The Killing Fields

A story that inspired the writing of Jakob’s Colours.

‘In October 2011 I set off with my two young boys on a trip around South East Asia for a year.  Though Jakob’s Colours is set during WWII, the following story very much affected a large part of the writing.  The events that occurred in Cambodia, only thirty six years ago, are very similar to what occurred during the holocaust.  Tragically they are still occurring in many parts of the world today.  Jakob’s Colours is a story about the Roma, but it is also about the displaced, those who live in the cracks of society, those that will barely leave a footprint in the sand.My novel Jakob’s Colours was published by Hodder and Stoughton on 9th April 2015.  On the 28th Jan 2016 it came out in paperback.  Lindsay Hawdon has written this brilliant and moving article for us about her trip to Cambodia which helped inspire her novel Jakob’s Colours:

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We travel by tuk tuk to The Killing Fields, my two young boys and I.  Through the outskirts of Pheng Phong, through the fumes and the noise of heavy traffic; the trundle of cartwheels, the belch and grind of overladen trucks.  Uanda drives us.  His name means Stone.  He is a young man in his early twenties with chiselled features that show an array of fevered emotions as he talks about the past.
“Both my Grandparents were killed by the Khmer Rouge.  I do not know where,” he tells us.   “It was a time where you were not safe anywhere.  In the countryside you died of starvation.  In the city they murdered you.”
On the 17th April 1979 Pol Pot took over Cambodia.  Within forty eight hours all schools, hospitals and factories were closed.  Within three days every city was empty, the educated classes shipped out to collective farms of forced labour.  Families were separated.  Possessions were destroyed.   In less than four years three of the eight million people that populated Cambodia were killed.
It is a clear day, the sky milky coloured with wisps of feathery cloud.  The sun is still low and casts long shadows across the dry ground.   When finally we reach the fields themselves, the thing that is most apparent, after the thunder of the city, is the silence.
We begin the walk around them, a voice in our headsets explaining the story of the past. Twenty thousand people were murdered in these fields.  They were brought in trucks, blinded and bound, tortured and starved.  They were accused of crimes against the state and killed before they could defend themselves.  To begin with two or three trucks came every week.  By the end they came every day, and before the sun set all of those inside were dead.
“Better to kill an innocent by mistake than to spare an enemy by mistake,” Pol Pot would say.
They dug their own graves as music played out into the night to drown the sound of people screaming.  Bullets were expensive.  Tools were used to hack a man to death. Throats were cut with the base of palm tree fronds.  Victims knelt in front of pits and did not see the expression on the faces of the men who killed them.
The boys and I walk pass these mass graves and would not know them for what they were.  But for a shallow indentation, today there is grass covering the soil and meadow flowers of white and pale yellow growing around the fringes.  Butterflies flit through the air.  Birds sing.  Long grasses sway and bob in the breeze.  There are bones and fragments beneath our feet.  They rise up in the wind and the rain and lie on the surface, splintered and broken.  A tooth has been placed on the root of a tree.
“Did that belong to someone?” asks Dow, who is eight and understands more than Orly who is still only five and not listening to his headset.
“Yes,” I tell him. “That’s sad isn’t it?”
He nods, stands staring at this tooth, as we are told of a woman who was killed for stealing two bananas.  We walk on, stopping at a large tree, the trunk ancient and wide with years of growing.  It is The Killing Tree.  It is where children were picked up by their legs and swung against the trunk, their heads smashing against the bark.  I look across at Dow to see whether he’s understood what he’s being told, wondering if he’s too young for this information.  He reaches out a hand, presses his palm against the trunk, before bringing it to rest against his own head.  That’s all he does.  For once there are no questions, no lengthy possible scenarios. Just a hand to head movement.
“You ok?” I ask him.
He nods.

Behind us, Orly is chasing butterflies back and forth, trying to catch them in his hands.
“What’s the biggest transport in the world?” he shouts out.
“The Airbus,” Dow tells him.
“I think it’s the combine harvester,” he replies.
In the tower in the centre of The Killing Fields their is a glass turret.  It is full of sculls, sun warmed and glowing.  Beneath it lies a mound of ragged torn clothes, the colours dulled and muddied with time.
“Will you be there to hold my hand when I die?” Orly asks.
“I hope I’ll die before you,” I say.
There’s a long silence, only the sound of cicadas ticking in the grasses.
“Will I be there to hold yours?” he asks eventually.
“I hope so,” I say.  And he runs off to chase more butterflies.

Before the Khmer Rouge these fields were orchards of apple and pear trees.  Then they were Killing Fields.  Today though, it is not the horror or the brutality of death that most permeates the air.  It is the peace.  For in the end it seems it is the people who died here who own the swaying grasses.   It is not the memory of the Khmer Rouge that you walk away with when you leave The Killing Fields.  It is the sweet ache of love that those killed felt for one another.  For in the final moments of life, it is the last thing we feel.’

Twitter: @lindsayhawdon
Website: www.lindsayhawdon.com

Jakob’s Colours is published in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America as well as Turkey, Holland and Czechoslvakia.  It has just come out in paperback in the UK on 28th Jan 2016.

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In Search of Orange

The Rainbow Hunters:

One Mother. Two Boys.  A trip around the world in search of seven colours, the first pigments, made by the first colour men, raising money for the charity War Child as they go.

Orange

Cremona, Italy

As we walk down the windswept Via Francesco Robolotti, the sounds of sanding, sawing and chipping come through the open doorways of the violin workshops that line the street. The air is filled with the scents of turpentine and maplewood shavings.

Here in Cremona, northern Italy, countless stringed instruments have been made over the centuries, but the most famous were undoubtedly made by the Stradivari family, who made their name in the 17th and 18th centuries. Even to this day, no one knows what makes a Stradivarius violin sing the way it does; some believe it’s the wood used and the cut Antonio Stradivari developed. Others that it’s the Cremona varnish, flame coloured, bright as a tiger’s pelt that he made. The locals believe that once they discover the secret of the instrument’s colour, they can master and find the soul of any song.

So it is here that the boys and I find ourselves, on a blustery day, in search of a sunset orange, with only an age-old recipe for Cremona, dating back to 1747. Already we have got lost, and been turned away from three violin workshops, and now we are standing despondently outside The Stradivari Museum which is closed for the holidays. The boys press their faces to the glass, leaving smudge marks. You can see a Stradivarius locked in a tall glass cabinet at the back, but even from this distance you can see the shimmering stripes of gold and amber that run down its spine.

“You look for the Stradivarius?” an old man asks us, his eyebrows arched questioningly.

“We’re looking for Cremona,” I tell him. “The varnish that colours it.”

“Go to the pharmacy on Via Ceresole,” he advises. “Turn right across the Palazzo Comunale.”

We set off as he has directed, to where a neon cross flashes above a doorway. The pharmacy is cluttered with all things modern, with rows of toiletries and medicine. Not at all the sort of place where we might discover the secret of Cremona.

A short, bald man stands behind the counter, his chin covered by a thick, unruly beard, which seems to be compensate for the lack of hair on top. Tentatively I tell him of our quest, and immediately he waves us out across a small courtyard and into a dark, pokey outhouse. Our eyes blink in the dimness. Shelves, crammed with jars of aged amber flakes, powders of burnt yellow and red, liquids of rusted brown. It’s like walking from the present into the past; even the walls smell ancient, must scented with dust that has dampened and dried a thousand times over.

Dow, my eldest son, places our order: a cup-full of shellac flakes, half of sandarac and some wine spirit. “We have to crush the gums and then melt them over a fire,” Dow informs him, reading from our recipe.

“And I think you should try a little of this, and some of this,” the pharmacist says, reaching for a jar of amber, a jar of myrrh and ash. “And lastly,” he adds, “you must listen to this.”

The violin recording that he plays is Vivaldi’s Spring Allegro, full of hope and celebration. “Perhaps,” he says, “you will be the ones to discover the soul of the Stradivari.”

 

The Rainbow Hunters are raising money for War Child (warchild.org.uk) as they travel. War Child work in countries that have been devastated by armed conflict and help children suffering the worst effects of violence; child soldiers, victims of rape and abduction, disabled and street children. They provide vital care to a traumatised child and help them to rebuild their lost childhood. Their aim is a world in which the lives of children are no longer torn apart by war. If you would like to donate something please go to www.justgiving.com/Lindsay-Hawdon.

Lindsay Hawdon’s debut novel, Jakob’s Colours, a story about a young gypsy boy during WWII, who uses a legacy of colour making, to survive, is out now with Hodder and Stoughton in the UK and with Quercus in the US.

@lindsayhawdon

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In Search of Indigo

The Rainbow Hunters:

One Mother. Two Boys.  A trip around the world in search of seven colours, the first pigments, made by the first colour men, raising money for the charity War Child as they go.

 

Indigo
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(South Carolina, USA)

We are in the world of ghosts, where silver spun Spanish moss drapes from the branches of bowing Cypress trees, a world where the legacy of the past still brushes up against the present.  Middleton Place is an 18th Century plantation home in South Carolina, set amongst leaning cottonwood trees, that boasts the oldest landscape gardens in America. The boys and I walk through paths fringed with blazing azaleas, magnolias, and crepe myrtles, listening to the call of the white egret, as alligators sun themselves on the neatly cut grass banks beside the duckweed covered Rice Mill Pond.

We are here in search of indigo, once the most important dye in the world.  It made an empire, and later destroyed it.  To find it we must seek out the ghosts of the past, walk from the grand to the simple, from the rich to the poor, from the sweeping plantation home of the free, to the old stable yard of the enslaved.  For Indigo comes with a legacy.  A legacy of slavery and pain.  Still relevant today.  Nearby Charleston has had it’s fair share of recent racial upset. Only last week 21-year-old Dylann Roof shot dead nine African Americans while they were attending a Wednesday Church prayer meeting.

Today though, there are only two people working in the old slave yard.  Both volunteers.  In their early sixties.  Both white. They stand by a large metal vat, a caldron of mystery, stirring a blue black liquid that is the colour of the night sky. Indigo. It sings off the tongue as you say it, soft sounding and full of the exotic. Ancient Egyptians wrapped their mummies in indigo coloured cloth.  Central Asia carpeted their teak floors with it, while Nigerians and Persians marked their skin in blue black tattoos.

“Still grow it here,” John one of the volunteers tells us, nodding towards a rectangular patch of ground that is full of small leafy plants.

“Yup,” echoes Ralph.  “Still grow it.  Lot of memories in those stems.”

“We’ve come around the whole world for that,” Orly says.

“The whole world?”

“Yup,” echoes Dow. “The whole world.”

“You got a white ‘kerchief or something.  I’d be happy to dye it for you, Ma’am,” says John.

The only thing we have that is white are Dow’s grubby, sweaty socks.

“Yup, they’ll do,” says Ralph and, a little reluctantly, Dow takes off his shoes and peels his socks from his hot feet.

“You’ll need to bind it with some vinegar.  And if you’ve no vinegar….”

“Urine,” finishes off John, walking towards us.  “We’re not meant to do this,” he adds, “but since you’ve come round the whole world an’ all, you can take this.” And he pushes something into Dow’s hand – a small ball of crushed and dried indigo.  “Precious that,” he says.  “That colour comes with a history we don’t like to think about too much.”

We walk away, Dow bare-footed and clutching a piece of the precious night in the palm of his hand.

 

The Rainbow Hunters are raising money for War Child (warchild.org.uk) as they travel. War Child work in countries that have been devastated by armed conflict and help children suffering the worst effects of violence; child soldiers, victims of rape and abduction, disabled and street children. They provide vital care to a traumatised child and help them to rebuild their lost childhood. Their aim is a world in which the lives of children are no longer torn apart by war. If you would like to donate something please go to www.justgiving.com/Lindsay-Hawdon.

Lindsay Hawdon’s debut novel, Jakob’s Colours, a story about a young gypsy boy during WWII, who uses a legacy of colour making, to survive, is out now with Hodder and Stoughton in the UK and with Quercus in the US.

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In Search of Blue

The Rainbow Hunters:

One Mother. Two Boys.  A trip around the world in search of seven colours, the first pigments, made by the first colour men, raising money for the charity War Child as they go.

 

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(The Ovalle Valley, Chile)

It is still dark when we set out to visit Flores de los Andes, a lapis lazuli mine that lies high in the mountains of Ovalle, central Chile, at an altitude of 4,200m. It is only accessible for three months of the year, February to April, when the snow has melted. The boys are wrapped in blankets in the back of the 4WD. Juan, a miner, accompanies us. He speaks no English, I speak no Spanish. We communicate with exuberant hand movements and tonal inferences. He is a sweet man, short and stout, with a weathered face and watery brown eyes.
Already we have driven from coast to valley floor, and upwards to dusty tracks. The sky lightens when eventually, in the middle of the wilderness, we arrive at a large rusty blue gate. Juan unlocks the heavy padlock and heaves it open. We pass through, steeply climbing up towards the pass. The sun has risen by now, and the alpine meadows rush up to bare pointed peaks. The boys lean out of the window, their faces to the wind. We cross through clear streams of rushing water, filled with leaping salmon, pass mountain goats and herds of wild horses. There is the odd lone gaucho, mounted on a mule, but mostly we are alone.
We climb higher and higher. The land becomes bleached and barren, the track merely a path of crumbled rocks. Finally we come to the top of the pass, the valley from which we have come stretches out behind, and another spreads before us. It is as if we have reached the very roof of the world. My sons are stunned. The air is icy, dry; it’s hard to breathe.
Juan points across to a rickety outbuilding, and beyond that to a small coloured crack nestled into the mountain slope, like a door to Narnia. It is our mine. In this land of bleached browns and whites, it is a bright blue stain. Breathlessly, we head on up by foot. The air smells of sulphur. A huge bolder of ice blocks the entrance. One hundred percent of the lapis in Santiago, used for jewellery and ornaments, is stolen from this mine, by locals who load it onto mules. Rudolf, the owner, opens it only for large commissions. When we had met two days previously he had talked of finding a way to make lapis more commercial, to open it up for the everyman, not just the glitterati.
Juan has brought a sack with him for the boys to collect what they want. Excitedly they pick out the bluest brightest rocks, the colour of the deepest ocean, scattered around our feet. The Italian’s call it oltramarino, meaning “from beyond the seas”. In the past it has coloured the frescos of Giotto, the pastels of Fra Angelico, the painted cloaks of Christ and the veils of the Virgin Mary, ground to the finest powder, in a process that takes over three days of kneading and extracting. It is quite something to stand at the source of such a colour, so close to the sky, you can touch it. It rains up here only once every seven years. But when it does so, the flowers that spring up over the bare slopes of the Flores de los Andes are blue, as if nature itself where leaving a clue as to where we might find one of the world’s most vivid, most precious of colours.

Follow on Twitter @lindsayhawdon

Lindsay Hawdon’s debut novel, Jakob’s Colours, a story about a young gypsy boy during WWII, who uses a legacy of colour making, to survive, is out now with Hodder and Stoughton in the UK and with Quercus in the US.

The Rainbow Hunters are raising money for War Child (warchild.org.uk) as they travel. War Child work in countries that have been devastated by armed conflict and help children suffering the worst effects of violence; child soldiers, victims of rape and abduction, disabled and street children. They provide vital care to a traumatised child and help them to rebuild their lost childhood. Their aim is a world in which the lives of children are no longer torn apart by war.
If you would like to donate something please go to http://www.justgiving.com/Lindsay-Hawdon.

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In Search of Red

The Rainbow Hunters:

One Mother. Two Boys.  A trip around the world in search of seven colours, the first pigments, made by the first colour men, raising money for the charity War Child as they go.

 

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Uluru, Australia

It is dark and cold as we drive in the pre-dawn light towards the great mound of rock, that lies like some sleeping giant in the middle of Australia’s red hearted desert. We can see it silhouetted against the blue black sky, a dark hump, that blocks out the stars and the sinking full moon. We follow the road around to the north side, park the car, and follow the dust track, through the spinifex grasses, to stand and wait for the sun to rise against Uluru.
Three days ago we had found what we had come here for. We had set off west from Alice Springs towards the Mac Donald ranges on a long and empty road into a wilderness of burning orange, had done exactly what you shouldn’t do in the outback of Australia. Had left on the spur of new and momentary information for the red ochre pits. Had told no one where we heading. Had only a small bottle of water, no food. My mobile phone lost its signal five miles out of town. But we drove on, through a red desert of singing cicadas and scattered desert pines, their feathery leaves flickering in a hot wind. We passed the burnt out husks of abandoned cars, discarded tyres hanging from skeleton branches, the odd tin can, warped and bleached of colour, that caught the light and flickered like a false beckon on the parched ground. We passed no other vehicles. We were alone, completely, in the immenseness of Australia’s red centre. My heart pounded as we headed into the heat, further and further from civilisation.
And then 80 miles west of Alice Springs and 8 miles west of Serpent Gorge, in a dried out sandy creek of white and red gum trees we had found the red ochre pits of the MacDonald Ranges. Rusted colours that streaked from sky to ground down the cliff walls of a dried out riverbed; orange, yellow, white and a deep rich red, the colour we had come for. The land around felt ancient and eerie. For centuries these pits have been used by the Aborigines; for ceremonies, for medicine, for war weapons.
“I think we’re being watched,” Orly had whispered. And it had felt like that. A forgotten world of old ghosts, where aboriginal men had once come, like us, in search of the colour red.
And now, here we are at the foot of Uluru, the great rock that sits so silently in the endless surrounding desert, her cave walls painted and still painted to this day with that same red ochre we had found, pictures that depict the Anangu Aborigines throughout the history of time. Here we wait for the sun to rise. Already the horizon is pale. Already the stars have dimmed. And then finally the sun appears like a burning hot metal on the horizon. Uluru, the great sandstone ship of the desert, a sanctity of shade and water, is lit red, a bright shimmering red, the colour of fire.

 

The Rainbow Hunters are raising money for War Child (warchild.org.uk) as they travel. War Child work in countries that have been devastated by armed conflict and help children suffering the worst effects of violence; child soldiers, victims of rape and abduction, disabled and street children. They provide vital care to a traumatised child and help them to rebuild their lost childhood. Their aim is a world in which the lives of children are no longer torn apart by war.  If you would like to donate something please go to http://www.justgiving.com/Lindsay-Hawdon.

Lindsay Hawdon’s debut novel, Jakob’s Colours, a story about a young gypsy boy during WWII, who uses a legacy of colour making, to survive, is out now with Hodder and Stoughton in the UK and with Quercus in the US.

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In Search of Violet

The Rainbow Hunters:

One Mother. Two Boys.  A trip around the world in search of seven colours, the first pigments, made by the first colour men, raising money for the charity War Child as they go.

 

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New Zealand

New Zealand is a green county, full of vast expanses of land, of snow crested mountains that hide in white clouds, of endless sandy shores and deserts of mallow and spinifex, of tropical wildernesses and deep glacial fjords. It is not a land with which you associate the colour that we are looking for, the colour violet, the last in the rainbow spectrum, the ending of the known and the beginning of the unknown.
We have come first to the lavender fields, small plantations dotted along North Island and South. We stand now amongst the trim, cultivated rows of bobbing purple flowers. Pacific Blues that sway in the rush of wind that comes down from the Blenheim hills, rolling down over brown parched grasses. The helicopter woke us up this morning, before the sun had come up. It flew low over the French Fields Farm House, hovered over the surrounding vineyards, warding off the frost by stirring up warm air with the whirr from its propellers. Now the sun is just up, lighting the lavender in swaying bands of white light and cloud cast shadows.
“Perhaps with a little lemon,” Ruth, the owner, tells us, “you might extract violet, but people grow lavender for its scented oil, not for its colour.”
Onwards then to the shore, to the rocky north coast of Able Tasman National Park, in search of a rock snail, the murex, the whelk, a sea snail that can weep violet tears. We swim out into deep icy waters of aqua and navy blue. A sting ray glides past, a snapper, green dots flickering on its scales. We dive down a metre and a half, our ears popping, aching, dig off the pale coiled whelks that stick to the undersides of the rocky shoreline. Back out in the open air, we squeeze them between our thumb and forefinger, and sure enough they secrete their violet tears, tears that do not fade, a pigment that grow brighter beneath a hot sun, even brighter against a gusty wind.
And still there is more violet to be found in this green land. We drive southwards, across valleys of yellow broom and purple swaying lupins, down to the very tip of New Zealand, to Midford Sounds, one of the wettest places on earth, where we stand on the bow of a white boat, tip back our heads as we glide beneath cascading waterfalls, drinking the clear icy waters, soaking our clothes and our faces. And it is here on the tree lined shores that we find a lichen, the sticta coronata, dried and leafy clumps of it that cling to silver birch and beech trunks, gold and autumnal tinted, before it is placed in a dye bath, soaked in vinegar and lemon, to extract colours of pale violet and deep purple. The last colour in the rainbow spectrum, the known and the unknown, which is apt, as we stand on the very edge of the world.

The Rainbow Hunters are raising money for War Child (warchild.org.uk) as they travel. War Child work in countries that have been devastated by armed conflict and help children suffering the worst effects of violence; child soldiers, victims of rape and abduction, disabled and street children. They provide vital care to a traumatised child and help them to rebuild their lost childhood. Their aim is a world in which the lives of children are no longer torn apart by war.
If you would like to donate something please go to http://www.justgiving.com/Lindsay-Hawdon.

Lindsay Hawdon’s debut novel, Jakob’s Colours, a story about a young gypsy boy during WWII, who uses a legacy of colour making, to survive, is out now with Hodder and Stoughton in the UK and with Quercus in the US.

 

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In Search of Green

The Rainbow Hunters:

One Mother. Two Boys.  A trip around the world in search of seven colours, the first pigments, made by the first colour men, raising money for the charity War Child as they go.

 

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(Guiyang Province, China)

We have come to China in search of celadon green, a mystical glaze that covered the porcelain of the Ming dynasty and Kao Lao the first “one pot” green that came from the buckthorn tree. But it’s a different green altogether that we find in the village of Baigao, a small Mao settlement that clings to the mountain slopes in a land of rain and cloud. There are two things going on in the village when we arrive in search of the embroider Miss Xu. There is the building of a new wooden house and the preparation of a day’s end feast that will be cooked by the roadside in thanks of free labour, and then there is the expectant death of a village elder. The men are gathered in the square, beside a maple tree of burning red. They are sharing a glass bong of tobacco which they draw down into their lungs, exhaling so deeply the smoke all but disappears inside of them. They wear plastic bags wrapped around their heads to ward of the drizzle, and wellies on their bare feet. “The Mao people,” Teddy our guide, tells us as we head down to Miss Xu’s house. “They find a maple tree first, then build a village. There is no village without this tree. When they have a child they plant him this tree. When he dies they make his coffin from it. Then they plant another so his soul will keep growing.” As we head down the steep cobbled steps we pass three men with large sacs flung over their shoulders that squirm and snort. “Pigs for the feast,” Teddy explains as simultaneously clanging bells sound from the water buffalo ploughing in the paddy terraces and Miss Xu pokes her smiling face from out of a nearby door, ushering us inside with rough exuberance. Proudly she displays the embroidery she has made for the soon to be widow of the village elder. A bird in flight. A fire bird, with wings spread wide. Coloured with natural dyes that took her a year to sew. It is the green that draws my eye, a vivid green, that looks far too bright to be natural. “But yes,” she explains. “It comes from the maple leaf.” If she boils it with alum, tea tree or yarrow, it makes this bright green. Then, as if to confirm her proud conviction, fire crackers sound from the slopes above. They crack the air, exploding in bursts like drilling gunfire. The boys look alarmed. “It is the old man,” says Teddy. “He has died.” We head back to the village square together, blinking in the pale green light. The three pigs have been killed, lie gutted and bloody by the side of the road, ready to be cooked and fed to the hungry house builders. The men have laid down their tools, are heading to the house of the deceased. There seems suddenly to be much death around us. “So they’ll cut down his maple tree?” Orly, my youngest son asks. “Yes,” I tell him. “But they’ll plant him another,” he says, looking at the surrounding slops as he does so. They are covered in cascades of changing maples, from red to yellow to brightest green.

The Rainbow Hunters are raising money for War Child (warchild.org.uk) as they travel. War Child work in countries that have been devastated by armed conflict and help children suffering the worst effects of violence; child soldiers, victims of rape and abduction, disabled and street children. They provide vital care to a traumatised child and help them to rebuild their lost childhood. Their aim is a world in which the lives of children are no longer torn apart by war. If you would like to donate something please go to http://www.justgiving.com/Lindsay-Hawdon.

Lindsay Hawdon’s debut novel, Jakob’s Colours, a story about a young gypsy boy during WWII, who uses a legacy of colour making, to survive, is out now with Hodder and Stoughton in the UK and with Quercus in the US.

 

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