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I was born in Scotland, grew up in Zambia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe, and currently live in Cape Town, South Africa.
I obtained my doctorate from the University of Cape Town, and have led an exciting and unusually diverse research life as a genetic engineer; studying some of the tiniest known viruses, maize rust fungus, tuberculosis susceptibility, HIV vaccine development, and engineering novel gene expression systems in plants, bacteria, and in insect and animal cells.
Having written a great deal of fact, I left science in 2009 to write fiction. When not writing, I keep tropical fish, read and enjoy being in Cape Town with my family and friends.
So how well has my life prepared me for a writing vocation?
Living in Africa is not for those who want a complacent life. Africa challenges me daily to take nothing for granted but to question every facet of my existence: a boon to fiction writing (as well as in learning to become a better human).
And the vocations of scientist and novelist are not so far apart as they might seem at first glance. Scientific research provides a rigorous and invaluable training in precisely the same set of skills needed for fiction writing. Like good fiction writing, good research is impossible without imaginative thinking. I have had long years of daily explaining the unseen, turning ideas on their heads and asking "Why?" and "What if?" Moreover, scientists need and therefore develop excellent practical writing skills (writing with precision, revising, editing, formatting, and proof reading). The fiction publishing world has nothing on the world of publishing peer-reviewed scientific papers - I learnt early to accept and profit from criticism and rejection. And of course, both vocations require a love of reading, the enjoyment of researching around a topic, and the ability to self-motivate and work alone.
My family and life in Cape Town? Like many another writer, some of my best ideas have germinated from chance remarks and happenings around me. And of course, for a writer, family support is crucial.
The fish? Who knows?
on Dec. 30, 2011 :
An intriguing look at a long-standing mystery - who was the person from Porlock? A real person, interrupting a work of genius? A figment of Coleridge's drugged imagination? The product of his frustrated sub-conscious coming to terms with the possibility that while his addiction provided valued inspiration, maybe it took away more than it gave? In a fascinating exploration of what might have happened to
interrupt the composition of "Kubla Khan", the author suggests he was both the source and the destruction of the poem.
This parallels the course of the river Alph, endlessly creating and destroying itself, as the central thread in her version of the completed poem. We can never know how Coleridge would have completed the poem. While some people may prefer to leave it a mystery, the work offers a further level of enjoyment if it is taken as a starting point rather than a conclusion. The author's poem stays true to the voice and mood of the original, taking the reader on a fantastical journey of sights and sounds and providing a very satisfying read.
Every bit as entertaining is the research that the author did and which she details in the accompanying essays.
It has been many years since I last read the original and I re-read it with a much greater appreciation.
It is a measure of the success of the author's work that it so much enhances the enjoyment of the original, while being itself beautifully written, engaging and thought-provoking.
(reviewed 48 days after purchase)
on Dec. 08, 2011 :
"Detained above an hour "
The author draws you into the hallucinogenic world of the young Coleridge with such ease of writing and exquisite use of words that the reader is held in the phantoms power just as Coleridge must have been himself. From the allure of the phantom and his eccentric fashion sense to the delicacy of the beautiful Abyssinian maid to the awe inspiring beauty of the Temple of the Moon and the inevitable sense of loss !
A must read ! This is a writer to watch !!!
The Poem: "Col's Phantasm Speaks"
What better person to complete Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan I am sure he would be honoured. Beautiful !!
(reviewed 19 days after purchase)
on Nov. 29, 2011 :
What a fantastic read. The imagery both in the poem and the short story is absolutely beautiful and most of all we get to read the completed poem of Kubla Khan. While some may say that it's better kept unfinished, this is not what Coleridge actually wanted. In fact, he spent much of his life trying to complete the poem himself. I also appreciated the detailed notes for the short story and the poem, which give the reader insight into the extensive background information behind both the story and the completed poem. Highly recommended.
(reviewed 27 days after purchase)
on Nov. 17, 2011 :
Col’s Phantasm Speaks” and “Detained Above an Hour” ooze passion, erudition, joy and pride in language, and are a riot of words, words, words. The sheer exuberance of the writing, and the fun the author has in experimenting with different styles and voices and idioms, is captivating.
Written after Fiona survived surgery for a brain tumor, the two works rollick and ramble, and explore many “big ideas”, not unnaturally mirroring the emotional and physical states of a recuperating and recovering tumor survivor, who experiences everything around her with senses heightened by her traumatic and, ultimately, enlivening experience.
Both works speak of and to transmutation, just as Fiona transmutes her near-fatal experience into a life affirming journey back into writing, and into the rigours and joys of poetry. The “joys” appear to be debatable: the poet has an “unhappy fate”, becoming “transfixed” and “entombed” and “accursed”: tormented by visions, alone, demented, “foresworn by man and ghost”. All this is given the lie of course by the beauty and power of the visions, the exquisite agony of the creative process and the magnificence of the language. And the fact of immortality, no matter how hard the winning thereof.
Somehow, in Fiona’s hands, and given her story, this is not merely a powerful example of poetic irony, but a profound lesson about the challenges of life and living. Life is wonderful. Because of it all, despite it all.
Not everyone gets to complete the incomplete, finish the unfinished. It almost makes you grateful Fiona is not a composer or sculptor. Schubert’s “Unfinished” and Michelangelo’s “Sleepers” can rest in pieces…….. I love the power of potentiality in “the unfinished”, and the intellectual and emotional provocation that brings. So do I prefer the unfinished Kubla Khan? Yes. Do I think that Fiona has done a very good job in presenting her response to the mystery and provocation of this unfinished work? Yes. Do I think the two are mutually incompatible? No.
(reviewed 16 days after purchase)