Tips about Life Writing. Kennington May 3@11am

For my author talk for the Friends of Kennington Library I’ll share what I have learned from writing 170 life stories for books and for The Oxford Times
FOKL author talk .
The poster was made by a lovely young Duke of Edinburgh Award volunteer Michelle Landau. Its heartwarming to see enthusiastic young readers volunteering in the library.
Do you like her poster design? Click on the 3 minute video on the home page to get an idea of the diversity of people whose life stories I have had the privilege to write. They are from 5 continents but what they have in common is a connection to Oxford.

Exciting new work by Weimin He (Bodleian Weston Library January 7)

Fifteen exciting new works of art by Weimin He went on display in the Bodleian Weston Library on January 7. Here is a taster. One of them has inspired me to write a sonnet  which I  have titled ‘The Mists of Dao’. (see below) Seeing Weimin working  on the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter site inspired my poem  ‘An Artist Observes’  which is on a hoarding  just off Walton Street.  Weimin designed the cover of Oxford Castaways showing all the castaways’ chosen objects on Oxtopia .(see below) His castaway choice was a folio of  prints from Rembrandt to Ren Bonian Wu . See Weimin in Castaways Revisited some Poets , Authors and Artists  .


The Mists of Dao by Sylvia Vetta

I reach out to touch it, real but not concrete.

Celtic mists swirl in with rain from the West

to shower  the East, clouded in the spirit of the Dao, and meet

in the mind of the artist. Fingers grasp the brush to request

the muses for movement, swift and light.

Brushstrokes colour the paper red with his spirit.

Memories of Shanbei come in shades of black and white.

Amid the stones of Oxford past and present he paints it.

His being connects time and his energy fires

a gateway from the past to the here and now, and clear

ahead cranes point skyward with the dreaming spires.

Visions of a future beyond hard lines appear.

To the music of a new time in a new place




Weimin and my poem

This is a pic of Weimin and I by the hoardings in the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter. They are likely to remain there for another year.  I hope the title An Artist Observes isn’t too awful a pun given the close proximity of the hoarding to the glorious 18th century Radcliffe Observatory .



2013 06 04 math final stageThe  Radcliffe Observatory : Do you notice the mists of Dao in this  fabulous painting by Weimin ?

Brushstrokes in Time Events (end 2016)

The London Launch  of Essential Audio Books : Senate House the University of London  on Thursday 17  at 6.30.

On Wednesday  16  Katie Isbester and Catherine O’Brien the founders of Claret Press and Essential Audiobooks were in Oxford  appearing on local TV. oxford-press-release    -Katie and Catherine on Talk Oxfordshire. This picture was taken at a party for Catherine and Katie at my home the day before the launch.




The Arthur Probsthain Book Shop:   Great Russell Street  opposite the British  Museum on Wednesday 24

This charming bookshop which specialises in Chinese Art  is the perfect place for me to talk about the Stars! My motivation for writing Brushstrokes in Time was that I wanted the world to know about these brave artists. Why, in 2005,  their relative international obscurity?  Did the description ‘self –taught’ marginalise them? If they are self-taught, they had amazing teachers !  Works by Qu Leilei and Ma Desheng are currently on display in room 91 of the British Museum where you can decide for yourself. ( My talk takes place opposite the BM)  At the Atkis Gallery you’ll discover sculpture by Wang Keping.

In 1979, he was a ‘junior’ Star but the Star of them all is Ai Weiwei .Brushstrokes in Time seems to be making waves because of the relationship of my fictional artist  Little Winter and her mixed heritage daughter. Depicting that came from within me because my own sons are of mixed heritage. The years of research  went into the Stars! (There were female Stars – Li Shuang and Shao Fei. )


Joy Zhang of the Meridian Society recorded this interview with me. The Meridian Society has a public  facebook page¬if_t=video_processed¬if_id=1480854409553328

Joy Zhang made this video of me talking about how my 10 year obsession with the Stars Art Movement began.  The result was surprising even to me – a novel called Brushstrokes in Time. It is the memoir of a fictional artist told to her teenage American daughter but readers are saying they start to believe it is real. The background detail is authentic and historical and so their reaction is understandable.

Watlington Library Oxfordshire

Friday 18 at 7.30pm . Watlington would like me to focus on the Cultural Revolution. 2016 is the fiftieth anniversary of the launch of  the Cultural Revolution  which lead to inter- generational conflict and is the background to Little Winter’s teenage years.

The Green Fair : Oxford Town Hall  December 2016



Green Power!

On  July 15  Nancy Hunt  and I were interviewed for 20 minutes on Talk Oxfordshire. It is about the latest book I have been involved with. GREEN POWER The Spirulina Cookbook brings together many elements in my life.  

Talk Oxfordshire with Emma and Nancy

I chair a rather unique organisation. For 48 years my village of Kennington has chosen to raise money annually for an overseas project which we select by vote. When KOA met in January 2014, we discussed three possible projects but the one which won the vote was the Nasio Trust’s spirulina project. It may seem strange that KOA chose to raise £25,000 to fund a unit comprising 40 tanks to produce a food supplement called spirulina? If you read Green Power the Spirulina Cookbook you will discover why.

This book is the eighth I have written or contributed  to .  Scroll down my BOOK PAGE to see them all. 

Green Power FB

The founder of Nasio, Nancy Hunt and I are not sure exactly how the idea for this recipe book was broached: it was probably me who raised it as as possibility. But who better to develop clear appetising and beautiful recipes than Helen Peacocke who has produced a recipe every week for 25 years for The Oxford Times. She volunteered her time and talent absolutely free of charge and this book would not have been possible without her. Philip Hind has also been generous with his time. I tell the inspirational stories of lives changed both in the UK and in Kenya and of friendships made across continents. I think Philip has produced a beautiful clear and colourful book. It will be on sale for just £4.99 from June 18: an absolute bargain!

To read more about KOA go to and about the Nasio Trust go to

Helen and I go back a long way! She writes walk books with dogs to dog friendly pubs. Her dog’s perspective on the walks is memorable. We finished the Free Kennington Literary Festival 2010 ( when I organised such things before we became a community library and had to concentrate on raising money!) with a walk to see the fritilleries on Iffley Meadow.

KFLF 2010 Thewalk

Celebrating Green Power
Helen, Nancy and I celebrated when the digital copy winged it’s way to ssmedia for printing.

Green Power’s first outing was at Kennington Fete and on Tuesday June 21, Emma Jane Taylor interviewed Nancy and I for Talk Oxfordshire TV.

The launch of Green Power Talk Oxfordshire with Emma and Nancy

I met Nancy through KOA . My village of Kennington, through KOA, funded the skin care programme implemented by Standing Voice mentioned in this feature. We have introduced Standing Voice to the Children’s Radio Foundation and part of the 2016 KOA project is the training together of young people with and without albinism to be radio reporters to broadcast to 3 million Africans in the hope that it will reduce prejudice.
CRF’s director Charlotte Bannister Parker is a castaway!

The launch of Brushstrokes in Time, Talk Oxford TV video, coming events : the Oxford and Stratford Literary Festivals and Oxford Art Forum !

Blackwell launch Solo by Helen 3
Blackwell launch Solo by Helen

“A stunning eye opening fictional tale set in China from 1963-1993; WILD SWANS MEETS DR ZHIVAGO,”
“Utterlly brilliant! I am so enthralled – many congratulations on a quite extraordinary achievement.” LADY MOYRA BANNISTER

Press Release Brushstrokes in Time
In the UK and around the world, Brushstrokes in Time by Sylvia Vetta and published by Claret Press is now available on Amazon to download. You can order it at any good bookshops where it is available print on demand .
ISBN Paperback is: 78-1-910461-09-9
ISBN ebook: 978-1-910461-10-5

APRIL 2 (2016)

Blackwell’s are holding lots of free events in their Festival Marquee and there are others in Blackwell Hall in the New Bodleian. I’ve just returned from two. I was pleased to hear Bart van Es on Shakespeare’s comedies saying that Shakespeare invented the Rom Com. Just as well I got it right: the short story I submitted for the Oxford Writer’s Group anthology -my modern take on Twelfth Night – is definitely a Rom/Com! Not all the free events in the marquee are listed in the Oxford Literary Festival programme but you can find them on the Blackwell link below.
I’LL BE TALKING Brushstrokes in Time ON SATURDAY 9 APRIL @ 11 am.

Oxfordshire Limited Edition (Feb 2016)>This feature is about some of the artists involved in the Stars Art Movement who inspired me to write my novel
Brushstrokes in Time OLE.

The Chinese Brushpainters Society have written about Brushstrokes in Time!

Tuesday February 2 @ 6.45 at Blackwell’s Broad Street, Oxford. Surely one of the most iconic bookshops in the world?

Blackwell launch (Dai)

To my knowledge my guests represented Oxford at its best: when it is a truly international city ! Represented here by wonderful individuals of every colour, and most religions and backgrounds, the countries of origin of the guests included India, China, Pakistan, Argentina, Singapore, Canada, the USA, Jamaica, Italy, France, Germany, Poland, Iran, South Africa, Kenya, Ireland and even the Isle of Wight!

Legs Larry  and Ray

A castaway duo at the launch of Brushstrokes in Time.
LEGS LARRY SMITH thus named by George Harrison is writing his memoir. RAY FOULK Isle of White Festival memoir part 2 comes out later this year. Librarians Dominique and Rebecca will no doubt be lending them out and hopefully Brushstrokes in Time too!

It was in the vast but atmospheric Norrington Room and was compered by DR MARIA JASHOK, the Director of International Gender Studies at LMH Oxford.(Maria lived in China from 1980-1996 and has written the foreword to the novel.)
Maria Jaschok

Blackwell launch (Nic)Blackwell's Launch Solo

Blackwell's launch Felicity and Simonetta

My dear friend SIMONETTA AGNELLO HORNBY– one of the best -selling writers in Italy came from London to the launch. Her books have been translated into 24 languages. Brushstrokes in Time? I wish!

On Talk Oxford talking about Brushstrokes in Time ,the Stars and Oxfordshire Limited Edition:
With Linora on  That's Oxford TV


Thursday February 4: Oxfordshire Limited Edition Special castaway for Chinese New Year, Qu Leilei. I write about the EPIC life of one of the founders of the Stars Art Movement
Qu_Lei_Lei with MS Sculpture

Sunday February 7 : Chinese New Year’s Eve ; Guest on the Will Gompertz Show on BBC Radio Oxford @ 9am. Here is the recording:

Thanks BBC: great timing! Michael Woods and the BBC must have planned the China season to coincide with the launch of Brushstrokes in Time! The Story of China is accessible without dumbing down.
You don’t need to know anything about China to enjoy Brushstrokes in Time either. Walk in Little Winter’s shoes and at the end of her emotional journey you will have learned a great deal about that complex culture and country

Wednesday March 2 Kennington Village Centre FOKL Coffee Talk Free event: coffee from 10.30 am. My talk begins @ I’ll describe the 10 year journey to the publishing of my novel and explain why I wrote it.

Qu_Lei_Lei and I with BIT

THURSDAY MARCH 3 THE LONDON LAUNCH of Brushstrokes in Time at the Polka Theatre Wimbledon at 7.15pm.
Stars artist Qu Leilei without whom I could not have written this book and academics in the Oriental Department of the British Museum will attend.
Free event: booking preferable . Contact me through this website.

THE OXFORD LITERARY FESTIVAL: Blackwell’s Marquee.(By the Divinity Schools)
Saturday April 9 @ 11 am.
Enjoy a cup of coffee while listening to me talk Brushstrokes in Time?
This is a free and fun event.

New Voices Brushstrokes in Time
Tue 26th April 2016
4.00pm – 5.00pm
Stratford ArtsHouse
Showcasing New Writing
This memoir of fictional Chinese artist, Little Winter, is written for her American daughter. It takes the story of Communist China beyond the death of Mao and, for the first time in fiction, shows the birth of the radical art movement, The Stars, in 1979. Her haunting love story connects us to this time of hope for freedom of expression in China, and to a man frustrated by ‘being kept in small shoes’.
4pm: I shall talk about Brushstrokes in Time

Book 24 hours a day online or callBOX OFFICE 01789 207100
5.30pm: Oxford Castaways 2 is a non- profit making book published to raise the profile of Vale House. Gillian Cox the founding chairwoman of Vale House and I will talk about the importance of life stories.
I have been privileged in interviewing amazing people, many famous like Peggy Seeger, Roger Bannister but also many inspirational people who are not well known but have achieved amazing things. The eight years I have been writing this series has impressed on me the importance of storytelling. It makes waves in special places. Oxfordfolio* published Oxford Castaways 2 on behalf of Vale House which cares for people with terminal mental illness like Alzheimer’s . Thanks to its founding chairwoman Gillian Cox, I made the link with storytelling.

Oxford Art Forum : May 11 @6pm @ the Phoenix Picture House. I will introduce Never Sorrythe mostly biographical film about the radical Chinese artist Ai Weiwei whose career began with the Stars. AiWeiwei film ad with press release (2)

WI talks etc

Hook Norton WI : Tuesday 19 January @2pmt
Sunningwell WI : Thursday 11 February @2pm
Harwell Evergreens : Thursday 19 May @ 2.30pm

Talking about Brushstrokes in Time and Oxfordshire Limited Edition on Local TV

With Linora on  That's Oxford TV

Chatting with Eve Ahmed and Linora Lawrence on That’s TV’‘s Talk Oxford. As well as talking about Brushstrokes in Time, we promoted our friend Gina Clay’s lovely and useful book ‘Don’t let them tell you how to Grieve‘ which I give to people who have suffered a bereavement. Linora was fascinating on early Jewish history in Oxford.


Part 2

The launch of ‘I Love You All’

Tim Metcalfe, before his tenure as editor of Oxfordshire Limited Edition came to an end, agreed to send Trevor Cowlett to Oxtopia . My April 2015 Castaway was not famous like castaways  Sir Roger Bannister or  Peggy Seeger  but is the director of a village choir –  the  Kennington and District Choir.  But Trevor Cowlett’s story is an unusual one. Throughout all the difficulties of his life a driving passion has sustained him, music. Now in his eighties and on dialysis, Trevor still teaches 60 students a week. His amateur choir faces their biggest ever challenge  on Sunday April 19 when they will sing Duruflés Requiem in Exeter College Chapel. The choir’s concerts are always un-ticketed but donations are requested. Over its 40 years, the choir has raised £430,000 for good causes, local, national and international.  Click on the pdf to read his story.Trevor Cowlett.

 In recognition of the choir’s contribution, I have written ‘I Love You All’, ( Trevor’s words) the story of the choir told in a chorus of voices. I drew on the experience  gained from writing the castaway series…biography with a twist!  In the case of ‘I Love You All‘  I asked choir members, soloists, pianists and Trevor himself to talk about their lives and how music has come to play an important part in them.   140 people ( A Full House) attended the launch  in Kennington Village Centre  on May 2. Some of the ‘voices’ in the book queued for Trevor to sign their copy. Ali Jones interviewed Trevor and I on Radio Oxford. Here is the link. Forward to 1.10 pm.

I Love You All is available from Blackwell (Oxford), Mostly Book (Abingdon) and from choir members. Any problems contact me on

T . i-love-you-all-cover…..  Trevor , Nia and Yasmin   The author of I love You All!

Mezzopiano are coming to Kennington on March7

Smoke and Mirrors Flier A4 V1

The talented Nia Williams has written the musical Smoke and Mirrors about twins born into poverty in Berlin in 1900, who become separated when fleeing Berlin and the Nazis. One finishes up in California, where she becomes involved in the war effort. The other goes to Paris where her story becomes entwined with the jazz age and the subsequent occupation by the Nazis. Rebecca sings the parts of both sisters, two very different characters, as well as singing in three languages — German, French and English — and being on stage throughout the entire piece, with no interval: a huge challenge. I saw her impressive performance at the Old Fire Station. If you live in Oxfordshire, see for yourself on March 7@ Kennington Village Centre. You can read their story on this castaway Pdf.Mezzopiano

Oxtopian Event

Weimin sketching at the Albion Beatnik  Albion poster Sketch at the Albion Beatnik  me  James and victor at the Beatnik Bookshop

Speaking at the quirky and fun Albion Beatnik Bookshop in Walton Street, Oxford

Wednesday December 10  2014 @ 7.30pm

Among the castaways  present were illustrator of Winnie the Witch, Korky Paul, Victor Glynn the film producer (of among other things some Mike Leigh films) Joanna Harrison of The Snowman and the Snowdog.  Weimin He artist in residence at the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter  sketched . I told the story of the creation of Oxtopia & James Harrison of Oxfordfolio interviewed the castaways present. Documentary film maker Dai Richards and wood turner Richard Shock were also there.

Music CD by castaway composer Beatrix Forbes

By |November 27th, 2014|Events|0 Comments

Oxtopia came to Kennington

Gillian James and I KenningtonFOKL Gala Night OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Saturday November 15 Kennington Village Centre

Cabaret style Gala Night  for 100 people in Kennington Village Centre.

A full Kennington Village Centre hummed with controversial discussion as everyone debated the kind of society they would like to create on Sylvia Vetta’s mythical  island of Oxtopia. What aspects of life in Oxford and Oxfordshire would they like to recreate and what do they want to leave behind?

The Oxtopian Gala Night was a fundraiser for the Friends of Kennington Library (FOKL). ( Oxfordshire County Council in non- Oxtopian style  declared Kennington library a community library so FOKL have to fund 4.5 hours  of staffing per week in order to have a professional in charge and provide 7.5 hours volunteer hours to assist  the library manager)

FOKL’s president is Korky Paul the illustrator of the Winnie the Witch books. Korky kicked off the debate with Helen Peacocke, the  food writer of The Oxford Times, Euton Daley who was for 23 years the director of Pegasus Theatre,  Ray Foulk, the award winning green architect and founder of the Isle of Wight Festival (Ray brought Bob Dylan to England).The fourth speaker was  Nancy Hunt of the Nasio Trust. Nancy had hot footed it from the NAT West Venus awards where she had been presented with the award for most inspirational woman in Oxfordshire .

Among the other Oxford Castaways present whom Sylvia has had the privilege of interviewing was documentary film maker Dai Richard,  local film maker and web designer Philip Hind and children’s writer and art director of the film  Snowman and the Snowdog, Joanna Harrison. Joanna also designed the cover of Oxford Castaways 2 which was produced by Oxfordfolio in part to promote Vale House the first home to specialise in the care of people with dementia. Gillian Cox was the founding chairwoman of Vale House and she headed up a table. To see images click on the link…

By |November 19th, 2014|Events|0 Comments

To buy copies of Oxford Castaways 2
Go to

and click on the cover image.