Thursday, January 29, 2009

Taking a break

I'm taking a break for a while. Why not investigate the links down the side of the page? Or read the archives. January was all about Gaza, but before that, it was personal.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Chapter One is a killer

I'm half way through writing my new book, but I keep going back to Chapter 1 and wrestling with it, because I know it isn't right. I always find the first chapter the hardest one to write, because it has to do so much and it has to do it perfectly.

It has to draw the reader in so they want to know what is going on and what is going to happen next. It has to introduce the main characters, and in the case of the books that I like to write, it has to make the reader begin to like those characters. It has to set the tone of the book so readers know what to expect. In the present case, it's a comedy with emotional depth. This means that both of these elements must appear in Chapter 1. I also like Chapter 1 to contain at least a hint as to the central theme of the book.

I get so familiar with the material in the first chapter and so excruciatingly bored with it that I can't even see the jokes any more, and that's when I need a writing friend with a fresh eye, a friend who can't remember the last version of Chapter 1 that I foisted on her. Writing friends are invaluable. As well as problems I haven't noticed, they point out things that are wrong with the text that I actually KNOW are wrong, but which I have been trying to kid myself are OK. So here's a thank you to my current readers of Chapter 1 of But I told you last year that I loved you - Kathryn Lester and Chrissie Poulson.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Now I understand why people have more than one blog. This is a writer's blog and for the past month I've been blogging about Gaza, because the suffering of the people there has been consuming me and I've HAD to blog about Gaza. Then when the ceasefire came I thought I could return to my normal blogging habits, but here I am, fuming at the BBC for blocking aid to Gaza by refusing to air an appeal by 13 well-established, impartial aid organisations who want to get aid to Gaza.

The BBC say they risk their impartiality as an impartial news organisation if they air an appeal to help the people of Gaza. If the appeal does not mention who led to the suffering, then how can it be partial? This is a humanitarian crisis. We need to get aid to Gaza. If you are British, please write or phone or email the BBC to complain about their refusal to air the appeal. And please don't forget to make a donation to the charity of your choice that is working in Gaza.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Armed with nothing but love and hope (redux)

This is my last post on Gaza for a while. It's Holocaust Day this week, and the irony is profound. It is hard not to think of what the Israeli army has done to the people of Gaza as anything but a holocaust. And the siege of Gaza continues. The Israelis will not let sufficient aid get into Gaza.

However, I am going to make my last post on Gaza end on a positive note. Jeni Edwards, a friend at my Quaker meeting, wrote this poem last week, after she had taken part in a peace vigil in Dorset. She has given me permission to post the poem here.

Bridport - 17th January 2009 - 12 noon

We stood in a circle in Buckydoo Square,
fifty, then sixty, then seventy, men, women and children,
creating a powerful pool of silence.
But elsewhere -
      in Gaza frightened children wake screaming,
      in Darfur raped women cry out,
      and Iraq is shaken with the shouting of bombed men.
Into this great lake of noise and pain,
      the silence pours a balm of solidarity and love.

Around us, in this unplanned timeless street,
the Saturday market stalls gather men, women and children
creating a normal and beloved scene.
But elsewhere -
      children are sold into bondage,
      women cook too little on stoves in tents,
      and unemployed men prowl away their strength.
And through this nightmare of devastation and despair,
      they maintain the right to dream the dream of a normal day.

Down the hill, behind the church, a community orchard
of apple trees is being planted by men, women and children,
working together for a future harvest.
But elsewhere -
      spoilt brats learn careless abuse,
      coutured women pose before the camera,
      and well-oiled men grease palms for gain -
Comfortable with the stench of corruption and decay
      they resist the winds of change which blow to clear the air.

For beyond the town there are spring lambs and early daffodils,
and across the sea a leader has been elected by due process
saying “Yes we can” and “Change must come”.
And these small things -
      pools of silence,
      a normal day,
      some apple trees,
      and a ballot box -
            these are our weapons of peace.

Jeni Edwards 1.09

Friday, January 23, 2009

I miss my mother

My mother died three months ago, and I miss her. It bubbles quietly underneath my days - days that are cheerful except for the horrors in Gaza - and then a wave of sadness comes along. I'm in one now. A kind neighbour said yesterday "There's nothing you can do to make it better, and nothing you can do to hurry it along." She's right.

Below is a picture of my mother (sixth from the left) demonstrating in 2003 against the invasion of Iraq. She was 85 then. She was a star. What will survive of us is love.

Shame on the BBC, shame on the Israeli army

I have been waiting for the Disasters Emergency Committee to broadcast an appeal for humanitarian aid to Gaza. Now I am no longer waiting expectantly, I am incredulous. For reasons which make no sense, the BBC has refused to show an appeal, which means the other broadcasters have followed suit. WHY? Click here to read more, if you can do so without your blood boiling.

And why do the other broadcasters have to follow suit? I know it's the convention, but so what? Who cares for convention when people are as desperate for aid as the people in Gaza? If you want to donate via the Disasters Emergency Committee, click here.

Last night, Channel 4 News reported on the vile explosives that the Isaraeli army dropped in Gaza - white phosphorus, flachette bombs and DIME bombs. These are not illegal weapons, but it is illegal to use them in civilian areas. The Israeli army used them in civilian areas. Click here to see a video of the report.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The destruction in Gaza

Jonathan Miller, a seasoned journalist who has reported from the darkest, most troubled places in the world, gave a report on the destruction of Gaza last night on Channel 4 News. Click here.

He showed the scale of the devastation wrought by the Israeli bombs. He showed villages that had been bulldozed by Israeli tanks, and spoke to the homeless villagers. He spoke to a family whose home had been bulldozed in 2004, who had rebuilt it, and which the Israelis had bulldozed again at one o'clock in the morning two weeks ago. He showed us a Palestinian cemetery that the tanks had driven over, so that families had had to re-inter their dead. He told us that 100 people had been herded into a building which had then been shelled by the Israelis.

Jonathan Miller has reported on the devastation caused by hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, and he said that the destruction he'd seen in Gaza was as bad, or worse than any of these - in Gaza it was caused by the Israeli army.

What has it achieved?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thought for the day

"What is morally wrong cannot be politically right." John Bright.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Armed with nothing but love and hope

This is not a political blog - it's a writer's blog. I never intended to campaign on my blog. I did post something last March about the suffering of the people of Gaza under the siege, and I asked for donations to Medical Aid for Palestinians. Since then the posts have been about my life and my writing.

Then the Israelis started bombing Gaza and it's been about Gaza ever since. One day I will return to my old style of blog. Until then, here is a story about a doctor in Gaza whose daughters were killed when his house was bombed.

And here is a story about the scale of the destruction in Gaza. Who is going to pay to rebuild the Gaza strip?

For some odd reason, a lot of new readers are arriving at my blog on my March 2008 post, that I mentioned above, which means that the majority of peoples' comments are there. Click here to read the post and the comments.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Israeli academics call for sanctions against Israel

I needed an image for this post and so I googled "destruction in Gaza" and the one that came up was uploaded to the net in November 2006 - more than two years ago. The bombardment of Gaza has been going on for years. It is past the time when the world should insist on the Israeli state treating the Palestinian people humanely and justly, to let them have back their land, to give up their illegal settlements.

The crossings into Gaza must be opened for aid to pour in, as people are without water, without food, without fuel and without medical supplies. Because of the relentless bombing, thousands upon thousands are homeless, and the public institutions of Gaza have been reduced to rubble.

On January 17th, a group of Israeli citizens, led by 5 Israeli academics, were brave enough to have a letter printed in the British newspaper - the Guardian - which said this...

"The leaders of the western world are wringing their hands in despair at the sight of the horrors inflicted on Gaza. The UN general secretary, the French president and others are holding intensive discussions with some of the leaders of the Middle East in an attempt to put an end to the carnage in Gaza. Word, words, words.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Palestinian civilians get killed, thousands are bleeding to death, tens of thousands are uprooted and wandering in vain in search of some shelter to protect them. The Israeli army bombs hospitals and Unrwa relief centres, and, defying international convention, it uses white phosphorus bombs against civilians. "What else can we do?" these leaders keep asking. Well, here is what you can do: move from words to deeds. Only immediate, decisive and strict sanctions against the state of Israel and its limitless aggression will make it realise that there's a limit.

We, as Israeli citizens, raise our voices to call on EU leaders: use sanctions against Israel's brutal policies and join the active protests of Bolivia and Venezuela. We appeal to the citizens of Europe: please attend to the Palestinian Human Rights Organisation's call, supported by more than 540 Israeli citizens ( boycott Israeli goods and Israeli institutions; follow resolutions such as those made by the cities of Athens, Birmingham and Cambridge (US). This is the only road left. Help us all, please!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The suffering continues

The Israelis may have declared a ceasefire but the suffering in Gaza continues.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Israel must be stopped

The UN have accused Israel of using white phosphorus in Gaza, and Palestinian medical officials said they had treated large numbers of casualties with unusual burns that were extremely painful to treat and could be consistent with exposure to white phosphorus. It is against international law to use white phosphorus in areas where civilians may be harmed.
It is no longer necessary to comment on the cruelty of the Israeli army - all one needs to do is report it. Click here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Blogging about Gaza

I can no longer bear to watch footage of what's going on in Gaza, but I am reading the reports. The Israeli attacks on the people of Gaza are obscene. Please do all you can to campaign to stop the massacre. I have listed different ways you can help on earlier posts.

If you want to donate to a UK charity with long established projects in Gaza, Medical Aid for Palestinians has a non-violent agenda. Click here for their site if you want to donate online.

Their address is Medical Aid for Palestinians, 33a Islington Park Street, London, N1 1QB, UK.

Other charities with emergency appeals are Save the Children, Oxfam, Red Cross, and Islamic Relief Worldwide.

It's a funny thing that since I have been blogging about Gaza I am getting hundreds of hits a day, when before I was getting 20 or 30. It's also a funny thing, that since I have been blogging about Gaza, there have been some weird errors and crashes on my blog. I wonder why that is...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Facts about Israel and Hamas

Too many lies are told about the war in Gaza. Fortunately, some people tell the truth. Yesterday I listened to a BBC interview with Sir Jeremy Greenstock, a respected, retired UK diplomat who has worked in the Middle East and knows the situation very well. Here are some of the things he said:
1/ Hamas has never broken any UN resolutions. Israel has broken many.
2/The Israeli illegal settlements on Palestinian land are still growing.
3/ Cessation of the rocket fire into Israel would have been possible if Israel had lived up to its obligations made at the June ceasefire - to open the crossings in the wall.
4/ Hamas is not beholden to Iran.
5/ Hamas never adopted the idea, put forward by an Imam several years ago, that Palestine wants the total destruction of the state of Israel. It is not an official Hamas line.
6/ Not all the rockets into Israel are fired by Hamas. A significant number are fired by factions that are not controlled by Hamas.
And here is a fact from me: Israel is guilty of war crimes in their war on Gaza. If you don't believe me, read what an American professor of law says here.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

26 ways to help Gaza

I've just found a site which lists 26 ways to help Gaza - that means 26 ways for ME and YOU to help Gaza. Think about it. "All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." Click here for the 26 ways.

This used to be a pretty blog

I never intended to use this blog for campaigning or political purposes. It was merely intended as an internet presence, in case someone had read one of my books and wanted to find out if I'd written anything else.

And perhaps the people who were reading it on a regular basis before Christmas - before the horrific events in Gaza - perhaps they are fed up with my obsession with the bombing and the invasion.

This used to be a pretty blog, with posts about writing, home, and funny stuff, and photographs of my garden, my grandchildren, my favourite places. Now it has pictures of suffering children, and I don't know how it reads. Desperate?

I have tried to write posts which are moderate and restrained, and pro-active, a la - here's something positive to do about the situation in Gaza! When I read a report from Gaza, I have to stop reading because it's so sickening, because it breaks my heart, and I think - if I write this on my blog - click here - how the Israeli army block help to tiny children huddling near their dead mothers in bombed out buildings, for days at a time - no-one will want to read it.

But do you know the full horror of what is going on? Do you know the consequences of a sophistcated army using weapons (no doubt supplied by the West) on a densely populated country which has been under a hard siege, where the amount of aid has been severely restricted by the Israelis and where it is now too dangerous for aid agencies to work?

If you know, if you read the independent reports (try BBC Online), you will perhaps forgive my concentration on Gaza on my blog. This is my only campaign. I don't make a habit of this. Please raise your voices in outrage at what is going on. It is as obscene as the Holocaust 60 years ago.

Save the Children is a charity giving aid in Gaza. They are asking for donations, and for signatures on their petition. Click here to play your part.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

How do I know my donation to the Gaza appeal will get there?

If Gaza is under siege, how do you know your donation to emergency appeals for the people of Gaza will get there?

I do know that Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) was already working in Gaza before the bombing and so they are in a good position to help. If you would like to send a donation to relieve the suffering of people in Gaza, then click here to get more information, and have a chance to donate online.

I can't tell you how sick at heart I am, not just about the horrific cruel bombardment of Gaza, but also at the world's lack of action to stop it. I could write so much about this, but I am desperately trying to stay positive and think how best I can help the suffering Palestinian people. As I posted on New Year's Day - it is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Latest bad news

How can the world stand by and let this happen? Click here to read the latest appalling news from Gaza.

Monday, January 05, 2009

How you can help the people of Gaza

N.B. I wrote this post during operation Cast Lead in January 2009 - check the date - but the advice remains the same today in 2012. (If you want to see my current blog posts, click on my name on the blog header.)
I have spent the week upset, enraged, frustrated, despairing - all about my inability to help the people of Gaza. But this morning I realise I CAN do something to help. And so can you. Here are my suggestions:
1/ write to your elected representative and urge them to demand that Israel stop the bombing.
2/ tell other people the truth about the situation to counteract the lies from the Israeli government and the bias of the mainstream media. Here are three truths to get you started:
(i) Israel is illegally occupying Palestinian territory.
(ii) Israel is breaking international law by collectively punishing the people of Gaza - not just by bombing them, but by restricting their freedom of movement, and their access to humanitarian aid, power and medical supplies.
(iii) Hamas was democratically elected by the majority of the Palestinian people in an election judged fair and free by impartial international observers.
3/ boycott Israeli goods. Fruit and vegetables from Israel often bear the name Carmel. Beware goods labelled from the West Bank as they are often from illegal Israeli settlements.
4/ give money to charities helping the people in Gaza. Medical Aid for Palestinians and Oxfam and Save the Children Fund are three charities which I know have an agenda of non-violence. There will be others.
5/ demonstrate against the bombing.
6/ forward friends a link to this post. This is it.
7/ don't despair. The campaign to abolish slavery must have seemed like an impossible task when it first began.
p.s. just so you know: I do not endorse violence of any kind - not even the rockets from Hamas.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

"When you're dead, I'll read in bed"

Here is one of my old articles from The Times to cheer you up...

"When you're dead, I'll read in bed"

At the beginning of January three things happen with an unfortunate synchronicity.

First, you get a desire to purge domestic detritus.

Second, peri-Christmas pressures make trivial niggles with your partner get out of proportion, leading you to consider clearing the domestic decks in a rather more drastic way.

Third, there is a problem that links the two above – that of wanting to throw something away but your partner saying that you can do it only over his/her dead body.

I have no neat solution to the problematic intersection of the above. However, my husband and I have devised a game to dispel some of the tension it engenders. It is based on the idea that no matter how happy and settled you are with a person there will still be some things that you look forward to when they are no longer around.

The best time to play the game is when the winter seems interminable, and family members are getting chronically fractious, like schoolchildren after two weeks of wet playtimes. We have found it especially invigorating on those gloomy January afternoons when we have attempted a post-prandial walk and only managed to get as far as the end of the road before an icy downpour has propelled us back home with our dripping Barbours stuck to our soaking jeans, which are stuck to our cold wet legs.

We call the game When you are dead, but if you find this title in poor taste you can always re-name it ( less pithily) In my next life I shall marry someone who.

When you die, says my husband, I’ll rip out the phone.

When you die, I respond, your 25-year-old cycling jersey will be the first thing to go. It has more runs than the Australian cricket team and is now more mends than original. Yet before putting it on for a bike ride he stretches the darned thing out on the kitchen table to show me the latest holes and pulled threads, and says pathetically “Couldn’t you mend it, just one more time ?” A less indulgent woman would have made the “mistake” (long ago) of mixing it up with the bag of jumble bound for recycling.

“In my next life” say I, “I shall marry someone who doesn’t complain when I want to read in bed.”

“In my next life,” says he, “I shall marry someone who doesn’t rush off to answer the phone when they’re in the middle of talking to me.”

Another version of the game is New Year Resolutions for others. Thus my husband’s resolution for me that I would throw away old food rather than leaving it to skulk in the back of the fridge. Last week he thought he saw a novelty fabric cucumber behind the egg box, because the mould on it had the characteristic texture and sheen of velour.

He would also like me to desist from clearing away his tools from the kitchen when he hasn’t finished a job, and to restrain myself from returning his half read books to the bookshelves in random order. Also to do some mending – starting with his cycling jumper.

My first resolution for him would be to take off his muddy shoes at the door - as the children do – rather than keeping them on, forgetting to wipe them, and then treading mud all over the carpet, followed by his saying in a puzzled tone, as if the effect were as mystifying as the marks on the Turin Shroud, “I seem to have got some mud on the carpet.”

I would like him to stop soaking his bicycle chain in paraffin on the draining board in one of my Pyrex dishes; to finish off an item of food before starting on a new one - loaf of bread, bottle of milk, cucumber, whatever; and to stop using the answering machine to screen every single telephone call – even when it’s a bank holiday and the only person we are expecting to ring is my sister.

You may see recurrent themes emerging from all this dissent, and that explains the intractable nature of the problems, and why the game is such a boon. Living with someone long-term is like Dr Seuss’s Crumple-horn, Web-footed, Green-bearded Schlottz, “whose tail is entailed with un-solvable knots.”

And I still think the original name of the game is best - When you are dead. I felt a great sympathy with Lady Longford, who, when she was asked if she’d ever thought of divorcing her husband, said – “Divorce never, murder often.”

© Sue Hepworth 2009

Appears here with kind permission of The Times

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Solidarity with the people of Gaza

More than a million people marched in London in February 2003 to urge Tony Blair not to go to war in Iraq, and he ignored us. After that march, which included hosts of people who had never demonstrated before, many people said "What's the point of going on a demonstration?"

We have to stand up for what is right, what is just.

I went with my friend, Michelle, to demonstrate in Sheffield today.

Friday, January 02, 2009

The writer's dilemma

Here is the writer-blogger's dilemma. Well, all right then, here is my dilemma. Yesterday I made notes on something that happened, and then I thought - Hmm, I might use that in "But I told you last year that I loved you." (The novel I'm writing.)

Then this morning I came to the blog and, having decided that although the situation in Gaza is getting worse and worse, I don't necessarily have to post about it everyday, that it's perfectly valid to offer other kinds of material to people, that cheering people up is a worthwhile pursuit - having decided all that, I wanted to post about the thing that happened yesterday. But if I did, did that mean I couldn't use it in the novel I'm writing? What do you think?

This is what happened...

Yesterday was bloody freezing. The trees were coated in white, and the mist didn’t move from the Longtstone Edge all day. At 8 in the morning, while the light was still dim, D and I drove down to Bakewell to feed the ducks. The river was a thick stew of ducks, geese, gulls, but only two swans.

Dave squatted down on the edge of the river and fed every bit of his bread to the swans. I stood back and threw bits of bread to as many different ducks as I could, trying to reach the ones at the back, and trying not to let the gulls get any food. They are so aggressive and they swoop and catch bread in mid-air if it’s high enough, and last time I was there on my own I fed the gulls alone. So it wasn’t their turn.

After we’d finished, I asked D if he thought you could tell the personality of someone by how they feed ducks.

S:"Why - for example – did you concentrate on the swans alone?"

D: "Am I an elitist, you mean?"

S: "That’s the way it looks."

D:"Well, the swans have bigger bodies and need more food to keep them alive – especially in this weather. There are only two swans. The ducks are two a penny."

S:"So you’re looking after them because there are only two? In case they die out? You’re looking after the rare ones? Like an endangered species?

D:"Yes. And I like them taking the bread from my hand. The ducks won't do that."

S:"I see."

D:"And they’re more beautiful."

S:"You are an elitist! You’re feeding them because they’re better looking than the ducks!"

D:"Who wouldn’t want two attractive, elegant birds eating out of his hand on New Year’s Day?"

I haven't forgotten Gaza. There will be a demonstration in London tomorrow. For details click here. For details of other demos around the UK, click here.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year Message

It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.