Archive for October, 2015

Book review: The Truth About Peacock Blue

Hawke, Rosanne, 2015, The Truth About Peacock Blue, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest.


This latest novel for young people written by South Australian author Rosanne Hawke is compelling reading. It is one of those stories you can’t put down, but you know that to go on reading will be confronting, challenging, and even infuriating. I say ‘infuriating’ because many readers will want to jump into the story personally and put right some terrible injustices. The caption under the title on the cover encapsulates the story so well: A powerful story about one girl’s fight for justice in Pakistan.


This story deals with real issues in the real world in the lives of real people today. While it is fiction Hawke has been inspired by the true story of Pakistani woman Asia Bibi who has been accused of blasphemy. She has been in prison for five years and remains there as I write this. I read this novel shortly after finishing the autobiography of I Am Malala – you can read my review here. That was confronting enough, but on the very next morning after reading Hawke’s novel our guest speaker at our church was Bishop Patrick Sookhdeo, founder of the Barnabas Fund. He spoke graphically of the growing crisis in Syria and surrounding countries, as well as issues in Pakistan and elsewhere.


The brother of the protagonist Aster dies due to an illness. She is then thrust into the limelight as the hope of the family. She is enrolled in the high school where her brother was to attend. She is at first excited and keenly looking forward to the opportunity of an education, something denied many girls in Pakistan.

Life quickly turns sour for Aster in her new school. Being a Christian in a predominantly Muslim community has many challenges for her. When one of her teachers takes a strong dislike to her, life becomes very challenging and potentially dangerous. In the midst of the anxiety of exams, Aster is suddenly arrested in front of her fellow students because of something she wrote in her paper.  She is accused of blasphemy, a serious crime which leads to the death penalty in Pakistan.


The remainder of the story documents the struggle Aster has to come to terms with life in prison. The conditions are confronting to readers like myself: atrocious, inhumane and downright filthy, not to mention dangerous. Her trial is rescheduled a number of times and her challenges mount daily. Throughout all of this she never loses her faith which shines through the darkness and evil all around. I had to personally face the question: ‘How would I react and cope if faced with similar persecution?’ In my sheltered life here in Australia I have never been confronted by such issues.


Aster’s Australian cousin Maryam takes up the challenge of helping her. She starts an online campaign in the form of a blog and a worldwide petition on behalf of Aster. Hawke has cleverly used fictional quotes from the blog to debate some of the issues surrounding this terrible law of blasphemy. Similar real-life, heart-wrenching campaigns are becoming far too common place today.


Once again Rosanne Hawke has written an emotive, fast moving and insightful novel. The reader gets an in-depth view of life in a repressed country with all the cultural, social and religious  nuances at play in the lives of her characters. By the end of the book the reader has a strong sense of the utter hopelessness of her fellow prisoners but also of Aster’s hope under-girded by her strong Christian faith.

Highly recommended.

Further reading:

  • I am Malala
  • Kerenza – my review of Rosanne Hawke’s novel (this article has several other links to reviews of her works)
  • Shahana – my review of another of Hawke’s novels

Rosanne Hawke talking to fans at the launch of “Marrying Ameera”


Fiction #47 Leon

Fiction #47 Leon

Leon wasn’t the sharpest chisel in the set, but he was my mate in primary school. His father farmed the property a mile down the road. Despite being so close Leon and I rarely played together out of school hours. I didn’t have a bike – in fact I didn’t have a bike until I was married with two children – and Dad never saw the need for me to have a bike. And Leon couldn’t come over to my place to play because he had so many responsibilities around the farm.

His father was so disorganised he needed Leon to tend to various animals on a daily basis, feeding and watering as required. He was expected to do the rounds of the animals from a very early age, starting before going to school each day and continuing after school.

They had about a dozen chooks that laid the odd egg or two for breakfast, a family of ducks that pooped all over the paths and lawns, four pigs being fattened for eating someday but never reached the slaughter house, three cows, a horse that no-one could remember the last time anyone had ridden him, and flock of almost wild geese that roamed the farmyard around the sheds and the adjoining paddocks like they were the sole owners of the entire countryside. No-one ever messed with those geese if they wanted to remain unscathed.

I was in the same classroom as Leon. In fact, all of the children of the district shared to same room in the one teacher school. We were also in the same class in Sunday School in the local – the only – church in the small mallee town where we grew up. Most of the community were Lutherans; the few who weren’t Lutheran worshipped nowhere as the distance to the next town was too great to travel to church. People weren’t as mobile in the 1950s as they are today.

On one infamous occasion the teacher’s wife, a wonderful woman who never said or even thought ill of anyone, came to a church service one Easter. Being of the Churches of Christ denomination she was not only astonished but somewhat offended when she was refused permission to receive Holy Communion in the Lutheran Church. That was probably a watershed event which led me to one day abandon my membership of the Lutheran Church.

Leon’s faith was as simple as mine was complicated. He simply believed in God and took to heart all the stories about Jesus and Noah and Samson without question. God was God and was to be obeyed and feared. My faith by way of complete contrast was a convoluted expression and awe inspired mixture of love and fear and amazement. God was indeed to be feared, but he was also, through the expression of his son Jesus, an amazing example of love, a God who desired love in return. Fifty years later Leon still has an uncomplicated faith while I still have a cocktail of faith elements swishing around in my mind. I might manage to work it all out – providing I live another thirty or forty years. I am a work in progress.

Leon was a truly laconic Australian boy. I think he was the one they had in mind when they invented the word. He spoke with a deep, drawn out drawl, never getting excited in thought or speech. He could lull you into slumber with a drawn out description of wrestling with a reluctant bull for an hour when trying to load him on to a truck. After every sentence or two he would throw back his head and laugh, the deepest laugh I can ever remember hearing; slow, deliberate and taking delight in the memory of his misfortune and seeing the funny side of everything. It was the laugh which kept you from nodding off during one of his recounts of farming life.

Student life and Leon never became close friends. He never made it to high school; he was needed as an unpaid farmhand from an early age. In fact, I believe he even had to regularly ask his father for money when he eventually married. Leon survived primary school as best he could. He barely learned to read and write, but then, farmers didn’t need those skills to succeed on the land in the 1960s. He never excelled at anything academic in complete contrast with my levels of success. I managed to set new levels of excellence in all subjects attempted during the examinations in my final year, records which still stand because the school closed its doors for good several years later when all the children were taken by bus to the nearest large town.

Our friendship was a strange one; opposites attract they say. Intellectually we were poles apart, spiritually we saw life quite differently, emotionally I was a see-saw while he was a solid rock and physically he was tall, strong and stocky while I was short, thin and weak. Yet there was a bond that drew us together, a bond usually only felt by close brothers.

I cannot explain it, yet it was real, tangible. And long lasting. Only last year we were at a funeral and met up again after many years apart. He took one look at my bulging waistline and commented in a way only Leon could, ‘Looks like you’ve been in a good paddock.’ Only a friend like Leon could get away with a statement like that and not offend me.

© 2015 Trevor W. Hampel

All rights reserved.


  • Although I have listed this piece of writing under fiction, some of it is true, based on a real life. Mine.
  • This piece was originally written as a warm-up writing exercise.
  • You can read more of my stories here.

Short story starters

Today I have added another set of short story starters.

Just choose one of them and use it as the first sentence in a short story.

1. As Don turned the corner, he was surprised to see who was standing next to his car.

2. Fiona stopped and stared at the bush in the corner of her auntie’s garden.

3. In the rush to get to the football ground in time for the match, Harry had quite forgotten one, extremely important detail.

4. On reflection, Joel should have seen this argument coming.

5. As Lorna hobbled up the path to her front door, she pondered on the events of this important, life-changing day.

6. Twelve years ago Nola would not have reacted in this way, but things had changed – and not for the better.

7. Peta had quite forgotten her father’s advice and blazed ahead regardless.

8. Without a moment’s hesitation Ross slipped the envelope through the slot in the door.

9. As Toni walked across the stage to the lectern, she was sure about only one thing.

10. The clock ticking on the wall reminded Wendy that her time was slipping away rapidly.

You can find more short story starters here and more writing prompts here.

Conditions of use:

  • Feel free to use any of the story starters listed above. Change anything to suit your needs.
  • Give it your best shot.
  • Edit your work carefully before sending it off to a publisher or posting it on your blog.
  • Let me know in the comments section how it went.
  • If you publish your story on your web site or on your blog let me know so I can make a link to it for others to read.

Fiction #46 Fig Trees

We had several fig trees in the garden on the farm where I grew up. This was in the Murray Mallee area of South Australia. It was dry, dusty country for much of the year. Winter and spring rains were few and sparse, sometimes coming just at the right time, often at the wrong time. Farmers like my father eked out an existence somehow. It was a tough life.

A feature of our farm was the vegetable garden and orchard. It was like an oasis in the parched desert. Water came from the Murray River about twenty miles away but the pressure was never good. Dad made a large storage tank near the vegetable garden which filled slowly during the night and when other taps were switched off. This water was then used to water the garden as needed.

But back to the fig trees. We had at least two of them, perhaps three –my memory dims a little after all these years. Lovely lush green leaves a bright splash against the surrounding drab grey-green leaves of the mallee trees. In season the branches bowed under the weight of the luscious fruit. The rest of the family gorged themselves on the fruit when ripe, and mother gathered the leftovers for fig jam.

I was the odd one out. I didn’t really take to fresh figs and still won’t pick one up to eat. Not sure where this phobia came from. I cannot ever recall even tasting a fresh fig. Strange that, seeing I love and devour most fruits. I do occasionally eat fig jam, but then, very few people actually make fig jam like when I was younger. In fact, most people don’t make any jam these days. The only jam you see offered these days are those insipid globules of stickiness grandly called ‘conserves.’ They are so far from the taste of true home-made jam they deserve a different name.

No – fig trees and their fruits do not make the list of my favourite things.

Now – home-made strawberry, apricot or peach jam – well, where do I start? Fortunately my wife has excelled in making these jams over the span of our married life.

Pity I have diabetes.


© 2015 Trevor W. Hampel

All rights reserved.


  • Although I have listed this piece of writing under fiction, most of it is true, based on a real life. Mine.
  • This piece was originally written as a warm-up writing exercise.
  • You can read more of my stories here.