I haven’t always been a Writer. In fact anyone who knows me well will tell you that my decision to take four years out of a burgeoning international development career to write my first book, with nothing you could call writing experience save a few tour reports and policy briefs, was met with a good deal of skepticism. Its not that they didn’t think I was capable of it, but perhaps I hadn’t thought the idea through fully. And to a large extent they were right.
The Job Centre weren’t prepared to support my ‘New Deal’ proposal either, but as I had no intention of looking for a job it felt dishonest signing on. So I didn’t. Having been made redundant three times in the previous nine months while the development sector structured, and re-structured itself, I can’t say I found being employed much fun anyway. It had taken a while but I had finally got the message.
It had started in 2000 when I was visiting my sister in Damascus. She had been poorly and instead of the usual round of visiting family and shopping there was nothing to do but sit and talk. I was mesmerised by her tale, the details of which I had never heard before, and promised that one day I would write a book. I came home, got sidetracked and forgot all about it.
Years later, I was working in Beirut and Suzan had come to join me for a short holiday. “And what about our book”, she had chided. “Book? What book?” I had retorted. I had more than enough on my plate at that time. Taking on a book project was the last thing I wanted to do. But truth told, I knew full well what she was talking about. The interview tapes, stored in a battered brown case, had moved house with me no less than five times in the ten years since I had recorded them. I began to feel the familiar prod that could only come from an all seeing, all knowing, never-forgetting God.
As I sat contemplating the huge task ahead, I was reminded of a portrait that hangs on my lounge wall. It is of Jesus, and I painted it from a single line. “Hum, don’t all paintings start out that way?” I hear you say. They do, but more often than not one has something to work with. I hadn’t wanted to copy-paint a portrait because every image I had ever seen of Jesus had a western slant: pale skin and blondish. I wanted a complete, unadulterated image that was totally him, in my view. However, all I saw when I closed my eyes to start painting that day was a single line towards the right of the page – his cheek bone. Over the coming days more of Jesus’ image was revealed, but only as I needed it. Features. Skin tone and colour.
The portrait isn’t very good, but that is not the point.