Get to know… Yasmin Jefferies


Of all the posts I held in my 18 years as a counsellor the last was the best. It was in a children’s hospital and I supported parents. Outsiders would ask, “How can you stand it, hearing traumatic stories all day?” I didn’t. I sat. I listened to parents trying to make sense of where they were and what was happening. My role was not to add or take away anything from their stories-in-the-making. It was to register words and sentences that resonated in the dark.

One of the best metaphors I know for telling stories and making sense of the world comes from looking at stars in the night sky. “There’s Orion!” My husband will say to me. We pick out the stars and see its shape. But did you know that there are other ways of joining the dots, that other cultures see other shapes with other stories?

Back to the counselling room. With my clients I would take time looking at their ‘sky’. We would inevitably see more stars than just the ones in the constellation ‘Trauma’, a generalised configuration received from their culture (family, friends, education, media etc). Seeing those personal ‘stars’ (experiences) they were able to create stories with individual rather that imposed meaning. It was a privilege hearing the stories of those parents and to be a witness to their genesis. Those stories however are not mine to tell. Though retired I am still sworn to confidentiality. But there are many, many more stars in the sky for me to spot and join up for myself, stories I can write and share.

What I am writing

Right now I am writing fictional stories about an historical character. He was a naturalist called Henry Nicholas Ridley who lived to a hundred (1855-1956). Each story is an episode in his life narrated by a person who would have known him at the time. Both the narrative and the form of these stories has evolved with support from Writing Room classes, tutors and other storytellers.

Writing Room

I found Writing Room on the internet when classes were still run face-to-face and were held in Wood Green supported by Collage Arts. I wanted to write about an 18-month cycling and hiking trip I had completed a year before I turned 60 so I signed up for Giovanna Iozzi’s Life Writing & Memoir class. That was in 2019. I did two classes with Sonia Lambert in 2020 and two Prioritise classes with Alison Chandler in 2021. Since then I have done a couple of Masterclasses and attended drop-in groups. This year (2023) I’m signed up to Giovanna Iozzi’s Flash Fiction class in the spring and Kiare Ladner’s Short Stories in the summer.

An extract from a piece of writing done in a Writing Room course with Sonia Lambert in 2020

Title: Finding Home

Zain got a job with Malayan Railways. It was 1959, the heady second year of his country’s independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. As a young graduate of London’s School of Economics it was no surprise his rise was rapid. In the first eighteen months he moved his family three times. Their first home was a tiny rented row house in the new suburb of Petaling Jaya, the second was in railway quarters a stone’s throw from Kuala Lumpur Station and finally a beautiful old bungalow surrounded by a tropical garden in the English style in what was formerly the colonial quarter of Gemas. The town was an important hub connecting the main West-Coast and East-Coast railway lines. From Gemas you could take a direct train almost anywhere. It was a good place to be for him and for his family.

The next posting was to Kuala Krai in Kelantan, one of the least developed states on the peninsula, a town on the East coast close to the Thai border. People on the West Coast spoke badly of those on the East. They said the women practiced black magic. They said that the men carried weapons, the traditional wavy bladed kris. They said the Kelantanese were vengeful and easily offended. Zain’s friends and family were afraid. If even he struggled with the local dialect how would his English wife cope with her rudimentary Malay? Who would she turn to when her husband was outstation? Could they even trust the servants?

They all agreed that it was unsafe. It was irresponsible of him to leave a white woman with a small child alone in an isolated bungalow in such an unfriendly place. It was November when Jean and their little girl, for the first time in their lives, boarded a plane and flew back to England. The child shared her mother’s tiny bed, smaller than a single. They slept in the sitting room above a bustling fish and chip shop in Gomersal. The young woman helped her parents at frying times. She got the cold English Christmas she had missed the year before. Five months at ‘Home’ convinced her that England was not the place for them. They returned to Malaya just before little Yasmin turned two.