Recent Award

Sable Shadow and The Presence just received its sixth literary award: Reader’s Choice Awards 2014: Honourable Mention, Memoir/ Autobiography/Biography.  I am grateful for the recognition, but I’m not sure Sable Shadow and The Presence fits into the Memoir/Autobiography/Biography category.  As fiction, it isn’t an autobiography, and while my dictionary doesn’t say so, I think that, in common usage, the subject of a memoir or biography is a real person, living or dead.  Any way, thank you, Reader’s Choice.

Four of the awards were presented in Hollywood on the 22nd of March.  If Hollywood were a bit less than a 10 hour flight away, I might have gone to receive the awards.  I tried to call on family members in the vicinity of Hollywood to attend on my behalf, without success.  If someone had been able to attend for me, and if they wanted to know what to say in the way of an acceptance speech, I would have given them the gist of my acceptance at the London Book Festival (fifth award – runner-up – general fiction), which was:

When I started to write Sable Shadow and The Presence, I had in mind writing it in the first person (as a fictional autobiography) – something I had never done before.  I also wanted the story to be about a person, who, as a child, hears voices that he eventually attributes to representatives of God and the devil.  I wrote about four chapters and sent them to a friend of mine who is very well educated, a reader of quality literature and quite direct in his views on matters of interest.  He sent me an email a couple of weeks later in which he said: “Boring!”

I had to admit that I saw his point, and I, too, was struggling with the book.  I put it aside, and I wrote The Iranian Scorpion.  But, I still felt that, hidden in the basic idea, was a good book.  By the time The Iranian Scorpion was finished, I had some new ideas to add to the abandoned manuscript.  I wanted to say some things about existentialism, human identity, tragedy, religion and relationships.  So, I developed a new outline, re-wrote the first four chapters and finished the novel.  It was edited and published.  I decided to give the printer’s proof copy to my friend Peter, who had thought that my aborted attempt was ‘Boring!”‘.  About three days later, I got an email from him in which he said: “Congratulations Bill!  An outstanding achievement!  I couldn’t put it down, meals no meals, I swallowed the book in two days. Your prose has become self assured. you dominate it, rather  than being dominated by it.  The research, as ever is superb, and also completely open to being understood by the layman. . . . You have certainly managed to recreate  life as it is lived – even to the pertinent introduction of the meta-physical element – though a bit wobbly in spots, it stands solid, protected by Sartre. . . . I like it and feel close to it – I guess that’s one of the reasons why I think it such a  remarkable creation.  Your progressive development of style, skills and plot makes my mouth water for the goodies to come.Thank you from me, but really from all your readers.”

In London, I said I wanted to thank Peter for his two critiques, but, in particular, for the first critique.  And I thanked the London Book Festival for their selection.


How does one manage the passage of time in a novel?

In our lives, time can pass extremely slowly, or seem to escape us in a blur of action.  For me, and perhaps for many of us, time can seem to pass with excruciating slowness when I am in physical or mental pain.  Conversely, time seems to literally fly away, when I am engaged in a pleasing pastime.

By contrast, for the reader, the passage of time is more linear: time seems to pass at the rate at which s/he reads.  It can therefore be quite important to give the reader a more variable sense of time.  If time in the novel moves at the same rate as the reader’s eye scans the page, the reader will begin to sense that something is wrong.  This is true even if time in the novel passes at a constant multiple of the reader’s real time: for example of one minute of the reader’s real time is always equal to an hour of time in the novel.

So how can one achieve the sense of the variable passage of time?  In one case, it seems to me that the writer must recognise and write for situations where real time for the reader is the same as time in the story.  One can do this by using short sentences, and by mentioning only the essential sense of what is happening.  For example, see the passage below from Efraim’s Eye where, over a period of seconds, the terrorist is spotted, and his plot is foiled:


“My God!” Naomi exclaimed, “There’s Efraim!”


“He’s on top of the glass enclosure, and he’s doing something up there!”

There was, indeed, a man in jeans and a green T-shirt on the enclosure, but he was bent over, arranging something.

“Are you sure it’s him?”

“Yes, it’s him!  I’m sure!”

Paul thrust the remains of his hot dog at Naomi and began to run toward the van.  He noticed two men sitting in the front seat, but he ignored them, and leapt up onto the bonnet.  With another leap, he was on the roof of the van.  Swinging to his left, he saw the green T-shirt man, bent over and preoccupied with what he was arranging, less than ten feet away.  There was a gap of about five feet between the van and the enclosure, which was about two feet higher.  Paul gathered himself and sprang.  He landed awkwardly and fell forward against the man.  The man turned to see who or what had struck him, and tried to recover his balance at the same time.  Desperately, Paul got his feet under him and pushed.  This sudden momentum was transferred to the green T-shirt man, who lost his balance, and, arms flailing in the air, toppled over the edge of the enclosure opposite the van.  There was a loud howl of pain as he struck one of the stone bollards.

Immediately, Paul turned his attention to the shaped charges which had been arranged neatly – each crescent charge seemed to be embracing a cable.

“Detonate!” screamed the green T-shirt man.

Paul scanned the array and spotted the links which closed the charges into a non-recoiling string.

There was another high pitched scream: “Detonate!”

Paul uncoupled the links, holding one end down with his bandaged left hand while his right hand manipulated the clasp.  With his right hand, he began to pull one end of the string.  The charges were heavy.

“Where is the button?”  Was the shouted question from the van.

Paul dragged the first four charges over the edge of the enclosure.

“On     my       seat!” came the agonised reply.

Paul kicked at two remaining charges which were still on the enclosure.  With a rattle, they were dragged over the edge by the gravitational pull of the first four.

“No!  No!”  A desperate scream from below.  Paul began to turn away.  He was struck by a tremendous shock wave.  He hurtled forward, struck the edge of the van roof, and landed, arms outstretched, on the pavement.  There was nothingness.


The other situation in which time in the novel can approach real time for the reader is when characters are interacting in an emotional (rather than physical) way.  I think it’s important for the reader to get a sense of what the character is feeling, simultaneously with what s/he is saying.  (There could be conflicts between the words and the feelings.)  Where this kind of conflict, or hidden agenda is present, I like to intersperse what the character says – in plain text – with what s/he is thinking – in italics.

In other cases, there could be a gap of a year or more in the story, and nothing of significant interest occurs during the gap.  Rather than give a recitation of what happened during that period, it is sufficient to begin a paragraph with: “Four years later . . . .”

The other aspect of managing the passage of time is the trade off between setting the scene, and extending the apparent passage of time.  Sometimes it can be essential to describe the situation or the setting in some detail, but in doing so, we lengthen the reader’s perception of the passage of time, and risk losing his/her attention.  I probably have a tendency to set the scene fairly clearly, in the interest of conveying to the reader a sense that ‘this is real’.  When I do that, I try to be careful about using interesting language and phrases.



Review: Sable Shadow and The Presence

The following review by ‘Kitty Book Lover’ was recently published on

William Peace has done it again.  His latest book, Sable Shadow and The Presence, which has already won several awards,  combines a clever plot with thought provoking discussions on good and evil, the contradictions and complexities of life, and the meaning of relationships.  The book is written by the main character, Henry Lawson,  in autobiographical form.  It is difficult to sustain the first person voice and not have the reader tire of it, but Mr. Peace has managed to make the story interesting, readable, and anything but tiring.  We meet Henry’s parents, learn about  their individual personalities and the way their relationship develops over a long marriage and his very likeable, but different from him, sister, who is also his friend.  His grandfather and uncles seem to Henry to be more successful than his father and Henry admires them, while not yet understanding his father or his motivations. As he matures, he grows in his understanding of his mother and his father is able to help them through this crisis in their marriage.  We follow Henry through college, his success in business, his marriage to a woman he deeply loves. There are some wonderful vignettes describing the world of office politics and what some people do to get ahead.  Everything seems to be going just the way Henry has planned until a tragic fire in a plant in Mexico that he technically supervises results in the deaths of many people.  Sentenced to jail in Mexico, his career over, he begins to think about what is really important in life and when he is released, turns his life in a completely different direction.
Mr. Lawson explains in the first chapter what the title means.  Sable Shadow and the Presence are two voices that Henry begins to hear as a child.  Lest you think that Henry is just some closet schizophrenic, that is not the case.  These two represent “good” and “evil” and Henry hears them the way we all do when we are making a decision, whether it be a serious moral one, like deciding to have an extra-marital relationship or something more practical like choosing a career.  How many of us have felt/heard  those voices arguing inside of us, each presenting a different way of looking at the problem.,
As in previous books, Mr. Peace explores questions of religion.  In Efraim’s Eye and The Iranian Scorpion he investigated Islam and it’s tenets.  In  Sin and Contrition  different branches of Christianity were examined.  In this book he presents the thesis that existentialism is not necessarily in conflict with the beliefs of Christians.  Not everyone will agree with him., but he posits some compelling arguments to support his ideas.
As in all his previous books, the research is amazing.  Many famous authors employ researches.  Mr. Peace does all of his own and does a superb job with it.
One of the things I like best about Mr. Peace’s writing is that one is able to read on so many different levels.  His plots are well thought out and his characters developed nicely.  One is anxious to turn the page and find out what will happen next.  But when the story is over, one is left thinking about the ideas that have been raised.  What are good and evil?  What makes success and how do we measure it?  What makes something moral and something immoral?  It is easy to see why it has won awards.

And the following review is by Mamta Madhavan for Readers’ Favorite:

Sable Shadow & The Presence by William Peace is the fictional autobiography of Henry
Lawson who hears two voices from his childhood. These two voices represent good
and evil and, like any of us, Henry also hears them while making decisions. The
story takes us through Henry’s childhood to his college days, to his
relationships, to his marriage and his business. Henry suffers a series of
tragedies at the peak of his career which sees him attempting suicide. He
recovers from that dark phase with the help of his wife and a psychiatrist. It
is a story of triumph, tragedy, good, and evil.

The book has many interesting twists and turns in the plot. The author’s
fascination for existentialism is revealed through Henry Lawson’s interest in
the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre. That contributes a lot of wisdom in the
discussions that occur in the story. The characters are well developed and they
help in making the plot strong and powerful. There are some thought provoking
details on good and evil which give readers an opportunity to think more about
their individual beliefs and ideas. I found the representation of the good and
the bad voices very practical and relatable. Readers can connect to that very

The character of Henry Lawson has many shades which make him an interesting
person. The author has captured well the triumph, tragedy, good, evil, sorrows,
and happiness of human life that are palpable while reading the book.


Awards: Sable Shadow and The Presence

This novel was the winner in the General Fiction category of three regional contests this year: Los Angeles, Southwest and Northwest; it was runner up in the General Fiction category at the 2014 Great Southeast Book Festival.
These book festivals typically attract over 2000 entries.  Of the five festivals in which Sable Shadow and The Presence has been entered, it won first place in three and second place in two.

Review: Midnight Rumba

Eduardo Santiago’s novel, Midnight Rumba, was runner-up in the New England Book Festival’s 2013 General Fiction category.  I decided to buy a copy and read it, because it is set in the 1950’s Cuba (Mr Santiago’s native country), and my wife and I were going to Cuba for a ten day holiday.

The principal characters are Estelita, the daughter and only child of Esteban, a charming, itinerant musician, who is part of a minor, travelling circus; Aspirrina, an inept dancer who becomes a sort of surrogate mother to Estelita; Juan Carlos, an orphan boy who makes good in the gaudy world of Havana casinos; and Lasky, the American who runs the casino where Estelita and Juan Carlos work.  There are other characters, as well: various circus performers, Delfino, a homosexual from a wealthy family. Maria, also from a rich family but now the mother superior in a convent, and Delfino’s two lovers.

The plot is that  Esteban slides into helpless, violent alcoholism.  Aspirrina and Estelita escape to Havana, where Estelita becomes lead dancer in a casino and has a part in a minor Mexican movie.  In spite of the hedonistic world around her, Estelita retains her purity until she falls in love with Juan Carlos.  From the time she leaves her father in the hospital, Estelita is determined to retrieve her father from the hospital and make a home for him.  As the novel unfolds, Fidel Castro and his rebels close in on Havana.  Some of the characters side with the rebels, others try to remain loyal to Batista, the dictator.  At the end, Estelita reconnects with her now sober father and becomes a minor, provincial dancer.

The book does an excellent job in depicting Cuba at that time: the wild indulgence, the crazy glamour, and also the desperate poverty.  The brutality of the Batista regime (and of the rebels) is also clear.

The novel started off as an 800 page manuscript; as published, it is 414 pages.  At times the story-telling gets bogged down in detail, so that it could well have benefitted from another 100 pages of editing.  Eduardo Santiago’s writing style is clear, friendly, and innovative, but occasionally, one has the feeling that he is hurrying to tell the story, and then the language becomes too ordinary.

I enjoyed reading the book, particularly as I was in Cuba at the time.  For me, it fleshed out the history of the beautiful (but now crumbling) infrastructure of Havana.  I could better understand the people, as well.  But after I finished reading Midnight Rumba, I felt the absence of a message – particularly from a native Cuban now living in the States.  Perhaps it was just intended to be – without commentary – a very good historical story.