Genesis of Deeply
The idea for Deeply With The Sun In Our Eyes had many triggers, the seminal one coming on a voyage from Singapore north to Port Klang (formerly Port Swettenham) in 1973.
Nearing Christmas Day and not many hours into the overnight journey, I came off watch at 4pm on the Erawan. On the port side was an interminable arc of warships, their formation shaped like a bow, beginning near-sighted as a large, grey and foreboding destroyer and, in the vanguard hardly more than a speck on the horizon, another such beast. The sight was unforgettable.
The chief officer on the bridge lent me his binoculars and announced that this was the U.S. Sixth Fleet heading north. The Vietnam War was engaging American minds everywhere. Henry Kissinger’s was one, in discussions with the North Vietnamese representatives in Paris, seeking to find a way out of the mess as were the protest movement, the soldiers on the ground, the airmen and the sailors.
The Far East’s history was another point of interest and especially the Fall of Singapore. I came to this in earnest after a holiday to the Island State and a cruise that sailed up Malaysia’s west coast.
Books on this remarkable event were easy to come by. Remarkable because Britain’s loss of the “jewel in the crown” Singapore’s venerable colonial nomenclature, happened in just under ten weeks. Everything went wrong, the defence of the Island, shambolic from beginning to end.
Capitulation 14 February 1942
Nothing was ever the same for Britain in the Far East after Singapore fell. For Australia, it meant that we had suddenly become exposed, vulnerable and, but for the United States, would probably have also succumbed to Japanese conquest.
“Deeply” began nudging me in 2007. Reading garnered characters such as, the historical British traitor Patrick Heenan, Yamashita, Percival and the cantankerous Australian general, Gordon Bennett.
In the six years to 2013, Deeply had only managed an advance of 60,000 words. The practice of law a distant memory, a further 165,000 completed the first draft at the end of 2014.
“Edit, edit, edit” are the catchwords thrown at all new authors and, five years on, the manuscript was trimmed, polished, adjusted, worked, re-worked and much else to shape it into a readable story.
Others can decide what has been achieved in writing such an epic and, at times, complex story. As with a new barrister, where the old hacks experienced in criminal law used to say to us keen, wide-eyed juniors, “Remember, truth is stranger than fiction,” so perhaps should travel the novice author and strive to blend the ring of truth to fiction.
In writing Deeply, an attempt was made to demonstrate that real love’s best proof finds its most unalloyed expression in personal sacrifice. Its original face may best be illustrated by the words of the Disciple John, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Extracts from Chapters 7 and 8
Muddy water lapping the corner of Richard’s swollen mouth siphoned into his lungs. A paroxysm of coughing clearing his airways, but excruciating chest pain engulfed him. A torrential Malayan downpour hammered his body like pellets from an air rifle. A minute more and he would have drowned.
As the agony subsided, he sat up in a drainage ditch. To one side a narrow, unsealed road wove ahead. To the other, a row of trees. He swivelled onto all fours and tried to push himself up but slumped down again as a wave of nausea overtook him. It was as if a bolt of lightning had struck, befuddling his capacity to reason and gnawing at his head.
He had no idea where he was except that he was exposed to a cloudburst. For a chilling moment, an illusion enshrouded him where some phantasmagoric director, intent on mayhem rather than filming a scene, had ratcheted up the rainmaking jets to unendurable pressure in order to capture an actor in his death throes.
Then the rain began to ease, and wits returned. He felt the striations of several cuts and lumps as recollection of the conflagration gradually formed on him. Richard Kirnst had been pole-axed. Skin flaps on the prominent knuckles of his left hand implied that he must have reacted instinctively. The thought gave him a grim feeling of accomplishment, for he hated to concede that, notwithstanding having been bettered in the affray, the assailant had avoided being tagged.
Anger welled within him and a wild desire to seek redress for the iniquity of the incident overcame inertia as he staggered to his feet. Severe discomfort continued to wrack his chest, lower back and ribs, leading him to remember the denouement as the repetitive application of a heavy boot.
Checking the time again, he saw it was after one o’clock, and the reverberations in the distance were no closer. Resting only prolonged the agony of the restart, so he pressed on. But, having no realisation of how badly beaten he was, his lungs refused to provide the sustenance required to maintain greater than inept movement.
On such occasions, when the human instinct somehow produces additional physical strength, mental acuity begins to shut down. Richard failed to pick up the vehicle’s approach until it was almost upon him. By then he was beyond dreading the consequences of his enemy’s return, blank to all cognition except for the sound of a woman’s voice…
Faircrossman opted to take a shorter, less-travelled route for their return drive. In private confines, the ongoing relationship tensions were in sharp contrast to the displays of equanimity he manifested in front of his friends. The meeting had been an expedient diversion and the socialising welcome, yet a tentative hope for an embryonic thaw was soon dispelled.
Not given to skirting any topic on his mind, Faircrossman moved to the source of most conflict as delicately as if he was trying to lance a boil. “No doubt we’ll need to be more vigilant from now on as far as the plantation is concerned.”
“You mean with the expanded tapping and export demands?” Greda enquired disingenuously.
“All of that, of course.” He hesitated, sensing trouble. “I think you should, ah, try to, with these developments, keep focusing pretty much on the home front and Jonathon.”
“Meaning that I cease working,” unable to resist the pointed response.
He tried to sound relaxed. “Well, until we know more, you’re at risk getting about.”
She wasn’t so diplomatic. “Just as you are, Edward? So, you’ll stop touring the countryside? Your son just might need his father, too.”
Sarcasm infuriated him. There was a pause which afforded her all the more incentive to employ the advantage she’d gained. “You were saying?”
After a silence, he snorted imperiously. “Greda, I wish you’d understand one thing. Whatever you do is discretionary. I don’t have a choice. The entire outfit depends on me. It demands travel, sourcing labourers, checking the mine, getting contracts signed, sealed and delivered and ensuring my exports are loaded onto ships. My point is, your place is at home.”
He overrode the attempt to speak by bracing his forearm across her chest. Greda arched her body forward in an effort to push him away. “What’s come over you? Shut up and listen, damn it,” his voice plagued with fury. “None of this can be done by me idling away at home hoping all will somehow—”
“Look out!” she screamed as a silhouette loomed before their headlights. Stooped and apparently insensible to the vehicle’s presence, it lurched forward.
Faircrossman seized the steering wheel with both hands swinging it hard to the left before bringing the car to a halt.
“Lord, did I hit him?” he asked, unaware that his passenger had decamped.
Faircrossman glanced towards his wife, somewhat remorseful. Greda wasn’t cognisant of the attention and his penitence evaporated. Her thoughts were centred on the injured man. She went to the stairway, saying she would check on him.
He used her absence to access a safe. Returning with his wallet, he took out a photograph of the comely Asian woman. It was a sight so salacious that he missed the light step. Having scarcely concealed the item as Greda passed nearby, he retreated to his office. She came to the door, surveying him as the wallet was replaced.
“Well, how’s he going?” he asked sheepishly. There was an elongated pause as he avoided her eyes. “I, ah, suppose that’s that then.”
She prolonged the silence. “Not quite. Don’t ever lay a hand on me again!”
A primeval sun, having assumed early mastery of the day, bathed the large bay window whose shutters had been unfastened to accommodate its penetrative glory. Chintz curtains, one on either side, were drawn in by fluffy ties fixed to hooks. The interior décor in every respect replicated the guestroom of a tasteful Surrey manor house.
Though enervating outside, for Richard, the effect produced a restorative balm that persisted until he tried to move. Stymied in this small attempt, he smoothed one hand over a head that felt tender from crown to jawbone. There was tightness in his chest on aspiration. As his eyes adjusted, it was some time before he began to greet the surroundings. He determined that it was neither his cranium nor the room spinning but rather an overhead fan flicking the voyeur light like a carousel.
Almost imperceptible footsteps alerted him to the presence of a petite woman bearing a tray that supported a silver teapot, a bowl and a delicate cup and saucer. At first, she appeared to float around him, the starched bows of her apron appended like angels’ wings. A few blinks of his eyelids positioned her some distance away setting the items on a mobile table.
He started to murmur some words of thanks when a voice wafted over his.
“Good morning. How are you?” The lissom figure at the door had eluded his cognisance. “Thank you, Fanny. I’ll take over.”
The English accent solaced him even if the source of that mellifluous sound was not instantly apparent. She spoke again, and yet a third time, before Richard appreciated he was being addressed.
“Surely we might be entitled to hear who you are?” her inflections leavening the question. “What is your name?”
Habitually active from first light, this was a second visit. Always a picture of studied elegance however she chose her apparel — which was never finalised without the utmost attention to detail —today she had dressed in a calf-length blue skirt with a sleeveless soft-pink blouse. Apricot sandals completed the ensemble.
Richard attempted to slide up onto his elbows, embarrassed to find himself at a combined disadvantage in the presence of a stranger and unfamiliar ambiances. He groaned and she was beside him, having procured the chair occupied during the night by one of his attendants.
She laid her hand on his forearm delivering a mild chastisement. “That wasn’t wise. You must relax.”
Compliant, he sank back on several pillows, wondering whether he was dreaming. Trusting that instinct, Richard was desirous of prolonging its sustenance.
The earlier question earned a belated reply. “I’m alright, thanks. Where am I? How did I get here?” He wanted to add that he was hungry.
Greda followed his eyes regarding the twisting string of steam. “At least you retain some sensory intuitions,” she offered spryly. “I suppose you’re also wondering who this odd woman is. I’m a doctor and you’re at our bungalow. I live here with my husband. Our son is at boarding school. Last night we found you at the side of the road, south of Kuala Lumpur. Can you remember what happened?” she enquired. “Take a moment, no rush.”
Leaning over him, her fingers pressed his wrist while her eyes studied a timepiece. Satisfied, she wheeled the tray to his bed and poured tea. “I hope you take it with milk. I’ve ensured it’s not too hot. You must be famished. Are you alright to help yourself?” she asked, motioning with an open hand.
He nodded. She adjusted the pillows with assistance from the maid and they gently repositioned him.
“Now, how’s that?” she enquired, facing him.
What he saw so mesmerised Richard that it necessitated redistribution of the remnants of his energy to restrain an exposé of awe. An arresting woman, five foot nine inches tall, perhaps more, her legs rising idyllically from calves embellished by the pleasing fabric. Slender ankles captured feet that arched and tapered, complemented by toes finished with subtle nail polish. A wide brown belt accentuated her trim waist where blouse and skirt united.
He followed every motion, the turning away and back again, busying herself about the room, collecting a cloth that she tucked into his nightshirt. Her hands and fine, delicate fingers were artistic in symmetry and dexterity, a plain, narrow, gold band the only jewellery. Long, lean arms bearing a pale dusting of freckles met proportionate shoulders. When she reached across to improve the position of his supports, their proximity was such that he sampled the sensuous attar, gifted like a slipstream coursing through a tight copse of Cootamundra wattle trees.
Femininity crowned this creature blessed with natural beauty, evincing health and vitality, yet earthiness persisted. Something told she wouldn’t shrink from having her hands deployed wherever they might be required. Ears clasped their stem like rosebuds in early spring and rich black, wavy hair, fastened with a gold braid, spilled down her back. When she turned around, the cut of her blouse invited a glimpse of a perfect cervical spine overlaid with unblemished skin. He estimated her age in the late-twenties to early-thirties range and large, languid, grey eyes revealed a shade of fragility that evoked curiosity. For a split second, the thought arose that she was intent on signalling, even at this inopportune moment, an unmet emotional need. Brittleness impelled him to contemplate her thus…
Peta C., Editor: Breathtaking story, a pleasure to read. I admit I did cry at the end.
Robert R., Chartered Accountant: Couldn’t put it down and now I’m late for work.
Peter S., Magistrate: Mate, I wept. I wept.
Mary-Jo O’R, Editor: Gripping.
People are often not what they seem, the past casting long shadows in the catalogue of events that leads Colonel Newton on a voyage of despair, discovery and deliverance.