My love of poetry started when I was aged twelve and a pupil in Mr Worthington’s English class at Hayward Grammar School, in Bolton, England. Yes readers, I have to "fess up" that I had a schoolgirl crush on my teacher. I'm inclined to think my reason for memorizing this poem was first love rather than an interest in conservation.
"When you destroy a blade of grass
You poison England at her roots.
Remember no man's foot can pass
Where evermore no green grass shoots."
Now over the years I have read loads of articles in newspapers and magazines, listened to lectures, and viewed documentaries about the far reaching effects of deforestation but I cannot quote from a single one. Maybe it’s the power of poetry, but I’m more inclined to think it’s the enduring nature of first love.
Drawing on memories of trips up river into the back-blocks of Borneo where I lived for five years in the nineties, I then went on to talk about the devastation I witnessed, and in particular the effect on the traditional owners. I related how proud, self-sufficient Dayaks are being forced off their ancestral lands by rapacious loggers,and live as beggars because they lack the education and skills to adapt to a changed environment. I explained to my pupils that I was so incensed that I wrote THE WHITE AMAH about an illiterate girl from a Dayak jungle longhouse struggling to find her place in fast-paced Miri, a cosmopolitan oil town where a centuries' old culture and modern Asia meet.
The short extract that I read to students about Joseph Ling, the serial arsonist who owned the Baram Hardwood Timber Company, and destroyed a village because the headman refused to sign over the timber rights was based on an event I witnessed in Miri, Sarawak. Property developers hired thugs to burn a village that was occupying prime real estate. This led to a “heated” discussion about Development vs Conservation.
I love that I can use my experiences and my love of fiction to inspire students. If you’d like to find out what happened to Joseph Ling, The White Amah is available in ebook and paperback formats from Amazon. You can click here to sample or buy.