I’ve just finished reading an amazing book. Books that I mention on this blog are all special, but this one is extra special and I’m shouting about it from every rooftop I can find.

Here’s my review:

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I was in Liverpool, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland – not now, but nearly two hundred years ago. Actually, I’ve only been to one of those places and what I saw in no way prepared me for what I read in this book. The descriptions are so vivid, the scenes so real that I felt I was there with the characters, through all their hopes and suffering.

I’ve never read a historical story that has held my attention as this one did. Most historical fiction has sections that are less interesting, that I have to struggle through to move on to more appealing parts. But this novel captivated me throughout.

I’ve read Jo Carroll’s travel memoirs, but never realised she was capable of this. I salute her and sincerely hope she’s planning more novels like this one.

Blurb

It’s 1848. And Sara, aged fourteen, must leave her family in the stinking potato fields of Ireland to seek a better life with her wealthy aunt in Liverpool. But her uncle has different ideas.

Will she find solace among the dockers? She finds love, but becomes embroiled in the unrest of the Irish men and women who live in squalor in the Liverpool slums. Yet her efforts to help them only enrage her uncle further.

Her escape takes her to the other side of the world. But there is no comfort in the dusty outback of Australia nor the gold fields of New Zealand. For she has left behind something more precious to her than life itself.

In my last post, I wrote about my experience, at the age of eleven, of the Jewish holidays

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Honey cake and plums from the garden

that come in September or October. That year they began early in September and I took seven days off school. I remember the years when my children had only just started school after two months of summer holidays and they were home again for more holidays.

How did this state of affairs happen? Whose crazy idea was it to have days off when the school year has only just started? Perhaps the answer lies in a post by Jo Carroll (see below) in which she wrote about needing a holiday to recover from the holidays.

Just a thought…

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Author of the Day

Jo Carroll is an intrepid traveller. She goes on her own to places that are far from safe. Those of us who are less daring can read about her travels from the comfort of our homes, because she has written several excellent books about her escapades.

And now Jo has surprised me again by announcing that she’s written a novel. I wonder how she kept that under her hat for so long!

Jo Carroll, intrepid lone traveller, is doing something amazing and she’s here to tell you about it.

Jo CarrollThank you so much, Miriam, for inviting me to post about my appeal to build a house in Nepal.

I spent much of September in Nepal. It was humbling, being with friends who are working so hard to rebuild their country after the earthquake. Yet, in the middle of the dust and the rubble, they still found the energy to make me welcome.

I’ve come home determined to do something to help. But the need is overwhelming. It would be easy to retreat into helplessness in the face of such devastation. There’s a small tent city in Kathmandu – all those families who need somewhere safe and dry to live. And I’ve seen similar pockets of destruction in the towns and village.

There are international charities working hard in Kathmandu, and in rural areas where the damage is most severe. But the small villages, where one or two homes are crumbling, are dependent on small NGOs or tiny charities for any help.

My friends, though many now live in Pokhara or Kathmandu, come from a village in the foothills of the mountains. We trekked there one day and I saw the conditions in which one family is living. The top storey of this house has collapsed. They – three adults (a couple and his mother) and two small children live as best they can in what is left of the ground floor. Each time the monsoon rains there is the risk that the remains of this building will collapse completely. But what choice do they have?

And so I have agreed to pay for this man to rebuild his house. The cost – just £1500. I shall pay the money through a small charity that supports the health centre and school in this village, and is appealing for funds to help repair all the damaged homes. A friend is one of the men commissioned to distribute all contributions, and I trust him completely. There is no risk that my money will line his pockets.

The need is enormous. There is so much we can’t do. But we can rebuild one house – give them somewhere to sleep and eat, and for the children to play – without fearing that everything will come crashing around them.

For those who would like to help me, here is the link to my appeal: https://www.gofundme.com/ny6mbny4.

And that’s not all. Jo is also writing a book about her latest experiences in Nepal, and is donating all the proceeds to the house-build. Having read her previous books, like this one, I know it’s going to be good. I’ll keep you posted on that.

 

VulturesOverhead

With vultures of our own overhead, I was happy to let Jo Carroll transport me to a place I’ve never been to and might never see. Even if I do go there, this book won’t reflect my experience. Jo makes this very clear. The book describes her journey around Cuba as a lone traveller in January 2014. Another visitor, travelling at a different time, in a group or even with one other, hiring a car, staying at different places, meeting different people, will experience something completely different.

Having read two of Jo’s previous travel books, I expected to be entertained, captivated and enthralled. I wasn’t disappointed. I was taken for rides on old buses, a horse and a bicitaxi. I met a wide variety of people – Cubans and tourists. With her usual perception, Jo paints a vivid picture of all she saw, peppering it with the thoughts and feelings of a brave, sincere and articulate woman.

You can find out more about this book here.

This is the fifth in a series of posts describing my recent trip to England, Ireland, the Netherlands and Wales, from writing course to school reunion and more.

This is where I get to tell you something amazing.

I met Nicola Morgan!

Yes, I did. Really! She had 45 minutes free before she had to catch her train back to Edinburgh and she spent them with me. And she is even nicer than her Internet persona. I was a little nervous at first, but she put me at ease and the minutes flew by. Wow! Thank you, Nicola!

After that, I had planned to go on to meet the travel writer, Jo Carroll. That didn’t work out because she had scaffolding problems. Although I’m really sorry we didn’t get to meet this time, it would have been hard to be ready in time. As it was, I had time for a proper night’s sleep the night before (needed even more after I was scratched by the cat), and I was able to return after meeting Nicola to organise my suitcase, leaving behind stuff that I could meet up with later, before making my way to Staines. S, whom I knew only through folk dancing, had very kindly invited me to stay with her and her husband. One of her daughters was there, too, and they all made me feel very welcome. The heatwave was still on, so we ate outside in the garden. The evening air was pleasantly cool and the food delicious.

The following day, I used the time I had alone to go for a surprisingly beautiful walk by the river. I say “surprisingly” because I lived near Staines for three years while at university and never realised it was worth visiting. Since I was alone, I was able to jot down notes describing the scenes, making me feel like a real writer. I even wrote the rhythm of a cuckoo’s song:

Cuckoo sound in Staines

On hearing a cuckoo in Staines
(with apologies to Frederick Delius)

At least, I assumed it was a cuckoo, but I’m no bird listener.

In the evening, S took me to her folk dancing group in Slough, which couldn’t have been more different from the one I’m used to. There were about seven people, instead of over a hundred. They were all very friendly, but obviously the atmosphere was very different – much more calm and sedate. And at the end I didn’t feel as if I’d had much exercise, whereas usually I struggle to go up the stairs. Still, I recognised most of the dances and had a lovely time.

To round off their wonderful hospitality, S’s hubby drove me to Heathrow’s Terminal 1 early the next morning (but not early for him) for the next stage of my trip.

A memoir of a trip to Laos

I promised a different post next. I promised to reveal the identity of the mystery woman. I lied. Not intentionally, of course, but it seemed better to change the order of these posts and allow a little more time for anyone who still wants to join in and guess who she is.

Jo Carroll doesn’t lie. She tells factual accounts of her travels, and believe me they don’t need any embellishment. But they still need to be written so as to engage the reader, and Jo certainly succeeds in that. And sometimes she changes names and biographical details to protect the people she’s writing about. This is no secret. Jo writes about doing this in her new book, Bombs and Butterflies. After reading it, I understand that some of the people she meets need to be protected.

There are two main reasons why I prefer to read about Jo’s travels than to experience them for myself. One refers to things I’d rather not do; the other to things I find hard to do.

I’m not an intrepid explorer. True, I spent about three weeks in Nagaland, in north east India, an area that doesn’t see a vast influx of tourists. True, the conditions I encountered there were far from luxurious. But I went with a group. The only trips I’ve been on alone are those in which I’ve gone to visit people.

I couldn’t imagine going alone; I’d be afraid of being lonely for one thing. And there are things I would hate. Being woken up by a large rat, for instance, as Jo was. But Jo takes all these things in her stride and I can sit back in the comfort of my home and enjoy reading about them. I have read her previous book, Hidden Tiger, Raging Mountain, so I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed by this one.

What I would find hard to do is to connect to all the strangers Jo meets along the way, locals and other travellers, whose stories make Jo’s books so fascinating. While she tells of needing time alone, she’s clearly a very friendly person, too.

And she’s a wonderful writer. She knows what to include and what to leave out, and how to keep the reader interested with humour and fascinating details. And I love the short chapters, which make this book convenient for reading on a train, in bed or in a doctor’s waiting room.

In short, this is a book worth reading. Want to know how to get it? The information is here.