Thursday, 14 August 2014

Spinning Israel's story - Alan Gold

Inspiration from the most unlikely places,
 including The Simpsons
by Alan Gold

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked when I lecture to students on creative writing, is where my ideas for a novel come from. Yet I’m never believed when I tell my students that it’s either the front page of a daily newspaper, or the latest edition of The Simpsons. 

But the idea for the most recent novel I’ve written came to me four decades ago, when I was weeding an Israeli tomato field with a Professor of Philosophy from an Ivy League American University. I was living on my kibbutz and as he and I were alone in the field under a broiling sun, hacking away with our hoes at the roots of the weeds, he asked me what I wanted to do when I’d left the Ulpan and the Kibbutz and was working in Israel. Did I want to remain a journalist or go into another area of life? I told him I wanted to be a novelist, the ambition of many journalists. The problem, I told him, was finding a story which sufficiently original that a publisher would be interested.

“The only originality you need,” he told me, “is telling an old story in a new and compelling way.” I admitted that I couldn’t even think of an old story to re-tell, and he stood up straight, took a drink of water, and said, “Jerusalem! There’s three thousand years of stories there, and writers haven’t even scratched the surface of one of its stones.”
The holy city of Jerusalem 

For forty years and more, I’ve been thinking of writing a story about the 3000 year history of Jerusalem, but told fictionally. Why as fiction? 

Because facts like dates, wars and sieges are never as memorable to a reader as are well-developed characters and the stories they tell. Told as fiction, a reader or viewer develops a deep empathy with the characters, and are absorbed far more memorably than dry facts from a history book.

Think, for instance, about Israel’s Hasbara. The Palestinians trot out fabrication after fabrication, soaked up by the world’s media. It makes front page news. And then some poor, hapless Israeli spokesperson will appear in the media the following day and say that what the Palestinians are saying is all lies, and here are the facts. So whose story is remembered by viewers and readers? Not the Israeli side…of that, you can be certain.
But it was a phone call from the head of the UIA, Harold Finger, which put these two aspects together, and created a trilogy which, we hope, will begin to alter the way non-Jews view Israel and its right to nationhood.
I’d only just returned from two months in Indonesia, writing a book about the nation’s history, when Harold phoned me out of the blue. He was deeply and increasingly concerned about the continual bad press which Israel was getting around the world, and wanted to discuss the concept of me writing a book which told the truth about Israel’s history and its inalienable right to its existence. He knew that the facts either weren’t understood, or were disbelieved, by a majority of the non-Jewish world, and felt that a good book – like Exodus or Roots – was needed to make people understand the historical and moral claim which Israel had to its ancient land.
And as he spoke, the idea grew and grew in my mind, until by the end of the hour-long conversation, we’d created The Heritage Trilogy, a dramatized television series, a multi-lingual teacher’s resource for curriculums throughout the world. These would not be Israeli propaganda, but a factual analysis of the history of the Jewish people, the diaspora and the regathering of a people into their historical land. Bloodline, published world-wide by Simon & Schuster, was the first of the books; later this year, the second in the trilogy will be published, followed by the third next year. The books trace the 3000 year history of the Jewish people, told through the eyes of two families, from the time of the First Temple to today’s Israel.

And in that phone call a couple of years ago, grew the idea of a storyworld. This is a way of telling multiple stories at the same time, across a variety of media. Increasingly with the contraction of the book industry, publishers, television producers, movie studios and internet creators, are coming together to tell vastly bigger stories than can be told in a film or a book. And the concept which Harold and I were creating during an electrifying phone call, was, arguably, the biggest of them all … the three thousand year history of the Jewish people, told in book, television, animated games, interactive books, and much much more.

But I’m a writer and Harold is a property developer, so we needed an expert on trans-media multi-platform story-telling.  Along came my dear friend, Mike Jones…and that’s the beginning of the story. 

Watch the trailer for his book Bloodline here -

Hear Alan Gold at the upcoming Sydney Jewish Writers Festival @ Shalom College, UNSW on Sunday 25 August.
Full program details and ticket information are available at or call 9381 4160. Join us on Facebook and Twitter @SJWFestival #SJWF2014

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