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Sunday, June 26, 2011

“The Watchers” Video Roundup

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Lausanne, Switzerland...

In the Lausanne Cathedral, Marc Rochat, a strange boy with a limp, watches over the city. He lives in a world of shadows and beforetimes and imaginary beings, waiting for the angel his mother told him he'd one day have to save.

Marc believes that angel is Katherine Taylor, a high-priced escort who is about to discover that her real-life fairy tale is too good to be true.

Meanwhile, Jay Harper wakes up one day with no memory of who he is, where he came from, or what he did before. Offered a job as a freelance security specialist for the International Olympic Committee, he has no choice but to accept. On the trail of a missing former hockey star, Harper crosses paths with Marc Rochat and Katherine Taylor, which he will discover is no coincidence.

Three lives. One purpose...

In support of the June 9, 2011 UK Hardcover publication of Jon Steele’s The Watchers (priced £12.99) via Bantam Press, Fantasy Book Critic hosted a series of videos that featured author Jon Steele discussing the different locations found in the book including Lake Geneva, LP’s Bar, Café Grutli, Escaliers du Marché, and Lausanne Cathedral. All seven videos are now included below, followed by a brief explanation from the author, Jon Steele:

The Watchers Video: Part One — Lake Geneva


Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) is the soul of Lausanne. I know her moods and am deeply affected by them. She is never the same, from one hour to the next. Her currents move like ballet and the light that plays across her surface is sometimes blinding, sometimes grey . . . always reflecting the colours of the sky and the clouds like some impressionist painting. And when she is still, showing you the perfect upside-down sky in her mirror-like surface, conversations fall into whispers so as not to disturb her. I may not believe in God, but watching a thunderstorm roll in from the Alps and seeing her waves rise like watery hands trying to catch the bolts of lightening reaching down from the sky, is to know that I am part of something mysterious and beyond my comprehension. The lake is my muse . . . always calling me to her shores to her a story.

The Watchers Video: Part Two — LP’s Bar


I had done four straight months on the front lines of the Intifada for ITN in 2000. I was ordered to take time off and get away. A friend who ran the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem, had a friend who ran a hotel in Lausanne. He told me, ‘I’m sending you to the Palace Hotel in Lausanne.’ A few days later I landed at Geneva, shell shocked and worn out. A limo was waiting and carried me to Lausanne. Afnan Taha (my partner in crime on the front line, and now wife) was with me. She began to cry because it was peaceful and green. We had rooms with views of the lake and stepping out on the balcony of my room for the first time, I cried too. After the dusty, tear-gassed, slaughterhouse world of the Intifada, Lausanne looked to be all that was left of paradise.

Down in LP’s Bar, I met people who would become friends and whose names I would blatantly steal as names of characters for the book. It is one of the great hotels and bars, run by one of the world’s great hôteliers. And everyone in it, from bartender to piano player kept me going with encouragement and love. And often refilled my glass at no charge whilst I sat at the bar scribbling way. I told them I was going to write a book set in Lausanne, they took it as a promise…and they never let me forget I had made it.”

The Watchers Video: Part Three — Café Grutli


Café Grutli s a local place at the bottom of Escaliers du marché, the wood steps that climb the hill to Lausanne Cathedral. You can see the belfry from the café windows. When I first came to Lausanne to write The Watchers, I went there for dinner very often. The same people would come in every night and the owner of the café was a jolly sort who made a tour of the place, telling jokes and collecting plates. He still does.

I had started character sketches to the book, and as any writer can tell you, writing the first sentence of chapter one is tough. I had  tried a hundred times and ripped it up every time. I needed something to make the reader feel the curtain was rising on a strange and mysterious place. So, one dark and stormy night, I was in the café, finishing my dinner and working my way through many glasses of Swiss villette wine. Of a sudden, I realised the opening sentence of chapter one was staring me in the face. The faces, the conversations, the clatter of glasses and plates, the clouds of cigarette smoke floating above heads, the dark raining world outside. And I imagined Marc Rochat in the corner, like me, watching. I pulled out my notebook, I took a deep breath, and I wrote: Marc Rochat pulled aside the lace curtains and watched the rain fall through lamplight and fall onto the cobblestones of Escaliers du marché.

The Watchers Video: Part Four—Escaliers du marché


No one is really sure when the covered stairs of Escaliers du Marché were first built. Written records date back to the 13th century of the Middle Ages, or as Marc Rochat would say, ‘Middles of Ages’ but historians are sure there have been steps since there was a cathedral. The wood steps follow the highest of the seven hills of Lausanne up from the centre of medieval Lausanne at Place de la Palud (very near the door of Café du Grütli), to very doors of Lausanne Cathedral.

Set along the oldest buildings of the town, Escaliers du Marché is much loved by les lausannois, me too. They have a magical feel about them that seem to transport a person back in time. I instilled that feeling with Rochat in the open of the story as he climbs the steps. The world seems to bend in the corner of Rochat’s eyes and he slips into the place he calls ‘beforetimes.’

And as an English speaker, I loved the sound of the words themselves; so much so that I end both the first sentence of chapter one, and the last sentence of the book with…Escaliers du Marché...

The Watchers Video: Part Five—Lausanne Cathedral (The Nave)


Growing up catholic, in the days of the Latin mass, I was a sucker for Gothic cathedrals. I mean just the word: “Gothic”. Cathedrak naves were designed to create the illusion of entering the kingdom of heaven, and I fell for it every time. Much of my young life I thought I would grow up to be a priest, and I would spend many hours before statues and crosses praying for an apparition...anything; a wink or a nod would do. It never happened. Then came sex and drugs and rock and roll, and that was that for me ever wanting to be a priest.

But I never lost the mystical feeling upon entering a Gothic cathedral. Many original Christian churches were built on pagan holy sites, much the way Christmas was tagged onto the pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice. This gave the early Christians a ready crowd, as pagans would come to mass not so much to come to Jesus, but because they believed in the holiness of the place.

Lausanne Cathedral is the site of one of the first Neolithic settlements in Europe; people who believed in many gods, and in life after death. And the entire cathedral sits atop hundreds of open graves with “ancient skeletons looking like seeds waiting to be reborn”, as Rochat describes them.

And as I wandered Lausanne Cathedral and the crypt, I came to believe—as Rochat and Harper came to believe (and what the pagans knew all along)—that the earth beneath the stones is sacred.

(NOTE: A picture of one of the skeletons can be found Jon Steele’s twitter page @beforetimes.)

The Watchers Video: Part Six—Lausanne Cathedral (Climbing the Belfry)


It was six years ago when I first learned of le guet de Lausanne, the man who calls the hour through the night from the belfry of the cathedral. A friend and I were coming from dinner and he pointed out the man with the lantern high in the tower, just after the eleven o’clock bells. He said, ‘You will never see this anywhere else in the world.’

Once, all Gothic cathedrals had such a man. He was one of the most important people in the town. He watched for fires and invaders approaching the medieval walls of the town. As the world developed cathedrals got rid of their ‘watchers,’ all except Lausanne. For nearly 800 years there has been a watcher in the belfry of Lausanne Cathedral every night without fail.

My friend knew le guet de Lausanne and telephoned the tower and said he wanted to bring ‘an American writer’ to meet him, and that we were bringing wine. (You want a late night invite in Switzerland, tell them you have wine. Works every time).

We arrived at the bottom of the belfry tower and my friend called up, ‘Renato!’  A few moments later this shadow of a man, in a black floppy hat, leaned through the railings. He waved and disappeared.

‘Where’d he go?’ I asked.
‘To get the key.’ my friend said.
‘Huh?’

Just then the shadow of a man in the black floppy hat reappeared and began to lower a key on a long line of string.

‘You must be kidding me.’ I said.
‘Welcome to Switzerland.’ my friend said.

The Watchers Video: Part Seven—Lausanne Cathedral (The Bells)


Early one Saturday morning, shortly after my first trip to the belfry tower, I received a call from Renato, le guet de Lausanne. He told me he had something very important to show me at 5:00 that evening. I said I had something on but Renato insisted, ‘I am very sure it is important for your book.’

We met at Café de l'Evêché in the shadow of the Cathedral. Renato was at a table, two beers at the ready. Renato, as he does, talked about all sorts of things, except why I was there. (there is a lot of Renato in Marc Rochat). We had one more beer and at 5:45PM, Renato said…‘Allors, on y va.’

He led me to the cathedral, he opened the tower door and we climbed the steps to the belfry. It was my first time in daylight in the tower and the view was breathtaking. And while I was admiring the view, Marie Madeleine, seven tons of bronze and the largest bell in the tower rang for 6:00PM. Then all the yokes began to sway and all the bells of Lausanne Cathedral began to roar. It was deafening, like listening to the Big Bang at the moment of creation. The bells rang for fifteen minutes, and the final chord seemed to hang over the world like some never-ending sound. Renato looked at me and said:

‘Will the bells help you with your book?’
‘Yup.’ I said.
‘I thought so.’

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