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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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My Debut, winner of the Cinnamon Press Book Prize 2014

 

Autumn – Back to Life

Autumn – Back to Life

The children are back to school and already the heat of August is a dim memory as the cold nights draw in, and the trees start to shed their leaves for winter.  Though temperatures in Italy are higher than in my native home, I look forward to this time of year, loving

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pumpkin soup, bonfires and the flickering candles above my hearth.  It is a time to resume serious work, a time for me to submit my latest manuscript and bite my nails as I wait. I enjoy the cooler weather, sliding into my jeans gratefully after a summer sweating in shorts.  Yesterday evening, I sat watching my eldest play football.  Perched high above him fullsizerender-jpgon colourful, cracked bleachers, the wind blew as the sun descended behind the trees and Italian mothers shivered in ski jackets.  I sheltered behind my enormous handbag and drummed sandal-clad feet on the thin metal floor, bemoaning my lack of foresight to carry a coat. Autumn caught me on the hop.

It is a weird month, September, a sudden rush into the real world again after ten weeks lazing about on beaches, shouting, comforting, driving, mediating and mollifying children.  One weekend working flat out to edit a fascinating document on Migration, Conflict and Food Seccultureurity, another; working to polish and pearl my latest novel.  On both these weekends I should have been relaxing, playing with the family, and I found myself stuck to a screen like Cyprus sap.   The ugly head of cultural appropriation and authenticity arguments popped up again to sully these weeks, with a controversial outburst at a literary festival and the answering ripost posted the day later to be reprinted in the Guardian.  Having completed my report and novel, I marveled at the difference between the ‘real’ world of conflict alleviation and writings on migrant suffering and the ‘creative’ world where to form policy based on focus group discussions, (the refugee ‘VOICE’), led by foreigners would be seen as ethically spurious.

I fiercely defend the right to write, and I love to write about different people and places, digging towards the Universal human experience.  I grew tired reading the animosity on chat threads, wary of arguments between angry American writers and commentators who clearly couldn’t think beyond their individual contextual circumstance, imposing their especial problem on everyone, everywhere.  I felt the frustration setm1ep back – the years spent listening in social anthropology classes; told to study, yet rendered impotent to put the knowledge into practice by my background and identity.  Thankfully, the argument was laid to rest within days as the dust settled. Aminatta Forna wrote a wonderful piece on author pigeon-holing, ‘Don’t judge a book by it’s author’; calming my mood back down to a steady whir.

Meditation resumed, the daily practice of switching down the mind, transcending the conscious mind to find the inner flow of mind waves that run deeper than thoughts.  It was an epiphany –  In many ways, I thought, this sort of transcendence is needed in the world of cultural discourse.  Let us transcend our outer boundaries and cast off the barriers that people want to build between human beings.  Let people unite and write.  I realise, as I return to the practice, tm3that I have never thanked my Mother enough for allowing me to take a TM Course a few years ago.  (Thanks Mum!)  It revives and restores, leaving me refreshed even when tired.  Creativity increases, as does intuition. Negativity recedes.

So, onwards into autumn.  A new book to write, a new book to get printed.  And the baby, my debut.  ‘The Disobedient Wife‘, to keep promoting and pushing out into the world – a reluctant child clinging to my skirts.

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