Review: Better than the Witch Doctor

Mary Cundy is an amazing woman. I have never met her, but after reading her book I feel as if I know her very well. I read this book as background research for my Master of Arts in Creative Writing thesis novel and exegesis essay. Although it did not have a direct bearing on my novel it was fascinating reading and it gave me a good feel for the setting of my novel. In fact, she lived for a time right where my novel is set.

In 1957 Mary Cundy, a young social worker in England, obeyed the call of God on her life and travelled to the mountainous country of Nepal. At this time very few outsiders had ever visited the country, let alone work there as a Christian missionary. For the next 33 years she served in remote parts of the country bringing medical help to the local people, even though she had no training in the field.

Scene from our lodge in Monjo, Nepal

Scene from our lodge in Monjo, Nepal

She lived with the people in their villages in very poor and demanding conditions. She quickly started a dispensary, helping over 100 very ill people daily. She graphically describes the daily lives of the village people and the struggles she had coping with their medical needs, physical needs as well as making small inroads into their spiritual needs. As a Christian missionary, however, her work was frequently hampered by officialdom (it was forbidden at the time to proselytise), suspicion (the local witch doctors were very powerful) and mistrust (she was often the first non-Nepali person locals had seen).

This is a very encouraging book. Not only is it a good read, I found it amazing how God can take ordinary people like Mary, put them in impossible situations, and produce extraordinary lives.

As far as I can determine, this book is sadly no longer in print.


  • Cundy, M 1994, Better than the witch doctor, Monarch Publications, Crowborough, East Sussex.

Further reading:

  • My travels in Nepallinks to my travel blog, includes many photos taken in Nepal.
  • Writing a novela series of articles about how I went about writing my novel for children set in Nepal.
Ama Dablam, Nepal

Ama Dablam, Nepal

Revising my novel

Over the last week I’ve been revising my novel for children set in Nepal. Normally I don’t enjoy the editing, rewriting and proofreading stages of writing. I love the creative process of writing a new story or novel. The tedious, nit-picking process that follows I often find boring and uncreative. Besides, I often have more ideas for stories than I can physically get written waiting in the wings. I just want to get on and write them.


I am trying hard to refocus my mind on revision, a very important part of the process of writing. A writer cannot hope to be published these days without this important step because the competition is so intense and publishers are so swamped with manuscripts that they quickly reject those which do not measure up. They just do not have the time nor the resources to take on projects where the writer needs help with the basics of punctuation, grammar, story structure, inconsistent points of view, poor characterisation and all of those other elements which are essential in a published book.

My novel is now in its 4th draft. It’s been hard work getting there, always under the pressure of time. I am still hopeful of completing it ready to hand up for assessment for my Master of Arts in Creative Writing by the end of November. I also have to complete a 10,000 word exegesis essay on the process I went through.

I anticipate that the novel will go through several more drafts before I am completely happy with it. Time to stop blathering on here and get back to it.

Good writing.

Further reading:

  • Writing a novel –¬† a series of articles I have written during my journey with my novel.

What I am reading: Eyeing Everest by Steve Tolbert

Writing a novel: a writer’s journal part 26

Eyeing Everest

What I am reading: Eyeing Everest by Steve Tolbert

I must admit that a little over a week ago I had never heard of author Steve Tolbert. My supervising lecturer recommended I have a look at least one of the books written by this American born writer now living here in Tasmania, Australia. I managed to buy online an as-new copy of his novel for teenagers called Eyeing Everest. It arrived two days later.

Fifteen year old Meika lives in Hobart Tasmania, the setting of the first half of the novel. She has never met her father, and her relationship with her aunty is stronger than the one she pretends to have with her mother. Early in the story her natural mother tragically dies. The following few months as she adapts to life with her aunty are chaotic and rebellious as Meika befriends the enigmatic Ted on the streets. They both spiral deep into trouble until a letter arrives from her father who has lived in Nepal since before she was born.

Within weeks Meika finds herself swept up in the splendid beauty of the Himalayas and adapts to life with a family she never knew existed. Not only are the mountains amazing in their beauty, they are treacherous to live in. She struggles to come to terms with her new environment, new relationships, new customs and the emotions these all engender.

It was an interesting and very satisfying book to read.

My novel is also set in Nepal and so I read with interest how the author tackles his setting. In 2006 I trekked the area in which he has set his story, so that gave it extra meaning for me. He gave me some ideas that I can include during my rewriting, especially in relation to references to food. This was one area I had already identified as needing some changes. More importantly, Tolbert has inspired me to write another novel set in this enigmatic country. I must focus on my current work in progress first.

Further reading:


What I am reading: photographic books about Nepal

Ama Dablam, Nepal

Ama Dablam, Nepal

Writing a novel: a writer’s journal part 25

What I am reading: photographic books on Nepal.

As a part of my research for background information for my children’s novel, I have been on a few visits to my local public library. Their collection of titles on Nepal is not great, but I did find several interesting titles. Two of these I mention here. Both could be categorised as coffee table style photographic essays. Both had minimal text which was more than compensated for by the brilliant photography. Most people would have found them extremely interesting just from a pictorial point of view. All of the photographs would have found a very comfortable home in publications such as National Geographic.

As an armchair traveller I enjoy the intriguing journeys of Michael Palin. He has an eye-probably two of them actually-for the bizarre, the amusing, the absurd and the downright confronting. This comes through in the various television travel series he has anchored over the years. Inside Himalaya is the spin-off book version of his television series Himalaya. The text in the book is sparse and as such was not of much help to me in my research. Despite that, I still enjoyed the sheer beauty of the photographs.

Pierre Toutain’s book Nepal is very similar. A little more than half the size of the Palin book, it matches it in the beauty of the photography. Palin’s book covers Pakistan, Tibet, Bhutan and Bangladesh in addition to Nepal, while Toutain’s book is totally focused on Nepal and as such, was more useful to me. It also has much more in the way of text (written by Michel Gotin). The text was far more informative and useful for my purposes.

My reading of these two beautiful books had one unfortunate side effect: I have a heightened desire to return someday soon the enigmatic and beautiful roof of the world, Nepal. I must get my novel finished, off to a publisher, accepted, published and then return on the proceeds from my writing. (I can dream, can’t I?)


  • Palin, M, Pao, B 2004, Inside Himalaya, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London.
  • Toutain, P, Gotin, M 1986, Nepal, Merehurst Press, London.

Further reading:

Scene from our lodge in Monjo, Nepal

Scene from our lodge in Monjo, Nepal

What I am reading: ‘One more time: a novel’

Writing¬† a novel – a writer’s journal part 23

What I am reading: ‘One more time: a novel’ by Damien Leith

One more time: a novel

The children’s novel I am writing is set in Nepal. Until the last few weeks I was unaware of any novels written by Australians which were set in that fascinating part of the world. By searching the internet I have found several novels with this setting written by non-Australians. More recently I have discovered one written for teenagers by a Tasmanian writer. I have purchased this one and look forward to reading it. I also came across several picture books by local Nepali authors. There seem to be very few-perhaps none at all-written by Australian authors for younger readers. It could well be that mine is the first.

I did manage to get hold of a copy of a novel for adults which is set in Nepal. Author Damien Leith was born in Ireland but became an Australian citizen in 2007. His novel One more time covers a similar era to my story. The protagonist Sean is an Irishman trekking through Nepal at about the same time as my story is set (2006) during the political turmoil which destabilized Nepal over the decade leading up to that point in its history.

Sean has constant thoughts of home and family in Ireland, a place he left suddenly. He is covering up a deep secret and his difficult and challenging trek through the Annapurna Mountains in Nepal mirrors the deep spiritual and emotional journey he is struggling with in his mind. There is a very real threat from the Maoist guerrillas who demand ‘donations’ to their cause. Sean befriends several erratic people who do little to stabilize the turmoil of his life. Both his inner life and the external events around him threaten to totally derail his life, but somehow he finds the fortitude to deal with his obsessive secret.

I found this novel to be an enjoyable read but not a great deal of use in helping me with the writing of my novel. That’s not a problem; mine is a totally different story.

For anyone reading this review, the author Damien Leith is the same person who won television’s Australian Idol 2006. I wonder if this novel would have been published if a non celebrity had written it. Sorry-I sometimes get a little cynical about these things. It’s still a good read, but won’t ever be regarded as great literature. (Update: one of my Twitter readers suggested that his novel was with the publishers before he entered Australian Idol. The fact remains that he signed the contract 4 months after winning Idol. I rest my case.)

P.S. I believe he is writing another novel. [sigh]

UPDATE: The Wikipedia article on him states that his new book will be released in 2010.

Related articles:

  • Writing a novel – more articles in this series about how I went about writing my novel.


  • Leith, D 2007, One more time: a novel, Harper Collins Publishers, Sydney.