In which my book launch is magic – and French air traffic controllers pour la Merde! on my travel plans

A book launch is like your first night with a new lover: the delicious exitement as you try not to be overwhelmed by expectations, just to be yourself. I was nervous but fired up just before launching my new book, Meet Me in Gaza, at the Woolfson & Tay independent bookshop here in Southwark, south London ( And it was a quite magical evening. Friends came, and strangers too, including a London based Gazan author, Rabai al-Madhoun, who silenced the room when he said, ‘I have not been able to go to Gaza for a long time: but this evening you have brought Gaza to me.’

Thanks to everyone who came along, and celebrated with us – especially Rabai, Susan J, Geraint, and Ma and Richard. To order your copy of Meet Me in Gaza, please go to Amazon, or to the Wordpower website (, to Woolfson & Tay, or to Foyle’s bookshops.

My launch was also, apparently, my last chance to say farewell to many friends – as I was booked onto a flight to Bangui (capital of the Central African Republic) via Paris, just two days later. I have spent a year planning this journey to the heart of Africa, to research a new travel book. I intend to stay in central Africa for some months – rebels permitting – and have veered between nerves and excitement for the last few weeks. The morning of my flight, I awoke at dawn with a pounding heart, asking myself, ‘do I really want to go to this volatile, rebel-infested, land-locked country in the middle of nowhere?’

For me, pre-travel nerves are not only inevitable, but also healthy. For one thing, they make me plan my trips with care, which is essential because I frequently travel alone. I once wrote that ‘travel without fear is like meat without salt’ and still believe it’s true. But this particular morning I had a very odd feeling that I couldn’t quite pin down. Something was amiss. And when I tried to ‘check-in’ online, the Air France website seemed completely blocked. Hmm……

I eventually got through to the airline by phone, and was told my flight had been cancelled. Striking air traffic controllers in Paris had grounded thousands of us, and the next available flight to Bangui was a week later. Yes. One week.

Having long-term travel plans thwarted is stressful and frustrating (and because this was industrial action, there’s no compensation either). I sat amidst my almost-packed luggage and wept with fury. But at that moment I also realised how much I do want to go to the Central  African Republic after all. So Wednesday evening, June 19th, Bangui here I come.

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