Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Seasonal wishes to all of you

Whoever you are, where-ever you are, whatever you believe, I hope you have a happy, healthy and trouble-free start to 2014.  And ..... psssssst........ remember to read lots of books!!!!

Authors Electric and Awesome Indies both have post Christmas book deals to save you money and give you a great read!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Tuesday Poem: Solstice Sunset

Going Down

21st December

The sea is like frost and the sun
already dipping
beneath the line
of the horizon for the last time
before the planet turns
towards summer

Another year going down.
One less of mine.

The land is smoky with wood fires
and drifts of evening fog.
The sky a dome of glass
and one expanding jet-trail
stretches across the blue
like the vertebrae of some
prehistoric bird.

The twilight zone is orange
purple, green, and the dark
spine of Corsica looms
out of the sea fog tipped
by solar light.

The winter solstice
stitches my life back to back,
year to year, around the sun,
while the universe whirls,
tipsy and infinite
over my head.

©  Kathleen Jones

If you would like to read more poetry from the Tuesday Poets Community all over the world please click on this link. 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Indian Summer in Italy

We've been having the most wonderful and unexpected weather here. Mid-day temperatures have been up to about 20 degrees and the days are clear and sunny.  The nights are cold and frosty, but I don't mind that kind of crisp weather.  It can't last, but we're making the most of it.  This was one of my grandchildren in the sea at Pietrasanta earlier today, just as the sun was going down.

Two of my daughters and their children are spending Christmas with us this year - not in the little olive house (big enough for 2 or 3 at a squeeze), but at Peralta, one of my favourite places, up in the hills further down the coast.  Neil and I are care-taking Peralta for Christmas and New Year, including the dogs and cats.  It promises to be lively.  But at the moment it is sunny and peaceful and an absolute gift! I feel very fortunate just now.

Sadly the weather is forecast to break and we're to have rain for Christmas. Think positive -  An excuse for log fires and evenings in!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Santa Lucia in Italy

Yesterday was the feast of Santa Lucia - celebrating the return of the sun's light to the earth as the world begins to spin towards spring. December the 13th is the Winter Solstice in the old Julian Calendar.  It's a very important day in the northern hemisphere, but it loses importance the further south you go.  It's a festival that pre-dates Christianity and certainly has a very pagan feel. This year I was invited to join the fun, decked out with candles and a bed-sheet!

We began singing in the marble studios, then walked up the streets

calling in at hotels and bars

and finally into the piazza, candles almost burnt out!

Lots of fun with Norwegian sculptor Julia Vance.

ps  - we had to sing it in Norwegian! And it's h**** getting the wax out of your hair afterwards.....
If you would like to hear the hymn to Santa Lucia please click here.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Writing from Silence


'...when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips,
And sound is a diversion and a pastime. 
And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered.
For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly
                                                             Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, On Talking

The phone rings and I jump as the electronic jingle penetrates the silence in the room.  For two weeks and two days I've been on my own in the little house up in the olive groves and living mostly in silence.
Sometimes, in England, I've been tempted to put the television on for company, but Italian TV is terrible, so I keep it off.  The nights are cold and dark, so I haven't been going down to the piazza much.  I've been trying to make the most of solitude to work.
Living in silence is odd.  You become very conscious of extraneous sound - a builder yelling from scaffolding across the valley, the cat crunching its biscuits outside the door, a siren screaming along the autostrada far below, a leaf clattering down through the chestnut tree.  And in the background there's a strange roar like the hum of a big city, but which I know is the sea, tumbling in and out along the coastline, 10 kilometres away.
It struck me that we're so surrounded by sounds that we spend much of our time shutting them out - the blah and blare of activities around us - it was a week before I started really listening.  In the first few days, I talked to myself to fill the gap.  Now I'm quite happy.
I haven't even had the CD player on very often.  Some people find it helps them to write, but I can't write with music on, or a lot of background noise - I need to be able to hear the words in my head.
Neil is due back sometime tomorrow.  Have I managed to write anything?  Not as much as I should have done - I'm the Queen of Procrastinators, but the silence has been restful.  I don't think you realise just how noisy the world around us is until you can shut it out and listen to its absence. 

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

A Tale of Travelling Cat-Food

or Will Heathcliff Ever Get His Whiskas?

Heathcliff waiting anxiously at the window
Tuesday:  I order a shed-load of cat food online from a Famous Supermarket as a Christmas hamper for my cat Heathcliff, who is being looked after by Daughter No 1 who lives in Staffordshire.  I schedule evening delivery and, because I know they're a busy family with lots of after-school activities, I put special instructions to leave it through the side-gate outside the back door if no-one's home.  It's a regular order - it's always worked.

Thursday:  I ring my daughter to check that the Cat Food Has Landed.  No, she says.  Because only C (13) was home they took it away again.  The driver wouldn't leave it by the back door either, but he's left a card, so daughter says she will ring and re-schedule delivery.

Friday:  I email Famous Supermarket.  They say they've refunded my money but will re-charge my card when they re-deliver.  Daughter re-schedules for Sunday.  Everyone happy (except Heathcliff).

Sunday:  Get phone call from neighbour in Cumbria (200 miles further north) who says 'I've just had a load of cat food delivered to my door.  I told the driver it couldn't be for you because you're away, but he said he was late for his delivery slots and hadn't time to check  "This is where I was told to deliver it, so this is where I'm delivering" he said.'  I have never, at any time, given F.S my neighbour's address as a delivery target.
           Phone call from daughter in Staffordshire. No cat food.  What do we do?

Monday am:  Neighbour rings F.S. and points out that she has a hall full of cat food she doesn't want.

                    My daughter rings Customer Support who tell her it's my order.  I have to sort it out.

                    I email F.S. and outline the problem.  Cat in Staffordshire. Cat food in Cumbria.

                     Receive email sending me a £10 voucher off my next order.

                      I email F.S (a little more sharply) saying that it doesn't solve my problem - I have just paid for a lot of cat food which is currently at the wrong address (their fault) and as I'm in Italy I've no way of getting it to the cat.


Monday pm:  Daughter rings F.S. Customer Support for advice - 'Can't she just order some more cat food?'  Daughter asks to speak to the person in charge (she's very good at this!).  Supervisor soothing and helpful.  Daughter - why should my mother have all this hassle?  It's your problem - you sort it.

Tuesday:  Daughter receives delivery of cat food. (Thank you F.S)  Finally Heathcliff gets to eat!
               20 minutes later she gets a telephone call.  'This is F.S. We're just on our way to collect the cat food and wanted to check that you're in.'
               Daughter - 'But it's just been delivered!'
               F.S. Driver - 'It's at the wrong address.'
               Daughter - 'It's at the right address!'  Then, suspiciously, 'Where are you phoning from?'
               F.S. Driver - 'This is F.S. Carlisle, Cumbria.'
               Daughter points out that he's got quite a long drive, then gives him my neighbour's address and tel no in Cumbria, hardly able to speak for laughing.

Tuesday:  Cat food and cat are now reunited and my neighbour can get into her hallway without spraining her ankle on tins of Whiskas.  F.S have sent me a £10 voucher for my next order, but I think it will be a while before any of us have the energy to spend it!

Friday, 6 December 2013

Stan Tracey - Jazz Legend and Composer

On the day when Nelson Mandela's death is filling the headlines, one of Britain's greatest Jazz composers and musicians, Stan Tracey, died at the age of 86. Known as 'the Godfather of British Jazz' he was never as popular as figures like Johnny Dankworth because his music was seen as 'more difficult' - often crossing the border from Jazz into what you could call 'Contemporary Classical' music. He has left a tremendous legacy of compositions - my favourite being his Under Milkwood setting (click here for Starless and Bible Black).  I came to know Stan because my partner, Neil, ran a jazz festival in northern England for 20 years.  I was awed by his music, his kindness and generosity and I loved his dry sense of humour.  I last saw Stan when we shared his 85th birthday celebrations here in Italy at the Orvieto Jazz Festival last year and I wrote a poem for his birthday, in which I tried to put into words my admiration and respect.

A Birthday Poem

(For Stan Tracey)

Between the mind
and the hand
are the lines
where the notes
subtract and multiply
the mathematics of jazz.
Twice times five
and eighty eight
monochrome combinations
a musical alphabet
articulating narratives
of sound.

Eighty five years -
and the music still
walks the staves
of a life swung
from ‘stomach Steinway’*
to the concert grand.
A muscular attack
as rhythmic as it was
at thirty.  The history
of the genre hard-wired
between the hand
and the mind.

© Kathleen Jones

[* the stomach Steinway is musician's slang for the piano accordion which was the instrument Stan played as a boy]

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Italian, reduced sugar, three fruit marmalade

With Neil away and the book published, I've had time for some of the other things I love - one of them cooking.  You can't get proper English marmalade in Italy - so I've been experimenting with the home-grown citrus fruit to get something that is tart enough but tastes of the Mediterranean sun.

I started with this - a bowl of grapefruit, oranges and lemons - just ordinary ones, not marmalade fruit. The grapefruit and some of the oranges are pink/red and that gives the marmalade a lovely colour.  You need 1 grapefruit, 3 oranges (4 if small) and 2 lemons.  Chop them into about 8 pieces each

and pop in a pan and cover with water.  Leave to stand overnight so that the fruit flavour soaks into the water.  The following morning bring to the boil and simmer for between 2 and 3 hours until you can cut the peel with a wooden spoon and most of the fruit pulp has cooked into the liquid.

Take the peel out, scrape away any remaining fruit pulp, and chop as thickly or as finely as you like it.

Boil the liquid down until only 500ml remains.  Then add 400g sugar and bring to the boil until the liquid reaches marmalade temperature (109 degrees), or it wrinkles when a teaspoon is popped onto a cool saucer.  Then add the chopped peel.  Bring back to temperature - if no thermometer simmer for about another 5 mins.  Then ladle it into hot jars and seal. Easy-peasy!

You'll need to keep it in the fridge because of the low sugar level, but it's delicious on toast!   The Italians also eat marmalade with cheese .........

Monday, 2 December 2013

Tuesday Poem: Norman Nicholson - Wall

The wall walks the fell -
Grey millipede on slow
Stone hooves;
Its slack back hollowed
At gulleys and grooves,
Or shouldering over
Old boulders
Too big to be rolled away.
Fallen fragments
Of the high crags
Crawl in the walk of the wall . . .

A wall walks slowly,
At each give of the ground,
Each creak of the rock's ribs,
It puts its foot gingerly,
Arches its hog-holes,
Lets cobble and knee-joint
Settle and grip.
As the slipping fellside
Erodes and drifts,
The wall shifts with it,
Is always on the move.

They built a wall slowly,
A day a week;
Built it to stand.
But not stand still.
They built a wall to walk.

Copyright Norman Nicholson
from Sea to the West, Faber & Faber, 1981

The 1st December was the official publication date of Norman Nicholson:  The Whispering Poet, now out in paperback and on Kindle.  The paperback is one of those 'enhanced' ones with fold-in flaps and lots of illustrations.  It's been a labour of love to write, since I couldn't get any of the major publishers interested, so all the research has been funded by me.  But it's been a pleasure. I love his poetry.  He writes about the Lake District I know well - the landscape I grew up in.  This poem is particularly special - I helped my father many a time (as they say in Cumbria) to repair the stone walls that walked our farm boundaries.  They scale precipitous hillsides in ways that defy gravity - erratic boulders left by the glaciers are simply built into them, just as Norman describes.

And I love this Andy Goldsworthy sculpture (New York state), which takes its inspiration and title from Norman's poem - Taking a Wall for a Walk

If you'd like to see what other Tuesday Poets are posting around the world, please click on the link to the main Tuesday Poem site and check them out!

Norman Nicholson:  The Whispering Poet is available on Amazon at the special introductory price of £8.50 and also on Kindle.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Red Sky at Night

A sunset tonight over the Mediterranean - so red it looks apocalyptic!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Not Saying Goodbye at Viareggio - again.....

You know that feeling when the train is speeding out of the station with someone on board who is very precious?  And you're looking at the tail lights and feeling .....    Well - that!

Just waved Neil off on a train to Milan, en route to Cambodia.  It'll be 2 days before I hear from him again and hopefully he'll be there. And then 2 weeks before he comes back....

Meanwhile, I'm supposed to be using the time to get some writing done........

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Tuesday Poem: Sabotage by Shirley Wright


Bluebells in a jam jar
cool wind on hot summer nights,
a snatched throat-catch of Satchmo -
so brightness comes
rolling on waves that splash
the horizon at my feet.

In the thinning of the trees
the deer’s eye holds my own,
slow-watching, patient -
we acknowledge one another
then move on,
blessed unexpectedly.

Autumn fruit falls,
Newtonian, prophetic, the grass
awash with jewels -
the hedgerows hang heavy
bruised with the bounty
of garnet, amethyst.

Stick-of-rock sweetness
bears yesterday all the way through till
mouth melts with memory -
toes curl in wet sand
the sea is in my ear,
and me standing here

by moments,
fragments that stop the hourglass
like clogs hurled in the machine,
with all the fury and
astonishment of small things.

© Shirley Wright, 2013
from The Last Green Field,  Indigo Dreams Publishing

I met Shirley Wright when we were both at the writers' retreat (Singing over the Bones) at Moniack Mhor in Scotland last May.  I heard her read some of the poems in this collection, and really liked what I heard, so I bought it as soon as it was published and have been reading my way happily through it ever since.  The poems are lyrical and display Shirley's commitment to eco-writing - poems that explore humanity's relationship with the environment. I like Shirley's sense of humour - 'Climate Change' begins: 'There are polar bears in my kitchen.....'  and another takes a wry look at our ways of dealing with the new C word, 'In case you're wondering about the Carbon Footprint'.

Becoming serious again, in 'Field'  she hopes for 'myths to sing

the branching of our story -
born in the heart of wildwood,
nurtured by wolves
and told in antique voices
to the trees that built us,
whose paper holds our dreams.

Another poem - 'My Father' - won the Sunday Telegraph prize for performance poetry.
'My Father ..
loved fish - their slither
and slide, the rainbow flash
of scales that would leap
and glide past
in silence....

She uses a quote from TS Eliot as an epigraph, 'The historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence.'  And this too gives a clue to another of Shirley's preoccupations - the compound nature of time.  As in this poem, the past is present in every moment, and we're assaulted with memories 'fragments that stop the hourglass', leaving us 'sun-stunned'.

This is an excellent first collection - a very good read, with some beautiful moments in it.  Someone once told me that a collection should always have at least 3 'wow' poems in it - this definitely  has!

Shirley Wright
The Last Green Field
Indigo Dreams Publishing

Monday, 25 November 2013

Mount Corchia in Winter

Snow on the mountains is too good to resist.  Since the recent storms the Alpi Apuane have been looking really beautiful.  My friend Alexandra took this beautiful picture from sea level on Friday. Who wouldn't want to be up there?

Photo Alexandra Sacks
On Saturday the weather wasn't brilliant - cloud and the odd snow flurry and a grey, lowering sky - but for intrepid mountaineers that only adds to the attraction (we are all certifiably crazy!)  We decided to go up the old quarry road that winds its way up Mount Corchia.  It was quickly apparent that it was more of a challenge than we'd bargained for.  This was more than just a dusting of snow, but deep drifts.  There were also fallen trees from the storm, but most of these had been sawed through to make a gap for vehicles. We abandoned the car - it took all four of us to turn it round - but were pleased to find that the four wheel drive of the rangers had only managed to get a quarter of a mile further on. The trusty Peugeot, now more than 10 years old, is a very solid vehicle!

At first we walked in the wheel tracks left by the rangers' landrover, but soon we were trail-breaking on our own.  The view out over the sea, where the light was constantly changing, was breath-taking.

The buttresses of Corchia just appearing out of the cloud

By the time we got to the level section below the buttresses, roughly 1350 metres up, the snow was just too deep to walk easily through and it was bitterly cold, even with proper clothing.

But the view of the mountains around us was utterly spectacular.  We're aching a bit now, but it was wonderful to be up there in the wind and the snow.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Despatches from Storm-battered Italy

In Tuscany, on the Mediterranean coast, you don't expect to wake up to this in November. Drifts of the white stuff in the olive groves below the terrace, and temperatures of about 5 degrees.

Our neighbours are still picking olives.  The mountains behind us, glimpsed through the clouds, were also white - and this time not with marble dust.

Photo Alexandra Sack
The storms had kept us awake all night - thunder and lightning, wind, apocalyptic rain and the percussion of hailstones.  And this is what the white drifts are - hailstones a foot deep like frozen snow.  But however horrible the weather here has been (and it's been 'bruttissimo'!) it's nothing to the storm that hit Sardinia three days ago during the night. 453 millimetres of rain (almost 20 inches) fell in two hours, creating some of the most terrible flash floods ever seen in Europe.  The island is devastated - roads and bridges and whole villages washed away and many dead.  One family died instantly as a wall of mud, debris and water, burst through their ground floor apartment without warning. Towns and cities were flooded 2 or 3 metres deep in mud and water.  Thousands are homeless.

Now the political fall-out has begun.  The government have been accused of 'forgetting' Sardinia. Almost its only income is from tourism, but the tourist season lasts only 3 months of the year now, perhaps four in the warmer south of the island.  For the rest of the year, Sardinians are out of work. They say that there has been no investment in the island - no money put into the infrastructure and that this neglect has contributed to the disaster.  Italian football star Gigi Riva, who lives on the island, said in a newspaper articles (La Nazione) that he believes that Sardinia has been abandoned by the state; 'poi e' come se la Sardegna non esistesse piu'.   It is all very sad. 

Monday, 18 November 2013

The Tuesday Poem: The Alchemist's Book of Birds from 'Drifting'

I've been lucky enough to be included in the new anthology of art and poetry put together by Harriette Lawlor and Agnes Marton, called 'Drifting'. It's a very beautiful book, though expensive - as all art books are.  The theme was metamorphosis and alchemy - change and revival.  So I wrote about alchemical birds, the Raven, the Peacock, the Swan - and of course the Phoenix, referencing mythology and an old text which has always fascinated me called The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, written around 1459 but not  published until 1616.  It was quite a challenge to get everything in under the 40 line limit, so there's only an excerpt!
The beautiful painting on the opposite page is by a major Russian artist called Vladimir Karnachev and you can see more of his work here.  And he has a Facebook page here.  The photograph is, of course, copyright to Vladimir and reproduced here with his permission.

from The Alchemist's Book of Birds


Bone for the beak
strained sky-ward in song
above the notched eye-
that-sees-me.  Totem bear
and aurochs, salmon and deer
scotched on the ivory
shaft for the shaman’s hand


is at the back of the cave.  She has come
here to listen to her inner weather.
This is the sad season; blind months  
paused until the green feathers
the forest in catkins, larch and brush-
pine and the peacock eyes of the chicory
open blue in the long grass.


feathers to cloak a shaman, the soft skin
and down from the breast, a cap for a maiden
who is swan-necked and goose-footed.  Raven
brings sceptre and book and will carry her in the black ship
to her wedding and will not forget
to hoist the white sail for the bridegroom
and the shaman will play on a flute
carved from the wing-bone of the eagle.

And the Phoenix

rising from the ashes of herself
a comet of burning feather and bone
giving birth to an oracle or omen
singing everything out of the ashes of herself.

© Kathleen Jones

If you'd like to see more poetry from The Tuesday Poets, please visit the hub here and check out what they're all posting. The Hub poem today is Pigs, by Les Murray - one of my favourite Australian poets. 

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Back in Italy at last . . .

We're finally back in Italy after a long and tedious journey south in heavy traffic and bad weather.  November is later than we usually travel and at times we had to scrape ice off the car, found snow in the Vosges mountains of France, but mainly rain, rain, rain.   After negotiating three road closures and passing four accidents, we were very glad to get through the St Gothard tunnel and see Italian road signs.  The alps - invisible under cloud from the Swiss side, were perfectly visible and the sun was peering through a thin mask.

Soon we could see the serrated edges of the Alpi Apuane against the sky, just as it was beginning to get dark, and we knew we were nearly home.  From a distance, they look like a row of teeth and I often wonder how they would have looked before human beings began to chip the marble from their summits and ridges. According to many, the destruction of the Apuan Alps is one of the 'greatest environmental disasters in Europe' and there's going to be a protest walk on Sunday which I'd love to take part in.  http://artislimited.wordpress.com/2013/11/14/on-the-paths-of-destruction-hiking-tour-sponsored-by-environmental-groups-sets-out-to-defend-the-apuan-alps-____________-this-sunday-the-17th-of-november/

We fell into bed last night barely able to talk. This morning I've unpacked the boxes from the car and re-stocked the fridge and tried to get mind and body together enough to think about starting work again.  Travelling is absolutely exhausting!!!!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Leaving Again

Having a few very stressful days trying to sort out the house, the books that arrived from the printer last week, and pack the car with everything I need to take back to Italy.  The sun is shining on the river this morning and the trees are glorious with autumn colour.  Hard to leave.  I'm not looking forward to the long drive south, this time via London.  But, like the swallows, we will be glad to arrive - hopefully the sun will be shining on the Mediterranean and the Italian chestnut trees will be golden too.

Didn't sleep last night - packing and making lists in my head - it's not easy to sleep just before a long trip. I will be offline for a few days now until we arrive on Wednesday, or Thursday.  Fingers crossed for an uneventful journey.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Do Authors Dream of Electric Books?: My Life as a Man by Kathleen Jones

Do Authors Dream of Electric Books?: My Life as a Man by Kathleen Jones: When I was asked to write the biography of the English poet Norman Nicholson , I realised that it was the first time anyone had ever wanted me to write about a man. All my earlier commissioned biographies had been about the lives of women.  How easy was it going to be, I wondered, to get inside a man’s skin, inside his head, understand how he thought, why he did what he did, wrote what he wrote?  Are men so very different to women? ......

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Planning a Book Launch

It's crunch time for the new biography, which hopefully is rolling off the printer's machines and into boxes in the next couple of days.   The E-book is also ready to roll at the end of the week.  But how are we going to sell it?

Getting visibility is one of the big problems for a small press and for indie authors generally.  The Norman Nicholson biography is being produced for the centenary of his birth in January and we hope that the publicity for that event will help to sell the book.  We've decided that we're going to pay someone to do the promotion for us. Not only will this give The Book Mill a more professional profile, but it will take a big weight off my back - publicity isn't my strong point. I hate selling myself!

First, find your publicist - someone used to writing press releases and tackling newspapers and other periodicals - someone who isn't afraid to pick up the phone and promote the book.  Then you have to make lists of possible review sources - perhaps people who've reviewed your work before?  Then there are the lists of literature festivals and book shops who may be willing to host events. I'm lucky to have a friend, Jean, who is happy to take on the job of promoting the book.  We're planning a couple of bookshop and library events and already have bookings for two literature festivals who've done events for my previous books.  Jean is going to send off fliers and press releases and see what else what she can get.  This is the first time we've done both print and e-book publication together and it's all an experiment.

I've had one very lucky break - Norman Nicholson did quite a lot of work for the BBC who have decided to do a Radio 4 documentary on his life to be broadcast for his birthday in January.  The producer requested a copy of my biography and I've just been to London to record some interviews for the programme.  Fingers crossed they use some of it!

It's all a big learning curve, but I will pass on any useful information that comes my way.  Publishing without the resources of a big international organisation behind you isn't easy.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Tuesday Poem: For Fathers of Girls by Stephen Dunn

Having just been present at the birth of my grand-daughter, feeling aggrieved that her father was denied the right by British immigration, birth has been on my mind.  There aren't many poems about birth from the father's point of view.  And then I stumbled on this poem by Stephen Dunn at Garrison Keiller's Writers' Almanac. 

For Fathers of Girls by Stephen Dunn

for Susanne

When sperm leaves us
and we cockadoodledo
and our wives rise like morning

the children we start
are insignificant as bullets
that get lodged, say,

in a field somewhere
in the midwest.
If we are thinking then

it is probably of sleep
or the potency of rest, or
the one—hand catch we made

long ago at the peak of our lives.
Later, though, in a dream
we may imagine something in the womb

of our heads, neither boy nor girl,
nothing quite so simple . . . . .

To read more please click on this link  
Writers' Almanac - For Fathers of Girls  Copyright Stephen Dunn

And of course, there's the ultimate birth poem by Sharon Olds - The Language of the Brag.....Fabulous!!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Autumn on the River

I've been very quiet here recently - at first a week of baby-worshipping in London, and then laid low by a bug I picked up there.  I've watched a lot of very bad day-time TV from the sofa!  But the view from the window has been  better than the screen.  It's autumn here in Cumbria and the trees are beginning to turn on the river bank.

We missed the St Jude storm, luckily, but have had lots of rain and the river is running brown and high.
This taken minutes after the previous pic - but the sky had darkened and the sun vanished!

Can anyone tell me why this heron is behaving strangely on the river bank?

Despite the weather and the short days things are still managing to flourish outside in my wildly overgrown garden.  The Stanwell Perpetual rose is living up to its name -

And these winter aconites are a brilliant blue against the wall of the mill.

And how's this for a crop of mushrooms on an old tree stump next to the road?

I love autumn - the colours and the scents of woodsmoke and damp earth.  As a child I remember being taken to the chapel harvest festivals where the pulpit steps were piled high with mounds of apples and pears, tomatoes, leeks, pumpkins, beetroot, potatoes, and buckets of  flowers - mainly dahlias, chrysanthemums and sweet william. All of it home-grown and auctioned off for charity. We went home with bulging bags. The smell of the Bramley apples! It's not just my memory - home-grown really does smell different to the supermarket stuff.  Just thinking about it makes me feel hungry, so I'm obviously getting better!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Tuesday Poem: If You Are Lucky, by Michelle McGrane

Tuesday Poem: If You Are Lucky, by Michelle McGrane: If you are lucky you will carry one night with you for the rest of your life, a night like no other. You won't see it coming. For...

Michelle McGrane's collection 'A Suitable Girl', published by Pindrop, is one of my favourite collections from the last year or so.  'If you are lucky' is one of the big moments in the collection - sensual, and giving that tingle in the spine that honest poems do when they hit the spot!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Worrying times for digital authors

There's been a bit of upheaval on the internet over the past week.  Amazon had their Seller accounts hacked and all sellers had a notification from a 'fake' Amazon telling them that their money had not been paid and they should update their bank details.  Fortunately, being a suspicious character I didn't click any links and signed into my Amazon Seller Account in the normal way, to be told that, yes, someone had infiltrated their accounts and all our bank details and payments had been frozen.  Several frantic emails from Amazon to me followed, saying that fake emails had been sent, to be ignored and that 'we are fixing the problem, be patient'.  Then emails saying I'd been paid by mistake and that they were taking money back, then emails telling me the problem was fixed. What was fake and what was genuine?  No idea - they all looked the same.  I changed my passwords and hope now that it's all sorted.

At the same time, Kobo Writing Life suspended all 'indie' published books ostensibly  because of the fear of abusive content.  I've no problem with books being  vetted for abusive material, but it seems that they have taken this much, much further.  Small 'micro' publishers are also affected.  My partner Neil publishes four authors, including myself and all our titles are suspended.  It could be said that mine are 'self-published', but the other three are definitely not and this is very harmful.  Also, all four of us are published by the Big 6 (whose books are not suspended) and several of the books concerned are E-editions of books published in paperback by Penguin, Robert Hale and Constable. Most of mine are literary biography - a genre not renowned for its erotic content!   It could be said that Kobo are deliberately targeting Independent publishing of any kind, not just 'self' publishing, and this is a very worrying tactic for a company owned by WH Smith.

The internet is a dangerous place and Indie authors seem to be more vulnerable than most on its dark streets.  We need to make sure we keep up to date with the technology.  Cyber Censorship is an even more difficult issue.  I believe passionately in freedom of expression, but I don't want extreme violence and porn of any kind to be freely available to people innocently browsing the pages of the Kobo catalogue.  But what about all the other outlets? Are they going to follow suit?  Will we have to declare explicit content when we publish?  Will the rules be more stringent for independent authors than the Big 6?  What is clear is that there's more need than ever for Indie Authors to belong to groups that will help them out and give them more clout when it comes to challenging people like Kobo and Amazon.  I belong to the Alliance of Independent Authors, Awesome Indies and Authors Electric and it's quite comforting to be part of a tribe.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The long drive home

Finally back in England after a very long and tiring drive across Europe.  In Switzerland there were police road-blocks, apparently directed at lorries, which created queues of more than 2 hours at each location.  We lost almost 5 hours in stationary traffic.  And then there was snow - freshly fallen at low levels.  Winter has come early to Europe this year.

Southern France was cold and damp but very welcome.  We didn't get as far as we'd intended, but stopped at a pretty little town in Alsace called Colmar.
It's a chocolate box town in the old centre, but it's not a museum - very much a working place.  There are some wonderful crooked buildings - photographed early in the morning before we set off again.  We needed to cover a lot of miles to make the ferry in time.  There were torrential rain storms and gales in northern France, which made for some tense moments.

But we're finally home, tired but triumphant.  I'm here for a month, but Neil left this morning to go back to Italy - not wanting to waste the studio space he's rented to work on a new piece of marble.  But he was back this afternoon because they wouldn't let him out of the country on my passport!  Moral:  never pack when you're tired!!

Friday, 11 October 2013

Nobel Prize for Literature goes to Alice Munro

Congratulations to Alice Munro for being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.  It's another shot in the arm for the short story, since Alice Munro doesn't write anything else - she's sometimes been called the Chekhov of  Canada.  I love her stories and have often tried to analyse them - and failed!  They have a mysterious magic you can't explain by plot diagrams or character analysis.  But they make a gut-wrenching connection with the reader, tapping into some kind of universal knowledge of the human condition.

Congratulations, too, to my fellow Cumbrian Sarah Hall who has won the BBC National Short Story Prize with 'Mrs Fox' - described as 'a darkly erotic tale'.

Tomorrow we will be packing the car to leave Italy, driving all the way to the north of England, via the Zeebrugge-Hull ferry. We're aiming to arrive on Monday morning.  Just hoping for good weather and calm seas!