Monthly Archives: October 2011

Writer of the Week Claudia Donkor

Claudia is a writer, a doctor in Ghana and currently a student, studying on a master’s programme at Cardiff University.

Can you tell me a bit more about yourself, when did you start to write?

I started writing in my teens when I became hooked on books like Nancy Drew, Hardy boys, Mallory Tower and the Secret Seven. I adored Enid Blyton and I wanted to be just like her, so I decided to pen some stories. I started keeping a journal, which I have continued to do since I was fourteen years old!

What drives you to continue writing today?

I enjoy writing because it gives me a voice. It allows me to express things that are sometimes difficult to say verbally, to pour out feelings and ideas that are inside, bursting to come out.

I am always pleased when people enjoy reading my articles: when they say that they enjoyed it, that it made a difference in their lives or it made them understand something clearly. This always encourages me to find time to write.

Which writers do you admire most?

Jeffrey Archer, for his wit and clean crisp English, I love the twists in his tales. Sidney Sheldon, for his larger than life characters, I can never put his books down until I’ve reached the end. Maya Angelou, her poem Phenomenal Woman makes me proud to be female. Martina Odonkor, also known as Mamle Kabu, Kuukua Dzibordi-Yomekpe and Elizabeth Irene-Baitie. These are awarding-winning Ghananian writers; I aspire to be like them, if not better!

Where else do you go when you need inspiration?

My favourite place to write is on the beach. The breeze relaxes me and clears my mind. It reminds me of God’s beauty and grace. At moments like this I always feels feel intensely grateful for my life, I write down whatever I feel at that moment.

Thankfully back home in Ghana I live in Tema, a coastal town, so this is something I can do often. I even worked on an offshore vessel for a year before coming to Cardiff.

A photo from Claudia of a beach near her home in Tema

Do you like living in Cardiff?  What do you think of it?

I absolutely love it. I love the fact that I can easily walk to most places, I walked from Heath Hospital to Cardiff Bay last weekend. My favourite place is the Cardiff Museum; it transports me into another era. I think I would have enjoyed living in the days of bonnets, full gowns, lace brollies and horse-drawn carriages!

As an international student I also enjoy meeting people from all over the world. Although I am the only African in my class, I am comfortable studying with doctors from Thailand, Malaysia, India, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, to name a few.

Claudia’s writing, Burning Blues

“This is an excerpt from one of my manuscripts. I chose this because it made my Dad laugh when he first read it and that always warms my heart.”

If there was a female version of Adolf Hitler, that was my Madam!

Once I had the misfortune of accidentally dropping her favourite ceramic mug. Thankfully, there was not even a hairline crack in it, yet, amazingly, she arrived at the salon and immediately started berating me.

“You careless and useless bush girl! How dare you drop my mug!” She was foaming at the mouth.

“Where is it?”

“If you have so much as cracked it, you shall experience my wrath!” As if what I was experiencing was not it!

My heart was beating so fast and so loudly that it could have jumped out of my chest.

I hurriedly and clumsily went to the back room to bring the prized mug, nearly dropping it a second time.

Waa, look at her! Do you want to cause more damage to it? What is wrong with you?”

“If we were anywhere else but in this salon, I would have given you a very spicy enema that would have taught you an unforgettable lesson! Give it to me! Let me look at it!”

She grabbed the mug from my quivering fingers and scrutinized it as a scientist would have a specimen under the microscope. It seemed like eternity before she finally put the mug on the styling counter.

“You are lucky that nothing happened to my mug!” Her tone was still threatening but a decibel lower in intensity.

“I am sorry!” I said in a squeaky voice.

“You better be! Now go and buy me some bread from Auntie Ewurafua’s shop, on the double, you careless girl!”

I surely would have been in big trouble had I broken her mug because Madam never jokes with her breakfast. Had the mug been destroyed, in what would she have prepared her daily cocoa drink of six heaped tablespoons of chocolate powder, half a tin of evaporated milk and two cubes of sugar? She typically accompanies this concentrated beverage with half a loaf of freshly baked white bread, loaded with an omelette –  made of four eggs, sardine, onions, tomatoes, green pepper – and baked beans. Two sachets of water must be on standby.

She usually takes her time to eat breakfast and it can last for as long as an hour. How someone as slim as she, could eat so much still amazes me!


Capital Reads Day @ Cardiff Library

Right now libraries are controversial. Whilst campaigners are protesting against the closure of six libraries in North-West London some critics, like John McTernan, argue that they have become obselete.

Last Saturday Cardiff Central Library proved John McTernan wrong. Its Capital Reads Day showed that libraries can still be effective community hubs.

Anyone could walk in and join in. Members of the public had access to local book groups and authors who were running sessions throughout the day. I attended two of these and listened to the authors Richard Gwyn and Shelagh Weeks speak about their work- two very different authors who both sparked several interesing discussions.

Richard Gwyn

Richard's first novel

In Richard’s session he focused on his latest novel, The Vagabond’s Breakfast, published just this year. As an academic interested in speech and language Richard once studied the discourse of illness. The tables were turned when he fell ill with a serious medical condition which forced him to examine himself. The Vagabond’s Breakfast originated from the notes he made whilst waiting for a liver transplant.

This time the material he was producing was highly personal and he needed to take a different approach when writing. His solution was to write about himself as a fictional character. This stopped him from becoming too entangled in the story. “When you are the subject you have to find a way to detatch,” he said.

Although reluctant to admit that writing this novel was a healing process, Richard acknowledged that his illness gave him a burning desire to write. For him writing was a personal way of expressing himself. “If I’d been a wood carver I’d have put it into wood,” he said. “I was dying and so I was taking an account of my life, I don’t know why I picked some passages of it and not others.”

Listening to The Vagabond’s Breakfast what I found most striking was Richard’s use of humour, despite the bleakness of his illness. The dark comedy of the novel catches you unaware, it makes you laugh and it also makes sure that you don’t switch off. Matter of fact and sometimes blunt, Richard’s narrative is frank and honest. It is this quality which endears him to his audience.

I asked him if he thought the ability to laugh in these types of situations was important. “There is something intensely funny about human decrement,” he said. “It might not appeal to you but it’s something that comes from Samuel Beckett, these two decaying bodies living in dustbins making jokes. You’ve got to laugh at it, mortality is funny. It’s such an ironic joke isn’t it?”

Richard introduces and reads the opening to The Vagabond’s Breakfast

Shelagh Weeks

Shelagh chose to read an unpublished short story during her session, giving her audience a chance to see her work in progress. This in itself was fascinating and much of the conversation afterwards focused on her own writing process as an author.

Lasting for twenty minutes Shelagh’s story, about a mother who struggles to let her teenage daughter make her own decisions, resonated with many other mothers and daughters listening. The story was written in second person, making it especially powerful. The audience was addressed directly as ‘you’, they became emotionally involved within the narrative.

Shelagh’s stories are often character driven or built around moments she remembers intensely. The story we heard was sparked by the memory of a long car journey. As the story progressed this journey became almost metaphorical. With time each character underwent a change, appearing different at the end from the start.

“What I’m particularly interested in is fracture and change over time and our shifting understanding of others,” said Shelagh. “This is a story about a woman who goes to collect her pregnant daughter and her new boyfriend on the beach. But the real crisis is her own abortion after her partner leaves.”

Throughout Shelagh’s story it was the small attention to detail which made things sparkle. When the daughter opens her rucksack, spilling sand and cigarette butts, the room becomes just ‘like the beach they left’. I wondered if the story would be published soon, according to Shelagh it’s nearly ready.

Birthday Books

After a lovely birthday this Saturday I have five more books to add to my collection. Book-shaped presents are always good!

Bath Book Fair

I visited the Bath Book Fair at the Assembly Rooms this weekend and I loved it! A local bookshop owner gave us our tickets free but the entry was only £2 anyway. 78 dealers were there, each with a different stall. Some of them were local but I spoke to one who said he had travelled down from Yorkshire. Each dealer specialised in something different, my favourite stalls were full of old children’s books and reminded me of what I used to read as a child. I bought a colour illustrated copy of Black Beauty for £10 which I remember reading for the first time. Even if you can’t afford a £250 copy of Paradise Lost you can still have a closer look at it, most of the dealers were happy to show you things. It was a fantastic opportunity to see books that aren’t usually on display.