Syria: We Can't Say We Didn't Know

Former Middle East correspondent, Sophie McNeill, appeared on a recent Late Night Live to talk about her new book, We Can't Say We Didn't Know. McNeill despairs at the world's mute response to the atrocities committed in Syria and that we seem to be living in an age of impunity for those who wage war.

In June 2016, I wrote a review of Jerome and His Women by Joan O'Hagan. The book's publisher, Joan's daughter, Denise O'Hagan of Black Quill Press, liked it and we started corresponding. Recently Denise asked if I could edit the review for another publication. I had to cull it from 477 words to 300!

Walking my dog one warm afternoon in January, I heard The Book Show podcast interview with Isabel Allende. The next day I saw her latest novel, A Long Petal of the Sea, in my local library. It seemed serendipity. More so as published in 2020, it would be my first book of the new year and decade.

In December 2018, I blogged about the sixteen books which I'd read or dipped into during that year (My Year of Books). I'm a bedtime reader and often doze off with a book on my nose. Which is why I'm happy to report there were another sixteen fiction and nonfiction titles in my bedside books for 2019.

I have kept diaries for thirty-three years. For twenty-one of those, I used the Belmont A7, day-to-a-page, pocket-diary. Its twenty lines per page proved a perfect fit for my daily entries. However, last August, I lost my 2019 diary and discovered the joy of not being constrained to a page per day.

When I was a boy, I thought the spirit of Xmas was receiving: from my overflowing Santa Sack and presents under the Xmas tree. I grew up, and for me, especially after I became a dad, it's giving. I like choosing gifts for family and friends, which is why I say bah humbug to the modern Kris Kringle.

I have kept a diary since I set off backpacking in March 1987. In the early years, I only recorded occasional highlights. However, as I wrote in 32 Years of Diaries (Jan 2018), I made a New Year's Resolution in 2005 to write up every day. Hence, a lost diary is a disaster—it's happened to me twice.

Phil Collins released Both Sides of the Story in 1993. It was a catchy song, but I remember it more for the music video. Scenes of homelessness, domestic violence, military patrols on streets and a ghetto kid mugging a white man, juxtaposed with Collins crooning, We need to hear both sides of the story.

On the vexed question of the ideal frequency for posting to blogs, Problogger's Darren Rowse suggests it "varies considerably from blog to blog" (June 2008). I've been tardy with the frequency of my posts recently, not because I haven't been writing. But because I've been busy writing presentations.

My wife and I visited Turkey in 1988. We had endured our first English winter and spent two-weeks hugging the coastal sites and sunny beaches. We returned in 1990, venturing far from the coast, to the mountains of eastern-Turkey, where Kurds befriended us, and we learned a little of Kurdish culture.

In a recent blog post, I discussed how I'd repurposed a short story written for a writer's circle in the early-1990s. The tutor panned it at the time as "too vague", but I still liked aspects of the writing. So I cut out the "vague" bits and changed the tense from past to present for more immediacy.

In 1998 I started an eight-week evening college course, Introduction to Philosophy. I was in my mid-thirties and was aware of philosophers, of course. But I hadn't read their works and knew nothing about critical thinking. Our text was Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder. And our tutor was a Marxist.

In a purple patch of writing in my early thirties, I churned out ideas and outlines for short stories and longer-form fiction almost daily. I was childless back then and had little to distract me from my notebook and keyboard. Some of my "churn" developed beyond half-baked plots — none was published.

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