Posted by: Kevan Manwaring | June 14, 2010

Making Hay

Making Hay

11-14 June

Green Scythe Fair - deepest Somerset

Just back from three days in Avalon – Scythe Fair today, book launch yesterday and storytelling show on Friday (which was actually in Taunton, but it was called ‘Otherworlds’ so I’m including it!).

Friday afternoon Richard and I made our way down in the sun to Taunton – where we had a gig at the Brewhouse. We compiled an anthology show called ‘Otherworlds’ – I did a couple of stories from hotter climes (Al-Andalus; Yemen) and an Irish myth. Richard did stories from Scotland,

Ireland and ‘the fifth quarter’ – Romney Marsh. The set seemed to complement and flow well – but we could have done with a few more. We were competing with a squaddie dance company in the main auditorium – clearly more to Tauntonian taste (or perhaps it was the footie and the sun). Still the venue was impressive, felt well-received by our small but appreciative audience (‘absolutely brilliant!’) and had an enjoyable jolly. We sank a couple of well-earned beers (‘Wayland Smithy from the White Horse Brewery) when we got back. It was good to be doing some pro-storytelling again (last time was Italy).

Launching The Way of Awen at Cat & Cauldron, Glastonbury

The next day I prepared for my big book launch at the Cat & Cauldron in Glasto that afternoon. I enjoyed riding down to Avalon on my Triumph Legend with a box of books on the back. It promised to be a special night and it didn’t disappoint. We had a decent turn-out at Trevor and Liz’s shop – the launch had been timed to coincide with the OBOD bash in Town Hall. When I launched the companion volume, The Bardic Handbook, four years ago at Gothic Image we had a great turn out – with the late John Michell; Philip Carr-Gom; Ronald Hutton; and Michael Dames turning up (it turned out they were in town for the OBOD bash which I didn’t know was on – afterwards I was invited along – so I organised this one to synchronise).

The Bard and the Druid - Philip Carr-gom pops in to my book launch

Making it feel like full circle was having the first Bard of Glastonbury, Tim Hall, there who kindly played a mini-set, as he had done at my launch in 2006. It created a lovely atmosphere.

Tim Hall plays at my launch, Cat & Cauldron, Glastonbury - with friends Amber & Phil

I introduced the book and read out a small selection of poems, which were well received. There were some good questions and the vibe was good. I left with only a couple of copies of the book – one of which I gave to Ronald Hutton and Ana Adnoch when I bumped into them at the OBOD gathering. It was great to go there afterwards, as a guest – launching a book 20 years in the making deserves a good knees up! Thanks to Philip I also got my friends, Nigel and Karola, in as well. We got ourselves a plate of food and enjoyed the bardic entertainment. Ended up having a dance with my old Dutch friend Eva – who I met on Glastonbury Tor one solstice twenty years ago! Bid farewell to my friend Nigel and staggered back to Amanda’s yurt, which she had kindly offered me for the night. My friend Karola had the short straw – sharing with me – and having to put up with wine-induced snoring but we’re good friends and she didn’t kick me once!

a Legend by the Tor

The next morning, after a much needed full monty (breakfast) and walk up the Tor, I went to the Green Scythe Fair in deepest Zummerset – riding passed scores of bikers on classic bikes out for a blat heading in the other direction, and hamlets with names like Little Gurning, I finally found the site – a campsite called Thorney Lakes near a village called Mulcheney Ham. It was only a fiver to get in – and you got free tea and cake if you came on a bike – I tried my luck but didn’t convince the lady in the tea tent (who had come down on a Bonnie). I bumped into folk and bimbled about, enjoying the ambience. You felt like you were breathing in carbon credits just walking about. It’s a very positive event with lots of green solutions – alternative fuel, food, housing, clothing, education – as well as being relaxed, picturesque (and picaresque) and just the right size. If it had a theme tune it’d be ‘Heavy Horses’ by Jethro Tull. It was very Hardy-esque and felt like something you’d expect to see Gabriel Oak at. There were scything championships – all very serious stuff (involving plenty of liquid preparation). Competitors carefully whetted their blades and assessed the quality of the grass. There were lots of wonderful craft stalls, info tents and music – including my friends Tim Hall and the Architypes (sic), who performed on Sangers fabulous horse-drawn solar-powered stage. There were bands with names like ‘Bag o’ Rats’ – who played ‘psychedelic folk’ to a good-natured crowd mellow on zider. There was plenty of fresh grass cuttings for kids to play with – and it kept them amused for hours (a Battle Royale grass fight; several grass burials took place). The sky had been darkly ominous all afternoon (a bit Bergman-esque with the reapers hanging around – as though waiting for a game of chess with Max Von Sydow). At one point the heavens opened and I found myself standing under a gazebo in a sandpit to stay dry. A rainbow came out soon after. After a suitably drunken delay (a missing cup) the scything champion was announced (4th year in a row) and the MC said the standard was so high he was confident we were now ‘ready for Europe’ – though the World Cup and Olympics might have to wait. I made my way back soon after – glad to get back after a fine weekend away.

I though the magic would be over with a stack of OU marking facing me Monday morning, but then a call from my friend Helen at midday meant I ended up going on a lovely trip down the river Avon to celebrate her birthday (‘life’s too short,’ she said, and she’s right – carpe deum!). We found a sunny spot to stop for a fabulous picnic. I read out some of my poetry, including ‘Let Love Be Our River’, and on the way back recited some Elizabeth Barratt Browning and Thomas the Rhymer as the ladies rowed (they insisted after us guys had rowed on the way out). It was all very Wind in the Willows. Very relaxing!

picnic by the river - Helen's birthday

Posted by: Kevan Manwaring | June 9, 2010

Reaching Ithaka

All you need... Sunrise Celebration with friends

1-9 June

And if you find her poor,
Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
So wise as you will have become,
so full of experience,
you would have understood by then
what these Ithakas mean.

CP Cavafy

With relief I boarded the plane at Hurghada that would take me home – after a lovely send off by my new friends the night before (a soiree at Angelica and Daniel’s place, then one (or two or…) for the road in the Smugglers Inn with the Tropical Gangsters – of which I was made an honorary member) I was leaving Egypt with some good memories, my second draft, and a batch of new poems. It had felt like a long month and I was looking forward to: a long soak and my own bed; British woodland; decent beer, music and books; Marmite; and my friends!

The flight was unexceptional – the usual being-sucked-through-a-tube, crammed-in-like-sardines experience courtesy of your average Queasyjet budget airline. They obviously base the ergonomics of the seating on Oompa Loompas – not longshanks like me. Typical of the British transport system that it took longer to get from Gatwick to Bath than Hurghada to London. My flight arrived in around midnight and I had to hang around in a chilly Paddington until 5.30am to get the first train back. When the coffee shop opened up at 5 I was there first customer – needing a hot drink to thaw out. Yet on the train home I loved seeing the landscape of England unfold in the grey dawn light – verdant, damp and ancient. When I caught sight of the White Horse of Uffington (I always notice it when I’m on the London train) I knew I was finally home, in a landscape whose language I could read.

White Horse of Uffington - the heart of England

from notebook, 1 June: glimpsing the white horse in the damp light of an english dawn…blessed rain – after a month in the desert i feel it on my face, smiling as i walk home

Arriving back home was a blessed relief. After a 16 hour trip I crashed, only emerging later for a lovely homecoming meal with a friend who had been flat-sitting while I was away. Seeing how aching and weary I was from my long journey home, she tried to give me a massage, but it’s somewhat painful when you have sunburn on your back (the result of spending my last day in El Gouna snorkelling in the Red Sea)!

I spent the next few days catching up and de-pressurising (it felt like coming up from a deep sea dive and I had to avoid the ‘bends’). I had a stack of exam marking to do, but my brain was still somewhere over the Med.

Thursday evening went for my first rideout to the Weston Bike Night – a lovely run along Chew Valley in the westering sun. There were hundreds of big shiny bikes there. Even the sands of Weston-Super-Mud looked agreeable in the sunset. I mingled with the crowd. Drank a coffee. Had a Mars bar. Took pics. It was nice to do something normal for a change!

Friday met up with some friends at Green Park Brasserie, watching an Arabic troupe, of all things – more belly dancing! Seeing it back home in Bath, after a month in the desert, made me feel strangely at home. The rock legend happened to be in the audience and I plucked up courage to speak to him – and we chatted for about five minutes about his latest album. He was pleasant – as long as you didn’t act like a complete tit (a friend sidled over as we were chatting and said ‘Can I talk with you?’, and Robert turned around and said, ‘No.’) After, we went to the mirrored splendor of the Speigeltent on the Rec to see another legend – Martin Carthy, the granddaddy of the British folk scene. It was nice to sample some of the delights of the Bath Fringe – eccentric creativity at its best.

Saturday evening I caught up with my friends Marko and Jay. I enjoyed having my first pint of Guiness for some time – and having a heart-to-heart with kindred spirits.

Sunday went to the Sunrise Celebration down near Bruton with Jay and Sally. I’ve been going to festivals since 1989 but haven’t made it to this relatively new festy until this year – it seems to have taken the place of the sadly demised Big Green Gathering, and felt like an early version of it – indeed alot of the stalls, bands, cafes and crew were the same so it’s not surprising. It looked beautiful, had a nice vibe, was easy to walk around and had a positive ethos. For once, it was nice just being a punter and enjoying the whole thing without having to worry about performing somewhere or giving a talk. I saw Tim Hall and friends perform their enchanting harmonies, jigged to Seize the Day, listened to some wacky New Age talk and had the usual random festival experiences, eg dancing with a tree…

Dancing with Treebeard at Sunrise Celebration

Monday I had to get up at ‘stupid o’clock’ to go to Milton Keynes for an OU exam marking meeting – if anything was going to bring me down to earth with a bang, this promised to. But it was a chance to visit Northampton nearby and see my family – which made the whole thing worthwhile. Being back in the ‘dirty old town’ (the Pogues song always rings through my head as I walk by the gas works and Carlsberg back to my folks place) certainly made me feel I had finally ‘landed’. You can’t get more prosaic – but it was nice to catch up with my kin. My nephew was now a strapping young man – he’ll be twenty this month – a veritable Telemachus (I still remember him climbing over my head when he was a terrible toddler). We went to flicks as a pre-birthday treat and I bought him a beer – it felt like I had left when he was a boy and returned when he was a man. Where does all the time go…? To continue the Odyssian conceit – ‘Argus’ was a lively little Scotty called Daisy. And my Mum continues knitting – not quite Penelope with her tapestry, but it’ll do! My sister made it down – it was great to see her as always. My young niece was bemused by my gift of a soft toy camel at first – when squeezed it sang some Arabic ditty – but eventually warmed to it, clinging to it possessively. I showed my holiday snaps – and amazingly no one nodded off.

Tuesday caught the train back home and got stuck back into things – have a mountain of stuff to sort out (marking; book launch; gig on Friday; house; publishing projects…). At least in the desert life is less cluttered! Here, there’s a thousand things clamouring for our attention, a thousand distractions. It’s been great catching up with friends, but I hope I do not lose the clarity and focus of the desert.  Yet … it lingers. As Jay and I agree (we have both spent time writing in Egypt recently) once you have been to the desert, you carry it within you always.

the peace of the desert - you carry it with you always

Posted by: Kevan Manwaring | May 31, 2010

The Burning Path

Notes on The Burning Path and El Gouna residency

a fata morgana in the Arabian Desert - a lake mirage below the Red Sea Mountains

During my time as Writer-in-Residence at El Gouna I have been working on my desert-based novel, The Burning Path – part of my 5-book cross-genre series, The Windsmith Elegy, which I began in 2002. I wrote the first draft in of this, the fourth volume, in 2008 and here expanded and edited it into a second. I worked on a chapter a day (there’s 23 in total), writing an extra 20,000 words (along with 7 new poems – to date – and this blog). To live in a desert country while working on this has made all the difference – those grains of sand have become grit in the oyster. It has been an intense and sometimes challenging experience – ideal for my novel. It has enabled me to be completely in the ‘zone’, inhabiting a similar space (physical/mental/emotional) to my characters.  I find this form of ‘method writing’ most effective, although it might not make me easy to be around. Finding myself staying in an artificial and often stifling cocoon (enforced socialising & unnecessary opulence; when I yearned for solitude & minimalism) I have forged a ‘desert environment’ through an experiment in estrangement – an intentional distancing of myself from those I ‘should’ connect with, to feel ‘other’, to experience the perspective of the outsider, like the boy in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. I strived to keep the doors of perception fully open (as William Blake declared: ‘When the doors of perception are cleansed, man will see things as they truly are, infinite,’). Antoine de St Exupery in Wind, Sand and Stars talks of stratascopos, the bird’s eye view he experienced as a pioneering pilot. Only through an intentional disjuncture was this possible (an extreme method for a land of extremes) – life at the edge of the circle, for the littoral is always a creatively fertile place, like the banks of the Nile here in Egypt: a country divided in the Red and Black Lands (as their flag symbolises)

the flag of Egypt

– the red is the ‘barren’ desert (which protects and offers hidden treasures); the black, the fertile soil of the Nile Valley. Life is like this – good and bad mixed together, the bitter and the sweet, light and shadow. Contrast is healthy, essential. In Italian painting its called chiaroscuro. If my time here had been absolutely perfect I wouldn’t have found the necessary edge for my writing. No pain, no gain. And so everything that has happened to me here has been just right. It has enabled me to walk the Burning Path and bring my novel alive. I have worn the mark of Cain and been cast out into the wilderness. Yet despite being in a social desert there have been occasional oases and these have kept me sane and made my stay here far more enjoyable – to all the wonderful people I have met (Egyptians, Gounies, tourists) thank you.

I set off from England with a quote from Helen Keller in the back of my mind: ‘No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.’

I feel my ‘optimism’ has paid off – travel allows for creative possibilities, pushes us out of our comfort zone, expand our world-view, and makes us embrace the other – and find we are brothers. As I wrote in the sample chapter I read out at the final event:

The desert is the last place you expect to encounter the kindness of strangers but it is the place where you need it the most. The more isolated we become, the more hostile the environment, and the more is revealed the cosmic terror behind the frail fabric of reality, the more we need each other.

To write a book about strangers meeting in the desert in a place where … strangers meet in the desert couldn’t have been more perfect. El Gouna is a wonderful international zone where the kindness of strangers can be encountered daily:

Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt (10:19)

The Burning Path plot summary: Three strangers meet in a nameless desert and must come to terms with their past before they can escape it: a First World War airman; an American aviatrix of the Thirties; and a French poet of the skies from the Second World War. They are the lost of history and must go into the desert to find themselves. To find peace they must walk the burning path. Each is forced to confront the question: What are you prepared to sacrifice for the one you love?

Email to Anthony: Anyway, it’s been a really productive time – just got to the end of the 2nd Draft of The Burning Path, and I can’t wait for people to read it. I think its my best yet – but you have to believe that, don’t you! The style is alot more stripped back. I wrote it the year my Dad died and maybe the austere aesthetic reflects that, but there’s is real beauty in the desert vistas and cultures, as I’ve discovered. Ultimately it’s an affirmation of the desert, its ecology and ethos, its abundant ‘nothingness’ – the opposite of Western consumer culture! It cries out Less is More.

Main Characters

Isambard Kerne: Edwardian antiquarian, observer of the Royal Flying Corps, accidental adventurer, windsmith. Born 1869 of Irish and Welsh ancestry. Missing in action at the Battle of Mons, August 1914.

Amelia Earhart: American 30s aviatrix, record-breaking ‘queen of the skies’; Kerne’s ‘angel’ & companion. First woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. In 1937 went missing over the Pacific on an attempt to circumnavigate the globe.

Antoine de St-Exupery: French aviator and author of The Little Prince; Wind, Sand and Stars; Southern Mail & Night Flight. Crashed crossing Egypt, attempting the Paris-Saigon record, in the Libyan desert in 1936. Saved by a group of Bedouin. In 1944 went missing on a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean.

Leo Africanus, aka Giovanni Leone: famous Moorish explorer and scholar from 15th Century Andulusia. Born El-hassan ben Muhammed el-Wazzan-ez-Zayyati, in Granada 1458. His family emigrated to Fes, where he studied, proving himself a gifted pupil. Became a young official and diplomat. Kidnapped by corsairs, sold to the Pope. Given his freedom. Became renowned scholar. Wrote an important early account of Africa, and a tri-lingual (Arabic/Hebrew/Italian) dictionary. The circumstances of his death are uncertain, but one theory is he disappeared attempting to return to North Africa.

Alexandrine/Alexine Tinne, aka Fraulein Tinne: 19th Century Dutchwoman explorer and early photographer. Born 1835 in The Hague, when her father died at the age of ten, she became the richest heiress in the Netherlands. First European woman to attempt to cross the Sahara. In 1869, while attempting to reach the Upper Nile in caravan, had her arm hacked off and left for dead in the Libyan desert by her Tuareg escorts.

The Blue Man – blind Tuareg holy man. Becomes the guide of Earhart and Kerne.


Posted by: Kevan Manwaring | May 29, 2010

Lacuna in El Gouna – final week

24-29 May

Zeytouna Jetty (460 m. long)

My last week in El Gouna, (I think of weeks running Mon-Sun; here the calendars are Fri-Thurs) it has been a busy, productive and enjoyable time.

My writing has really flowed – on the ‘home straight’ of my novel’s second draft, I found a new burst of inspiration and fresh ideas emerged, directly as a result of my experience in El Gouna. The combination of the heat, the howling wind, dust-storms and a full moon all contributed to an intensely elemental and emotional week: perfect for my book!

dust-storm in El Gouna

On Monday had an excellent night at the Smugglers – bumping into Emad and his gregarious friend from Cairo, the excellent Mr Asser, who was attending a course on hotel management at Steigenberger along with a bunch of other Egyptian hoteliers. He was an old school pal of Pierre, whom I had met earlier in the Spa, having a good chat about books. Kerry, a blonde bombshell from Yorkshire was behind the bar (the Smugglers has the loveliest barmaids in El Gouna – or even the only ones, as I’ve seen no other female waitresses/bar staff). There was a guy from London there; Bill; and a knowledgable Turkish chap called Ahmed, who I got onto the subject of Tuareg when the subject of my book came up. It was good to have a ‘right old chinwag’ and ‘set the world to rights’ in such a fine establishment – my favourite haunt in Gounie-town. Although its ostensibly a British bar, it is not only frequented by Brits, ex-pat or otherwise. It was an international mix – like a microcosm of El Gouna’s egalitarian blend – and because its so small, you are kind of forced to talk and conversations are often group discussions. I wish I had a pub like the Smugglers back home – where you feel you could talk to anyone without being considered some kind of nutter. It’s like being in an episode of ‘Cheers’ – the regulars have their place at the bar, all distinctive characters whose quirks are not only tolerated but appreciated.

Tuesday night began my Dine Around tour of the week at the Sheraton. Wednesday it was the Movenpick, with its lovely courtyard area, and Thursday, Sultan Bey – which I grabbed something at before going along the beach to the Club House, where the divers meet up. As I looked at the bonfire, where folk roasted kebabs and kids burnt marshmallows, I got chatting with a German lady – there was a party there celebrating a birthday (someone’s son) and I was handed a beer and offered food (once again, I was touched by the innate friendliness of Gounies international community). I caught up with Georgina, Dave and Sue and other members of the Tropical Gangsters, over a couple of beers, before getting a tuk tuk to Moods – where I was told it was ‘the place to be’ on Thursday. In a lovely location at the end of one end of Abu Tig marina, it was a bit subdued when I arrived – the dance floor was empty – but I discovered this was still early (10.30ish) and things didn’t warm up for a while yet. I was considering leaving when Asser turned up with his hoteliers – all in swanky suits looking like the cast of Reservoir Dogs or a gangster flick. Emad appeared as well – and suddenly the party was back on. By now folk were dancing and I had a little bop before walking along the beach to greet the full moon and savour the sea at night.

Friday was the big day – the final reading at the library. We met the panel at last at a lovely brunch in a billionaire’s villa, hosted by the lovely ‘Midge’. The hospitality was splendid – I discovered it is an Egyptian tradition to offer your guests the very best; host/esses pull out the stops when they have guests round to eat. We had lots of photo opportunities by the pool.

Then we were taken via the embassy back to the hotel, where I crashed for all too brief while before having to get ready for the evening event where the 5 Writers-in-Residence gave readings from their work. There was a good audience and the event seemed to be a success, going by the responses afterwards. It was great hearing all the different kinds of work – seeing the fruits of the residency. Everybody shone. We thanked Orascom, the Panel and various members of staff with a statement of gratitude read out by Elmaz. Tears flowed, perhaps not surprisingly – the event was the culmination of alot of hard work and good will.

With relief I went back to flop – before ‘resurrecting’ myself a couple of hours later to go to Papas to rock out with the Misfitz. The letting down of hair was essential – the culmination of a month’s work. I had a great night with my new mates (all thanks to Georgina’s gaze) – moshing along with the crowd.

When I made it back it was about 2am – and I fancied a moonlight dip, so I stripped off and jumped in the lagoon, swimming in the delicious silver-lined waves. Security guards called me back, but I ignored them.

snorkelling off Zeytouna jetty - a good way to 'test the waters'

The following day I made sure I took it easy. Bunking off from a brunch invite to try out some snorkelling – I was dying to swim in the sea properly after a month in the lagoon. I made my way to Zeytouna Island, which wasn’t easy – and after negotiating my entrance, I grabbed some flippers, mask and snorkel and headed along the fabulous wooden jetty, my feet making a regular beat like a 460m glockenspeil. I togged up and went in – and experienced a taste of the Red Sea’s ‘buried treasure’ – the spectacular coral. Even along the ridge it was still vibrant in places – bright orange and pink, with swarms of psychedelic fish just below me. Wonderful. Yet it was clearly dying in places. I had heard from both the Northampton divers, who had been coming for six years, and from Pierre, who is a coral/fish enthusiast that both the species and the habitat are in decline – taking a battering from the tourism. It is such a delicate ecosystem and needs protecting – and yet the tourism is essential for the local economy. Humans and the natural world both need to survive.

And after a hard week I really savoured being out there, at the end of the jetty – sitting on the dock of the bay, wasting time.

Stopped off at Samy’s  beach shop for a karkade – I had talked to him on my arrival on the tiny island and he had invited me in for one on the way back – a local beverage ideal for offsetting the effects of all that seawater inhalation! I bought a packet. I might need some tomorrow as I booked a full day out on Dive Trek.

Coptic Christian tattoo

Afterwards, took a river taxi Downtown and stocked up on some goodies. I liked Joseph at Ambiente, his no hassle policy – and the way everything priced (an exception in El Gouna – even the supermarket doesn’t price anything). Made by his family. He had a neat tattoo on his wrist, showing he was a Coptic Christian (as apparently are alot of El Gouna staff – although it is a supremely tolerant place and I saw a couple of staff today clearly doing their prayers discreetly, which was good to see. Wanting some Pharaonic bling, I visited a jewellery shop – where another great salesman, ‘Michael’, gave me an ‘offer I couldn’t refuse’! He was charismatic and confident and didn’t make it seem like life or death that you had to buy something from his shop. He clearly was pleased with his final sale of the day – apparently it brings the shopkeeper luck to end with a good one. No rocket science, but charming. M explained how the ankh meant not only the ‘key of life’ but also the key of the Nile, to see it in the glittering waters was a good sign, and as I sat by the lagoon, sipping a Sakara, I think I caught a glimpse.

spotting the key of life in the glittering waters of the Red Sea

Feeling a bit ‘crispy duck’ after my day in the sun (without suntan lotion, which I thought I had packed…) I went to the spa afterwards for some much needed cooling off. As I walked through the Dali-esque golf course I savoured the lovely early evening light – visually, my favourite time of day in El Gouna. It really brings the colours out. I thought how beautiful it is here. Bumped into my spa buddy Pierre. Worshipped in the ‘temple of the naiads’. As I left I watched the fading light over the lagoon, a nimbus of gold over the deepening blues.  What a place to live, work and rest!

Viva El Gouna!

Posted by: Kevan Manwaring | May 26, 2010

A Day in the City of the Dead


Sunday 23rd May

Colossi of Memnon

Today I went on a day trip to Luxor (in fact 3 main sites: the town itself; Karnak and the Theban necropolis) which was as awe-inspiring as its reputation suggests. It was an early start – 4am wake up call, and pick up from outside reception at 5am. There was four passengers including myself – and our driver, Samil. We took our ‘breakfast packs’ which looked like they had enough in for lunch as well – though a meal in a restaurant was included. We were lucky to have a private car with plenty of room – rather than be crammed in like sardines in a coach – for it was going to be a long hot drive.

We whizzed away in the dark before dawn, filling up at a surreal petrol station that looked like an art installation – neon wrapped around palm trees. Perhaps it was the hour, the setting, being half asleep – but it was all quite dreamlike. The wind howled around me as I popped to the forecourt shop to get some spoons for our yoghurts.

Driving on, we passed the countless unfinished buildings of Egypt – as though modern Egyptians were trying to emulate the ruins of the Pharoahs. The red orb of the sun emerged quietly to our left, like the red face of a baby emerging from between the legs of night. Ra reborn.

After heading south on the coast road for sometime, we turned inland, passing through a serious- looking checkpoint (guys with automatic rifles, metal barriers on wheels for shoot-outs) – one of many that lined the route. Heading east, we drove through the mountains – a dramatic road which cuts through the Red Sea range into the interior.

At a pitstop we grabbed a coffee and took in the spectacle – locals trying to make a buck. A couple of Bedouin women had a donkey with a goat on the back. Although ‘cute’ it was a sad symbol of what people have to do to earn a few (what are to us) pennies. Coach-loads of tourists pulled up, on their way to Luxor. The woman at the toilet asked for one (Egpytian pound) or one (US) dollar (a substantial difference!). Spending a penny has clearly gone up in price. It’s all about supply and demand – when you’re bursting they shove a hand in your face. These were clearly not polite Steigenberger staff and you had to be firm with them: ‘La shukran!’ became the phrase of the day.

On to Luxor – arriving there about four and half hours after setting off. We were met for our guide, Maria, a local.

Our first destination was the Colossi of Memmon, two huge statues of Amenophis, who once guarded his now vanished mortuary temple (although a German excavation is digging its site). Now 19.5 metres high they once sported crowns and were even higher. An earthquake in 27 BC shattered them, but they were repaired and there current state makes them look like cubist sculpture. Apparently the one on the right used to emit a musical note and dawn, which attracted some famous tourists including Hadrian in 130 AD. Today, they both stand in silent sentinel. At the feet of the left one his wife and mother can be seen – dwarfed – but there is a statue of Amenophis’ wife which is of equal size to him in Cairo, a rarity, showing an early equality between this couple at least. It was thrilling to see the petroglyphs carved into the sides of the statues – my first. A local man came over, grabbed me and wanted his photo taken next to me. Then he asked for money: ‘Baksheesh’ (share the wealth). Since he had practically forced me to do this, I refused. If you want to take a photo of someone, that’s different – ask first, then pay after.

We passed, all too fleetingly, the Ramesseum with its very phallic columns. Here Shelley came upon the ruins of Rameses II and penned his immortal poem, ‘Ozymandias’: ‘I met a traveller from an antique land who said: in the desert two vast and trunkless legs of stone now stand…’ The ironic inscription the Romantic poet imagines there has become the epitaph of all grandiose schemes: ‘Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ Basically, everything crumbles to dust in the end. Modern pharaohs take note.

Hatsheput's mortuary temple

Fortunately some survive when others tried there very best to wipe them from the face of the Earth. Such is the case dramatically illustrated by our next port of call – something we were all looking forward to – the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut, the only female pharaoh. Her stepson, Tuthmosis III, when he finally came to the throne after her death, spitefully defaced her effigies in an attempt to remove her from history (there’s a story of dysfunctional families). He managed a pretty good job – all but one of her images remain, but ironically she has remained famous, while he is confined to the shadows. All we know him for now is his pettiness. Seeing the scratched out faces on the walls of the terraces (exquisite murals, where I saw my first vibrantly-coloured hieroglyphs) reminded me of a sad photo album where all the faces of one of the partners are scribbled or cut out. Our guide brought the story alive – pointing out the details depicted in the heiroglyphs. It was thrilling to see images of Osiris, Anubis, Horus and Hathor – the latter being worshipped at the temple. The Goddess of life, of motherhood, of fecundity and music appropriate for a Queen. In one mural she is depicted suckling the teats of Hathor, and I pointed it was like the icon of Romulus and Remus, the twins who were said to have founded Rome, suckled by the she-wolf (there’s a statue of this near my home city, sculpted by an Italian POW to thank his captors).

Because we only had a short time,I wanted to just experience the place, rather than have everything explained – its good to have some information but not so much that it stops you from actually just fully ‘seeing’ the place. I tried to savour the sheer majesty of the place and tried to imagine it back in Hatshepsut’s time – no doubt it would have been equally busy with pilgrims at festive times, bringing offerings. No doubt there would have been many wanting to offer the goods they needed on the way also. An echo of this perhaps remained – we had to run the gauntlet of the bazaar on the way back to the lift – but I avoided eye contact and marched on. The last thing I wanted to do after standing in the withering heat, being overwhelmed by a mind-blowing place, is buy bits of tourist tat, but I guess they have to make their sheckles somehow.

Hatshepsut takes milk from Hathor

Next we went onto Valley of the Kings. By now it was midday and the white gorge created an oven effect. We boarded the tourist train – being careful not to have any cameras on us, as photography is now banned (only a year). We visited 3 temples. I marvelled at the colours of the heiroglyphs – looking as though they had been painted a hundred years ago, not thousands. White is made from limestone; black from charcoal, green from turquoise, blue from expensive lapis lazuli, red from iron oxide – and the pigments are bound to the wall by egg-whites. The extreme aridity, coolness and low light has helped preserve them so perfectly. Even below ground the heat was intense, indeed it was even more stifling with no fresh air. Lord knows how the guards cope. They stood at the entrance, or actually inside like guardians of the dead – rangey Anubis types. In the first temple one shoved a torch into my hand – I thought everyone was given one, but it was just another tourist con. The beam was barely strong enough to reach the far wall, but it served to point out some details Maria had mentioned to us (she didn’t come in with us – outside guides are not allowed). I handed the torch back on the way out and gave him 5 LE, which made him give me a bad-toothed (sometimes you give baksheesh and they don’t even seem pleased). Locals descended from the mountain side wanting to sell us postcards (a sign read: Climbing the Mountains is not Allowed).

A real highlight was the third tomb we visited – the Tomb of the Harpist. I felt at home here. It was exciting to finally spot it in one of the ante-chambers (as no interpretation boards gave away its location). Sure enough, he looked like he was playing a full-sized harp. Clearly Pharaohs needed entertaining in the afterlife, and so musical instruments were included in the tomb, along with food, treasures, servants, furniture, etc. It was a relief to emerge into the light. I was starting to feel the effects of the sun (in the 40s) and needed cooling off.

ferries on the Nile

Maria had managed to arranged a ferry (ours was called Omar Shariff) to take us across the Nile – this seemed a better option than getting back in the minibus. Four hundred metres wide, eight metres deep, 4151 miles long, discharging 300 million cubic metres per day, it is the longest river in the world, flowing through nine countries and providing the water of life for millions. Maria talked passionately about how countries upriver want to build more dams, reducing its flow. It is such a vital resource and a point of tension. Once again men want to control what flows freely – what Africa gives so generously.

A felucca on the Nile

We had a nice lunch at the St George’s Hotel – watching the obese sunbathers baking below (like a Grosz painting).

George & the Dragon - in the hotel lobby

Our driver picked us up and we headed off for the grand finale – Karnak – which we had the rest of the afternoon to explore. This was needed as its so huge, covering hundreds of acres. Land around it is being cleared, as at one time houses clustered right up against it. Now there’s a wide terrace leading towards it, allowing you to get a sense of its scale, creating a sense of drama, restoring its sanctity (as at Stonehenge, where they are removing the roads that runs by it, cutting the site in two). However, it is terrible that local people were forced to move out, have their homes demolished, and there were not sufficiently compensated. More houses have been demolished to reveal the Avenue of the Sphinxes, which links the major sites. It has only just been revealed and will be open to the public next year. I like the way the sites have a ‘conversation’ with each other. Hatshepsut’s faces Amun Ra’s on the opposite side of the Nile – like the sun and moon facing each other across the sky.

the awesome hypostyle hall at Karnak

Finally I came to the place I had seen in photoes and footage and was really looking forward to. It did not disappoint: the Hypostyle hall in the Temple of Amun. It was truly awe-inspiring to walk among those huge decorated columns. I wandered off from the group to savour this incredible place, walking amongst the forest of pillars. It is meant to symbolise the rushes of the riverbank where Horus was born. It took a long time and alot of effort to build, so it only seems right to ‘stand and stare’.

at Karnak - the largest obelisk behind

Beyond was the largest obelisk in Egypt – an incredible 29.5 m (one single piece of rock). Other wonders awaited. A Sacred Lake, where the priests ritually bathed every day before breaking open the sealed temple where offerings were given to the Gods. Next to this is a gigantic scarab dedicated to the rising sun. Our guide told us it was considered lucky to walk around this 7 times (other guides said 3 or 9) anti-clockwise, making a wish. So I did. Doing this in the midday sun felt like being one of those unfortunate bugs who schoolboys like to torment by tieing to a nail, watching it walk around and around. As at Mmemon there were ‘temple dogs’ – looking for the others, I found one lying in a small side chapel. It looked like it was expiring. I found some water and offered it. The dog weakly lifted its head, then started to drink, lapping from the plastic cup. Immediately it seemed to revive – uncurling like a Rose of Jericho, sitting up, a light returning to its eyes.

Sometimes a cup of kindness from a passing stranger is all it takes.

temple dogs

With relief we returned to the car, where ice cold water and air conditioning was waiting. Others are not so fortunate. We said farewell to Maria, thanking her for her excellent job, and headed off, out of the chaos of Luxor, and away from the Nile Valley, towards the golden mountains, illuminated by the setting sun. It was a full day, and by the time we got back around nine the back of my shirt was slick with sweat. Exhausted, I thanked Samil and said good night to the others. I retired to my room for a shower and an early night, my mind blazing with the incredible sights of the day.

Posted by: Kevan Manwaring | May 24, 2010

Hog Heaven

20-22 May

A rack of hogs outside the Steigenberger reception

Thurs: The chapter I worked on today was called ‘The Sand Sweepers of Assekrem’ (I had chosen the title over two years ago when working on the first draft of my desert novel, but it seemed strangely appropriate here – the people referred to in the chapter seemed akin to the guys here who rake the sand every day like some kind of Zen meditation, or exercise in futility). The wind continued to howl and my bowels continued to flow (sorry – too much information – but it aint called the blogroll for nothing).

Yet there’s a positive side to most things. My condition-imposed fast, which had made me weak and light-headed after 3 days without successfully eating anything (I’d put food in my mouth but it only had a passing acquaintance with my stomach), resulted in me having an inspirational experience in the lagoon – the result: a new poem (under ‘Poems’). Talk about suffering for your art!

The Art of Emptiness - nothing can be fulfilling

Friday’s chapter was The Ash Eaters – which was about all I could eat. We met at midday to arrange our reading and Tizzy gave me some horse pills, but they didn’t seem to do the trick.

Hog Heaven - El Gouna

As I walked to the reception to rendezvous with the others I couldn’t believe my eyes – there were a dozen or so hogs racked up in front, Harley Davidsons looking like they’d just been delivered from the showroom. I managed to talk to one of the bikers at breakfast the next morning – there’s 18 of them, on a rideout from Cairo. Their middle-aged Sunday riders – but, boy, would be good to ride that straight coast road with them. Sometimes they go down to Hurghada as well for a couple more days R&R. Hog heaven.

Friday evening we had our ‘meet the authors’ event at the Embassy of Knowledge, aka library, aka ‘el mamoutka’ (it took some time to establish this with the taxi driver as we hurtled towards ‘it’ – although as with all Egyptians I wasn’t entirely sure if he was being disingenuous or not. Sometimes they like to pretend not to understand just to wind you up, but when you’re talked to in a patronising tone by the tourists, can you blame them? Not many laughs in the desert – get ’em where you can). The library is a branch of the Alexandrian Library, Biblioteca Alexandria – the first week, when I went passed it at night the sign wasn’t working properly and it read Biblioteca Ale: the Library of Beer! We arrived and met up with Emad’s staff, including Catherine from Switzerland who made sure we had everything we needed. Our man himself arrived and sorted us out for drinks.

Chatted to some nice Gounies, but shame there weren’t more present. Considering the dearth of cultural activity in the resort, this was disappointing. Maybe we’ll see everyone at the reading.

I had reserved a table at the Moroccan restaurant but was too unwell to take it up, so I wandered back thru Downtown, stocking up on pills and water on the way. Crashed for a bit, dragged myself to Fairways to try eating, then caught the psychedelic love bus down to Abu Tig – nothing happening at Papas, (everyone up at Mangroovy Beach for the kite-surfing fest) so checked out the trendy Peanuts bar, (occasionally frequented by celebrities, apparently). Ate some peanuts, threw the shells on the floor. Drank a beer. Looked at the yachts. Walked to end of the quay and sat gazing out at the night sea, enjoying the soothing lap of waves, the borderless darkness illuminated by the lonely lights of ships in the distance. I felt a bit like St Exupery’s aviator, flying across the desert, seeing lights far below: ‘We felt ourselves lost then in interplanetary space, among a hundred inaccessible planets, searching for the one true planet that was our own, the only one with landscapes we knew, houses we loved, all that we treasured.’

one of the amazing towel sculptures by the talented Mahmoud

Elmaz sent a message saying she had a new towel sculpture on her bed so popped around (it’s only next door) to see the amazing work of art made by Mahmoud, our talented cleaner. He provides an excellent service, but like many of the staff here is brighter than his job. So much unfulfilled potential, it’s heart-breaking – they just don’t get the opportunities Westerners take for granted (a good education, a chance to travel, a freedom to choose and follow your star). Seeing these, the Neglected of El Gouna (who diligently keep the place running) makes me feel like we’re in a movie where all the bit parts are played by ‘A’ list stars and the main roles by unknowns, or the hammiest of actors. The tourists take to the main stage every day – the pool-side, the restaurant – while the real talent remains beyond the limelight.

Saturday started to feel better as the new medicine took effect. I could eat again! And having more energy went for a workout – my German spa pal, Thomas, was on hand to show me how to optimise my gym experience. Crossing back on the ferry in the evening light, feeling ‘wellness’, I thought how lucky I am to be here.

view from my room

Posted by: Kevan Manwaring | May 21, 2010

Dancing on the Beach

Dancing on the Beach

20th May

Last night I was invited to the Divers Beach Party at the Club House by the lovely Georgina, the golden goddess from Guildford. Every week their dive group, the Tropical Gangsters, meet there, but that night it was their first anniversary. And then I heard that 30 people from Dive Northampton (an appropriate name for my old home town) were there – they have been coming to El Gouna for 6 years. This was their last night and should have been in party mood, but the winds all week had sapped their energy. After I got a Sakara from the bar, Georgina introduced me to one of their group leaders, Steve, who was friendly – but it turns out he wasn’t originally from Northampton. The true Northamptonians were typically sullen and suspicious when I approached. The coincidence of being from the same place, while on another continent, didn’t seem to impress them (but nothing impresses Northamptonians much. They have made an art form of cynicism). Still, it was a lovely atmosphere and nothing could dampen my good spirits – despite being still a bit spaced out from earlier and my lack of sustenance I was pleased to be out of my room. It’s been intense lately – I probably have some kind of luxury resort psychosis … admittedly, as psychoses go, it’s not a bad one. But as Jack Nicholson types over and over again in The Shining (while staying at an enormous hotel…): all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. I thought I’d better go for a night off with a different crowd before I started chanting ‘red rum’ and chasing people around with an axe ;0)

Although the wind was too lively to light a fire, it was still a beautiful evening, with the half-moon shining down upon the soft sands, the lagoon lapping on the shore. A DJ spun some predictable but fun tunes and folk started dancing. I kicked off my desert boots and cut some … sand. I was introduced to a fellow writer, a resident from Oz called Diana. She was a fellow Leo, but we hit it off straight away. Sue and Dave were there from the other night – they greeted me warmly. It was nice to be made to feel welcome. Pierre, the Egyptian-Armenian, was also there – a silent sentinel on the edge of the circle. It was nice that even ‘outsiders’ were accepted. You didn’t have to join in, but could if you wanted to. An Egyptian guy called Hussain showed off his moves – he was quite a dancer, the John Travolta of El Gouna. He took turns dirty dancing with the ladies, but it was all ‘good clean fun’. The owners were there – a Dutch diving couple. Cytze, the husband, was a jolly host. At one point he whipped off his t-shirt and did a back flip into the pool. Then Sue and Dave went in. It looked a bit too fresh – the constant wind had cooled the water considerably. The dancing continued in fits and starts. Three versions of My Way were played, and other choice selections from the disco smorgasbord, but they also played some Stones and some great Arabic music, which gave all of us a chance to shake bums and shimmy boobs.

It was a fun party – the Club House is definitely the place to be on a Thursday night. I felt like I’d had a taste of El Gouna’s magic: friendly locals and strangers, Gounies and blow-ins, hanging out, enjoying the blessings of the night.

Posted by: Kevan Manwaring | May 20, 2010

Oasis Dinner

Oasis Dinner

The ostrich man

Last night we went on the ‘oasis dinner’, which happens every Wednesday – a different hotel takes care of the catering. Tonight is was Sultan Bey. We were picked up by minibus and driven ten minutes to the ‘oasis’ – which is just on the other side of the main road from El Gouna, really just a camel’s spit away. Yes, there were palm trees, dromedaries, guys in galabas, water – but it was all rather artificial, like a toy farm. Nevertheless, it had a certain Trumpton charm. Maybe it was the light – we arrived at dusk, the sun slipping behind the raw peaks; maybe it was the setting – the place was overshadowed by the very unartificial mountains. There was a wonderful ‘dove-cote’ tower there – looking like something out of Mordor.

the Devil's dovecote, El Gouna oasis

Yet this starkness was offset by the tourist tinsel – visitors were taken on a camel ride, all the way around the main well and back (a brief circle, taking a couple of minutes). I wasn’t tempted to take part in the charade, so I found a table at the back of the ‘tent’ – a large covered, carpeted space. On the outside it looked like the walls were made of scrap cardboard, but it turns out these were just ‘shutters’, to keep out the wind. Later, they were taken down, to reveal the stars standing proud against the deep velvet of the night sky. The maiden moon smiled down, alluring but unobtainable.

Emad, our affable guide, met us there and got a round of drinks in. The buffet was ‘opened’ and people queued up. My stomach was still feeling delicate – and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to eat anything. But I was so weak by that point – a couple of days on virtually nothing; an intense steam room experience before I came which had wiped me out completely – that I had to try and eat something. So I went and got a plate of salad and nervously picked, waiting to see what my body decided to do. It let me keep it, so I boldly went for a plate of rice and aubergine dish. I joked with Elmaz about the way Americans call them ‘egg plants’ – maybe it’s a Trans-Atlantic thing, but at least share a similar sense of humour, and enjoy winding each other up.

I retired to the fire where Bedouin offered a relaxing draw upon shisha pipes. One was lit for me and I took a tentative inhalation – it was pleasant and soothing, a smooth smoke (of apple tobacco). I was offered some lovely Bedouin tea. There was just a simple camaraderie, sharing the fire, the smoke, the tea, the odd word or gesture. I felt in common with these Bedouin – some kind of universal brotherhood.

Brotherhood of the Shisha - smoking with the Bedouin

The young man who served me turned out to be the grandson of the chief. One day this village would be his, inshallah. I tried to explain my Bedouin trip the previous Wednesday – when I mimed the shape of the mountain (like a camel’s saddle) they recognised it straight away. Tizzy came and joined me and was offered, jokingly, an ‘expresso’. The Bedouin had a nice sense of humour. What was in the pipe? Hashish, they laughed.

Entertainment began – the usual minstrels of El Gouna – but in this context, reclining on cushions, pulling on a bubbling pipe, it was more agreeable. Unfortunately, they used modern Arabic music – one track sounded like Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’. The generator gave up the ghost now again – perhaps on grounds of taste. The insipid ‘dancey’ troupe; were followed by a livelier routine where a couple of women vigorously rejected the male dancers, pushing them to the floor – Arabic girl power! At one point a kind of pantomime horse popped up – excitingly reminiscent of the Obby Oss of Padstow. It even frolicked friskily with the women in the audience.

Oss, oss, wee oss!

A half-decent belly dancer came on. Then the ‘twirly guy’ (Tanoura) minced on. At first it was good to see him up close – I liked the way he remained the centre of his spinning world. The gaudy, noisy world raced by, but it did not wobble him. Unfortunately, he switched his ‘Blackpool illuminations’ on and it quickly became like a Bruno routine. Still, it’s an impressive feat of dizziness denial.

The Tanoura dancer

There might have been a final act – but by now I was on my second beer and, though not drunk, I was doing my best to ‘switch off’. As soon as they left the stage, we were told we had 5 minutes to leave! The lights went up – it could’ve been chucking out time in a British pub: I expected to hear: ‘Don’t you have a home to go to?’

We were piled back into the minibus and whisked away into the night like hostages – back to captivity.

Posted by: Kevan Manwaring | May 19, 2010

My Day

My Day

I wake up every day as the light of the sun diffuses my room (I sleep with the curtains drawn back). I am in a clean, neat, tastefully-decorated room. I make myself a cup of tea and step out onto the balcony to greet the day – looking out over a perfectly manicured desert landscape. It is always sunny. The phone rings, it’s my morning call (I always awake before it, in the same way I wake up before the alarm clock rings back home). I maybe flick on the news (CNN seems the only one available in English), or read some. Most days I go for a dip in the lagoon, but today I’m feeling a bit weak after being unable to hold anything down for 24 hours. I shower and venture to the restaurant, hoping I can manage something. I bump into the guy who cleans the room and he greets me in a friendly fashion. I try to tell him my room needs cleaning while I’m out, but he always wants to come around when I’m in (the first time, when he arrived I was in the middle of writing. I opened the door and the wind-tunnel effect whipped away papers from my desk. He clattered about in the bathroom and his mobile phone went off twice with a trendy ring tone – leading to long conversations in lively Arabic, echoing into my room from the corridor. I took to hanging the Do Not Disturb sign on my door – but he would ring up, asking if I want my room cleaned). I walk along the well-designed colonnades to the main restaurant. As I pass through the security dolmen I greet the guards with ‘Sabah el Kheir’. I cause a bleep. At Fairways I find a discreet table for two then go to help myself to the buffet – which offers me several kinds of bread, jam, pastries, salad, fruit, eggs, cheese, cold meats, waffles, pancakes, and smoothies. A nice man brings me over a whole silver cafetiere of coffee, which I never finish. The hotel newsletter wishes me a nice day again and reports that the weather remains sunny. It’s ‘editorial’ is an article on Egypt being divided into Red Lands and Black Lands – the latter being the fertile areas bordering the Nile, made black with silt. This is repeated from a fortnight ago. I read something edifying over breakfast – limbering up my brain for the day. I say hello to my fellow writers, but don’t sit with them, since I’m struggling to hold down my breakfast and find eating, let alone conversation, difficult. One notices my green man t-shirt – ‘well, I’m green around the gills’, I joke. I return to my room and begin work. A chapter a day. Occasionally I step out onto the balcony to clear my head and feel a bit of sunlight and wind on my skin. It overlooks the pool, where lean tanned bodies sun themselves. Some of the women are topless – despite the polite notices – and I feel a little uncomfortable, as all I want to do is catch the light, but where do I look? (it’s all a matter of context – I’m no prude and like burlesque but when you’re just trying to catch some photons…). I don’t want them to think I’m a voyeur, so I go back into the shady coolness of my room. The air conditioner is on its lowest setting – sixteen degrees – but still it’s stuffy. At lunch I take a walk to the water and eat a handful of pretzels and an apple. The old security guy waves and comes over to shake my hand. He talks in an animated fashion in his own tongue. I smile and nod but can’t understand him. I apologise – but he probably doesn’t understand me. I return to my room and carry on my work. I have been marking OU papers in the afternoon – preserving the mornings for my own writing. I write my blog. Around five I like to go for an hour’s swimming and sunbathing by on the lagoon beach, then catch the ferry boat across to the Wellness and Health Club (I’m still not sure about the difference) to do a gym circuit if I’m feeling fat, or to soak in the sauna and steam rooms if feeling languid.  I lose  In the evening I usually go for a meal in the restaurant, or sometimes use the Dine Around scheme. Today I look longingly at the 5 Star buffet and hope I can imbibe some essential vitamins and minerals through just browsing, because nothing would stay in my stomach. Cuts down on the calories. I ask for a beer and get the same brand every time – Luxor. The other night I shared a meal with an attractive German lady – refreshingly brunette in a resort of blondes – just arrived from Munich. She is spending the week diving. She’s in Human Resources for a trucking company. I didn’t catch her name. I never see her again and wonder if she was a hallucination. The German guests here seem pleasant, decent folk, and I wish I could speak their language more. I like their directness, diet, orderliness and green sensibilities. I walk back to my room, enjoying the pleasant temperature and light breeze. I switch on the TV, fail to find anything worth watching, squish mosquitoes, read a bit, and fall asleep.

I wake up every day as the light of the sun diffuses my room (I sleep with the curtains drawn back). I am in a clean, neat, tastefully-decorated room…

Posted by: Kevan Manwaring | May 18, 2010

School Visit

International School Visit

Tuesday 18 May

The 5 Writers-in-Residence meet Mr Nigel, El Gouna International School

Today we five writers-in-residents visited the El Gouna International School to meet the pupils and run workshops. After grabbing a hasty breakfast together we set off (Seni was already there) – Tizzy and I jumping in a tuk-tuk.

Waiting to do my workshop - International School, El Gouna

We were met my the Deputy Head, a nice bloke originally from Nottingham, ‘Mr Nigel’. A year before retirement, he had a pleasant easy-going attitude. He’d certainly seen the world as a well-travelled teacher. We had coffee together – which was much needed, after not getting much sleep (the wild desert wind; the heat; the midges; a dodgy stomach; my mind racing). I’d woken up about 3am and ended up typing some poems up. So, I wasn’t in the best of states… I was led to my class of year 7s – run by ‘Miss Becky’ from Cardiff. The room had a pleasant feel – with some impressive work and resources on the wall. A scale model of The Globe sat in the corner! I asked where everyone was from – there was an interesting mixture: many were half-Egyptian/half-European. Being a global mongrel myself I felt at home. I introduced myself and my work and read out some examples of my poems – getting the kids to make sound fx (howling wind, for ‘Song of the North Wind’; motorbike revs for ‘Ignition’). I recited ‘Phone Tree’ – my mobile phone poem; then performed my new piece, hot off the press (I’d finished it just before breakfast, despite being half-asleep) – ‘Rubbish Rap’, written on a sheet of card made from old Tetrapaks.

Rubbish Rap - written on recycled tetrapak - by Kevan Manwaring

I donned my shades and baseball cap, doing my embarrassing white-men-can’t-rap (unless you’re Eminem) act. I got the kids to join in with the chorus:

‘El Gouna, the place to be – the greenest resort on the Red Sea!’

OK, it won’t win any literary prizes, I know – but as long as it raises awareness and celebrates El Gouna’s green initiatives, fostering a sense of local pride, that’s what matters. They seemed to enjoy it anyway, and it got them fired up to write their own ‘rubbish poem’, on any piece of scrap paper they could find. They read out their finished piece – and I was very pleased with the results. Hearing them ‘big up’ recycling gave me hope. The fact that many had written a poem in a second language was impressive – more than I could do!

We finished with some good questions – from ‘Why did you start to write?’ down to the nitty gritty: ‘How many books do they print/do you sell?’ (in other words, how much money do you make/how successful are you). I answered the last one by saying ‘If you’re in writing to make money, you’re in it for the wrong reasons.’

A final photo opportunity – and a lovely speech from the class rep, thanking me and hoping I’ll return – then it was time to go. What a well-behaved and bright class – a credit to their teacher and to themselves.

I met up with the other writers and we were all buzzing about how our respective classes had gone. It sounds like the kids adored us. Out here they don’t get the kind of cultural visits that school-children in, say, Britain get these days – and so they really appreciated us, which was nice. It was satisfying to engage with locals in this way – contributing something meaningful, rather than simply absorbing everything like the life-sponges us writers are.

An all-round success.

Ms Becky's class at the International School, El Gouna

For the May Writers’ Residency we would like to send out an invitation from your emailing list for interested Gounies to come and meet the writers for Tea on Friday 21 May before the closing ceremony and Reading Event on Friday 28 May (A few Gounies made this suggestion in February). Both events will be at 6pm in the library. There brief bios are below and the Group Picture will be sent to you tomorrow. I will be out of the office for a few days and feel free to call me at anytime on 012 22 22 755

Looking forward to your feedback,


Kevan Manwaring is an author of over a dozen books, including poetry, fiction and non-fiction. He teaches creative writing for the Open University and Skyros Writers Lab. As a professional storyteller he has performed in many venues across Britain and abroad, including USA, Italy and Malta – recently appearing on BBC TV. He lives in Bath, in the south-west of England. While at El Gouna he is working on a desert-based novel. His website is:

Lauri Kubuitsile is a full time, award-winning writer from Botswana. She has three published children’s books, two detective novellas, a romance novella, and three collections of short stories for children co-written with two other Batswana writers. She was the 2007 recipient of the Botswana Ministry of Youth and Culture’s Orange Botswerere Award for Creative Writing. In 2009 she won the Baobab Literary Prize

(USA) in the junior category.(

Seni Seneviratne is a widely acclaimed poet and live artist of English and Sri Lankan heritage.  Her poetry collection, Wild Cinnamon and Winter Skin (Peepal Tree Press 2007) has been described as “a virtual master class between covers.” Her performances combine spoken word and a cappella song – “…folk-tinged numbers that take all the air out the room, and make everyone shiver….” Seni has recently released a CD of poetry and song.

Author Elmaz Abinader has won the 2002 Goldies Award for Literature, a PEN/Josephine Miles award for poetry and two Drammies (Oregon’s Drama Circle) for her performances. Author of a Memoir, Children of the Roojme, a collection of poetry, In The Country of my Dreams and several one-woman shows, Elmaz recently performed her play, Country of Origin at the Kennedy Center. Her forthcoming works include a novel, When Silence is Frightening and a memoir The Water Cycle. She is a co-founder of the Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation and a professor at Mills College.

Tiziana Colusso ( is an Italian author of prose, poetry, non-fiction writing and fairy tales. She studied Comparative Literature in the Universities of Rome and Paris. She is from 2005 an elected member in the Board of the European Writers’ Council, the Federation of  Authors Associations of all European countries, based in Brussels. She is the Editor of FORMAFLUENS- International Literary Magazine ( Her last book,  La lingua langue , is a collection of her poetry translated into ten languages (Arabic, Bengali, English, French, Japanese, Latvian, Romanian, Slovak, Spanish, Ukrainian) in occasion of international Festivals and  Meetings. The book is published in collaboration with Associazione Eurolinguistica of “La Sapienza” Rome University. In El Gouna she is working on a book that collects reports from her travels: the title is La manutenzione della meraviglia (The Amazement Maintenance).


El Gouna Writers’ Residency Program Closing Ceremony

The first El Gouna Writers’ Residency Program, under the patronage of Mrs. Yousriya Loza-Sawiris, is coming to an end and this will be celebrated with a Reading Event. The three participating writers will be reading abstracts from the literary project they have been working on during the Residency.

Friday, February 26, 2010 at 4 pm at the Embassy of Knowledge – El Gouna

The idea of having El Gouna host its first writers’ residency, which is also the first of its kind in the MENA region, was initiated by Dr. Sahar El Mougy, Assistant Professor of Contemporary English and American Literature, in September 2009.  Dr. El Mougy also acts as the head of the advisory board in the good company of the famous author Mr. Khaled Al Khamisi, Dr. Maha El Saied, Assistant Professor of Contemporary English Literature, Dr. Eman Ezz Eddin, Associate Professor of Drama and Mythology, Dr. Khaled Mousa, Assistant Professor of Spanish Literature, and Dr. Moumina Hafez, Lecturer of Modern and Contemporary German Literature.

The Writers

Valerie Laws is a poet, playwright for stage and radio, and crime novelist. She has written 8 books and specializes in science/poetry public installations and project


Mvemba Phezo Dizolele is a Congolese-born American writer, journalist and foreign policy analyst. A frequent commentator on foreign affairs, he has been a guest on the BBC, VOA, Al Jazeera, NPR and PBS and his writings have been published in the New York Times, International Herald Tribune and Hoover Digest.

He is currently writing the biography of Mobutu Sese Seko.

Khadijah Ibrahiim is of Jamaican parentage and born in the city of Leeds. Hailed as one of Yorkshire’s ‘most prolific’ poets by BBC Radio, she continues to make various stage appearances across Britain, the USA, the Caribbean and Africa.

Notable works include ‘Leeds Celebrates South Africa’. She was a member of the advisory group that organized events which marked the visit of Dr. Nelson Mandela to the City of Leeds.

If you are interested in attending this event, please contact Mr. Emad Ibrahim – El Gouna Library Manager ( Ext. 32589. There are limited seats available.

There will be no facilities for children during this event.

The Information Center Team

El Gouna Information Center

El Gouna, Red Sea

A Subsidiary of Orascom Development

Tel: +2 065 354 9702 /03 /04 | Internal Ext: 32100 I I

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