What your hero wants

First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him! said Ray Bradbury… When I read this I couldn’t help but think this is what happens when I write. Some of my heroes are actually heroines, and I prefer to think of them as main characters – calling them heroes or heroines subliminally suggests they are heroic, whereas actually, they are just ordinary.

One of my characters was described as a hero – but it was not the way she wanted to be described and it became an intolerable burden to her – her story appeared in the local and national news, and headlines screamed

MAN SHOT IN BANK GRAB
POLICE SHOOT ARMED ROBBER
WOMAN HELD HOSTAGE BY GUNMAN
WOMAN SAVES MOTHER FROM HOSTAGE ORDEAL

This character is Rosa Czekov, and a local journalist interviews her about her ordeal:

I  WASN’T BRAVE, ROSA CZEKOV TELLS MAISIE BAKER

I expect most of us wonder how we would react when we see news of extraordinary acts of bravery and courage by ordinary people. Certainly I did when the news broke about the woman who had offered herself as a hostage in place of a young mother during a bungled bank raid.  Rosa Czekov is the same age as I am; she’s the sort of person I went to school with, from a happy middle-class back ground, one sister, and happily married to Luka. At the time that Enoch and Ira Chambers were planning to hold up a small branch of their local bank, Rosa was running her own art gallery in Easthope.

I asked Rosa about that time, before her name became synonymous with random acts of courage. She looked slightly perplexed; she raised her eye-brows, rubbed her hand through her close cropped dark hair and gazed at me with solemn grey eyes.

“Were you different then?” I asked her.

“I suppose I must have been,” she answered with a rueful grin, but I detected a certain sadness hidden in her throw-away admission. “My life was very ordinary, as it is again now.”

“Although you no longer have the gallery.”

“Well, no,” she looked thoughtful. “But things change anyway.”

Things… Things changed for Rosa Czekov one cold November day. She was standing patiently in a queue at the small branch of Strand Penny Bank, waiting with half a dozen others while the clerk coped single-handed as his manager wrestled with a tap which wouldn’t turn off in the ladies toilet. Behind Rosa stood Charlotte Hyam and her small grizzling daughter Poppy.

Suddenly two brothers, Enoch and Ira Chambers burst into the bank, scarves round their faces, baseball caps pulled low.

I asked Rosa what happened next. She gave an imperceptible sigh, as if weary of the repetition.

Ira went to the counter while Enoch stood behind them, shouting at them to keep still, shut up, not move.

“He kept yelling he had a gun,” Rosa told me and momentarily something flickered in her expression.

Suddenly, 78-year-old Mervin Holt lashed out at Ira with his walking stick, felling him with one blow. There was a terrific explosion as Enoch fired into the ceiling and everyone screamed and crouched on the floor. Enoch grabbed Charlotte Hyam and stood with the gun poked up under her chin.

“She was leaning back against him, trying to get her face away from the gun,” Rosa said calmly. “Her coat opened and I could see she was pregnant. All the time her child was clinging to her legs, squealing with fear.”

But what happened next is where I begin to wonder what I would have done. Would I have stayed crouched on the floor with the half-dozen others?  Would I have been weeping and wetting myself with fear? Probably.

Rosa stood up slowly and calmly and explained to Enoch that she would be a better hostage than Charlotte. She was a woman but she had no child, the baby clinging to its mother’s legs would be a hindrance rather than an advantage.

“Take me,” she said.

The clerk had hit the panic button as soon as the guns had appeared. The manager, in the back had phoned the police and even as the gunshot rang out, people were being cleared away from outside the bank. As Rosa was talking quietly and calmly to Enoch Chambers, armed police were racing into the centre of Strand.

“But what you did must have taken enormous courage?” I asked.

Rosa shrugged slightly, as if it was a mystery to herself.

“I didn’t think,” she said after a moment. “I didn’t have some internal debate as to whether I should or shouldn’t. The child was screaming; the man was almost hysterical. I just stood up and – well, you know.”

Her eyes became slightly unfocused as she lived those moments again. Her husband Luka, tall, darkening blond and with film star good looks put a tray of coffee between us.

“Bloody daft,” he said with a grin. But there was a grimness in his eye which told of a different emotion.

“What happened next must have been…” and then I didn’t know what to say. How could I put into words what Rosa had experienced after that?

Enoch Chambers had dragged her out of the door of the bank, one arm round her waist, the other hand holding the gun jammed against her throat. She could feel his arm trembling; she could feel his heart pounding against her as he held her tightly to him. He shouted a dozen incoherent demands alleging he had already shot someone inside the bank. His brother Ira, still unconscious, was being tied up with garden twine by the ever resourceful Mervin Holt.

A negotiator began a dialogue.

I probed gently; how did she feel, what was going through her mind, what was she thinking of – or whom? She parried my questions with shrugs and non-committal half-comments.

And then something happened.

“I’m going to kill her!” Enoch Chambers had yelled and his elbow lifted and then Rosa was covered in blood as Enoch was killed with a single shot from a marksman.

“I don’t understand it,” said Luka suddenly. “You could have been killed,” he said almost angrily.

“But I wasn’t, my darling,” Rosa answered gently, and took his hand. I sensed that what had happened to Rosa had as deeply affected her husband. I asked them if this was so.

“Of course it affected us,” said Luka, putting his arms round her, grinning at me flirtatiously. “It affected us then; we’re alright now.”

Later as we walked round their garden I couldn’t shake off the memory of the photos in the papers from that time. Rosa standing painted with a man’s blood, her arms held out in a gesture of entreaty to the marksman standing in front of her, the gun still held to his shoulder.

I asked Rosa again why she had done it, what had given her the strength? Was she religious? No, not at all.  Was she always brave, did she like risk-taking?

“I wasn’t taking a risk,” she said as if puzzled. “It wasn’t like that, it wasn’t like that at all. I don’t know what prompted me. Sense, I suppose, common sense and perhaps a lack of imagination.”

Was that what her modesty really was, a lack of imagination? I don’t think so. I think if each of us tried to emulate Rosa Czekov in some small way, some small act of bravery, then the world would indeed be a happier and safer place.

If you want to read what happened to Rosa later, and find out who began to stalk her, then here’s a link to ‘The Stalking of Rosa Czekov’:

The stalking of Rosa

Here is an extract from a novel I wrote some time ago and published on Amazon as an e-book five years ago in 2012. I have begun to edit my books to publish on Amazon as paperbacks, and I hope this will be available in the autumn of 2018.

The Stalking of Rosa Czekov… Tyche is out on a run in the country near the small seaside town of Easthope:

She trotted on until she came to the bottom road to Oak and on an impulse took it. She had slowed, losing the impetus, disrupted by the phone call. The road was narrower and she stepped up onto the verge and ran on the grass as two cars passed. It was a mistake coming along here, it wasn’t wide enough and there were too many bends and high hedges. She ran on, wondering whether she should turn round but she was half way to Oak so she pushed on. She was tiring; she had gone further than she intended and deviating to Oak added extra miles.
There was the sound of a car behind her but glancing back it was not yet in sight. There was nowhere for her to step off the road now, the verge had petered out so she increased her stride to get to a place she could wait. The car was creeping along and she wondered whether to stop for it to pass. It was bugging her now. She glanced over her shoulder and it was in sight, and it looked like one of the two which had just passed her.
She was filled with fear; was this him? She had a spurt of energy, resisting the urge to keep looking back. It was a maroon off-roader, she didn’t know enough about cars to know what sort. It was crawling along; it could be the stalker or it could just be some creep ogling her as she ran. She couldn’t go on at this pace and she stopped. The car stopped. She turned and trotted back towards it and it went into reverse. Angry now, Tyche found some strength to run.
And then suddenly with a crash of gears it was accelerating towards her.
Oh shit!
She turned and ran seeking some escape. There was a wooden fence instead of the hedge and she ran and jumped and managed to scramble her way over, catching her foot on the top and catapulting headfirst into a field. She lay winded for a minute. The car had slowed on the other side of the fence then drove slowly away.
Tyche sat up, panting. The front of her vest was grass stained and there were marks on her knees. She was rubbing at her legs when she heard the car; it was in the field, it had come in an open gateway further up and it was bumping over the rough pasture towards her. She sprang to her feet and ran off across the field, the car was accelerating now and she had no doubt that the driver intended to run her down. She jinked sideways and ran towards a tumbledown cattle shed. She was at the limit of her stamina and strength and the car was roaring after her. She slowed and the car slowed behind her; he was playing with her, he could have knocked her over before now. She slowed more and so did he.
She suddenly leapt forward and ran as fast she could and he accelerated. She gave a flying jump and somehow managed to vault the old bath which served as a water trough; she slipped as she landed and rolled away but it didn’t matter, the car had gone straight into the bath with a satisfying crash.
Exhausted though she was, she sprinted away from the shed, not knowing whether she would be pursued on foot. She knew where she was now, knew where she was going. She climbed another fence into a field of maize and made her way down a row pushing between the plants.
She was spent, only fear carrying her on. There was a noise behind her and a plume of smoke rose from the field, it had to be the car. She pressed on and came at last to another fence, climbed wearily over into the garden and made her way through the shrubs and then across the overgrown lawn. Remembering Rosa’s words, she counted along the ornamental bricks at the edge of the patio, lifted one and found the key. She went to the back door, let herself in and switched off the alarm and then with the door shut and locked behind her she sank to the floor, shattered.

©Lois Elsden

https://www.amazon.co.uk/STALKING-ROSA-CZEKOV-Lois-Elsden-ebook/dp/B008D29O5Y/ref=sr_1_13?ie=UTF8&qid=1500648766&sr=8-13&keywords=lois+elsden

When nothing happens

Like many people I’m on Linkedin (which for a quite a while, for no reason, I thought was called Lindlekin ) I rarely use it at all but occasionally I get notifications and today it was from a writing group, and it was a question “When nothing happens – Do you like stories that have ambiguous endings or stories in which not much happens? For example, instead of being plot-driven, a story can be character-driven?”

Now that’s a very good question! I actually don’t like stories where nothing much happens… I’ve written before about my reading habits, and how I think in some ways I am not as good a reader as I used to be – although recently I’ve had string of successful ‘reads’, so maybe I’m improving! I used to be able to wade through anything and persevere to the end… now ‘when nothing happens‘ I tend to give up! A friend in our reading group loves beautifully written books, loves the language of them… but I’m afraid I want some story line, I want some sort of action! I don’t mean that there has to be a punch up on every page or a chase or a romantic development, but I want to feel as if there is some sort of progression.

It’s the same in my writing, I like to have some sort of progression, people change, relationships begin or end, events occur – unexpected, unlooked-for, sometimes unwanted! I guess I like plots! Characters are everything, and setting, but there must be a plot… and endings… satisfactory endings are vital! A satisfactory ending is not necessarily a closed, completed ending, it can be open or ambiguous – but it must conclude the proceedings! I have a very good friend who very kindly tells me honestly what she thinks of my stories, and I always take great heed of her suggestions and advice; on one occasion she commented that an ending (of Flipside) was too brief – everything was wrapped up and concluded too hastily and although the mystery was solved, the characters were left sort of hanging about! So in the next book I worked very hard on the ending – and I’m delighted to say she approved!

Just to briefly look at the endings of my novels…

  • Farholm – the puzzle is solved, the mystery revealed, but for the characters there will continue to be difficulties after the conclusion – grieving will continue, an unhappy relationship struggles on, and another relationship will never even start
  • The Stalking of Rosa Czekov – the stalker is revealed, but  a new relationship based on a rather precarious foundation begins on almost the last page
  • Loving Judah – a resolved ending, but I hope I have pointed the reader towards realising there will be a rocky road ahead for two of the characters
  • The Double Act – a complete conclusion – but when I came to do the final edit, I had to add an extra bit – an epilogue I guess you could call it. The dramatic action had ended in a flourish, but the reader needed a come-down, so I added a final piece when the two main characters are visited by the investigating police officer some months later; readers can imagine an optimistic onward journey, I hope
  • night vision – all the secrets are revealed, and the main character is overwhelmed with happiness and relief, but I hope the reader will see that in actual fact, her optimism might be misguided
  • Lucky Portbraddon – for some of the Portbraddon family, their lives seem settled and hopeful at the end of the book; for others there are unresolved issues, but I hope it is a satisfactory ending since the characters all seem in a position to deal with an unsettled future
  • The Radwinter stories – the first novel, Radwinter, was supposed to be a stand-alone story with a complete conclusion and a short epilogue to pull everything together; it could have remained like that but I realised only half the story was told, and so a sequel appeared… and then it seemed somehow a series emerged. I hope each one is also stand-alone, and I try to tie up the different narrative strands satisfactorily

So to answer the original question – I don’t like books where nothing happens, I don’t mind an ambiguous ending, but it must be a satisfactory ending!

Here is a link to my books:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

Promoting my stuff

If you’re just an ordinary person, bragging about yourself is totally alien… If you’re an ordinary British person, it’s even more so. We’re not good at receiving compliments, modesty and self-deprecation are qualities ingrained, so now for me, when I want to reach an audience for my books, it’s tricky to balance overcome my natural unwillingness to blow my own trumpet. I guess that’s where agents come in, agents can promote work, and get it out there in an expert way. However, I don’t have an agent, and in a funny sort of way, now I have been self-publishing and self-promoting for five years, I sort of like it – every success is down to me! Oops, am I blowing my own trumpet?

Why do I want people to read my stories? Why do musicians want an audience? Why do artists want the world to see their work? Why do actors get up on a stage rather than prancing around in front of a mirror? For me, being a story-teller is natural, it’s what I am, in my every day life I’m for ever going on about something or another, something that happened to me, something I saw/did/heard/learnt/took part in. When I was a professional teacher, the kids would always say ‘oh no, not another story’, when I launched into something – I think (hope) they actually liked my ramblings… I did it almost without thought, my mind leaping from the subject in hand to something which happened to me or a friend or a cousin, or something I just randomly made up to entertain.

An example of the ‘made-up’ stories I told my students, apart from ‘the ghost of the fourth floor’ which became a college legend, was about my teaching assistant, Sally. I can’t even now remember how I got onto talking about what we had done in our lives apart from working in schools, when I went into a lengthy description of Sally’s past life growing up in a circus, being a trapeze artist with spangly tights and revealing costume, how in her free time she was exceedingly modest ad wore long dresses, and her future husband fell in love with her when she was looking after the coconut shy and he caught a glimpse of her ankle as she bent down to pick up a fallen coconut…

So back to my trumpet blowing… Yes, I want people to read my stories! yes I actually think they are not too bad – self-deprecation alert – they are quite good! So… if you haven’t read any yet – here is a really brief fanfare for each:

  • Radwinter – Thomas finds out more about himself and his own family than about his ancestors… who actually had quite a dramatic time, fleeing 1830’s war-torn Warsaw and jumping ship in Harwich
  • Magick (Radwinter 2) – the rather terrifying father of Thomas’s step-son comes in search of ‘his boy’
  • Raddy and Syl (Radwinter 3) – mysterious Moroccans preying on an old woman, a disappeared woman who may not have even existed, and shocking truths about his own family – Thomas has quite a difficult series of event to deal with
  • Beyond Hope (Radwinter 4) – Thomas meets a dangerous psychopath, and somehow gets involved in people smuggling
  • Earthquake -(Radwinter 5) – a haunted hotel, an eighty year old mystery which brings danger to the present… Thomas is really under pressure
  • Farholm – who  killed young girls on the island of Farholm? Is he still on the loose, or was a recently widowed woman’s dead husband responsible?
  • The Stalking of Rosa Czekov – who stalked Rosa to her death… and has s/he moved on to a new victim?
  • Loving Judah – can Aislin and her husband Peter ever get over the death of his son Judah?
  • night vision – a thirty year old murder is discovered
  • Flipside – is a war damaged veteran responsible for a series of dreadful murders… or is he a victim pf more than his war service?
  • The Double Act – Don’t think this novel is a romance, this may be a love story… but the other side of love is dark love
  • Lucky Portbraddon – perhaps the Portbraddons are not so lucky, murder, drugs, madness, modern slavery… but also unexpected love

Are you tempted? They are all available as e-readers, Radwinter is also available as a paperback

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=a9_sc_1?rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Alois+elsden&keywords=lois+elsden&ie=UTF8&qid=1499501921

 

Anything is possible

Anything, literally anything is possible… when you write!! In your writing you can be anything you want to be, an astronaut, a channel swimmer, the head of a royal family, a maintenance worker on the Forth Road Bridge – you can go back in time and be a housecarl fighting in the battle of Hastings, or a Roman wife on Hadrian’s Wall inviting her friends to a dinner party, a sweeper on the streets of nineteenth century London, or you can go forward in time, or travel to distant places, travel beyond our solar system beyond our galaxy – you can be anything, be anywhere, do whatever you want… when you write!

You can be more modest and write about a different life in today’s world, but even then you can change your age, your gender, your talents and abilities, your character – you can make yourself ‘better’ than you are, or infinitely worse!

My characters in my books are just ordinary people who just live pretty ordinary lives. Although i don’t write in the first person for all my novels, I do try and ‘become my characters to properly understand why they do and say the things they do and say. I write far more than ever appears in my stories because I’m filling in these people’s lives so they are there as rounded characters and I hope believable characters before they ever land there on the page!

For example, in ‘night vision’, the story of a couple whose marriage is on the brink of disaster, some of the husband’s actions and behaviour seems inexplicable (as it does with real people in real life) but I know why he is as he is, and even though by the end when I hope the reader will accept him as believable, and even though not all his behaviours have been explained, I will know in my omniscient author way! We met people in real life and don’t know why they are as they are, do as they do, say what they say, so I want it to be the same in my books (without being frustrating r annoying!!)

So going back to my original thought of being able to be whatever and whoever you like when you write, I guess the most extreme example for me might be Rudi in ‘The Stalking of Rosa Czekov’, and of course Thomas Radwinter, whose life and adventures I’ve chronicled over several books!

Here are links to my e-books:

night vision – https://www.amazon.co.uk/night-vision-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B00BMZ6UWY/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1498298842&sr=8-8&keywords=lois+elsden

The Stalking of Rosa Czekov – https://www.amazon.co.uk/STALKING-ROSA-CZEKOV-Lois-Elsden-ebook/dp/B008D29O5Y/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&qid=1498298842&sr=8-11&keywords=lois+elsden

The Radwinter stories – https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-5-Book-Series/dp/B072HTG366/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1498298842&sr=8-7&keywords=lois+elsden

and my first paperback so far, Radwinter – https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-Lois-Elsden-x/dp/1521415196/ref=sr_1_2_twi_pap_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1498298842&sr=8-2&keywords=lois+elsden

Something happened…

Many years ago I wrote a story called ‘A Strong Hand From Above’; I’ve not published and not sure I will – I may completely rewrite it, take the plot, take some of the characters and rewrite the whole thing. The end of the story is – I hoped when I wrote it, quite exciting, escape from death, a shoot up in the depths of a Welsh forest, but there is a misunderstanding between the two main characters, which is eventually righted on the last few pages.

When I finished it, all those years before, I kept on following the characters story in my head… and rather than it be happy ever after, it occurred to me that after such shocking events, and even with the happy ending, in reality the two main people would be quite traumatised, and it would probably effect their relationship. Their lives couldn’t go back to how they had been in the before, because they would always remember the horror.

I didn’t write a sequel to ‘Farholm’, another of my novels and the first I published, but again, the story of my characters, in this case Deke and Michael carried on – and I actually wrote quite a lot of it down. I was tempted to follow their lives – ad maybe I will one day… or maybe I will just take the idea of what happened to them and write about that with new characters.

In ‘The Stalking of Rosa Czekov’ I did write about the afterwards – before the novel begins Rosa is in a hostage situation, and the man who has taken her is shot dead, standing right beside her with a gun to her head – I’m not spoiling anything by revealing this! My story explores the effect of this on Rosa, her husband, her friends, and the person who may be stalking her – or is she imagining it, haunted by what she experienced?

I saw these swans and their cygnets…

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… and seeing them swimming along towards the little bridge was like the action in a story – and look there I am, the shadowy observer!

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… and after they have gone, there is just the merest trace of their trail through the duckweed, the event happened, and it left its trace!

The Story of Rosa Czekov…

Over the last few weeks I have shared excerpts from my novels about Thomas Radwinter who traces his  family history, and then later investigates other people’s stories, and not just genealogical ones, but mysteries in their everyday lives.

Over the next month I am  sharing excerpts from my other novels; this is the opening chapters of ‘The Stalking of Rosa Czekov’

The Stalking of Rosa Czekov

1

The first person to arrive at the cemetery stepped cautiously through the gates just after five in the morning. Her trainers left their marks on the path as she hesitantly walked towards the western end. The dew was heavy, the grass beaded and bent as if burdened.
She was very tired, she had been driving all night and she walked slowly but even so she missed her way. She retraced her footsteps and took a side path and found the grave. She looked around as if someone might be here even at this early hour then squatted and read the inscription. She shook her head as if mystified, gave a small sad smile and quickly left the graveyard.
The next person to arrive came nearly an hour later, still early enough to avoid the risk of meeting another. He approached the cemetery, entered and made his way to the grave. He had a single rose and laid it gently at the foot of the marble stone, stood with head bowed for a moment and then thoughtfully made his way back to his car parked in a pub car park beyond a row of nearby shops on Cemetery Drive.
Just before eight o’clock a car stopped across the gates and another man jumped out. He walked quickly into the cemetery and straight along the path, turning left to the grave he sought. He placed the small posy he was clutching on the pea gravel before the stone. He took a deep breath as if he was only just holding onto his composure, his jaw working, his lips pressed hard together. He wanted to say something it was clear but he glanced at his watch, swallowed down his words and his emotions and walked away as rapidly as he had come.
A car drew up behind his. The door opened and a woman stepped onto the pavement and they brushed cheeks in an insincere greeting. They exchanged a few words, the man bending to nod and mouth a greeting to her passenger.
The man drove off as the woman hurried into the graveyard, her heels clicking as she walked. She spent a few minutes tidying the grave, emptying the sunken pot of its murky water and putting in her own bunch of flowers. She primped them, tweaking them into position as she might her hair. She looked around, saw a jar on the next grave, emptied it of its wilting contents and inserted the posy the man had left. She pulled up a few little weeds before leaving swiftly without a backwards glance, as if she might be late.
A distant church struck eight. A third man had been waiting for more than two hours in the shadow of the war memorial on the corner of Cemetery Drive. As the woman and her passenger drove away he walked to the gates and then past them without a glance. At the end of the cemetery wall he turned and walked back again, passing the gate a second time. The third time he entered without checking his purposeful stride.
Although he knew where to go, although he had been many times before he walked straight to the northern wall where he turned and stood beside a tree, looking down the long tarmacced path. He stood, hands in pockets, as if unaware of the tears tracking down his cheeks. The sudden shrieking chatter of a magpie made him look up and he wiped his eyes; he made his slow way down the main path, turning off to his right. He stood still then squatted, one arm along the top of the gravestone, and brushed the face of it with his fingertips. He bent forward, and leant his forehead against the cold marble.

2

The woman who had arrived first at the cemetery was sitting in her silver Peugeot parked by the seawall in Strand. She sat with her head tipped against the headrest seeming too weary to move.  She stirred herself as if with a great effort and took up a file beside her.  She pulled out a plastic wallet, extracted the sheets of writing paper within and began to read, not because she needed to, but as a sort of touchstone.

I’m writing it like this to try and gain some objectivity, to try and distance myself from ‘It’.
‘It’ was a large and beautiful bouquet, addressed to her but without a note; ‘it’ was the bouquet which neither her husband nor her lover admitted to having sent; ‘it’ was the bunch of flowers which seemed to be the first thing.
Maybe there were other things. Her keys went missing and then were in her bag. Her underwear disappeared from the line and then turned up on the bed in the spare room. The biscuit tin which had been empty was full of her favourite biscuits when she opened it to put in a packet of digestives. Maybe these other things were her own forgetfulness, or Luka’s.  So maybe the bouquet was the first thing.

 The woman in the car slipped the page back with the others and drew another file from the folder. She took out the sheaf of news cuttings and leafed through them.

MAN SHOT IN BANK GRAB

POLICE SHOOT ARMED ROBBER

WOMAN HELD HOSTAGE BY GUNMAN

WOMAN SAVES MOTHER FROM HOSTAGE ORDEAL

She read the familiar words and then unfolded a full page article from a broadsheet.

I  WASN’T BRAVE, ROSA CZEKOV TELLS MAISIE BAKER

I expect most of us wonder how we would react when we see news of extraordinary acts of bravery and courage by ordinary people. Certainly I did when the news broke about the woman who had offered herself as a hostage in place of a young mother during a bungled bank raid.  Rosa Czekov is the same age as I am; she’s the sort of person I went to school with, from a happy middle-class back ground, one sister, and happily married to Luka. At the time that Enoch and Ira Chambers were planning to hold up a small branch of their local bank, Rosa was running her own art gallery in Easthope.
I asked Rosa about that time, before her name became synonymous with random acts of courage. She looked slightly perplexed; she raised her eye-brows, rubbed her hand through her close-cropped dark hair and gazed at me with solemn grey eyes.
“Were you different then?” I asked her.
“I suppose I must have been,” she answered with a rueful grin, but I detected a certain sadness hidden in her throw-away admission. “My life was very ordinary, as it is again now.”
“Although you no longer have the gallery.”
“Well, no,” she looked thoughtful. “But things change anyway.”
Things.
Things changed for Rosa Czekov one cold November day. She was standing patiently in a queue at the small branch of Strand Penny Bank, waiting with half a dozen others while the clerk coped single-handed as his manager wrestled with a tap which wouldn’t turn off in the ladies toilet. Behind Rosa stood Charlotte Hyam and her small grizzling daughter Poppy.
Suddenly two brothers, Enoch and Ira Chambers burst into the bank, scarves round their faces, baseball caps pulled low.
I asked Rosa what happened next.
She gave an imperceptible sigh, as if weary of the repetition.
Ira went to the counter while Enoch stood behind them, shouting at them to keep still, shut up, not move.
“He kept yelling he had a gun,” Rosa told me and momentarily something flickered in her expression.
Suddenly, 78 year old Mervin Holt lashed out at Ira with his walking stick, felling him with one blow. There was a terrific explosion as Enoch fired into the ceiling and everyone screamed and crouched on the floor. Enoch grabbed Charlotte Hyam and stood with the gun poked up under her chin.
“She was leaning back against him, trying to get her face away from the gun,” Rosa said calmly. “Her coat opened and I could see she was pregnant. All the time her child was clinging to her legs squealing with fear.”
But what happened next is where I begin to wonder what I would have done. Would I have stayed crouched on the floor with the half dozen others?  Would I have been weeping and wetting myself with fear? Probably.
Rosa stood up slowly and calmly and explained to Enoch that she would be a better hostage than Charlotte. She was a woman but she had no child, the baby clinging to its mother’s legs would be a hindrance rather than an advantage.
“Take me,” she said.
The clerk had hit the panic button as soon as the guns had appeared. The manager, in the back had phoned the police and even as the gunshot rang out, people were being cleared away from outside the bank. As Rosa was talking quietly and calmly to Enoch Chambers, armed police were racing into the centre of Strand.
“But what you did must have taken enormous courage?” I asked.
Rosa shrugged slightly, as if it was a mystery to herself.
“I didn’t think,” she said after a moment. “I didn’t have some internal debate as to whether I should or shouldn’t. The child was screaming; the man was almost hysterical. I just stood up and – well, you know.”
Her eyes became slightly unfocused as she lived those moments again.
Her husband Luka, tall, darkening blond and with film star good looks put a tray of coffee between us.
“Bloody daft,” he said with a grin. But there was a grimness in his eye which told of a different emotion.
“What happened next must have been…” and then I didn’t know what to say. How could I put into words what Rosa had experienced after that?
Enoch Chambers had dragged her out of the door of the bank, one arm round her waist, the other hand holding the gun jammed against her throat. She could feel his arm trembling; she could feel his heart pounding against her as he held her tightly to him.
He shouted a dozen incoherent demands alleging he had already shot someone inside the bank. His brother Ira, still unconscious, was being tied up with garden twine by the ever resourceful Mervin Holt.
A negotiator began a dialogue.
I probed gently; how did she feel, what was going through her mind, what was she thinking of – or whom? She parried my questions with shrugs and non-committal half-comments.
And then something happened.
“I’m going to kill her!” Enoch Chambers had yelled and his elbow lifted and then Rosa was covered in blood as Enoch was killed with a single shot from a marksman.
“I don’t understand it,” said Luka suddenly. “You could have been killed,” he said almost angrily.
“But I wasn’t, my darling,” Rosa answered gently, and took his hand.
I sensed that what had happened to Rosa had as deeply affected her husband. I asked them if this was so.
“Of course it affected us,” said Luka, putting his arms round her, grinning at me flirtatiously. “It affected us then, we’re alright now.”
Later as we walked round their garden I couldn’t shake off the memory of the photos in the papers from that time. Rosa standing painted with a man’s blood, her arms held out in a gesture of entreaty to the marksman standing, gun still held to his shoulder.
I asked Rosa again why she had done it, what had given her the strength? Was she religious? No, not at all.  Was she always brave, did she like risk-taking?
“I wasn’t taking a risk,” she said as if puzzled. “It wasn’t like that, it wasn’t like that at all. I don’t know what prompted me. Sense, I suppose, common sense and perhaps a lack of imagination.”
Was that what her modesty really was, a lack of imagination? I don’t think so. I think if each of us tried to emulate Rosa Czekov in some small way, some small act of bravery, then the world would indeed be a happier and safer place.

The woman in the car looked at the photo of Rosa Czekov. A solemn face, a sad face. The picture said everything the piece had not. I’m changed, I’m different, something happened.
The woman pulled out her phone, and looked in the driving mirror as she waited to be connected.
“Yes, hello, am I speaking with Luka Czekov? Hello, Luka. You may not remember me, I’m Rosa’s cousin from Australia, I’m Tyche Kane.”

Here is a link to ‘Rosa’:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/STALKING-ROSA-CZEKOV-Lois-Elsden-ebook/dp/B008D29O5Y/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1482529425&sr=8-8&keywords=lois+elsden

… and here is a link to my other e-books:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden