By The River Nile

Marius Gabriel on Becoming Madeleine Ker, Beating Writer’s Block & Making A Most Seductive Meal

Strelitzias screaming orange in the blind summer heat, I stumbled upon the tomb accidentally. On the wall, glyph-like characters flickered an ancient name oft-penned by Anne Rice: MARIUS. Insomnia imbued, I attempted to decipher the inscriptions that followed as searing sand scorched my…  Wait- REWIND! Right… There wasn’t actually any sand, but the tomb was Amphipolis, the wall its Facebook, and let’s be frank: social media wouldn’t have been a worthwhile opener for one of Mystery’s most opulent ink slingers.

Summary: with DNA testing underway on Amphipolis’ excavated inhabitants, Archaeology buffs gathered on its page for daily discourse. Among those of us who believed that the monument might be the final resting place of Alexander the Great was Marius Gabriel. Finding something familiar about his tone and due to our mutual interest in Egypt, I followed him immediately. Several months later, a status sporting the clinquant cover of Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodbye surfaced on my feed. Researching my online acquaintance, I discovered that Marius had not only authored a number of historical fiction reads, but was also retired romance writer Madeleine Ker.

Having secretly read the Ker classic,The Winged Lion, the summer after grade school graduation (its shelf mate—Voyage of the Mistral— sounded very C. S. Lewis), I giggled like a schoolgirl at this discovery. What I found even more entertaining, however, was that a man I knew had convincingly written 30+ books as a woman. Hence, I couldn’t resist requesting the below colloquy. What follows is a candid conversation between two unexpected chums, united by Amphipolis, Agatha Christie and Africa.

Brooke Calder:

You were born in Mafikeng, South Africa, not far from where I spent my part of my childhood in Masvingo (Zimbabwe). How did your parents come to settle there?

Marius Gabriel:

They took over the local newspaper – the Mafeking Mail! My mother was the editor and sole journalist, and my father was the compositor and printer. One might say that I was born with ink in my veins!

BC: What’s the first book you recall reading or being read to you?

MG: A.A. Milne’s book of poetry for children- When We Were Very Young. I still know all of them by heart!

BC: Who were your favorite childhood authors?

MG: A.A. Milne (the Pooh stories) was my very first love.  Later on, it was Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling and John Buchan.

BC: I must read more Buchan- I haven’t heard of him before! This begets another question: how old were you when you wrote your first long-form story and what was it about? 

MG: It was for a competition at university (I won £10); it was about an African tribal woman whose son dies in a Johannesburg gold mine. The title is long forgotten, I’m afraid, but it was important to me as it was the first time I’d made any money out of writing. It set me on the path to becoming a professional writer.

BC: What led you to the Romance genre?

MG: I wanted to earn money to finance my doctoral research at university, but after getting four or five accepted, I realized that I had found my career already.

BC: If you’ll pardon me, I must ask: did you cook up Madeleine Ker, or was that the publisher’s idea? In either case, is there a Madeleine back story? 

MG: I whipped her up!  I wanted a short, memorable name…  I’m sorry to say that I know very little about her- she was a very secretive person! 

BC: I always pictured her as some fabulous ageing European heiress or something! I’m still shocked that she’s… YOU. Which leads to another question: what made you decide to finally reveal your identity, and how was the news received?

MG: It all came out when I published my first full-length novel, “The Original Sin.” People wanted to know what else I had written. There was some backlash…  A few readers were irritated that they’d been “deceived”, but most were amused and very supportive!

BC: You currently reside in Cairo.  Besides the obvious (amazing scenery, character inspiration, archaeological sites, etc.), what attracted you to Egypt?

MG: My wife is Egyptian, and currently working in Cairo. Since I can work wherever there’s a computer, it’s easier for me to follow her than the other way round.

BC: Have we ever met her in one of your stories?

MG: I think aspects of all my friends and family feature in my books one way or another, but not as portraits. I think that would be unfair, they deserve their privacy!

BC: That’s because you’re a gentleman and a scholar. Tipping one’s hat to the latter, do you have any thoughts on the discovery of the additional chamber attached to Tutankhamun‘s tomb, the secret chamber below the Sphinx, or any further projections regarding Amphipolis?

MG: Tutankhamun’s tomb may well contain another burial- perhaps even that of Nefertiti, who may have been his mother or aunt. If it DOES contain a burial, excavation will take a decade or more. The Sphinx chamber is another huge mystery which needs to be unraveled! As for Amphipolis, there are apparently several other burials in the larger tumulus, so the next few years may reveal even greater wonders. There are also underwater archaeological excavations going on near Alexandria, which may uncover Alexander the Great’s tomb.

BC: I should probably point out that you know you’ve made it in showbiz when millennia later, people are scuba diving to try to find your tomb. Speaking of great, I just bought Wish Me Luck for my sisters. There’s three of us; likewise, Wish Me follows the Redcliffe sisters over the course of World War II. What inspired the setting and characters? 

MG: The period has always interested me, and I’ve written about it in other novels.  But taking three very different sisters as heroines enabled me to explore the war from three different perspectives.   

BC: What’s your advice to aspiring and/or fellow writers?

MG: Don’t write about what you know, write about your fantasies! Also, writer’s block generally means you don’t have anything to write about, so it’s best not to try and force yourself. Take a few days off and relax, let the well fill before you drop the bucket in again.

BC: I often force myself, and the results are kind of okay, but never grand. It’s nice to hear someone say it’s okay to take a little time away.

BC: Gazing at photos of the elaborate meals you make on Facebook often sends me foraging in the fridge. Have you ever thought of publishing a cookbook? 

MG: One day- when I find the right person to do it with!  

BC: What would you call it and what sort of recipes would feature? 

MG: It would focus on healthy recipes, and be called Short Cuts To Deliciousness. 

BC: May we have a couple of recipes?

MG: Certainly – let’s begin with Japanese Braised Pork!

Buta No Kakuni (Japanese Braised Pork)

  1. Cut desired amount of pork belly into 2-inch by 2-inch pieces.
  2. Simmer in water with sliced ginger, garlic and a dash of mirin (or cooking wine) for one hour (cover top).
  3. Add a quarter cup of soy sauce, simmer another hour or so, until meat is meltingly tender.
  4. Serve in individual bowls.

Laphroaig Ice Cream (Malt Whiskey Ice Cream)

  1. 250 ml double cream.
  2. 175 grams condensed milk.
  3. 50 ml Laphroaig (or similar smoky islay malt whiskey).
  4. Whip the cold double cream and condensed milk until soft peaks form. 
  5. Fold in whisky and freeze overnight. 

Somehow, Laphroaig Ice Cream seems like an appropriate way to end this duologue. Besides sounding like a delicacy that Allan Quartermain would decimate, Alexander the Great reportedly consumed a primitive version of gelato (namely, snow mixed with nectar or honey) during his India campaign, which brings us full circle. 

Marius Gabriel’s latest work, Take Me To Your Heart Again, published by Lake Union Publishing is available here.

Brooke R. Calder is an author, birth mother, vocalist and wife. Boston born, Brooke grew up between the United States and Zimbabwe, Africa, and currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband.

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