Tuesday, 21 August 2018

New Release Spotlight & Excerpt: The Glass Diplomat by S.R. Wilsher

The Glass Diplomat by S.R Wilsher

In 1973 Chile, as General Augusto Pinochet seizes power, thirteen-year-old English schoolboy Charlie Norton watches his father walk into the night and never return. Taken in by diplomat, Tomas Abrego, his life becomes intricately linked to the family.

Despite his love for the Abrego sisters, he’s unable to prevent Maria falling under the spell of a left-wing revolutionary, or Sophia from marrying the right-wing Minister of Justice.

His connection to the family is complicated by the growing impression that Tomas Abrego was somehow involved in his father’s disappearance.

As the conflict of a family divided by politics comes to a head on the night of the 1989 student riots, Charlie has to act to save the sisters from an enemy they cannot see.

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Charlie is a journalist and uses his position and expertise on Chile to pursue Tomas Abrego, who he believes was involved in his father’s disappearance. This extract is from Charlie’s column and is a follow-up piece to an interview Abrego gave him. This is also the point where the title, The Glass Diplomat, comes from.
An assassination attempt isn’t a reliable indicator of a universal hatred of a singular politician. One man with a gun isn’t the universe. One man with a grudge may be no more than mental illness. Nor is one article, this one for instance, going to provoke the departure of Augusto Pinochet from power. It isn’t even a strong enough basis for the chatter of such a cause to begin. Despite the attempt on his life, Pinochet may continue to claim, and quite legitimately I must add, he enjoys widespread support throughout the country. Because I’m not Chile. I’m a biased perspective many miles from the centre of all that is happening.
Yet he’s going to need to accept I’m not a lone voice standing at the head of an imaginary line of people trying to whip up unrest. I’m the tail. I’m reporting the many voices of more noteworthy people than me calling for him to seek legitimacy. I’m asking the question ordinary Chileans aren’t allowed to ask their unelected leaders. I’m asking the outside world to turn an eye on Chile for a moment and question the actions of a state that believes it’s answerable to no-one, particularly its own people. I’m calling on the British government to use its influence to make life better for the Chilean people.
I accept I could have been more diplomatic in my first major interview, and I did abuse my personal connections to help me get on in my new professional world. I’m going to forgive myself, though. Because, as we talked, it developed into a chilling interview made interesting more by what he artfully refused to say than what he contrived to tell me.
He was much more evasive than he needed. Unsurprising, given his eye on a bigger political prize at home in the next few months. Although you do have to wonder why Chile is bemused by their poor public relations when they pass up easy opportunities to set their human rights record straight. Or at least straighter.
I concede I may have been na├»ve in what I imagined he would talk about. Given the attempt on Pinochet’s life, I thought it an opportune moment for us to discuss those topics that might lead a Chilean citizen to try and kill the Chilean President. I asked him if he would like to chat about the Chilean Secret Police, or the ‘Caravan of Death’, or the ‘Kill the Bitches’, sickening little slogans that have become attached to the governing of Chile in recent years. He didn’t want to, angrily so I thought.
When I quizzed him about the death of Philip Encarro, he became even more perturbed. He claimed criminals killed him. Apparently they murdered a man who fought for the underdog, a relatively poor man who’d been able to walk freely around the worst areas of Santiago unharmed for years, and who died in a manner more consistent with a right-wing slaying than a kidnapping gone wrong. Not normal criminal fodder. Instead of seizing the opportunity to set the record straight for those of us in Europe puzzled by the stories emanating from that spectacularly lovely slither of South America, he considered me impertinent for raising the issue. I’m not sure what he imagined we would discuss.
Since our interview, I’ve received several calls suggesting I’ll die a horrible death if I ever return to Chile. After spending thirty uncomfortable minutes with the Chilean Ambassador to London, who seemed to deny the Chilean Police had any secret section, I’m wondering who made the threats.
Given his connection to the death, via his daughter’s alleged relationship with the charismatic Raoul Encarro, I asked him about that as well. He denied it, played it down considerably. A missed opportunity I thought, for the right to lean to the left and make a connection to enrich all of Chile, instead of only those with the right background, or connections, or all those other prejudices allowing privilege to rampage through society and for the inequality to not only continue but to escalate.
In fairness, Senor Abrego followed the government line and denied it all. He played it all down, to the extent that Chile became a small paradise all nations should emulate. In the end, Tomas Abrego sounded like a butcher happy to sell you a sausage, but not talk about its contents. When people refuse to talk about the unsavoury side of their business, you have to wonder what it is they are afraid they’ll be caught out by. The truth maybe?
A man of substance would have spoken to me differently. A politician to be remembered would have used his own words, not follow the party line. A statesman would have convinced me.
Tomas Abrego is no more than a man of glass. I think of him that way because of a description of him given to me years ago.
He’s endured all these years by giving the appearance of transparency. He gives the impression of strength, yet he’s only strong when he’s supported, and really he’s weak when alone. He’s brittle-weak like glass.’
I can’t disagree. Although I do see it differently. Perhaps it’s testament to his ability as a man of glass, to be on either side, or to swap sides seamlessly. The kind of man who doesn’t give himself away with words, and who disguises his actions and creates an aura of integrity.
Yet I think of it more as when you look through a window, and you think what you see is reality. But the glass hides you from that. On the other side are the wind and the rain and the noise. The glass shields the storm, and it mutes the sound, and it stifles the truth. That is Tomas Abrego to me, the lie on the inside of the glass.

It didn’t occur to me to write until I was twenty-two, prompted by reading a disappointing book by an author I’d previously liked. I wrote thirty pages of a story I abandoned because it didn’t work on any level. I moved on to a thriller about lost treasure in Central America; which I finished, but never showed to anyone. Two more went the way of the first, and I forgave the author.
After that I became more interested in people-centric stories. I also decided I needed to get some help with my writing, and studied for a degree with the OU. I chose Psychology partly because it was an easier sell to my family than Creative Writing. But mainly because it suited the changing tastes of my writing. When I look back, so many of my choices have been about my writing.
I’ve been writing all my adult life, but nine years ago I had a kidney transplant which interrupted my career, to everyone’s relief. It did mean my output increased, and I developed a work plan that sees me with two projects on the go at any one time. Although that has taken a hit in recent months as I’m currently renovating a house and getting to know my very new granddaughter.
I write for no other reason than I enjoy it deeply. I like the challenge of making a story work. I get a thrill from tinkering with the structure, of creating characters that I care about, and of manipulating a plot that unravels unpredictably, yet logically. I like to write myself into a corner and then see how I can escape. To me, writing is a puzzle I like to spend my time trying to solve.

Twitter: @srwilsher