Today, I'm delighted to welcome Sue Guiney here as part of her virtual tour to promote her latest novel, A Clash of Innocents.
There are three good reasons to read this book:
1) It's a wonderful book and you'll know there are delights in store as soon as you look at the sumptuous cover and turn to the first page.
Ward Wood Publishing, and anyone brave enough to launch a company in today's climate deserves respect and support.
3) It's a wonderful book - and you can't say that too often.
Set in present day Cambodia, Sue conveys with remarkable compassion and empathy the pain of a country struggling to come to terms with a bitter past and the damage wrought on its youngest citizens, as well as the inner landscape of those who care for them. For ten years, Deborah, an overweight 60 year old American, self-confessed earth mother, has run the Khmer Home for Blessed Children, where she is the much-loved only parent to forty children, from toddlers to teens. But Deborah is carrying her own damage too. She's managed to cope with it pretty well until the arrival of a new volunteer, a young American woman called Amanda, who is clearly hiding some terrible secret from her own past.
With rich and luscious prose, Sue evokes the sights, sounds and smells of a country that will be unfamiliar to most readers and is virtually unexplored in contemporary English fiction. Her characters reach out from the page and into your heart, their narratives mirroring that of the country in which they play out their lives.
I'm always telling writers they need to show, not tell, so in the spirit of that authorial tradition I've asked Sue to do a virtual reading here, so you can see for yourself the wit, warmth and wisdom she brings to the written word.
It didn’t really take ten hours to get to Kep. Now that we were nearly two-thirds of the way through this first decade of a new century, a road had been created to parallel the Mekong and connect the capital with the southernmost portion of the country. Notice I said ‘created’ and not ‘paved.’ Although tarmac was occasionally in evidence, just enough to make us feel as if the land beneath our borrowed wheels was under our control, more often than not the road turned again to dirt, slowing our progress as if to remind us that this was, indeed, Cambodia we were crossing and nowhere else on earth. But given that it was May and the entire country was aching for rain, all that dirt had turned to dust. We kept the car windows closed for as long as we could, but eventually we had to open them. There is only so much that the air conditioner in a twelve year-old Toyota can do. We hardly cared, though. Sam and I were happy to inch along, in and out of tiny nameless village after tiny nameless village, smelling the sweet scent of ripe mangoes and bananas baking in the afternoon sun.
It had been a while since we had ventured into this part of the country. Whenever we were able to get away I tried to take us somewhere new. For all its faults, I do love Cambodia and I want my kids to love it, too, but not for its new luxury hotels and gilded palaces; not for its sharp-eyed entrepreneurs and go-getting hustlers; not even for the tradition of its monks or the beauty of its art. I want them to love their country as it is in its heart, where the need to recreate life with each new season is accepted and respected, where generations hold each other’s hands and turn towards tomorrow, where hope refuses to die and laughter is used like fertilizer to keep their spirits growing. Some years we ventured north towards Siem Reap and the ancient temples of Angkor. Two years ago I took a group of boys to Tonle Sap Lake where pigs live in water and alligators are raised like sheep. But Dr Reith had said to head for ‘the coolness of the sea’, so we headed towards Kep and the Gulf of Thailand. Sam hadn’t been there since she was little and her excitement was growing with each kilometer. How much had changed, I wondered?
Not much. One benefit of going slowly is that you can take your time to see what is outside your window and beyond the dust clouds. The countryside is so harsh and so beautiful. Fields of rice paddies stretch for miles studded with the bony frames of oxen, white against dirt brown. Distant hills are clouded with haze like oases, mirages in a sun-parched expanse. Your eyes water as you stare and you can almost remember that in just one month or two all of this will be flooded by the rising waters of the monsoon season. Trees will then look like bushes; those distant mountains like outcrops. This scenery has lasted forever, will last forever, ebbing and flowing with time and the seasons, green turning to brown and back to green again, earth becoming water becoming earth, reminding us that of all the constants in this world, the most reliable constant is change.
The roads are never empty. Far from it. Roads here are not just ways of getting from one place to another. They are places in themselves. People live beside them. Animals walk in them. On their edges makeshift shops sell everything from lotus flowers to transmission fluid. There are no curbs, no sharp delineations between spaces to move and spaces to stop. Everything is everywhere. Motos pull up beside oxcarts beside bicycles-built-for-five beside open-backed trucks carrying thirty workers to the fields beside air-conditioned buses filled with American tourists beside Mercedes with government license plates and rolledup windows beside horses pulling trailers full of construction equipment beside barefoot children walking walking walking. Like the earth that transforms to water, here the past merges with the future leaving you with nothing else to do but work if you can in the mornings, rest as you must in the hottest part of the afternoon, and sleep as best you are able at night.