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.

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.