Once again I am writing this column from New Zealand where I am coming to the end of my annual visit. For several years now I have been coming to this country during the worst of the winter months in England.
Many people think that I come here for a holiday, but that is far from the truth. Certainly, I am very fortunate to be able to get away from flu and all the ailments that circulate in the UK when the sun makes few appearances but the main reason for being here is to write.
Writing is a solitary occupation and I have found, by trial and error, that the only way in which I can do any substantial writing is to get right away from the normal routine of life and concentrate on getting words down on the page.
At home, one is fully involved in so many activities. Emmaus for the homeless, an organisation founded in France and with which I have been associated since it came to this country over twenty years ago, takes time and I am happy to give my time to it.
During the past twenty years I have seen so many men and women who at one time were walking the streets get into an Emmaus Community and begin to regain their dignity as human beings. Handouts provide some small, short-term help to the destitute, but if people are to return to mainstream life they need more than a few coins dropped into a plastic cup.
The Abbé Pierre, when he founded Emmaus in France, recognised that one of the very first things people need is to be valued as human beings and be enabled to restore their dignity.
Constant alcohol, or substance abuse, or chaotic interpersonal relationships, do nothing for the self-esteem of anyone. The road back into normal life can be long and hard and the Emmaus Community leaders are to be congratulated on their dedication to their fellow human beings.
It is comparatively easy to write about this, but to stick with people when they are at their lowest and most difficult, requires compassion and commitment and I am full of admiration for those unsung heroes who show this in our Emmaus Communities up and down the land. Emmaus is an International Federation and later this year I shall be in Manchester for the conference of the European Emmaus movement and you may hear more about it then.
The past year has been extremely busy for Hostage UK and like me; you will no doubt have been totally sickened by the cruel murders of innocent people in Iraq and Syria. I refer here to the murder of hostages, as well as to the slaughter of so many innocent men, women and children in that region who have, through no fault of their own, been caught up in warfare.
I founded Hostage UK to give support to the families of those who suffer as a result of having a relative or friend captured, and the organisation has grown significantly in the past years. We are now on the brink of developing into an International movement and when I return to the UK shortly will be off to the USA to assist in the setting up of the organisation there.
It does not take much imagination to understand how the families of those who have been captured and portrayed on TV around the world feel. The world can be a cruel and hard place at times and that cruelty is brought home to us daily through the news media; so much so that often I feel I just do not want to read any more about yet another brutality.
What is it about human beings that we so constantly behave in such a way? We seem to have a passion for destruction, not only of people but of the world, which is our home. I get totally upset when I witness brutality and destruction, be it of people or the environment.
Well, that is the world to which I shall be returning very shortly but as I said, I have been here in New Zealand to write and I am glad to say that once again it has been a productive time.
Last year I finished a comic novel, The Voyage of the Golden Handshake, a humorous novel about the trials and tribulations of a cruise ship and its passengers. That book is due to be published about now in the UK, and this year I have written its sequel, so that will be ready for publication soon.
Apart from the work with the homeless, and others, when I get back, I am booked to speak at many book festivals across the country and some people have wondered why it is that as one who is always dealing with serious subjects, I turn to writing a comic novel. Well the answer is not so complicated. Certainly the world can be, and often is, a brutal and bloody place but if we allow that misery to take over our lives, then those who would seek to intimidate us by acts of violence have won the day.
There is another side to life and there is a funny and ridiculous side to human nature. I am told that it has been medically established that those who can laugh, actually do themselves a lot of good both physically and mentally. My editor, in the course of her professional work, has read The Voyage of the Golden Handshake 12 times and she tells me that she still laughs at it! I find that encouraging because it made me laugh also. So, I suppose the writing of such a book in an attempt to restore balance in my life. To remember that life is about living and that each day needs to be lived as fully as possible with compassion and with humour.