EXCERPT and INTERVIEW
by E. B. Purtill
E. B. Purtill joins me today for an interview about her book, The Lamb.
Beth Urtz and her husband, Hamar, work for Worldwide Strategic Outcomes, Inc., a private military service provider, in an undisclosed location known as S.P. 4. When their orderly lives are upturned after an encounter between Beth and the CEO of their company, Beth struggles through a crisis of conscience while Hamar may have to pay the ultimate price for her sins.
A modern-day retelling of the King David and Bathsheba story from the Bible, The Lamb explores the themes of power, control, isolation, and the East-West divide. It’s a penetrating story of truth and lies, of psychological surprises and unexpected developments, of unlikely and difficult love.
I turn off the faucet and reach for my towel, drying myself before wrapping the towel around my body. I dig through my toiletries bag for my hairbrush. The hair dryer is plugged into the wall just outside my shower stall. I’ll need it to get my hair into any semblance of order. So with only my towel wrapped around me, I flick back the lock on the stall door and step into the communal area, my wet hair against my bare shoulders—and there he is.
Standing at the sink, brushing his teeth, is David Kingsley.
I take him in with a small start. He’s already dressed for the workday. A well-cut suit. Brown leather lace-ups buffed to a shine. I hesitate for a second, unsure of how to proceed.
The hair dryer lies on the bench next to where David is standing. Twisting the hairbrush in my hand, I think better of using it. I can dry my hair later. Instead I grab my work clothes hanging on a nearby hook. I left them out here so they wouldn’t get wet in the shower stall. I huddle back in the direction of the stall and, for a brief moment as I pass behind the CEO, I look over my shoulder at him. He’s still brushing his teeth. But when I raise my head, he pauses and lifts his gaze to the mirror in front of him. From there he can see me, and I, him.
For a second, or may be two, no longer than that, our eyes meet in the mirror. He does not look away. His dark eyes are unwavering. He doesn’t seem at all embarrassed.
A feeling of self-consciousness falls over me like a heavy blanket, and I drop my gaze, breaking our shared glance. I hurry back into the shower stall, close the door behind me, and flick the lock over.
I stand behind the door, still clutching my clothes to my chest.
“I hope you don’t mind me intruding,” the CEO says, his voice reaching me inside the shower stall.
I hesitate for a second before answering.
“It’s no intrusion,” I call out trying to keep my voice steady. “It’s a unisex bathroom, after all.”
Grimacing, I cast my towel aside. I can’t leave it with only that glance. Or with me in just a towel. This is too embarrassing. I start to dress in a hurry. The only way I’m going to salvage this encounter is to get back out there and converse face-to-face with the CEO.
This morning, before the squash game, I selected a black suit to wear today that I’d purchased on my last trip back to the States. Good choice, I now think, very corporate. I slip the jacket on over the wool knit top that my mother recently gave me. Bending over, I rub the towel over my head in an effort to dry my hair. I run the hairbrush through it and readjust my suit one more time. I silently curse myself for leaving my heels upstairs in my office. All I have with me are my dirty old sneakers and I’d rather go barefoot than wear those right now.
Good Lord, I look like a hobo, I think, as I flick back the lock.
I push open the stall door and see the CEO facing me, leaning with his back against the sink as if he’s been waiting for me.
“Nice to see you again, Beth.”
He’s paired his gray suit with a white shirt and pale blue tie. The CEO looks sharp. Handsome, even. It’s a shame that the men in the S.P. 4 office don’t dress this way more often. Most of the time it’s jeans and polo shirts for them.
“Been to the gym?” he asks. “I didn’t see you in there.”
“I was playing squash.”
“Well, I hope you won.” He smiles and folds his arms across his chest.
“I did, thanks.” I stand up straight.
“Tell me, Beth, how long have you been working for WSO?”
“Four years, sir,” I clasp my hands behind my back.
“And how long have you been in this office?”
“I’ve been stationed in S.P. 4 for almost two and a half years now.”
“Two and a half years,” he repeats, raising an eyebrow. “You must have some mettle to last out here for that long. S.P. 4 is no vacation.”
“That’s true, sir.” I square my shoulders. “But the work here is very interesting.”
I don’t tell him that I wouldn’t still be here if it wasn’t for Hamar. He’s the real reason I’ve stayed here for so long. Most members of the corporate team in S.P. 4 request a transfer after twelve months or so.
“Glad to hear it.” The CEO glances down at his watch. “Well, I’ve got an early meeting to get to. I hope to see you again soon, Beth.”
The heavy metal bathroom door closes behind him before I think to move from my spot. I look at the hair dryer on the bench next to the space where he was just standing, and I unclasp my hands. I pause for a moment, gathering myself, and then I step over to the bench to reach for the hair dryer.
The best stories are the ones we already know. The biblical tale of David and Bathsheba is pretty racy stuff for a religious book. In this modern retelling, it practically sizzles; but not in a sleazy dime store romance sort of way. Our protagonist, Beth is a bright sophisticated character with depth and real emotion. She is a successful and powerful woman, but even in the cutthroat world of corporate lawyers and military for hire; Beth retains a beautiful feminine essence. This is not something you often see with modern romance heroines, and I believe that is what puts this book more into the category of literary fiction rather than modern romance.
Some things you will notice right off the bat are the high quality editing and formatting. You may catch yourself flipping back to the front matter to see if this really is the work of an indie author, or if it is a polished novel printed by a major publishing house. E. B. Purtill is the real deal, and some of the best indie talent you will have the pleasure of reading. Her dialog is engaging, and she knows how to be descriptive without crossing the border of being pedantic.
I read this book in one sitting, thank goodness I freelance for a living and don’t have regular hours because I would have had to call in sick to work. I just could not put it down. I loved this book, and will be sharing it with my book club. It has so many underlying themes and nuances that will make for great discussion.
Interview With the Author
Hi Ellisha (E. B. Purtill), thanks for joining me today to discuss your book, The Lamb.
For what age group do you recommend your book?
The Lamb is for adults. It deals with adult themes, like infidelity, terrorism, and the clash of cultures.
What sparked the idea for this book?
I’ve always been intrigued by the story of King David and Bathsheba and, just as I was starting a class called "Beginning Your Novel", I became fascinated with the idea of a modern-day retelling of this story. The original story seemed to me to be set in such a chaotic time – constant war, uncertainty and death. I wondered if this same scenario could in fact happen today or in the near future. After pondering on this for a long time, I came up with the plot of The Lamb.
So, which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel?
For me – at least with The Lamb (and other novels I’ve written but not published) - the idea for the novel came first. While I was pondering on the idea that sparked The Lamb, the characters Beth, David, and Hamar came into shape. It took me at least two drafts of the novel to work out the particulars of each of their stories.
Although that said, for my short story, A Japanese Man in Yangshuo, I saw a man sitting alone, completely miserable, who’s manner so captivated me on a tourist ferry when I was in China, that I dreamed up the story around him. So in that instance I think the character’s story did come to me first.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
The ending of The Lamb was the hardest. I won’t say anything more because I don’t want to spoil it, but I rewrote it at least ten times.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I hope they are able to feel sympathy (or if not sympathy, at least some emotional response) for each of the three main characters and the struggles they face.
How long did it take you to write this book?
It took me two years.
What is your writing routine?
I try to write every day for at least a couple of hours, but with a small toddler in charge of my household, I don’t always get what I want.
How did you get your book published?
The Lamb is indie-published on Amazon.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
The best thing you can do is write the best book that you can. And then, just keep at it. It’s very easy to become discouraged and give up along the way to becoming published. But don’t give into those urges, just keep truckin’ along and you will get there eventually.
Great advice! What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I love to eat out, travel, practice yoga, hang out with my friends and family, drink wine, drink coffee, read, and seek out mild-to-light adventures.
What does your family think of your writing?
Generally they are very supportive, but at times the toddler, whom I mentioned above, thinks it is a very boring activity. She then complains loudly.
Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
I grew up on a farm in the "outback" of Australia. "Wild and free" I think sums my childhood up nicely.
Did you like reading when you were a child?
Yes, very much. On the farm we all read constantly for entertainment. Enid Blyton, The Baby-Sitters Club, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Charlotte’s Web, Jane Eyre, Judy Blume – I had lots of favorites.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I only seriously acted on this impulse from 2011 onwards.
Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
I’m sure they do, but not consciously.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
My favorite writers are Margaret Atwood, Jhumpa Lahiri, Alice Munro, and Ann Patchett. I would love to think that they have influenced my writing, but it might be a little presumptuous of me to say definitively that their mark is there in my writing. I read Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee several times over while writing The Lamb, hoping it would influence me. Also, I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins as I was devising the plot for The Lamb. Again I’m not sure if the reader could find these influences there, but I hope – cross fingers - that they can.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I do hear from readers regularly and they are overwhelmingly positive, which I must say absolutely makes my day! There’s nothing like hearing people say they enjoyed reading what I’ve written.
Fantastic! What can we look forward to from you in the future?
Well I’m currently working on a novella set in Bali. I’m also throwing around plans for a sequel to The Lamb. Stay tuned …
About the Author
E. B. Purtill is a writer living in Dogpatch, San Francisco. The Lamb is her first novel. She studied law and arts at the University of Western Australia and is now married and has an adorable daughter. Besides writing, she is also passionate about coffee, photography, travelling and teacups.