A recent prompt for an SSOA Writing of the Week exercise came from an Indian novel, Saraswati Park by Anjali Joseph (Fourth Estate 2010), about a Mumbai public letter-writer, Mohan:
Mohan sighed and thought of his earlier routine, which had often included a wander through the bookstalls between Fountain and Churchgate. This ... had been the way he'd educated himself. There was a special magic that operated in the books he found; the thing he needed frequently came along without his having to look for it. His mind went covertly back to his other existence, the one in his chair, at home in the evenings, under the naked bulb. He sometimes felt he left himself there, unseen, while an automated version of him went about the daily routine. Those people and emotions, the ones from the pages he turned, were always so clearly present. And there was the feeling of following in the footsteps of other readers, those who'd scribbled in the margins; he'd many times come close to doing the same.
SSOA writing group members' responses to the excerpt:
THE READING-WRITING BOND
When I was eighteen and living in South Africa, I had a huge fight with my mother who informed me she 'never wanted to see me again'. I moved into the YWCA, and was feeling a tad lonely and lost, when I found a pile of old books in a box. I lay on my bed in the room I shared with three others and started reading a paperback. This led me to not leave my bed until I had finished the fascinating story. I couldn't put down the book, Clochemerle written by a French author, Gabriel Chevallier. It lifted my spirit.
What a wonderful introduction to the written word that has lasted a lifetime! The descriptions of the French countryside and relationships between people in the village left me feeling inspired and wanting to read more. Jennifer Neil
AUTHOR EXTRAORDINAIRE DERVLA MURPHY
I miss her. She is my mentor, my travel guru, but has stopped writing. Dervla Murphy is now eighty-eight years of age, living with her daughter and granddaughters in Italy.
Ireland’s greatest travel writer, Dervla was a woman before her time. A librarian's daughter, she read, swam and cycled her way through difficult times caring for her arthritic mother until she reached the age of thirty-one. Then, free at last, she was off. She cycled from Ireland to India in 1963 on her beloved bicycle Roz and worked in a Tibetan refugee camp.
Then she went on to eat plump apricots off the fruit trees of Baltistan, rode a mule called Egbert in the mountains of Cameroon and romped with the lemurs of Madagascar.
She stopped for a few years, becoming a single mother in her mid-thirties - and never revealing the name of the father, while suffering rumours that she was raped on her travels. She did sometimes carry a gun. A documentary a few years ago identified her daughter's father as a well-known literary editor who’d just passed away. She’d had an affair with a married man, kept secret as it was taboo at that time in Ireland.
For her sixtieth birthday she rode through Africa on a new bike and wrote about AIDS in her book, The Ukimwi Road: from Kenya to Zimbabwe.
Sadly, she didn’t get to finish a trilogy on the tunnels in Gaza. A lover of a Cafe Creme cigar and pint of Guinness, Dervla was shy and reserved about writers' festivals, though she was a patron of one in her Irish hometown, Lismore.
Thank you Dervla, for the joy and inspiration your books brought me, to follow in your footsteps. Gerdette Rooney