Wednesday, 13 August 2014

A writer's holiday

This blog has been on holiday for the last couple of weeks, mainly because I haven't had the energy at the end of the day to post anything at all.  It's been a blistering few weeks, jetting backwards and forwards between Italy and the UK, trying to keep the UK house from crumbling into the river bank, seeing the Offspring, and attempting to sell a few books.  What I need is a holiday!  But that got me thinking. . .

Don't look now - I'm writing!

Everyone's heard the expression 'a busman's holiday', ie not really being on holiday at all - but what about writers?  'A writer's holiday' would be a more appropriate saying, because writers have no holidays at all.  We are continually on the receiving end of 'input' even if we can switch off 'output'.

See that bikini clad woman lying on the beach towel, eyes closed behind the shades?  She's eavesdropping a conversation between two people having an argument under a nearby umbrella.  Notice the notebook strategically placed next to the iced drink and the sun tan lotion.

'Spot the Writer' is a good game.  Sometimes they pretend to be listening to music on their i-pods but this is just a ruse to prevent people talking to them - a vain attempt to shut off 'input'.  I've tried everything, but whenever I travel the people next to me, the taxi drivers, the cabin crew, all seem to want to tell me the stories of their lives.  I've got the material for shelves and shelves of novels I will never write.

Then there's the sunsets, the 3am Cosmic Questions, the way the light falls on the sea, a bird at just the right angle above the mountain, the man with the gleaming teeth who appears in the bar every evening with a different woman, the girl selling bracelets on the street outside, a  mysterious note delivered to your cubby hole in the hotel . . .  They all need to be written down by the crazy addict desperate for another fix of Words.

These days, i-pads are making it difficult to spot the scribblers.  They might look as though they're simply texting or updating Facebook, while sneakily editing the Great Novel.  You might even be in it - your appearance and conversation recorded for posterity.  That's what writers do - they steal other people's lives and put them between glossy covers and they are never, never off-duty!

Now I'm off again, this time to take charge of grandchildren who don't want to go on holiday with their parents - and daughter and tiny ones are back from Cuba, so there's going to be a houseful. Probably won't have the energy to blog again until September - but you never know!



Monday, 4 August 2014

Tuesday Poem: 'I sing because I sing', Mahmoud Darwish and Yehuda Amichai

This week I'm posting a powerful poem by one of the great Palestinian poets, the voice of exile, Mahmoud Darwish, and another by one of the greatest Israeli poets, Yehuda Amichai, writing about the loneliness of exile and the need for homeland. 



Earth Poem


A dull evening in a run-down village
Eyes half asleep
I recall thirty years
And five wars
I swear the future keeps
My ear of corn
And the singer croons
About a fire and some strangers
And the evening is just another evening
And the singer croons

And they asked him:
Why do you sing?
And he answered:
I sing because I sing . . .
...................

And they searched his chest
But could only find his heart
And they searched his heart
But could only find his people
And they searched his voice
But could only find his grief
And they searched his grief
But could only find his prison
And they searched his prison
But could only see themselves in chains.

©  Mahmoud Darwish


Half the People in the World


Half the people in the world love the
other half, half the people hate the
other half . Must I, because of those
and the others, go and wander and
endlessly change, like rain in its cycle,
and sleep among rocks, and be rugged
like the trunks of olive trees, and hear
the moon bark at me and camouflage
my love with worries, and grow like the
timorous grass in between railway
tracks, and live in the ground like a
mole, and be with roots and not with
branches, and not rest my cheek upon
the cheeks of angels, and make love in
the first cave, and marry my wife under
the canopy of beams which support the
earth, and act out my death, always to
the last breath and the last words,
without ever understanding, and put
flagpoles on top of my house and a
shelter at the bottom. And set forth on
the roads made only for returning, and
go through all the terrifying stations -
cat, stick, fire, water, butcher, - between
the kid and the angel of death?


© Yehuda Amichai

Yehuda Amichai was born in Germany to an Orthodox Jewish family who emigrated to Palestine in 1935.  He fought in World War II and began writing poetry in 1946 while stationed with the British Army in Egypt. Amichai later fought in the Israeli War of Independence, the 1956  Sinai War, and then in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. His experiences led to a complete change of heart. He became an advocate of peace and reconciliation in the region, working with Arab writers.  One of his poems, "God has pity on kindergarten children", was read at the Nobel Peace Prize presentation in 1994.  He died from cancer in 2000.



Mahmoud Darwish was born in Palestine in 1941 and is regarded as the Palestinian national poet. In his work, Palestine became a metaphor for the loss of Eden, birth and resurrection, and the anguish of dispossession and exile.  One of his last collections was called ‘Unfortunately it was Paradise’. His voice, more than any other, articulates the suffering of the Palestinian people.  It was written from personal experience.  His family were farmers, but their village near Galilee was invaded by Israeli forces in 1948 and razed to the ground to prevent the inhabitants from returning. Darwish spent some time living in Haifa where he fell in love with a Jewish woman - a relationship that could not be allowed.  He left Israel to study in 1970.  Darwish spent most of his life in exile, being allowed to return to live in Ramallah in 1995. He was an outspoken critic of the rivalry between Fatah and Hamas, as well as the Israeli state.  One of his most famous poems is  "A Soldier Dreams of White Lilies", featured in the film ‘Id-the identity of the soul’. He died from heart failure in 2008.


If you would like to see what other Tuesday Poets are posting around the world then please hop over to the Tuesday Poem hub and take a look. 




Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Tuesday Poem: Union Local '64 by Tim Bowling



UNION LOCAL 64 


Last night I caught the boy I'd been
in fishnet and gutted him
on the government wharf
by the light of an oil lamp
hung from my dead father's hand.
Above the dyke, over the road,
the town was just the same:
weeping willows, widows,
whale-stains on the cheesecloth walls
of the first houses
and an overwhelming sense
of a last breath being taken.
The worst of it was
the ordinary blood
on the ordinary wood
and my father saying
as he gazed out to sea
"It's no good.
The companies won't pay.
They didn't pay for mine
and they won't pay for yours."
I watched him through my mother's eyes
as he sighed and bent
to the stiffened body of our time
together not worth one red cent
to anyone and picked it up
and took his life and mine away again.

From Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief  (Gaspereau, 2014) by Tim Bowling

(Photo by Barry Pettinger)

Cross-blogged from VĂ©hicule Press


"Tim Bowling has published numerous poetry collections, including Low Water Slack; Dying Scarlet (winner of the 1998 Stephan G. Stephansson Award for poetry);Darkness and Silence (winner of the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry); The Witness Ghost; andThe Memory Orchard (both nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award). He is also the author of three novels, Downriver Drift (Harbour), The Paperboy's Winter(Penguin) and The Bone Sharps (Gaspereau Press). His first book of non-fiction, The Lost Coast: Salmon, Memory and the Death of Wild Culture (Nightwood Editions), was shortlisted for three literary awards: The Writers' Trust Nereus Non-Fiction Award, the BC Book Prizes' Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize and the Alberta Literary Awards' Wilfred Eggleston Award for Non-Fiction. The Lost Coastwas also chosen as a 2008 Kiriyama Prize "Notable Book." Bowling is the recipient of the Petra Kenney International Poetry Prize, the National Poetry Award and the Orillia International Poetry Prize. Bowling was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2008. A native of the West Coast, he now lives in Edmonton Alberta. His latest collections of poetry are Tenderman (Nightwood),  and Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief."


Monday, 28 July 2014

Know your rights - with Ryanair customer service

This morning it was breakfast on the terrace with apricots and peaches in hazy sunshine with the Mediterranean somewhere in the distance.  But it almost didn't happen due to huge thunderstorms that deluged the area around Pisa, closing the airport for hours.  The Ryanair plane I was due to fly on was still stuck on the ground at Pisa at the time it was due to take off from UK.  7 hours in Liverpool airport is no joke!!  There was very little information on the ground - a lot of rumours, but I found their customer service impeccable.  Ryanair get a lot of knocks, but I'm a frequent flyer (sometimes 2 or 3 times a month) and have been for years and this is the first time I've encountered real problems. They may not be lovable, but they are certainly efficient - I can usually rely on them to be on time.


I'm registered with Ryanair, which makes it easier to book since they have all my details already, and was pleasantly surprised that I got regular text messages updating me on the progress of the flight which were far more accurate than the departure board.  I was even able to tell fellow sufferers what time the flight had left Pisa!  After a 2 hour delay, they began giving out vouchers for food and drink at the Ryanair gates, which you could get by showing your boarding pass. At 6.30pm I was sent an email telling me the estimated time of the flight departure and telling me that I could cancel and get my money back immediately if I wished, or that I could transfer free of charge to any other Ryanair flight that had seats.  In the end I waited, arriving in Pisa in the middle of the night, facing a long taxi ride home (which I can claim on  my travel insurance).  I'm copying the info at the bottom of this post, just in case anyone wants to be sure of their rights in a similar situation.

I got back to the house in torrential rain to find branches off trees, water everywhere, no electricity and a stinking fridge full of mouldy food - apparently a storm earlier in the week had kicked out the power. Not the kind of homecoming I'd planned, but all is back to normal this morning.  And I have no complaints about Ryanair's customer service - they've obviously been listening to critics.  It must have been a nightmare for them, because 12.30am Sunday  morning they had a plane and crew in Pisa that were supposed to be in Malta and lots of other planes around Europe all in the wrong places, not to mention a lot of disgruntled passengers! Spare a thought for the operations manager.

Now, I'm off to enjoy the sun before the next storm due to arrive early tomorrow......

Dear Customer
Ryanair sincerely apologises for the delay to your flight the FR9626, from Liverpool to Pisa on the 26-07-2014.
Please see below the 2 options available to you:
1. Transfer from the delayed flight to another Ryanair flight - Free of Charge
When a flight is delayed more than 2 hours after its scheduled time of departure, you can (if you wish) transfer from the delayed flight free of charge (subject to seat availability) to an alternative Ryanair flight to/from different departure or destination airports or via another airport served by Ryanair, please contact Reservations (subject to opening hours) or go to the airport ticket desk/handling agent desk.
If you transfer to a new Ryanair flight on the same or following day and cannot re-print your boarding pass it will be re-issued free of charge at the airport ticket desk.
2. Apply for a refund if you choose not to travel
If due to the flight delay you wish to cancel your reservation and claim a full refund of your unused flight(s) please go to the ticket desk in the airport or contact our Reservations Department (subject to opening hours). Refunds will be
processed in 7 working days back to the form of payment used to pay for the original booking
FREE PHONE CREDIT
Click here www.callcardpins.com
 to view the access number from your country then dial that number and enter the following unique 10 digit pin 5964363761 to receive your free phone credit valid for 24 hours from the time of issue.

Click on the following link for information on Passenger Rights under EU Regulation - EU261/2004 – 14.2 NOTICE
We again sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused by this flight delay.

Yours sincerely
Ryanair Customer Services

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Music of Exile

Today, Roz Morris is featuring the music that helped to create The Centauress on her website at The Undercover Soundtrack.  Most of the characters in The Centauress are expatriates or exiles living in a Europe scarred by decades of division and war and ethnic hatred.  The novel is set in Istria which was part of Italy before 1945, then became part of Yugoslavia and is now in Croatia.  The novel's narrator, Alex Forbes, has lost her husband and child in a terrorist attack and is struggling to find a reason to carry on living.  She goes to Istria to research the biography of a controversial artist, Zenobia de Braganza, born 'between genders'  at a time when such things were poorly understood. Zenobia has lived her life in a kind of exile, neither male nor female, neither Italian nor Croatian. In trying to understand Zenobia's life, Alex begins to come to terms with her own loss and is able to accept love in a new relationship.

When I wrote the Undercover Soundtrack blog for Roz, several weeks ago, Flight MH17 had not been shot down and Israel had not begun its offensive against Palestine, but by a tragic coincidence what was written echoes what is happening in the real world now.  Although the characters in the novel have had their lives torn apart by terrorism and ethnic conflict, The Centauress is an optimistic book where everything is possible if we care enough.  One of the tracks I featured is an example of that optimism.

I listened to music from the exiled Palestinian diaspora as part of the creation of the novel and I've included a track sung by Reem Khalani, backed by Israeli musician Gilad Atzmon whose band 'Orient House' includes both Israeli and Palestinian musicians. Gilad unequivocally opposes his country's policies towards Palestine.  Reem Khalani sings the powerful and moving lament 'Dal' ouna - On the Return' - something most Palestinian exiles would like to do. I'm putting a link to it below as a tribute. Events on the television news are so terrible I can't watch any more, particularly with the knowledge that the British were instrumental in the dispossession of the Palestinian people after the second world war.  Ludo, in the novel, complains that the Superpowers divided Europe 'like slicing a cake' - and he's right.



If you'd like to know more about the European folk music I used for The Centauress, please click here for The Undercover Soundtrack.   There's also the chance to win 3 free copies of the novel. 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Tuesday Poem: Storm on Facebook

Storm on Facebook


I don’t know how to ‘Heart’ this big wind
bullying my doors and windows with strange suggestions
I can’t even ‘Like’

or ‘Share’ the feeling that knots my stomach
leaving my mouth dry.

If I don’t go out, it will threaten to come in
so I cower under the quilt
putting up pictures of cute dogs
and kittens in boxes.

But the wind comes guttering
beneath the tiles of the roof
pushing the wall back with a sudden gust

going Viral.


© Kathleen Jones 2014

'Nubifragio' - Cloudburst
Written under a quilt at Peralta, sharing a bed with Ellie, Vaniglia, Pino and Bisco (1 dog and 3 cats) during a once in a hundred year event that chucked down 300mm rain, felled trees and washed the road away, leaving the hamlet isolated for 6 months.  We didn't have any electricity, so the pictures went up on Facebook afterwards!
The morning after

A terrified Ellie

Vaniglia unmoved!

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The tragic feminisation of Baby M

In my new novel, The Centauress, I deal with the dilemmas faced by the 1 in 2000 children born every year with indeterminate gender - 'intersex'.  The policy recently has been to intervene surgically - creating either a boy or a girl (usually the latter) where there is confusion.  A new article in The Atlantic, just out today, reveals the dangers of this procedure - focusing on the tragic case of baby M who was ''feminised' while in foster care, but later became quite definitely a boy.  Unfortunately his (albeit imperfect) genitalia had been removed.

In my novel, the intersex consultant, Dr Song Li, is more enlightened and recommends waiting until the child's gender becomes clear.  It is possible to live as a 'third sex', though there are issues for children such as bullying at school and the problem of relationships.

The article in The Atlantic asks 'Should we fix intersex children?' and sets out the problems posed for the medical profession as well as the social issues faced by the children and their parents.

"When Mark and Pam Crawford took their family to Great Wolf Lodge, a water adventure park, for a week’s vacation, their seven-year-old made a request.

“Since we don’t know anybody,” S asked her parents, “can I be a boy?”

The Crawfords, who adopted S at the age of two, had seen signs for years that she did not think of herself as female.

S didn’t want braided hair; S wanted a haircut “like dad’s.” At Halloween, S wanted to be a superhero, but not Wonder Woman. S wanted to use the men’s bathroom and liked to be referred to as a boy. S already tended to be perceived as a boy by strangers, after requesting a buzz cut about a month before the family’s vacation.

The Department of Social Services had told the Crawfords their child was born with an intersex condition, meaning the baby’s gender was unclear. S's genitals had been surgically reconstructed to look more female.

So at Great Wolf Lodge, S’s parents thought, “Okay.” Maybe, the resort, where no one knew S, would be a safe place to try out being a boy. . . 
Read More ......  

The Centauress is available from Amazon Europe  - 

And from Amazon USA -