I’m delighted to be welcoming Paul E Hardisty as my guest today on the Orenda blog tour organised by Anne Cater.
Paul has written a thought provoking article on time which seamlessly segues into the importance of time in his novel, Reconciliation for the Dead. It makes for an interesting read and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
I have always been fascinated by time. As I write this, I am about to start out on my second day of walking along Hadrian’s Wall, the fortification that the Emperor Hadrian ordered his legions to build in the early second century AD along the north-western frontier of the empire. The wall runs across eighty miles of spectacular country from coast to coast in Northern Britain, and includes some of the best preserved Roman forts and towns in the world. It’s a great walk. You can almost see the soldiers at their posts, looking north into the wilds of Caledonia, hear the shouts of the Centurions, smell the fires from the encampments two thousand years ago. So long ago, and yet, in historical terms (and certainly geologically) a heart-beat, the flutter of a wing, nothing more. The countryside hasn’t changed much – the same ridges and hills are here, a few more roads and buildings – but for us, seventy generations have come and gone, and these echoes we hear are pure imagining.
Time, and its companion entropy, do not destroy, but rather they convert potential. I always visualize time as a funnel, with the mouth pointing towards the future. Behind the constriction is the past. The present converts the infinite possibility and potential of the future – all of the endless permutations of what might be – into a single, definitive, invariant past. The present gobbles up the potential of the future and fixes it for ever. Hadrian did order the wall built in 120 AD, and it is still here for us to see now. I did sit down and use this hour to write this piece, rather than practice my martial art (or go for a run, or watch TV, or read, or any one of the other thousand things I might have done), and so now, it exists. The past cannot be changed, but the present, where we live our lives, can be shaped. That is what it is for. I find this hugely empowering.
In my new novel, Reconciliation for the Dead, Claymore Straker returns to South Africa to testify to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1997. He needs to tell the truth about the horrible things he experienced as a young soldier fighting the communist insurgency in Angola in the early 1980s. In the novel, I try to capture the role and power of time in several ways. The main narrative concerns Clay’s uncovering of apartheid South Africa’s secret chemical and biological weapons programme (operation COAST), and his subsequent desertion from the army and escape to Mozambique. Interspersed within these chapters are excerpts from TRC transcripts, in which Clay gives testimony that elaborates on the story. Throughout the main narrative (which is itself a flashback), the reader flashes forward to connect Clay’s recollections of the past with his reactions and thoughts as the events actually transpired. The implication here, of course, is that so often we cannot grasp the reality of an event, especially a traumatic one, until after we have had time to reflect upon it. Sometimes, we all know, this can take years, even decades.
In using the present to try to absolve the sins of his past, Clay is trying to shape his own future, and break away from what seems to be a preordained and unhappy destiny. Perhaps the world, right now, needs to do a bit of this.
©Paul E. Hardisty
Fresh from events in Yemen and Cyprus, vigilante justice-seeker Claymore Straker returns to South Africa, seeking absolution for the sins of his past. Over four days, he testifies to Desmond Tutu’s newly established Truth and Reconciliation Commission, recounting the shattering events that led to his dishonourable discharge and exile, fifteen years earlier.
It was 1980. The height of the Cold War. Clay is a young paratrooper in the South African Army, fighting in Angola against the Communist insurgency that threatens to topple the White Apartheid regime. On a patrol deep inside Angola, Clay, and his best friend, Eben Barstow, find themselves enmeshed in a tangled conspiracy that threatens everything they have been taught to believe about war, and the sacrifices that they, and their brothers in arms, are expected to make.
Witness and unwitting accomplice to an act of shocking brutality, Clay changes allegiance and finds himself labelled a deserter and accused of high treason, setting him on a journey into the dark, twisted heart of institutionalised hatred, from which no one will emerge unscathed.
Exploring true events from one of the most hateful chapters in South African history, Reconciliation for the Dead is a shocking, explosive and gripping thriller from one finest writers in contemporary crime fiction.
Canadian by birth, Paul E Hardisty has spent 25 years working all over the world as an engineer, hydrologist and environmental scientist. He has roughnecked on oil rigs in Texas, explored for gold in the Arctic, mapped geology in Eastern Turkey (where he was befriended by PKK rebels), and rehabilitated water wells in the wilds of Africa. He was in Ethiopia in 1991 as the Mengistu regime fell, and was bumped from one of the last flights out of Addis Ababa by bureaucrats and their families fleeing the rebels. In 1993 he survived a bomb blast in a café in Sana’a, and was one of the last Westerners out of Yemen before the outbreak of the 1994 civil war. Paul is a university professor and Director of Australia’s national land, water, ecosystems and climate adaptation research programmes. He is a sailor, a private pilot, keen outdoorsman, conservation volunteer, and lives in Western Australia with his family.
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