Walking through the crowded tombstones in Highgate Cemetery, I am reminded that death comes to us all. Some of those buried here lived long and historically memorable lives, while others died before they could spread their wings–forever young. Where do our memories go after death, those unique experiences that make up the core of who we are? Are they released into the atmosphere or buried with our bodies in the earth? Do cemeteries harbour memories of the dead? My mother believes in the rapture, when the dead are released from the bowels of the earth to join the living as they ascend into the heavens. I want to believe there is a rapture for memory, that our experience of this life remains intact, that death doesn’t erase, but instead preserves in its dark cocoon those moments that made us human, waiting to be released. There are wildflowers in bloom on the graves of the long forgotten, bluebells, Queen Anne’s lace, and dandelions. The wind ripples through them, an audience of colour, and they nod their knowing heads as though listening, enraptured by the whisper of leaves in the canopy overhead.
The sound of ocean waves calls to the human soul in a primal language translated by the heart. Every time I visit the seaside I remember what it is to be alive, to exist on this small, aching world. So pleased to have taken part in the Alderney Literary Festival and to have had the chance to recharge my head, my heart, my soul on this beautiful island. Nature reminds us life is beautiful.
Monday night’s Writers’ Guild’s 60th Anniversary Awards ceremony was full of surprises as White Chrysanthemum won the award for Best Debut Novel. Here I am giving my acceptance speech. It’s all a blur now, but the most important part of the speech I gave was a quote by Kim Hak Sun, the first ‘comfort woman’ and women’s rights activist to come forward in 1991 to give her testimony about her experience during WWII:
“We must remember these things that were forced upon us.”
So many terrible things are force upon women and girls during the wars our nations wage against one another. Even before our governments wage these wars, they know the vulnerable citizens will suffer. We must keep the survivors in mind, ensure their protection, and help them recover when wars end. The women of Korea and Asia were forgotten at the end of WWII as the men in charge sought diplomatic amends for the recovering war torn nations. We must remedy this in future. Remember the innocents, the people who had no power to wage wars, vote, hold office, or change the tide of world events. Remember and protect them, and if we fail, admit our failures and ensure those who suffered the most can rebuild their lives. Immigrants, asylum seekers, forced sexual slaves, we must acknowledge their plight and do right by them because if we live in comfortable homes within the borders of safe nations, chances are our governments are not blameless in the causes of suffering abroad. And we are guilty by association.
So do your duty, vote. Demand a just government. March against yours if their policies are unjust. But most of all, remember. Never forget. Because none of us are immune to war. Or injustice. Or suffering. We are all of us connected in our humanity.
I want to thank the Writers’ Guild and the judges who selected my book from so many wonderful debuts of 2018. It’s a dream come true to be read at all, and to win an award for doing what I love, it’s an absolute honour.
This small yet powerful exhibition at Blaine|Southern Gallery London ends in a week (19 January). If you haven’t seen these blood red threads painstakingly hand-sewn by the artist in person, you’re definitely missing out. Born in Japan and based in Berlin, Shiota’s massive yarn installation symbolizes the body’s internal connection to the neurons within the brain, while the feet cast from her own, connect with the ground, the world, the universe. It’s a free exhibit not to be missed.
I wish you and yours a very happy holiday season! Thank you for a beautiful year and all the love and support you’ve given to me and White Chrysanthemum. It has been an amazing journey since publication day in January. I can’t wait for 2019 and the adventures ahead!