Thursday, 20 April 2017

Character Study for my First Novel

Here's a start I made on a character study for my first attempt at a novel, centred on the crew of an Algerian seaman in the mid-1950s who smuggles lamb into the Levant then Turkish morphine base and Laotian opium into Marseilles for the Union Corse, then WWII surplus arms into Algeria to foment the liberation war against colonial France. The character study is of the ship's motorman, in other words, unlicensed mechanic, who starts out as an anarchist barber in the port of Donostia, Basque Country, becomes a gunman during the Spanish Civil War, then flees the fascist defeat of Donostia and becomes a smuggler. The actual writing style will differ significantly from my character studies, however. The core characters, like this one, are of my own creation, but some, like Queen Dina bint ‘Abdu’l-Hamid of Jordan  whose yacht delivered the first known shipment of arms to the Algerian freedom fighters via Morocco in February 1955 – are real!

The shiv was hand-made, and that made him proud, for he’d previously always had flash through his hands steel manufactured by lathe in Sheffield or elsewhere, things of sublime silvered beauty that reflected the moonlight just so, to be sure, but machined things nevertheless, nomatter the craftsmanship keening the edge. But this was half of his own creation, half of a forgotten madness. He’d found the naked haft lying in a pile of smoking evidence destroyed in some leger demain out the back of the Guardia Civil station in Elizalde, a river village just inland from Donostia, then an industrial port city on the make. He’d wiped the blackened detritus of burned cotton – clearly the clothes of some disappeared crim – off the glowering blade and looked at it in wonder. He was only sixteen. 
The blade was crude and manufactured from a simple slice of steel. It was the shape of a Roman spearhead – the same that did Jesus in and that the Nazis had by rumour stolen from a museum in Austria – but this was more visceral and real. Its fat and heavy core was bevelled at the edges with a rough but purpose-oriented eye on a grinder. It was shaped with two slight transverse points at the base of the blade, as a means, it seemed, of giving an overzealous stabber a moment of pause before plunging their fist wrist-deep into an enemy’s belly. There were incautious hacklines at that midpoint because grace and a fine finish were not its purpose; rapid, perfunctory death was its aim. 
He’d had a long-lost friend drill three holes into its handle two decades ago; two held fast an ageing wooden handle with brass pins, and the third held a hank of black leather cord with which he could swing it, casually, suggestively, as he walked the night streets. 
His name was Joan Gomes Etxebehere, a Basque motorman, somewhat feared on the timeless docks and fish-stunk alleyways of Donostia, but the Spaniards called him Navaja, meaning Razor, for he carried in his greasy leather toolbelt not only the spanners and hex keys of his current trade, but the straight-razor and shaving kit of his prior. For Navaja had been a barber before the conflagration – though in later life, a gunman after a sort – so his pitch-black hair and curled moustache were always impeccable, regardless of the soiled degeneration of his dungarees. Sharpness was his creed, and the home-made shiv he carried hidden in a leather pouch sewn into the inside of his left boot.