I’m delighted to be on The Black Earth book tour today and I have an extract for you. I’d like to thank Philip Kazan, Allison & Busby and Anne Cater for asking me to join the tour. But first up, what’s The Black Earth all about? Here’s the blurb.
When the Turkish Army occupies Smyrna, Zoe Haggitiris escapes with her family, only to lose everything. Alone in a sea of desperate strangers, her life is touched, for a moment, by a young English boy, Tom Collyer, also lost, before the compassion of a stranger leads her into a new life. Years later when war breaks out, Tom finds himself in Greece and in the chaos of the British retreat, fate will lead him back to Zoe. But he will discover that the war will not end so easily for either of them.
Chapter One Smyrna,
Asia Minor, 18th September 1922
All night long she lies in the bow of the Thetis and listens to the water beneath her. Curled into the sharp angle between the low gunwales and the varnished pole of the bowsprit, chin propped on the shiny wood, the jib sail creaking just above her head, she stares out into the darkness of the great bay…
If she could just ask her father . . . She can hear him behind her, whispering to Mama as he holds the wheel steady. But she doesn’t dare turn round. Mama and Papa have forbidden it: as they had settled her down in the prow of the Thetis – Papa’s yacht, his pride and joy – they had told her that, whatever happened, she mustn’t look back. She had asked why, and they had just shaken their heads – so calm and sensible in spite of all the commotion on the dock, those two heads. There’s nothing behind us, kopella mou. Everything is ahead. Just keep looking ahead, little darling, little bird. And when the sun comes up, it will all be fine.
… Her eyes begin to sting. There is a terrifying smell: burning, but not the friendly smell of a bonfire or a kitchen fire. The girl sits up. She wants Mama to send the smoke and the noise away, so she turns around and, though she knows she shouldn’t, she looks behind her. She sees her father, arms spread across the spokes of the wheel, the faint glimmer of his smart white captain’s cap. And there is Mama, beside him, wearing her shooting clothes, a scarf tied around her head. But behind her parents, something else. Where the lights of the city should be is dense blackness slashed open to reveal a pulsing wound, dirty orange-red, almost too bright to look at. It throbs. It roars. She opens her mouth to scream. Perhaps she does scream. As the light pulses she sees other boats all around them, each one filled with shadows, and from them comes a sound, a thin wail that rises and falls, made up of whispers and sobbing. …
There is something sharp in Papa’s voice. He is looking over his left shoulder, staring intently into the mist. ‘Can you hear something?’ ‘What, darling?’ ‘There.’ Papa pushes his cap back on his head and frowns. ‘There! Engines!’ ‘I don’t . . . Yes, yes, there is something!’ As Mama says the words, the girl hears it: a low thrum, a deep pulse inside the glowing mist. ‘Too near,’ Papa says. He stoops behind the binnacle, and when he stands up again he is holding something that the girl has never seen before: a large black pistol. The pulse has suddenly become much louder. .. ‘George . . .’ Mama says. Papa thrusts his arm into the air and there is a deafening bang. The girl sees smoke, and another flash, and then the bang comes again. Mama is still holding the plate and as Papa fires again and shouts at the top of his voice, the girl is staring at the square of milk pudding so she only sees, out of the corner of her eye, a shape, an angle with no top and no bottom, black and sharp, slicing through the opal glow of the mist. She opens her mouth and then she is looking at a black wall that hisses as it moves effortlessly through the wood and brass and canvas of Thetis. She has just enough time to realise that Mama and Papa are on the other side of the wall when the yacht seems to tumble. Green water, no longer glassy but roiling and lacy with foam, is above her, all around her. There is water in her eyes, in her mouth, freezing, stifling. A deafening throb beats at her ears. It’s the monster, she thinks. It found us after all. She is rolling, weightless one moment, heavy as a stone the next. Through the sizzle of panic she can see her arms stretched out in front of her, hands clawing at nothing. They look colourless, dead. She can’t feel them, though her head is bursting. She needs to breathe: the pain in her chest is worse than anything she has ever known. If she opens her mouth, the pain will go away. If she opens her mouth . . . She is sinking, through strings of bubbles and bright things whirling past her. A porthole from the cabin glides by, going down. She reaches, reaches. And then something touches her hand. A yellow rose. She clutches at it in a frenzy, sinking her hand into red silk and undulating flowers, and as she does so something takes hold of her. She is no longer falling, but rising up, towards gauzy light. She sees a hand clutching the front of her sailor suit, and on one finger, surely, a gold ring with a blood-red stone. ..She doesn’t want to leave, now. She wants to stay down there, to take the hand and let it take her home. But instead she is thrown into the air. She gasps, retches, breathes. … She screams. One word: Mama.
Wow! What an opening.
You can pre order the book here.
PHILIP KAZAN was born in London and grew-up on Dartmoor. He is the author of two previous novels set in fifteenth-century Florence and the Petroc series following a thirteenth-century adventurer. After living in New York and Vermont, Philip is back on the edge of Dartmoor with his wife and three children.
Follow him on Twitter: @pipkazan