Anonymous messes with my head while I sleep.

Anonymous messes with my head while I sleep.

The night after Anonymous announced their social media campaign on those guys who would prefer us all to hate our neighbour, I had this dreadful dream that members of the online vigilante group had hacked into the Amazon Createspace server, gotten into my Stroke the Tiger’s Tail file and messed it all around so the words, sentences and chapters where all in the wrong order and the whole book didn’t make any sense at all.

Too easy! I was looking for a scapegoat to blame for any errors in the paperback and now I had an untraceable, loose international association of some of the planet’s best IT minds to take the rap.

I understand that the ability to write complicated, bespoke bits of code is more an indicator of flawless attention to detail than the sort of lackadaisical attitude that leaves all the proofreading of one’s novel to a romantic partner. But it was night, I was asleep, and Anonymous was messing with my head. Ah-ha. Yeah.

Anyway, here is something that requires some attention to detail, but does not require you to be a member of Anonymous, and I am happy to recommend it to you: love your neighbour. 

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New Arrival.

There are a lot of dehumanising narratives going around about various groups of people who are suffering through all sorts of trials at the moment. These words and descriptions encourage us to think of people who are not really all that different from us as outsiders, others and them.

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Could be anything in there.

Once we have placed people in the part of our brain that considers them so different to us that we don’t have to love them, it is easier for us to turn away from their trials and suffering, consider their need as something that can be disregarded, searing our consciences towards any further evidence to the contrary.

I lived in Central Asia for a few years and I have a lot of happy memories from that place. I wrote Stroke the Tiger’s Tail because I wanted to recreate the place that is special to me. For a while I wasn’t going to publish the story. Then I realised one day, in the shower, naturally, that I could leverage this story to do two good things:

  1. I could present people in all their earthy humanity, in their experience of trials and hope. I could offer a humanising narrative amidst some of the more dehumanising ones.
  2. The royalties from the book could go to physically help people fleeing from those who would prefer we hated our neighbour. Hence my arrangement with Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group to receive all the royalties from the sales. (You can get a copy of Stroke the Tiger’s Tail from my CreateSpace page.)
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Making a little difference.

We all have skills and interests that enable us to love our neighbour in our own, personalised way. What unique things are you doing to love your neighbour at this time? 

[Read about my short novel here. Available from Amazon.com and Createspace.]

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What are people saying about Stroke the Tiger’s Tail?

What are people saying about Stroke the Tiger’s Tail?

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A campaign like this would be incomplete without…testimonials!!

So this is a page to record what people have been saying about Stroke the Tiger’s Tail. I’ll add comments to this page as I receive them.

Reader 1:

I have just finished reading this wonderful book and I strongly recommend it to you all. It will take you by the heart into the life, secrets and culture of a (fictional) Central Asian family. Ramona writes the sights, smells, tastes, sounds and textures of these people in a way that makes them feel like your own family. She knows a lot because she lived there for many years. I know a little now, because she has shared so vibrantly and respectfully and beautifully.

Reader 2:

It sneaks up on you in a gentle but real way. So beautifully constructed. It got right into me and at points brought me to tears.

Reader 3:

Oh wow. Just finished! The whole book! I couldn’t put it down! Awesome ending! Loved it! Thank you Ramona!

Here’s a review of Stroke the Tiger’s Tail that a reader put up on Amazon:

This is a haunting and beautiful read. Haunting in its portrayal of pain and shame within a family, beautiful in its description of a culture so far removed from my own, and yet so familiar. As a reader I was drawn into the lives of the characters with all of my senses and with growing empathy. This is the first work of fiction I’ve read from this author. I trust there will be more to come.

And here’s what someone posted on Stroke the Tiger’s Tail’s Facebook Page:

I recommend it as a great read if you love a good yarn and like to be immersed in a culture far away. It is a story you will not easily forget.

What about you? Have you read Stroke the Tiger’s Tail? What did you think?

Buy my book. Help people fleeing war and persecution.

FeaturedBuy my book. Help people fleeing war and persecution.

Stroke_the_Tigers_T_Cover_for_Kindle

There is a name given to girl children which means “pomegranate flower”. Anargul. You have to live in a land of pomegranate trees to give a name like that. You have to understand the pomegranate flower is the most beautiful of all blossoms. It opens out red from the bud like a woman shaking out the wrinkles of a silk skirt.

Proceeds from the sale of Stroke the Tiger’s Tail are being donated to the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group. BMRSG provide financial assistance to refugees and asylum seekers in Sydney.

So buy my book and not only will you love my story, you will also be helping to underwrite the following expenses for some of Sydney’s most vulnerable people – refugees and asylum seekers:

Medical expenses
Food
Goods such as pillows and rice cookers
Electricity costs
Transport costs
Telephone cards

Escape to Central Asia in your mind. Help people who are fleeing war and persecution. What is not to love?  – Ramona Kennedy. 

Not sure if Stroke the Tiger’s Tail is going to be your kind of novel? Well, a campaign like this would be incomplete without…testimonials!

Reader 1:

I have just finished reading this wonderful book and I strongly recommend it to you all. It will take you by the heart into the life, secrets and culture of a (fictional) Central Asian family. Ramona writes the sights, smells, tastes, sounds and textures of these people in a way that makes them feel like your own family. She knows a lot because she lived there for many years. I know a little now, because she has shared so vibrantly and respectfully and beautifully.

Reader 2:

It sneaks up on you in a gentle but real way. So beautifully constructed. It got right into me and at points brought me to tears.

Reader 3:

Oh wow. Just finished! The whole book! I couldn’t put it down! Awesome ending! Loved it! Thank you Ramona!

Still can’t decide? Read the prologue and first few chapters of Stroke the Tiger’s Tail here on this blog.

I’ve read the excerpts. Now hurry up and take my money!

Excellent. Stroke the Tiger’s Tail is available as a paperback, for kindle and ibook.

Here’s how to get a copy:

Paperback copies can be bought by following this link to Amazon’s CreateSpace. The book is also on Amazon, but if you buy from the CreateSpace site more money goes to the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group.

Prefer the electronic version?

There are a couple of ways to obtain the electronic version of Stroke the Tiger’s Tail:

Do you own a Kindle, or use the Kindle app on your device?

Click on this link to buy the kindle version of Stroke the Tiger’s Tail from Amazon.

Do you use an apple device like a macbook or ipad? You can choose this option to get the ebook:

  1. You donate to Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group’s Everyday Hero donation page, giving at least $12. If you can afford it, give $20. One person gave $150, which was very cool indeed. 🙂 Make sure your donation is not anonymous, so I can see you have paid.
  2. Then email me at sendmethebook@psmail.net, telling me you have donated for the book.
  3. I will send you an “.epub” file attached to an email.
  4. You load the file into your device by clicking on the “.epub” file in your email. Your device will offer to send it directly to iBooks.
  5. Job done. Relax and read about Central Asia, feeling righteous that apart from transaction fees all of the money has gone to help people fleeing war and persecution.

Stroke the Tigers Tail: Chapter 2: Frost

Stroke the Tigers Tail: Chapter 2: Frost

Stroke_the_Tigers_T_Cover_for_KindleSTORY SO FAR: Amina and Ibrahim have received news from the Public Defendant that their daughter, Rahima, has been arrested for heroin trafficking in a faraway city. They are Grand-Apam and Grand-Dadam to one grandchild, Adiljan.

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At the beginning of winter, the frost grows so fast along the window pane you can watch the small, white lines branching as they grow sideways away from one another. Adiljan stands with his hand to the glass for several minutes but the heat of his hand makes no difference to the crisp movement of ice along the outside surface.

“I know why,” he breathes into his transparent reflection. “Two panes of glass.” The frost is on the outer pane. He is inside with the warmth, the smell of the kitchen and the low, deliberate sounds of Grand-Dadam’s voice. The ice shuffles forward, slowly filling the pane with intricate patterns.

Grand-Apam says it’s not right to disturb someone’s rest, but Rahima shouldn’t be allowed to sleep through this. Some things only happen once a year. It’s now or never.

“Rahima!”

He runs to where she is lying on the floor of her room, her bedding a mess.

One time, when she had only just finished a rest, Rahima had invited Adiljan in here to play. Her bedding had still been unfolded and spread out over the floor.

“I have a gift for you, Adiljan,” she had said. “Under the bedclothes.”

He had crawled under the thick bed-coverings and made his way down to the bottom of the roll, all the time searching for what she had hidden. He had even gone so far under she had lost sight of him.

“Adiljan! Where have you gone? Why have you disappeared? Will you never come back to the bedroom? Haha!”

“I’m! Under! Here!” Yet even yelling as loudly as he could, he couldn’t make her hear him. How easy it was to become lost under the thick cotton wadding of his aunt’s covers.

Adiljan had tried to do the same in his own bed, but had never felt quite as lost. Curled up small or lying out flat, his body still seemed as obvious as mountains rising from the foothills. There was a magic with Rahima. What was it that she had hidden that time, anyway?

“The frost is here, Rahima. Come and watch it grow.”

She isn’t moving. He kneels beside her and puts his cool palm to her cheek but she does not stir. He pushes her face sideways on her pillow, then shoves it back the other way. “Rahima, the frost is just now coming! You have to see it.”

She lifts her eyelids for a moment, then falls back to sleep. Adiljan stands up and puts his hands on his hips. Then he turns, walks out of her room and shuts the door loudly behind him.

“Adiljan?” Grand-Apam is walking into the hall from the kitchen, wiping her fingers on her apron.

He looks down at the carpet and presses his lips together.

“What is the matter, my child?”

“The frost is growing on the windows,” he screws his toes into the carpet, watching them disappear into the pile.

“Oh. I would like to see that. Which window, my child? Come, come. Show me.” She is pushing him from behind towards the lounge room, hand in the curve of his back.

When Rahima had left Grand-Apam’s house for her new job, her bedroom had stayed empty. Then one day, Grand-Apam had taken Adiljan into the room and said it was his room to sleep in whenever he was over. That night, he had watched Grand-Apam pulling bedding from the cupboard.

“That’s Rahima’s bedding.” He had thought of the gift.

“It will do for you, too, will it not?”

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Stroke the Tiger’s Tail: Chapter 1: The Call (part 2)

Stroke the Tiger’s Tail: Chapter 1: The Call (part 2)

Stroke_the_Tigers_T_Cover_for_KindleSTORY SO FAR: Whilst Rahima is trapped in prostitution in a faraway city, her parents, Amina and Ibrahim, with their young grandson Adiljan, celebrate the annual Corban Festival of the Sacrifice.

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The skull was heavy, hard and warm and it knocked against Adiljan’s knees on the way up the stairs.

Amina ran down to help and the two young men accompanied the whole family up to the apartment, everyone lugging fresh sacrificial meat.

Before long, Amina had seen the entire sheep arrayed warmly along the second kitchen bench. She would put it in the fridge later. Firing up the cooking pot, she scooped ingredients from the prepared piles in the kitchen and made four bowls of mutton soup and four bowls of tea for the men.

They sat in the living room and ate and drank as fast as possible then got up and left. The two younger men had more sheep to slaughter. The old man and his grandson would spend the day visiting every house that offered them a salaam and accepted one in return, eating the tiniest bit of mutton and slurping down the quickest bowl of boiling tea before moving on to the next house and the next. In each house the women and girls stood waiting to serve them. And in turn the husbands and sons and grandsons of their houses would come and execute exactly the same manoeuvre in Amina’s apartment.

Once they had left Amina slipped out of her orange plastic kitchen shoes and padded barefoot onto the deep reds and blues of the carpet’s traditional design. The white lace curtains were newly washed and pulled back to welcome the weak sun reflecting off the snow in the courtyard. She had directed Ibrahim to wash all four sides of the double glazing yesterday and he had done a passable job. She moved to the window and saw a couple of neighbours on their way to her stairwell.

Less than a week after the sacrifice festival, while each family was enjoying its own freezer full of lamb, Amina received a phone call from a faraway city.

“Are you Amina Ibrahim?”

“Yes.” On marriage, Amina had taken her husband’s given name as her last name.

“Rahima Ibrahim is your daughter?”

“Yes.”

“This is the Public Defendant’s office. Your daughter has been arrested for heroin trafficking. If you like, I can make arrangements to work on her case. The cost will be two thousand. Call me back on this number when you have the money.”

Amina sat with her hands cupped around the phone and rocked back and forth. “Balam, balam. My child, my child.” She would have to pay the public defendant’s office, and she’d need the release fee. Where would she and Ibrahim get the money? She entered her husband’s number into the phone.

She had not chosen him herself. Thirty-year-old Ibrahim had been picked out by her mother and father and the wedding arranged before Amina had known anything of it. At that time the law was already in place that a girl could not be married off without her consent. Yet as soon as Amina turned sixteen her mother forged her signature on the permission papers and informed her she was married. Amina had sat under the dining table and wept, insisting she would not go with that man until finally her mother told her that her choices were to marry Ibrahim or be beaten to death. There was no getting out of it. Her mother had six other younger children to care for and Amina was old enough.

She cleared the telephone screen. Where was the man?

It was her turn to host the next women’s Chai event. The women at the monthly Chai were ladies of the same age that had been meeting together since primary school days. Every month each woman took two hundred to the Chai as a gift for the hostess. And each month a different hostess collected all the cash. Money circled the group, with each woman able to plan on receiving one thousand once every ten months.

But just one thousand was not going to be enough. The Chai ladies were not well off. More than half struggled to collect just the two hundred needed to attend each monthly event. Which of them had the money to give her a loan on top of that? Why did she have such penniless friends? Why had none of them sought for more in their lives? For anything more than to keep that extra bit of money away from the men each month?

Those women knew nothing but primary school and marriage. They got together every month and all they did was talk about their children and grandchildren. She used to be like them until her stories filled sour with grief and loss. They hear about her cleaning job and tell her she is doing “black work”; the sort of labouring only desperate and underfed migrant workers do with shovels, sledge hammers, buckets of sand and concrete. What does it matter? Clutching their handbags on their laps. Those bags are so beautiful, but inside them is nothing but a handkerchief and front door key. Let them talk. You can’t spend someone’s good opinion at the bazaar. In her handbag is money.

She cleared the telephone screen and punched in Ibrahim’s phone number again. Sometimes she would go out leaving him details to prepare certain food, or pick up something from the shops but the fool always chose his own method and timing to do things. One evening after work Ibrahim had come to her in the kitchen while she was kneading dough for noodles.

“That fellow who owns the downstairs restaurant came up today,” he had said. “He asked to rent our apartment as a dormitory for his employees.” Ibrahim told her how much they had offered to pay.

Amina had turned around from the workbench. “With that money we could rent an apartment with an extra bedroom. There would be room for the grandchildren, and money left over to pay for groceries.”

“This is our home,” he had said, eyes swimming.

She had turned back and pummelled the dough into the base of the bowl. “Is this place not ours to do with as we wish?”

Amina got up and walked to the window with the phone at her ear. She pulled out a grey rag from behind an indoor plant and scraped it along the dry window ledge. The windows had been built with a stone bench jutting into the apartment and the couple used this for a row of indoor plants. By the glass the plants took full advantage of the short days and pale light of winter and their roots benefitted from the radiator which warmed the stone from below. Ibrahim watered them daily. Once a week he would give the plants a half turn to interrupt their desperate strain towards the weak semi-arctic light. His indoor garden revolved in slow-motion, like television footage of dinner plates twirling on the tall bamboo rods of a stage performer. A philodendron shot leaves out on new stems, budding another leaf and another in a journey away from the origin of growth. But what the plant intended as linear escape ended up curled around the base of the pot.
She waited for the phone ring out, then put it down on the stone ledge. She needed to get to her youngest daughter. A train would be cheapest, but the tickets were sold out months in advance, so it was not an option. She needed to buy an aeroplane ticket. Miriam and Yacobjan could find that money. Miriam would gladly give the money for her sister. She would visit them tomorrow.

The phone buzzed with Ibrahim’s return call.

“Fingers too busy to answer the phone?”

“I smoke.”

“And your other hand?”

“My other hand smokes, too.”

Amina picked three yellow leaves off a struggling geranium. “Will you come home?”

“I always do.”

“There is a matter to discuss.”

“I’ll finish this cigarette and come.”

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Stroke the Tiger’s Tail: Chapter 1: The Call (part 1)

Stroke the Tiger’s Tail: Chapter 1: The Call (part 1)

Stroke_the_Tigers_T_Cover_for_KindleSTORY SO FAR: Rahima is trapped in prostitution in a faraway city.

[previous]

The low, wide living room table was piled high with plates of torte, baklava, dried fruit and nuts, sweets and flatbread. Sangza noodles twirled up into a rigid, foot-high tower of deep fried curls and spoke “festival” as sure as any date on the calendar. Amina used to make her own sangza but now she picks up trays of it readymade from the bakery. Why go to the trouble of doing it yourself when you have the money to buy it? And the bakery men knew what they were doing as well as any woman. Amina picked up a broken piece of deep-fried noodle that had fallen off the tower and replaced it high on the pile. There was to be no eating until after the sacrifice.
A wide tablecloth would be necessary today. She twisted a plate of apples to be more attractive to visitors sitting on the couch and the fruit knife clattered from the plate to the table. When she was a young mother she had taken in her sister Zahira’s children at lunchtimes. Her brother-in-law, Hessan, was unable to bring home enough food for three meals a day and the little ones were so hungry. There had been so little food to go around and as the eldest it was her responsibility to care for the young ones. In later years as the farmers came back to their land and food slowly became more plentiful she had been at her sister’s house with her own children and seen a plate of six apples on the sideboard. Her sister had moved quickly to cover them with a cloth, not offering even one to Amina’s children.
Amina replaced the fruit knife so its blade was propped up on the plate of apples and its handle was resting on the tablecloth. When Hessan comes around later she will move her wooden stool closer to his place on the lounge, cut up an apple and hand it to him, piece by piece. His children would have died if she hadn’t fed them every day.
Ibrahim’s phone rang to announce the arrival of the slaughtermen. This was a special year. His grandson was old enough to join him downstairs for the ceremony. Ibrahim rugged himself up and waited in the concrete stairwell, watching as Amina helped little Adiljan on with his jacket, woollen hat, gloves and boots. Laying his hand on his grandson’s head, he explained the ritual on the way down the two flights. He had walked his own precious Mehmet down this stairwell every year for two decades for this same reason. Nothing could bring his son back, but oh, had Adiljan brought brightness back into the home! As Amina liked to repeat, “A house without children is a graveyard, but a house with children is a bazaar.”
At the bottom of the stairs they held hands and walked around to the back of the building. Two young men were waiting for them, keeping warm in the front seat of a red sedan. Ibrahim waved and they hopped out into the cold and walked to the back of the car.
Adiljan peered into the sedan. No sheep.
“In the boot,” said the driver. He pushed in the button lock and the boot swung open with a creak to show a sheep dumped, woolly body first, into the trunk. Its legs were akimbo and it was bleating loudly. Together the two younger men manhandled it up and out, then wrestled it to the snowy pavement, tying three of its legs tightly with rope. One man took out a foot-long knife and dragged it back and forth along a leather strap. The sheep lay on the icy cement, bound and silent, head pulled back and neck exposed. Its eyes took in the human activity.
It was time to say the prayer. Ibrahim showed Adiljan where to lay his hands on the sheep’s head. The man with the knife positioned himself behind the sheep’s shoulders, one knee in the snow. The other kneeled lightly on the sheep’s rear. Once the young boy’s prayer was said, Ibrahim pulled him back a little from the scene. Then, with one hand on the animal’s chin, the slaughterman put his knife against the animal’s neck, recited an Arabic prayer and rocked his bodyweight forward to gain a better purchase.

There was a beeping noise and the knife was discarded into a snow drift as the slaughterman reached for his phone. Yes he was coming. He will kill this sheep here, and then pick up another and be over at their house by about 10am.

The driver took his weight off the sheep’s rear end and stood up. He reached into the inside pocket of his black leather jacket for a packet of cigarettes. Ibrahim brought his own packet out of his top pocket. Once the phone call was done the slaughter-man lit up one of his own.
“How many sheep have you done this morning?” asked Ibrahim.
“This is the fourth,” said the driver, rubbing the front of his thighs with his free hand.
“You must have started early.”
“Before dawn,” said the slaughterman, sucking in hard through his cigarette. “Mostly around this part of town, though.”
Upstairs in the kitchen, Amina was arranging mountains of chopped potato, sliced onion and cubed turnips along the stone bench. She had plates of fresh coriander sprigs, a dish of diced tomato, garlic shoots cut into inch lengths and bowls of chopped ginger, garlic and a small plate of roughly chopped, dry chilli. A large melamine tray sat beneath a red and white mountain of lamb on the bone. A large plastic bowl was soaking the dry sweet potato noodles back to life. Finally, her huge cast iron cooking pot with its round base and high sides was waiting on the gas burner, oiled, smoked clean then re-oiled ready to go. She had risen in the dark of the morning and was ready to spend the day serving bowls of lamb soup to each guest.
Wondering how the men were progressing with their task she leaned heavily out her kitchen window and peered past the collection of thick black electrical cables down into the white and grey courtyard. One live sheep, a young Adiljan dancing about for its entertainment, and the three grown men chatting and enjoying cigarettes. None of them showing any interest in the sacrifice of an animal.
Amina called down, “On such a holy day, during such a holy activity you men are standing around smoking!”
The shame was enough to have every cigarette stubbed out underfoot and the knife back at the sheep’s throat. The young slaughterman was adept at killing and the sheep travelled from alive to unconscious to dead within seconds, bleeding into the snow.
Adiljan stood next to his grandfather and watched the young men cut a hole in the forelock of the sheep and used their mouths to fill the space between the skin and flesh with air. They peeled away the woolly coat in one piece and threw it into the boot of the red sedan. Then they cut out the innards and washed them through with water. They sliced through the joints and separated the carcass into pieces. Everything was piled on plastic trays.
“You carry the head and feet,” said Ibrahim, handing Adiljan a plastic bag.

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Stroke the Tiger’s Tail: Prologue

Stroke the Tiger’s Tail: Prologue

Stroke_the_Tigers_T_Cover_for_KindleWhile mutton and noodles were served in the restaurant, upstairs Rahima had been required to entertain men.

“How long have you lived here?” they asked.

And each time she gave a different answer.

At the end she would realise she had been somewhere else.

She had been a young girl eating pomegranate. Gouging out the sour red seeds with her fingertips. Red juice running down her elbows. Sap from the fruit’s peel leaving sticky areas on her skin. The seeds were bitter and the juice astringent. Her tongue pressed hard up against the roof of her mouth. Eat a pomegranate and you know you are living. At the bazaar, men had a device that crushed the fruit until scarlet juice poured from a galvanised iron spout. They would call you over to buy a sticky glass of the fruit’s lifeblood.

There is a name given to girl children which means “pomegranate flower”. Anargul. You have to live in a land of pomegranate trees to give a name like that. You have to understand the pomegranate flower is the most beautiful of all blossoms. It opens out red from the bud like a woman shaking out the wrinkles of a silk skirt.

And then the time would come and he would grunt and push harder and maybe cry out and it would be over.

And she would wait for him to dress.

She would lie in bed a little longer, looking out the window at the borderless clouds of a forever overcast sky. But if he still tried to touch her she would get up and start to wash in a pan of water.

Alone again, Rahima would look in the mirror. How much had she changed?

Sometimes she barely noticed.

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