At twelve, I already had a strange liking for the desert, subconciously planning an escape to far away lands. Coming from an extremely strict home, where order and neatness was the absolute rule, a life so restricted one couldn’t sit down for fear of spoiling the look of the imaculately puffed up sofa cushions, or getting a drink out of the tap in case you got a drop on the polished sink, and mealtimes around the dining table were so miserably scrutinized, sitting up straight, holding the knife properly, one just had to get through them without outwardly crying. I seriously began to dream of living in far away desert tents and travelling off the beaten track before my teens. I would stare at National Geographic magazine pictures of tribesmen in flowing robes and their lucky families, and I was there, in the open desert, sitting on a rug eating rice and lamb with my bare hands and sleeping under the stars.
So it was always there, this love of the desert. Another one of those “desert loving English.”
My best friend, Jane, had a very loving father who was more like a best friend to her. I envied how they could talk for hours and he would tell us stories of his childhood in his home outside Florence. He one day took us to the cinema on Kensington High Street, and that, as they say, was that!
It wasn’t a film, it was an experience.
David Lean had taken us to Arabia, let us eat with the Bedu, sleep under the desert sky, see the whole, panoramic landscape (and kill a few Turks as well, though that second half after the internission was a bit bloody for girls) but it was the whole experience of being in the unrestricted desert, learning to ride a camel, not to mention of course, falling for a handsome Peter O’Toole in his flowing robes and boots.. the whole thing was just incredible! Nothing mattered after that, I read Seven Pillars Of Wisdom at thirteen, not that I really understood much of it, but I wanted to read it. It was quite hard as reading didn’t come easy to me. (Dyslexia wasnt even a word in the early ’70’s) But I did it. I loved the ancient land, seeped in history. I followed TE Lawrence’s tracks on a map of the Middle East. I began learning about the history, archaeology and digging. I was becoming me!
My parents moved in interesting, international circles, I am glad to say, which inclded a Persian friends, who sometimes brought us exhotic sweets and pastries, all the way from Shiraz or Tehran. Gaz, a soft nutty nougat and another tiney white, hard, lumpy sweet I forget what it was called, was my favourite. I learned the Farsi alphabet and how to write my name and to a say a few sentences. I read about the culture, customs, carpets, ancient kings, poets and philosophers. I had Persian miniatures on my bedroom wall while my friends had Pink Floyd and Abba. I practiced swirling like a Dervish… didnt quite work.
So there we are, that is how it all began. My first book, the first in a series, The Obsidian Mask, not surprisingly is a YA adventure based in the desert on an archaeological dig. It is true to life, exciting, informative and very real. And I have to say there is a little of me in every character! All thanks to a trip down Kensington High Street with Jane and her father. Thank you, Mr Calabrini and David Lean, I think you both shaped my life a little!