Poem: A Lyke-Wake Dirge

I’ve been thinking of posting something specific each day just so my blogs are regularly updated, but it’s hard trying to decide on topics that won’t get old, i.e. that I won’t lose interest in very quickly and eventually find a chore – although if that happens, I guess I could just change the topic.

Anyway, I thought I’d post  a poem on this my blog every Thursday, so here goes:

This one is something I first came across in Antonia Forest’s End of Term. Forest is one of my favourite writers and my all-time favourite author of boarding school books. I first encountered her Kingscote School in Autumn Term, the first of twelve books about a family called Marlow (two of these books are set in Elizabethan times, but the rest are post-World War II, and four are set in the school, while the others during various term holidays).

In End of Term, the series’ main protagonist character, Nicola, spends one day during half-term break riding (on horseback) from her home in the countryside to the cathedral town of Wade Abbas, near her boarding school. Her companion is Patrick, who lives next door and whom she hawks with.

On the ride back, over the moors, and in the dark, Patrick suddenly starts saying A Lyke-Wake Dirge, which, as its title suggests, is suitably mournful and gloomy. Nicola is somewhat spooked until Patrick breaks the mood by breaking into a spirited recitation of Robert Browning’s How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix.

If you’re nonplussed by the strange spelling and stranger words, or you want to know about 14th century funeral chants, you’ll find this piece in the Guardian helpful. Read More »

Book Review: A Call to Travel by Rumaizah Abu Bakar

call-to-travelFirst published on 10th March, 2015 in The Star


Author: Rumaizah Abu Bakar

Publisher : Silverfish Books

THERE was a period in my life when I read little more than travel books. It started with a re-reading of Bruce Chatwin’s What Am I Doing Here and In Patagonia, and continued, for more than a year, with books by Paul Theroux, Eric Newby, VS Naipaul, Redmond O’Hanlon, Pico Iyer, Colin Thubron and Vikram Seth. There was even one in which Edith Wharton travels through France in a motorcar, not to mention several by writers I’ve not heard of since.

Looking back, I realise that this was a time when I was a new, financially-strapped wife and mother. Armchair travel was, I guess, the most convenient and affordable means of escape from the mundanity of motherhood, a dead-end job and housework.

And it wasn’t as simple as the books transporting me via words and descriptions to strange new worlds. The destinations were only part of the attraction. What I really appreciated was the perspective of the authors – the way places and people were filtered through the lenses of their unique personalities and experiences, and how their reactions and views made you re-think your own opinions, question what you always believed, be fiercely scornful, or even feel inspired.

So, for me, what the travel writer brings to the tale is more than half the journey. I like travel writers to have angles and agendas. I like writers who travel to remember and to forget. I like travel writers who travel to make a point (political, spiritual etc.) or to learn (about the world, a culture, a lesson). I like travel writers who travel to find or to lose themselves, and, most importantly, I like travel writers to write what they think and what they feel.

I looked forward to reading A Call To Travel: Muslim Odysseys because the perspective of a Muslim woman was one I had never come across before in a travel book. The fact that Rumaizah Abu Bakar’s travels took her to a number of Muslim cities and towns was a plus.Read More »

Interview: Randa Abdel-Fattah

RandaFirst published on 8th April 2007, in StarMag.


IN Does My Head Look Big in This?, Randa Abdel-Fattah describes the experiences of a young Muslim Palestinian-Australian after she decides to wear the hijab (veil).

Randa, a Palestinian-Egyptian who was born in Australia, was in Kuala Lumpur recently for the Kuala Lumpur International Literary Festival (Klif07, March 28-30). In an interview squeezed into a busy day meeting the press, visiting schools and making author appearances at bookshops, she said that she started writing the book when she was a teenager and can’t bear to look at her first draft.

“Reading it makes me cringe,” she laughed.Read More »

Book Review: Does My Head Look Big in This by Randa Abdel-Fattah

does my head look big.jpgFirst published on 4th February, 2007 in StarMag

Author: Randa Abdel-Fattah
Publisher: Marion Lloyd Books, 368 pages

Isn’t that title a gas? I love it! It’s witty and a little smart-alecky, like the heroine of the book, 16-year-old Amal Mohamed Nasrullah Abdel-Hakim, a Muslim Palestinian-Australian who decides that she’s ready to wear the hijab (veil) fulltime.

Read More »