Leila understands from early on that she is not part of normal Sudanese society. Her parents are unable to care for her, so she is banished to a strict orphanage, along with children born outside marriage. At school, Leila and her best friend Amal are called 'daughters of sin'. Her pretty sister, Zulima, is married off to a much older man, while the nannies say an abandoned girl is lucky to get an offer of marriage at all. At the age of ten, both Leila and Amal endure female circumcision. Suffering appalling prejudice, and thought to bring the 'evil eye', Leila remains outgoing and brave and manages to get an education. She goes on to marry, have four children, and divorce, yet even grown up she continues to know the stigma of being abandoned. Undaunted, Leila founds her own charity to help those shunned as outcasts and she continues to work tirelessly to dispel prejudice. This beautifully written, graceful memoir perfectly evokes the heat and colour of the North African desert and tells of the true friendships that are born out of adversity.
I grew up in Kent, in England, and have spent my adult life in London. I worked first as a photographer, then for many years as a feature writer. My journalism led to my two non-fiction books - Daughter of Dust (Simon & Schuster 2009) and Oranges and Lemons (Routledge 2005). In 2001, I was Education Journalist of the Year.
I have now turned to writing fiction, which had always been my dream. The Painted Bridge, the story of a woman tricked into a Victorian asylum in the year 1859, is my first novel. My second, The Sacred River - about three women who leave a fog-bound London in 1882 for the light and heat of Egypt - appears in 2013, also published by Simon & Schuster..
I've been greatly helped and encouraged in my writing by my family, my agent and my writing friends. My two grown up sons are sources of inspiration. As well as enjoying company and solitude, reading and writing, I am an enthusiastic swimmer in the women's pond on Hampstead Heath.
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