My first school was a radio

Shelan Rodger

Shelan Rodger

I was born in Nigeria. When I was four, my family moved to Australia, to a place so remote there was no school, so my first classroom was our kitchen and a radio programme for kids in the bush.

I love the smell of petrol

My happiest childhood memories are of the years we lived on Melville Island, north of Darwin. Every two months, a barge delivered yellow barrels of fuel to the other side of the island and I would trek through the bush with my brother and sister and our aboriginal friends to go petrol sniffing. Everyone had their own barrel and those, like our younger brother, who were too little to climb up alone were hoisted up so that they could sniff away. Needless to say, our parents had no idea. To this day I love filling the car up with petrol!

I’m not good in buildings

These words slipped out recently when I was talking to a friend and she thought they were hilarious. But it’s true, I feel a bit asphyxiated if I spend too much time indoors. I guess that’s hardly surprising given my background, but as I grow older I am more and more convinced that wilderness is a necessity of the human spirit and that the world would be a better place if we were all, as individuals and collectively, more connected to nature.

There is a hidden sentence in Twin Truths that only one person would ever recognise: the man who ended a nine-month-old marriage out of the blue

I was 33 and living in Buenos Aires and it happened overnight – one of those life twists we all go through that help shape the person we become.

I live in a casino

It still has the original Moorish tiles of its active days, over 50 years ago, in what was then a thriving gold mining town in southern Spain. Today, the gold mine sits in silence behind what is now a quirky and beautiful white village, its streets decorated by paintings of local artists. The energy in this volcanic landscape and its rugged Andalucían coastline is so intense, it is said that couples who try to live here are either wrenched apart or welded together forever. It’s true.

One of the most disconcerting experiences I have ever had was the realisation that a baboon masturbating on the other side of a Kenyan river was watching my sister and I undress

The realisation was shocking (and actually inspired an incident in Twin Truths), but also fascinating because it showed just how slim the boundaries can be between species. In a parallel life I could easily have become a zoologist. In this life, my dogs are my children.

I was an extra in Hugh Grant’s first film

Privileged, a terrible film about a group of Oxford students! I was at Brasenose College, studying French and Spanish at the time, and my role was to lead a dance train at a party scene. A few years earlier I had been supremely disappointed to be given not the lead role of the hobbit in our school play but half a spider (half a spider, tied back to back with another person!) Well, it didn’t quite make up for that, but it was fun, and I remember perfectly the purple sparkly dungarees I wore!

I learnt Swahili in prison

A misleading but nevertheless true statement! I lived for several years in Kenya, where my book Yellow Room is partially set, and I did some voluntary occupational therapy at the local women’s prison in Nanyuki. It was the first time I came into contact with people who spoke little or no English and I learnt more Swahili there than anywhere else.

I was sexually abused as a child

I was 9 years old, and he was a male babysitter. I am fine, but the impact is with me still. I mention this because there is still such a stigma around sexual abuse, which so often stops it being exposed. So many lives are scarred by trauma and the reality of this darkness finds its way into my writing.

My father was the most tolerant and non-judgemental person I’ve ever known

He died 10 years ago. My love and admiration are as intense now as ever and he continues to have a profound effect on the way I view the world and my reflections on what would help us change it.

Twin Truths by Shelan Rodger is published 29th March, price £8.99 in paperback (The Dome Press)