Monday, 5 October 2015

Moonlight Jasmine

This is my short story that was shortlisted in the Henley Literary Festival 2015 short-story competition. A few of you have asked me to post it on the blog so here it is! It is 3,000 words long so you may want to make yourself a cup of tea first. It was inspired by a true story.  

Jasmine flowers
©  |
A spray of white blooms caught Connie’s eye as she marched past the flower stall, but she didn’t allow herself to falter. Not today. She had a very important meeting to make and she couldn’t be late. Possibly the most important meeting of her life… no, that was an exaggeration! Nonetheless, her mission was to reach the cafĂ© at Selfridges before eleven o’clock. All her instincts told her that she should be safely in situ before her foe arrived. Stepping into the gutter to avoid a ponderous group of tourists, she picked up her pace and continued down Oxford Street.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Poetic truth

Notes from the Henley Literary Festival 2015

My favourite event in Henley's social carousel has come round again. For one glorious week (the sun always shines), I swan about the Henley Literary Festival on my own little voyage of intellectual discovery. This year I am attending talks on subjects as diverse as babies being born to mothers incarcerated at Auschwitz, black holes, the debutantes at Bletchley Park and an Indian suffragette. Every year I fall under the spell of the written word, marvelling again at its power to capture the gamut of human experience and inspire emotion.

Jane Hawkings, memoir writer and first wife of physicist Stephen Hawkings
Jane's memoir was a way
of 'unburdening' herself
It doesn't matter whether it is fiction or non-fiction: a good piece of writing is always authentic or truthful in an artistic sense. Whilst talking about his latest novel (The Dust that Falls from Dreamson the Great War, author Louis de Bernieres told us how he toyed with writing a biography of his family, but decided he didn't want to upset his father. "I've gone back to the normal plan which is to tell colossal lies," he said. "But there is poetic truth [in the book]." His guiding principle was to recreate what individuals felt as they became caught up in the war.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Be gone mid-life crisis!

Earlier this year I wrote a blog about the virtues of leading an ordinary life. There was a disgruntled undertone, but basically I was giving thanks for my secure and comfortable existence. In response, however, I received some passionate advice from a friend's mother, who was adamant that we should fight against playing it safe. "Do not let the excitement slip from your life in your middle years," she urged me. "Have a challenge of doing something new, daring and exciting." Her words struck a chord.

Packed camper van
Up for an adventure?
Last week I spent some time with a young couple (in their twenties) who were only too happy to take on a challenge. They were organising aid for refugees in Calais and I couldn't help but admire their youthful, can-do spirit. Inspired by the stories of refugee hardship, they decided to hire a van, fill it with donations and drive down to the camps at Calais. For them, it was that simple.

A few weeks ago, I too considered doing a similar trip, but quickly dismissed it as an unworkable idea. How would I find the time? Wouldn't I be putting myself in danger? And who was going to look after the kids while I waltzed around Calais interviewing the migrants? No, it was a silly idea. 

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Thank you Facebook, it was about time!

A few people I know are still a bit snotty about social media and just occasionally I can understand why. You run the risk of saying something silly on the spur of the moment and not being able to retract it. Or you give away more than you intended to because your settings weren't quite right. In the last few weeks, however, Facebook, Twitter and the like have showed us that they can be a powerful force for good. Thanks to messages and pictures shared on these networks, thousands of people have been galvanised into action to help the refugees trudging across Europe in search of a safe haven.

Tom Clark, who is collecting donations for CalAid
Tom Clark, a Henley hero
The deeply poignant photograph of the drowned Kurdish toddler Aylan Kurdi, lying face down in the surf as if he had just fallen asleep, was a turning point in the public perception of the refugee crisis. Aylan and his family had set off for Europe in search of a better life, after previously fleeing fighting in Syria. Up until this point, there had been a steady drip-feed of immigration articles and disturbing images on social media, including pictures of other drowned children washing up on beaches, but somehow Aylan tipped the balance. I know many of us found such images highly distressing, particularly within the context of our hokey, homely Facebook feeds, but all those 'shares' of a little boy on the beach meant we had to face up to the horrors going on in the world.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Ibiza unbound

Almost half a century ago, my grandmother came upon a notice in The Times newspaper advertising a villa for sale on the Spanish island of Ibiza. A few weeks later, she flew out to visit the house with my mother, who incidentally advised her not to buy it! Paying no heed to my mother's youthful caution, my grandmother, who had fallen in love with the villa despite the lack of electricity and telephone line, went ahead and purchased it. 

Villa and pool in Ibiza
My grandmother's old villa near Port des Torrent
Or so the family legend goes. One way or another, history was made and my family spent almost every summer for the next forty years on the island of Ibiza. In 2006, my grandmother was forced to sell up because of health reasons and she passed away a few years later. This summer I went back to Ibiza for the first time since she died, to revisit this place that had provided a thread of continuity throughout my peripatetic childhood. My return to the island got me thinking about how people are shaped by the geography in which they grow up.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Sore losers

Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mum

I am packing light for our holidays this year. No more Lego, Connect 4 (travel edition), or interminable Nintendo. All I am taking to Spain for our recreation is a humble pack of cards and an emergency iPad. This is our chance to bond as a family. It'll be fun! We'll chat around the card table and indulge in a bit of friendly banter. As I slip the Disney-themed playing cards into the suitcase, I feel the glow of smug motherdom warming my cockles.

Two children playing cards
No sign of the iPad...
Most of my childhood was spent playing whist and rummy. Tucked away in an old shoebox, I still have the scores from a summer-long contest with my sisters twenty years ago. What a jolly time it was! No need for an iPad back then. We made our own entertainment. I feel secretly gratified that I am about to pass this gift of gamesmanship onto my own children.