Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Tuesday Poem: Scirocco

The day opens
like an oven mouth
and the heat
eats up the hours

as cherry leaves crisp
to brown locusts
and the day lilies shrivel
before breakfast.

On the hill above us after dark ,
the wildfires leap
like desperate angels
winging from tree to tree

their acrid breath
across the moon.

© Kathleen Jones

A very quick bit of description I wrote the other night, watching the wildfires blazing on the hills above us.    The Scirocco has mercifully given up and the weather is cooler now the wind direction has turned to the north.

Monday, 29 August 2011

The Bat-Cat

Meet Bat-Cat, the masked marauder.   When we arrived here at the beginning of July, there was only one feral cat attached to the house, a little grey and white female.  But shortly after we arrived she brought along a big kitten, probably from her last brood, about 6 or 7 months old and obviously starving.  His/her bones were visible through the skin and the spine stood up like a razor blade.   So, we've been feeding this one too, with visible results.  It has beautiful markings - a black mask just like Batman, and that's what we first called the cat.   But now we aren't sure whether it's Batman or Batwoman, so have opted for Bat-Cat to be on the safe-side!   It still hisses at me when I put the food down, but doesn't run away the moment I move.   We keep all our scraps and it feels good not to be throwing anything away.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Wildfires in Italy

So here I am  back in Italy, in the little house in the olive grove, where it is hot, hot, hot - as the locals put it 'caldo a morire' which translates roughly 'hot enough to die'.  Today it was around 40 degrees with no vestige of a breeze.

We walked along to the little bar in the village last night, to watch the sunset, but found ourselves watching wildfires instead.  The photographs were taken in very dark conditions so it's difficult to see all the fires that we could see.   One big one to the right of the church tower, another further over almost obscured by the tree branch,  there was another one on the other side of the hill generating a lot of smoke,  and shortly after we took this photo two more appeared on the hills just above the top of the tower.  You can just see a number of points of light in this picture. 

They were using helicopters and specially adapted planes to douse them. The planes actually touch the surface of the sea, ploughing a white furrow, in order to scoop up water.

Then they fly into the smoke to drop it all on the blaze. It's very skilful flying and very impressive to watch.

This morning the whole valley beneath us was under a pall of smoke.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Goodbye Edinburgh

This is Alexandra Harris (author of Romantic Moderns) and myself  happily signing away at Edinburgh.  Really surprised that there are still people who can afford to buy hardback books - that can only be good.  There were a surprising number of Kiwis in the audience too - about half a dozen people from New Zealand and all Katherine Mansfield fans.

Michael Holroyd has also been appearing at Edinburgh and he entered the biography debate with an article in Friday's Guardian about the death of literary biography.    That type of  'life and work' is gone, he says, and he's right.  People are 'writing lives backwards', writing group lives, or parts of lives, in other words being totally experimental.  I've always been against the dry-as-dust academic tome full of facts about the subject, but utterly lifeless.  No wonder readers want something more exciting and illuminating!   Michael's comments are more ammunition against the academic lobby who don't like the way I've written my Mansfield biography - it's written for readers, not critics.   And that seems to have worked.  I had a quick coffee with my publisher after the event and it seems that the first edition of the book has almost sold out - reprinting time.  Yippppeeeee!!!!   

I had a lovely time in Edinburgh.  But now it's back home to clean out the fridge, pack the suitcases and dash back to Italy for some 'creative space'.   No Tuesday Poem this week because I will be travelling today and tomorrow, so apologies to the fans of the TP blog.  Normal service will be resumed next week.

I've also been having adventures of a different kind associated with my exploration of the world of the Haida Gwaii indians and will report on that later in the week.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Edinburgh Festival

Edinburgh - this big, grey, northern city.  A mixture of Georgian, Gothic and neo Greek - steep streets with glimpses of the sea - wide Georgian streets with Hanoverian names - Frederick, William, George -  and, dominating everything, the castle.

You would never think that this was the middle of August - the weather was freezing and, at 4.45pm, it was already overcast and dark.

But during the Festival, whatever the weather,  Edinburgh is buzzing -  fringe theatre and comedy, street performers, glitzy international music and art events.

We arrived at lunch time and wandered about sampling the street acts on the Royal Mile.

But on other streets in the centre, there are alcoholics and drug addicts, homeless,begging on the street - this photo says a lot for the state of Britain -  busking in front of the discount sale in the designer boutique window, and he wasn't part of the festival fringe.  I liked the dog with the hat.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Edinburgh Festival

Very quick post, as I'm busy with preparations to go off to the Edinburgh Book Festival for duo event with Alexandra Harris, winner of the Guardian first book award.  Don't think the weather is going to be as good as the picture above suggests, as it's very, very wet at the moment.   Looking forward to Edinburgh  though - beautiful even in the rain - but a bit nervous about the event.


Monday, 15 August 2011

Tuesday Poem: Timed Out

This is the twilight zone where the light fades
but no clock can tell how long the dark
will take to fall. Facing away from day
the turn of the earth accelerates
towards night, knowing only that arrival
is certain, and the hot desert wind
is coating the olive leaves with dust and
an unfamiliar owl tells midnight
from the cypress tree. And there is no time;
no time. I take a bottle of new wine
from the rack. Two glasses. Place them on the
terrace table where we watch the dusk
creep in towards us from the still-bright sea.

Writing in strict, classical form isn't something I do very often. This was written at George Szirtes’ workshop on Saturday in response to a request to write an irregular sonnet of either 13 or 15 lines. It has an unobtrusive rhyme scheme (some only hinted at) and I’ve tried to keep to the 10 syllables, though some lines have 9 or 11.  It still needs a lot of work.
I suppose the right title for this poem would be ‘Tempus Fugit’. It’s my birthday today and I’m very conscious of the fact that there are suddenly many more behind me than there are in front and you have to make the most of every minute!

For more Tuesday Poems please visit the site www.tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Literary Cabaret - Joel Stickley

Just back - exhausted - from a whole day workshop on 'form' with poet George Szirtes. More of that next week.
Thought in the context of heavy politics, economics and weather in the UK a bit of light relief was required. I'm a great fan of Joel Stickley's 'Write Badly Well' Blog, and I love this clip from his literary cabaret slot in London.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

London (and several other towns) Burning

Scenes that only recently were safely at the other end of Europe in Greece are now on our doorstep and I'm fed up with the Media and politicians apportioning blame here and there like a horror version of 'pin the tail on the donkey blindfold'.

There's a really good post on the Live Journal by an ex teacher who gives a brilliant account of the kids who are out on the streets.  I knew that a large number of kids left education barely literate, but I didn't know how large the number was.  It is shocking for any supposedly 1st world country to have  almost 20% of it's young people leaving school totally unemployable.

Romicula says:   "I know the stats for the last thirteen years only because I've been a teacher for the last thirteen years. These kids often have virtually no social skills. By that I mean they literally cannot sit in a room and hold a conversation with someone other than those in their peer group. That doesn't matter. They don't have the skills to fill in a job application form, they have nothing to put on it if they did, so no one is going to sit them in a room and give them an interview, unless that someone is in a blue uniform, and they are recording the interview."

Another blog makes a satirical poetic parallel between the bankers and the looters - one legal, the other not. 

Children of Albion, you can take off that hood,
The world is your oyster, you’re out of the wood,
Directors and bankers have run off with more,
They’ve been there before you, they’ve cleaned out the store,
They’ve lit their own fires on the trading room floor,
Children of Albion
Sleep easy.

Children of Albion, sleep well in your beds,
There’s nothing to fear, no price on your heads,
No price and no buyer, you’ve romped and you’ve played,
And there in your hands is the loot you can trade,
Let none be deceived, let none be afraid,
Children of Albion
Sleep easy.

You can read the whole thing here.  

The diversity of the blogs shows the complexity of the problem.  One interesting fact - apparently Waterstone's in Clapham was the only shop not looted!   Either there's no market for books, or the looters are all illiterate - both explanations utterly depressing.

I have my grandchildren here for the holidays at the moment, going stir crazy with the rain, and wonder what kind of future they've got.   We need to educate and treasure them, because we're going to be relying on them to get us out of this mess.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Tuesday Poem: This is How the Day Looks

This is how the day looks ...

now the rain has washed
its bright face
and the distant sea is the clean
blue of a surgical gown.

Far below me I can see
a patterning of terracotta
roof-tiles steepled
among the chestnut groves

the human sprawl
between the hills and sea
arranged with alien geometry.
Raindrops have sluiced the olives

dripping on the terrace; and
the happy sun is tracing
the outline of a plum tree
on the stone.

A peregrine stoops
silently past me slicing
a murderous trajectory
through the sweet air.

I'm feeling nostalgic for my little house high up in the olive groves - England is very grey, gloomy and wet at the moment, and the political and financial situations match the weather.  This poem is far from finished yet - it's just a series of observations written  one morning sitting on the terrace finishing my breakfast coffee.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

The Price of a Book

A good post today by Elizabeth Baines at Fiction Bitch on the pricing of hardbacks, paperbacks and e-books.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Kindle Authors UK

I realise I’ve been going on about the Kindle experience quite a lot over the last few months, but I am really excited about E-books and the freedom they offer authors to control their own output.  It’s the ultimate democracy of The Word.  (If you're not convinced then read a very good post by Dee Weaver on 'Strictly Writing'.)

A few days ago I discovered a really good site for anyone who is interested  in the E-book market.  Kindle Authors UK are a new group of bloggers dedicated to Kindling their work and marketing it.  Most are established authors either wanting to make their backlists available, or to publish new work difficult to place in the current publishing climate.  This is how they describe themselves on the blog:

‘We are professional UK authors branching out independently for selected projects to bring you quality e-books at great prices. We hope you'll enjoy following our adventures and be inspired to try some of these titles we've published for Kindle, which include books out of print for many years.’

I’m really delighted that they’ve asked me to join.  Most are writing fiction or books for children and apparently I’m their first biographer.  

The blog is full of good information about the whole process of producing an E-book.  The authors who form the group will be blogging at regular intervals.  Katherine Roberts current post is called ‘How I didn’t sell a million e-books in 5 months’ - a response to a book by successful e-author John Locke who apparently did.

 The way it works is that each author has been given a date to post on the blog and mine is going to be the 5th of every month.   I’m going to be sharing my own experience of the e-market and hoping to learn a lot from the others about marketing work in cyber-space.

My new Kindle project is to go into Kindle Singles - individual short stories sold very cheaply at 90 cents each.  I don’t know how (or if)  they’ll sell but I’ll report back with the results.

On the personal front, I'm back in England for a couple of weeks - back to grey skies (whatever happened to the rumoured heat wave?) and pouring rain.  I got drowned walking down from the station to the Mill!  Italian sun and breakfast on the terrace watching peregrine falcons riding the thermals is just a rapidly fading memory.  Sigh.......

Monday, 1 August 2011

Tuesday Poem: Maya Angelou - Cooking up a Poem

From a recent interview with Maya Angelou:

Is cooking like writing poetry?

Yes, cooking is like writing poetry, but it’s also like building a house. You want the best ingredients. When you’re writing a poem, you hope to have a good vocabulary, and to choose the nouns and pronouns and verbs carefully. The way you put them together will determine how they affect another person. And it’s really because you’ve been careful in the choice of your ingredients and respectful of how they work together. That’s true of all the efforts in life.

Maya's latest book is:  Great Food, All Day Long, Random House,  2011