Thursday, October 28, 2010

So Sue Me ...

The only possible good way to be sued is to invite a Sue to your blog, so that's what I've done.

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.
2)  It's the first novel from new kids on the block, 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.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dear Mr Marr ...

Sigh ... there's nothing new about blog bashing. (See here for a post on this blog from 2006 on the subject.)
Andrew Marr is the latest to voice his negative thoughts on bloggers recently at Cheltenham Literary Festival, provoking the inevitable cyber backlash.

It's all too, too tedious, darling, so I'm not going to bother to enter the fray as such.  I just thought I'd deconstruct his comment and see if it applies to me.

socially inadequate, (quite possibly)
pimpled, (thankfully not)
single, (nope)
slightly seedy, (no again - I'm very seedy, as anyone who knows me in Real Life can attest)
bald, (nope)
cauliflower-nosed (yuck, no.  My nose is definitely a potato)
young (Yes!  Yes!  Oh, all right then, no)
men (nope)
sitting (yep - definitely guilty on this one)
in their (and this)
mother's (but not this)
basements (or this)

So that leaves me with sitting and in their as the only parts of his comment that apply to this particular blogger.

See here for some of the other bloggers who break Marr's mould.
Or just take a stroll through my blogroll.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day - water

The topic for this year's Blog Action Day is 'water'.  You can find links to support the figures below at the link here.
So here it is: water by numbers.
  • Nearly 1 billion people lack access to clean water.
  • 40 Billion Hours: African women walk over 40 billion hours each year carrying cisterns weighing up to 18 kilograms to gather water, which is usually still not safe to drink. 
  • 38,000 Children a Week: every week, nearly 38,000 children under the age of 5 die from unsafe drinking water and unhygienic living conditions. 
  • Wars Over Water: many scholars attribute the conflict in Darfur at least in part to lack of access to water. A report commissioned by the UN found that in the 21st century, water scarcity will become one of the leading causes of conflict in Africa.
  • A Human Right: in July, to address the water crisis, the United Nations declared access to clean water and sanitation a human right over. But we are far from implementing solutions to secure basic access to safe drinking water. 
Water over-consumption in industrialized countries:
While the developing world faces a water crisis, those in industrialized countries consume far more than their fair share.
  • Food Footprint: it takes 24 litres of water to produce one hamburger. That means it would take over 19.9 billion litres of water to make just one hamburger for every person in Europe. 
  • Technology Footprint: the shiny new iPhone in your pocket requires half a liter of water to charge. That may not seem like much, but with over 80 million active iPhones in the world, that's 40 million liters to charge those alone. 
  • Fashion Footprint: that cotton t-shirt you're wearing right now took 1,514 litres of water to produce, and your jeans required an extra 6,813 litres. 
  • Bottled Water Footprint: the US, Mexico and China lead the world in bottled water consumption, with people in the US drinking an average of 200 bottles of water per person each year. Over 17 million barrels of oil are needed to manufacture those water bottles, 86 percent of which will never be recycled. 
Water and the environment:
The disregard for water resources in industrialized countries impacts more than humans – it causes environmental devastation.
  • Waste Overflow: Every day, 2 million tons of human waste are disposed of in water sources. This not only negatively impacts the environment but also harms the health of surrounding communities. 
  • Polluted Oceans: Death and disease caused by polluted coastal waters costs the global economy $12.8 billion a year. 
  • Uninhabitable Rivers: Today, 40% of America's rivers and 46% of America's lakes are too polluted for fishing, swimming, or aquatic life.
Water solutions:
The good news is that there are great organizations working on solutions and new tools that empower people to do their part to address the water crisis.
  • Building Wells: Organizations like and charity: water are leading the charge in bringing fresh water to communities in the developing world.
  • Conservation Starts at Home: The average person uses 465 litres of water per day. Find out how much you use here.
  • Keeping Rivers Clean: We can all take small steps to help keep pollution out of our rivers and streams, like correctly disposing of household wastes. 
  • Drop the Bottle: Communities around the world are taking steps to reduce water bottle waste by eliminating bottled water.|Start Petition

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Weaving Words with Rosy

I'm delighted to welcome Rosy Thornton here today to celebrate the launch of her 4th novel, The Tapestry of Love.

Catherine Parkstone, a divorcee with grown up children, decides to make a new start.  She moves to a tiny hamlet in the Cevennes mountains to begin working as a seamstress.  Living in isolation and dealing with kind-hearted but reserved neighbours, French bureaucracy and extreme weather, Catherine may have internet access but the themes in the book are timeless and universal.

This is a gentle novel, packed with rich sensory detail and a beautiful sense of place.

So back to this blog tour.  Rosy has come up with a novel idea.  (See what I did there?)

The backdrop to the story includes the mountain landscape, Catherine's tapestries and the local cuisine.  Cevenole recipes use local produce in the peasant tradition but can be easily reproduced anywhere else in the world.

Rosy has sent me some of these mouth-watering recipes.  If you would like to receive a copy, leave your email address in the comments box and I'll send them out to you.



Monday, October 04, 2010

Breaking (and entering) news ...

I would love to write a full post about the amazing Getting Published event on Saturday.
I'd like to give you details on how doing 19 back-to-back Book Doctor sessions was intense but very rewarding.
I wish I had the time and space to tell you what an indispensable tool this book by Harry Bingham is - the writer's bible without doubt.
I would include links to Twitter, to Writers' Workshop, to Wordcloud ...

Then I'd say that I hope to see you tonight at the Story of London event at Victoria Library where I'm reading from my short story in 33

Sadly, I can do none of the above.  On Thurs evening we came home to find our home being burgled by 5 guys.
It could have been much worse.  Most of the stuff was piled up and ready to go. If we'd been a few mins later ...
And, most importantly, even though they utterly trashed our home, no one was physically hurt.

The point I'm getting to here is that my biggest panic was that my laptop was missing.  It's ancient and the letters have rubbed off the keys, but it's worth more to me personally than all the other stuff put together.

I found it on the balcony the following morning.  The hard drive was lying separately and the cable and charger were gone.  I'm trying to sort all this out, while still needing to carry on with my usual essential workload.  Meanwhile, I can't get an internet connection on it, so can't get into Outlook to access my emails.

If you need to contact me electronically, you will have to do it via comments here or via Facebook for the ttime being.

Normal service will be ... etc ... etc