It’s a real pleasure today to introduce you to author Jo Jackson. Jo and I “met” through Book Connectors, and from the moment I read about her book, Too Loud a Silence – published by Apedale Press, and available in paperback and for kindle – I knew it was one I really wanted to read.
This is a contemporary literary novel based on real events.
It is 2011, Egypt is in the grip of the Arab Spring. There is no room for outsiders.
Born in Egypt but raised by her adoptive parents in England, journalist Maha Rhodes recognises a growing desire to touch her roots. Despite her mother’s unexpected resistance, finding out who she really is becomes important.
The turbulent political events in Cairo are a catalyst but when she travels to her birthplace she is completely unprepared for the devastating secret she will uncover.
Events draw her into the mayhem. She experiences the abuse and the violence of the revolution and is moved by the Egyptian cause and the passion of the demonstrators. She meets people who fight for change. She faces up to her own naivety.
Confronted with her past Maha is overwhelmed by what she discovers. She finally understands what it means to belong.
Too Loud a Silence will take you to Egypt. It is a beautiful, poignant, sometimes brutal story of cross-cultural identity, of a mother’s love and guilt.
I’m really looking forward to reading and reviewing the book in October, but today I’m delighted to introduce Jo Jackson to tell us more about the book’s background.
This is a story I began to write shortly after I had returned to England after living in Egypt in the 1980’s. It is a story written for two little Egyptian girls whom I knew during that time and whose fate is unknown to me.
I still have the hand-written manuscript that I began then but never finished. Family life and 3 children together with studying for a degree in family therapy took over, leaving little time for writing.
It was not until I retired in 2011 that I joined Wenlock Writers on the Edge and began writing again. Too Loud a Silence arose out of still wanting to write a story for those children. I started from scratch and only read the old manuscript after my book was completed. I was astonished at how the detail and description of certain settings was so consistent – obviously they had been indelibly printed on my mind.
I had been watching on television as the events of the Arab spring unfolded in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Millions of demonstrators took to the streets in peaceful protest to try to bring about change in a country where the people were becoming increasingly poor and desperate because of a corrupt government. Violence, beatings and imprisonment were a hidden face of the revolution.
I was living in Cairo in 1981 when President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by a militant wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hosni Mubarak was his successor hailed then as a modern president. In 2011 the protestors were calling for him to be deposed.
The inspiration for my story began when, as an expatriate wife with small children, I was living in Egypt where my husband was working. I was a qualified nurse and midwife but not allowed a work permit so found other things to do. Every week I visited an orphanage and was allowed to take out twin baby girls. There was great poverty in Egypt and it was not unusual for babies, particularly girls, to be abandoned.
Resources in the orphanage were stretched and the conditions sparse and dingy. When I collected the babies they were sodden from unchanged nappies, and flies would be crawling round their faces. I would bathe, clothe them and feed them. They were always hungry because if their bottles fell out of reach in their cots they would often remain unfed. We played with them, my children adored them; we tried to provide the stimulation they so lacked. As a family we grew very fond of them.
After almost two years the orphanage was suddenly and inexplicably closed to visitors. This kind of event was not uncommon in Egypt – you could do something one day, but not the next – usually with patience and often baksheesh the problem could be resolved. Not in this instance. Despite all our efforts the orphanage remained closed to outsiders and we were never to see those little girls again. We eventually returned to England but we never forgot them.
As my ideas for a novel evolved I knew I wanted the Arab Spring and the politics to be the backdrop. At the same time I questioned my right to use such a momentous turning point in Egypt’s history. I wasn’t there; I hadn’t been back to Egypt in decades.
I determined to try, with integrity and credibility always foremost in my writing. My aim was to use my characters and their human stories to portray the situation.
The book begins in 2011 when Maha, an Egyptian born journalist with a British upbringing, goes to Egypt to report on the escalating situation. She sees the chaos and experiences the violence personally, through the people she meets and through those who befriend her. Confronted by the abuse of women she faces up to her own naivety. She is caught in the cross-cultural trap of never quite belonging. Through Hosni, a taxi driver, we feel the tragedy of his country’s collapse and see the effect of widespread unemployment and the inability of the government to provide basic services. He strives to safeguard his family and to avoid his father’s and brother’s path into extremism. Behind all this is a backstory set thirty years before, told for the first time, by Maha’s mother Pippa as she writes to her daughter in Cairo.
Too Loud a Silence is based on real events: those of the Arab Spring and my own experiences of living in the country. It is a work of fiction.
Audiences and reviewers have told me how my book has encouraged them to find out more about a conflict of which they knew so little. That, for me, is a small vindication of my decision to write it as I did.
It is a story I needed to write for the twins. I hope they survived and I hope the revolution was theirs too.
Thank you Jo for writing so movingly about the background – I do so hope the twins survived and prospered, and I’m very much looking forward to reading the book. In addition to Amazon, Too Loud a Silence is on sale in Shropshire independent bookshops and Waterstones, or can be purchased directly from the author’s website,
About the author
Jo Jackson was born in Birmingham. She was a nurse and midwife before qualifying and practising as a family psychotherapist. She lived in Cairo in the 1980’s with her husband and children. Jo began writing thirty years ago when she had several short stories published. Career and family interrupted the creative process and she returned to it only in retirement. Too Loud a Silence is her first novel. She now lives near Much Wenlock in Shropshire.