can’t remember the names of plants I recognise. Fortunately for me, the plants have tags which read the same in English as in Spanish (Begonia and Fuschia). Indeed, it strikes me that there are very many words in English that are similar in Spanish which must help to make Spanish one of the easier languages for English speakers to acquire. However, it is also easy to get caught out. For example, the Spanish word embarazada bears a striking resemblance to the English word ’embarrassed’ but actually means pregnant. You can image the humour and confusion in making such a mistake!

There are very many advantages to learning Spanish in Guatemala. For a start, the weather in Guatemala in January is lovely. I enjoy the way Antigua has all four seasons in one day: fresh and spring-like in the morning, a lovely summer’s day by noon, an autumnal chill in the afternoon and cold as winter at night. The city has lots of language schools where one-to-one classes are offered at very reasonable rates. Many Americans come here to brush up their language skills and I’ve enjoyed meeting other students from all over north America as well as others from Europe, Australia and New Zealand. My lessons take place on the roof terrace of the school with fabulous views.

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With my teacher, Jasmin. (See the smoke coming from the volcano in the distance.)

Jasmin is a very patient teacher who is tuned into my utterances and laughs at my frequent malapropisms. Most Guatemaltecos speak at a measured pace and this makes engaging in conversation a whole lot easier.

Some of the other benefits of learning Spanish in Guatemala include:

  • fabulous sights and sounds of the city such as the rhythmic clapping when tortillas are patted into shape on streets stalls and in markets
  • humming birds in the gardens
  • fantastic ruins around every corner
  • Mayan crafts, cultural traditions and archaeology
  • chicken buses for transport around the towns (former US school buses spruced up for service)

I’m sure if I had more time, I would be able to think up many other advantages but as I have homework to do, I’ll leave you with some photos.

 

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Hola from Guatemala

I’ve been in Guatemala for a fortnight studying at Ixchel Spanish School in Antigua. It’s a wonderful city to spend time in with amazing ruins of convents and churches around every corner (most of them were damaged in the earthquake of 1773).

Volcanoes surround the city and I managed to hike up an elevation of 1,500 feet to reach the summit of Pacaya Volcano which stands at 8,373 feet.

I’ve visited Lake Atitlán (Lago de Atitlán). To quote from Aldous Huxley’s famous 1934 travel book Beyond the Mexique Bay: “Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing.”

I’ve even popped into Honduras to visit the amazing archaeological site of the Maya civilisation at Copán.

With all these wonderful distractions it’s been increasingly difficult to engage with the seemingly impossible delightful task of learning Spanish. With two more weeks to go, who knows, I might even be able to speak a sentence in Spanish without correction from my teacher. Wish me luck!

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