My Amazing JourneyThanks so much for giving me this chance to talk about an amazing literary journey which I have recently completed. Let me start at the beginning…..
Five years ago, my family and I took a working holiday to Cambodia. We spent two weeks travelling throughout the country, building houses in one of the poorest communities and working with children in an orphanage. I had never been to that part of the world before, nor had I ever seen that kind of poverty before, and it isn’t an exaggeration to say that the experience changed my life.
At the time I was knee-deep in writing my first novel, Tangled Roots. I had no idea that I would ever write about Cambodia, although I knew I would someday need to return there. But after Tangled Roots was published, a story popped into my head, a story that grew out of my experience of the people and the culture of Cambodia. That story turned into the novel, A Clash of Innocents, which was published this past September by Ward Wood Publishing.
Against the backdrop of Cambodia’s violent past and the beginnings of its new Tribunal for ‘justice,’ a story of displaced souls unfolded in my mind. I was able to create a world of orphans and expats all living their lives in modern day Cambodia, a country struggling to wrench itself out of its violent past. It’s been called a page-turner and, I’m pleased to say, reviews have been great.
That would have been enough for any writer. But I have been lucky enough to take all of this one step further. If we’re lucky, some of us are able to travel and become inspired to create something based on our new experiences. But to be able to take the fruit of that inspiration back to the people who first inspired it is something special, and this past March I was able to travel back to SE Asia, bringing the book back to the region where it was born. I did a month-long series of charity book signings and workshops, talking about the book and my experience of Cambodia and its people, and use the proceeds of the book sales to support several Cambodian charities. I was also able to spend a week working with an educational shelter for the street kids of Siem Reap, and set up a new on-going program aimed at raising self-esteem through creative writing. After a week, the teenagers of the shelter Anjali House published the first issue of their own literary magazine, and then went on to read segments of it aloud to two different audiences of donors and well wishers. Plus, the program continues as the kids are now uploading new work via a website for me and a group of other writers to edit and comment on. It is a wonderful experience for them, but even more, it is a life-changing experience for me.
So what have I learned from this? Yes, I’ve learned about how my own artistic ventures can connect with people all over the world in unimagined ways. But even more, I have learned how to take the creativity that I usually reserve for the page and apply it to my life. Perhaps there, more than anywhere, is where the magic really takes place. Words are powerful gifts. I am lucky enough to have a way to publish my words in works that can reach people across the globe. But it is the writing process that connects me to them, even more than the end product itself. And that’s the best lesson of all.
Thanks again, Novel Spaces, for letting me share this with you. And for those of you who may read A Clash of Innocents and enjoy it, please know that I am now in the middle of writing my next novel, also set in present day Cambodia. And I hope that I can do a bit of good with that novel, as I’ve been able to do with the other.