An Open Letter written in 2016 to Melania Trump: The irony of wasted power

You won’t read this, not in a million years.  But just in case, from one woman to another, one mother to another, I post this letter to you, Melania.

I don’t blame you for who you were years ago, for what you did or why you did it.  I watch the pictures of your naked body flow into my news feed, and I wonder at the unfairness of the web, where actions taken in a different time, for any reason, can come back to haunt years on.  In your case, it seems particularly unfair to blame you.  How could you have known that one day you were hold the power of American First Lady in those perfect, long fingers?  How could you have predicted your marriage to a famous typhoon, a man who convinced America to give him the highest office in the land?  The answer, of course, is that you could not, unless a fantasist or a lunatic.  People should not judge, blame or laugh, as though you were in possession of a crystal ball.

I do not share or repost the photos sent to me by mistaken, glib men, who titter with each other like little boys as they simultaneously degrade and lust after the woman you used to be.  Americans who shout at Trump for Sexism scatter cyberspace with your photos… I call them out.  My husband asked, “do you hate her?”  I felt surprised. “No,” I said, “of course not.”  You made a living using what you had, offered a major modeling contact at sixteen years of age, catapulted into the glittering, catty world of fashion houses in Paris and Milan.  If I lived in a tower block in a small town in communist ex-Yugoslavia, I can bet I would have done the same, given the opportunity.  Choosing colour after grey.  Money.  I find the sharing of these pictures unjust because no one is the same at 46 as at 16, or 26, or 36. But for our actions, we must be judged…

America!  Stop acting like Melania is from an alien planet.  This is a 46-year old woman from a progressive, little European country that resembles Austria and Italy.  With Trump since 1998, she has potential.

Melania, find the woman you once were.  Defend us against the misogynist onslaught.  Whisper in your husband’s ear, remind him to love all women as he loves his own.

Work to defend maternity leave, to tackle unequal pay and stop the de-funding of Planned Parenthood, an organization that helps so many women to make or not make desperate life decisions as well as reproductive health projects all around the world. Don’t let your husband promote the conservative cause, and persuade him of against placing anti-feminist justices to the Supreme Court.

Stand up as a progressive Slovenian to work for women’s rights.

Work to reverse the trend that validates the degrading and inhumane treatment of women based on looks or background.

Do not forget where you come from.  Do not sit quietly, hands tied, mouth shut, demure and useless, a voiceless manikin.



Skiing in a time of Global Warming

Skiing in a time of Global Warming

I am just back from a week spent over Christmas in Passo Tonale, one of the highest skiing resort villages in the Adamello region of Italy, a mountain pass with a glacier stretching up to the dizzy heights of 3,600 metres. It was a wonderful holiday with plenty of skiing even though the temperatures on some days reached 8 degrees in the sun, with nighttime temperatures barely dipping below zero.

Snow-making machines worked day and night on the pistes which turned blue with ice patches by night, transforming to snow, then slush by mid afternoon. Several pathways leading skiers from one piste to another melted during the week, necessitating a long ski downhill to lower chairlifts carrying skiers over brown grassland, green firs and grey tarmac roads up to higher climes.  We gondola’d up to the glacier, negotiating the black piste down through clouds of ice chippings that cut our faces raw; snow-makers operating at high latitude.

The children frowned when they saw the brown grass strips between icbrowne and snow patches, the artificial nursery and red slopes in the valley covered with a fake, white carpet. ‘We hate global warming’ they yelled, mouths turning down.  Instead, living in denial, I tell myself this is only a blip, that the unseasonably warm December weather across Europe with clear skies and sunshine, is something of an anomaly, even as I know it is not true.  If anything shows us that it is too hot, it is the mountain weather, with glaciers receding, snowfall less plentiful and the increasing use of snow-makers.

signI lament the decisions the world made in 2016; the Trump takeover that threatens the Paris Agreement, even as I hope that the Agreement will hold, and will make a difference.  China, Brazil and India continue to grow apace, demanding air conditioners, increasing their electricity, gas and oil consumption to European levels, even as I know I am a European hypocrite.  For I presently rent a large house that requires high gas consumption for heating, (it is not insulated), I drive my car every day, and I take holidays on airplanes.  I hope for a miracle,  a grand invention to reverse this climate trend, even as I know there are none, especially in the face of ‘the economy, stupid’.

My New Year Resolution then, is to try harder, to take more trains, to recycle, reuse and stop buying plastic items (bags, bottles, packaging, cutlery and plates) forever, to lobby for environmentally friendly proposals in my work place and my children’s school.  In my own small way, I will try to make a difference.  Imagine if everyone did?

thumbnail_disobedient_cover%20draft%206My book ‘The Disobedient Wife’ was published with Cinnamon Press in 2015.

Check it out here


The Lake: Peaceful, Melancholic, a Reflection of Ourselves

The Lake: Peaceful, Melancholic, a Reflection of Ourselves

This week my parents visited, and we made many long walks through valleys of oak woods and along rolling hill ridges, following scenic parts of the Francigena Pilgrimage near my home, a long, difficult route that starts at Canterbury Cathedral in the UK, taking the traveler pilgrim via France and Switzerland all the way to the Vatican in Rome.  I was struck by how difficult the path is to follow now, with trees blown down across pathways, faded signs and rushing streams to cross using makeshift bridges of rotted branches.  This pilgrimage is not as popular as the Way of St James to Santiago de Compostela, lacking facilities and forcing pilgrims to camp in the open, a true challenge for the devout. After these walks we drove to the nearby Lake Bracciano.


Lake Bracciano: A Painting by Me. (c) Annika Milisic-Stanley

Mother loves the lake, named after a castle-topped town; a deep, blue volcanic crater lake teeming with perch, eels and pike.  Kingfishers give us flashes of shiny emerald feather and white herons search the shore for worms and tiddlers.  The lake shined azure blue today, last week golden under a strong sun, or pastel peach through cloud reflections, the edges melting into hazy hills and a lazy sky.  Every new costume evokes a painting I have painted, or a mood I have felt. The sight of the gently lapping water is always cathartic, comforting my eyes, a symbolic eyewash. lake

Yet, for some, the lake is melancholic in the eerie quiet and calm, mirror-like surface.  On windy days, white caps smash in onto black sand, dragging out the driftwood and human detritus, spewing back lake grasses that dry, brittle and white, a pale dunes of thatch.  People swim near the shore, frightened of the depths in the centre, imagining limits at the very edge of endurance, deep enough to outdo life.  I wonder about this when I see her, lady lake, metaphor for all the ways we take an innocent thing and transform it with the psyche, our memories and preconceptions.  This human disability that stops us from shutting down our inner self to simply let the lake be.

Have a good week!

The Disobedient Wife is my debut novel, published with Cinnamon Press in 2015, winner of best book 2014, and RBRT Contemporary Fiction 2016 prizes.



The Power of Fresh Eyes

The Power of Fresh Eyes

A friend who writes, also reads.  She, like I, has been an expatriate for many years, moving from country to country, crisscrossing the continents of Africa and Asia as a way of life.  We both have a rich store of memories that we use to glean stories, refusing to settle into the norm or restrict ourselves to writing about our countries of origin.  We prefer to relive our experiences, both the good and the bad, blending them into the stories of others, both real and imagined.

Story telling is a wonderful way to archive our lives, writing the stories of ourselves and of

Book Signing, Trieste

others as we imagine them to be, but at times it feels like hard toil, especially towards completion, when the draft is rewritten a multitude of times, checking language, continuity, characterization and plot tension; all the threads that run through a good novel, knotting the detail in upon those threads like a carpet maker.  The end result; a strong, beautiful book.

This friend, the writer, wrote today with comments on a chapter of my new novel, ‘The Girl with the White Suitcase’.  Set in Rwanda, Kenya and Italy, it is a coming of age story about an intelligent, young refugee with a multi-ethnic background who cannot choose sides in a war.  It is an ambitious novel that seeks to ask questions about the nature of identity in conflict, inter-racial love, forgiveness, tolerance and female friendship.

With fresh eyes, she can see the things I can no longer see, the little mistakes.  She gives me new ideas and demands that I check and recheck the language, continuity and suspense.  It is that very suspense that keeps the reader beheld, the tension holding the pages tight in the reader’s hand. Without it, the book will fail.

The importance of fresh eyes cannot be overstated, and this is a shout out to thank all the beta-readers out there, helping writers to be the best they can be.   THANKS!

My Debut, winner of the Cinnamon Press Book Prize 2014


A Writer: Workhorse and Butterfly

A Writer: Workhorse and Butterfly

In this article, writer Ann Pratchett talks about writing fiction and non-fiction. Like her, I find writing non-fiction easy, and fiction very difficult. One taught her to be a workhorse, the other, a butterfly. Like her, I write non-fiction for money in the bank, re-writing thumbnail_disobedient_cover%20draft%206technical documents and editing the English. I do it to deadline and I do it for a living. Like her, I write fiction for pleasure. I do it because I love it, but I do it like a butterfly, flitting back and forth from the manuscript, settling for brief moments to tweak and write, change and rewrite. I have no deadlines apart from the desire to see my fiction in print, pushing me forward to complete stories and novels.

There is a great need to forgive yourself as a writer or as an artist, knowing that what you have produced is the best you are capable of, even if it might not be perfection in your eyes. Self-forgiveness is key to making art, as well as embracing mistakes, perhaps allowing those ‘wrongs’ to lead you in a different, better direction.  Just as with painting, creative writing requires superb technique as well as creative lightness and self-forgiveness.

Here is the article:

The Workhorse and the Butterfly: Ann Patchett on Writing and Why Self-Forgiveness Is the Most Important Ingredient of Great Art




Beautiful Book Clubs Host Authors….

Beautiful Book Clubs Host Authors….

Yesterday the book club for the United Nations Women’s Guild hosted me here in Rome. Fifteen women gathered to listen and discuss ‘The Disobedient Wife‘ (Cinnamon Press 2015).thumbnail_disobedient_cover%20draft%206


The title does not do justice to the central theme of the book, that close friendship and mutual support between women can be crucial to overcoming physical or psychological abuse.  I explained that the reason for the slightly flippant title was one of commercial appeal – I wanted a snappy, short sort of title that people would remember, and I didn’t want to put readers off!

I was asked if I thought the expatriate experience for women is more or less the same no matter which country you live in, to which I answered no.  I found people with different world views and priorities in Tajikistan than in Egypt, for example, where the former were mainly Embassy families, missionaries, NGO workers, and the latter, Oil Industry Executives.  In Egypt I had to work harder to find like-minded friends, but eventually of course, I did (and many were, in fact connected to oil).

suitcaseOne reader made the point that there are phases of experience that we probably all go through as expatriates, including the sense that as the years pass we become more and more dependent, especially if we move frequently and are unable to hold down or build our own careers.  It also may be potentially more of a blow when our children leave the nest, as then we really are absolutely alone, without access to the ready networks that international schools provide (whether or not one makes use of them).  One could say the same though, for many women anywhere, and it is a real reason why I believe that all expat ‘trailing spouses’ need space to develop that they can call their own.  For expats of course, this is complicated and must be mobile.  Thankfully, with the internet, all sorts of possibilities have opened up for us.

Another point that was made, was that domestic violence is endemic here in Italy and is on donnathe rise.  The reasons for this are not clear, but one member explained that as the economic situation in Italy worsens, tempers fray and women bare the brunt of frustration and anger men feel as a result. There is an organisation working in Rome to provide shelters for women as featured in The Disobedient Wife, called Differenza Donna.  http://www.differenzadonna.org/ which I want to highlight here, in case I have any Rome-based readers read this post. There will be a march on 26th November.  My friend Mary shared this report on this here: https://wideplus.org/un-special-rapporteur-on-feminicide-and-violence-against-women-in-italy/

Have a good week.

AN INCREDIBLE Book Review: The Disobedient Wife

AN INCREDIBLE Book Review: The Disobedient Wife

I did a Happy Writer’s Dance this morning:

Annika Milisic-Stanley has created a masterpiece with this debut novel. This novel is a page-turner because you want to know every single thing that’s coming next, but it’s a novel you should take time with and really read and process the words, events and emotions. This is a book to buy in print which I eventually will so that you can share it with all of your female friends, sisters, cousins, nieces, or daughters. When a friend or family member is feeling down about their lives, have them read this novethumbnail_disobedient_cover%20draft%206l and draw strength from the incredible Nargis, and remind them to count their blessings because they have boots for walking in the snow or warm water to bathe and wash their hair. This book doesn’t imply that the Tajik women have it worse than anyone else, but their strength and ability to move on is inspirational and moving. “The Disobedient Wife” is by far one of the best pieces of literature I have ever read. “

It was truly lovely to wake up this morning and find this review on my twitter feed.

Apologies, as I have been silent on this blog for a while, for a number of reasons. First, I have been doing NanNoWriMo, or at least, attempting it. Second, I have been busy writing short stories for various competitions and magazines, including adapting extracts from my second novel, ‘The Girl with the White Suitcase’ for publication. Third, we had a school holiday which necessitated that I take ten days off and travel with my kids to see my parents in sunny, stunning Dorset, UK.

Finally, the horrific, terrifying ramifications for the outcome of the American election left me quite speechless for several days as the news sunk in. I work with refugees, many Muslim, and I have lived my adult life overseas, in places where poverty and suffering are the norm. To think that many voters who chose ‘change’ did so out of desperation, opened my eyes to the poverty that exists in the developed world, the inequalities of access to education, jobs and ‘getting ahead’.  Documentary films on North American poverty are shocking, as much as the election of this right wing demagogue and his team.  The world waits, anxiously and mourns while liberal thinkers rush to apportion blame on each other for safe space liberalism, for urban bias and blindness to the needs of people they claim to represent – the underdogs.

I digress, sorry.

This review means so much, I feel inspired, motivated and ready for the world again.  I do not know this reviewer, but she received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Her words have lifted me at a moment when I really needed it.

“THE DISOBEDIENT WIFE,”  BY ANNIKA MILISIC-STANLEY PUBLICATION: CINNAMON PRESS; NOVEMBER 9, 2015 Synopsis: Tajikistan is a harsh place of political and religious repression. It remains deeply patri…

Source: Book Review: The Disobedient Wife



The Princess and the Toad

No golden ball dropped,

into glistening waters.

Only the patter of tiny jellied toes

gave him away.

His throat pulsed,

Black eyes stared.

I brought him to my princess.

Look! I said.

She placed him on her pillow,

Laughing at his futile jumps towards the

light of the window.

Let him go now. He’s thirsty, I said.

He leaped out to

Dew dropped grass,

But turned to wave

with one webbed hand.