Sunday, 18 December 2016

'Twas the week before Christmas ...

... and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse ...

I don't know about your house, but most I know are rather noisy this week. Children are suffering from a toxic mix of exhaustion after a long term at school and pre-festive excitement. (I know one daughter has secret supply of chocolate for times like these - not for the children, but for herself! Good for her.) Adults are tackling the lists, of presents, and food ... and enough booze to get everyone through. Some are working and donning the Christmas jumpers to run the gauntlet of office parties. Some people love them ...

But for some this turning of the year is also a time of reflection. Politically it has been a turbulent year and many of us are deeply troubled at what might be coming. And it is impossible to ignore the millions who are suffering in wars and natural disasters - the world looks very unsafe at the moment and it can feel as if we have forgotten how to look after each other.

This dance between the frivolity of Christmas and the misery of our fellow men and women feels particularly poignant this year.

Which puts those of us who are writers in an impossible position. It is easy to join in the festive fun and pretend that the rest of the world is pottering along without a problem for a week or so. It is equally easy to drown in heartbreaking events taking place far away and ignore the joy of playing with those we love. We cannot, of course, get it right.

Maybe that's fine. These are times of great change and we cannot turn our heads in several directions at once without getting a serious headache.

And so I wish you all a peaceful holiday. I shall raise a glass to those who are near, and those who are far away. I'll be back in the New Year.

(It is also, possibly, a crazy time to launch The Planter's Daughter. Hey ho, that's when she was ready to fly.)

Sunday, 11 December 2016

The Planter's Daughter.

'Tis done. I know Lady Macbeth said t'were well it was done quickly, but this has taken forever. It's ten years since I first heard her story. And now - here she is. My Planter's Daughter.

So, as I've hung onto this story for so long, why publish it now? Because, at its roots, it is a story about emigration: a young woman who has to leave Ireland during the potato famine, in the hope of making a better life for herself elsewhere. She leaves with dreams, and believes that she will be welcomed. Nothing, of course (as this is fiction) works out like that.

But I've watched recent footage of refugees, with their meagre luggage and asking only for food and shelter, being turned away. I fictionalised such a journey, almost 200 years ago. But it feels heartbreakingly relevant to today.

And now, here she is. Here is the blurb, for those who haven't seen it:

It's 1848. And Sara, aged fourteen, must leave her family in the stinking potato fields of Ireland to seek a better life with her wealthy aunt in Liverpool. But her uncle has different ideas. 

Will she find solace among the dockers? She finds love, but becomes embroiled in the unrest of the Irish men and women who live in squalor in the Liverpool slums. Yet her efforts to help them only enrage her uncle further. 

Her escape takes her to the other side of the world. But there is no comfort in the dusty outback of Australia nor the gold fields of New Zealand. For she has left behind something more precious to her than life itself.
And here is the link. (Just an ebook at the moment. I'm working on a print edition, but that probably won't be out until I'm home from Malawi.)

Sunday, 4 December 2016

In defence of Good Blokes

I don't often write about the work I used to do: the challenges and heartaches of Child Protection. But I have been prompted to do so by the recent disclosures of abuse by hundreds of footballers.

We are, rightly, horrified. It is the only possible response to the realisation that all those children have trotted off to football every week, with their boots and their dreams of Wembley, have been exploited by men (almost always men) who used those children for their own gratification. How could this happen? How did we not know? How could nobody stop it?

To begin - I'm not surprised. All organisations - churches, residential schools, sports clubs - close ranks when they feel under attack. It takes extraordinary courage from whistleblowers to stand up and shout loud enough to be heard. We also know that offenders are adept at wheedling their way into any institution that gives them easy access to children. Not just one child - but scores of them.

Does this mean that most coaches are abusers? No, definitely not. What these men have done is unforgivable. But most men are decent, honest, and want only to support their own children. We must not react to this by pointing a finger at every man who supports his son or daughter by spending hours with them at a football club. Offenders must be identified and punished. But we must not conduct a witch-hunt that could catch the vast majority of kind, decent men who are doing their best for their kids.

And this is where the courage of those now speaking out comes in. At last there is a climate in which their voices can be heard. They have names, times, dates, and are pointing fingers. They deserve all our support. For in disclosing what has happened to them, they are provide the foundation which can ensure we keep all our children safer in the future.