Sunday, 29 April 2012

Kittens galore!

Two Heads and a Tail

Neil came back to Italy almost a week before me, fortunately, because on Wednesday night the Batcat began to give birth to her kittens - in our bedroom,  to Neil's absolute consternation.   But, while he was phoning me in England to find out what was the best thing to do, Batcat disappeared into the night - with the kittens.  Next morning the mystery was solved.  Batcat has found a hiding place in the tool shed in a dark corner of the top shelf, among the paint cans.   I sneaked in yesterday while she went out to feed and managed to get this shot of the three little fur balls - two black and white and one tabby.   One of the black and white kits has buried itself under the other two and only the back end is visible! 
Three days old

The plan is to get them used to being handled (as much as the ferocious Mum will allow), and then - as soon as they're weaned -  take them to the animal welfare centre for re-homing.  We hope too that Batcat herself will be approachable enough to take for sterilisation by then.  There are so many wildcats here they starve and we don't want to add to the problem.  I find it quite touching that she trusted us enough to come into our house to have her kittens.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Tuesday Poem: 'Hill Speak' by Zaffar Kunial

The Poetry Society UK recently published the three winners of the National Poetry Competition.  Allison McVety won with a response to Virginia Woolf's novel 'To the Lighthouse', but it was the third prize winner that caught my eye.  Not a published poet (until now!) but a British born asian with a new take on things.   Check out his reading of the poem here. 

Hill Speak

There is no dictionary for my father’s language.
His dialect, for a start, is difficult to name.
Even this taxi driver, who talks it, lacks the knowledge.
Some say it’s Pahari – ‘hill speak’ –
others, Potwari, or Pahari-Potwari –
too earthy and scriptless to find a home in books.
This mountain speech is a low language. Ours. “No good.
You should learn speak Urdu.” I’m getting the runaround.
Whatever it is, this talk, going back, did once have a script:
Landa, in the reign of the Buddhists.
... So was Dad’s speech some kind of Dogri?
Is it Kashmiri? Mirpuri? The differences are lost on me.
I’m told it’s part way towards Punjabi,
but what that tongue would call tuvarda,
Dad would agree was tusaana
‘yours’ –
truly, though there are many dictionaries for the tongue I speak,
it’s the close-by things I’m lost to say;
things as pulsed and present as the back of this hand,
never mind stumbling towards some higher plane.
And, either way, even at the rare moment I get towards –
or, thank God, even getting to –
my point, I can’t put into words
where I’ve arrived.
Zaffar Kunial was born in Birmingham and lives in Shipley, Yorkshire. His mother was English and his father, who has since moved to Lahore, is from Kashmir. Zaffar studied at the London School of Economics and later attended Michael Donaghy’s classes at City University. He recently went on an Arvon course with Ian Duhig who then invited Zaffar to join his small writing group in Leeds. Until now, he’d held back from submitting his poetry for publication, but was writing toward a collection. He thought he’d start by entering the National Poetry Competition – “just in case”. He works as a writer for Hallmark.

Check out the Poetry Society web page for the other winners and more information.  

For more Tuesday Poems go to the website at

Monday, 23 April 2012

The Great E-book Give-away for World Book Night

Lots of books are being given away free tonight to celebrate World Book Night (and the bard's birthday), and the independent e-book enthusiasts at Authors Electric decided that we should take part too. I'm offering my biography of Christina Rossetti - Learning not to be First  (currently at no 5 in the Amazon  UK non-fiction chart and no 1 in USA!) and there's a whole range of e-books on offer from award-winning authors, from children's books to self help, thrillers, romantic fiction and historical novels (check out Catherine Czerkawska's newly published Polish epic 'The Amber Heart').
If you would like a free read, check us out at  and follow the links to books available throughout Europe, the USA and beyond.  Books are availabe for free download until midnight on Tuesday.  If you don't have an e-book reader, we have links to free software to enable you to read the books on your computer, i-phone, and tablet.
This is all a bit of an experiment - according to the experts, giveaways boost sales by providing greater exposure.  I've no idea if this is true, but I'll be reporting back on the PR strategy.  
Meanwhile - dive in and get yourself a free read - you can't go wrong!

Friday, 20 April 2012

You either get it - or you don't!

Reading at the Lamb and Flag in Worcester was a fantastic experience.   Michael Woods is not only a very good poet himself, he really does know how to organise a reading.  What you need is an enthusiastic landlord (thank you Garry!), a lively audience (including the dog), and some good poets.  The wine was excellent and - as the Pri-mate (much recovered) tells me - so was the beer.

Worcester poets Sarah James and Jenny Hope (check out Be-Magazine)  kicked the evening off with some good readings from their new work, and then Irish poet Nigel McLoughlin read from his fifth collection 'Chora'.  This really knocked me out.  The poems are linguistically clever, lyrical, spare - I'm hoping to get permission to put one up in the next couple of weeks - and Nigel reads beautifully.  It was a pleasure to be part of it.
Kathleen and Nigel

Now I'm back in Cumbria for a few days, trying to dig my unruly garden and sort my life out - though I think that might take just a little longer.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Tuesday Poem: The Birthday Poem and John Cleese on Creativity

The Tuesday Poem is  2 years old today.  To celebrate we've been writing a group poem - one line each - over the last two weeks on the theme of  'A Birthday'.  It's been great fun, but very difficult to do.  How do you follow someone else's words, while leaving the door open for the poet who's going to write the next line?  You can see the result at the Tuesday Poem blogsite.

On a lighter note, I found this clip of John Cleese talking (for once quite seriously) about Creativity.

Now I'm off to Worcester to do a poetry reading with northern Irish poet Nigel McLoughlin at the Lamb and Flag Pub, (30 The Tythings), Wednesday 18th April at 7.30pm.  Entry Free.  For details see Poets On Fire. 

Monday, 16 April 2012

Not the way to spend Sunday

You definitely don't want to spend a sunny Sunday in A and E, either as a patient or a relative.  But, after the Pri-mate suffered chest pains  in the morning after volunteering to walk up the hill to get milk and bread from the shop, that's exactly what happened.  When he came home, looking decidedly dodgy, I rang our GP for advice and she promptly rang for an ambulance.  Although we live in quite a remote rural area (nearest hospital almost an hour's drive) within minutes a First Responder arrived laden with gear and quickly had him pinned down and attached to a heart monitor.  About 30 minutes later paramedics arrived in an ambulance, did an ECG print-out and we were soon being whirled away under blue lights and sirens.

A and E on a Sunday is a crowded melee of rugby and football players clutching arms, heads and legs, dripping blood and mud on the floor in equal quantities.  A group of DIY enthusiasts who had either fallen off ladders or tried to remove parts of their anatomy with stanley knives, sat or lay on trolleys glumly in the corridors.  A queue of ambulances at the door delivered more casualties to a department already full.  We had nothing but admiration for the staff as they cheerfully tried to cope.

By early evening Neil was feeling better, the heart monitor showing normal readings, but he was ordered to remain in resuss until blood tests and x-ray results came back.  Then he was told that he would have to remain in hospital overnight 'just in case' and for more tests.  The mere thought of it made him feel so ill he instantly discharged himself.  Good friends collected us and we staggered back home to our own bed.    He's fine this morning, but should (of course) have stayed in hospital as a precaution.  But he's hospital phobic and of the opinion that only the really sick should be in there, which (of course) doesn't include him!!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

How [Not] to Organise a Poetry Reading

At various times in my life I’ve been in literature development jobs where it’s been part of my remit to organise poetry readings and writer events.  From a promoter's point of view, dealing with poets and writers can be wonderful, but it can also be a nightmare.  One poet arrived drunk for the event, dropped his poems on the floor and spent half the evening crawling around trying to pick them up.  Another poet had 15 provisos on the contract (including only one special brand of mineral water) arrived late, and read so boringly that most of the audience went home in the interval.  
Beryl Cook's take on the Poetry Reading
But I’ve also been on the other side of the divide and at the mercy of well-meaning, but sometimes inexperienced organisers.  So I thought I’d share some of my most extreme experiences as a set of  counter-instructions for would-be events organisers.  I bet this rings bells with a lot of writers and poets out there, but I hope it makes you smile!

1.  Book a room in a pub next to the bar with an open hatch to the kitchen for the waiter to go backwards and forwards with the food.  And the cutlery trolley.  (A Sky sports TV would be a nice touch in the bar too - if you can get it.)

2.  Don’t offer the poets a fee, or expenses, tell them they’re doing it to raise their profile, and anyway - they’ll sell some books. Won’t they?

3.  Don’t advertise the reading. Don’t put it in any of the local papers, the poetry  web sites, Poetry Society listings, Time Out and definitely not Twitter or Facebook.

4. Don’t put a sandwich board outside that says ‘Poetry Here Tonight!’

5.  Don’t put up posters in the pub, or a notice that says ‘Poetry this way’, or a label on the door ‘Poetry in Here’.  Make sure that anyone who might possibly come to the reading never finds it.

6.  If by any chance, after all your efforts, someone does turn up, don’t be at the door to welcome them.

7.  And, the one absolute rule of the organiser, never apologise to the poet for the lack of an audience. 

One venue that really does know how to organise events is the Lamb and Flag Pub in Worcester, which has hosted readings by dozens of brilliant poets including Carol Ann Duffy.  I’m reading there on Wednesday night (18th April) at 7.30pm with northern Irish poet Nigel McLoughlin.  We guarantee a warm welcome and a lively reading!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Spring in northern England

Well, finally made it back to the Mill yesterday evening.  Typical April weather - showers and sunny intervals and a wind from Siberia!  The river is brown and high and running at quite a lick over the weir and this morning we woke to a pair of swans feeding in patch of calm water under the willows.

Homecoming was very mixed - there's a feeling of  being back in a familiar landscape, but the house is cold and damp, and the dining table is piled several inches high with two months mail - quite a lot of it bills and bank statements, income tax, council tax and all the things you don't want to know about.  Fortunately I have a very good friend who comes in every week to water my plants and sort the mail.  She opens anything that seems urgent - I don't know what I'd do without her.   

But outside the garden is just beginning to come to life - the magnolia stellata and the yellow winter jasmine flowering together.  Definitely feeling better today.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Poetry Reading in London

More trains and planes!  My carbon footprint must be quite embarrassing.  I won't be on the internet for a few days now - leaving very early tomorrow to catch a flight to London for a poetry reading.  Staying overnight with youngest daughter (and the cute Isabella) and then back to Cumbria for a blast of northern weather. Back online on Friday.

If anyone's around in London and at a loose end on Wed 11th, I'm reading with Michael Woods (5th collection 'Chora') at The Green Pub, Clerkenwell Green, 7.30pm and it's a free gig courtesy of our publishers, Templar Poetry. 

Now I'm off to throw random items into a suitcase.  Wish me luck!!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

A week in Poetry

Being a writer, and particularly a poet, can sometimes seem just a long endurance course of rejection. The world of prose publishing is particularly bruising at the moment, but on the poetry front some very nice things have been happening for a change.

At the beginning of the week Abegail Morley featured 'Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21' on her wonderful poetry site (which includes lists of magazines as well as poets) and has promised to review the collection at the beginning of May.  This came just after Michelle McGrane had featured 6 poems from the collection on Peony Moon.  Check both sites out for some fantastic international poetry.  And both Abegail (published by Cinnamon and Pindrop)
 and Michelle published by Salt) are very fine poets in their own right.

Then, yesterday, I opened the Poetry Kit newsletter to discover that the collection and my website were featured on Poetry Kit. (click on Poetry Kit Awards 2012)

If you haven't found this site yet, it's a mine of information for poetry events and publications all over the world.  It takes a bit of time to work out how to navigate through all the windows, but there's some really good information there and the newsletter is excellent.

Then, just to put the chocolate flake in the ice cream, Two Ravens Press accepted 3(!!) of my poems for their new Earthlines Anthology of Eco Poetry.  I've very pleased about this, because they're poems from the new sequence of poems based on the mythology and literature of the Haida Gwaii islands. I'm probably challenging fate by telling you before they've actually appeared, but I'm really excited!

If you haven't found Two Ravens Press yet, they publish some top quality books - fiction, poetry and 'eco-literature'.  Murmurations, an anthology of short fiction edited by Nicholas Royle, has been getting some fantastic reviews in the 'Heavies', also featured on BBC Radio 4,  and Alice Thomson's Existential Detective  was the Sunday Telegraph book of the year. 

Haven't heard anything about my prose submissions yet, but one just has to hope that 'no news is good news' in the current climate! Fingers well and truly crossed.  It's just as well there's an up as well as a down.

I'm reading with Michael Woods at The Green Pub, Clerkenwell Green, London, on Wed. 11th April, at 7.30pm.  Free Entry.  Templar Poetry.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

E-Authors Beware - Internet Trolls and Spam Reviews!!!

I'm blogging over at Authors Electric today, on one of the hazards of E-publishing - the problem of Internet Trolls and Spam Reviews.

"Getting your book reviewed is one of the most difficult aspects of publishing a book - whether you’re doing it yourself or through a publishing house.  We’re all eager to have our books noticed and recommended to the lovely readers we hope to entertain, inform or intrigue.  Magazine and newspaper review sections have contracted over the past few years, so sources of hard-copy review are hard to find and usually closed to independently published books.  But, at the same time, Cyber-reviewing has expanded into outer space and beyond........ "  Read More ........

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Tuesday Poem: Scorpion


A question mark on the floor
in shadow beside the shoe rack.
Black patent claws
crabwise across the tiles.

I could kill it easily with
one petty crunch of my heel
this gleaming survivor
of a million holocausts -

the weaponry cocked
over its armoured carapace,
like a rocket-launcher.

I will tap my shoes carefully
every morning. Not walk
barefoot in the dark.

© Kathleen Jones

This is my first scorpion in Italy, glimpsed a few days ago. It was sneaking along the wall from the kitchen to the sitting room and about to scuttle under the sofa. We managed to get a photograph (though not one of the question mark sting curled over its back) before I gently swept it up and put it safely outside. They have a nasty sting, but aren't life-threatening here. Who am I to deal death to something that's lived on the planet for over 400 million years and will probably be here for another 400,000,000 after I've gone!

The Tuesday Poets are celebrating their 2nd anniversary in Cyber-Space by writing another 'group' poem. Each member of the group will be adding a couple of lines every few hours for the next couple of weeks. If you're interested in seeing how a poem can grow please have a look at the Hub at

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Over the mountains to Reggio Emilia

A quick visit yesterday to northern Italy, the town of Reggio Emilia in the Emilia Romagna region.   We chose to drive there over the mountains - the double ranges of the Alpi Apuane and the Appenines, winding our way through steep valleys and over tortuous passes.  There was snow still lying under trees on the higher slopes, but the alpine meadows were ablaze with spring flowers and cherry blossom.

It took us about 5 hours to drive 100 miles, but it was worth it to see some of the most isolated upland villages and the views (despite hazy cloud) were spectacular, though difficult to photograph because of the haze.

We went through the small medieval town of Castiglione di Gafagnana, where the fortifications still stand and there are 12th century churches and buildings everywhere.

Emilia Romagna is one of the most wealthy region of Italy - fertile plains and a lot of manufacturing.  Quite different to Tuscany.  The town of Reggio Emilia is fairly modern by Italian standards - wide streets and imposing 18th and 19th century buildings - but lovely soft colours and it has a friendly, laid back feel to it.

 We lazed in the piazza over a coffee and indulged in a bit of 'people watching' which seems to be a favourite Italian pastime.

We were there for the exhibition opening of one of the Pietrasanta artists - Norwegian painter Dora Bendixon.

The show’s called ‘Hombres’ and contains portraits and drawings of a family group as they interact with each other in the way that families do.

She uses light and shade to reveal the psychodynamics of the family, and when she uses colour, it’s very rich.  Dora is a wonderful portrait painter - she brings her subjects alive on canvas.

After the show, a late dinner at a backstreet restaurant that served local, rather than tourist, food and a much quicker (2 hour) drive back on the autostrada.  The car, fortunately, didn’t turn into a pumpkin on the motorway and we were home and in bed before 2am.   And not a moment too soon, if this sneaky snap taken by the Pri-mate is to be believed.   A fabulous day!