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A book well worth 50 camels




From left are Seeta Siriwardena, Francoise Hivernel, Jane Wilson-Howarth, Sally Haiselden and Stephanie Ledger. Picture: Simon Howarth
From left are Seeta Siriwardena, Francoise Hivernel, Jane Wilson-Howarth, Sally Haiselden and Stephanie Ledger. Picture: Simon Howarth

Cambridge Writers Network's travelling ladies launch new title at Heffers

Jane Wilson-Howarth at the Heffers launch of 50 Camels and She is Yours, seen here with Heffers event assistant Henry Cockburn. Picture: Keith Heppell
Jane Wilson-Howarth at the Heffers launch of 50 Camels and She is Yours, seen here with Heffers event assistant Henry Cockburn. Picture: Keith Heppell

For more than 13 years, five well-travelled women – all part of the Cambridge Writers network – have been meeting to discuss their literary adventures.

Being travellers, the gatherings have been intermittent but mostly they have met once a month to share food and views, then read aloud pieces of prose, discuss them and encourage one another. Now – finally – they have turned their stories into a book, and the resulting tome, 50 Camels and She’s Yours, was launched at Heffers last month (September 20).

One of the authors, Hartington Grove resident Jane Wilson-Howarth, explained how the project came about.

“It’s book number nine for me,” Jane says. “The others have also published some as well. Of the five of us, Sita has two children’s books out, Stephanie has written a couple of books on narrowboats in the Fens. Sally has written about cycling back from Khartoum – she’s a crazy woman. We’re quite a diverse bunch.

“Between us we speak Amharic, Arabic, Bahasa Indonesia, French, German, Japanese, Nepali, Sinhalese, Swahili and a smattering of Acholi, Urdu and Waray. We are unashamed eavesdroppers and people-watchers; we have written about more than 30 countries and our little travel writers’ group has been around for more than a decade, so we thought it would be nice to get together and publish something.”

The launch of 50 Camels and She’s Yours was fun. In her talk at Heffers Sally said: “There’s an extra glass of wine if you can guess which of us is worth 50 camels – and how much the whole harem is worth.”

The occasion showcased the ability of each writer, who read excerpts from their books and had the audience by turns laughing and also slightly anxious – maybe that was just me – about the extreme situations they find themselves in, especially Jane, who describes being stuck in a very deep cave in Nepal.

In her day job, Jane is a doctor: she was a GP on Mill Road for 14 years. Her work life has been a source of inspiration for her writing: her first book was published in 1990.

“I’ve spent seven years there in total,” she says of her Nepalese exploits, adding that she was setting off the day after the launch for another year in the Himalayan beauty spot. She goes there with her husband Simon, who works in construction and is helping with the post-earthquake rebuild. Jane works in the mountains assisting medical orderlies who treat people in areas where there is no possibility of evacuation.

“I have a flat in Patan,” Jane says. “I speak a bit of Nepali. It’s good for collecting travellers tales.

“Up in the mountains I work with the village health workers. They have people trained for three years who work like GPs but also do surgery involving lacerations, incisions, stitching - all the scary stuff. They’re trained and then thrown out there in places where they can’t evacuate people, which is quite an interesting challenge. They have to cope. One of the places I went to was an eight-hour ride and a six-hour walk from the nearest village.”

Jane is very proud of the teamwork among kindred spirits at the heart of the writers group.

“We’ve all travelled alone and like the feeling of being empowered and getting off our backsides and exlporing... to live life and have fun doing it.”




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