Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A break at last - Richard & Judy!

At long last my luck seems to have changed with the book promotion.

Launching a book on Friday 13th vs. Alistair Campbell's diaries, followed by JK Rowling mania was tough. Mum's stroke on the 9th July - the first day of book launch week ensued all launch plans including the party were scuppered as all I wanted to do was rush to her side. This Morning blew me out at the 11th hour, ( damn, I bought a new dress specially) and GMTV had me on at 6am and wouldn't let me mention the book at all! Since then I have been plugging away on a gruelling local radio schedule on Fridays, the day when I am in London, doing back to back interviews in a small studio, talking about being attacked again and again and coming home like a weepy wrung-out wet dishcloth.

But now - joy! I have been asked to appear on Richard and Judy this afternoon.

This is a minor miracle, especially as the show is shorter than usual this week because of the Goodwood races. I was first asked to be on Wednesday, which was exciting enough but would have meant I couldn't mention the book because Wednesday is Summer Reading Day, when the fortunate few titles who have been picked to be the Richard and Judy Summer Reads are plugged and their lucky authors bask in the knowledge that their books will be sure-fire bestsellers. As you can only mention one book per show, if I had gone on Wednesday, I would not have been able to mention the book at all, though it would have been mentioned on the website, which has over 250,000 hits a week.

But being on today instead means I can talk about the book. Even nicer is I get to go on with my father! We will be talking about how you deal with two hammer blows ( three now, with mum's stroke) and what it does to your beliefs, how you cope. The call came because of a Relative Values piece in the Sunday Times, which Judy noticed, and which my ex-colleague Matt wrote, about me and Dad. So I'm not on because of the book. I'm on because of the story behind the book. But it's a break, it's a chance, it's a dream answered. At last, some good news.

The Richard and Judy effect can be phenomenal, even for books that are not picked for the stellar heights of Summer Reading. So now I have to iron the dress and wash my hair and try not to panic, and hope that Mum will be watching with the nurses at 5pm, and hope that Dad and I will do her proud. Cross your fingers for us.

UPDATE: MD Clare is very excited
So is Commercial Director Scott

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Author Penelope Farmer reviews Out of the Tunnel

Author and publisher Penelope Farmer has written many wonderful books, two of which are old friends. Charlotte Sometimes is a classic children's book, about friendship, sisterhood and loss, and Eve: her Story is what Mrs. Milton might have written secretly whilst her husband laboured over Paradise Lost, a juicy feminist retelling of the oldest story of all.

Penelope has reviewed Out of the Tunnel on bookarazzi and here is her review.

''I managed to get hold of "Out of the Tunnel" while I was in London recently and can confirm everything Clare says. Rachel is a wonderful writer: how anyone can go through all that and end up so sane...It's also a complex story the thread of which she never loses and nor do you, her reader. What is so particularly impressive - and makes it much more interesting than it would be if the story had just stayed with Rachel herself - was the way she got together with other survivers, her emergence as a spokeswoman and campaigner. It's a compulsive read, you can feel the adrenaline - the pain - hammering off the pages; even the occasional repetitions play their part in that. As does the understanding of Islam she already had and uses - that's very important - and still more the intelligence which she brings to the aid of fine writing to knit it alltogether. Add to that a novelist's eye for detail: for conveying what her senses tell and told her, for communicating other people - and animals... Oh I did so like her cat!''

Yay! Thanks so much Penelope! There are now 7 reader reviews on amazon, including two from fellow-passengers, one review on Waterstones, and two on play.com, as well as the reviews in the sidebar from bloggers Netherworld, Rachel, Hendo and authors Clare Sudbery, Sarah Salway and Caroline Smailes . All reviews by readers so far have been extremely positive which is fantastic. I've let the good people of urban 75 know that the book is out as well. Urban 75, a hugely popular London-based website is featured in 5 chapters, and played a key role after the bombings. There is a dedication to urban 75 in the book.

I am extremely grateful to all my reviewers so far, and to anyone who feels like reviewing it on amazon, play, waterstones or their blog. I'm going to see if I can get some blog buttons made as well.

Note: The book is not available in supermarkets or WH Smith, only in book shops, like Borders or Waterstones, or online (although you can order it from stores that don't sell it, including stores abroad). This means it is particularly dependent on word of mouth and reader recommendations. So that's why I am plugging away like mad on my blog. I'll be writing about some othe stuff as well besides the book. But the next four weeks are crucial, and as I am trying to make a career out of writing, this is a nail-biting time.

The book launch party, which was cancelled when the terrible news broke of Mum's stroke on the Monday of the week the book came out, threw all the plans for launch stuff into disarray as all the family rushed to her side. I am very sorry to everyone who was invited and especially sorry to those who did not get to hear of the cancellation in time. It will be reinstated in the diary soon and I will let you know as soon as I can.

I am hoping to get some book shop readings organised as well, although I am still scared about what happened to author, and peace activist Milan Rai, when his national book tour about his book ''7/7, Islam and the Iraq War'' was disgracefully targeted by conspiracy theorists, who barracked and heckled him everywhere he went to speak, demanding a platform to talk about '9/11 was an inside job' and behaving in a way that was not only obnoxiously rude, but intimidating. Yes, really. Here they are discussing how to wreck Milan's 7/7 tour on their forums, the *little charmers.

''I am pleased to say that we were accused by the organisers of wrecking their meeting - that is we heckled him everytime he made an outrageous remark or dismissed something which was of paramount importance''( 'Justin, on the '9/11 Truth forum')

''Good work gents, I hope the London crew put this piece of sh*t straight about things, seems to be 'willfully' ignorant like *team rachil. I beg those in London to hijack this fool's meeting and use it to disseminate what we know.'' ( 'Ally', on the '9/11 Truth forum')

* refers to them thinking I am a team of 'shills', or dis-information agents, funded by M15 to Conceal The Truth

If that happens again with me, and they all turn up again to barrack and heckle and try to hijack the reading, it will be a real problem. But I really don't see why I should be intimidated by them, (although at first I did feel intimidated, and I said to the publishers I couldn't do any store activity. That was before everything went wrong with the launch week. ) So I am now going to see if I can do things after all, at book stores where there are security guards and CCTV who can ask people to leave if they are disruptive or threatening. And maybe we can rescue things a bit.

*Which reminds me, Digital Toast has got a grab of the BBC Radio 4 Jon Ronson show where Jon tells David Shayler, ex. M15 and now conspiracy theorist extraordinaire to 'f*ck off'. Enjoy.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Hasina Patel

Last night a journalist called and wanted to talk about Mohammed Siddique Khan's widow, Hasina, who had given an interview after a long silence. He sent through the interview transcript, and I read it, remembering when I wrote this article on forgiveness.

My overwhelming very personal reaction on reading it was of sadness: poor woman, and poor daughter. She was decieved, she did not truly know the man she once loved, and her life has been blighted by his actions as so many other lives have been. He kept her apart from him, kept her in the dark, and perhaps her was already dead to her as husband and father of her child before he died. She thought him a good Muslim, and he was a mass-murderer. I don't know why she spoke out now: perhaps she felt she had nothing left to lose. I wonder how those who lost loved ones because of his actions will feel today. I cannot speak for them, only for myself, but I have passed the transcript on to warn them. My anger was always towards the bombers and those who peddle their murderous ideaology, recruit young men to this extremist death-cult that masquerades as political and righteous and holy. As to the families whom they did not love enough to spare years of suffering and shame and grief, my heart goes out to them

Hasina is a victim too, and I hope she can find peace for herself and her child and her family.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mum news

My mother has changed since the beginning of July.

On 7th July, she was laughing and lovely, at my father's side, at her brother's 70th birthday, smiling at all his friends who had come to Norwich to see him.

On 8th July, she was pale and tired, but thrilled, as her whole family waited to eat lunch in the scented courtyard garden, her baby grandson playing at her feet in the sunshine, the lillies about to open.

She told me how excited she was about my book launch that Thursday: she had just started to read the book, and she wanted to come to the party in London later in the week, with Dad. I kissed her and Dad goodbye and J and I headed back to London in the late afternoon.
Later that night I spoke to her as we ate a late dinner. She was still so excited about Out of the Tunnel, and its very first reader reviews ever. And she had just been reading my blog and she wanted to warn me about a troll who had been leaving obnoxious comments. I thanked her, told her I'd put comment moderator straight back on, how I was sorry it had upset her.

On Monday 9th July, before 8.00am, (the time you never get calls, unless it is terrible news), I got a call from my uncle, her brother, to say she had a severe stroke, totally out of the blue.

My husband, my sister and I ran to get back on a train to be at her side.

Mum has never smoked, she is fit, and only in her early sixties. The only time she has been in hospital is to have her three children. Oh God, why her, why now? It did not make sense.

In the first few hours after her stroke, there was this great leaping spike of hope that carried us on, as we rushed to be with Mum and Dad in Norwich. We had heard, through Dad, who was at Mum's side in hospital, of a chance to give her a new clot-busting, effects-reversing drug, TPA. It was being trialled at the hospital where she was. There was a tiny chance she might die if she had it, but a strong chance she might massively improve.
It had to be administered intravenously, by a neurologist, within 3-6 hours of the stroke.
I remember that moment: how my desire for a miracle hardened into a white hot rock in my chest. I remember how I had spent the train journey to Norwich telling my sister, it's okay, go on, you can cry, but then dry your eyes, because Mum and Dad need to see you, looking normal, not distraught. They need to know there is hope; show them.
I remember how there was no time for me to cry: I was too busy finding out about strokes online, ( via a borrowed Blackberry). Talking to Amar, my sister's beloved companion, who is a senior registrar at an A&E, staying clear-eyed, focused, technical: tell me everything, all I need to know, what can I do, what can I say, to make sure they save her? This miracle drug: tell me, tell me it all. Costs. Risks. Benefits.
(This is what I do in a crisis. I go ice calm, seek information, and hells bells, it all goes in, like it never does normally. My memory becomes photographic, everything becomes hallucinogenically, inhumanly clear. Every detail, every breath, every thought: I remember it all, then and after.
The trouble is - afterwards - when the shock fades. The over-intense memories loop, loop, jam and fast-forward, and my real-time short-term memory crashes out completely. But still. It is a damn useful state to be in whilst it lasts.)
Dad called whilst we were an hour away from the hospital. He had signed the consent forms.
J held me. He held my hand and my sister's hand: he had bought the train tickets, bought tea, made us drink it, found a taxi to the hospital; held me together just by being there. I love him so much.
As we arrived at the hospital we found my father, grey-faced, shaking, telling us the ''computer says no'' to the mum having the drug on trial. My uncle, mum's brother, was with him, looking straight into my face. There was nothing much to say.
The randomised trial-allocating software had disallowed mum getting the treatment.
But I had already prepared for this possibilty with Amar.We got to the hospital and I went straight to the desk. 'Please', I said. 'I need to speak to the consultant, the neurologist, about our mum'.
'Your mum, she's in there', the desk nurse told me.
'I know, but can't go and see her yet, not until I have spoken to the consultant,'I said, 'I am so sorry, but what we have to say, is too important, even to wait five minutes. We can't even see Mum 'til we have seen him. Please. We are running out of time. There is a drug that could save her, but it has to be injected in the next twenty minutes. Please. Please, can we talk to him?'
The consultant came. His face was kind.
I begged. Very calmly. Still dry-eyed.
Please, sir. We would pay, if it was a paying thing, please, it didn't matter about money, we would find it. My husband was a lawyer, he would draft a waiver, a disclaimer, whatever, there would be no comeback, no blame if it failed. Please. My sister's partner was a registrar, he was suggesting Mum had the drug on compassionate grounds....Please, please . Please...
He was so kind to us, us, the worst kind of patient's families, I expect, with a little knowledge, and desperate enough to argue, to beg. He explained, carefully: Mum had heart problems. She had in fact been due for an EPG the next day. After a month of explaining to her GP about chest pains and water retention and breathlessness, they had finally got around to doing the damn obvious, and checking her heart out. But the stroke had struck, twenty four hours too early: it was too late now to diagnose the minor heart attack.
The heart attack that should have been picked up earlier.
If she had the EPG 3 weeks ago.
How I hated Mum's GP at that moment.
Amar spoke to the consultant. Fast, technical language was exchanged: I struggled to follow, with my new knowledge that I had inhaled so greedily about strokes on the internet in the last three hours, and my basic anatomy and physiology from years ago. The consultant smiled at me sadly, passed the phone back over.
'I agree with them, he is right, I'm sorry', Amar said, his voice cracking. 'They can't give the drug to your Mum'.

And so, we went in to see her.

When I first saw Mum in hospital, she could not speak, nor move her right side, not focus, only try to hold our gaze, as her eyes, flickered, as if she was watching railways tracks pass through the a window of a fast train. Flick-flick. Flick-flick.
The light inside that was Mum was still there, but the candle guttered.

We were not sure, then, if she would live. We were not sure if she would speak, or walk, or do anything for herself ever again. We were too scared to hope. We were too numb to pray.

And now the hope about the drug was over, and that was that. No miracle.
Dad was blank-faced, frozen, terrified. Looking at him, I could see that he wanted to die at Mum's side. The shock and grief was too much: hope had gone.

I walked into the cupboard where Mum was being kept, next to the nurse's station, and I stared it down: a future without her, whilst I held her hand.

Wait. There was hope after all.

By the end of week one, she was drinking tea, with the wrong hand, looking straight into our faces. She could say 'yes' and 'hello'.
By the beginning of week two, she could sit in a chair, then stand, with support, briefly, and wriggle her toes on the right foot. Say a few words, and smile, and wave. (Always smiling: she smiled and waved from the second day: Princess Mum, eyes shining with dignity and humour, determination. )

And now. Week three. You know what she does?

She walks. She damn well walks. 40, 50 steps. Her arm is still paralysed, but her legs work again. She walks with a stick, careful as a ballet girl on a trapeeze wire, smiling at me, proud.
She speaks, she talks, she listens.
Words, sentences, laughing.
Conversations. Slow, but they are there.

Oh, sweet Lady Lazarus. Dad believes in the future now; his love is returned. All is well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
Her heart is swollen, but her spirit is bigger.
Mum is back and we are so damn proud of her, so thankful, so grateful.

I know how many of you have been reading this blog and thinking of her. How many have sent emails, texts, cards. flowers, love. So I am sharing the news.

Thank you.


Britblog round up

Late with this, but it is a corker.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Petition: We Can't Turn them away update

Following Dan Hardie's request for bloggers to create a blog campaign to raise awareness of the plight of the Iraqis who have helped us and who are now being murdered - which went live yesterday, with support from Tim, Crooked Timber, Justin, Mr Eugenides, L'Ombre d'Olivier, Tim, Jim, Harry - Davide has set up a petition on the number 10 website.

Please do sign - it only takes a moment, and please pass it on or link it on your blog.

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Out of the Tunnel latest reviews

Thanks this week to authors Caroline Smailes , Clare Sudbery, and Sarah Salway for their reviews of Out of the Tunnel .

Caroline says....

''Out of the Tunnel is a beautifully crafted and (in parts) a delicate account that pulls on the experiences of both Rachel and of her co-survivors.
Rachel North gives voice to other stories. She speaks of post-traumatic stress disorder. She informs. There is integrity within her honest account. Rachel's voice carries emotion and has a depth that pulls the reader into specific times and places.

Out of the Tunnel is a story that speaks of survival and humanity. I am full of admiration for Rachel. For writing such a brave and open account.
I will not explain how this book helped me and made me realise things about myself. Tear educing things. All that needs to be known is that this book forces opinion and reaction.After reading her words, I was left with the feelings of hope and inspiration.

I have a few words scribbled into the back cover of my copy of Out of the Tunnel.The words.
Inspiration. Hope. Horror. Bravery. Beautiful''

more here

(So Caroline, whose wonderful book In Search of Adam I reviewed here, have both made each other cry! But in a good way. If we ever meet each other we shall have to bring tissues)

Sarah said

''You never forget Rachel's a real person, not just a photograph or a news report, and that's the most valuable lesson for me from this book. The joy in just being ordinary - in being able to wish someone an 'ordinary year', in having someone look at your battered face and seeing, not that, but the ordinary, old non-perfect 'you' underneath the bruises. And there's plenty of joy in here too - in fact, that's what I was left with, a feeling of pride and inspiration. A great book.''

And Clare said

''You would expect her story to make you cry, and feel immense pity.

I didn’t. But I did find myself utterly gripped from the moment I started reading. I was carried along by this extraordinary woman’s ability to tell a story, by wanting to know what would happen next - despite knowing most of it already.

And far from feeling pity I felt admiration, and was inspired. She has felt anger, of course she has. And despair, and fear, and sick dread. But she has never drawn the conclusion that Islam is to blame, and the last thing she wants is to fear her neighbours. And despite the pull of pessimism, she tries to focus on the people in the dark. Those fellow tube passengers who never even looked at each other until they faced that horror together and held each other’s hands.

I consumed Out of the Tunnel eagerly, and what I got was an honest, touching and beautifully-written account, not just of suffering but of how to keep going and why, even if you have had your life threatened twice by random strangers, it’s still worth trusting your fellow man.''

Thank you so much for the amazing support. I have just had a very moving email from another fellow-carriage one passenger, who has read it as well, and it is such a relief to know that people who were there in the dark with me have read it and approve of it and want the story told.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Blog campaign: We can't turn them away

''Dear fellow-bloggers

I'm writing to ask your support for a blog-based campaign to write letters to MPs, asking that the Government grant the right of asylum to all Iraqis who have worked for the British Army, the old Coalition Provisional Authority-South and contractors in the 'British zone' of Iraq, and to their families.

Whatever one's views on the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the subsequent occupation, I hope you can agree that the British Government owes a clear moral debt to shelter Iraqis whose lives are at risk because they gave help to British soldiers sent to war by the vote of the House of Commons. Iraqis who have worked for us- and their families- are at risk of being murdered if they remain in Southern Iraq, as some already have been. If they flee to neighbouring Middle Eastern countries, they will live desperately uncertain, poverty-stricken lives, and they may also be targeted for assassination by jihadists. These people can and should be accommodated in this country.

If you do agree with this view, can I please ask you to publish the post below as soon as possible, or something based on it, making a number of suggestions for a letter to MPs? I would be very grateful to you if you did. I would also be very grateful if you could write to your own MP, and if you could 'tag' five other bloggers with the same request. I've put URLs of some relevant articles below, so you can use them as links using your own blogging software.

This is an unsolicited email, so please feel free to send me an 'unsubscribe' message if you don't wish me to contact you again. Don't hesitate to contact me if you would like to discuss any of this in more detail. By all means post the material below under a different title or with amendments.
With gratitude

With gratitude
Dan Hardie''



Since British troops occupied Southern Iraq in the spring of 2003, thousands of Iraqi citizens have worked for the British Army, the Coalition Provisional Authority (South) and for contractors serving UK forces. There is now considerable evidence that their lives, and the lives of their families, are at risk: some former workers for the British have been murdered, and many others have fled to neighbouring countries or gone into hiding in Basra. The British Government, for whom they were ultimately working, has not offered them the right of asylum in the UK. This is morally unacceptable. It is also unnecessary, since we are well able to accommodate several thousand Iraqi refugees, most of whom already speak English and all of whom have already worked for our country.

The most detailed recent report, by
Jonathan Miller of Channel Four news, notes the murder of 17 translators in one single incident in Basra. It cites the cases of hundreds of others who have fled to a refugee existence in nearby Middle Eastern countries or are in hiding in Iraq. The British Government response has come from the Home Office, which has suggested that Iraqis put at risk by their work for British troops 'register with the UN refugee agency'. Other reports provide supporting detail: Iraqis are being targeted for murder because they have worked for British forces.

Colvin's report for the Times of April 8 speaks of desperate former workers for the British Army being turned away from the British embassy in Syria by staff who had orders not to admit any Iraqis. These brave men and women have testimonials written by British officers. If you feel that this is unacceptable and that Britain should prevent Iraqis from being murdered for the 'crime' of working for British troops, could you please write to your MP and ask him or her to press the Government for action. You can use the excellent website 'Write to them' or post a letter yourself.

Please be courteous when writing to your MP. It would be a good idea to read the reports above, and cite relevant facts. We would suggest that your letter could contain the following points:
  • It is morally unacceptable that Britain should abandon people who are at risk because they worked for British soldiers and diplomats.
  • This country will be shamed if any more Iraqis are murdered for the 'crime' of having supported UK forces.
  • Iraqis who worked for British forces should not be told to leave Iraq and throw themselves on the mercy of United Nations relief agencies in Arab countries: these agencies are already being overwhelmed by the outflow of Iraqi refugees, and Iraqi refugees who have worked for British diplomats or troops may well be targeted by local jihadists.
  • There is plentiful evidence that armed groups in Iraq kill the families of those they consider 'enemies': for this reason we must extend the right of asylum to the families of those who worked for us.
  • It is entirely practical for this country's troops in Iraq, and its embassies in neighbouring countries, to take in Iraqis who have worked for us and fly them to the UK. Indeed, there is already considerable anger among British servicemen that Iraqis are being abandoned in this way.
  • This country is large enough and rich enough to accommodate several thousand Iraqi refugees. Denmark has already given asylum to all 200 Iraqis who worked for its smaller occupying force.

It does not matter what your MP's views (or what your views) are on the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. People who risked their lives for this country's soldiers are now being abandoned by the British Government. Their lives can and must be saved by their being granted the right of asylum in this country.

This policy should be implemented regardless of whether British soldiers stay in Iraq or are soon withdrawn. But it must be introduced soon: applications for asylum cannot be processed in a lengthy fashion, as the security situation in Basra is deteriorating rapidly, and delay is likely to lead to further killings of Iraqis who worked for British troops. ''

Thank you Dan. I am writing my letter now.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

BBC Radio Norfolk Breakfast Show on Monday

BBC Radio Norfolk are doing a three-part exclusive interview about Out of the Tunnel on Monday ( tomorrow) between 9am and 10am. You can listen to it here tomorrow morning, (or on listen again, once it has run.) I'll do a Borders Norwich event as well, once they've all had a rest after Pottermania.

Out of the Tunnel is hovering just outside the top 1000 bestsellers on amazon, and now has 7 reviews - all 5 stars. Thank you once again to everyone who has bought it and especial thanks to those who have reviewed the book. A round-up of links and reviews so far can be seen in the top sidebar on the right of this post. New reviews from Bookarazzi via author Clare Sudbery on Boob Pencil, and from Rachel-Catherine. UPDATE: And another review from Sarah Salway, author, poet and creative writing tutor here.

I worry that there is too much book-pushing going on with the blog at the moment, but I'm under instructions, and it's a cut-throat world out there...

What it costs
£45,000 For one book to appear in window and front-of-store displays, and in Waterstone’s national press and TV advertisement campaign
£25,000 To feature in a bay at front of store as a ‘gift book’ in its genre and be displayed at the till
£17,000 To be one of two titles promoted as the ‘offer of the week’ for one week in the run-up to Christmas
£7,000 To be displayed at front of store as a ‘paperback of the year’ and be mentioned in newspaper adverts.
£500 Price of an entry in Waterstone’s Christmas gift guide, complete with a bookseller review



Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter 7: Deathly Hallows Review

Phew. Woah. I'm still blown sideways.
After ten years, she did not let us down. The darkest, fastest-paced, most desperate and dynamic magical adventure of the 7-part series carries the reader along faster than a speeding broomstick chased by Dementors. Throughout, doubts must be battled, fears faced, loyalties tested, and grief postponed whilst well-loved characters fall, chapter by chapter, yet there is no time to mourn. Rowling as a narrator has grown up and so has Harry; this no longer feels like a children's story but an epic myth, the echo and inheritor of a centuries-ancient tale told and sung around firesides, full of sound and fury, signifying more than we like to let on - the tug of old archetypes we already know, old tales which still resonate heart-deep, with anyone who has ever wondered who wins, when you pit love against hate, and hope against nihilism.

I am sure there will be sneerers and jeerers at the power of the commercial spell cast worldwide and the ringing tills at midnight, the over-familiarity of the children's-story syntax; they are missing the point. The story of all humankind is the story of a story-telling animal and it is only this which distinguishes us from the other mammals, when it comes to the end. We will always be enchanted and enslaved by the telling and re-telling of the same story we all, always want to hear, again and again. The ancient magic of light vs. darkness, heroism and struggle, the bloody clash of battles, wrench of secrets painfully revealed; the warrior tested, the torturous night of the soul, the slow learning of the terrible, yet wonderful fact that no-one is alone, and that in the end, help comes, from friends, from strangers, from unexpected sources; from within and without, because of faith, because of courage, because of love. Of how our own humanity saves us, how our weakness is our strength.

So this latest incarnation of the old, old tale of the resurrected lost one, the lonely one who is loved, the hero who doubts, the child who is adult, the griever restored, the victim who triumphs, the Boy Who Lived - is deeply satisfying in the way everyone recognises. Anyone who has fallen asleep at the end of a story, with the author's pact satisfied - I will let you frighten, anger, worry and scare me, if you make it all right at the end. If I learn something, and if they live, if not happy ever after, but if they live - will be replete at the ending of this long saga.

I prefer to think its enormous sucess is not just because of cyncial hyper-successful marketing. I prefer to think that it is because we all love a story, told well, before we lay down to sleep at the end of a long day.

N.B: Spoilers not included. I read fast, I wish I didn't, sometimes. I'm not going to wreck it for you - are you sitting comfortably?..


Day off

I remember July 18 2005; it was the weekend that Harry Potter 6 came out, and I spent it in the garden reading. For a whole day I was able to lose myself in another world, and forget about bombs and terror and violence. It was a mini-holiday, a sunshine blessing.

And now Harry Potter 7 is out, and my copy has just arrived. The door bell rang, and I scrambled out of bed, groggy after an appalling night's sleep, and opened the door blearily in my dressing gown, to find my giggling postman calling ''Harr-eeee time!''.

''Is this for you, or your kids?'' he asked, handing me two packages
''Hee! Hee! Hee!'' he chortled. ''I've been saying that to everyone and they all look embarassed and then their faces go ten years younger! So now you're...fifteen, hey?''
I went pink and took the copies off him and said thanks.
He sauntered off, still grinning. ''I like today! Making everyone happy! Everyone's going to be very quiet on your street today, all reading away, hee!''

I rushed back in and woke J by plonking the book on his pillow.

We're having the day off. We need it.
Review later.


Friday, July 20, 2007


Mum continues to improve. I have come back to London and spent most of the day doing interviews, having to describe exactly what it is liked to be raped and beaten - very slowly - for foreign journalists who have not read the book. There is not much more I want to say after that experience. I wanted to hang up several times today. I didn't.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Out of the Tunnel - more reviews

My prayers have been answered and I have got some more endorsements! I have printed them all off to show Mum. Back on Friday and THANK YOU EVERYONE FOR EVERYTHING.
Out of the Tunnel is the first featured biography/autobiography of the month on LoveReading and it's also number two on this month's summer reads...
Lovereading view...''An inspiring story of courage and resilience. Hopefully most of us will never experience either of the traumatic episodes Rachel North has, and to read about how she has rebuilt her life, not once but twice, is a humbling and thought provoking experience. There is no self pity here, just a positive message of survival and hope for the future''

''I couldn't stop reading because it's
brilliantly written and a gripping narrative.''

Bob Tyrer, Sunday Times

''a brilliant memoir about surviving 7/7''
Jon Ronson, author & broadcaster

''In the terror of July 7th Rachel North found her own capacity for courage and discovered that she had extraordinary gifts as a writer,
not the least of which is her powerful honesty''
Fergal Keane, BBC, author & broadcaster

Amazon reviews here


Monday, July 16, 2007


...is trying to talk and is managing to say several whole sentences. Already! She is completely able to understand everyone but speaking is really hard. She is eating solid food left handedly and she moved her right hand a bit. It exhausts her, but she is a fighter, and she is getting better so fast after the stroke (which was a week ago) that everyone is very, very impressed and proud of her.
Especially me.


Five Years On

It's five years ago tonight since a stranger came to my door.
Since he told me to be silent and to 'never speak, never say a word, bitch, or I will kill you'.
Then he tried to kill me anyway. Beat me. Smashed me up. Tied me up with wire.
But I was already dead to him. I had slipped far away where he couldn't get me .
So he left my body on the floor, and he ran away.
And I won that fight.

'Nobody's gonna come get you. Don't you scream for help.' he said
But I came back to life, and I got up and got help.
'Where's yo' man, now bitch? ' he had taunted.
My man came. My man held me and loved me and stood with me.
My man married me.
So I won that fight too.

And I told my man everything. I told everyone who loved me, everything.
I told the police, I told the Judge - and now the stranger is in jail.
And everyone knows what he is. Dirty loser psycho criminal.
He got fifteen years. Three concurrent. He'll probably be out in 2008 or 2009.
But I'm free now. I'll always be free.
I won that fight.
I won every fight.
Hands-down, sucker-punch, slam-dunk, no comeback, no mercy, game over.

Think you can tell me to be silent?
Think you can tell me nobody will help?
Think you can break me?
Fuck you, mister. I won.

Guardian bestseller list, The Islamist review

I spent the weekend reading The Islamist by Ed Hussein. I found it un-putdownable; for a terrorism nerd seeking answers like me it gave me some clarity about the questions that nibble and bob like hungry fish in the dark water of my dreams. But it was also very moving, charting an idealistic young man's descent into paranoia and through the twisted power-politics and conspiracy theories, charting how, in hoping to get closer to God, he instead found himself trapped in a prison of the ego that starved his soul. It was a shocking murder that started to wake him from his dreams of a Caliphate: he knew that Islamist men would kill in the name of God, and thought it right and just, but not until a Christian student was knifed by an Islamist college friend at his college did he start to see the vainglorious nihilistic toxicity of the messages that he had pedalled. I hope many people read it; it does help to understand the differences between Islam, the religion, and poltical Islamism. They are very far apart, though one tries to pass itself off as the other. Islamism has more in common with hard left or hard right politics than religion. It's an ideaology wearing theology's clothes.

I also went to see the new Harry Potter film: verdict - surprisingly good for a Harry Potter film. The final book comes out next weekend and I am looking forward to seeing how the story ends.

Some good news at last: Out of the Tunnel is number 4 on the Guardian best-seller list! ( After this interview). Elizabeth Mahoney, the Guardian radio critic liked the BBC World Service Outlook interview. Three more amazon reviews , two from KCU friends George and Susan who came out of the tunnel with me, and another one from an unknown reader in East Anglia, which is stunningly complimentary. UPDATE: And another one from Graham, a blog reader. All reviews so far are 5 stars. Wow. Thank you.

Nobody from the mainstream media has yet reviewed the book. I am very lucky indeed to have the PR interviews organised by the publishers, and I am working hard to make up lost ground after last week's disaster. But I still hope that someone will actually review the writing in the book: I know the events of the story are interesting, and unusual, but they happened to me and I couldn't do anything about it, apart from muddle through as best I could. What I want, more than anything, is for someone, a professional critic, to say the way it is written is good, or to criticise it, so I can learn from it, because that was the thing I did, that I controlled, the writing.

It is as a writer that I want to be heard, not as someone who had a load of bad luck and was attacked by random horrible strangers. It is as a writer that I want to continue my career. Writing other people's stories, not always my own. I am sick of talking about myself. I shouldn't complain; I am not complaining. But oh, how I long for someone to see the story-telling, not just the story. There are big faults in the book that I can see, now I read it. I thought there would be feedback and rewriting and restructuring but that didn't happen which scared me. I had a copy editor who helped with typos/subbing instead. I wrote it fast, borrowing my agent's office to get away from the FJL bombardment, which made it impossible to work at home, and now I want feedback, I crave it, and I dread it, as all new writers do.

Two more interviews today and a European radio show tomorrow, and on Friday Jon Ronson and I did an interview for This American Life which is a brilliant programme - Jon was beside himself with excitement at being asked to be on again and I was very flattered. The Radio 4 interview when Jon told David Shayler to 'f*ck off' is passing into legend.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Book on the shelf

Reader Helen has kindly sent me proof that the book is on the shelves! Because I had to rush to Norwich on Monday morning following Mum's stroke, I have not had a chance to look for Out of the Tunnel actually on sale in a real live shop this week. So seeing a picture proving it is on shelves in London is a proud moment indeed, albeit a bitter-sweet one at this time.

Thanks to Girl Friday Clare at TFP, Scott Pack, Geoff and Davide for writing about Out of the Tunnel, and thank you to the readers who reviewed it on amazon.co.uk and play.com . Anyone can review books on amazon or play.com, so if you have read the book and feel like posting your thoughts, please do! (Although I am of course obsessively checking amazon etc all the time anyway to see if anyone has done just that). Getting a good review is the best feeling.
I am going to print the reviews out and read them to Mum in hospital, and show her the pic of the book on sale as soon as I see her again on Tuesday. I know she will be delighted. It's so good to be able to show her something that will make her pleased and positive.
I have come back to London for a few days as I have work commitments due to the book being officially published on Friday 13th, and last week's launch was a write-off for obvious reasons. I feel safe to come home for now as Mum is making cracking progress after the serious stroke she suffered unexpectedly on Monday. She still can't move her right side, she still can't talk, though she is trying valiantly, and there is concern about her heart condition, but we are all hoping that she will continue to feel better each day. She is now eating soft food, left handed, and in physio sessions has been able to balance and stand up briefly with assistance, which is really impressive after less than a week. She, and the rest of the family remain deeply grateful for your thoughts and prayers, as do I. I'm sorry that I still haven't had time to respond to everyone's kind emails (or to send out copies as promised) yet. It's been a bit mad. I'll be dividing my time between London with my husband and Norwich with my parents for the next few weeks. I'm lucky that I don't have an office job any more and can do so. Another bitter-sweet blessing.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Out of the woods

Updating people here via blog as there have been so many messages and I know a lot of my mates & our family friends read this site....Just got back from spending another two hours at Mum's bedside in hospital with the family. Dad has rallied and I am no longer desperately worried about him. Mum is still paralysed on the right side, but she has eaten some yoghurt today - holding the cup by herself! She even laughed, although she still can't talk. My father, uncle, sister, brother and I are very relieved at these improvements. Now Dad has gone back to see Mum. My sister is lying on a bed, exhausted, and I am trying to catch up with messages.

Thank you to everyone who has written, texted, called, facebooked, prayed: it has been overwheming to have such support. I am sorry that I have not had time to get back to everyone personally yet. My family can feel it though: all these people thinking, wishing us well. It is extraordinary.

Oh God, I can hardly believe now that this week was meant to be the bloody book launch week: all the inteviews, the worry, the plans, all wiped out in a heartbeat because everything changed. All the anxieties stopped mattering, as did everything else. 'Your mum. She's in an ambulance. I don't know, yes, it looks bad...' Bang.

I went from being an anxious first time author trying to promote months of work that were really important at the time, getting my new career as a writer running - to a daughter, a sister who could be nowhere else but at my family's side.

I feel so bad for the publishers and the PR company they hired to work towards this week: all that hard work messed up. And yes, of course I will admit it: I feel selfishly disappointed and sad: why now, why me, why us? Mum and Dad were about to book train tickets to the launch, dammit, after a weekend of family joy. They were really proud and looking forward to this week. Did this have to come out of the blue now, when we were all so damn happy at last? Did lightening have to strike yet again?

Anyway. I've already emailed most of you but Out of the Tunnel launch party tomorrow has been cancelled. Maybe we can reinstate it in a fortnight or so. Mum is really proud and excited about the book: so I pray that we can celebrate it and her continuing recovery soon. Cross fingers.

I know I can't predict the future, but I am her first daughter, and she taught me many things; amongst which were how to hope and hold on - and how to be bloody-mindedly relentessly determined.

So if Mum is still signalling from her bed that she wants the book to be a success, and that was also the last thing she said to me the night before the stroke, I am bloody well going to do my best and make her damn proud.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Holding the tiller

I burned my mother's pan. I cooked chicken and bacon for a warm salad for my father and sister when we came back from hospital, and I forgot that I left the pan soaking on a high heat. I was sitting in the study, the one room in the house that is Dad's not hers, listening to 'Fix you', whilst replying to anxious messages on behalf of my father, who is too distressed to cope with the phone calls and emails telling him that so many people are praying for him, for mum, for us. He has gone to be with my brother and his wife and his one-year old grandson; they were the last people to sit with Mum today, before visiting hours ended, and if he cannot be with her, he can be with the last people who sat at her side, and he can hear from them how she was, and look into my brother's face when he tells how he is hopeful, he is calm, how Mum's amazing grace defies the expectations of a severe stroke, day 2 .

My mum, who is fit and only 63, can swallow. She does not need naso-gastric feeding. She is paralysed down her right side: the clot affected deep inside her left cerbral cortex, the part that deals with motor neurone and sensory function, but she can wriggle her toe, we think. She can't speak, but she smiles, at us, her family, and she lifts her left hand, and she waves, and she smiles. And I can see what it costs her; every grimace, every flash of understanding between us. I cradle her face, I smooth her hair, I tell her she is making me so proud, how she is the best patient, already ahead of schedule, applying her ambidextrous talents and quick wit to this new now.

48 hours after she carried a tray of tea and fruit and cereal upstairs to treat my sleeping father to breakfast in bed the day after the family party, and then collapsed, her mouth open in a silent scream of panic and pain that came out as a gasping laugh, she is sitting up and trying to show us that she is all right. Her right hand has a burn and a blister the size of a gull's egg, where the scalding tea splashed her, yet still she set the tray down, would not let my father take it, for fear he might be hurt too. Then, only then, would she fall onto the bed, and try to cry for help, in her frozen agony of fear.

Her great heart was swollen, it was failing for weeks, but she would not go to A&E. She wanted July 7th weekend to be perfect; her brother's 70th, a hotel full of life-long friends come to celebrate, the next day, a celebration for all the family in the sunshine, in the garden of scent and colour that she and Dad planted. She was tired, but she did us proud. She is so tired now, and my father is so frightened, so shocked, that he wants to give up. I tell him, I tell her, that there is hope, there is so much to be encouraged about, even now, so soon. That this too will pass; that it is looking so positive, that we are amazed at the progress she is making after only one night's sleep.

It is so hard when it happens to someone you love. I would so much rather it was me: I know I would be ok, I know J would never despair of me, of us. That even if I could not walk I would still outrun the shadows. This afternoon I took Dad to the doctor because I was worried that he was presenting worrying symptoms himself ; but he is physically fine, his blood pressure has stabilised again, the adrenalin surge that left him shaking and then freezing cold has ebbed away, the crushing headache, banging in the ears, and numbness have faded somewhat. It was shock and grief that flattened him.

I need him to stay in the present and not mourn the future, I need us all to keep breathing deeply, pushing our feet down into the ground, counting the heartbeats. To stay steady, to hold the rope of hope and feel the pull towards a different shore. To let the wind carry us on and to not panic.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Family emergency

8.30am: My mother has been rushed to hospital. I don't know how bad it is. I am going straight to Norwich to be with my family. I will not be able to put comments through. I will not be able to look at or respond to emails until further notice. If it is an emergency, call me on the mobile. I don't know if I will be able to have the book launch celebration on Thursday now. I'll try and update when possible. Thanks

Holly, after two years

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Out of the Tunnel: first reviews

\o/ I have had some reviews!

dc007 was the very first reader review - commenting on this blog! (Thank you!)
(1)''It's a rare thing for my to start a book and not be able to put it down. Apart from opening a bottle of wine at 6.00pm, I haven't been able to stop (just realised I'm very hungry - just finished the book!)It is very easy to read and very addictive. It is, of course, a harrowing tale but also surprising witty in places, for example when the hippy goes to the toilet and the city executive takes her seat - 'I'm sorry I think that seat is taken' had me laughing out loud. It also makes me realise how tough it has been for you - something that never really came across as a casual reader of your blog.I really hope that this day - the second aniversary of what happened in 2005 has not been too much for you - your story is an inspiration and I think you need to prepare yourself now... This is definitely going to be on the bestsellers list very soon.''

Davide at Netherworld has the first ever blogger review...(thank you again D!)
(2)''In short, it's excellent. I couldn't put it down and had to put other things on-hold until I had finished reading it. It's not often I can say that about a book. Rachel describes the horror and confusion of July 7 in vivid detail. She also describes her struggle with the inevitable Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that followed the bombings. Three years prior to being blown up on the London tube, Rachel had been viciously attacked, raped and left for dead in her home and this horrific episode is woven into the narrative. She was reading her own account of this assault in a magazine when her carriage exploded.

In fact I found the description of that attack one of the most moving parts of the book and I was wincing as every blow was recounted. Much of the book though is about Rachel's coming to terms with both of these traumatic events and the title, Out of the Tunnel is very apt. As the story progresses we see how these life-changing events transformed Rachel from helpless victim to strong campaigner and author. Rachel used the medium of blogging as part of her therapy and from this discovered and then honed her talent as a writer. One of the things this book does well is highlight the problems of PTSD which are not well known. Rachel was fortunate enough not to suffer serious physical injury on July 7 (unlike 800 other survivors of that attack) but the survivor guilt and the flashbacks had a detrimental effect on her job, her personal life and general well-being. If Out of the Tunnel helps people to better understand PTSD, then that alone is a valuable service.

This is a book I would recommend to anyone. Despite the awful experiences described, the overall message is positive. I was moved to the verge of tears on several occasions. Oddly, the times when I found my eyes welling up were when reading about the numerous acts of kindness from people either after the rape or in the aftermath of the bombings.
I urge people to read this book and I challenge anyone not to be moved by it
And amazon.co.uk has three reviews, all five-stars (including the one by Davide which is also on amazon),
(3)''If this book does not tear at your heart, nothing will. Hard to believe there can be such animals walking among us as to put another human being through what Rachel went through only a few short years ago and then to be in the midst of such terror as 7/7. Certainly, she probably could have been killed by both ordeals (and was literally left for dead following her attack). I am profoundly impressed by her ability to regain her sense of being, and her willingness to reach out to others. If it is the last thing you do today, you should get this book. I also want to agree with the reviewer below on PTSD, the book "One Unknown" and the book "The Convention". Each are about the horrors of terrorism and the human spirit to overcome. I do believe that we must have Angels on on shoulders, even during the darkest hours.''
(4)''This woman (Rachel North) has overcome more terror than many of us can bare to listen to on the evening news. Beginning with a person attack against her, which was extremely viscious and with no regard for her or her life, she overcame and used the experience as an inspiration to others. But that's not the end of the story. She was then nearly killed on 7/7 and healped other during that ordeal, and continues to help others to this day. There is a lot of detail in this book and I suspect that in some parts you will gasp. I think however, it is a testiment to her strength that she does the things to help others through very difficult times..

and Play.com has a single ( five-star) review too!
(5) ''I got this yesterday morning and read it straight through for 5 hours, I could not put it down. I cried 3 times in the first 3 chapters!The most amazing thing about this book apart from the story is how incredibly well-written it is. Usually books about survival are not as well-written as this, it is like a novel but it is all TRUE!
WARNING Some of the images she uses are disturbing and will stay with you because they are so vivid. That one woman can come through all of this is mindblowing.
I have never read a book like it.''

Out of the Tunnel is not actually officially on sale in shops until 13 July ( the launch, which is just going to be a riotous pub session with pals and blog readers is on 12th July in a Soho bar - email me for details, there's a few places left), so it was amazing to see it on shelves in Borders already, and to hear back from people who have actually read it. I will not deny that I have been absolutely cacking myself wondering what people's reactions will be. So it was and is a huge relief to get such positive responses.

And I would like to thank (again)my first reviewers for making me very, very happy and proud ( and a bit weepy). If you want to review Out of the Tunnel on amazon, play.com , or your blog, then I would be very grateful, and of course I will link and blog regular updates. I am sure that I will also get negative reviews - everyone does. And when I do I will have a stiff whisky, and kick things. But to be out of the blocks with reviews like this is such a wonderful feeling. Wow. I think a few drinks are on me...and I can't wait to buy them.

Tesco.com, and Waterstones.com also stock Out of the Tunnel which is available from all good book stores. I am being a good author and doing my publishing contract publicity uncomplainingly with the help of the nice Rachael from my publisher's PR company, Midas PR. So the book was serialised on Saturday, and you can also hear an interview on Capital Radio, and on BBC World Service Outlook ( which led to one of the most moving comments I have ever had, in this post from The Thinker)


Saturday 7th July 2007

I travelled into London by tube, in carriage one, same spot as usual, deep in thoughts of two years past. On the train I met Rich from KCU who survived being blown out of the train when the bomb went off, and his fiance. After quietly laying my lilies at Russell Square, with other passengers from carriage one, at 8.50am, and then signing the condolence book, I met up with some more people from KCU who'd been to the much-more public commemoration at King's Cross, attended by Gordon Brown, Tessa Jowell, Ken Livingstone and the Mayor of Paris. (And a lot of camera crews. )

Only the front half of carriage one evacuated to Russell Square, the rest of the train went to King's Cross. However, the bomb's devastation in the centre of carriage one meant we at the front of the train could not go back to King's Cross station even though it was much nearer, so we walked to Russell Square instead, down the tunnel. And so Russell Square is where I go to remember the passengers who did not come home, especially Shelley, whose Mum and partner have become dear friends, and to give thanks for the survival of the wonderful Gill, (who has written an inspiring memoir, One Unknown) , and the other injured travellers.

It was so sad to stand and read the names of those who died on the simple plaque, but I was grateful to to be there with other people from my train.

We had breakfast in a nearby caff, and I then rushed off to do a quick BBC News 24 interview to raise awareness about help available for PTSD, and to give out the number of the July 7 Assistance Centre ( 0845 054 7444) which provides free assistance to those affected by terrorism in the UK or abroad. Then I rejoined my KCU friends in the cafe. Some people then went on to the 1.30 lunch meeting with Tessa Jowell organised by the DCMS, but I just wanted to have a quiet drink with my fellow passengers, and friends from Aldgate and Edgware, privately without any fuss or officialdom present. We ended up smiling and talking in the sunshine, standing outside a pub, on the first glorious day for weeks, a welcome break after the sadness of the morning. We arranged to meet up again next month.

Later J and I travelled to Norfolk to celebrate my Uncle Ron's 70th birthday in a country club with many of his friends. More laughing and toasts and some corking speeches. If I can fill a room with as many delightful smiling friends as my uncle when I am 70, I shall be thrilled indeed. It was lovely to see all my family and a proud moment for me to present them with copies of Out of the Tunnel. The book is already in Norwich book stores Borders and Jarrolds - with twelve more copies on order! I squeaked out loud when I saw it on a shelf for the first time. I think Dad's parishoners and Mum's friends have been placing their reservations for copies, which is very sweet of them.

J and I had a shocking journey back though: a journey normally under two hours ended up taking nearly five hours. But I came back to an overflowing email in-box, dozens of kind messages - and my first reviews! Which I shall duly post...

Friday, July 06, 2007

Fix you

Not a good 24 hours

Thursday 5th July was not a great day. Did an interview arranged by the publishers with the Outlook programme, on BBC World Service, which was a good interview but which upset me more than I thought it would. Relentless calls and emails all day, and no internet connection so I had to decamp to an internet cafe full of noisy Algerian youths down the road in order to continue to work. I was glad to meet up at the end of the day with some friends from KCU (Kings Cross United, which is the Piccadilly line explosion support group), and with other friends who were involved at the other sites on 7/7.

The lovely George from KCU was telling me that he was already halfway through my book, Out of the Tunnel. I have a few preview copies, so I gave one to George when I met him earlier in the week. The book isn't out until next week but the copies people have pre-ordered from Amazon were dispatched early so some people have already got copies. I worry about the effect the book will have on people who were directly involved in 7/7. They do not need to be reminded of how bad it was: they already know. Out of the Tunnel is dedicated to them, and to all who have helped them, helped me come out of the tunnel and into the light, particularly the police and emergency services.

The book is told through my own experiences - a personal journey through PTSD, which I developed as a result of the two experiences I had in swift succession when I nearly lost my life through stranger-violence. I wrote it because I wanted people to understand more about this wierd psychological injury - which affects many, many thousands of people, not just bomb survivors, but people who work in the armed forces, the emergency services, war correspondents, as well as people who have survived serious accidents, natural disasters, rape, child abuse or torture and other life-threatening, psychologically-overwhelming situations.

When I first had PTSD I did not know what was happening to me. I honestly thought that I was going mad, and that I would never be able to function normally again. I could not understand why I was re-experiencing the event in my dreams, in flashbacks when waking, why it haunted me, affected my moods, immune system, ability to concentrate and get on with life. Surely, I thought, I should feel glad to be alive? Why do I feel guilty for still being here? Why am I so numb, so frozen inside, so angry, so sad? People are worse off than me.

My G.P was no help at all. So I looked for other people's stories to see if I was normal, to see if I would get better. There were many stories of survival, but very few about the long hard slog picking up the pieces in the aftermath. As to books about post-traumatic stress disorder, all I could find on it were medical textbooks, back then. Finally I found a website where people were sharing their stories anonymously. I shared mine and read theirs. I read up on what was happening to me and to them. I began to get better.

Last night the people round the table shared their feelings about how they were getting on, and how the last two years had been. None of them had heard of PTSD before 7/7 either. All of them had been helped by reading each other's accounts and listening to each other's ongoing stories in the months after the bombs exploded. We looked back on how far we had come. We drank to life, and health, and the future.

When I got home I checked my (mail) messages, and found a long angry message left for me by someone using a pseudonym, in which he demanded of me repeatedly why I ''felt so hard done by''. He had seen the report on the BBC, in which Thelma's quote about feeling like a ''forgotten person'' as she battled with the lengthy compensation process to prove that yes, she really did lose her lower limb on 7/7 , was used next to my photo, to infer that we were all ''forgotten victims''( which was not something I said). The man was very clearly angry with me. He told me about his partner who had been injured by a drunk driver and was ''crippled'' and in constant pain. Why did I feel so ''hard done by?'' he wanted to know.

I felt absolutely terrible; I cried, and I could not sleep for hours afterwards. What could I say to him? I wrote the book to help people understand about PTSD. I push for an inquiry because I believe that having all the facts in one place and sharing the learnings will save lives in future, and bring healing and greater understanding and preparedness to defeat terrorism. I speak out when asked to, by people who want to speak, but whose burdens are greater than mine, and who cannot face the cameras, the public. I get flamed for it, by people who want to have a go at me for their own reasons. I try to develop a thick skin. I do not have a thick skin yet.

I cannot help everyone, how can I? I can only do what I can, and what I think is right. When I was attacked and left for dead in 2002 there was no publicity, no charities set up to support me, no media asking questions, no politicians expressing concern. But I did not ever think of writing long emails to people I saw on the news asking them what they had to ''feel hard done by'' about.

I do not think his anger at me was appropriate: there is no hierarchy of suffering, this is not a competition, and being the victim of a high-profile event brings with it a different set of problems to being the victim of a terrible event that does not make the papers. Speaking out means you get brickbats. I should be used to it by now. But his email was a slap in the face. And I do not know what I can do or say to help him. I do feel very sorry for him and his family. I do not know what it must be like to be him, or to be his permanently injured wife. But I do not suppose that he knows what it is like to be me, or to be Thelma struggling to get money to pay for a new £10,000 prosthesis and £85 a session physiotherapy, two years on, or how it feels to be anyone else battling their demons and injuries, their grief and their ghosts.

I really hope the book helps people. I hope what I am doing is right. I suppose I should prepare for more people to hurl their anger at me, because they see me on TV and in the news and think I am making a fortune from this, milking it, trying to be a celebrity or whatever. Yeah, right. If they knew, they wouldn't say it. Or maybe they still would, I don't know.

I hold onto this: that people I care about have heard me and held me and supported me, and told me that I should keep going. And that is enough; it has to be.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

7/7 anniversary: 2 years on

Verb Theatre are back performing their 7/7 play Limbo, which I was very impressed with when I saw it last. It 's at the Hackney Empire 'til 7th July. If you want to do something to remember 7/7 then you might want to get tickets.

Verb Theatre, in association with the Hackney Empire, present 'Limbo: Stories from 7/7', winner of 'The Peter Brook Empty Space' award 2006. A unique mixture of Verbatim and fiction revolving around the lives of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events. "Rush hour is like a fight, except no-one knows whose side they’re on so everyone fights each other." "Those who so pointlessly and terribly died were, each one of them, precious; non-replaceable." "Poetic and passionate performances" – Rachel North, The Sunday Times. "Provides its audience with a very personal insight into how the day affected ordinary Londoners." – The Sunday Telegraph

Tonight I am having a pint with people whom I met on and after 7/7: fellow passengers.
We've been in email contact, more so than usual as the anniversary approaches, and people re-experience the anniversary effect. All that terrorism stuff last week really upset people, as you'd expect, though I tried to damp down the fear as much as I could and pass on what I found out to other survivors. It will be great to just chill out, catch up and see each other face to face tonight. I need a hug. Though quite a few Kings Cross United-ers came to my wedding in April, there will be people there I haven't laid eyes on for months tonight.

I'll lay some flowers down on Saturday, privately, with friends from the Piccadilly line train journey of 7/7/05, then I'm going to Norfolk for a family birthday celebration - my kind, urbane and jolly uncle is 70. Life goes on. It's poignant, as we approach the anniversary - the weather is the same, the news has been bombs, bombs, bombs, it's the first Thursday in July today - but it is not as hard as last year. Although I did have a minor panic attack on the tube yesterday: it shocked me because I'd been clear of PTSD symptoms for weeks. Not everyone is, and things can trigger it. A train that stops suddenly in a tunnel. The smell of rain. A sudden bang as a lorry starts to unload. Sirens. Always sirens.

Last year, London stopped, and it was a very emotional day. But this year, London on 7/7 has a major sporting event: the Tour De France, and a big music event, Live Earth, and the capital will be full of Londoners and tourists enjoying a busy weekend. I hope that the day passes without incident.

It will be far, far harder for the bereaved families: every day without someone you love is a wound, and two years is only a little time.

Personally 16/7, the five year anniversary of the 2002 attack is worrying me more to be honest. I keep dreaming about it again. But I have so much to do right now, that there isn't time to think, which is probably a good thing.

UPDATE: That tube derailment and stories of people walking down the tracks after a bang has shaken me. And my email has suddenly filled up with anxious messages. But it is a genuine derailment, not a bomb, though I am still trying to find out if something was left on the tracks on purpose. No, it seems something fell from the tunnel roof. It's happened before on that line, apparently ( via Evening Standard journalist who just called about something else)

UPDATE 2: The BBC are running a story about people still waiting for compensation two years on, and people like Thelma feeling 'forgotten' . Thelma had to have a prosthesis fitted after being seriously injured in 7/7: they offered her a light one and a dark one, neither of which matched her skin. When she was unhappy, they said it was winter and she could wear trousers to cover it. I felt so angry when I heard this.

It's not just 7/7 victims who come up against this sort of bureaucratic intransigence; its' anyone traumatised by violent crime and struggling with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, or people whose lives have been turned upside down trying to make insurance claims, like the poor flood victims - and people who are affected by terrorism abroad don't get any compensation at all, which is appalling. One of the worst things about being shocked and traumatised by accidents, terrorism, disasters is that your ability to manage admin tasks hits an all-time low just as the need for you to fill in endless forms and go through endless hoops hits an all-time high.

We get media interest because of the anniversary. But we're the tip of the iceberg.

UPDATE Friday 6 July: The story has gone big. Thelma is the front page of the Evening Standard . See also Thelma in the Telegraph, the BBC, the Mail. Well done Thelma for raising the issue of how difficult it is to get compensation if you are a victim of violent crime - especially terrorism.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Alanis gets the hump

Unexpectedly poignant as well as funny. And making a point about the commoditisation of women in music videos by plaintively covering one of the most awful ear-bleeding commercial tracks with some of the worst, most inane lyrics of all time. The sad thing is how many people on U-tube comments *don't get it*. Viz:

'stupid shes a copy cat she is coping from the black eyed peas f*ck u' ( 'natashayuchingyi')

' i liked her earlier stuff much more! She's acting like a whore!' ('Valentine Freaky Goth')

Tsk, the youth of today. Here's the terrible, non-ironic original. I have a new respect for Alanis, who normally sets my teeth on edge - even if she doesn't know what 'ironic' means.

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It's all me, me, meme...

John Brissenden has tagged me to enthrall you with 8 random facts about me, as if you didn't know quite enough about me already. I will do so in order to inflict misery and suffering on fellow bloggers, if they are not meme fans, such is the effect of the relentless rain upon my temper...

1. Until fairly recently, the only time I had ever been in a newspaper was when I came third in a Church Times Easter colouring competition, aged six. The prize was a £5 book token.
2. Also when I was six, my artwork was featured on Tony Hart's Gallery, a 1970's TV children's art programme. The artwork was a parrot mounted on hessian, made out of lentils and pasta. My mother had helped me make it, so technically it was cheating.
3. My husband, a child himself at the time ( obviously) saw the pasta parrot on the TV and remembered the name of the child who had made it. When he first met me, many years later, and I told him my name, he said ''did you once make a pasta parrot and was it on Tony Hart's Gallery?'' See, we were meant for each other.
4.My brother's claim to fame, meanwhile, was that he met Wayne Sleep when the dimunuitive star was doing a panto in Norwich. Wayne Sleep said to my eight year old brother ''Those are nice trousers. Can I have them when you have finished with them?''
5. I used to own a copy of The Brownie Annual from the 1970's which featured Gary Glitter grinning in full make up and hairspray, with a brownie guide on each knee and one between his legs, with the strapline 'do you want to be in my gang?' on the front cover. It would probably be worth a bomb on ebay these days. Or to the News of the World.
6. My sister's claim to fame is that she met Oasis in Japan. My sister's life is much more glamorous than mine.
7. My favourite colour as a child was brown, for a whole year. This is what growing up in the 1970's did to you.
8. My worst culinary experience as a child was being given goats milk banan milkshakes by one of my mother's friends. The goat's milkshake was warm, and had lumps in.

Right, I tag Henry North London, Jailhouse Lawyer, Woffle ( who has just got engaged, congratulations), Jane Henry, GingerandDynamite, fromf*ckupto fab, Dave Bones, Dr Hiding Pup. I won't tell them, just tag them, so they can ignore it they want and another wretched meme can die a death...

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On mercy, killing and the release of prisoners

Fantastic news about Alan Johnson being freed. How wonderful to switch on the TV and hear good news.

By an odd coincidence, I was doing a bit of research for something I am working on when I heard about Alan's release. I will share some of the findings with you, as this blog has come over all theological recently.

Okay readers. Here's some topical words from the Qur'an, the Torah/Prophets/Old Testament and the New Testament.

Can you spot which quotation is from which book?

(a) ''... give away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and the beggars and for (the emancipation of) the captives, and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate; and the performers of their promise when they make a promise, and the patient in distress and affliction and in time of conflicts-- these are they who are true (to themselves) and these are they who guard (against evil).''

(b) ''I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations,
To open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness''

(c) ''The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed''

Interesting, hmmm? Right, here's three more...

(d) "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.''

(e) ''And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the [Sacred Place] until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers.

(f) ''You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you''.

Slightly trickier, I think. See if you are right - answers tomorrow.

Interesting fact: There are 44 matches for 'kill' in the Qur'an, and 151 matches for 'mercy'
In the Bible, there are 124 matches for 'mercy' - and 421 matches for 'kill'.

Ho hum.

People have of course been using their holy books to provide justification for lamping seven shades out of each other for many centuries. They have also been feeding the poor, releasing prisoners and caring for the sick whilst pointing out that their holy books instruct them too as well.

If I was God, I would send down a clearer instuction manual. Or gnash My teeth that after all these years, My creatures were still failing to live together in peace, despite centuries of professed gratitude to Me for creating and sustaining life, and calling all life sacred.