Wow, What a Book! #1

I thought that I would pick out what might be the 10 books that have most influenced my life. Well, I say 10 books, but I may tire of this long before I reach 10, so let’s just see what happens.

You see, these are not really reviews, although it is necessary to give some idea of the plot of each book, it is more about how they have influenced me, and I may decide after a while that I’m just giving away too much about myself.

Or that I’m just going over and over the same ground.

Okay, then. Let’s get on with it. The rules:

Firstly, I must have read the book more than 5 years ago. I know this is an arbitrary figure, but any book that I have read recently is likely to be clearer in my mind, and so appear a little more important to me than it really is. It needs time to settle.

Secondly, I need to be able to demonstrate to myself exactly how it is that the book has influenced me. Just to say ‘it was important to me’ will not be enough. That would be little better than just saying ‘I like it’. Perfectly valid, but hardly the stuff of a blog post. This is another reason to impose the 5 year rule – there must have been enough time elapsed to see the influence.

So I’ll start today with Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse.

Image result for steppenwolf Hesse

Sometimes, you get the feeling that some people have just been born into the wrong century. Not that they would prefer dressing in cravats or crinolines, although they might anyway, or that they have a hankering after a little piracy or bubonic plague, but rather you can see that they don’t fit in with the pace of modern life, or much like the ethos of the times.

There must be quite a few people like that, which must partly explain the immense popularity of Steppenwolf both when it was released, and then especially in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

It was the second book by Hesse that I had read, after cutting my teeth on ‘The Journey to the East’ as a teenager, and I was a little unprepared for its message.

Whereas ‘The Journey to the East’ felt like a bit of drug-induced fantasy, although a very clever and readable one, without any obvious message beyond ‘free yourself from the conventions of society, man’, Steppenwolf clearly had a more serious message to convey.

It begins with the protagonist, Harry, contemplating taking his own life, because he sees himself as a serious writer both at odds with the world that he lives in (Germany, post WWI), whose values, especially the bourgeois ones, he despises, but also with his inner alter ego, the very opposite of the sophisticated artist that he sees himself, which he calls the Steppenwolf – or the wolf of the steppes. He hates and fears this alter ego, who he feels he cannot control, and who sneers at everything that Harry holds dear.

It is whilst Harry is contemplating suicide, that he comes across a booklet entitled ‘Treatise on the Steppenwolf’ and as he reads it, he discovers that it is about himself. the booklet talks about Harry and his alter ego, but also explains that there are many, many more of these other sides to his character.

Through the rest of the book, Harry learns how to reconcile these many sides of himself and, more importantly, how he can manage to live in this world that up until then, he sees no value in.

When I read the part of the book that consisted of the treatise on the various different natures that made up the protagonist of the novel, it was the first indication to me that we really do have these different sides to our characters; sides that do not need to be in conflict with each other, but can coexist quite peaceably. As a typical young man, I knew that there were parts of me that yearned for safety, parts that simply wanted to rebel. Parts that enjoyed home life and parts that wanted nothing more than to wander the world with my possessions in a rucksack. There was the aesthete and there was the lover. The artist and the fighter.

Until then, the rebel in me had sneered at the home lover, and the artist seemed to be in perpetual conflict with the fighter. I had felt embarrassed by parts of my character and, just as did the hero of Steppenwolf, rather tried to repress them.

What this book did was to show me that it was natural to feel like that, and that the secret was to accept all of these sides of me, and allow them to all have their moments of dominance, and their moments of passivity. They did not need to be in conflict.

It completely changed my outlook on life.

Sue me and I’ll have you killed!

…slowly, he inched his way along the ledge, his heart in his mouth. It was too late to even contemplate turning back now. The sun was sinking rapidly in the pale sky in front of him, dropping towards the distant plains that were almost hidden in the desert haze. It would be completely dark within the hour. For the first time, he knew real fear. He could never survive a night on this thin, narrow ledge – God knows, there was barely enough room to stand and almost nothing to hold on to. It was inevitable that he would slip off at some point. Even now, there was a thin skin of ice on much of the surface, and the terrible cold would descend as soon as the sun disappeared.

Gritting his teeth, he edged towards what looked like a slightly better foothold, and cried out in sudden terror as his foot slid into space, the momentum taking him over the edge and falling…

Hell, I can’t do that! Stop! Phew, that was close.

As writers, we have to be so careful, because nowadays even our characters have rights, did you know that? And we can’t just be doing this and that to them, just as we please. Only the other day, a lawyer claiming to be acting for a character in a well-known children’s series attempted to take the author to court and sue her for, literally, defamation of character.

This character claimed that the author had totally misrepresented his actions, and applied motives to them that could only be described as evil.

And she said he had no nose, which was just spiteful.

He has claimed damages running into millions of dollars.

If this character is successful, then it is difficult to know where we will see this ending.

The fact that the author has created said character is no defence in law. Really, they are like our children. And whereas a few hundred years or more ago, parents had absolute authority over their children, and, short of killing them, could do whatever they so willed with them, nowadays they have more rights than their parents. And I’m afraid that it may come to that with our characters, too.

‘Why should I be killed off?’ They cry. ‘What right have you…?’ And so they will challenge it.

It has even been mooted in some quarters that these characters should perhaps be able to resort to the legal process appropriate for the time and world that they have been created for. Thus, a dragon in a tale set in ancient times, peeved because the author claimed it ate virgins and had bad breath (not sure if the two are connected…) might very well demand that it meet the author in Trial by Combat, a trial that the author would probably be rather ill-prepared to face.

Upset a Tudor monarch or a Viking chieftain, and I wouldn’t give much for your chances.

And any authors writing tales set in the future, who had unwisely failed to specify what sort of legal process was in existence at this time, might find the lawyers, or even their characters, being given the right to specify this. And that might get very nasty indeed.

But there may still be one remedy open to us. If our characters hold the threat of litigation over us, we might, just might, be able to retaliate by threatening to make their next incarnation even more horrible than the one that they are prosecuting us over. Threaten to sue me for creating you with a flatulence problem? Go ahead, and see what problems you have in my next novel! Don’t forget I’m writing a series! You had quite a decent time in the last one, it’ll be the torture chamber for you next!

It might work, but I’m still nervous about it.


So what am I going to do? I’m just going to write nice stories about pussy cats, from now on, that’s what.

Authors, you have been warned!

The Travel Bug Bit Me – part 3

When I lived in Oman, the land around where I lived and worked was all stone desert; hills and valleys of razor sharp broken boulders, water worn stones at the bottom of dry valleys, with occasional villages and settlements and old, crumbling, mud brick forts dating from the time that the Portuguese were there. Almost invisible tracks used by goats and nomads wound their way through this wonderful landscape, or simply followed the routes of the wadis, the dry river valleys. I had a very small scale map of the country, as well as a few very large scale maps that I had pinched from the office where I worked (I did return them when I left). These would consist largely of huge areas of blank paper, with the occasional ‘tree’ or ‘large boulder’ helpfully marked, although they did show the main wadi courses and mountain ridges.

I was very tempted to write ‘here be dragons’ on them occasionally.


Never before had I quite understood what silence was. And it was the first place (to be followed by the Himalaya) that I was to truly see a night sky. I was periodically astonished by the desert’s outbursts – blasts of hot wind like an opened oven door; flash floods that appeared from a blue sky in minutes, to ferociously drench the unfortunate climbers on the top of a previously baking jebel (hill); and tiny earthquakes and landslides – I was no doubt fortunate never to witness a serious one. I would overnight in the desert with friends and we would lie on our backs to watch the unbelievable night sky with its thousands of stars, satellites and shooting stars, before ascending a 10,000ft mountain in the morning, or exploring a stretch of uninhabited coastline.

I spent almost every spare hour that I had out in that desert, either trying to find my way across trackless ridges in my jeep, or just walking; walking everywhere within walking distance and discovering just how much there is actually to see in a desert. I was supremely happy in that environment, and some 20 years later when I had to change aircraft in Muscat, I found myself looking out at the purple tinted hazy mountain lines with something very close to homesickness.

Today, even waiting on the station to get a train to go to the next stop, a coffee in hand, a bag over my shoulder with a book in it, I am on a journey. And that journey feels clearly related to the longest journeys that I have ever taken. There can still be the same sense of travelling, of departing and arriving. The search for food and shelter… I think that it shows just how much a journey largely exists in the mind. Often our perceptions of a journey seem to differ from that journey’s reality (as many things do, I suppose). A long, difficult journey can seem to be over quicker than a short, easy one.

Just packing a rucksack, even an overnight bag when I used to have to occasionally stay over where I once worked – a wash bag and towel, sleeping bag and clothes – I feel as though I’m off on a journey. There is a certain amount of excitement…

And I know, too, how smell is such a strong, evocative, sense. Just with the kitchen window open, at 10pm on a slightly rainy October evening, I suddenly catch a scent of something – something cooking nearby, or a hint of smoke, perhaps – and I am instantly transported to Nepal, high in the mountains, remembering an evening with sherpas and villagers beside a river where we ate and then sat around talking and drinking and listening to those sherpas and villagers singing.

Okay, I’m ready to go and pack, now…

Ah, Saturday.

It has been a bit of a difficult week, for various reasons, so I’m going to simply put up a picture of a door from a Buddhist monastery in Kalimpong, India. It’s a special place for me, so I feel good about it. Hopefully, you’ll like it too. For those bloggers who take part in ‘Thursday Doors’, this is my rebellious streak showing, by posting it on a Saturday.

I’m like that at times, you know.


Apparently, this is also my 100th post. It ought to be a special one, perhaps posting on some topic of international importance, but I’ll content myself by saying that in just over one year of blogging, I’ve met some fantastic people in cyberspace, and thank you all ever so much for following and liking my posts, and conversing with me on all of these diverse subjects. I’ve met one or two of you in the ‘real world’ (you know, that scary place outside), and hope to meet some more of you in the future.

And here’s to the next year *opens bottle of red wine and pours generous measure*.


The Travel Bug Bit Me – part 2

There never seems to be a better time to set off on a journey, especially a walk, than first thing on an early autumn’s morning. It is late enough in the year to have a proper sparkling dew, usually covering cobwebs draped across bushes, and ideally there will be some bright sunshine, a hint of sharpness and the colours of leaves beginning to turn, berries in the hedgerows, and still an abundance of flowers. This is another hark back to my teenage years, I’m sure. It all seemed quite magical then, and it still does today.


I suppose, at the time, it could be said that I had a head full of hobbits. Of my contemporaries at the time, those with itchy feet tended to be either those who read and re-read Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, and those who did the same with ‘The Lord of the Rings’. I fell squarely into the second camp, never really discovering the appeal of Kerouac. I guess they were largely the crowd who enjoyed ‘Easy Rider’ and wanted to travel Route 66. Later, I read Laurie Lee’s ‘As I walked out one midsummer’s morning’ and found the same atmosphere there. I walked from the London suburbs, where I lived at the time, with a friend down to Hastings. On the way we stopped at a couple of youth hostels, and had a couple of nights wild camping in woods. And everything did seem magical, although apart from the distance in time, I do not know why this should have been. All of the fields and woods, hills and hedgerows, seemed somehow to fill my head and assume a greater importance than anything else in my life at that time. Otherwise I would hitch hike down to the coast, or the West Country, and this would satisfy my sense of adventure, never knowing where I would end up and forever feeling as though I was travelling through an undiscovered land.

I don’t think, as a teenager, that I was ever happier than when I was off for a long walk with friends, or even on my own. I still get that same sense of pleasure when I arrive at my destination after a day’s walking, whether it be the spot that I’ve chosen for my wild camp on a mountain side somewhere, or a bunkhouse or hostel on the edge of a village where I know I can stroll to a nearby pub for a meal and a few pints in the evening. My chosen destinations then tended to be youth hostels, and I remember an awful lot of them fondly, still today. I think that my favourite, then, must have been Land’s End. I wonder how many people now remember the awesome murals that they had over most of the walls, inspired, of course, by Tolkien! The days were spent, whilst strolling through lanes and along footpaths, learning to recognise wild flowers and trees, butterflies, but not so much the birds. Even in those days my eyesight was too poor for that!

‘Rambling’ is used extensively as an insult by many of the climbing fraternity, yet it means no more than long distance walking, at a fairly relaxed rate. My dictionary defines it as walking for pleasure, with or without a definite route. This would seem a fair definition, and includes hill walking, trail walking, any type of walking, in fact. I think that the intended barb is that it is ‘soft’, yet people who would think of themselves as ramblers include very elderly people whom I have observed galloping over the fells at a rate to put roughtie-toughtie young climbers to shame. Its popularity, at least in Britain, stems from the last century when it was taken up by factory and mill workers in the north of England, in particular, as a healthy and cheap form of sport and entertainment. There is a point, in fact, where it merges into climbing, having passed through the scrambling and mountaineering stages.

Is it a coincidence that it seems that most of the best trips that I’ve read about in books have been done by solo travellers? If they have not been strictly alone, then they are using porters or guides who have been employed specifically to help the explorer along his chosen route, rather than suddenly say ‘Ooh, no. I don’t fancy that anymore. Let’s go back now.’

 Most of my own distance walking has been done in my own company. This always has the advantage that I can decide when and where I travel, when to stop for a break, when to go off on a diversion to see a particularly interesting (to me) village or hill or something. I do often miss the company of others when I walk or travel, and enjoy it when I do get it. I find it good to travel with somebody for a while, and then to move on again by myself when we begin to disagree over the route, or want to move at a different rate (or politics or religion intervenes, of course!). I suppose that this is also not entirely disconnected with my love of solitude. When hill walking, especially, I almost resent meeting other people. Especially large groups. Amongst the list of things that I positively hate coming across in any wilderness area, such as discarded lunch wrappers, people bellowing into mobile phones (‘Yes, I’m on the summit, now!’ – do some people have these damn things surgically attached to their heads?), music, for God’s sake – why would anyone want to hike out somewhere remote, where the predominant sounds are bird calls and the wind in the grass, listening to a bloody i-pod? – comes the large group of walkers.

There is no logical reason why I should, and it is certainly not due to a feeling that they have no right to be there. I just crave solitude in those situations. If I was asked to name my favourite day out walking in the hills of Britain, I think that I would unhesitatingly mention a November’s day some years ago, when I walked the Carnedd Horseshoe in North Wales. This particular circular route starts at the village of Bethesda and heads up a gently rising valley onto a ridge until it reaches the mountain of Carnedd Dafydd, where you then amble up to the summit. From there, there is a ridge walk to Carnedd Llewelyn, a shorter ridge to Yr Elen, then gently back down to Bethesda. The day was unusually warm for November, with sunshine and a beautiful clear sky throughout. And although Carnedd Dafydd is the second highest mountain in Wales, after Snowdon, it sees far less traffic of human feet than most other parts of North Wales. Consequently, I had a day’s walking in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, in fantastic weather conditions, without meeting another soul. Perfect.


I always used to do this with photos to make up panoramas – it’s a lot easier today!

Some people, although they would prefer to travel in company, choose ‘alone’ because they become good at doing ‘alone’.

I’ve heard it said, and frequently read it, that there is nowhere left on the planet to explore, anymore. I suppose that if what is meant by that is that there are no longer maps of whole countries or continents published that have ‘unexplored’ or ‘here be dragons’ printed over large, blank areas, then, yes, that is so. But if I go anywhere that I have not been to before, especially if I have read little or nothing about it, then I am exploring. I may not be contributing anything towards the sum total of human knowledge, but I am making discoveries for myself.

Thank heaven, though, that there are still areas of the Earth that are wildly beautiful and lawless, where outsiders, especially westerners, fear to tread, and life is cheap but the landscape is breathtaking.

What a great review for Making Friends with the Crocodile!


Making Friends with the -Crocodile

Somali, at: Somali K Chakrabarti has put up such a generous review of my book, Making Friends with the Crocodile, that I am going to spend the rest of the day puffed up with most unreasonable pride! It comes as I battle with the various internet demons to put up a version on Kobo (ready in a couple of days, I hope), and, finally, a Print On Demand version for sale in India.

My biggest worry when I published the book, was that as a Western male writing in the voice of an Indian female, I would not be able to make it sound realistic, but I finally feel reassured by Somali’s review.

It can be found here: Making friends with the Crocodile


Time to dust down the parchment and take up my quill, again.

Oh, that was nice.


I just had to get some time away – from the computer, from people, from work and noise and just about everything else that makes up my complicated twenty first century life.

I promised myself a few days away to work on my book, uninterrupted by anything else, and that then turned into a short holiday for the two of us, in a small quiet town in Shropshire, close to the Welsh Borders, in a small self-catering apartment. It was perfect. We went for a few walks together, and at other times I wrote and thought over parts of the book, whilst my wife went off and walked and mooched on her own.

From a writing point of view, it was a most successful trip; I developed a few of the main characters in a satisfactory way, I developed my primary and secondary plot lines, and I wrote a goodly amount of pieces to work together at various points in the book. The ideal, naturally, would have been a trip to the Indian Himalaya, since that is the location of the story, but failing that, then a hilly location with a lot of wooded parts and old houses and a feel of times past, is certainly the next best thing.

And it was a great break for us both. Just to have a break from day to day life, of course, is priceless, but in a quiet, peaceful small town is even better.

Naturally, back to normal life means dealing with stuff that wasn’t dealt with over the last week, amongst other things. So, online to sort out a bill payment, and…I notice by looking in my diary that I have passwords for forty seven separate sites. Is this unusual? Probably not. But, conventional wisdom says you should never write down passwords. So, who could possibly remember forty seven of the wretched things? And even I know that using the same password for different sites is foolishness beyond forgiveness.

More ruddy hassle. All of this is meant to make life easier, isn’t it? Yet my idea of making life easier is to make it simpler and less complicated. This just doesn’t seem to happen, though.

Ah, this is a bit of a diversion that I hadn’t planned for this post to take. It reminds me, though, that I must write a post on anxiety, at some time.

What I was intending to write, was that I now have plenty of material for the book, and so, as time permits, it’s Full Steam Ahead!

Now, then, back to these tasks…

Varanasi and Sarnath

The city of Varanasi is probably the most important place in India to Hindus, whilst the ruins of Sarnath, some 10km away, mark the remains of a site of great importance to Buddhists. I stayed there for three days, some 8 years ago.
Dasaswamedh Ghat, Varanasi. Taken from the top of the steps (ghats). The River Ganges is the holiest river to Hindus, and Varanasi is the one of the holiest cities. Previously named Benares (and often so still called) and Kashi (City of Life), it is visited by Hindus in their millions who come to bathe in the Ganges to purify their souls. In a final journey, many are cremated here and their ashes cast into the river, believing that this will help to achieve liberation from rebirth.

The river Ganges from Dasaswamedh Ghat, Varanasi.

Stalls on the ghats at Varanasi. Varanasi never seems less than vibrant and colourful.

And another stall near the ghats.

Down at the ghats I was trailed by this cheerful young rogue demanding money to have his photo taken or to show me the sights or sell me souvenirs or lead me to stalls where I could purchase to my heart’s content or…whatever.


Street scene in Varanasi. The church in the middle distance is Saint Thomas’. This was taken quite early in the morning when I was on my way to the ghats. Early afternoon as I was returning, it was packed solid, traffic completely unable to move.



10km outside Varanasi lie the ruins of Sarnath. After the Buddha had achieved enlightenment at Bodhgaya, he came to Sarnarth – a walk of some 250kms or so, through what would have been highly dangerous country then – to seek out his former companions and in the Deer Park there he gave his first sermon, on the turning of the wheel of law. This comprises the Buddha’s path to Enlightenment: the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold path and the Middle Way. In the 3rd century BC, the emperor Ashoka, a convert to Buddhism after witnessing the terrible carnage of a war he had unleashed, built stupas and monasteries here as well as an engraved pillar. These survived until the end of the 12th century when they were destroyed during the Muslim invasions and not rediscovered until 1834 by a British archaeological team.

This altar stone in the ruins of Sarnath) is still being used by pilgrims for pujas.

Dhamekh Stupa at Sarnath . This solid cylindrical tower, 33m in height, supposedly marks the place where the Buddha gave his first sermon. The base is stone, covered in delicate carvings, and the upper part brick.


Carvings adorning the base of the Dhamekh Stupa.

A Shared Humanity

‘The world knows nothing of its greatest men’ goes the old saying. Or women, of course, since it is men who tend to write these things. I may have alluded to this before.


I was reading a blog post by Rajiv earlier today, on the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, and we swapped a couple of comments, the result of which decided me to write this short post. You can read Rajiv’s post here: Partition in the Punjab

Those of us who did not live through that time, cannot really imagine the full horror of it all. The figures alone are dreadful.

14 million people were displaced, forced to move from their homes to either what remained India or became East or West Pakistan, by any means of transport available, frequently on foot. Those that survived the journey, frequently one of tremendous hardship, carried memories that were often too dreadful to relate.

Most lost their possessions.

Families were split apart and separated, many of them never to meet again.

Millions of refugees.

Up to 1 million were killed in what were effectively religious killings – the actual figure is unknown. Trains were set on fire, men and women, adults and children, lost their lives in what became a frenzy of killing.

Much, of course, has been written of this over the years, and the blame placed on many shoulders. The British were extremely culpable in this case, mainly through neglect and thoughtlessness. Those that assumed power in India and Pakistan need to take their share of the blame, too.

But the world, as I remarked at the start of this post, knows nothing of its greatest men. Or, in this case, its greatest men and women, or at least very little of them.

On both sides of the new borders, whilst most people succumbed to fear and many to hatred, whilst innocent lives were taken and dreadful acts carried out, there were many, many people who sheltered and saved those of other religions who had been their friends and neighbours before, often at great personal risk.

They gained nothing from it, but simply displayed their common humanity.

I have read of a few examples of this, a few stories from both sides of that border, and I have seen it mentioned briefly in documentaries.

But now, before the last players in that tragedy finally pass away, it would be marvellous if there could be a concerted effort to collect these stories and record them, as an inspiring example of people reaching out to each other across what is, once again, becoming a depressingly familiar religious divide, and, most importantly, remembering and commemorating their bravery.

Comments, anyone?

This was a writing exercise I did some while back. The premise was to find a couple of unrelated articles or adverts in a magazine or newspaper, and make up a piece of fiction from them.

I found an article about women delaying having children due to career choices, sitting serendipitously next to a piece about child brides. I know there is a bit of a connection there, but I couldn’t resist it.

Those who follow me will realise that this was written entirely tongue-in-cheek!

But, does anyone have any strong opinions on the suitability of treating this subject with humour?


Dear diary.

Goodness me, it’s been a busy day. So much has been happening that I might almost forget who I am! Perhaps I need to remind myself; my name is Elizabeth Wilson, and I’m ten years old. Well, ten and three quarters, really. Very nearly eleven. Anyway, we had the careers teacher talking to us in our class, today. It’s never too early, she said.

So, we talked about careers. Well, in these enlightened times, we’re now being told: ‘Delay marriage until you’re sixteen, and get a career.’ Quite a turn around, eh? Sixteen! I’m sure I don’t know what my mum is going to say. I mean, a career is all well and good, but while I’m out being a career girl, she’ll be at home and all broody for grandchildren and worried that she’s heading towards her thirties and in the meantime all her friends will be cooing over their grandchildren.

I say that I don’t know what Mum is going to say, but that’s not actually true. I can hear her now; ‘It’s not natural, all this waiting. It’s a woman’s duty to have children – it’s her function, after all, both biologically and socially. What would happen if all you girls said you were off to have careers, rather than getting married and having children? Society would collapse, that’s what would happen. It would just consist of old people, and who would look after them?’

Plus, of course, I don’t want to leave it for too long; my biological clock is ticking and I’m not getting any younger.

But on the other hand, I could be in a responsible, well-paid post by the time I’m sixteen. Really, a whole world of experience is going to be opening up for my generation that my Mum could only dream about. In a way, it is no less than the final emancipation of women, and how exciting is that?

It was so much more than just a talk about careers, though. It has helped me to understand that there is more to life than just getting married and pleasing a husband. Just because I will be a woman, doesn’t mean that I am not an individual in my own right. We dare to say that the days of being owned by men, of being their mere playthings, are well and truly over!

And, I’ve got an interview already! The Mayor needs a new mistress; it’s only a two year contract, but it will be good experience and could perhaps be a stepping stone to something better. He’s big and fat, but rich as Croesus, and apparently he’s very good in bed, which is a bit of a bonus.

Perhaps, in a way, it’s a bit of a compromise. I’m sure that my parents will be pleased.