Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Tuesday Poem: The Double

Like but not like
through the eye of a lens
the distance of a gun sight
you can’t tell the difference.

There are two sets of clothes
two identical cars
the same hair-dresser.

But only one of them
must learn how to become
the other.

One goes to a restaurant
sleeps peacefully all night
with the window open.

The other lives behind
barbed wire, a coded door
uniformed guards.

One is the price
the Other has to pay.

© Kathleen Jones

This is another poem in draft - an idea I'm thinking about. Ever since I was an extra on a film set, I've been fascinated by the idea of having a double. All big film stars have them, on set as well as off, as well as pop divas such as Madonna. Apparently Kate Middleton also had a double when she was going to and fro to wedding rehearsals, traveling in identical vehicles to foil terrorists. Heads of state also have them. Who would care to be Obama's double? Does Gaddafi have one?

Apparently all writers are fascinated by doubles, the horror genre is full of Doppelgangers - and then there's Dostoevsky's novel 'The Double', and a film called 'Body Double' ...........

For more Tuesday Poems go to www.tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com

Thursday, 23 June 2011

How to get an Agent (or not!)

A couple of years ago my agent went on maternity leave and I was agentless.  The process of trying to find another was joyless and humiliating.  Networking has never been my thing and - faced with someone I'm supposed to impress - I'm either tonguetied and stupid or develop verbal diaorrhea!   So this small video made me laugh and squirm all at the same time.  I've been there.  It's called The Elevator Pitch.


Monday, 20 June 2011

Tuesday Poem - Jetsam


This is what the sea
           has remembered
A shell, coiled like a
          question mark
One finger bone of
          coral; a gannet’s
skull sucked clean.

This is the deep story of the ocean.

A line of narrative written
where the tide reaches.

Kathleen Jones

This is part of a work in progress - some small poems written around observations that I made in New Zealand last year, just exploring ideas.   I love the sea, and New Zealand has some of the wildest, most amazing coastal areas I've ever visited.  I'm trying to explore some of the stories that the sea hints at, washed up on the tide line.

For more Tuesday Poems, visit www.tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com


Friday, 17 June 2011


Well, take a deep breath .......   today is my last day of gainful employment.  I have just stepped off a cliff of security.  From now on I'm going to have to live on what I can earn as a writer, without the safety net of university creative writing tuition and the Royal Literary Fund Fellowship I've been enjoying at Lancaster. Scary stuff.

I took my books off the shelf, my personal belongings from the filing cabinet, took one last look at the tree outside my window and locked the door. I have very good memories of friendly colleagues and polite, hard-working, interesting students. Lots of thank you cards on my table at home - some quite exotic. And little presents of flowers, chinese red tea, a carved wooden desk jotter and chocs. It's lovely to feel appreciated. But I also feel a little sad.

On the plus side, I'm now free (after a couple of weeks of organisation) to begin my new life in Italy. Risky, exciting, financially mad. It's also a challenge. Will I be able to write there? Will any of the ideas I'm working on turn into publishing contracts? I've got a year to change my life before the savings run out. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

VS Naipaul and Women Writers

I’ve been so involved with preparing for and running a residential creative writing course in Italy I’ve missed quite a lot of things that are going on in the world. Being without the internet for most of the last two weeks also means I’ve not had regular news updates. So I missed V.S. Naipaul’s infamous speech, quoted in the press. Naipaul doesn’t rate women writers at all.

Women writers are different, they are quite different. I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me." Asked to elaborate, he said this was due to their "sentimentality, the narrow view of the world".
He added: "And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too. My publisher, who was so good as a taster and editor, when she became a writer, lo and behold it was all this feminine tosh. I don't mean this in any unkind way."

So in what way did he mean it? Such dismissive cruelty can’t be masked by a qualifying phrase. I didn’t know whether Naipaul’s speech was so laughable it should be ignored, or whether it represents a residue of misogyny we still have to fight.

To say that women write differently to men is OK. We do. And we write differently to each other too. Every individual sees the world from a different angle. It isn’t always possible to tell who wrote what. There are men who write so closely from the inside of a woman’s head that you can’t tell which sex authored it (Brian Moore’s I am Mary Dunne for instance) and women who can write equally convincingly as men.

His main gripe seems to be that women are sentimental. Does he mean we’re more in touch with our emotions than men? But he’s such a concise linguist I don’t think so. He means we wallow, we go over the top beyond emotion into sentiment. That’s palpably untrue. I know a great many sentimental men. Anyone read The Notebook? Message in a Bottle? And there are a great many witty, unsentimental women authors - Barbara Trapido’s ‘Sex and Stravinsky’ comes to mind. I’ve also just read Carol Clewlow’s ‘A Woman’s Guide to Adultery’ - which is just about as unsentimental as you can get.

But of course, however well a woman writes she will never write ‘equal’ to him (or any other man is the implication). In his opinion.

On his comment, that a woman is not ‘a complete master of a house’, now that is just plain prejudice. Maybe not in his house, but the days when a man was automatically master of the house by reason of his gender are long gone. And a lot of women writers are single - very much masters of their own houses. Not to mention head of publishing houses, literary agencies, book-selling houses. But the man is 78 and doesn’t seem to realise that we are living in a new world, so perhaps I’d better forgive him. The trouble is, I believe there are many in the literary, and academic, establishments - still solidly masculine - who privately agree with him. Women’s writing is weak; men’s writing is strong. What do we have to do to convince?

Monday, 13 June 2011

Tuesday Poem - Ant Watching

Oh, who
can get into
the mind of ants?

their lines

a perrssshhhhh
of aerosol
destroys them all.

Oh, who
wants to
think like a man?

© Kathleen Jones

After two weeks of traveling and struggling with non-existent internet, I've finally managed to arrive back in England and try to put together a Tuesday Poem.  This is just a scribble - watching ants climbing up the tower wall at Peralta!  They're so purposeful and dedicated, it seems a shame to get out the ant-killer.

Thinking tonight of everyone in Christchurch - have been exchanging texts with my daughter on the train on the way up from London.  She was at the doctors with the boys when the latest group of quakes struck and they all went under the desk.  She has recently moved out of Christchurch to Prebbleton which is not quite so shaky, but still comes into the city for shopping, schools etc.  It seems the ground isn't going to settle down quickly and my heart goes out to everyone over there who's having to endure months of fear and uncertainty.  Apparently more than 50,000 people have left the city already and I do wonder what is going to happen.  It is one of my favourite places.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

The Big Dilemma

I wrote a while ago about the problems that Neil and I had working at opposite ends of Europe.  Where to live?  How to live?  Neil is chipping marble blocks in Pietrasanta - not something you can do easily in the wilds of northern England, and I am writing, teaching and publishing in England - not something I can easily do in Italy.  But we have finally decided that we have to make a decision because we are both tired of spending our lives apart.
I have decided that I'm going to give up creative writing tutoring for a year and base myself in Italy.  I will have to be on planes and trains quite often to keep my commitments - literature festivals, workshops etc - and I'm going to be quite broke -  but it's worth it to be here. 
And  the great news is that we have found a little house on a hill, in an olive grove, with spectacular views of the sea - one bedroom and a tiny room I can use as a study, with a small sitting room big enough for a sofa and a TV.  But the terrace is great - a concrete ledge with a tree growing through.

It 's just (only just!) affordable and will be quite  close to the marble yard that Neil uses.  So - with a large intake of breath - are we mad? -  we have signed the lease and been given the key.  It will be weeks before I can live there - after the end of the university term - but at least I know that it's there waiting for me.

We found this table in a shady corner of the olive grove in what seems to be a rather overgrown garden.

 This is one side of the terrace.

And this is the view of the sea with Pietrasanta just below.   Now we're off to celebrate our insanity!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Struck by Lightning!

Not really the sort of thing you expect to happen at a creative writing course (except metaphorically)!  We have been without the internet for a few days due to a massive alpine thunderstorm.  It woke us up in the middle of the night with spectacular lightning and we began to count between the flash and the bang as the storm got nearer and nearer.  Then, suddenly, there was a tremendous crash and searing light all at the same time, the ground shuddered and the electricity went out.

Dawn revealed that the lightning had struck the top of the tower, taking off one of the turrets and damaging the other.  Some electricity cables were blown out of the walls and all the trip switches had been tripped.

The rubble was precipitated onto the roof below and into the courtyard where, luckily, no-one had been standing.

Even luckier, Neil - who has his studio in the tower and usually sleeps in the room above - was sleeping in the room with me and not in the tower, otherwise - as someone put it at breakfast - 'Neil arrosto!'  The thought of Neil being barbequed was not pleasant!

In the tower, the internet system had been blown apart and the scorched bits thrown across the room - printers, televisions and other equipment had been blown up, including Neil's computer - the burn marks at the bottom show where the lightning went through. 

Neil has lost a lot of stored data, since his back up drives were also affected by the static generated by the million or so volts of the strike.  Quite an experience!  But at least we are all alive to tell the story.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Creative Writing at Peralta

I've been here for a few days now, but so busy that I haven't had time for anything but a very brief read of my emails.  Residential courses are a wonderful way to move your writing forward, but there's no time off for either students or tutors.

Once again - a lovely group of diverse people from Europe and the USA, all with very interesting stories to tell.  Somehow this week I've got to encourage them to tell those stories.  My fellow tutor, Mary-Rose Hayes, is a novelist and creative writing tutor from the US, so we both have quite different skills to share.   We do workshops in the morning, then meet individual students in the afternoon to talk about their work and then in the evening we meet in the bar and share pieces we want feedback on.  Then a wonderful Tuscan dinner with plenty of robust Tuscan wine - there's a fantastic local restaurant at Torcigliano after an invigorating walk through the woods.  It's all very intense, but in a good way.

The weather is also behaving itself - sunny during the day with thunderstorms at night.  Fingers crossed for the rest of the week!  I will have to go into rehab from the after-effects of all this wonderful food and wine.

And the big news is that  Neil and I have seen a property for rent, at a price we can afford, high up in the olive groves - a 'piccolo casolare'  - so, who knows, I may be spending another winter in Italy?

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Disconnected from the Internet

Have had no internet access since last weekend - and still don't, so this is a very quick post on dial-up to reassure people that I'm still alive!  What has happened to the line we don't know (some very bad weather recently) but I hope to have normal service restored as soon as possible (several more irate conversations with call centres later probably).

Meanwhile the Appleby Horse Fair is about to start and the Mill has become a gypsy encampment. 

Some beautiful horses and traditional caravans.

Meanwhile I'm going to miss it this year, as I'm just off to Italy for the annual Peralta creative writing course.  Plus a much needed dose of sunshine and decent wine!