MOSCOW, MOSCOW, WHERE ART THOU MOSCOW?

Welcome to all new followers of my blog!

As it is 9th May – Victory Day – which is a huge holiday in Russia, I was going to write about my family’s connections with World War II. Unfortunately, when I was in Moscow last time, my mum was not in the mood to look through the old photos which I had planned to use for my blog, so this will have to be postponed until next year. Instead, I thought I would ask you some questions.

What is the primary aim of writing? My answer would be ‘to entertain’. But having finished ‘Ghost Love’ I came to believe there is another task: to make readers pause and think. One of the ways to do this is to set your story in a time and a place with which the readers are probably unfamiliar and by having them vicariously experience events they’ll find it intriguing.

Map of Western Europe with a bit of Russia
Map of Western Europe with a bit of Russia

‘Ghost Love’ is set – in part – in Moscow circa 1990, the time when Communism was collapsing and the Soviet Union was mutating into the Russia we know today. A pretty seismic shift in world politics when the Iron Curtain was drawn back and the Russian people for the first time in a couple of generations reconnected with the rest of the world. So I started writing ‘Ghost Love’ on the assumption that the fall of Communism was engraved in the consciousness of all of us. I was disabused of this when a Russian friend of my children came to visit. We got talking and I was amazed to find he knew nothing about this “Second Russian Revolution”. Having been born post-1990 he’d never experienced life in Communist USSR with its queues, shortages, the mindless adherence to Marxism/Leninism and the complete absence of decent shoes and jeans in the shops (it’s this last item that most annoyed me as a student!). There’s a feeling current in Russia today that the West is somehow seeking to belittle Russia and the Russians so the question we posed to ourselves was: if we don’t know our history why do we suppose people in the West would be interested?

You can see Moscow on the very right
You can see Moscow on the very right

My husband (who can be a very provocative sod when he wants to be) suggested to said friend that the majority of people in the West wouldn’t be able to find Moscow on a map which the young man thought ludicrous. Russia is an important country … everyone knows where Moscow is! So we put the assumption to the test. We drew a blank map showing the outline of continental Europe and asked people we met to mark where they thought Moscow might be located. The results (admittedly drawn from a very non-random and not statistically significant sample of 12 people) were illuminating. The nearest anyone got was 200 miles and a couple … well, the one who twinned Moscow with Paris was suitably embarrassed.

What this told me was that books are important because they get people thinking and that has to be a good thing, doesn’t it? And by-the-by, I’m now busily translating ‘Ghost Love’ into Russian and the first copy is going to my children’s friend!

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