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. *******.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Camus again?

It's the second month! Feb-rue-ary - and nothing to rue yet apart from the way I look in the mornings and the fact that me and my bed are like ships that just pass, and not even in the night. Into my second 'dry' month and it hasn't been dry - it's been rather productive. Hubster and me have been toiling away laying the groundwork for our business, which has involved removing rock and rubble in the heat and the sweat of the noonday sun with eagles calling over head and jackals crying out at night - metaphorically speaking of course - the only things that cry out at night (often at length) are our three little children.

Of course I have been trying to flog "Big Men's Boots" too (not gigantic footwear, but my latest novel - pop goes the glug, I mean plug, which does require gigantic footwear, metaphorically speaking - do buy a copy, we need the cash and it may just change your life) which has been keeping me in a tizzy, I mean busy. Yes, these are exciting times for us - or does the delirium arise from the fact that we get as much sleep in a week that most good folks ('good' as in good for purpose) get in a night?

Back to not having any wine and simultaneously not having any whine, though waxing on about it of course, for the purposes of this blog. Not having any wine at home (unless it's Christmas when we make up for the year - drinking wise - or foolishly, not relationship wise!) is not too difficult, as SSS (super-slim-superman- who shows me up all the time by just existing) and me don't often drink the stuff at home. I tend to only drink my glass of wine or three at social events in London - and dahling! London is a social whirl! 

Take my book club for instance: our book club, though marvellous on so many levels, is less about books (although it is the book that brings us together) and more about eating the gastronomic delights cooked at one of the book ladies' lovely houses - and plenty to do with wine. Historically (as it's now February) I have partaken of all three events: the book, the food, the wine. At the last event in January, however, I was an Outsider, just like the hero of the book we were reading, as I did not have any wine, rather I partook of the posh fizzy pop my wonderful friend provided for me and our other, totally teed, friend.

Reader, my dry discovery of the month was that I don't need a glass of wine (topped up...) to get into the jolly spirit of book club. I am happy to be an Outsider. Let's just hope I don't get hung for saying so - metaphorically speaking of course. Camus again?

PS Book is available at all good (as in good, because they stock my book) bookshops and internationally at all major bookshops or bookstores if you are of an American bent.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

It'll be a dry January without you...and February...and March...and so on.

It seems many of us are teetotalling currently. January is the month for wagon climbing with many signing up to Alcohol Concern's Dry January or Cancer Research's Dryathalon. Not so difficult perhaps after a few festive weeks of imbibing bath loads of booze as many Brits do: often in a more wally than jolly way as coppers who beat the high streets up and down the vomit strewn country would attest to - phew. I too have spent the last couple of weeks drinking or sinking more than usual. Champagne is my favourite tipple and I find I have no trouble at all tanking half a bottle of it, perhaps I'd drink even more if I was left to my own devices, but it's good to share. Given I have my birthday, Christmas eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's eve with a smattering of days where friends who know my champagne loving ways, pitch up with bubbly under their arms (freaky! - I mean in a bottle), during Decadent December, well it all adds up, but not if you actually have to do the adding the morning after. Add to this the port with blue cheese, the Limoncello, the Frangelico (that monk's cassock-shaped bottle is so cute with that little rope! Tastes righteous too!) and the 'somehow as it's Christmas it's obligatory' Sherry before dinner and other stuff that usually lurks in dark cupboards for 11 months of the year and you get the (fuzzy) picture. Then there's the spicy reds...the smokey whiskies...

Here's the rub: though I usually don't drink much at all: 1-3 glasses at most when out and occasionally when in with my hubster; I occasionally drink a bit more though usually not as much as outlined above; but during a recent discussion, I came to the realisation that I had been drinking for over 30 years with only the occasional 9 month break for the kids - and even then there was the odd festive glass. My hard core drinking years (and then some) were in my late teens/20's. By 27 I was pregnant with my 17 year old and booze went out the window, along with fags and other unmentionables, for the 9 months, after which I drank way more moderately - my son created in me a survival instinct hitherto I had lacked. Since then I have continued to drink, though very rarely to excess, and I can go for weeks without any wine at all (apart from the festive frivola-la-la outlined in paragraph one, I basically drink red wine); but here's the rub-a-dub: I very rarely do not drink at social occasions.

And here's the rub-a-dub-dub: I am going to try and not drink any alcohol at all for 12 months. I am doing this for a number of reasons. I want to get fit body, mind and most of all, spirit. To this end, I have started running - my lungs nearly exploded and my legs nearly fell off last Monday evening - more on that another time. Mind: I need mine, and given I don't get much sleep I feel the alcohol even if it is only one glass. And spirit: I am going to be a lot more serious about studying the Bible. I am also hoping to experience more of the wild, mystical things of God. So here's to imbibing the Holy Spirit. Cheers!
Me and my unwitting, though very witty, moderator

Saturday, 21 December 2013

'Tis the season to forget all folly tra la la la la la la la la...

Greetings jolly bloggy ones. This is the last post...bee dee bee dee beep. And then I will be over and out until next year. Well not over and not out as despite my failure yesterday (my second driving test!) I am choosing (with the occasional flashback) to focus on the good stuff - always good to remind ourselves of successes when tough stuff tugs. Because Christmas is not always jolly for everyone. For folks that have lost people or battle black dog, who bites back or backward, Christmas can be hard.

When I was teaching art/writing as therapy to women in recovery/with mental health issues, so many of them found Christmas unbearably painful. I think of them with fondness because we always ended up laughing at the end of the sessions or at least smiling or edified. They taught me a lot.

Here's some of my happy:

1. New son! Born in March.
2. New book! Born in September!
3. New publishing company! Born this summer!
4. All my precious ones with me for Christmas!
5. Grace - daughter and actual.

There is some ongoing not so great stuff, sadly nothing new there, but I believe that when we make a deliberate, and concerted effort (choose) to focus on the positive it is easier to remain in peace, joy or at least happiness.

And some happy tips:

Joy to the world: Belief. For me a fundament of existence. Faith always gives me the means to carry on because the end is always good. Faith can be found (or resurrected - I recommend the resurrection, works for me).

People faces are a wonder. When I feel down the beautiful ones around me, big and small whack the smile back.

Vision. Look to the future. If you do not have vision create some: What do you really, really want from life? Create a map to get there and then plot it out step by step: small changes - one a month/week/day lead to big ones.. It is never too late to make changes - retrain if necessary.

Laugh: Surround yourself with people who rip your face in half they are so funny.

Dance: Find a person, small or large who will dance around the room with you in a ludicrous manner. I have one of these installed in the house. An imperative.

I have and do follow this advice (mostly - I have reminder folk for when I don't). Forgive me if I come across all 'worthy' 'tis the season.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

The commodification of religion (with atheist/God jokes)

"But now Catholics have got a new, improved pope, keen to emphasise the centrality of love and charity to faith, instead of policing private sexual matters while offering lifetimes of succour to the worst of sinners. The Anglicans have performed the ecclesiastical equivalent of a Tesco price match and produced an archbishop who condemns corporate greed, is pro-marriage in all its forms, and generally seems to chime with the public mood better than anyone had dreamed."

Lucy Mangan's article in The Guardian 9/11/2013, on Richard Dawkins' tweeting (or twit-ering - can you be a brainiac and a twit at the same time? Yes.) got me thinking of how wide of the mark atheistic, secular understanding of Christianity is. Hardly surprising when the church itself is confused about so much, but articles like this add to the confusion regarding God and religion, though these terms (G and R) should be married, they are increasingly divorced - in the changing of the laws of God to suit society and, it seems, in the public mindset. Obviously, and hopefully, people who follow a religion may be trying to connect with God, though some of them claim to be Christians due to tradition or family; but following a religion will not necessarily bring you any closer to God (particularly in churches where clergy/ministers do not preach the truth as it is written in the word of God, or try to bring the Bible 'up to date' with public opinion), according to the Bible, and experientially as Christianity should be, this can only happen via a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

I love the new archbishop (he even speaks in tongues!) and certainly he needs to form a 'bridge' or 'arch' of understanding between the world and the spirit, but what so many non-Christians and secular, atheist writers do not seem to get is this: God is God and He does not change: Not for society, culture or for anyone else. His laws, be they the ones that govern the universe, or those on morality are immutable; people might change His laws, but they will be leaving God out of it - certainly the God of the Bible that they are apparently ignorant of - this is true for your average Christian, the archbishop or the pope. None of us have the right to rewrite the Bible, in fact there are very stark warnings in the Bible about this. Thus all of the points made by Lucy and company are moot. 

LM speaks too about the marketing of atheism and religion, and of how atheism needs a 'greater market share.' Christianity is about a relationship with Jesus Christ, it cannot be commodified or sold, God does not need to market (nor defend himself), though an 'introduction to Christ' may be made at an Alpha course for instance, and of course the gospel needs to be spread by Christian witnesses. Jesus does not give room for interpretation regarding who He is (God); the gospel does not give room for interpretation either and really, though there are many 'theologies,' if the Bible is read as a whole book, and not as 'cut and paste' theology, there is no room for interpretation or 'updating' in the Good Book either.

The light bit:

Atheists: "We have decided there is no God." 

God: "It's a helluvan idea."


"We have decided that creation was an explosion in the dark."

"What have you been eating?"


"We believe creation is a series of random events."

"You are out of order."


"We are descended from monkeys."

"If I wasn't God I would believe you."