Friday, September 21, 2018

The Barefoot Road by Vivienne Vermes - Book Tour

The Barefoot Road

Vivienne Vermes' debut novel is a gripping read which will appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction, thrillers and evocative themes. The book begins with a young woman found, emaciated and unconscious, in the mountains surrounding a village in Transylvania. When it is discovered that she is of an ethnic group which was violently driven out of the regions many years before, old wounds are reopened as the villagers are reminded of their role in the bloodshed.

An uneasy peace is maintained until a young married man falls in love with the girl, and tension begin to rise within the community. The mysterious disappearance of a child causes this tension to mount into hysteria, driving the story to its chilling outcome.

Extract from “The Barefoot Road”
 In this extract, Pavel, son of Paraschiva, an old wise  woman healer and herbalist has been left alone up on their farm in the hills surrounding a village in Transylvania. He follows his wolf-dog, Luka, up into the wild tracks high up in the mountains, where he comes upon something quite unexpected. . .

Up in the hills, the woods were singing. Twigs clicked against each other, tiny drumsticks bruising the early spring buds. Pavel half walked, half ran up the path, his back bent low, his eyes on the ground, with its thick twisted roots that burst out of the earth like the deformed knuckles of a giant.
From time to time he stopped, cocking his head to the trees, listening. For Pavel knew that if you waited long enough, the forest would speak its own sounds. Luka was far ahead, already up where the pine trees stopped in a line, where beyond were the rocks, and above them the snows, now made dangerous by the first protracted bursts of sunlight. Pavel remembered the sounds of other early springs – the whistle of the cracking ice, and the colours – the blue and black veins that streaked and suddenly widened. Once, he had seen a great frozen mass become dislodged, topple and crash its way down, flattening rocks and trees in its path, like a huge uprooted tooth.
Pavel was not afraid of the mountains. His fear and discomfort came from all that went on in the valley below. He rarely went into the village: if Paraschiva tried to make him walk down the dust road that led to the houses, he would curl into a ball in the dirt, his arms linked around the trunk of the elm by the gate, and refuse to move.
Standing with his back against the rough bark of an alder, watching the clouds fill the spaces between the criss-cross of black branches, Pavel laughed, then scratched his head and set off at a faster pace, jumping over boulders, spluttering with joy when he slid on mud or slapped the soles of his boots down hard on the surface of a puddle.
Today, Paraschiva had left him. Today, Pavel had been angry and was so no longer, for today Pavel was free and would take his freedom to the forbidden top of the mountain. He laughed ever more loudly as the path climbed upwards. He didn’t care that his laughter drove away the small animals that sometimes came close to him. Today nothing would quell Pavel’s glee, for his was the joy of the bad child.
He walked until the sun was directly overhead, a pale disc, visible and then invisible, swathed by scarves of grey cloud. High above him, he could see the peaks appear and disappear in the thin mist. He caught sight of Luka standing immobile on his familiar rock, his head turned to the way that led through the mountain ridge. Then the animal vanished with the mountains, hidden by the falling grey veil. Pavel walked faster now, his legs driven by an old fear, that one day he would reach the wolf’s rock, and find it bare and empty, with Luka gone through the crack in the mountains, into the dark pass, away from him and the farm and the chain. This was a fear that bit at Pavel’s heart, leaving him hungry and clawing at the straw on his bed at night with the terror of being left alone in an empty land, where no one, not even Paraschiva, could share his unspoken language.
Pavel broke into a run, even though on one side the rock sheered away into a steep tumble of stones. He ran until his lungs ached with the wetness of the air, until the sudden slash of a late-winter wind sliced sideways through his clothes. He would get to the wolf’s rock and then return, quickly. He knew the paths well, he could soon be back at the farm, sitting by the fire while the March winds groaned down the chimney.
Above him, the sun disappeared in the thickness of a new layer of cloud. When he got to the rock, Luka had gone. He called out, and his own voice came back to him, bouncing down from the dark grey wall of stone. Here was the lonely impenetrable place of the heart. Pavel scrambled to the top of the rock where Luka had stood, and hunkered down. Far below him, the pine trees moved their branches in the mist. He let out a low whistle.
It was answered by four short barks, and Pavel’s world jumped up. The dog was nearby. The barking came louder now, furious, interspersed with angry growls. Pavel looked to where the sound came from, there where the rocks fell away on three sides, leaving a bowl, its brim now edged with a white lace of cloud. He ran with his heart in his legs, scrambling down, at the fragile whip of a branch that barely held his weight, falling over the wet sides of rocks, scratching his calves where he slid on a pile of scree, landing sharply with a howl of pain and joy. There where the cloud cleared, he ran to bury his face in the fur of the dog’s neck. But the dog broke away, would have none of the greeting. Luka’s lips were curled up, his teeth bared, the whites of his eyes gleaming. He rushed away from Pavel, ran five paces, his tail sweeping, stopped, ran back, barking. The wolf-dog danced his alarm for Pavel, and Pavel followed with his eyes.
In the deepest hollow of the rock bowl, he could see the old blackened trunk of a pine tree, long since blasted by lightning. And there, in among the twisted mass of roots, he could see a scrap of red flapping in the wind. Tentatively, he walked towards whatever it was that fluttered on the ground in some dance of its own. He stopped before he got to it, when he saw that the red thing was wound around a shoulder, and the shoulder was attached to a body, and the dog’s bark was so wild because the chest of the body was bare and alive, and breathing.


Vivienne Vermes is a writer and actress of Irish and Hungarian descent who divides her time between Paris and London. She has published four collections of poetry: Sand Woman, Metamorphoses, Passages and When the World Stops Spinning, and has performed her work in festivals throughout Europe. She is winner of the Piccadilly Poets’ award, the Mail on Sunday’s Best Opening of a Novel competition, as well as Flash 500s prize for short prose and the Paragram national competition for best poem and “petite prose”. She has taught creative writing in universities in Transylvania, and runs a writers’ workshop in Paris.
As an actress, she has played roles in a number of French films, including Les Trois Frères, Le Retour and in Les Profs 2 in which she portrayed Queen Elizabeth II.  Her voice also warns passengers on the Paris metro to “Mind the gap”.
The Barefoot Road is her first novel.

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