Tania Elizabeth, Australian author of fantasy novel “The Moon Clearing”

 

Tania Elizabeth, Australian author of “The Moon Clearing”, the first book in the fantasy series “The Tie of Eternal Grace” is visiting us today.

 

Tania is fundraising for Starlight Children's Foundation—helping sick children.

Tania is fundraising for Starlight Children’s Foundation—helping sick children. Click this image to donate.

 

Like each and every one of us, Tania’s own journey has been one of trials and tribulations, of love and of passions; and the dissolution of it. Heartache, sorrows, smiles and laughter always seeming. Though through the struggles, she found her true self. Through the words of Tatiana, her growth continued as further peace within was found. Alongside the words, her mentors and her guides of thee divine, Tania has healed within. That is not to say that she does not have her moments of ego minds elapse, though she has learnt to now understand what it is to acknowledge when this appears and to then surrender it’s wrath back to the universe. It is now Tania’s only dream to unite the world through Love, one soul at a time. And it all begins with a smile and an I LOVE YOU!

 

Tania Elizabeth, Australian author of  "The Tier of External Grace", a fantasy novel set in magical land—Eterna Fadas.

“Awake each day being grateful for who you are and all you have. The reading, the writing will all be as you have ever dreamed it to be, provided you have absolute faith and belief in oneself.”— Tania Elizabeth, Australian author of “The Moon Clearing”, a fantasy novel set in magical land Eterna Fadas.

 

Hello Tania, would you be so kind to give readers a one-sentence synopsis of “The Moon Clearing”?

Book One of the series ‘The Moon Clearing’ is an immersive tale of mysticism and adventure, of spiritual and sensual intent that shall enrapture your every sense.

How real are your characters?

Though this is a fantasy fiction, and thy beings are of an ethereal nature from a realm unlike that of our own. The stories of Tatiana and her people are wound into the conceptions of reality. Love, Compassion, betrayal, deceit, sexual energies. All emotions and acts felt on as much an undesirable standpoint as it is the assured. Each of the characters are also based on aspects of myself and that of people I have come into contact with throughout my lifetime. Therefore, I would like to say that my characters are very real.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? When did you first know you just had to write?

The inspiration arose from many things. My love of fantasy, in particular that of faeries. Though do not think childlike. These ethereal beings are one of strength, being sensually and spiritually consumed. Though my want for this trilogy was also of my love for wanting others to gain an understanding of themselves . . . to love oneself within. I wanted to create a story that not only allowed the reader to delve into an enchanting realm of every emotion under the sun, but to create a read that would enable the reader to begin a journey of self discovery. To gain an understanding for their own selves as well as that of others. Where judgment and fear did not hold strength.

How long did it take you to write the book?

Book One took 11 months in total.

How did you come up with the title?

The title came to me in meditation. I am of a very spiritual nature and have much faith in my connection with that of my higher self.

What is your favorite line in this book?

“Your heart was always in the right place even if it was in the wrong place!”

 

"The Moon Clearing", Book One of  the fantasy series The Tier of Eternal Grace Australian author Tania Elizabeth says, "The Moon Clearing is an immersive tale of mysticism and adventure, of spiritual and sensual intent that shall enrapture your every sense."

“The Moon Clearing”, Book One of the fantasy series The Tier of Eternal Grace. Its Australian author Tania Elizabeth says, “The Moon Clearing is an immersive tale of mysticism and adventure, of spiritual and sensual intent that shall enrapture your every sense.”

 

Thank you! Who would you say have been the most influential authors in your life? What is it that really strikes you about their work?

Enid Blyton. For it was her books, The Adventures of the Faraway Tree and The Wishing Chair in which had me lost in the fantasy worlds as a child.                      

Then you would have the classical and poetic writings of William Shakespeare. This being where my love for poetry began.                                                                   

And, last but certainly not least, I must mention, Florence Scovel Shinn, who wrote the book in which became the catalyst for my own journey of self,  love and discovery.

What story would you like to share about the joy, challenge, or hardship of writing?

The editing process. Not from my end, but from that of my editors. It took a few attempts at having them understand my poetic style of writing. Therefore they would change context to suit the general, when this is not as I had intended. I would then have to change things back. Though it has all been a learning curve, and one in which I could only grow from as a writer.

Who gives you the most encouragement? Why is that important to you?

It would have to be my three beautiful children and that of my father. Having them stand beside me on my own journey, only gives me further belief in my own strengths and that of all that I am capable of accomplishing.

What are you working on right now? Tell us your latest news.

At present I am writing the second book to the trilogy ‘The Mirrors Shadow’. A read of lost. Will thy be found? Through hearts beauty and the soul’s calling, will she awaken from her mind removed? Will their realm wield to the break?

Do you see writing as a career or distraction? Why?

My writings are that of heart and it is my passion. So as long as that still lives within me, then there will always be words to come.

How much do you have in common with your protag, Tania?

She is me. I am her. We are one and the same in regards to beliefs and thought processes. Though I am not capable of magic as she is, I do believe that we all attain the power to perform any such magic, provided complete belief and faith are held. What disables us as humans to have such power, is our human minds, which have been dealt those two things that stop us from doing and believing in all that we do . . .fear and doubt.

What are your hobbies?

I love the outdoors and staying active as much as possible. So hiking, swimming, kickboxing, gym and dance of course . . . I love to dance!

Sounds fun! What is your other profession? When do you find the time to write?

I am a mother first and foremost. Thus, my days are full with all that they do and are. They are my life. I also write a few columns. Though come by my night, and, that is when my magic happens. That is when I have time to become one with myself and that of my words.

Tell us a bit about who or what matters to you.

Besides that of my children. Family. Friends. Mother Earth. Truth. Faith. Belief. Gratitude and above all else, Love. For none of this would be possible without it.

How has your published work influenced others and their attitude towards you?

I am still me, just as I will forever be me. Though my attitude towards life has changed dramatically, and it is through those aspects that others have looked upon me differently. Though this had only been in a positive manner. As my friends all state, ‘I am a Love Bubble’. I love life and life loves me back.

 Any tips for us on reading or writing?

The only advise I have, is to awake each day being grateful for who you are and all you have. The reading, the writing will all be as you have ever dreamed it to be, provided you have absolute faith and belief in oneself.  

Great advice! What one thing is important for your readers/audience to know about you? Why?

I am an advocate for the Starlight Children’s Foundation. Having seen first hand what these children and their families must go through on a day to day basis. To see what strength they must conjure every waking minute. By raising awareness and funds for such a worthy cause, I alongside so many others, help to make their lives just that little bit easier and assist in making their dreams come true. This is why at present I am running a fundraising event ‘Starlight Author’s Aid’.

The Starlight Children’s Foundation transforms the experience of hospitalisation and treatment for seriously ill children and their families- Starlight is the only children’s charity with a permanent , physical presence in very major paediatric hospital in the country. Every minute of every day a child is admitted to hospital in Australia. For thousands of these children what happens next is the diagnosis of a serious or chronic illness that changes their life, and the lives of their families, forever.

This is where Starlight steps in – delivering a range of innovative programs, built on the World Health Organisation’s social model of health, to support the well-being and resilience of these seriously ill children and their families. Starlight programs are integral to the total care of seriously ill children – while the health professionals focus on treating the illness, Starlight is there to lift the spirits of the child – giving them the opportunity to laugh and play and be a child again.

If anyone would like to help change the lives of seriously ill children and make a donation, even that of a single dollar, for every bit counts, you may do so via this link: Starlight Children’s Foundation.

Thank you so much for your time, Tania!

Readers,  I hope you have enjoyed meeting Tania; now let’s support her cause!  Come visit Tania’s Facebook, blog and YouTube. Her book “The Tier of Eternal Grace” is available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

 

 

 

 

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ANZAC DAY, Lest We Forget

 

Waratah, the flower of New South Wales

Waratah, the flower of New South Wales

 

Am on holiday; just want to express heartfelt gratitude to those who have sacrificed their lives for this country.

My late spiritual father once said something to this effect, “Look at the Great Barrier Reef. How magnificent! And the beauty that you can see is due to the enormous sacrifices of the previous generations, who are now hidden beneath the surface. The same thing applies to mankind. What you enjoy now, is the result of the earlier people who have worked very hard, fought and sacrificed for you, and yet you can’t see them anymore. They are never insignificant, nevertheless.”

Wherever you are in the world, I hope we’ll all continue to give our best for the advancement  of our countries, for we will become the platforms where our future generation will stand on.

 

Lest we forget. My heartfelt gratitude.

Lest we forget. My heartfelt gratitude.

 

 

 

 

Meet Jacky Gray—British Author of YA adventure novels “Hengist: People of The Horse”

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Meet Jacky Gray,  British author of YA adventure novels in the Hengist: People of The Horse chronicles. Jacky has extensive experience in software writing and teaching maths in high school. Her  first career was engineering and after 23 years writing software for telephone exchanges, she spent 13 years teaching children, occasionally introducing them to the delights of mathematics. She lives in the Midlands with her husband and three children, where she watches a lot of movies and some great TV shows like Merlin, Robin Hood, Dr Who, Ashes to Ashes and Being Human. She also listens to a lot of Journey and Queen and reads (apologies to the adverb police) voraciously, in addition to the names above: Preston/Child, Wilbur Smith and recently George RR Martin.

 

Jacky Gray, British author of Archer, first book in Hengist: People of The Horse

Jacky Gray, British author of Archer, first book in Hengist: People of The Horse



Hello Jacky, thank you for stopping by! Would you be so kind to give readers a one-sentence synopsis of Archer?

Archer – One boy’s fight against adversity to find friendship, romance and the generosity to love his enemy.

How real are your characters?

Archer is like another son—as are Reagan, Slater and Geraint. Being a high-school teacher has given me plenty of role models to help all the characters seem like modern-day teens.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? When did you first know you just had to write?

Kevin Hicks was the bowman at Warwick Castle for over a decade. When I watched him firing 100 arrows in rapid succession through a loop of rope, approximately the size of a human head, it woke up the warrior buried deep within me. By the time I reached home that night, Archer was born, initially in a military thriller as the thirty-year-old bodyguard to a girl who could read people’s auras.

 I have been writing since I was about twelve—my first full length novel was based on a dream I had when I was 18—it took over 30 years until I published it.

But your perseverance has brought novels that will delight teens who are your target audience. How long did it take you to write the first book?

Archer took 18 days from start to finish—the words just tumbled out every night starting about 10pm and going on until 3 or 4 the next morning. The weird thing was that when I got up the next day and started researching what I had written about, it was all backed up by websites and experts in the various fields.

And hence the believable fantasy, as if they are real people and real events! How did you come up with the title?

Each book in the series is named after the protagonist—each boy has very different personality and skills. The sub-title “Hengist: The People of the Horse” refers to the fictitious people who live in a parallel universe where there is no electricity, computers or cars.

What is your favorite part in the book?

Catching hold of Patricia’s arm, Archer tried to think of something smart to say. In an instant that seemed to last an eternity, she glanced down at her arm; then up into his face. Her expression reflected extreme distaste; although he couldn’t for the life of him think of anything he had done to deserve it.

The right words would not surface and those that did tumbled out involuntarily. ‘Don’t you want to kiss the May King for luck?’

Her look seared his fingers on her arm with a frostbite so intense he had no choice except to release her. ‘I think the May King’s lips are still wet with the kisses of his adoring subjects.’

 

ARCHER: One boy’s fight against adversity to find friendship, romance and the generosity to love his enemy.

ARCHER: One boy’s fight against adversity to find friendship, romance and the generosity to love his enemy.

 

Who would you say have been the most influential authors in your life? What is it that really strikes you about their work?

Bernard Cornwell—he will always be the Master for me – his ability to transport readers back to bygone times is inspirational. I have also learnt a lot about creating realistic, engaging characters from Stephen King, Jodi Picoult and Stephenie Meyer and about credible, fascinating settings from JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins. For the leanest, meanest writing style and an enduring, character-driven action series, I am smitten with Lee Child.

What story would you like to share about the joy, challenge, or hardship of writing?

Archer is like another son—as are Reagan, Slater and Geraint and Rory is another daughter. Every minute I spend in the company of my extended family is absolute joy—I love to watch their lives unfold and share in their adventures. The challenge is to tell their stories in a way that other people can enjoy them as much as I do and the hardship is in coming back to spend time in the real world. If I could, I would spend every minute of every day writing, but unfortunately I have to earn a crust and my family do appreciate the odd minute or two of my attention, especially around Christmas and Easter.

I can relate to that. I hope one day soon you can write full time. Who gives you the most encouragement? Why is that important to you?

My very first supporter was my daughter Jo—she gave me so much confidence at the beginning. Several dozen people since then have given me plenty of support and encouragement, but the biggest compliment are the amazing comments from other writers – particularly the kind words from the ABNA competitors.

What are you working on right now? Tell us your latest news.

The sixth book kinda finished itself on a serious cliff-hanger. I now have to wait for some free time so Aurora and Archer can tell me how this adventure concludes. It may be book number seven, or it could be that book six goes super-size.  

Have fun writing all that! And how do you see writing, Jacky? Why?

Writing is a way of life. It gives me more joy than anything else I could do (even dancing). I would love to spend every day of my life writing or promoting my books.  

May you wish come true soon!

 

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“Archer has the same bad time at school that I did, digging deep inside to find the courage to survive the torment. Like me, he never fitted in and relies on himself to fight the demons that plague him, but it doesn’t stop him from helping people or trying to be honourable and do the right thing.”

 

How much do you have in common with your protag?

Everything. Archer has the same bad time at school that I did, digging deep inside to find the courage to survive the torment. Like me, he never fitted in and relies on himself to fight the demons that plague him, but it doesn’t stop him from helping people or trying to be honourable and do the right thing.

That’s beautiful, Jacky.

What are your hobbies?

Reading, walking in nature and any kind of live entertainment (especially theatre and rock bands). Watching movies and well-written TV shows, exploring the country, particularly historical/spiritual sites. And if I don’t have music playing, I’m quite sure my life will end.

What is your other profession? When do you find the time to write?

I teach high school mathematics, but for the past few years this has only been part-time, allowing me to focus on writing the rest of the time. It has been bliss, but I started a new full-time job in March so there is way less time to write. L  The good thing is, this job is encouraging reluctant readers to read—awesome! 🙂

Tell us a bit about who or/and what matters to you.

Showing respect and taking responsibility. Whether it is respect for yourself, another person or animal or the world around you is immaterial—I grieve for how little respect is shown in today’s self-centred, throwaway society. If everyone would take responsibility for their own actions instead of trying to blame someone else when things go wrong, it would be much easier to live in a state of joyful harmony.

A caring soul. Good on you, Jacky! Now, any tips for us on reading and/or writing?

Read everything you can get your hands on in your genre so you know what’s out there, and can find out what works for you and what doesn’t. More importantly, read outside your genre—there are always lessons to be learnt about how to write good/bad characters, scenes and dialogue.

Listen to the way people speak and read your whole manuscript out loud (not just the dialogue). If you feel uncomfortable saying it, your readers will feel uncomfortable reading it.

Write a little bit every day—even if it’s just a few lines, it’s good to do something that is creative and brings you joy.

And yours is one that is sure to bring joy to your target audience! Well done Jacky, and thank you so much for the chat.

 

RORY: How a naïve stranger can rise above his aggressors  and teach them about courage and honour. REAGAN: The chosen boy who decodes the mysteries of  white horses, crop circles and ley lines to save his people.

RORY: How a naïve stranger can rise above his aggressors and teach them about courage and honour.
REAGAN: The chosen boy who decodes the mysteries of white horses, crop circles and ley lines to save his people.

 

Readers, I hope you have enjoyed meeting Jacky. Come visit her website, blog, book trailer, video interviews on Archer  and on Rory.

Click here for her to buy her paperback or eBook  from Amazon UK, paperback or eBook from Amazon US, or from Barnes & Noble.

And now my mini review of the first book in the Hengist series:

Archer, reviewed by Ia Uaro of www.sydneyssong.net

WHBlaise5bTitle: Archer

Subtitle: Hengist: People of The Book

Author: Jacky Gray, ISBN: 978-1446150191

Archer is an orphan teen with special gifts. He is stronger and faster than other boys his age, and a champ at sword fights and shooting arrows. His personality and abilities win him female interest, but also jealousy from an ardent competitor who, for years, tries his best to give Archer a hard time.

Archer is the first book of the refreshing YA adventure novels Hengist: People of The Horse. Set in a new parallel world which is a mixture of the Middle Ages and modern England, these chronicles follow the lives of Archer and his friends as they go to compete in jousting and shooting arrows like medieval knights at Beltane, the Festival of the May, in well-executed exhilarating action-packed and fun-packed scenes.

This series comes from an author who has spent three decades writing software and teaching maths at high school, and it looks like these experiences have greatly shaped her habits, including in writing. Her flow of thoughts is systematic, the settings and the characters are well detailed, and her presentation of the story is very clear. You get immersed in the engaging storyline instead of trying to figure out what she’s trying to say. There isn’t a single confusing moment, even as she teaches us new vocabulary, fascinating historical details, and the intricate arts and fun of jousting and archery that make you see these characters and events.

ARCHER is a well-researched book that will entertain its teen target while showing them an example of honorable attitude.

 

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TRANG SEN: Why War Is Never The Right Path Towards Problem Solving

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My guest today is former U.S. diplomat Sarah-Ann Smith, author of Trang Sen—a love story that puts a human face to the Vietnam War and historical novel capturing the painful suffering of the Vietnamese. I will upload my review of this book at the end of this post, for now I will briefly quote the book blurb to introduce the subject matter.

 

 Overview 

 Trang Sen is the Vietnamese heroine and title character (her name means “White Lotus”) of Sarah-Ann Smith’s acclaimed new novel. War and loss dog the heels of her family, yet Trang Sen is defiant. Rebellious and headstrong even as a child, she struggles to make more of her life than seems possible. As she moves from her parents’ rice farm to the streets and alleys of Saigon, her world opens up. But as new paths become visible, others are shut off.

As much as she loves her brother, Trang Long, she also loves an American diplomat stationed in Saigon. Caught between her own dreams and the needs of her family, between her love for learning and the excitement of war-time Saigon, Trang Sen embarks on a memorable journey that requires heartbreaking choices.

 

 Author’s Bio

 South Carolina native Sarah-Ann Smith’s passion for Asia led to a degree in international relations and Asian studies and to a career in the U.S. diplomatic corps. Her tours of duty took her to Taiwan to study Mandarin Chinese and to the American Consulate in Hong Kong, as well as within the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the U.S. State Department. Smith’s interest in Southeast Asia was originally piqued by encounters with a number of Asian students and their critiques of U.S. policy at the height of the Vietnam War. Her professional and personal focus on Asian political and cultural life led her to write about it in fictional form in this, her first novel.

Smith’s life after the Foreign Service has focused on writing and teaching. In addition to Trang Sen, she has published numerous op-ed pieces and has taught China- and Southeast Asia-related courses at universities in Maryland and North and South Carolina. After leaving the State Department she moved to Asheville, N.C. for fourteen years, and now lives in Spartanburg, S.C.

 

And now, on to our interview.

 

Sarah-Ann Smith, former U.S. diplomat, author of historical novel Trang Sen. What matter to her: “Justice, reconciliation among peoples, living in harmony with others and with our physical world, equal sharing of resources across ethnic, economic, geographical lines. I think fiction and film often are the best ways to understand a culture different from one’s own.”

Sarah-Ann Smith, former U.S. diplomat, author of historical novel Trang Sen. What matter to her: “Justice, reconciliation among peoples, living in harmony with others and with our physical world, equal sharing of resources across ethnic, economic, geographical lines. I think fiction and film often are the best ways to understand a culture different from one’s own.”

 

Hello Sarah-Ann . I could relate so much to what you have written in this book. I feel humbled and it was a pleasure and an honour to review your beautiful work. Thank you for agreeing to this interview.

Would you be so kind to give readers a one-sentence synopsis of Trang Sen?

Trang Sen is the story of a young Vietnamese woman seeking her own identity and destiny amidst the terrible circumstances of the Vietnam War.

Several of your deftly drawn characters fit the people I knew. How real are these characters?

None of the characters are based on actual people, though the circumstances of their lives are drawn from reality.

“Years of professional and personal focus on Asian political and cultural life impelled you to write Trang Sen”. Who or what inspired you to write this book? When did you first know you just had to write Trang Sen?

My first assignment as a diplomat was in the State Department’s Indochina section during the final two years of the Vietnam War, 1973—1975. In that capacity, I watched almost firsthand the unwinding of that war and the lives — Vietnamese and American — which were uprooted in that conflict and its aftermath. It was several years later, in the early 1980s, that I often watched the comings and goings of Vietnamese immigrants in an area outside Washington, D.C., where many had settled, and knew I was going to write a story about them.

It is very detailed and meticulously written. How long did it take you to write the book?

I began the first draft in the mid-1980s, and worked on it periodically. Many things intervened, mostly personal issues such as the final illness and death of my parents. About six years ago, the book was complete, and Andrew Reed, editor-in-chief of Pisgah Press, helped me polish it into final form.

How did you come up with the title?

I’m not very good at titles, slogans, catch words. I struggled to find a good phrase that could be used as a title, among other things scanning The Tale of Kieu in hopes something would appeal. Nothing did, and finally I decided simply to go with the name of the main character.

What is your favorite line in the book? (or paragraph)

My goodness, this is difficult. I find myself torn between rather amusing lines, such as the one in chapter 12 when the manager of the Roy Rogers fast-food restaurant instructs Trang Sen to say “Howdy, partner” and “Happy trails” to the customers, the meaning of which she of course has no clue. On the other hand, I still find this sentence from chapter 6 quite beautiful – “Unaccountably, a bougainvillea still bloomed there, its dark branches etched in shadow on a broken wall.”

Yes! I like those parts too. There are many poignant moments as in chapter 6 is very moving. And that chapter 12 is really funny. Word choices can be funny too. I’ll tell you what happened once when I took my children back to Indonesia, and they could only speak English. After a week travelling, our 10-year-old son boasted, “I know the word for ‘toilet’: it’s ‘wanita’!” I had to laugh, “You’ve been using the wrong washroom!”— because ‘wanita’ actually means ‘ladies’ 🙂

Back to you. Who would you say have been the most influential authors in your life? What is it that really strikes you about their work?

Three, quite different from each other, come to mind. Ursula K. LeGuin, for the way a turn of phrase paints a vivid picture. For example, “On soft sand by the sea’s edge a little boy walked leaving no footprints.” That sentence, with its simple words and lack of commas, immediately conveys to the reader that we are in another dimension. Jane Austen, for her amazing insight into the psychological sources of her characters’ actions and choices. And, finally, Yasunari Kawabata, for the utter simplicity of his style.

I loved Yasunari Kawabata!  Will check out the others.

Now, after the Foreign Service you have focused on writing and teaching. What story would you like to share about the joy, challenge, or hardship of writing?

I love writing. It is a joy always to be composing something, whether fiction, political analysis, whatever. Really, the only hardship is the difficulty of finding time to do as much of it as I would like. As for the challenge, specifically in relation to Trang Sen, it was finding the good way to get it published and in front of readers, which I definitely did finally find in Pisgah Press. A lot of the difficulty for first-time, unknown authors in general has to do with the conglomerate, sharply business-oriented approach of American publishing.

Who gives you the most encouragement? Why is that important to you?

At the top of the list is Andrew Reed, my editor and publisher. Since Trang Sen has been published, the universally positive reaction of readers has been both gratifying and humbling. How could I have managed to come up with a book that is garnering so much praise?

What are you working on right now? Tell us your latest news.

Well, right now my time and energy has been taken up with publicizing Trang Sen. I do hope and plan to write a memoir in the form of reflective essays. I’ve met with a number of book clubs who have read Trang Sen, and the question of a sequel invariably comes up. I have no plans for such, but I find intriguing the comment of one reader, who found herself wondering about Laura, the wife of the attaché who becomes involved with Trang Sen. I didn’t deal with her in the book at all. I can’t imagine a sequel that fills in details of the characters I did write about, but it might be fun to write about Laura. 

Or heartbreaking! You must be very strong to stand the bleeding of the writing process.
How much do you have in common with your protag?

It seems to me that any writer has something in common with all her characters. In some ways I am like each on of them. I do not identify any more with Trang Sen than with any of the others, except that I know from my own experience how important it is for any young woman to try to figure out how to make her way in the world. When I was a young woman it was much rarer for a woman to enter the diplomatic service; the hurdles Trang Sen had to overcome included the traditional assumptions of what a village girl could and should do and the difficulty of access to an education.

“Friendships with a number of Asian students piqued your interest in Southeast Asia”. Care to elaborate? What makes you so deeply empathetic towards others’ plight?

I seem always to have had an affinity with Asians — Chinese, Japanese, Southeast Asians. Despite the cultural differences across that vast region, there is something about its many peoples that resonates with me. As a graduate student and as a teacher, as well as in my diplomatic career, that affinity has often seemed to work the other way as well, so that individuals from that part of the world have gravitated toward me. More generally, whatever empathy seems to have been part of who I am from as early as I can remember. I really don’t know where that came from. Perhaps part of it was from the example of my parents, who often befriended those that others in the tradition-bound southern American society shunned.

Do you have an unforgettable experience about adjusting to living in a foreign country, learning the local culture and using the local language for the first time?

The unforgettable experience is really how easy it was, in terms of lifestyle, cultural patterns and habits. I did have difficulty becoming fluent in Chinese. The first few months of living in Taiwan were frustrating because of that. I often found myself coming out with French when I meant to be speaking Chinese. Much later, it was the other way around. Traveling in francophone Quebec, I would find myself speaking Chinese when I meant to be stumbling along in French.

Would you like to share your favorite thing from lessons learnt in the East?

I suppose the best thing I learned from my years in Asia, among Asians, was to be silent, to wait to hear what people might say to me, not to fill the lulls in conversation with my own chatter.

You wrote, “Trang Sen is not intended as a historical account of the Vietnam War.” But you show readers a vivid portrait of Saigon during the maelstrom of the war that is sure to move many hearts. I think this book should become a recommended read in high school because it has the potential to encourage diplomatic solutions and prevent more wars. In your opinion, what is the best solution to international conflict?

First, I want to say that the feedback from readers has demonstrated that whatever I intended, Trang Sen is to many of them a book that illuminates for them that time and place that was wartime Saigon. The best solution to international conflict? Negotiation, negotiation, negotiation. Listening, listening, listening, trying to understand the other’s point of view. With very rare exceptions, war solves nothing. Certainly, the most recent wars, from Vietnam to Afghanistan, have caused much suffering, upheaval and death, with little, if anything, accomplished by them. 

Tell us a bit about who or/and what matters to you.

Justice, reconciliation among peoples, living in harmony with others and with our physical world, equal sharing of resources across ethnic, economic, geographical lines.

What one thing is important for your readers/audience to know about you? Why?

I taught several courses about China during and just after the cultural revolution, using Chinese films and fiction of the 1980s for insight into how those events impacted individuals in China. I also used fiction and films in courses I taught on Southeast Asia. I think fiction and film often are the best ways to understand a culture different from one’s own.

What are your hobbies?

Cooking, especially Chinese; films, especially foreign; figure skating as an observer.

Thank you so much for the chat Sarah-Ann. Best wishes for Trang Sen!

Readers, I hope you have enjoyed the interview with Sarah-Ann. Grab your copy of her book, highly recommended. Check out my review here:

 

Trang Sen by Sarah-Ann Smith: a human face on Vietnam war, a love story and historical novel capturing the painful suffering of the Vietnamese.

Trang Sen by Sarah-Ann Smith: a human face on Vietnam war, a love story and historical novel capturing the painful suffering of the Vietnamese.

 

Why War Is Never The Right Path Towards Problem Solving

TRANG SEN, Reviewed by Ia Uaro

of http://www.sydneyssong.net/ and  BookPleasures.com 

This is the story of Trang Sen, or “white lotus”, a brave and brilliant Vietnamese girl who had to grow up during the Vietnam War. Masterfully written by a diplomat who has extensive experience and knowledge of the cultures, the settings and human psychology, the book follows Trang Sen’s journey from her first encounter with an American when she was a child in a Vietnamese village in 1957, her teen years in the alleys of Saigon as the war raged, her coming-of-age and love life as the war worsened, to her life in the late 70s after the U.S. army pullout from Vietnam.

Trinh Trang Sen is different from all other children in her village. She dreams to be allowed to work the fields with the buffalo like the boys do instead of doing a girl’s chores. She dreams to read books and get proper education like amazing Eldest Brother who is away in a university in France. She dreams to ride an elephant and lead her people like her country’s proud queens of old.

Before she knows it, her first dream is granted. Not as she wished it though, but because Second Brother and Third Brother must go to the war, and help her parents she must. She toils in the fields in great hardship in the following years, miserable despite being a successful plough-woman.

When refined Eldest Brother comes home from France, Trang Sen’s dream to study is granted too and she moves to a convent school in Saigon. She still studies even when the war eventually necessitates that she look after her remaining family members. Trang Sen is so smart that she wins further scholarship—they are making plans for her to attend a university in France when love happens.

U.S. officer Arthur Billings cannot forget the very beautiful girl he once met deep in a humble Saigon market where local refugees dwell. When they meet again, he is determined not to let her go. Alas, unlike the tea-girls who live at the beck and call of the foreigners, Trang Sen is not your average peasant girl. She is respectable, principled, proud and has set her sight for higher education. What can he offer her in the war-torn Saigon, to change her mind about going to France? 

Trinh Van Long has returned home from his beloved Paris to do his duties to his family and his country. The war has torn the land, destroyed villages, displaced families and divided his people. While the American army in Vietnam is guaranteed supplies for their living, the hapless Vietnamese suffer abject poverty and being ruled by foreigners who don’t understand them. Long has secrets and blood in his hands, and if in the middle of all this chaos and heartaches one good thing could be salvaged, it is First Sister, the beautiful and intelligent Trang Sen who has worked so hard for her studies while looking after the family. Long contrives to get her to Paris, because only there can she be safe and indulge in her dream of intellectual pursuit. He owes her that.

Caught in the maelstrom of the war in fears and hopes, what choices will Trang Sen make? She alone will have to live with the consequences. 

Trang Sen is the kind of those very rare books that grab your attention from the first paragraphs, take you on a journey to where you knew not, entertain you, educate you, make you care about the people and the topics visited, and then leave you reeling, stunned, and you emerge at the other end thinking, looking back, and thinking again—because the author has changed your understanding forever. The characters are very human and the events flow naturally that reading this book I found myself looking at the cover again and again, staring at the words “A Novel”, because the author has the skills to connect readers to her characters and make the story feels very real.

Sarah-Ann Smith opens Trang Sen with the legend of the brave queens of Vietnam and proceeds to show us the portrait of a beautiful land teeming with lives, in vivid colours that we can see, sounds that we can hear, along with scents, tastes and texture. Not only does she introduce us to the exotic culture and habits of the attractive locals, she delves deep into their fascinating minds with intriguing insights —expertly with the skills that reminds me of the long ago Pulitzer award winner Pearl S. Buck, whose work once upon a time I read when, as a charity case, I learned the English language in a Catholic high school eerily similar to the one Trang Sen attended.

That is before Sarah-Ann empathically touches the issue of the war, which scenes remind me of Sartre. She opens our eyes to what it was really like out there. I had followed the Vietnam War as it was all over my mother’s newspaper when I was learning to read, and I followed their plight in the aftermath when thousands of refugees were stranded in the islands off Sumatra where they had to wait for so many years in limbo before finding new homes. I remember they were viewed as burdens and treated with hostility. I don’t remember anyone writing anything close to Trang Sen then, but I wish there had been because this book certainly opens eyes and powerfully evokes compassion.

That war is over but others are still raging. I would like people to read this book. Trang Sen is an excellent read for high school students, all other young people, and all adults who have the power to make a difference, because this book clearly shows why a war is never the right path towards problem solving, achieving peace, or preserving human dignity. Love for all, hatred for none.

 

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