Character Traits

Character Traits: Meet Adrienne Harris-Morley

In this second week of my Character Traits Series, author Miriam Drori gives us insights into Adrienne Harris-Morley, who she created for her novel Cultivating a Fuji. Miriam, who lives in Israel, has been the editor of my mystery series — a delightful experience. But let me step aside and let her tell you about the character she created.

Adrienne Harris-Morley has a lot going on in her life, despite being only a minor character in my novel, Cultivating a Fuji. She has two young children, and a husband who’s never around to help with childcare. When she has to work on a Saturday, as a clerk at London’s passport office, she farms the kids off at her begrudging sister’s place.

Cultivating a Fuji is the poignant, humorous and uplifting story of Martin, a guy who doesn’t fit into society.

When writing this tale, I made the decision to give backstories to all the characters who come into contact with Martin. If I hadn’t, they would probably have been seen as callous or uncaring. In reality, most people are tied up in their own problems and don’t have the emotional space to better understand someone who strikes them as weird.

Because Adrienne has come up in the world, I decided she needed a double-barrelled name. I tried out a few until I found one that chimed with me.

Martin, who’s a brilliant computer programmer but has no social skills, is sent to represent his company in Japan, meeting Adrienne when he needs an emergency passport. No one in the company expects him to succeed in selling their product, but he does, helped by the strangeness of Japan. What happens when he returns home to England is another matter.

The character of Adrienne is completely made up and not based on any real person. The reviews for the novel don’t include this minor character, but I would imagine readers would sympathise with all her problems, especially if they’ve also had to juggle work and children. They would understand that encountering Martin would add to her heavy load.

Here’s an extract from the only chapter in which Adrienne appears. The year is 1977:

She’d only just sat down at her desk and adjusted her glasses when her first customer approached. A young man, mid-twenties, short brown hair, carrying a royal blue rucksack. He looked quite normal and respectable apart from the fact that he was staring at the floor and his cheeks were rather flushed. Had he been running or drinking, or was he always like that? He sounded a bit out of breath when he finally spoke, but he was the first in a long queue, so he couldn’t have been running.

“Yes?”

“I… Is this the right place?”

“That depends what you’re here for.”

“Oh.”

“What are you here for?”

“I want to get an emergency passport.”

“Yes, this is the place. Sit down, please.”

Adrienne indicated the chair and the young man sat on the edge and glanced behind him, almost as if he were planning a quick getaway if things went wrong. What a shifty character. Just what she didn’t need this morning.

“Why do you need an emergency passport?”

“I… have to go abroad. They said I needed a passport.”

“Yes, of course you do. But why an emergency passport? Why do you need it in a hurry?” Prudence told her that she had to clarify everything carefully for this man. Maybe he didn’t understand the word emergency. Maybe he simply wanted to renew his passport.

“I… I have to go instead of Kevin… instead of someone else because he can’t go.”

“Where do you have to go?”

“Japan.”

Prudence whispered in her ear again and helped her to form her next question. “What do you have to do in Japan?” Clearly, she had to take this slowly and ask simple questions using words of one syllable. Unfortunately, her patience was waning at an alarming rate.

“Give a demonstration.”

“That’s a long word for you,” was on the tip of Adrienne’s tongue. Instead, she said, “What sort of demonstration?”

“A demonstration of our system.”

“What sort of system?”

“A computer system.”

“What does this computer system do?”

“It… well…” 

Adrienne wriggled in her seat. Below the table she tried to get more comfortable by moving her legs apart. But then she felt the crotch of her tights lower than it should have been, and put her legs back together. And this was supposed to be progress. What was wrong with wearing stockings?

She was beginning to wonder whether this shady character was making it all up on the spot. She certainly found it hard to believe he could demonstrate a vacuum cleaner, let alone some computer system. In her mind’s eye, she saw this man on her doorstep with a giant vacuum cleaner beside him and the flex tied all round him. When she opened the door, he’d say, “I’ve come to… come to… I need to go in.” And he’d move forwards, trip over the flex, and fall headlong into her hallway.

She turned to the real version, still struggling to answer her question. “Yes?”

Bio

MIRIAM DRORI

Miriam Drori was born and brought up in London and now lives with her husband and one of three grown up children in Jerusalem.

With a degree in Maths and following careers in computer programming and technical writing, Miriam has been writing creatively since 2004. After some success with short stories, which she continues to write and which have appeared in anthologies, Miriam turned her hand to longer fictional works, publishing a romance and a historical novella, co-written with another author.

Social anxiety features in Miriam’s latest publications. Social Anxiety Revealed is a non-fiction guide that explores this common but little-known disorder from multiple points of view. The book has been highly recommended by ‘sufferers’ as well as professionals in this field. Cultivating a Fuji is the story of a fictional character who battles against social anxiety before learning to make friends with it. Style and the Solitary, a crime novel, asks an important question: what happens when a suspect can’t stick up for himself?

When not writing, Miriam enjoys reading, hiking, dancing and touring.

Links to books and social media

Miriam Drori can be found on FacebookTwitterGoodreadsPinterestInstagramBookbubWattpadYouTube and on her website/blog.

Her books are available at: Social Anxiety RevealedCultivating a Fuji and Style and the Solitary.

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Author Interview, Miriam Drori

Q&A with Author Miriam Drori

I am pleased to give space on my website to Miriam Drori and her books, including her new release Cultivating a Fuji. Miriam is also the editor of my Isabel Long Mystery Series. It’s been an enjoyable and interesting experience since she lives in Jerusalem. (Thank you technology.) I have read all of her books and like that they take me to another place. But I will let her tell you about herself and her writing.

Who is author Miriam Drori?

Hi. I’m glad you qualified my name, or there would be no end to what I had to say! As an author, I refuse to be pigeon-holed. I don’t stick to a particular genre, although there are some that I’m not interested in trying. And I don’t stick to a particular topic, despite appearances to the contrary. 

A career in creative writing never entered my mind before the turn of the millennium. I had two wonderful English teachers, and eventually found my way into technical writing, but never believed I could be creative before I decided to try it. I’m so glad I took the plunge.

I’ve lived in two different countries and travelled widely, meeting all sorts of people along the way. All my experiences have gone or will go into the mixing pot of my writing, with plenty of imagination tossed in.

Tell us about your new release, Cultivating a Fuji.

Martin is a loner. He sits alone in his office cubicle, writing perfect, bug-free computer programs, but no one can get through to Martin, the person. Outside the office, he lives alone and takes solitary walks by the sea in Bournemouth, UK.

Then his company sends him to represent them in Japan. No one expects him to succeed in selling their computer system, but, in the land of strange rituals, sweet and juicy apples, and too much saké, he achieves the impossible.

That’s only the beginning. Having tasted the way life could be, he can’t return to the way it was, but struggles to keep up the momentum, reaching crisis point at the very top of Hengistbury Hill, looking down at the sea far below.

Cultivating a Fuji is a novel that’s sad, humorous, and ultimately uplifting. It has received a lot of glowing reviews. When a reader writes, “This is a book that is guaranteed to stay with you long after you read it,” I can’t help beaming from ear to ear.

What inspires you to write?

What originally inspired me to begin writing was social anxiety. But inspiration for my writing comes from everything. From people I meet and places I visit. From movies and radio shows and much more. On another level, what really inspires me to write is the desire to explain things that are generally misunderstood, and of course all the people out there who have read and enjoyed my books, so fa

What is your writing process?

Lately, I’ve written my first drafts in that 50k word November challenge. I enjoy the camaraderie and the support of our local group of writers. I let the first draft stew for a while, and then return to work on the edits. I struggle to divide the work into specific drafts, because I’m constantly reading and rereading, and thinking of new ideas.

Eventually, I send the novel out to beta readers, who help me to consider aspects I’d missed. I’m still working on the novel I wrote in November 2021. Of course, that’s not the only writing I’ve been working on during that time.

Why is social anxiety a theme in your books?

When I first discovered social anxiety and joined an online group for “sufferers,” I made two important discoveries. Most people with symptoms of social anxiety believe they’re alone with their problems. It takes them far too long to discover the name and hence reach support and help. On the other side of the divide, people who don’t have social anxiety generally misunderstand those who do.

I began writing out of a desire to inform and further understanding of the condition. However, although social anxiety features in all three of my books that are currently available, it doesn’t appear in all my writing, and I don’t plan to limit myself to that topic.

How important is setting in your books?

Setting is very significant in my books, often becoming another character in the story. The seaside town of Bournemouth plays a crucial role in Cultivating a Fuji. Martin feels the sea is his only friend, and he enjoys long walks by its side. And there’s the contrast of Japan, a country he visits twice. 

My murder mysteries are set in my home city of Jerusalem, and readers can get a glimpse of what it’s like to live here, while following the mystery. I’ve found readers are often surprised by the normality.

How do your travels have an impact in your stories?

I’m lucky to have visited many places, exotic and otherwise, all of which have featured or will feature in my stories. This is most obvious in my short stories for the Dark World series of anthologies from Darkstroke. My contributions appear in Dark LondonDark Paris and Dark Venice.

What other books have you written?

Besides Cultivating a Fuji, there’s Style and the Solitary, the first in a series of Jerusalem murder mysteries, and Social Anxiety Revealed, which is non-fiction. The other books I’ve written are not available to buy, but I have plans for them.

As an editor, what is your approach to a manuscript?

I would say, I approach each manuscript with an open mind. I’m happy that, as an editor, I’ve read genres I might never have chosen. Horror, for example, and fantasy. It’s helped me to understand the allure of those genres. The first time I received a novel in US English, I worried I wouldn’t be able to do it justice. I was used to writing technical documents in US English, but fiction is a different kettle of fish. In the event, it turned out I’d absorbed more, from local emigrants from the US, than I’d realised. I even commented on particular words that Americans wouldn’t know, and this was to a British author living in the US. ‘Pavement’ instead of ‘sidewalk’ was one of those. ‘Kip’ meaning ‘sleep’ was another.

I feel lucky to have had the opportunity of adding the finishing touches to some amazing writing, including a wonderful series of mysteries by a fabulous author called Joan Livingston.

How about an excerpt of your latest?

Here’s an excerpt from Cultivating a Fuji. I think it’s self-explanatory.

Held upright by the dense, smoke-filled atmosphere, Martin staggered towards the microphone. Hardly surprising he couldn’t walk straight after all the alcohol they’d plied him with this evening. Earlier on in the evening – though for the life of him he couldn’t work out whether that was hours ago or only a few minutes – that chap who talked funny English – Tetsuwhatsit or something – had told him the drink was called saké. Then he’d said, “It is wine made from lice.” Martin almost spat it out, or maybe he did spit it out – he couldn’t remember. Anyway, he remembered at the last moment that Rs were Ls and Ls Rs in this funny, topsy-turvy place, and carried on drinking. He liked the taste and they kept giving him more. He shouldn’t have agreed to the last two or three little cups – at least, they looked small but appearances could be dethep… deth… Anyway, the Japanese were very insistent and he kept on drinking.

Now, even through the stuporific haze that surrounded him (nice word, that – stuporific – must remember it when I’m sober), Martin knew that his good fortune had, of this moment, come to a most definite end. Up to now he’d done incredibly well on this trip. Despite his apprehension on being told they were sending him to Japan, despite the fact that he’d never flown before, never gone to another country on his own, never been on any sort of business trip, never given a presentation, this trip had gone surprisingly well.

Today had been amazing. At lunch, Tetsuyama had told him they had decided to buy the system. (It had really happened, hadn’t it? He didn’t think he’d dreamt it). Then, before some sort of office celebration in which Martin was to be the guest of honour, Tetsuma had taken Martin out for a tour of the town – a temple, a museum and the market. He distinctly remembered – at least, he thought he did – stopping to admire some gigantic red apples. Tetsukarma had told him they were called Fuji apples.

“Like the mountain,” Martin had said.

“But name not flom mountain,” Tetsu had replied. “Flom town where apple first glow. Fujisaki.”

Tetsu had bought him one to taste. So sweet, so delicious. Just like this country and its people.

When Martin had given his presentations, in a room so thick with cigarette smoke that even breathing was a struggle let alone talking, the men had listened to his explanations as if their lives depended on it. Well, not their lives, but probably their jobs did. After each sentence, Martin had been glad of the chance to relax and close his smarting eyes while Tetsu – what was his name? – translated his words. Some of the translations seemed much longer than his original sentences. Some of them involved prolonged exchanges between the men. Martin waited patiently until they all turned back to him for his next sentence.

Apart from Tetsu, the only one who spoke to him in English was the secretary, Kimura-san, who he saw on both days dressed in a tight skirt that reached below the knee and a white blouse with a pink ribbon. She had welcomed him with an embarrassed smile and given a sort of giggle when she spoke English. It was her discomfort that had encouraged Martin to question her. He recognised a kindred characteristic.

“Why are there no other women in the company?”

“Woman must to stay home, laise family, rook after house.”

“Even now, in 1977?”

“Yes.”

“Why do you work?”

“I not yet mallied.” Kimura-san had given her shy giggle.

In fact, all these Japanese people seemed quite shy and reserved – rather like Martin. They seemed to need all their traditions – the bowing, smiling, things they said – to overcome their shyness. He warmed to them and felt calm with them – well, as calm as he could be. It was also something to do with them being strangers and foreigners. They hadn’t caught on yet that he was weird and different, and should be treated as such. They seemed to think he was important – a respected expert. He’d begun to feel quite good about himself. He hadn’t felt this good for… goodness knew how many years. Probably not since he started school, aged five.

But now, his luck was running dry… err… out. It turned out they expected him to do this thing they called karaoke. He – Martin – was supposed to sing in public! To a hall full of workers from the company! He’d tried to get out of it, but they’d made it clear that wasn’t an option.

“Choose a song,” they’d said and, for no reason at all, the one that came to mind was Gershwin’s Summertime.

The music began. Martin tried to look down at his feet. But then he couldn’t resist glancing up, and he realised, because of the lighting and the smoke of a thousand cigarettes, he couldn’t really see anything but shadows. He knew there were a lot of people out there, but not being able to see them properly made it feel as if he was alone. Martin opened his mouth, took a deep breath and… It was the strangest thing. As soon as he began to sing, his nerves left him completely. He’d never felt calm like this in the presence of other people. “Summertime, and the living is easy.” His voice sounded loud and forceful – exactly as it did when he sang on his own in his little flat, to an audience of zero.

When he finished, loud clapping filled the hall and Martin beamed, unsure whether this was dream or reality. When he sat down, his colleagues patted him on the back and Tetsuya – that’s it, Tetsuya – said, “Velly good.” What was it about this country that turned everything around and made him feel so normal?

Links to Miriam Drori’s books and blog

Cultivating a Fuji

Style and the Solitary

Social Anxiety Revealed

Website

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Character Traits

Character Traits: Meet Jenny from Cultivating a Fuji

Miriam at Isabella Plantation Cropped Small

Author Miriam Drori

Next up in my Character Traits series is Miriam Drori, an author of both fiction and nonfiction that deal with people who experience deep social anxiety. I’ve learned a lot about the subject from reading her books. Miriam is also my editor at darkstroke books, a skilled one I might add. (She lives 9,000 miles away in Israel.) For this series, she tells us about  Jenny, a character from her latest, Cultivating a Fuji. I will let Miriam take over.

One of the lessons that can be learned from reading Cultivating a Fuji is that the effects of childhood bullying, which the perpetrators might see as a bit of fun, can last a lifetime. That’s what happens to Martin, the main character. Most of the people he meets, whether at school or later in his life, don’t understand this. I don’t blame them for that. They all have their own issues to worry about. Some of them even want to help Martin, but they don’t know how.

Jenny does understand — not at school, where she torments Martin at least as much as the others, but later when she learns about bullying in her teacher training course. There was a real live Jenny, called Gill (soft G, short for Gillian; I know Americans have trouble with that name), who was one of my bullies at school and expressed a lot of remorse for it when she reconnected with me decades later. Too much remorse, in my view, because it led to unnecessary guilt. I was the one trying to persuade her that, as a schoolgirl, she didn’t have the maturity to understand what she was doing, and couldn’t have been expected to understand without adult guidance, which was completely lacking.

That’s why the two names begin with the same sound. Jenny isn’t exactly the same as Gill, and all the episodes in the novel are made up, but they do have a lot in common. Gill certainly recognised herself in the novel. I don’t know if anyone else did.

In the following scene, set in 1973, three young former schoolfriends meet in a café. (Warwick is the university where Anji is studying.)

“You’ll never guess who I’ve seen at Warwick.” Anji had joined Jenny and Sandra on this occasion.

“The Queen? William Whitelaw? David Bowie?”

“Martin! And he’s as strange as ever, if not stranger. Always keeps to himself. I don’t know anyone who ever talks to him. I saw him around last year, too, but this year he took computer science with me and I saw quite a lot of him. God, he’s such a weirdo.”

Anji continued, oblivious to the looks passing between Jenny and Sandra. “A funny thing happened with him a month or two ago. I was with a group of friends when I passed him in the corridor. I said, ‘Oh Martin, Professor Angel’ – he’s our computer science lecturer – ‘asked me to tell you he wants to see you urgently. Some big problem with your project, I think.’ I didn’t expect him to believe me; I really put it on – like I did now, you know. Anyone else would have said, ‘Up yours, too,’ and gone off. Not Martin. He turned white and marched straight to Professor Angel’s room. We followed at a discreet distance. He knocked on the door, went in, and came straight out. Walked right past us without noticing. We laughed at his receding back. He didn’t turn around. Nothing. He kept on walking. What’s up? Why are you two staring at me?”

“Anji,” Jenny got in before Sandra joined her. “Grow up.”

Anji frowned and pouted. “What do you mean by that?”

“Jenny and I have discussed Martin before,” said Sandra. “We think we were… less than fair to him.”

“You might think that,” said Jenny. “I think we were bloody nasty.”

Anji laughed. “That’s a good one, coming from you. You were one of the w—”

“I know what I was, Anji. I was a bully. I picked on a vulnerable kid and made things even worse for him. Knowing that doesn’t make me proud of it. I’ve learned too much psychology at college to be anything but totally ashamed of what I did, now that I know how I made him feel.”

“Jenny, Martin is a robot, an automaton. He does what he’s told. He doesn’t have feelings.”

“We’ve discussed that, too. Everyone has feelings. Some people wear them on their sleeve, while others lock them away. But everyone has them.”

During the silence that descended on their table, Roberta Flack was apparently losing her life to a song, lightning flashed in and out of their lives, and a waitress dropped a cup full of coffee. It splashed on her sandaled foot and she uttered a little scream.

ABOUT MIRIAM DRORI:

Miriam Drori was born and brought up in London, but has lived most of her life in Jerusalem. Here, she married, raised three children, and worked in computer programming and later technical writing.

Miriam has been writing fiction for about fifteen years and has been published numerous times. Some of her books are temporarily unavailable due to changes in the publishing world. She began writing in order to raise awareness of social anxiety. Since then, the scope of her writing has widened, but she has never lost sight of this passion.

Besides writing, Miriam enjoys reading, hiking, touring and dancing. Unfortunately, the last three are currently on hold.

Links

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