Tuesday, December 28, 2010

This book may well kill me

This evening I have been working on one of the chapters of my non-fiction book and getting lost in all the copious material that is now available around me.

I started with current news and worked backwards through the familiar tale of the 'blood diamond'.

I'm not a novice to all of this. I've met and spoken to former child soldiers, read articles, watched the Hollywood film, looked at photographs and even found out that Kanye-I - myself - than- sense-West wrote a song about his internal conflict with them.

And yet, reading one paragraph in a report about how the RUF (Revolutionary United Front) took to amputating women, children and teens' hands and feet (I should mention adult men were affected too) and continued to do so even when the Sierra Leonean government offered them an olive branch in the 1996 elections- broke me and made me cry like a child.

Suddenly the unbelievable cruelty that people can inflict on others smashed me over the head and reminded me that this isn't a pretty book. The things in it won't always leave you with a yummy just-had-a-great-dessert feeling. Life can be brutal and for so many that brutality has become the norm, their history, their face-whilst for the rest of us, we weep at a distance and wish it were different.

I'm still not entirely show how yet, but that's the bit the has to change. It's not 'them' and 'us', it's not 'we' and 'they'- it's just 'us'. That's what I need to find in the middle of all this mess I'm digging and burrowing through.


Sunday, September 19, 2010


Today I lit a candle and let its small light lift a prayer from my soul to His.

There's a dream in me that won't die. Regardless of what I do, or what happens or doesn't (as the case may be); the dream persists.

It tugs me to wake when I want to sleep and to think when I crave silence.

It makes my breath short and trapped with a bursting imagination and no magic to make it live.

This dream has been, as long as the sun has shone from the heavenlies.

I don't know if my candle will avail much bar comfort me with its fragile, little light.

Dear God

Please, please, please, pretty please with sugar on top or honey if you'd prefer, can we be financially sound so I can write full time?

Could things finally pan out with my writing so that I could be spending this evening planning future books and not only English language lessons?

We would be eternally indebted to you (as we already are) and I would write and write until the tips of my fingers fell off.

In your name,

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The silver cord snaps

It seems as I get older I am more inclined to dislike and truly resent death. Of course this may seem a perfectly good waste of one's energy when little is as certain as death, but it doesn't wash my mouth of the bitter bile that it leaves.

A friend of mine, Pauline O' Briain passed away recently and I found out when my phone beeped with a new email breaking the dreadful news. It's hard to describe what you feel when someone you last saw with breath in them, a wide, eye-creasing smile and glittery eyes full of life no longer has one. There are few words that can capture the way your insides have suddenly been left hanging suspended in the air- how everything about you stops as you try and reconcile that earth, and all of us has lost another soul's light.

Even as I write this I feel outraged with death. I feel maddened by its blood thirst and disregard for this most holy of gifts that God has given- so much so, am shaking and crying.

I watched two films this week that probably helped solidify this in me. Remember Me and Everything is illuminated. Both of the closing scenes in these films have gone beyond haunting me and left a sad yearning.

It isn't just the fact that moment of death is still uncharted territory until our silver cord snaps or that we go there alone but it's all those we leave behind. We leave them to reminicise, cry, lose sleep, have recurring dreams, wish and miss and hopefully, heal and carry on.

I've been worried I'm losing my God perspective on all of this. He experienced death, firsthand, on both sides of the fence and he is alive to tell the tale (so to speak). He also spent much of His human life comforting us with what would come next and somewhere in all of the riddles and rhymes, hinted He would be there to meet us.

There are those that argue that this life is it - that one day we'll be merely dust. But even despite my fury with death I refuse to believe it has the final say. Perhaps I am being a silly beatnik, but there is too much in this life of ours, too much for it to simply end in nothing.

And so that is where my hope will be - that the one who wept on his knees for his dead friend, just moments before He raised him, understands this grief that lies in me. Understands those who still remember their dead.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

It's time

As I sit back at my desk in London, after spending far too long reading about writers that have made it I am hit with the realisation that it's time.

Naomi has read and proofed my book. She has made suggestions and aired her thoughts. She has encouraged and constructively criticised me.

My husband, Kendall, has spent hours reading over the manuscript, finding willing 11 year-old guinea pigs, stood for ages in Staples, hole-punching and collating the pages to send to Naomi.

Everyone has done their bit. And now it stops with me. I keep thinking of other things to add, to change. I keep thinking I'm not ready yet to submit it-just a little while longer. But then I wonder if it isn't anything but fear keeping me from sending out my first three chapters as you're supposed to and allowing the agents to decide to see the balance of it.

I'm afraid after all this time of crafting it, it still won't be regarded as good enough. I'm afraid of the hole that rejections leave you in.

Yet, perhaps these fears are irrational now. I've been offered and signed a real contract to write a non-fiction book for a publisher in the U.S. (no small feat). Publishers don't invest time and money where they don't think they'll get returns.

And so this week I have to do it. Send out the first three chapters and let God deal with the rest.

This week I have to let my writing speak for itself and remember this isn't the end yet.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hills, wood trails, yellow back spiders and heat!

Yesterday husband dear and I decided to invigorate ourselves with a walk in the woods. We started on the beaten trail, went to ogle at the Bilharzia looking lake and then started to climb. We climbed and climbed and climbed, cutting through huge webs feeling like quite the explorers. (I especially felt Lord Stanley-esque when I smacked a huge black and yellow spider off Kendall's back with my bare hand!).

We reached the summit of this hill/baby mountain and took in the beautiful view. (This would have been a great place to insert a picture except we forgot to bring a camera). Kendall wanted us to stand on a huge rock that was jutting out the side (he would!) there was a lovely drop to the rocky bottom had we have lost our footing.

We then followed a semi-trail down to the old canyon which looked more to me like a limestone quarry and scaled some rocks. A swan couple squawked and told us to piss off, which we soon did because it was too hot for sense.

South Korea has a natural beauty that I wasn't expecting to find. It has hills and mountains full of fir trees and trundling through them I felt like I was in Narnia, when the White Witch's strength is starting to fade and summer is returning.

Standing in the green with just a bottle of water, a stick to beat away the webs, good walking shoes and if you're clever sunglasses to protect your eyes (I forgot mine) will make for some lovely trekking.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What one of my students wrote to me :)

Hi, Erina!! I'm beth~ Do you remember me? I was your student~ Handong English camp~
I really really miss you~ I'm so sorry that I send this email so late~

Although I use wrong grammer.. I believe that you can understand! I believe.. :(

I want to go handong again~ Before I went to handong, I really hated Handong English camp

but After I went to Handong, I love this camp! hahahahhahahahah

Erina~ Where are you now? Are you in Korea until now?? or Are you in England?

I hope you are in korea~ Especially in Pohang!!

I really miss our classroom, classmate, every ELT, every cc.,....and all of Handong!

But the best person was you:< !!

Although I couldn't speak english well, you always understand me, and told me "good~" "great"!!

you are the best teacher!!!

I really miss you~ I want to see you again goodbye ~

and do you know talisa's email?? If you know please let me know talisa's email !


from. Beth To.Erina~

I read that this morning and begun my day with sheer happiness :)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Don't Panic

I'm in our little room in Pohang, prepping for the English Camp that's about to begin and listening to Coldplay's 'Don't Panic' and being transported to London at night.

It's so bizarre how certain chord progressions and tones of voice can do that. It's as if home wraps itself inside of musical notes and tucks itself inside of secret parts of me. It means that when I play certain music I don't feel so odd or misplaced. I'm standing sure-footed and secure.

I'm definitely an oddity here in South Korea. In a sea of pale skin and dark hair, my bronzed brown and woolly 'fro is enough to stop the old and young from eating their weird stewed kebabs or from walking down the beach promenade to literally gawp at me.

Whether the staring is disbelief, amazement, horror or fear-I can't always tell. But Koreans are a curious people. Considering they've been on this peninsula so many centuries and survived the Japanese and other empires, they still seek and wonder at new things.

Yesterday when I was walking to the cafeteria, a small old man bowed and greeted me (even though I was wearing sunglasses-usually regarded as a social barrier). I was so taken aback at his small but sweet gesture I beamed all the way to my position in the queue.

I see that as God saying, 'I see you. I like how you look. You're welcome in this place.'

And that's all I needed.

Friday, June 4, 2010


The iPad has arrived- in all its pomp and glory. For a mere £340 ($499)* you can hold one of these electronic beauties in your hands and do everything from surfing Safari, look at high res pictures of friends and even some work with iWork.

This new contraption has probably pleased Steve Jobs like little else- what with it selling to 1 million merry buyers in 28 days in the US (thus causing a 3 month delay to launch here in the UK). The iPad is expected to reel in a grand profit of £41 billion ($60 billion) in sales this year.

Personally, I am not too taken by an over sized iPhone that has similar features but can't call out (a bit like iTouch). But then again I've always been a little late on these things. I only got a new phone last year because my husband thought the one I had was an affront to the noughties period we're living in.

But back to the iPad. The thing that jars me beyond its annoying fresh, clean, hip and addictive marketing strategies is what it is doing to the value of human life.

Across the plains of Asia, in recent months, in a factory city called Shenzen, China, 10 young adults have committed suicide and two have attempted it. Perhaps 10 out of a 400,000 strong employee list isn't regarded as too bad because it's within the national averages, but the leaking revelations of the conditions of Foxconn's factories leave a lot to be answered.

The average Foxconn worker (Foxconn being the biggest global electronic manufacturer, who make gizmos for Sony, IBM, Dell and Hewlett-Packard as well) starts work by being ready for the the day's headcount at 7:35 am and finishing work around 9:00pm. They may get a 10 minute break-but not in peak production times (which with the iPad's current popularity means now). They will earn an average of £2.90 for that day's work. They will not be allowed to talk to any other colleagues during the day and will be constantly watched by militant security guards. This all after they have survived the initial severe induction drills to ingrain in them, Foxconn's ethos, 'Value efficiency- every minute, every second.'

For reasons that Foxconn, psychologists and Apple are still trying to grapple with, young people are throwing themselves from their dormitory windows to their death. Some say it's mass hysteria or that China's young people aren't as hardy as the previous generation. Parents' silence is being bought, Foxconn will not comment, Apple says it's saddened, a 17 year-old girl is now crippled from the waist down in a bodged attempt and still the iPads sell.

Perhaps some may argue: "At least they have jobs..." and other economically focused reasons, but it is a little hard to ignore something is going horribly wrong in China.

We want more iPads and other iThings and Apple tells this to their manufacturers (who also happen to be able to produce a high quota to maximum quality at very little cost-monetarily speaking) then an 18-year-old worker from rural China realises that dropping a drill in a panicked moment will result in them being forced to clean lavatories with their bare hands at times.

Do we stop buying iThings to make a point? Do we turn aside and thank God the suicide numbers are at least within China's national averages?

Or could we write an email to Apple and remind them as Foxconn's biggest client that what they say holds sway and that even though we can't pronounce the deceased's names correctly their life was extremely important? Just as important in fact as the scores of others who are thinking of ways they can get over the new barbed wires and take that leap.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Six months and 15 days on...

I was face-lurking earlier when I came across a friend in Nashville's comment of being married for one week and thought, 'ah bless, how sweet'.

There truly is something amazing about those early weeks, after the fanfare and fuss of the wedding has passed and you're getting used to finding your toes tangled in someone else's (as well as having to learn it is not appropriate to do star jumps in your sleep as you are now sharing a bed!).

But as I said to her, I say it here: "It only gets better." Some good friends of ours in Indy told us this. Some think the wedding day and honeymoon will be the best day of your lives-but I beg to differ. They will always hold something special in them of the gravity of those vows that are spoken but it's the next mornings for the rest of those long years you live that will be the best days of your life.

Those coming days will try, pull, tear, soothe, kiss, comfort, hold and embrace you. But the thing is, you face all those future days with your beloved. You get to dream with them, plan, talk it out, see the changes, learn your differences, find out those secret things that no one else knows (yes not even their parents!) It's in those days that those spoken vows grow deeper and anchor you in something so old and prehistoric you wonder how it found you.

And so six months and 15 days later I wake up next to my curly haired, handsome husband and best friend and think: "Ahhh, how is it possible I love you even more?" And the biggest compliment is that these short months later and he's feeling it just as strong.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Blyton's three Golliwogs.

This morning, instead of getting straight into some editing work I followed a rabbit down its hole and came across an article about Enid Blyton that paints a rather different picture than the beloved children's scribe she may have made claim of.

Her apparent perchance for using the words: 'Negro, golliwogs' and when feeling extremely colloquial, 'Nigger' has given contemporary publishers a pigs ear of a time trying to update some of her stories.

Those of her most avid fans (and older readers) have be-cried such editing of those offensive terms as interfering with children's literary history. Err, whose history, may I ask? It certainly was not acceptable for me to be called or call anyone else, the 'N' word. And is that really a part of history we want to preserve?

Of course we may argue that modern rappers use of the 'N' word far surpass Blyton's strongest attempts and I feel the same disappointment in them as I do anyone who picks on stereotypes to try and create a character.

When I was writing Ridley's tale I created a Roma person (otherwise known to most of us as, Gypsies) and I fell in the hole of predictable stereotypes. At the time I just wanted to finish the dastardly difficult chapter but then I woke up a couple of months later knowing full well I had written the character completely wrong. Ivy, did not wear shawls and long dresses; she wore jeans, wornout Dunlops and an old hoodie. I'm being serious. This character, Ivy, walked into my head as clear as day in a completely different get up and I felt shamed to the core for her into the 'stereotypical' corner-because Ivy is certainly not 'typical'.

But back to Blyton. Maybe what made me want to blog about her was not even this story of the three golliwogs but rather, 'The Little Black Doll (who wanted to be pink)'. I mean-Eek! I don't think there is any amount of damage control that can rescue that story. However, maybe oddly enough she's right about us wishing we could be something or better yet, someone else. Isn't our popular culture bursting at the seams to tell us we wish we looked like so and so and lived where so and so lived and went to Soho parties with so and so?

Bah- I say.

And to think this all spurned from me thinking about the creepy Children's story my Mum bought me when I was seven- 'The Night the Toys came to life'.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Grit, interviews and the day after meeting my fiction Editor

I've decided to upload some of my own drawings from my older children's story, 'Ridley Sinclair and the Fae' or 'Ridley Sinclair and the Book of the Fae'.

Why after months of having these pictures have I decided to share them now? It has a lot to do with my fantastic Editor and friend, Naomi Antony who has supported, encouraged and challenged me since I first brought my paper offerings to her.

Yesterday we spoke about the very latest draft I had given her and even though I was terrified she wouldn't like the changes I had made- the complete opposite was true. She loved it. Not the 'I'm pretending to be happy for you so you don't do anything silly', but the very simple, honest love that comes with no frills but an incredible amount of truth. She could see exactly what I was doing and how I was going about it. She understood the characters I had made and the pace on which they were taking us on this journey. She got that this was not a fantastical tale of magic, but a drama about family, loss, secrets, forests, the world around us and the people that lie therein. I knew she got this when she brought up how the book should be marketed.

I can't over emphasise how gratifying it is to be at this stage at long last. To be talking to a professional editor, getting feedback, making use of it and holding a near complete and ready manuscript in my hands.

Ridley has been with me for years-my invisible boy and I can not wait to introduce him to so many others. To have them sit at the kitchen table in Eyrely Woods Farm and listen to Grandee chatter or Liam whistle and spot Ridley sneaking off on his bike to go and meet Imogen and crack the mysterious book he has been given.

And so the work must go on. Hopefully before this year closes it will be in someone's hands who can turn my word document into a bound book that will sit open on laps, tucked under pillows, held under arms and loved like an old friend.

Besides that goodness, I have an interview today for a teacher training course-argh. My right eye is playing up due to two waves of grit being blown into it whilst standing at bus stops last night. I now feel like my entire eye is turning into a sty.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010


To think I've been to Morocco and back and the first thing I want to write about is my hair. Ah well, I'll come back to that dusty Med-African nation when I've uploaded some pictures.

I recently took out my weave, which I had put in to protect my hair from the harsh winter elements and to 'grow' my hair. It's funny just how dramatically a hairstyle can change not only your face but how people perceive you.

And indeed having shoulder length hair and a thick fringe, which allowed me to people stare unrestrained was fun after the scalp burning tightness had subsided but it was never going to be forever.

I have now returned to my natural tresses- those woolly, fuzzy, tightly packed, very dark brown curls and it seems to be causing all kinds of flutter - literally. I have stood cramped on the bendy 29 bus and watched people stare and then suddenly try to avert their eyes, which always look a cross between perplexed and embarrassed. I have had Rastafarian men smile proudly at me as they scan the roundness of my gravity defying hair and other beautiful brown women with glossy weaves of all shapes and sizes glance back and forth at me.

I spoke to my younger sister last night (she loves to wear her Afro a lot of the time) and she summarised it quite simply: "You can't wear your hair in an Afro without making a statement. It's always seen as political". Sadly, she's right.

What I feel like yelling at every staring eye is that this is my hair, plain and simple. These are the honest, stubborn, fragile and so delicate curls that spring out of my scalp regardless of what I try to do to cover them up. These are the curls that if I'm honest I love the feel of when I'm shampooing my hair and moisturising my scalp (something I earnestly missed with the weave-which really feels like a basket on ones head). These are the curls that are for goodness sake-just hair.

I said to my husband yesterday (who's the biggest fan of my Afro and nearly cried when I packed it away for three months under the as-said hair basket) that perhaps we Afro hair bearers have done ourselves a disservice in hiding our natural hair to don long hair that we borrow. Perhaps if we had more confidence and let it sink in deep that our hair grows towards the sun and not down our necks and backs (unless brushed quite enthusiastically or with the help of some darling straighteners) and showed the world the wonderful array of our hair it would be the norm and not some form of public transport entertainment or amusement.

That said brown women change, plait, weave, relax, straighten, bond, crimp, dye, curl, perm and comb their hair into hundreds of styles for just as many reasons and I respect that. But I am beginning to feel it is increasingly sad that so few of our colleagues know what our hair really looks like.

Besides all the health implications and strains such styles can put on our hair I think it's the feeling that Afro hair isn't pretty enough to display. For besides artists, musicians and writers, who else really gets out their Mandela combs? And let's not even open the can about the City's barely covert feelings towards this cloud like hair.

I don't think I'm trying to be political wearing my hair out, I'm trying to be good to it. To let it see the sun, feel oxygen, taste water and oils, fragrance the rooms around it and allow it to just be.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Pirates of Volunteer efforts

I'm not sure about the legal wranglings of the gripe I am about to express but I am so infuriated I think it's well worth the risk.

Three years ago, I was apparently still fairly green in the sometimes shady handling of publishers and freelance writers, like myself. So, when I was approached by a publisher in Chicago for them to use an article I had written, I was so stupidly flattered I didn't bother to have the contract read by someone who could have seen the sickening holes and exploitations, and instead signed my name and scanned it back to them.

Thus resulted in having my article published in an anthology that is still sold to this day at $19 and of which I have not seen a penny.

For sure I am not the first, nor sadly, will I be the last writer to be ridden like a donkey and not even given something nice to chew on in the process, but it doesn't make the practice less bitter.

I was just about to name the shameless cads, who simply copy and pasted the hardwork of others into a book, stuck their names on the cover as editors and then go on to sit smugly in Cosi coffee house, drinking lattes or eating cream cheese bagels, but I thought I'd better check with legal friends first.

The only positive thing gained from this is that as I have now been commissioned to work on a much longer nonfiction project, I am taking great pains to thoroughly read the small print and ensure I will be paid for my efforts.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Is a very hard pill to swallow with grace and maturity sometimes. Especially when one's skin should be aged and leathery is actually as thin as rice paper.

But where would us writers be without those brave Editors and husbands who dare to tell us the truth, regardless of the royal rant we throw their way for it.

Without them, my art amounts to little.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Happy New Year,

Here we are on the cusp of doing it all over or doing it very differently. May the year be full of surprises, presents, learned lessons, wonderful accidents, gifts, sweet love and pure beauty.

Whatever it is you've been meaning to do-do it.

Here's a wee bit of simply soothing music from my good friend-Heather Millington.


Enjoy my friends.