Friday, 21 November 2014

Part 1 - Looking back at the Gypsy and Traveller world, from 2008 to now

Since the publication of my first novel, Gypsies Stop tHere, in the spring of 2008, surely there must have been changes in the Gypsy and Traveller world. The book, along with the sequel / prequel, No Gypsies Served, presents a snapshot of how things were, using a fusion of fact and fiction to weave a story. Romany Gypsies, Irish Travellers and people not from their communities have said lovely things about them – see the reviews on Amazon and more inside each one! But this post is not really about my books.
Firstly, as reminder, let’s take a look back at some blog posts I wrote a while back. You can pick and mix according to what catches your eye and takes your fancy!

My next blog post will take a look at what has gone on since and what is happening now. Have things improved, progressed for the better or do the same problems persist?
 ** Please click on green titles for links **
Sunday, 6 December 2009
How come Gypsies and Travellers?

This is what seems to intrigue people. I am not a Gypsy myself. How come I am writing a story with a theme that hinges on Gypsies and Travellers, their origins, culture and present-day problems?
At Yateley a few years ago

At Bourne Hall Museum event

Friday, 12 February 2010

A simple question often asked. But how complicated the answer!!
This looks at terminology and ‘labels’ and how easy it is to unwittingly offend.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

It really is stranger than fiction when fiction becomes reality. I felt as if I had stepped into a scene from my own novel Gypsies Stop tHere. The public meeting was to discuss proposals for an inevitable development at Deepcut.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Could not let TV Channel 4’s Big Fat Gypsy Wedding go by without offering a few thoughts – could I? It wouldn’t be right!
Firstly, these were, going by their accents, Irish Travellers rather than Romany Gypsies.

Monday, 7 February 2011

I understand Channel 4’s aim to achieve high ratings. To suck in an audience that might ultimately consider more serious aspects of Gypsy and Traveller life and culture, you need to lighten up first. I get that. But at what cost?

The first paragraphs of this post were published in The Guardian – Letters to the Editor (first one on the page!)
Friday, 11 February 2011


Big Fat Gypsy Weddings not so bad?

Jake Bowers speaking for the Romany Gypsy community: on Daybreak.

I may be revising my view of Channel 4 documentary, dubbed ‘mockumentary’. I hope it really does help relations between Gypsies and non-Gypsies, rather than make for more bad feeling. Excellent representation on BBC Breakfast show this week.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

More media stuff on BFGW

Various media links …
Saturday, 11 June 2011

Have you heard of Travellers Got Talent?

No? Well, at the time of writing, June is Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month. It began three or four years before. Various events displaying and exploring the culture and traditions of Gypsies, Travellers and Roma take place around the country.

Monday, 10 October 2011

I could have chosen an easier subject for a novel. Friends and family advised me against it; an agent told me a publisher would not consider a title with ‘Gypsy’ in it. All of this spurred me on. This was around 2006–7.

Since I am not a Gypsy myself, many people ask me how? and why?

Monday, 2 July 2012

At a Romany Day, Tilford
On Saturday (30 June) I went with a supply of my three books to 'Romany Day', held at the Rural Life Centre in Tilford, a fascinating outdoors museum near Farnham, Surrey, well-worth a visit any time. (The front cover of my third novel has a picture of Tilford Green.)
Sunday, 10 March 2013

This may make uncomfortable, even shocking, reading but I was interested to gather opinions ...

You will find the words: ‘eviction, deportation ... murder, fascism … ethnic cleansing … apartheid … genocide …’, and yes, this was 2013.

Gypsies Stop tHere has an Eastern European character, vital to the plot, who is a Roma immigrant in Britain. No Gypsies Served goes a little further in drawing attention to extreme racism prevalent in parts of Europe. The reality, however, is much worse, as this post reveals.
Wednesday, 14 August 2013

There is to be a great meeting in Westminster in October to discuss the provision of sites for Gypsies and Travellers. 
As you may know, my first two novels, Gypsies Stop tHere and No Gypsies Served have story lines relating to the shortage of Gypsy sites and relationships between.the travelling community and 'mainstream' society. 
Thursday, 26 September 2013

Surrey Gypsy Traveller Communities Forum

It is bit of a mouthful, isn't it? But it does say exactly what it is. If you are interested in Gypsy issues but, like me, decided that the meeting in London would be an expensive trip unless you are funded by an organisation, then another October meeting may be for you. For some years now I have attended the Surrey Gypsy Traveller Communities Forum when I can, as an observer.
Monday, 26 May 2014

Surrey Life Review

I was delighted to have my books chosen for review in the March issue of  the beautiful, glossy Surrey Life Magazine I thought you might like to see it.
That's about it for now; I hope this did not cause too much verbal indigestion. Look out for the next blog post to bring us all up to date. I am intrigued, I hope you are too!
My books are available on Amazon or through Waterstones. Just click on the book covers.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

In Our Time - did I miss something?

This is a bit of an odd post. In a haze of post chemo, with anti-sickness steroids depriving me of sleep apart from a measly one and a half hours last night, I lay abed from 9 – 10 am listening to Melvyn Bragg’s BBC Radio 4 In Our Time. It was a discussion of the 1791 Haitian Revolution, a slave uprising in what was then called Saint Domingue.
It struck a chord with me as I read Sugar in the Blood by Andrea Stuart – an excellent book and as I said in my brief review on Goodreads in January this year, a book everyone should read. It covers the slave trade in shockingly graphic detail, specifically in Barbados and if my memory serves me correctly, it also covers the eventual  uprising, mostly by rebellious slaves burning the sugar plantations, as discussed on the programme.

The cruel oppression of black African slaves, based on terror and fear of amputations, beatings and slow, torturous death for minor breaches of the rules, thus resulting in an allegedly docile and cowed slave population, enabled the French to enjoy power and a rich sugar-derived economy.
What really bothers me about this otherwise fascinating discussion is that there seemed to be no mention of the equally deplorable part played by the British in the Caribbean. Okay, the theme was French and extended into the French Revolution, but I would have thought that reference should have been made to this to put one of the darkest, most shameful periods of history into context. So William Wilberforce, with other abolitionists, came along as the great hero and this cannot be denied as utterly commendable but what of the cruelty that had been perpetrated and allowed beforehand – by the great British?

Did I miss something? I am not sure if, because of my slightly weird mental state this morning, a heady mix of a buzzing brain and extreme fatigue, I may have dozed off or misheard. I could listen again, I suppose, but meanwhile did anyone else get the feeling that it was all a bit skewed? If I am entirely wrong, I will make amends.
Would love to hear anyone's thoughts.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Short-term Hell!

I wrote about my diagnosis – bowel cancer with a secondary tumour in the liver – a few months ago in the post Cancer! I do not want to dwell on this too much but perhaps need to explain my lack of blog posts, if nothing else.

An update, then. Two weeks ago I had liver surgery which successfully removed the little beast growing there – or I should say, shrinking, having been battered by 3 months of chemo. From various scans, there is no sign of any other cancer so I am pleased to say I am now cancer free! In a few weeks there will be another 3 month course of chemo, however, to help reduce likelihood of recurrence – although there are no guarantees attached to this.
I would like to make a point about my hospital stay. It was, in one way, horrendous!  Read on, if you are not squeamish. Surgically speaking, the operation was routine – statistics you may enjoy: an eighth of liver removed, not huge since it is possible to take away up to 70% and it will regenerate, such a clever organ; over 30 staples in a long curved ‘wound’ that is now healing at amazing speed; just two hours under anaesthetic, nothing like as long as the bowel operation in February. All good.
However, just as I was getting into recovery mode, off-the-scale type pain developed in lower abdomen; I can only liken it to labour pains that were not spasmodic but continuous. Painkillers, including morphine, did not touch it. My bowels, ie the whole intestine, had ‘gone on strike’, thus the small amounts of food and copious drinks ingested had hit a brick wall, although kidneys were doing their job just fine. To relieve the pressure in my gut – as tight as a drum – the only option was to stick a tube up my nose into the stomach to empty contents and this stayed in place for two days and nights. I never promised this post would make pleasant reading!!
Now – my point is, there were times through all of this, when I lay there thinking that if I were told I must have live-saving surgery again, I would refuse point blank. I could NEVER go through this again.
But the reality is that with the wonderful help and expertise of doctors and nurses, I got through it, got over it and am now home, beginning to enjoy life again – eating proper meals, reading, seeing friends, writing this, and so on. Soon I can expand activities, including a family holiday, before chemo starts again. When in the throes of labour it is common for mothers to vow they will never get pregnant again, and of course they usually do!

So for anybody else who is in pain or suffering post-surgery in a hospital bed, I would say, stick with it. The chances are it is short-term and will be soon forgotten; I hope so, anyway.
I have ticked a major box, now must draw a line and move on.
More flowers - how lucky am I?!

Monday, 26 May 2014

Surrey Life Review

I was delighted to have my books chosen for review in the March issue of  the beautiful, glossy Surrey Life magazine. I thought you might like to see it.

Book Corner

Each month, Juliette Foster looks at one of the best new book releases to come out of Surrey, plus we bring you literary dates for your diary and more...


The Review

Gypsies Stop there & No Gypsies Served by Miriam Wakerly

In 2010, Channel 4 broadcast the 60-minute documentary My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, which became a huge hit with British and American viewers. Audiences got hooked on the over-the-top frocks with enough fabric to wrap around a skyscraper and the sight of eager, young brides being chauffeured to church in Cinderella-style coaches.  Four years on, it seems that anything with 'My Big, Fat, Gypsy...' in the title stands a more than reasonable chance of making it to the small screen, yet in 2007 Surrey author Miriam Wakerly couldn't even find a publisher for her novels Gypsies Stop tHere and No Gypsies Served, thanks to a perceived lack of interest in travellers. She eventually published the books herself and the result is an honest, even-handed attempt to explore the barriers dividing gypsies/travellers from settled communities.
Accurate portrait
Forget the romantic image of gypsies living in painted wagons idling away the evenings around camp fires and instead think Dale Farm meets middle England. In other words, the very real conflict between gypsies/travellers looking for a site to live on, the villagers who don't want them there, and the local councils who are legally obliged to provide permanent sites to accommodate them.

It's a huge theme and one that's skilfully explored through the central character Kay, who in Gypsies Stop tHere moves to the fictitious village of Appley Green after the death of her husband. Appley Green, a mixture of the very real Surrey villages of Pirbright, Elstead, Tilford and Frimley Green, is a friendly, genteel community that is up in arms against a group of travellers occupying council land. The locals accuse them of anti-social behaviour and want them evicted while an activist campaigner demands restraint and compassion. Caught between two emotionally charged factions, Kay tries to be objective although she finds herself drawn to the gypsies after befriending Lena, a vulnerable young traveller woman.
The underlying theme running through this story is that both sides must ultimately learn to live together, yet Wakerly doesn't suffocate the reader with the message or resort to cheap character stereotyping to reinforce it. It would have been easy to present the gypsies as the helpless victims of bigoted nimbyists, yet they come across as proud, spirited people with a love of family that even the residents of Appley Green can identify with. Kay is both gutsy and pragmatic while her friendship with Dunstan, the generous-hearted gardener and all-round good guy, has a teasing 'will they, won't they?' quality about it. Dunstan is a strong, impressive character in his own right and it's fitting that Wakerly uses his heart-piercing struggle for acceptance and reconciliation as the basis for No Gypsies Served.
Matter of Balance

The re-emergence of these novels is timely given the current media obsession with gypsies and the struggle to balance their needs against the rights of local communities. The jury's still out on whether the issue will ever be resolved to anyone's satisfaction but the fictitious goings on at Appley Green have an all too authentic ring about them in areas such as Chobham. Gypsies Stop tHere and No Gypsies Served don't have to be read in any particular order as they stand as a sequel or prequel to each other. They've been ably woven together to tell a story that engages while raising important issues: can society ever do enough to atone for the historical wrongs perpetrated against gypsies? How will future generations judge our treatment of this unique community? Perhaps a Big, Fat, Gypsy TV extravaganza is the key to answering those questions.
A topical note from me:  With words such as 'racism' and 'xenophobia' running wild in tandem with the current upsurge of UKIP, perhaps this is a good time to remind ourselves of their meaning. Dictionary definitions are one thing, but constantly people fall into the trap of being 'racist' by labelling a group as homogeneous, usually with derogatory implications, rather than as a collection of different individuals.

How can this give any person respect and the opportunity to fulfil their potential if they are prejudged?

Gypsies Stop there and No Gypsies Served are both available as paperbacks and on Kindle  Amazon
Take a look at some of the reviews there, if you have time.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Research making all the difference

I imagine that without all the cancer research in recent years, leading to improved treatments and better survival rates, my expectations and mood would be very different from my last blog post.  Chemo therapy was something I had associated with horrible, relentless side-effects.
As it is, thanks to research, there are drugs that help control these side effects – on the whole. Certainly for me they exist but are manageable, enabling me to still enjoy many days between chemo sessions.
Whatever your closest encounter is with cancer – yourself, family or friend – you may like to support this research if you feel able: just click on the link below. Apparently 1 in 3 of us will have some form of cancer in our lifetime, an astounding statistic.

My daughter is doing her bit - perhaps inspired by the Olympics!! 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014


Little did I know ... !
I thought I’d keep it simple. It’s a while since I wrote anything here, or anywhere else online, as I was unsure of what I should say.

On 29 January, just four days after I posted my piece on Australia, the shock of diagnosis was huge. Following a colonoscopy and CT scan, with no serious inkling that anything was seriously wrong, my husband and I were suddenly being told that I had bowel cancer requiring surgery fast. In addition, there is a secondary tumour in the liver so it had already spread. More scans confirmed this but no others that could be detected. It all seemed quite surreal.
Recovery from the bowel surgery was good. I have just had the second session of my first 3 months chemo which is given in a fortnightly cycle. Liver surgery will follow after a brief break from chemo; then following recovery from that there will be a further 3 months chemo. So that’s 2014 taken care of!
Those are the bare facts and the prognosis is good, but when I first got the diagnosis it threw our world upside down; we could not help thinking the worst. Now I feel extremely hopeful that in a year from now I will be as fit as a flea and in the pink, and it is all the positives that I want to convey, perhaps to help others.
The love and support I’ve had from friends and family means so much. Thank you!

Early on I was thoroughly spoiled with over a dozen bunches of flowers or floral arrangements, plants, books, magazines, chocolates and more besides; dozens of cards, emails and phone calls; friends visiting almost daily, sometimes two in a day when I was home from hospital.  To feel all these connections from friends, both old and new, was so uplifting and will continue to help me with the emotional and psychological side of this whole process. We all know that happiness helps healing.
Seeing people for a chat will mean a great deal for the months ahead, as I realise now that to mix with the general public, or large groups, with potential coughs and sneezes, is risky. Your immune system becomes weak so to get a nasty cold or other infection could break the continuity of the chemo programme.  As with any life-saving treatment, it becomes a top priority and other tempting activities like shopping or the cinema are going on the back burner. My husband had the soul-destroying task of unpicking all our holidays he had organised for the year!
A bookish event I was really looking forward to will have to go by the wayside – as far as I am concerned.  Surrey Heath Book Festival 2014 invited me to run a creative writing workshop, Writing from Life, on 11 May and I had thought that this would be doable. Now I realise that because of the high susceptibility to picking up bugs mid-way through what is called the fortnightly ‘cycle’, I cannot risk it. There I was in the line-up with Prunella Scales and Lady Antonia Fraser et al. Such a disappointment, as I was fully prepared for this and anticipated a fun morning.

Sorry this is getting negative … but you see these things are not the end of the world. Your priorities shift.
One thing for which I shall break the rules is the birth of a grandchild in May. No way shall I miss seeing her or him as soon as possible after the birth, even if I cannot do much to be helpful – another frustration. Never mind, knitting needles have been clicking!
The medical teams at nearby Frimley Park Hospital, and now at St Luke’s Cancer Centre, part of the Surrey Royal County Hospital in Guildford, have been wonderful, efficient and caring. When things are serious and urgent you see the NHS at its best and initially I was fast-tracked at every turn.
It was wise to wait before writing this, I think, or the shock and horror would have given a false and gloomy picture. Like lovely George Alagiah who has recently come out about his bowel cancer, it is now just a question of getting through the treatment, keeping well and looking forward to recovery and a bright future.

I have learned to appreciate simple pleasures, realizing that in Buddhist fashion every moment of life should be treasured. Birdsong and sunshine; the smell and feel of fresh air when you come out of hospital; simply feeling well; hearing from friends; Facetime with my grandchild, the love and support I have from my husband and children – all these things and many more take on a new dimension.
The thought of taking a holiday, or eating out somewhere special, trips to the theatre and activities with friends – these are things to dream about and work towards.
Plus - there is the fourth novel I must finish. I am about three-quarters of the way through, then many revisions to do but I am very excited about this one and hope to publish it one way or the other before the end of this very unusual and interesting year. I will keep in touch.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Down Under - a Taste of Australia

If you are from the UK, then it goes without saying that you are upside down when you get to Australia! 

Towards the end of last year, ramblings ceased. I was away for four weeks, on a trip of a lifetime to Australia, via Singapore and Dubai, and taking in Perth, Margaret River, Alice Springs, Cairns, Melbourne and Sydney. Then there was Christmas ... 
I thought you might like to see some iconic views with few words, but there are more unusual pictures on the LoveaHappyEnding Lifestyle magazine and more words you may not expect over at Anneli's Place. Do take a look and find some surprises! The links are below.
Uluru at sunrise - we travelled far and rose very early to catch sight of this!

The Great Barrier Reef – seen through glass;  without naming my source,  I heard a confession that colours are often enhanced in publicity photos! It was beautiful in its natural colours.
Sydney Harbour Bridge - well you knew that!!

Sydney Harbour, the view from our hotel window. Not bad! (forgive the reflections)

Naturally, you would expect to see a cute picture of a koala, some kangaroos and a cheeky, slightly scary emu!

Bondi beach – from the air!  We had a fabulous seaplane flight and the coast around Sydney was spectacular.

This is just the beginning! Don't forget, more to see on the LAHE Lifestyle magazine and at Anneli's Place  If you are curious and fancy doing something similar, the holiday was with Scenic Tours

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Book Review: 'My Dad/Mum/Gran/Grandad has Parkinson's'

Parkinson’s UK asked me to review a set of four little books for children. I cannot class myself as a ‘book reviewer’ apart from a few thoughts on Goodreads and occasionally on Amazon, but I was very pleased to do this.

My Dad has Parkinson’s - by Virginia Ironside
 - the same format is followed for Mum, Gran and Grandad

written by Virginia Ironside and illustrated by Matthew Dodd

These beautifully illustrated and written books are designed to help explain to a young child what Parkinson’s is all about, if their Mum, Dad, Gran or Grandad has it.

Using everyday situations to which a child can easily relate, they are matter-of-fact and pitched perfectly for the 3 – 7 age bracket. However, some adults could also pick up insights and tips they may have missed.
It cannot be overstated why these little books are so very important and why they can make such a difference. Many adjectives are used to describe Parkinson’s but words that often come up to convey how someone feels are, ‘lonely’, ‘isolated’ and ‘excluded’. The really good news is that something can be done about that!
Friends and family members can overcome embarrassment, or even fear, if they understand, enabling them to empathise and give appropriate support. Likewise, it goes without saying that young children play a vital, emotional role in family life and for them to keep a warm and loving relationship with their parents and grandparents is a key ingredient for happiness, on all sides.
These books may bridge barriers, pre-empt misunderstandings and reassure, written and illustrated to enable a child to learn about what may be happening to their Mum, Dad, Gran or Grandad. Children are then more likely to observe and take an active interest, too.
Beautifully put together and deceptively simple. Easy to read, but maybe not so easy to write, to get it just right! Job done!
They are free to download as a pdf from Parkinson's UK and to order as books here

The society approached me, firstly because I once worked for it, in the community supporting people with Parkinson’s and their carers, and secondly, because there is a key character in Shades of Appley Green who has the condition.
 ‘In helping a once famous, elderly architect with Parkinson’s regain a social life, Steph finds herself taking personal risks, fending off objections, blind to danger. We wait for the moment when it dawns on Steph what is driving her deep-seated obsession; for only then can she find the happiness she deserves.’
Review in The Parkinson magazine
Shades of Appley Green, an English village novel is available from Amazon as paperback and on Kindle