Friday, 1 August 2014

On Gaza: Show. Don’t tell.

Those of us of a literary bent know that in our work we must show, and not tell. I can still hear my MA Creative Writing tutor – an elegant English writer – reiterating this to us all time and again as students during our course. Amongst other points pertaining to literary discourse, to show and not tell is to demonstrate through the work: don’t spell it out, repeat or over describe. And for goodness sake, don’t lecture your reader.

With all the feeling that is being poured out left and right (pun intended) on Facebook and other sites regarding the current Israeli/Gaza conflict, and as a basic principle, this course of action may well be heeded. We are all entitled to our opinions, though I think we all need to try and do our research as much as possible, myself included. An emotive response of moral outrage before gathering all the information available to us – though we are all at the mercy of journalists to some capacity and their inevitable biases, to some extent – should be the normative course of action.

We need to apologise when we get things wrong and move on, though I have no desire to be ironic and sound ‘lectury’ myself, or sound ‘holier than thou,’ I often get things wrong and am as passionate about my beliefs as the next person, but perhaps a deep breath, and a count to three before taking the plunge might help – I am learning to take this advice myself - happily I have someone in my life who dispenses wisdom in this area, without being patronising – a skill in itself!

When engaging in debate, I suggest we show – by demonstrating with facts, (alongside our well thought out argument - not fighting!) why we support as we do. Attacking, demeaning and, the most silly of all – ‘de-friending’ on Facebook, does not help support one’s argument and does not encourage serious debate  it may even make you look like a silly banana with a wonky cap on with scribbles for features. Inevitably, mistakes will be made – what with all the inaccurate statistics and photos from other wars and so on being circulated willy-nilly in the press and online.

This is not a war between ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys,’ there are good people being caught up in the conflict and paying a price too high, through no fault of their own as with the recent Malaysian Airlines MH17 tragedy, and the plight of the Christians (and others) in Iraq; and there are ‘bad guys’ and ‘good guys’ involved on both sides. There are as ever, very many grey areas. I am firmly ‘on side’ with my beliefs, though I try to be clear-eyed when ‘my side’ acts disproportionately or unfairly - in my view, -which I have to admit, is limited as I am not on the ground, as it were. And though your view may be different to mine, I respect your right to air it, however cloudy I might suspect it; I respect freedom of speech and I respect democracy. I do not want to live in a dictatorship where I am told ‘believe as I do’ or you are 'a dimwit, a moron, or even dead,' if some folks get their way.

Having said that, I am all for good-natured satire, but there is no need for further hostilities. There is enough of that already.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Cleaning out my cupboards

Hello blogster pals! Thought I'd let you know what I've been up to since last month. We have been back in London, painting and decorating our flat and making sure the existentialist (What's the point of exams? Where will they lead - to debt? I don't believe in the system, I am leaving school to become a tattoo artist...) seventeen year old stays at school to complete his exams - it has been a twisty-turny time - but exams have been written and porfolio submitten (I know that's not a word, but it works) although at one point, reinforcements in the shape of his inimitable English teacher with back up from the French (teacher) had to be brought in on horseback (not really) to expel his doubts - Eng. teacher is more doughty than Mrs Doubtfire - every school should have one. All is quiet on the work and home front now: not even a rumble. Until next year. But for now, the 'future' is a foreign country and 'things will be done differently then' (apologies for messing with L.P Hartley's quote).

We are preparing for Wales and much re-evaluating has been going on given the change of lifestyle we are gearing up to, which will include homeschooling and various mountains to climb - literally (Snowdonia) and figuratively: new home businesses and so on. Eminem wrote a song called 'Cleaning out my Closet' and this is what has been taking place in my life at this juncture - a clean up of heart and mind, past and present; mentally, physically and heartily (as in vigour but also as in the attitudes of the heart in the Christian sense). If you feel to look up that Eminem ditty on YouTube, please note that there is a really rude compound word to be discovered therein, MF is the clue, so don't look it up if you don't want to hear it - or the F word for that matter. Eminem is something of a modern bard so I excuse him the occasional ear-blistering word. Questions have been asked, in our flat: How do we want to live our lives? How should we be spending (as in value) our time? Is this friendship mutual and healthy? How can this body/family be healthier? Do I really need all these magazines/books/clothes/things and so on. Do I even want to 'be' a writer any more (how the Dickens can one be a writer in this day and age anyway, everyone's a writer now, it's passe - that's pass ay as in the French, I don't have a doofy dab French apostrophe thingy on my incompetent comp), or do I want to move on to other things? Making amends and tying up loose ends. Taking stock, examining the functional and removing clutter; looking at the route on the life map and making sure we are moving in the 'right' direction and throwing off all that hinders.

It has been six months now since I gave up drinking alcohol, and apart from the occasional 'Crumbs a beer would be nice with this Thai,' (curry, not bloke) or, 'A nice glass of Shiraz would spice up this casserole quite smartly (and quite possibly, my life, at this moment),' when in a restaurant with friends, I have not missed it at all. I have given up soya milk too - I gave up milk a while ago - and find I drink less caffeine as a result (it's not as nice) and possibly behave less like someone who appears to be semi electrocuted and more like a normal person whose jaw does not chatter when she is silent.

Bring on the future! My face is set like flint as Isaiah (the OT, no not over the top, OT as in Old Testament) the prophet has said.

Friday, 2 May 2014

An unedited life: More musings on Truth.

My husband has just read excerpts from my last blog out to me in the kitchen whilst various small children swarmed about amidst the toast missiles. "What did you mean by this?" he said, quoting a phrase I had initially written in French, most likely phonetically (I'm too embarrassed to check - that adjective has half my forename and most of my writing surname in it!) and hadn't bothered to check because I deleted it on the read through before I published it as I decided it was pretentious given I do not even speak French remotely properly and nobody but me would be able to see the recalled face of my my garrulous Gallic friend uttering it in my head. And the previous post was about high truth! Jesus truth! I snatched his smartphone and upon seeing the uncorrected grammar rushed to correct it - which I have - I haven't the gall (or the Gaul, as my bad French emphasised, and as in Asterix, I must punctuate correctly!-  and pun muddle as I go along) to post something that just isn't right. Now I'm concerned I am being politically incorrect to the French - forgive me French friends and folk generally.

Which gets me thinking about how we present ourselves to the world. We all have to present some kind of edited version to society or barbarism - or at the least more 'bloody noses' would result. And we don't want to hurt people's feelings, but I really think the world would be a better place if more people 'told the truth in love' as the Bible puts it (Ephesians 4:15) I just checked. I for one would be less confused. And we would all save so much time! Particularly women who seem to agonise more over 'having said/done/written the wrong thing' than men. Apologies if I appear sexist, sisters. I speak/write from experience. I posit there would be less confusion and more intimate, real, and truthful communication.

Such as this:

"Does my bum look big in this?"
"Yes, Darling, but I love big bums."
"I don't believe you..."

Okay that did not work - but I had to tell the truth as it popped into my head.

How about this.

"What did you think of my last blog post?"
"I preferred the unedited version."
"Oh okay, thanks."


Or (an alternative convo between me and Peter Tatchell)

"Can you help me understand how you feel? What has your personal experience of church been?"


"They said that to you! How awful! Us Christians really do need to watch our language. I'm sorry you were made to feel like that..."

And now me and Pete are friends and he is reading my latest book about revival, and we are dialoguing about it and he is even thinking of coming to our revival conference in the summer! (Not really, but you never know). Anything is possible when you tell the truth in love, and at least we would all know where we stood, however shaky that ground.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Jesus has always wound people up Mr Cameron

There has been a lot in the press lately about David Cameron's extolling of his Christian faith. Some eminent humanists have accused him of being alienating and divisive for suggesting that Britain is a Christian country, though none of these clever people have grasped the irony of their own divisive letter writing. Why is the word 'Christian' so offensive? A Christian is simply a follower of Christ and therein lies the problem. Christ wound up the religious and legalistic folk in his day, just as his followers wind up (to the letter) the religious and legalistic folk in the present, for following (admittedly often lamely and sometimes admirably) that teller of the truth, Jesus Christ. There is no religious zeal more potent than that I have seen in atheists such as Richard Dawkins or Peter Tatchell, whom I once went to talk to as he demonstrated outside All Soul's Langham Place. He insisted to me that "You Christians hate homosexuals." I assured him that 'we' or at least I and the 'we' I knew, did not. "Well your leaders do then," he said. I assured them, that 'my leaders,' who are not Anglican (so perhaps not recognised?) did not hate homosexuals. 

There is a lot of confusion in the public arena about what Christians actually are - and some confusion in actual Christians too, but we are all evolving Mr Dawkins! - science not being incompatible with religion (another confusion!) by God's grace (and the indwelling power of The Holy Spirit, but let's keep things simple). As far as I could tell at the demonstration mentioned above, the hatred was not coming from the Christians, and so it has been, down the ages. I spoke to Peter in a loving and peaceful (I hope), though frank way, I felt genuinely sad, apologetic and somewhat puzzled (though I am not ignorant of the debate) that he felt like this. After this brief exchange he complained that I was in the way of the cameras. I invited some of the placard carriers to church - they haven't been yet. Perhaps if we sat down together more often and got to know each other better that might be a start. One of my dear friends who is in a lesbian relationship told me that she was abandoned by her church after she met her girlfriend. This is very sad. There has to be a way forward for all of us who seek to follow Jesus – He is The Way forward.

Back to Christians winding people up. Why do people get so hot under the collar about Christians? Is it because Jesus made it clear that He was God and then set about proving it - fancy! Instead of giving a plethora of 'God' options - why would He? I suggest that Christians are often roundly hated because they tell the truth of and about Jesus Christ and refuse to entertain other options - why would you if you felt you had discovered the truth? Christians believe Jesus is The Truth, so why bother with 'untruth' offensive as that may sound to followers of not The Way, though they are entitled to their choice and not vilified for taking it - given, in the main, that they are reasonably peaceable (though hypocrites and bigots are to often to be found in their ranks and all sorts of sinners too), but then Jesus came to save sinners so they are welcome, besides Jesus did provide a way out of sin. Did you breathe while you read that gasp of a sentence? Christians are often a 'soft target.' Given they believe God is all powerful they do not feel they have to defend Him (or indeed themselves) - as say, the Muslims do. How annoying that they will not fight back! An extra bloody nose for that too.

Back to the whole human family. Deep down we are surely all looking for truth as long as we are reasonably sentient. It is what we look for in love, in justice, in peace. It is what we seek in all high art. It is the noblest quest, the deepest depth we are likely to ever dive to, though many run from it - because, the truth can sometimes be uncomfortable. Often a lie, a 'let's kid ourselves a bit longer,' is more palatable and less confrontational than: The Truth. The truth is often baldly offensive, it, like Jesus, offers up no other option, and as such the truth can strip one naked in its glaring light that shows up ‘the flawed’ - as of course we all are. Let us stop being arrogant and religious and let us believe the truth as we see it without condemning one another. For those of us who are followers of Jesus, our fulcrum of understanding is Jesus and his death on the cross for our sakes. Let Him be the one who shines the light on our hearts in order to gently expose, correct and heal. Let us encourage one another in the process, as we are all flawed yet uniquely made with inimitable potential for understanding and progress. 

Monday, 17 March 2014

Empathy, Creativity and Humanity.

Just grazed on some Tiger bread (from Asda in Wales) with slices of my husband's roast beef (thank you for The Hubster; thank you for the beef!) from yesterday slathered with salt and English mustard whilst savouring the memory of fresh Lobels bread with a dark - almost burnt crust, often ripped from the loaf in our kitchen in Greendale, Harare, before hopping on my bike to ride to Courtenay Selous School; but sometimes eaten with the leftover Zimbabwean roast beef from the night before that we kids actually beefed about having too often! Crumbs!

I spent part of last night at a meeting chatting to a new friend who had just bought my first book, 'After the Rains,' about growing up in Africa - she in Tanzania - me in Zimbabwe. We agreed that there was nothing so potent as an African childhood, though of course everyones childhood is potent to them. When she described going to boarding school in the hills of Tanzania, and we talked about precarious African bus rides that seem to be homogenous to Africa, I almost cried internally recalling further experiences evoked as she spoke, such as the forts I had made out of leaves and sticks in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe on an early school trip there - but also because I 'felt' her experience on a vicarious level, and as such it was shared on more than one level - of which more  to follow. 

One of the editors at my previous literary agency (Toby Eady) told me that the attack scene in ATR was the best war scene he had ever read - high praise, particularly given that I am a girl! I have many readers around the world, many of whom are ex-military (some even Selous Scouts! - who have been blown away by the book, if you will pardon the expression) and am gratified that I seem to have a balance of male/female readers as I try to write about human experience in a gender neutral way - and at the risk of coming across as lofty - in a transcendent way - in the way that my writing functions on various levels including, and especially of late, in a 'spiritual' way. Last night, another friend who had been reading ATR commented that she found the attack scenes in ATR really frightening and asked if I had experienced attack directly. I replied that though I had grown up in the war years, I had not seen the attacks I describe in the book - though they were authentic; but the proximity of war and the experiences of those in propinquity to me had shaped my imagination and I believe helped me write in such a visceral way. 

Memory is so powerful, and it has an ability to attract and attach to the memories of others who have had the collective experience of something deeply personal, shocking and life changing as living through a war, if only indirectly. I am often asked how I write scenes like the one outlined above and I think empathy is key. I remember hearing about attacks on the radio in Zimbabwe in the 70's or seeing the newspaper photos and being drawn into the story and imagining myself in the position of the people in the story and how they must have felt. I would plot my own stories of 'escape' based on the true life accounts. Of course I was also often the heroine who would rescue others too - and I think as a people it serves us all well to use our imaginations to 'feel' what it must be like to undergo the experiences of others - it  heightens our creativity and keeps us in touch with our collective humanity.

I am currently an early twentieth century man Owen Evans with him/as him! - in the trilogy I am writing and am enjoying going through the highs and the lows of his life (even though they arise from my imagination, or better, from the collective memories, however distilled of the collective and universal 'us.'

‘After the Rains’ is a stark reminder of the pointlessness of war. Each side holds views and these views are a catalyst for justifiable murder and the destruction of family life. Emily Barroso brings Rhodesia to life in her novel and one can almost feel the hot sun and the beautiful landscape. This idealism is destroyed as the Rhodesian Civil War engulfs the country and the novel’s narrator, Jayne, is forced, after a terrorist attack, to flee her childhood and farm with her family. Barroso explores relationships between black and white, right and wrong, and the reader is left with a grey area called life and the fact that ‘It’s all vanity, it’s all an illusion, everything except that infinite sky’ (Tolstoy). A great novel and well worth reading.
Lindsay Jardine, The South African

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Hamstering about on the Old Street roundabout - veerily.

Time March's on - can it be the third month already? The month started with a bang for me - as in a starting gun - I have finally passed my driving test, and happily, before my son takes his own lessons now that he is old enough. He is the same age as I was - 17, when I took it upon myself to leave apartheid South Africa (obviously I was anti, I was anti everything and if you weren't anti-apartheid in 1986, your head was made of putty). I did this by sraping together my meagre modelling earnings, buying a ghetto blaster in Johannesburg and selling it on 'the black market' to a sympathetic BA pilot in Zimbabwe and getting the proverbial out to London.

I didn't look back from London, until now, 28 years later, when I look forward to Wales. Currently we are in London, but returning to Wales tomorrow. It has been a fun time: monkeying around at the local zoo, visiting friends, 'doing up' and simultaneously watching the younger kids wreck our flat here. We have been experiencing highs: elder son in flat seems to be growing through the ceiling and lows: trying to get him to work a bit harder (work/attitude/slothiness...) of being the parents of a teenager; I was stopped by the police on the notorious Old Street roundabout for apparently driving like a drunk even though I gave up the tipple back in January - oh so long ago! The copper who pulled me over was very nice considering I had veered to the left and back again (I missed my turn off to Holborn and temporarily forgetting I could just hamster it around again I had veered and reared - apparently I had "almost taken the front of his shiny beamer off.") He advised me take a 'u' turn and get back on the roundabout ("Enjoy learning to drive," he said merrily as I sheepishly got back in the car) which I eventually did after getting lost amongst the clubbcers of Shoreditch who seemed to favour partying in the road - they really were drunk - or high - or trying to annoy the rozzers or whatever. 

Another of the challenges this week has been preventing baby son from taking the plug protectors out of the sockets and causing our lives to become more shocking than usual. We have failed and instead have to watch him like a hawk: between preventing him finding throat-plugging bits on the carpet to consume, and retrieving him from high places, socket covering has been adding to our listing - yes, we are practically toppling over in our general scurrying about - 6 of us again in this 2 bed place - though me and the kids have mostly been banished outdoors due to the DIY ("Did I yelp?") - Hubster has been walking the high wire of children taming and wiring in installations in Soho in between hammering his digits to the ground along with the carpet strips. The Welsh mountain air beckons like water made of diamonds. 


Ow! The nipper - one this month and taking steps! - has just bitten me on the toe as I write.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

"Facebook, I am calling time on our affair."

Facebook, I am calling time on our affair, (she looks at the unhoovered carpet) we can still be friends.
(Facebook stares at the ground, grinding his jaw)
Oh don’t come over all gummy Facebook - it’s not me, it’s you. (She runs her hands through her unkempt hair – there are dark circles beneath where her eyes used to be) Okay, it’s us.
Look, Facebook, I’ll be Frank –
(Facebook looks up at her) Oh no not Frank anyone but Frank, you know how I hate the truth – how the world – hates the truth.
I’m sorry Facebook – you’ve driven me to this.
How? I thought we were in love? (Facebook winks a red eye at her)
We were – we are – it’s just – oh why do I have to spell it out? (her arms flail about) Can’t you just accept that it’s over? Even, now, I should be with my children -
But think of all the wild late nights, the euphoria of falling –
Yes, that’s it Facebook, I lost control – you made me lose control –
But that’s what falling in love is – the euphoria of falling – we were in this together. (Facebook
And them you bump your head…(she looks at him sadly, now, he just looks like a blue strapline: faceless)
(Facebook takes her by the shoulders) Don’t leave me!
(She folds her arms) Okay I’ll visit you once a week – as long as you promise not to try and contact me when I should be working or reading or stirring the cheese sauce, or –
That’s enough, I can’t take it any more! (he turns and flees, and as he does so, she relents, but only a little).
Okay, see you on the weekend! (shouts) And only on the weekend.
(Facebook exits stage left, sobbing)

She gazes through the window at him. He trips on the front lawn, one flip-flop bends under his foot. He picks it up, the ‘y’ strap is broken. He tosses it into a ridiculous hedge in the shape of – what? – something vaguely organic - and then then lifts his head and walks off flip-flopless on the back foot. I bet he’s seeing someone else, she thinks. *******.