November’s golden leaves evoke memories of families gathered around tables overflowing with traditional foods, stories long forgotten, and laughter echoing across the years. Here’s a poem I wrote, one of remembering a moment long ago that has never faded from my mind.

Madonna and Child: Oil on Wood Panel by Mary Lynn Bracht

I forgot until she did it

My mother reached up and stroked the Virgin’s face

Is this real, she asked, turning to look at me over her shoulder

My eyes couldn’t meet hers, instead

I stared at her fingertips, still pressed against the painting

And wondered what it felt like to touch history

Four hundred years ago in the jungles of Central America

Madonna and child gazed down at the pagan natives

With their Catholic eyes gilded in gold

I wanted to ask her if the holy family felt warm or cold

Greasy or dry, what did touching them make my mother feel?

But then I wondered what she meant by Is this real?

Did she mean the painting

Or the Virgin’s story?

And then I remembered

I had the same urge when I was young, to touch

What was forbidden, at sixteen

My own fingertips grazed the toes

Of Zeus, standing in silence in the Louvre

The cold marble was smooth

An electric spark shocked through my skin

When a boy caught me, and grinned

So when I finally met my mother’s eyes, I did the same

She had crossed centuries with one forbidden touch

©Mary Lynn Bracht

One thing lockdown has given me is the time to explore my local neighbourhood. This lovely trail is my latest discovery. Walking beneath the green canopy feels ten degrees cooler than on pavement— a perk for hot summer days. Who knew there was an enchanted forest just off Finchley Road?

London’s lockdown seems to have ended. The streets are crowded with people again, as though the threat of death no longer looms. Is it the fair Friday weather that lulls them into a false sense of security? Or is it the human condition to forget, doomed to repeat our painful histories, that pulls them out of their homes in too large crowds? Passing them on the pavement feels like playing Russian roulette, an unnecessary game with a consequence that outweighs the prize. There are too many people willing to play. Too many bullets in the gun. I’m staying inside again. I can always walk in my dreams.

My super small, eco-friendly, potted Christmas tree surrounded by bookish presents. Hopefully it will be a few inches taller next year! Focusing on the small pleasures in life to balance out the very large and harsh realities in the world. Wishing everyone a joyful holiday season filled with moments of peace.

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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.

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!