Sunday, 28 June 2015

Short Stories from A Flash in the Pen

I've been a member of the Authors Electric group since it was set up a little more than five years ago and I've really enjoyed being part of a very supportive collective. We blog once a month, mainly on things related to Indie authorship and we give each other advice and support in a secret Facebook group. It's a varied mix of writers - quite a lot of established authors with traditional publishing histories who have gone over to the Dark Side, but there are also others just dipping a pen in the inkpot for the first time.  There are children's authors, professional ghostwriters, travel writers, crime writers, playwrights, novelists and biographers - we're all represented.  About a year ago someone had the brilliant idea of bringing out a collective anthology of short fiction.  We all write short stories, but they're devilishly difficult to find outlets for these days, even though readers like them. So, here at last, is the result of our collaboration.

There is a wonderful mix of stories - as varied as their authors - and every one of them is honed to perfection. Twenty eight stories by twenty eight brilliant authors!  I can't mention any favourites or I risk being lynched, but I enjoyed them all. If you love short fiction, you'll find something to laugh or cry over in this book. It's only on Kindle at the moment, on offer for 99p, but the print edition is on the way and may arrive on Amazon at any moment.

My own contribution is called 'Serious Music', about an affair with a  musician that doesn't go according to plan.  It begins like this . . .

I should have been glad to come, he said, privileged to hear such great musicians,  as if  Berlin in late November was the most desirable location in the world. And not even a good venue - just a shabby little theatre near Alexander Platz in what used to be the eastern sector.

Don’t let anyone fool you. The wall may have come down, but the two cities still exist, facing each other over the cranes and bulldozers – functional socialist architecture in the east, funky, space-age extravaganza in the west. The people are similarly divided – resentment and reserve on the one hand,  wariness and blame on the other —  an east and west of the psyche. I hadn’t been there more than a day, but I’d worked out that  Berlin is still a city of extremes. Old Europe – New Europe. It seemed fitting for the situation I was in.

Perhaps I should explain that I’m English and Piotr is not. He comes from the Czech Republic and we met at an arts centre in Twickenham where I was working as an arts officer and he was playing with a group called ‘Strings On Fire’. Piotr’s tall, dark and thin and plays the violin like a whirling dervish on steroids. I’ve loved him ever since I heard him put bow to string and over the past few months we’ve conducted an intense, though peripatetic, affair. It’s hard to have a relationship across Europe with an itinerant musician. Emails and text messages are no substitute for physical contact. So, when he emailed me to say he was playing at the Berlin jazz festival I went straight onto the Internet and booked a cheap  flight. . . 

A Flash in the Pen from Authors Electric
99p on Amazon

Friday, 26 June 2015

Italy at last!

So, now I've landed back in Italy and been reunited with my Man and looking forward to some much needed R & R after so much travelling. Ironically, I've been laid low by a tummy bug - the first since I left England 5 weeks ago and I've been half way round the world, so count myself lucky.  

Neil's been busy while I've been away with three new pieces of sculpture to show;  one just a gesso, one finished marble piece and one in progress.

This one's called 'Family Group' and definitely my favourite.

This one's now finished - carved in marble and looks fantastic. 

Still in progress

Here in Italy the news is all about immigration. Everyone is discussing it, which isn't surprising, as the results of the crisis are visible on every Italian street. The casualties of economic chaos, famine and war wash up in their thousands on Italy's shores every week, and Matteo Renzi is right to talk tough to other European leaders - this is everyone's problem and wealthy countries can't just close their doors and carry on partying.

When I was in New Zealand last year, there was a great bit of graffiti on the wall of a compost toilet out in the back blocks. "One day the poor will have nothing left to eat but the rich."  Be afraid, Cameron, Merkel et al.  Be very afraid!


Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Tuesday Poem: D'Zonoqua

[For Emily Carr]

4. D'Zonoqua

It is your own life
you find there
among the rotting board-walks
and roofless houses
the feral cats that shared your supper
the eternal rain dripping onto canvas.

But, stumbling through nettles
ruin and undergrowth, you can’t avoid
the carved eyes of D’Zonoqua –

a bird nesting in her mouth
snakes in her hair, her lips
stained with the blood of children
the one who gives and takes away –

that fierce wild woman of the forest
a pillar of fear and longing
whose deep gaze follows you far out to sea
burning a pathway to the horizon’.

© Kathleen Jones 2015
[All quotes taken from “Klee Wyck” by Emily Carr, Author and Artist, 1941, BC, Canada]
D'Zonoqua - Alert Bay
D'Zonoqua (sometimes D'Zunuqua) is an important figure in the mythology of the First Nation people of British Columbia, Canada.  She made a big impression on painter Emily Carr, who encountered the carved figure in the forest behind one of the abandoned villages she visited.  Emily feared it, but was also drawn to it.  D'Zonoqua is the wild woman of the forest, a figure of fear but also of empowerment.  She is possibly rather like the Indian goddess Kali.
D'Sonoqua mask
I met my first D'Zonoqua in the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver.  They had a display of feasting dishes carved in the shapes of reclining women, with lids carved with the face of D'Zonoqua. The men would eat from her body, which seems to have had ritual significance in a matrilinear society.
D'Sonoqua feasting dish
Then, in Alert Bay, where Emily Carr had her unnerving encounter, I also met my first D'Zonoqua totem.  She is black and fearsome and embodies everything I try not to look at in my own female nature - the wild, creative energy that is inside us.  What might women do, if they weren't constrained by some social notions of femininity? Sometimes I terrify myself, when I look at what's inside me.
D'Sonoqua dish and masks being displayed by the Kwak'waka'wakw people.
The poem above is part of a series of poems about the life of Emily Carr, who defied convention and spent a large part of her life travelling to the remote villages of the First Nation people of British Columbia, to paint the ruins of their culture, during the first decades of the twentieth century.  I love her work, but I also love the journals and letters and fragments of autobiography that inspired these poems.  If you want to read the rest, you will have to buy the latest copy of Earthlines - a wonderful magazine publishing 'eco-literature' - beautiful, thought provoking prose and poetry accompanied by wonderful images.

The Tuesday poets are an international group who try to post a poem every Tuesday and take it in turns to edit the Hub.  If you'd like to see what the others are posting, click on this link.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Museum of Objects

'Who wouldn't ride a time machine given the opportunity?  Objects from the past can perform this function, as long as the passenger in these time machines has imagination and a desire to learn. Every object tells a story,' says the catalogue and this collection is certainly full of narratives.  I couldn't resist this exhibition when I was passing through London, recommended by a writer friend.
Seemingly random juxtapositions
Art dealer Oliver Hoare described it as his 'cabinet of curiosities'; the beautiful, the bizarre and the wonderful, in a private house rather than a museum. The elegant house in Fitzroy Square, once home to the Omega workshop, has no advertising outside at all.  You have to go up to the plain door of number 33 and ring the bell.  When it opens you are taken inside, treated like a very special guest, given a catalogue and let loose in the beautiful rooms to wander as you please, to sit on the big sofas and let your imagination run wild.

Every object was special and had its own history, but there were certain ones that kept me coming back to stare at them.  I loved the gigantic Tibetan drum hung from the ceiling, next to Picasso's Guitar.

Picasso's Guitar started out in Peru and had a story that I almost didn't believe.

Then there was the collection of erotic Scrimshaw; the work of shipbound, sex-starved whalers, often at sea for a year or more.

A wonderful collection of ivory and wooden phalluses. Some of them were ritualistic, taken from Tibetan temples, others had more personal uses.  Whaler's wives were often known to have them hidden when their husbands were away;  some were used by 'ladies of the night'.  Frankly I thought they looked rather uncomfortable!

I loved the Inuit baby blanket made from the down of Eider ducks.  Apparently the Eider would nest within Inuit communities for protection from predators and people believed that the birds left the down in their nests as a reward.  The skill that turned the down into fabric to wrap a baby has, apparently been lost now.

Vanished like the Dodo - whose bronze skeleton stands in one of the windows.

Some of the juxtapositions are thought provoking.  There is a sword that belonged to one of the guards of the Archduke of Austria, which lies on a sideboard next to the 1st century BC amputated marble foot of the Emperor Augustus.

One of my favourite exhibits was the book of poetry from 16th century Afghanistan, beautifully written and illuminated, that reminds us that this is a country with a long and distinguished cultural history.

Sadly, my photo of  the 12th century Iranian 'Mirror of the Soul' didn't come out.  It was copper, polished and beaten and then inscribed with words and came from the mystical concept that 'part of the human being could be polished by certain spiritual practices to the point that it could reflect a higher reality.'  The idea came from China, but became an important symbol in Islamic literature.

The Museum of Objects is one of the most interesting and thought-provoking exhibitions I've been to for a long time.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Too debauched for Byron

Wednesday. So, the suitcase has been unpacked, the clothes washed, and then put back in the suitcase for yet another episode of my crazy life.  I arrived home on Sunday night and have just had time to clear the dining table of mail, neatly arranged by my kind neighbour, admire the weeds growing thigh-high in the garden (good for the wildlife!) had breakfast at 4am, fell asleep on the computer keyboard at 2pm (jet-lag), and somehow coped with all the other inconveniences of time travel.  The peace and calm of Haida Gwaii has been exchanged for the stress of 21st century, first world life and I'm definitely feeling the difference.

Thursday morning 7am and I'm on a train to London.  Since 2007 I've been fortunate enough to be a Royal Literary Fund Fellow and it is their support that has enabled me to go to Haida Gwaii.  Without the Fellowship, I wouldn't have been able to afford to go. Today I have to do a short presentation, for a group of new Fellows being 'inducted' into the job, and then attend the annual party. The RLF has been saving writers from the workhouse for over 200 years and the annual get-together - although once too debauched for Lord Byron (who refused the invitation)  - has become increasingly respectable since then.  Ladies were a late inclusion.  Apparently Charlotte Bronte liked to watch discreetly from the gallery as the invited male authors drank copious quantities of wine and port, while the ladies hidden above sipped their lemonade.
David Williams founded the RLF in 1790
Friday morning - Thankfully times have changed and last night writers of both sexes were able to quaff respectable vintages and tuck into a buffet that Lord Byron would have regretted missing. The company was lively but no debauchery was observed. The party continued in the hotel bar over the road afterwards.  I'm a little hungover but am meeting friends in London for lunch, so an industrial strength coffee is on the agenda.  Then, alas,  I have another flight to catch ...... 

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Tuesday Poem: Pied Beauty, Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things -
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced - fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

I may not be able to share Hopkins' religious faith, but very few poets express the ecstasy of the living earth as well as he does. Coming back from remote British Columbia I have been dazzled by it and I wanted to choose a poem that celebrates the amazing complexity of the natural world.
Skies of couple-colour  (photo Fr Silouan Thompson)

The Tuesday Poets are an international group who try to publish a poem every Tuesday, wherever they are in the world.  If you'd like to see what the others are posting, please click this link to the hub. 

Friday, 12 June 2015

Leaving Haida Gwaii

I've been staying in a Bear Hunting Lodge - except that it's under new management who are rather more bear friendly.  So it's not surprising that I bumped into a bear on an evening walk.  I took my picnic supper about an hour's walk up the coast, to the mouth of the Tlell river, and ate it sitting on a piece of driftwood in the dunes facing the sea.   As I turned around the spit to walk back along the river, I saw something move up the river bank into the trees which grow right down to the edge and thought it was a deer - there are a lot of them here and they're quite tame. Then I saw the tracks, coming from the dunes to the river, and realised that it was a bear.  He had probably been sitting in the dunes munching the wild strawberries that grow there while I was eating my supper! My only regret is that I didn't get a good look at him - still can't say that I've seen a bear.

The location of the lodge (called Haida House) is a small hamlet called Tlell - halfway down the east coast of Graham Island, where the Tlell river goes into the sea.  Tlell is quite remote - midway between Masset and Skidegate on the Yellowhead Highway (the only highway).  It's a beautiful place, and the staff are mainly Haida.  Allison, who serves us breakfast, brought her Haida ceremonial regalia in to show us.This consists of a woven spruce root hat and a button blanket. These have evolved from animal skin robes and are now traditionally black and red, decorated with buttons of mother of pearl or abalone.

Allison is Eagle clan, so her blanket has an eagle appliqued on the back.

Now is the sad part - because I have to leave and drive north to Masset where I'm catching a plane to Vancouver and then another to England.  It's so beautiful and so peaceful I'm really going to miss it.  I think I'm going to leave part of myself here - like scraps of wool on a barbed wire fence.