The Writers’ Guild Awards

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Photo by Lynn Blackadder

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.

Chiharu Shiota ‘Me Somewhere Else’

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.

Happy Holidays!

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!

Death Plaque

This plaque on Hanover Street marks the death of Amanda Telfer six years ago. I snapped the photo in passing because I intended to look her up when I wasn’t standing in the freezing cold. I was surprised to learn who she was because Amanda’s death was one of those tragic London stories that often haunted me.

Amanda was a successful lawyer on her way to work, walking with a banana in one hand and her entire happy life ahead of her when a gust of wind knocked three huge storefront window frames from a construction site onto her, crushing her to death in front of bystanders who desperately tried to save her.

The randomness of her death was tragic enough, but the reporting of her death was criminal. Why did the articles mention the banana she was eating as though it was pertinent to the story? Not only did this very accomplished lawyer die in an avoidable accident (the site manager was convicted of manslaughter), her death was reported without sensitivity. Who cares that she was eating a banana? The image of the yellow fruit is often paired with jokes and humour, like slipping on a banana peel, primates with bananas, condom application practiced on bananas.

This same insensitivity was seen in the reporting of the death of a woman on Oxford Street who was run over by a red London bus. The unidentified woman was old, so the papers called her a pensioner, which like the banana conjures images of frailty, scarf covered heads, and walking sticks, instead of just a woman out shopping and sadly unaware of oncoming traffic. When her identity became known the next day as a Dame and wife of a recently deceased billionaire, pensioner was dropped from the articles and accolades took its place.

How we are represented in the media can make or break us, especially when it comes to our deaths. Everyone deserves to be remembered with sensitivity and respect, whether we’re pensioners, Dames, or lawyers too busy to stop for lunch because the job is calling and we’re eager to get there and save the world.

Thankfully I happened upon this plaque yesterday and now feel as though I have a proper conclusion to Amanda’s story. Quoted on the plaque are the words from the second stanza of Yates’ poem, Sailing To Byzantium.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

I will never think of that banana again when I remember Amanda Telfer’s tragic death. Instead I will see her beautiful face as her soul sails away, and in my mind she is at peace.

Best First Novel Shortlist

White Chrysanthemum has been shortlisted for Best First Novel by the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. I’m honoured to be selected along with two wonderful writers Guy Gunaratne (In Our Mad and Furious City) and Nicola Mostyn (The Gods of Love). If you have time over the holidays, pick up their books and give them a read. If you haven’t read mine yet, what are you waiting for!?

Happy holidays and happy reading!

Happy Thanksgiving 2018!

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends and family and readers who are eating turkey (or tofurkey) tonight. I’m thankful for this beautiful life I’m so lucky to navigate each day–even for the rough bits. They toughen us up, make the lovely moments memorable, and remind us we are alive. During the holidays when everyone seems happy with their perfect lives, it’s important to remind ourselves that some people are suffering, and moreso during the holidays. Missing all my friends and family who have passed away, remembering them with love and gratitude that they came into my life, today and everyday. Life is beautiful and tragic and worth the effort. Keep going. Keep loving. Keep living. ❤️