George Bernard Shaw

I am staying with a good friend for the weekend in her home in Letchworth Garden City in Hertfordshire, famed for the U.K.’s first ever roundabout…yes, honestly! I will endeavour to take a picture of the roundabout before I leave. We planned to visit George Bernard Shaw’s house close by (both being literary geeks).

George Bernard Shaw bequeathed his home in the quiet village of Ayot St Lawrence in Hertfordshire to the National Trust. The house at Shaw’s Corner has therefore been left as it was at Shaw’s death in November, 1950. George was born in Ireland and he and his wife, Charlotte lived in London, but increasingly spent their time in their home in Hertfordshire. Charlotte’s bedroom (on her request) has been turned into a museum room, the best part being the Oscar (for Pygmalion) and Nobel prize safely tucked away in a glass cabinet and under a thick green velvet robe. I have never seen either of these prestigious awards before. The house is nestled within an extraordinary large garden, with an enclosed wood cutting area, important in all the modern homes back then apparently, and a shed at the bottom of the garden with a simple desk, typewriter and even a cot bed, when you just need to lye down and think about what you are writing. I need one of those…one day ‘sigh’!



The Grass is Singing Farewell to Doris Lessing

Doris Lessing died at 94 years old on 17th November 2013. Upon being given the Nobel prize for literature in 2007 when Doris was 88 years old this tough old bird unimpressed had said, “Ah Christ!” I liked her instantaneously and immediately set about researching all about her and her work and picked up a copy of her first book published in 1950.  Apparently she carried the manuscript of The Grass is Singing with her from Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to England. She was desperate to escape the life of white Rhodesia she found suffocating and insufferable which filled the pages of her first novel.

“She felt as if she were in a dark tunnel, nearing something final, something she could not visualize, but which waited for her inexorably, inescapably .”
– Doris Lessing, The Grass is Singing

Doris Lessing as a writer speaks to me on a personal level as well as being able to teach me something new. So far I have only read one book of Doris Lessing’s but I will be reading as much as I can by Lessing in 2014 and I can already see that her work is going to have a profound influence on my writing.

I wish I had come across her work when she was still alive, but I think that Doris Lessing would give a little smile to know her books will continue to influence generations of women after her..or maybe she would just comment, “Oh for god’s sake!”

The Fifth Wave Inside of Us

“Sometimes you tell yourself that you have a choice, but really you don’t have a choice! Just because there are alternatives doesn’t mean they apply to you.”

Rick Yancey, The 5th Wave

The experiences of the last few years have felt like a weight on my mind, constant pressure bearing down on the top of my head. When my life changed it felt like a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders, my mind felt free and open again. The negative experiences no longer whirled around my mind. But the experiences I had over the last few years are still there. I have tried to forget and move on, but have come to realise that some experiences are a part of you and will become a burden that you must carry for the rest of your life. Some wounds will leave a scar for the rest of your life. Do not hide that ugly scar it is a part of you, it is a witness to your survival. Maybe life is not about forgetting these experiences but learning to carry the extra weight with strength and resilience.

“Some things you can never leave behind. They don’t belong to the past. They belong to you.”
Rick Yancey, The 5th Wave

The Reluctant Person!

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a dark, thought-provoking and intelligent novel, it has been a long time since I had a dictionary by my side when I read a book. But semantics aside Mohsin Hamid’s second book is bold in its premise of September 11th from the stance of the outsider, not of the terrorists, but of the Middle Eastern community that lived in New York at the time of the attacks.

A privileged upbringing in Lahore, Pakistan and Princeton University have afforded Changez a sense of entitlement and belonging. The attacks in New York on September 11th make him feel like an outsider and he becomes increasingly made more aware of his Pakistani origin and his patriotic and family responsibilities.

“Time only moves in one direction, remember that, things always change”

Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist

I have always been an outsider. I must be the only mother who waits for her daughter at the school gates immersed in a book rather than chatting about the daily soaps. This is an actuality that no longer concerns me. As a writer I live in a world of my own creation, a world that is constantly fluctuating. I can be anything of my choosing, and I would not choose a normal life. This will always make me an outsider. But the part of my life I do not dream has become monotonous for a while, but time only moves in one direction, and things always change.

The Harry Potter Experience!

If you are in any way a fan of J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter books or enjoyed the films then the brand new exhibition dedicated to everything Potter is for you. The exhibition opened last year and seems to be growing in awareness by a simple case of chinese whispers. Although a royal visit this year from Prince Harry, Prince William, Kate and the then royal bump probably haven’t been a hinderance in raising awareness of the exhibition. The whole experience was such a fantastic and entertaining day that I am sure those of you out there who aren’t fans of Harry Potter would still have a wonderful day.

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry

Costumes worn by Dumbledore

Costumes worn by Dumbledore

Costumes Griffindor at Hogwarts Main Hall

Costumes Griffindor at Hogwarts Main Hall

The Harry Potter exhibition is in Watford which is a pretty shabby area of Hertfordshire. I can’t imagine there being any reason why you would want to visit Watford unless you were going to the exhibition, but there are some clean convenient hotels close by. It is also a convenient and easy place to go into London and enjoy the sights! And if you are going into London then visiting the Harry Potter monument at Kings Cross station is a must!



After the exhibition we stayed at my brother and his girlfriend’s new place in Dursley, a small market town in Gloucestershire.  Conveniently for my Harry Potter themed holiday (yes, I often theme my holidays) Dursley is featured in Harry Potter. J.K Rowling was born in nearby Yate and apparently she called Harry’s Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon Dursley after this town (recognise the name now?). Maybe she didn’t like the town that my brother has recently moved to!

What 5 People Shaped Your Life?

OK, don’t go straight to the obvious here, yes we all know that our Mum’s and Dad’s had a powerful influence, positive and negative, on all of us as we grew up. But, step back a moment and take a long look at your life; at the choices you have made in your career, the paths you have taken with your friends and the people who have loved you. Don’t just look at the people who have been a positive influence in your life, I want you to have a good look at the people who may have created an element of negativity that had repercussions throughout your life. No matter how painful, these people can have a profound influence in your life; on the decisions you make and the outcome of those decisions.

“Holding anger is a poison. It eats you from the inside. We think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade.”

Mitch Albom, The 5 People You Meet in Heaven

In Mitch Albom’s enlightening and wonderful book, The 5 People You Meet in Heaven, an elderly amusement park maintenance worker called Eddie dies at the very beginning of the story while trying to save a young girl on one of the rides. Eddie meets five people in heaven that have shaped his life, and in turn learns from each of them what he was supposed to have learnt through his time on earth, and ultimately the meaning of his life. At the end of the book he waits in his place in heaven to welcome the person he has had a profound influence on in their lives, and instinctively he understands the lesson he must impart on them in turn.

Over the past few years I have learnt a few painful lessons. These lessons can be summarised as thus; As soon as you have lost your temper you have lost the argument! I had felt for years that I had no right to feel the things I felt, because those closest to me were no longer listening. But over time I have come to realise that you have a right to feel whatever it is that you are feeling. But instead of holding on to anger try this; take the lesson you have gained from the person that hurt you and move on. If you have really gained the knowledge of that lesson there will be no room for anger in your life and they will no longer have such a negative influence on your future.

Afterall, the only true revenge in life is success! Be successful in everything you do, then maybe the five people you meet in heaven will be five amazing people who were a positive light in shaping that success, and hopefully you can also be someone else’s positive light in their heaven.

A Thousand Splendid Suns Under One Sky?

Good writers like Khaled Hosseini always explain the motivations of the antagonists in the story. No one is purely evil or purely good and the antagonists actions are always postulated with a bit of back history. Rasheed the main antagonist in A Thousand Splendid Suns, is violent and cruel but we come to understand his actions through the death of his son and the frustration of being unable to father another son as he grows old.

“Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye.
Through the bazaar, caravans of Egypt pass.
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
and the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls”

The title of Khaled Hosseini’s book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, comes from a line in the Josephine Davis translation of the poem ‘Kabul’ by the 17th century Iranian poet Saib Tabrizi.

The startling brutality and oppression of the Taliban Afghanistan, especially against women, can be regarded as another antagonist of the book, which can also be said of Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel, The Kite Runner. But Hosseini has the ability to portray this time in Afghanistan history with a depth of understanding and warmth for his home country and it’s people.

As a strong independent woman the concept of life hidden under a Burqa in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime seems completely unreal and intolerable. This is also true for the two protagonist’s of Hosseni’s novel, Mariam and Laila, two strong women who live in a society of few choices but through each other find strength and courage to change their lives. Under the Taliban regime they are not allowed to work and are forced to stay with a violent husband (Rasheed). When Rasheed loses his job Laila has no choice but to put her young daughter into an orphange, a common act for widows who are not allowed to work even when their children are starving! Laila is beaten daily as she has the audacity to walk outside without a man as she attempts, often in vain, to visit her daughter at the orphanage. After a lifetime of decisions taken away from her, Mariam chooses to sacrifice her life for her friend Laila and her children.

I will never forget sitting outside a cafe in Egypt next door to an open slaughter-house. I was travelling with a few of the guys I had been working with on the dive boat, The Sun Boat, taking tourists on diving holidays along the Red Sea. I looked up and noticed a young woman staring at me under a loose black gown, called a niqab, that only showed her eyes. It suddenly dawned on me how few women I had actually seen on my short travels so far in Egypt. What I remember most is the way she looked at me. Her eyes held no malice just a sense of awe and incomprehension as she looked at me. What must I have looked like to her; a Western woman uncovered, free to make my own choices in life, a life she understood that would always be out of her reach.

As I sat alone at the back of the Sun Boat watching the sun set on the Red Sea as it sailed away from the port of Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, I had learnt that the world is more open than we think it is, and that sometimes the only bars around us are the ones we create for ourselves.