GUEST POST: Too Dangerous to Make a Movie There by PAUL E. HARDISTY

Paul_Hardisty2 Name: PAUL E. HARDISTY


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On Twitter: @Hardisty_Paul

My new novel, The Abrupt Physics of Dying, published by Orenda Books, is set in Yemen, a country on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. It’s a thriller based around a set of experiences I had working there over a period of about 15 years. Of course, those events have been fictionalised, and as it says inside the front cover: “This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.” Loosely translated: fiction is truer than non-fiction. So true that to protect himself and the reader, the author has to camouflage it, transform it into an entertainment.

Yemen would be a fabulous place to set a movie. It’s the most photogenic place I’ve ever seen. Landscapes as big as the whole sky, faces weathered by sun and labour, not yet homogenised by modern dentistry and skincare, bodies clothed each by hand, mud-brick and alabaster towns and hamlets clinging to the sides of desert wadis and bleak andesite cliffs. Oases strung like gems on a fishing line, heartbeats of life clinging to isolated sockets in the ancient Palaeocene limestone plateaux. But the truth is that it’s too dangerous to make a movie there.

Yemen is not really a country, as we would understand it. Sure it’s got a place on the map. They even, in just the last few years, got around to actually delineating the northern border with Saudi Arabia. Before that, it existed only as an uncertainty, a dotted line running through the Rhub Al’Khali, the Empty Quarter, a hundred thousand square miles of shifting desert sand as inhospitable as any place on the planet. It has a capital city (Sana’a, with its wonderful world heritage old-town), a flag, a national anthem. It even has what is supposed to be a government, and money. Except that the government has no control outside the main cities. What Yemen has, has had for ever, is tribes. They are the real power in this place that passes for a modern state. They are heavily armed, fiercely independent, and mostly they just want to be left alone. If you want to see Arabia as it was two hundred years ago, go. You can still see it, if you can get there.

So, for me, it makes it a perfect setting for a book. I know the place, or rather parts of the place, reasonably well. I’ve met some amazing people there, seen some pretty sad and beautiful and scary things there. I hope, one day, the people of Yemen can enjoy a time when it might be possible for people to travel the country in relative safety, maybe even make a film version of The Abrupt Physics of Dying there. I think it would make a pretty good movie.

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