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 - 

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Win a Kindle Fire with The Centauress!

This week I'm taking part in a give-away for The Centauress - click through to the Kindle Book Review if you'd like the chance to win a Kindle Fire completely free!!!   I love my Kindle Fire and would never be without it.  This is an unbelievable offer.

Check out The Centauress on the Kindle Book Review.

"Bereaved biographer Alex Forbes goes to war-ravaged Croatia to research the life of celebrity artist Zenobia de Braganza and finds herself at the centre of a family conflict over a disputed inheritance. At the Ka┼ítela Visoko Alex uncovers a mutilated photograph, stolen letters and a story of indeterminate gender, passion and betrayal. But can she believe what she is being told? In order to discover the truth about Zenobia, Alex travels to Istria, Venice, New York and London and, in working through the narrative of Zenobia’s life, Alex begins to make sense of her own and finds joy and love in a new relationship."

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Tuesday Poem: Another Exile Paints a Spring Portrait of Katherine Mansfield by Riemke Ensing

Today I'm the editor of the Tuesday Poem Blog and I'm featuring a poem from 'The K.M. File and Other Poems with Katherine Mansfield' by New Zealand poet Riemke Ensing, so why not hop over to the Tuesday Poem site and take a look?

'There are all these lines
without words telling you a whole
story.   The portrait is a yellow table . . . '

Click here to read the poem

Monday, 14 July 2014

Singing a song of angry men for Bastille Day

It's Bastille Day and I thought it would be appropriate to post a song from Les Miserables - one of the most moving musical theatre productions I've ever seen.  'Do you hear the people sing - singing the song of angry men' seems also very appropriate for the times we're living in now.  Here it is sung in 17 languages by an international cast.

As a child of the 60s who believed that we could change the world and make it a better place for people (and animals) to live in, I am now a disillusioned and bewildered adult wondering where it all went wrong. This particular song from Les Mis expresses it all - here sung by Ruthie Henshall. 'I had a dream my life would be, so different from the life that I am living'


Friday, 11 July 2014

Following the River - the Poetry Path

Today I walked upstream where the River Eden falls through a series of dramatic limestone 'kettles' and gorges and where the river coincides with an abandoned railway.

This is the top of the fall

This is Stenkrith, at the entrance to Ravenstonedale, on the edge of the Pennines. What looks like a twig in the photo above, is actually the trunk of a tree washed down by floods.  It's impossible to get any sense of scale with a camera, where the river drops from a high sill of rock (high as a multi-storey building), boiling over and under the stone, creating circular holes, deep pools and a dramatic gorge.

And this is at the bottom

The sound it makes, even on a day when the water level is low, is like being on the edge of a thunderstorm, and the rock shakes with the percussion.

Today, reflected light from the water surface was creating holograms on the walls of the gorge.

The Stainmore Railway, from Kirkby Stephen to Barnard Castle, once ran on the edge of the gorge with fabulous views of the river and the Pennines. it was the second highest line in England, going up to 1370 feet above sea level.  Like many small lines, it was axed by Dr Beeching, leaving the small communities here completely isolated.  It opened in 1861 and closed in 1961.

Now, only walkers and cyclists use it.  To celebrate its opening as a footpath, the poet Meg Peacocke was commissioned to write a series of short poems that were to be carved into stone along the river pathway.  The calligrapher who carved them, used special fonts which are now - after years of weathering - very hard to read.

This is one of my favourites -

'Silage tractor incises the first
Green furrow - skillful geometrician
the driver judges an arc of weather'

There are still relics of the railway.  This is a platelayers' hut.  Does anyone nowadays know what a platelayer did?

And then there's the impressive Podgill Viaduct - 30 arches, more than 84 feet high - a feat of engineering designed by Cumbrian engineer Thomas Bouch who later designed the ill-fated Tay Bridge which collapsed in 1879 with considerable loss of life.

 Bouch died later that year, aged 58, a devastated man.  Fortunately Podgill is still standing.

Today was what in Cumbria we call a 'borrowed' day - because we know we're going to have to give it back!  Such weather as this is something precious - tomorrow it will probably be raining.  It isn't called The Lake District for nothing!