Author: sara

Sunday Early Morning Walk

Sunday Early Morning Walk

Larks sang their hearts out on my early Sunday walk this morning with Gertie, the JR. People were already down in the little coves swimming in a sparkling aquamarine sea…What a surge of joy there is in waking to a day so beautiful the heart soars. The cliffs and fields are bursting with jewel like wild flowers. The sea is as still as a millpond as the day slowly awakes to a long hot Sunday…

The Long Road from Kandahar is out in the world in wonderful Indie bookshops like The Edge of the World Bookshop in Penzance and of course on Amazon.

It is also on Audible, beautifully read by

Azan Ahmed. It is a rather strange thing to listen to your book being read by someone else and hear a character  interpreted in a slightly different way than the one in your head. Wonderful too, as you listen, to hear your professional reader growing familiar with your characters so he slowly falls into the rhythm of your writing and brings your characters alive. It is a skill.

 

 

Inspiration for The Long Road from Kandahar

Inspiration for The Long Road from Kandahar

  These are grainy photos of me standing in front of the golden Pir Panjal Range of mountains near Murree, once a popular Hill Station in the District of Punjab.  We had just driven up the steep, isolated road from Rawalpindi, through tiny villages full of fierce turbaned Punjabis, not a woman to be seen. This was hostile Taliban country, and we were acutely aware of it in the piercing glances into our car. Mobile cameras were not so sophisticated in 2009. They could not capture the sheer beauty of the Kashmiri mountains, nor convey the heady smell of honeysuckle or the sound of bees filling the silence. Delicate, bright butterflies fluttered in and out of the shade of trees, and the air, after Karachi, was as pure as ice, with a pungent peace and calm. Our driver had stopped as we neared our hotel so we could admire the view and take photos of each other, and him. He encouraged us to walk away into the cool of shady trees, but we were reluctant to wander too far into that impregnable silence. He sensed our unease and assured us that we were absolutely safe here. A fact contradicted, later, by gun toting guards who followed us up a mountain walk in order to keep us safe. As I moved into the shade, I heard the sound of sheep and suddenly caught bright flashes of colour through the trees. Small giggling children ran from nowhere to take a look at us, disappearing rapidly before I could take a photo. Photos tell their own stories in the single click of a camera; a smile, a moment created, but they never tell the whole truth.  As I stood in front of those mountains bathed in golden light, smiling, I was aware of the distant drum of anxiety. There is risk attached to westerners travelling alone in North Pakistan. Extreme poverty gives rise to kidnap. Friends had advised against the trip, but we wanted to see as much of Pakistan as we could. There is one photo of me in the formally planted English rose garden in the hotel grounds.  The British influence on gardening in this holiday resort remains everywhere, but my face reflects only discomfort. For the first time in my life, I was experiencing the feeling of being an unwanted outsider. The hostility of the hotel staff  was only mitigated by the friendliness of other holiday makers from Lahore. The drive back down the isolated road to Rawalpindi, with a new and unvetted driver the hotel insisted we take, was terrifying. He repeatedly stopped in remote spots, refusing to engage when we asked him to keep driving to Islamabad airport. We were both silently convinced we were going to be kidnapped. Eventually, he linked up with another car driving the other way and we braced ourselves for the worst. However, a piece of paper was passed between them, our driver relaxed, even tried to be friendly, and did not stop again until we reached Islamabad Airport. Despite being way out of my comfort zone I will never regret experiencing the beauty of North Pakistan. Raza, the wonderful Pakistani boy in my new book, The Long Road from Kandahar was inspired by my trip to Muree. An outsider in the UK, he forms a close bond with Finn, the son of a British soldier fighting in Afghanistan.  I wanted to explore the effect of war through the eyes of two boys from very different cultures. The first idea for this book came while I was living in Karachi. My son was posted to Lashkar Gah and the amorphous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan felt perilously close… The Long Road to Kandahar is out on May 12 and I really hope my lovely readers will enjoy it.          

Life, War, Books

Life, War, Books

I am happy to tell you that Sea Music is on a special offer of 99p for the whole of March! So do take advantage or tell your friends who might not have read it yet.

Sea Music and The Long Road from Kandahar were written years and years apart, yet they are both, in very different ways, about the tragedy of war and the consequences and trauma war has on family life that can reverberate down the years.

Some of my readers will know the story of Sea Music. I wrote it in 2002 and my inspiration was an extraordinary woman. I met walking my dog on a deserted creek path at dusk. (The story of meeting Milly is on my website)

As we walked Milly apologised for walking so slowly. She told me she had been interned in a concentration camp by the Germans in the second world war. It was the only time she spoke to me of this time in her life. She disappeared into the dark and I did not find her again until after I finished Sea Music, a novel of her imagined life, one I felt strangely impelled to write. The story of Martha and her family. Milly approved and loved the book, but she made me change the ending. ‘It must end with the young and the next generation, with hope.’ She was right. Milly and I were close friends until she died.

As I researched the Warsaw Ghetto for Sea Music, I found the story of another brave woman, Irena Sendlerowa. This brave woman smuggled hundreds of children through the sewers and out of the ghetto to safety. She too was captured and tortured by the Germans. She was the only real person in my book, but I wanted people to know her name and remember what she did.

About a year after Sea Music came out and just before the Polish edition was due to be published, I received a phone call from a Polish lady called Lily, living in London. She had been sent my book by a relative. She asked me why I had put Irena Sendlerowa, a real person, in my novel. Quaking slightly, I explained. Lily told me she was a close friend of Irena Sendler. Mrs Sendlerowa was still alive and living in Warsaw. I was stunned, so sure was I that she must have died. It was a relief that Lily had only good things to say about Sea Music.

When I told her that the book had been translated into many languages and was coming out in Polish in a few weeks she astonished me by asking if I would like to go to Warsaw and meet Irena Sendlerowa. She went to Warsaw to visit her friend once a year and she would try to arrange it. Perhaps it could be timed with the Polish publication of my book? By now I realised Lily was a force to be reckoned with. She was going to give me a chance of a lifetime to meet a real heroine.

I did fly to Warsaw. I did meet the wonderful, small and frail Irena Sendlerowa.  Her goodness radiated out into the stuffy little room where she was being cared for. She had my book beside her.  Sitting with her holding my hands between hers was a profoundly emotional experience. The brave, young and imagined Irena had lived with me for months. Here was the real Irena, old, looked after and safe, but never from memory or nightmare. Like Martha in my book, her sadness would always lie somewhere inside her. Irena Sendlerowa had that particular stillness that comes with the pain of seeing too much. The trauma of war stays forever.

 

We do not write books for the horror of war, but to applaud and wonder at the strength of the human spirit, the sheer bravery and goodness of ordinary people rising up together to try to combat an evil force in any, and every way they can. Love for country and family, belief that good and right must eventually prevail, is what powers the human race to survive; to be courageous, to have hope.

A few months ago, as I finished The Long Road from Kandahar, Afghanistan fell to the Taliban with tragic speed and terrible consequences for that beleaguered country.

It was inconceivable that any of us could have dreamed, then, that peace for the western world, peace we have all taken for granted, would also be shattered forever One evil dictator intent on wiping out the lives and freedoms, the hopes and dreams of the men, women and children of Ukraine. All living, until a week ago, in a peaceful, prosperous country looking forward to its future. It feels surreal even to write that Russian soldiers have invaded a sovereign state to bomb and mow down innocent civilians who did nothing to provoke this horror.

It feels like a horrible dream we cannot wake up from. It is hard to concentrate on the things that fill our lives. Books suddenly seem unimportant and inconsequential. But books link and bind us together. Words inform and comfort. We are educated by them and derive great joy from them. We all need escape. We need to laugh and cry. To be immersed in fantasy, in other lives. History repeats itself. The ease of our lives is not a given. We need to be vigilant of those who govern us. Guard the freedoms we still take for granted here in Britain, where democracy is beginning to be threatened in many small, invidious ways. Because that is how it starts. We know how it can end. Books bring us and the world closer. Let’s keep reading and writing, hoping and dreaming. And praying for the people of Ukraine.

 

 

 

The Long Road from Kandahar: Due to be Published May 2022

The Long Road from Kandahar: Due to be Published May 2022

I am thrilled to reveal the beautiful cover for my new book. It reflects the heart and soul of my book so perfectly. It spans Cornwall, Pakistan and Afghanistan and  is out on May 12th this year. It has been a labour of love to write. One of those rare books where the characters come fully fledged and whole and the direction of the book is clear.

 My book is about many things. The war in Afghanistan. The powerful friendship  between two boys. One the son of a British soldier and the other a Pakistani boy sent to Britain to escape the Taliban. From vastly different cultures their lives are united and changed forever by the war in Afghanistan. The book is also about love and letting go. The strength of parents and grandparents. And, always, that enduring sense of place, of home, where a shabby old beach house in Cornwall burns behind the eyelids  and keeps hope and a refuge alive for everyone.

The book was finished before the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.

For any bloggers or reviewers, my book is now open to review on Netgallery.

 

http://netgal.ly/oZUGP2

May 2021

May 2021

These are the three lovely books I bought  in The Edge of The World bookshop in Penzance as soon as the bookshops opened. I started with  DARK SALT CLEAR by Lamorna Ash.

This is an absorbing read, especially for all those who know Newlyn well and watch the fishing boats head out each day. Ash went to live for a while in the fishing community in Newlyn to learn and observe their increasingly difficult and threatened way of life. She went out on the fishing trawlers in all weathers and bravely pitched in to help when most of us would be whimpering with fear. Her respect and admiration for fishermen and their families as they battle to keep a way of life that is deep in their blood, is obvious. Her book is dotted with fascinating literary references and is a wonderful new reflective voice in nature writing.

 

 

 

At the moment we still cannot travel. But you can travel vicariously to Malyasia and New Zealand in THE HOUR BEFORE DAWN… A child goes missing and is never found… Years later  her twin and mother return to Malaysia and the past slowly, spookily unfurls…It is on special offer again. 99p for the whole of May.

As I write it is a cold,wet May Sunday with a threatening bruised sky. No goldfinches in the oak tree chattering and gossiping. Even the fighting magpies and crows have disappeared. May is such a rich month for wild flowers.  As the gorse and hawthorne fade the thrift  springs up on the cliffs and the woods are full of bluebells.

Beauty is everywhere, even in the patterns and symmetry of a ploughed field like an art work…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hour Before Dawn

The Hour Before Dawn

The Hour Before Dawn is a book very close to my heart. It is one of those rare books that wrote itself…

It is on a special promotion for  the whole of September for 99p

‘A rich multi-generational sage set in Singapore and New Zealand. The mysterious diappearance of a young child sets in motion a series of events that will haunt future generations of the family..’

I was an army wife way back and living in Singapore.  To escape the heat we would head for the Rest Houses near Port Dickson on the east coast of Malaysia.The wooden beach houses with their huge pottery baths and wooden verandas facing the sea were magical.  The long beaches  of white sand were mostly deserted and framed by jungle. There was only the occasional screech of monkeys and the voices of  night fishermen working by torchlight in the dark.

There was a particularly spooky walk through  jungle paths to an old lighthouse. The hairs always used to rise up at the back of my head as the heavy silence pressed down in a myriad of little jungle sounds. Rustles and calls and breaking twigs. Often we never made the lighthouse but turned for home walking faster and faster until we reached the warmth of the sun again before the abrupt fall of night.

I had the sudden idea for this book many years later in an entirely different setting when I was visiting one of my sons in New Zealand.  I was intrigued by a painting  called ‘The Garden of the Happy Dead’ by the  Austrian painter Friedensreich Hundertwasser who lived and worked in NZ. He was fascinated by  natures natural ventilation using plants and light. In this painting  trees become natural gutters and drainpipes and all creatures return naturally to the earth to enrich it. He was way ahead of his time ecologically and in the need to protect the environment.

My story flew out of nowhere, as I sat in a house in Northland in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a different jungle… Back home,I sat down and it unwound iteself like a ribbon until I had finished…

I espcially love the French and Polish covers for The Hour Before Dawn…

The e-book  for the September promotion has a woman on the cover. https://amzn.to/3aMqnUk

 

 

Lockdown Blog

Lockdown Blog

 

 

 

Come Away With Me was the last of six books that I wrote while I renovated a tiny listed cottage in a coastal village where this book is set.

I only have to glance at the cover and the air is full of the lilting sound of waders out on the mudflats of the estuary where I  used to walk my dog. I would plot another chapter of the book to the music of seabirds out pecking among the stones on the foreshore. The shrill call of the oystercatchers, the softer ‘ki-ki’ of the turnstones and the ‘pee-wit’ of the lapwings were all magical, but it was the haunting cry of the curlews, like ship-wrecked souls in the dusk, that caught at my heart the most. Their calls would carry across my garden and filter into the long window of the landing where I used to write. If there is music to a certain time in your life, then that rippling, mournful sound of a curlew is the music of these years.

Come Away With Me is on a special Amazon Kindle offer of 99p for the whole of June. For anyone who has not yet read it, I hope you enjoy, and I hope you will hear the lilting sound of sea birds in the background of this story…

Covid 19 has been a fierce reminder of how casually we treat our world and each other. The havoc and suffering caused by this pandemic has changed all our lives.  It would be so good to think that we will never take our world for granted again, that we will remember how loud birdsong suddenly sounded in the mornings, or how clear and wonderous the night sky. It would be fantastic to believe we will start to reward nurses and doctors and cleaners and front-line workers, to reflect the job they do, not merely clap and sing for them.

 

Lockdown has isolated us from those we love and made us face ourselves head on. We have so much time to think about what is important in our lives. The huge loss of the small everyday things we take for granted. Being with our children, visiting our families, hanging out with our friends, planning the small celebrations that mark out our lives in coffee spoons…

 

 

Unable to be close to another human being is isolating. Without touch we are diminished. A hug is not a tiny thing, it is a colossal loss of human contact;  an instinctive act that warms and revives and expresses all that we feel and are. Even the most casual hug of greeting demonstrates warmth. To hold another for a moment is an affirmation of love or friendship, and matters.

Lockdown will also have made the plight of those already suffering behind closed doors, far worse. The economic and physical effects of this virus will tragically go on reverberating into the future. Will it change how we read and what we write?

My agent blanched at the thought of receiving endless dystopian novels and believes everyone will have had enough by the time we are out of this. For myself, I am suddenly drawn to happyish endings, something I never thought I would hear myself say…I do not think I will want to read books set in lockdown, I will want to escape.

Other writers have written about periodic bouts of being unable to read.  To suddenly find you cannot read any of the books on your TBR pile is terrifying, in case it lasts. (It doesn’t)

So, I was relieved to know that many other people are experiencing the same thing, including Nigella Lawson. Audio Books are a life saver.  An exquisite reading of a beautifully written book is a magical experience. Soothing for those long sleepless nights curled under a duvet. Telling yourself you will have an early night with Abir Mukherjee, after a bad day cheers you up enormously. Listening, is obviously, a quite different experience to reading, much depends on the reader and the way the book is written, so I’ve learnt to pick my books carefully. Some books just need to be read. (Hilary Mantel) But in this way I have discovered  authors I might never have read.

Here are a few audio books that have given me pleasure.

At the moment I am listening to Smoke and Ashes the third book in Abir Mukherjee’s Rising Man series about a flawed British detective and his  Oxbridge educated Indian sidekick serving with the police force in Calcutta in the 1920s  All three books are wonderful.

The Binding by Sarah Collins. (Beautiful book. Beautifully read.)

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (strange, but captivating)

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri (Exquisite)

The Dry, The Lost Man & Force of Nature by Jane Harper (Rattling good listening)

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn (Brilliant)

Where the Crawdads Sing Delia Owens (Fantastic setting and character, too many elements in one book was a distraction but did not spoil.)

I go back to The Cazalet Chronicles, starting with The Light Years– by Elizabeth Jane Howard again and again. Immersive, compelling, warm and familiar as a comfort blanket.

I am happily obsessed with growing things at the moment so I am distracted from the fact that I have a book out on submission.   Eating what you have grown yourself is smugly satisfying.  My days away from my laptop are spent guarding my fragile seedlings from drought, a vicious north wind in June, and fighting off snails and slugs and a thug of magpie called Malcom who likes to upend my pots to find bugs for his young

I am also trying to settle on what I am going to write next. Two entirely different stories are vying for dominance in my head and gardening and walking are excellent ways to free up creative decisions, or procrastinate…

I live on the SW coast path and when I walk, I take a lot of photos. As if I have a need to capture all the beauty around me. As if it will not be there the next day. This spring has been especially beautiful. All the wildflowers came out at once, to dazzle with the impossible beauty of nature. Into this new hushed world, birds are singing their hearts out and everything has seemed brighter and cleaner and more beautiful.

The other day someone isolating on their own tweeted they had an egg for breakfast. They tweeted this because, in the absence of social life or work, an egg for breakfast was the highlight of their day and they felt they might be disappearing. It resonated with me. I take photos. Of my garden. Of my seeds. Of the birds. Of my walks. To perhaps remind myself, in a locked down world, that I am still here, that I do  exist. And how lucky I am.

 

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day has made me think about the women in my life both past and present. I think we take female friendship for granted when we are young.  We know our social group will change.  People move away, get married, divorced, have babies, but the ones that are special will stay somewhere in our lives.

Then we get older and a friend gets ill or dies suddenly. It is a shock. You were going to ring her. You meant to. Now you can’t. It is like a red alert suddenly. The need to cherish and not neglect your friends or take them for granted. It is not  necessarily to do with age, either. Death does not discriminate. In the last two years I have lost three of the friends closest to me. There is this huge empty space that they inhabited that I will never be able to fill. Twenty or more years of friendship cannot be replaced; a precious shorthand that cannot be replicated. Friends who know you inside out, have been with you through huge events in your life. Friends whose hands you have held in their last precious moments. Whose funerals have been soaring monuments to their capacity for love and life.

Loss is an alarm, to try to never put off being there for the people you love, to make all small joys into a celebration. They will not always be around, nor might you… So let’s laugh, love, cry and be happy with our friends, but also for them.

In A Kingdom by the Sea is on an Amazon promotion for 99p for the whole of March…


Magnolia and Military Wives

Magnolia and Military Wives

 

 

 

The film Military Wives comes out this weekend and I can’t wait to see it. When the first Military Wives Choir was formed by Gareth Malone it felt especially poignant as someone close to me was doing a six month tour in Afghanistan.

In the strange timing of things, I am on the last chapters of my story about a military family and the toll Afghanistan takes on their lives. Although it is not the subject of my next book, a military wife is definitely part of an unfolding story, of love and loss, of hope and courage… The story of one small family caught in the cross fire.

The film will highlight, perhaps for the first time, how hard life can be for the wives of soldiers deployed overseas and left on their own for months at a time. The high death rate and  injuries to soldiers  serving in Afghanistan was horrendous. The military choir was born to uplift and bring anxious and lonely wives together and it took off like a bird, was a balm and a blessing for so many. I’m pretty sure the film will be fun and full of irreverent humour and army banter too. It is also what I have tried to capture in my book

Spring comes early in Cornwall. My Camellia trees, a mass of red, pink and white blooms, are getting hammered by constant storms. The daffodils and fragile narcissi  are out and I rush to pick them as they are dashed.  The magnolia trees at  just coming out in all their beauty in the wonderful Morrab Gardens in Penzance…

And…in case anyone feels like hunkering down until February has blown itself out… The Hour Before Dawn is still only 99p until the end of the month

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