Qu Leilei: A Chinese Artist in Britain opens this week (Nov 7) at the Ashmolean.

Qu Leilei is a founder of the Stars Art Movement. When he told me his story it inspired me to write Brushstrokes in Time.  Recording the trial of democracy leader Wei Jingsheng (1979) catapulted his life into nightmare. (again) He left China for the UK in 1985. Like most refugees he had to start all over again.  He earned his living as a pavement artist in Piccadilly Circus, washing dishes in Chinese restaurants, cleaning houses and typing translations in Mandarin. Quite a journey to becoming an internationally acknowledged master! The late Michael Sullivan (1916-2013), who founded the gallery on the ground floor of the Ashmolean where the exhibition takes place, said of Qu Leilei: “What sets Leilei apart is the strength and depth of his feelings for people his warm heart, his generosity that sees the essential nobility of us all.”  We need a lot more of that spirit! You can read his castaway feature here. I tell it as 9 lives!   Qu Leilei Castaway

Leilei is not the only Chinese artist with connections to Oxford.  Brushstrokes in Time OLE

Qu Leilei’s castaway feature (Oxford Castaways 3)  has been translated into Mandarin.  Read it here.


Qu Leilei feature in Mandarin

Below are 2 of the paintings  from the exhibition

.Qu-Leile new exhibition           leilei 80s

Poems in an Exhibition : An accidental but delightful celebration of diversity in aid of Standing Voice.

Oxfordfolio are sending ‘Poems in an Exhibition’ to the printers today. Hatred of the ‘other’ has been rearing its ugly head everywhere. ‘Poems in an Exhibition’ has accidentally become a celebration of diversity. The backgrounds of the poets and artists who have contributed to this anthology are wondrously diverse. The youngest is 18 and the oldest 93. They were born in 4 continents, represent most religions and have every shade of skin of colour. But there is unity in our diversity. We sing under the same book cover! Our poems are inspired by a visual image and most of the poets ( &2 artists)ended up in Oxford or regularly come here. We have come together in support of Standing Voice.  I encountered this young human rights charity when my village raised the funds for a skin care clinic for people with albinism in Tanzania who dying of skin cancer before the age of 35 ( Easily preventable! )  My journey to this anthology was inspired by the documentary Standing Voice made for BBC titled ‘Born too White’ and I wrote a poem with that title inspired by a special young man. The book will be launched on November 30 in the Old Library in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. It was the university library before the Bodleian.

Many of the poets are awarding winning. I am honoured to have poems side by side with theirs.

SYLVIA VETTA Tate St Ives…………………………………………

JENNY LEWIS The Rosewater Basin………………………….

SIMON ALTMANN Hands……………………………………….

SHAKIRA MORAR The Cracked Jug………………………..

SUDEEP SEN Jacket on a Chair………………………………….

DAVID OLSEN Migrant Mother………………………………..

HEATHER ROSSER The Bronze Chalice……………………

DWINA GIBB My Songbird Has Flown……………………..

SIMON ALTMANN Potsdamer Platz ……………………….

SYLVIA VETTA The Mists of Dao ……………………………..

ARABELLA CURRIE First Light………………………………..

PENNY BOXALL The Wheelwrights…………………………

EUTON DALEY In Emergency – Break Glass…………….

ADNAN AL-SAYEGH Extract from Uruk’s Anthem….


And finally   ….  Born Too White

Inspirational Young People – Oxford’s own Romeo and Juliet (Joe and Zara )

I can’t believe that the  young people  in this film including my grand-daughter Amber will be at university next month. Polly Biswas Gladwin, Victor Glynn and I organised these filmed workshops of Joe and Zara –Oxford’s own Romeo and Juliet . I love Philip Hind’s short film of our Shakespeare in Oxford Project . I was impressed by their perceptive and intelligent discussions and some of the participants were only 14 at the time.What do you think?

Two of the students want to be professional actors. Akasha Daley is studying at Stratford and is already taking part in Mandala Theatre performances . Hartley Bannister Parker is off to study drama in New York. Amber has chosen to study history at Warwick  – I hope that isn’t anything to do with me !   

By |September 1st, 2017|Events|0 Comments

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  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_RYEXL9960&list=PLA7BT6X6QX-wVpAnedPnm9wpYMR76yJk4    -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


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



To buy copies of Oxford Castaways 2
Go to
and click on the cover image.