Monday, 31 December 2012

Happy New Year (with TS Eliot)

Happy New Year everyone!

Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart's heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but Pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul's sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time's covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable
Zero summer? . . .

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning . . .

For last year's words belong to last year's language
     And next year's words await another voice. . .

[TS Eliot: Little Gidding]

May you all have wonderful beginnings in 2013.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Auguri to everyone - from Italy

I'm having a bit of a blog holiday at the moment - travelling to England for a few days to see my children and grandchildren, and then back to Italy again for the beginning of a new year.  It's 18 months now since I came to Italy to live and I love it more every day.  I realise how lucky I am to live in a town dedicated to the arts and where working in some kind of creative discipline is completely normal!
The Piazza has fewer lights this year, but the tree looks very elegant in white.  The light projections on the paving and the walls are lines from poetry in different languages.

Poems are being projected onto the streets too.

And the walls of buildings.  On Sunday a Chinese poet will be reading his poems live in the Piazza - sadly I'll already be in England.

Pietrasanta's past is being commemorated too - with photographs of people who used to live and work here - many of them now dead.

It gives a sense of the layers of history in this town - you walk around the streets and you're very aware that you're walking among the ghosts of the dead - artists and artigiani, writers and poets, priests and nuns, shop-keepers, restaurateurs, marble merchants, their wives and children.  There are reminders everywhere - a tower designed by Michaelangelo, a piazza dedicated to Giordano Bruno, a niche in a wall to Carducci, a church decorated in 14th c frescoes by an unknown painter - and there are less obvious homages - a local shop-keeper has a shrine to Mussolini in the back room.  The photographs of the ordinary people who once crowded these streets, complete the sensation of walking back into the past.

I wish everyone Tanti Auguri for whatever seasonal celebrations you observe and all the traditional hopes for Peace and Prosperity in the coming year.  Neil and I will be having our traditional anti-commercial-christmas, somewhere out in the landscape, cowering behind a wall from the bitter December wind (and northern rain)  eating mincepies and drinking coffee (probably corretto!) out of a flask.  No presents, and the hills all to ourselves.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Tuesday Poem - Clare Pollard: The Contradiction

I've been unable to get the Sandy Hook school tragedy out of my head.  I think anyone with small children, or grandchildren will know that feeling - what if it had been one of mine?  How do you live with the loss - the gap in your life?   The poet Clare Pollard wrote a beautiful sonnet about missing children which was read at a recent church commemoration by Kate McCann.  You can read the whole thing on her website here.  I've copied the sonnet below.

The Contradiction

The absence contradicts itself:
the missing conjures what we miss.
You are not here, I’m not myself,
but still I talk to you like this.
You’re in the crowd, the news, the glimpse -
I make you there when you’re not there.
I trace your steps, I map your face,
I say your name, see you in air.

You’re all I know and so unknown.
I cannot hold you, yet I do:
please let me hold you in my head
and where you are now, hold me too.
How can you be so near and far?
You are not here. But here you are.

Copyright Clare Pollard


Saturday, 15 December 2012

Katherine Mansfield in the Rain!

Some of you may have noticed that I've been away, but my friends across the Atlantic have been looking after my blog for me while I sneaked back to England for a couple of days.  Sadly, I came back with a sore throat and some horrid bug, so have been lying low until normal service could be resumed. 

England looked like this:-

and London was cold, with a bitter east wind.   I was there for a book launch at New Zealand House.  Edinburgh University Press (who published my Katherine Mansfield biog in the UK) were celebrating a new edition of Katherine Mansfield's stories.   It includes some new, previously unpublished stories, discovered in a King's College Archive, by a lucky young researcher.  One of them seems to relate to the period when the 19 year old Katherine, pregnant by a young musician who either couldn't or wouldn't, marry her, married her singing teacher and left him on their wedding night without explanation.

This edition is the first to include all KM's work, both published and unpublished, as she wrote it (ie not edited by her husband afterwards) and in chronological order, so that you can see her development as a writer.  It's a fantastic work of scholarship by the UK's Gerri Kimber, who fronts the Katherine Mansfield Society, and by New Zealand scholar - a poet and writer in his own right - Vincent O'Sullivan.  Vincent couldn't be there, but Gerri was on fine form.   Here's the two of us - I'm the one looking jet-lagged (airport at 4am!) and Gerri's the one with the bling!

It was a good party - my publisher Jackie Jones and Clare from Edinburgh UP were both there making sure that we all got enough of the New Zealand pink fizz.

NZ poet Fleur Adcock was there - that's Fleur in the middle.

And another KM fan, Margaret Drabble, with friends.
NZ poet Jan Kemp was also there - having flown over from Germany for the event.
New Zealand House is near Trafalgar Square and the views of London from the Penthouse suite are breath-taking - but not for anyone suffering from vertigo!  You can see the Shard on the horizon towards the right, and just pick out the dome of St Paul's, dwarfed by high rise blocks, to left of centre. Nelson's column and the top of the Trafalgar Sq Christmas tree are in the centre, with the National Portrait Gallery on the left.

Thanks to Gerri and everyone for a lovely time.  Pity the books are so expensive, but small university presses simply don't have the funds to publish at a discount.   My own Katherine Mansfield biography 'The Story-teller', will be out as an e-book just before Christmas, in time for the 90th anniversary of her tragic, early death at Fontainebleau.  If anyone would like to review it, I've got a few copies to give away either as Kindle or E-pub.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Cheryl Therrien talks about D.R.E.A.M. Catchers

This week I’m featuring another Indie author on the blog and a book that's a bit different.  Cheryl Therrien is from the USA.  Cheryl blogs aka Geek Girl  and she’s a writer and breast cancer survivor. In preparation for her public debut on Amazon, she began honing her writing skills through blogging. You can find her blog at Geek Girl USA. Her first book, D.R.E.A.M. Catchers, was a collaborative effort with fellow blogger and friend Susan Cooper at Finding Our Way Now.  Cheryl is an eclectic writer so every genre is open for her to pursue. Cheryl shares her Kansas home with her husband and their furry children - three dogs and a cat - all of whom are rescues.

  • Cheryl - tell us the title of your current book.
    • D.R.E.A.M. Catchers
  • Can you tell us a little bit of what it's about?
    • D.R.E.A.M. Catchers is a simple and easy to use introduction to dream analysis. D.R.E.A.M. Catchers is an introduction to understanding your dreams. It covers the some of the most basic dream symbols and encourages you to create your own dream symbol dictionary. Dreams are unique to each person so the context in which a symbol appears is every bit as important as the symbol itself. This is not a book you read from cover to cover. This is a manual where you look up the symbol and then try to understand its meaning within the context of your dream. This manual is set up like 'The One Minute Manager'. It's quick and easy to use. 
  • What genre does your book fall under?
    • It's a self-help manual
  • Do you always write for the same genre?
    • I don't limit myself to one genre. I am a huge sci-fi fan so it only seems logical that I would explore that genre as well. You can look forward  to reading some good sci-fi from me in the not too distant future. 
  • Who or what motivates or inspires you to write?
    • Writing for me is like breathing. I thrive on it. The subject doesn’t matter as long as I can write. Writing has always been my passion. Until recently I did not share it with anyone. I am a computer Geek thus the aka Geek Girl alias I use on my blog. I began blogging as sort of a proving ground to hone my writing skills. You will find app reviews along with Motivational Monday quotes there. It has been through the encouragement of my newly found blogging friends that I found the confidence to write books for publication. 
  • Tell us about your writing background.
    • I am self-taught for the most part. After taking some college courses and getting positive feedback from the instructors I started my first blog. My blogging has served as my proving ground for honing my writing skills.
  • How long does it typically take you to write a first draft?
    • About 3 months if I work on it regularly
  • Do you employ an editor to assist you in your writing process?
    • Yes. I find that having someone else look at my work is really helpful. They see things I am too close to the work to see for myself.
  • Are you self-published or represented by an agency?
    • Self-published
  • Do you have future projects we can look forward to?
    • My next book is a series of letters from me to my unborn grandchild. As a first-time grandmother I wanted to offer advice through a series of letters. It is called ‘Letters From Grandma: Before You Were Born’. They are full of all the anticipation of his or her arrival, along with little pearls of wisdom to store away until the time is right. 
  • Do you have any tips or advice to offer fellow writers?
    • The most important thing I can say is to start promoting your book before you are finished writing it. Build the audience and the anticipation ahead of time.
  • Is there anything else you would like to share with your potential readers?
    • As an independent author and blogger you will see posts on my blog announcing all upcoming publications.
  • Tell us how we can connect with you in the world of social media.

  Thanks to Cheryl for the answers.  I've read and reviewed D.R.E.A.M. Catchers  and will be putting it up over on my book blog  as soon as I get back from England.  Fascinating reading.  My nights will never be the same again!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Barbara Lambert and The Whirling Girl

Having posted poetry from Canadian poet Catherine Owen on Tuesday, today I'm  delighted to feature Canadian novelist Barbara Lambert, who has written a guest post on her latest novel, set in Tuscany 'The Whirling Girl'.
 You can read my review of the novel over on my book blog.

Now - over to Barbara.  Where did the idea come from, I asked her.....

Beginnings .....

What was the spark that ignited the idea for The Whirling Girl?
When I try to recollect, it’s like peering into a kaleidoscope. That burst of colour, that unexpected zing of thoughts falling into place, the pattern of things to come.
But the pattern shifts - shifts again.

Was it that moment on a dusky terrace overlooking the Val di Chiana? The sky turning amethyst. A castled city across the plain, glimmering like an illustration in a fairytale? Then a voice in my head. This is where she will be standing, when…
But who?
When what?
That sudden pulse of excitement as I stood there myself, and she was beside me for a moment, enticing if a little blurry. A woman troubled, this I immediately sensed. Look how her gaze avoids the closer view of Cortona directly across a narrow valley, its ruined fortress looming above ancient Etruscan walls. What’s with her and the Etruscans? Does thinking of those long-ago people upset her?  What does she know of them?
What do I know, for that matter?

This was early in my first visit to Italy, a hiking trip.  I knew only that the Etruscans had ruled most of Italy once, then were vanquished by the Romans, almost forgotten until their buried tombs began to be discovered, centuries later, and astounding artifacts emerged….


Or, maybe the flash came earlier on that same trip. My husband and I had become lost in the woods somewhere between Volterra and San Gimignano, having misread the “orienteering” clues we’d been given. As dusk came down, we encountered others from our group, also lost. We managed to follow a power line to an isolated farm house where a kind woman poured wine for five total strangers, helped us telephone our hotel to send a car. The kitchen was lit just by one overhead iron lamp. A fire crackled in a hearth big enough to roast an ox. Shadows danced on the walls. An emerald lizard flashed across the ceiling beams.
This is where she will live, in a room like this….
A week later I returned to Canada to do final edits on a different novel.

 It was another two years before we discovered the Molino di Metelliano, situated in that narrow valley behind Cortona, below the Etruscan wall. We went to stay briefly with friends who were renting there, following directions that led across a narrow wooden bridge, down a chestnut shaded lane, to the sight of a tile-roofed house so weathered and organic that it might have grown out of the slope.
And she was suddenly with us again - that troubled young woman – wedging herself between Douglas and myself as we climbed the lavender-bordered steps to the mill house. This is it. (Her voice, this time.) Something memorable is going to happen to me here….


Memorable things did happen there. To all of us.
We went to stay in the Molino many times over the next few years, joined sometimes by friends, sometimes by family – and always by that complicated young woman. Clare.
The first time, it was May, the hills a riot of wildflowers. What a coincidence that Clare turned out to be not just a flower artist, but a botanical artist, who could name all the wayside flowers. As I learned more about her artistic discipline – the fine line it walked between art and science - I realized what a clue this was to her complex personality, and the way (for reasons yet to be discovered) she had long teetered between guilt and desire. Her story began to take shape. This was exciting.

It struck me, at that point, as a story requiring only of the most amiable sort of research – hikes though the countryside, excursions to charming hill towns, lunches in little off-the-beaten-track trattorie  – all of which could be digested, so to speak, during serious sessions in the hammock back at the Molino, thinking deeply while gazing up at Cortona’s austere Etruscan walls.
The Etruscan walls of Cortona
  Those walls. No wonder Clare had avoided looking at them, early on. They brooded over us as we set off on light-hearted excursions, stonily assessed us as we returned. Such inconvenient questions they began to raise.
If Cortona had been one of the seven great cities of the Etruscan League – as I’d learned by then - where were all the tombs? There were three great “princely” tombs, yes, down in the Val di Chiana – but where had all the others been buried? Might there be – for fictional purposes at the very least – undiscovered tombs in this little valley, in the vicinity of the Molino?
An intriguing thought. I set it aside.  I had no intention of letting my novel be kidnapped by the Etruscans. Until - right in the Molino itself - I came upon the book that would change my life. And, finally, let me into the puzzle of Clare’s….


After that trip, I took out subscriptions to archaeological journals – spent hours in libraries – amassed an Etruscan library of my own. Eventually, too, I was fortunate in being able to engage in extremely helpful correspondence with archaeologists all around the world. But it was that single book, discovered one morning in the Molino, that set the whole thing off.

George Dennis was an Englishman who, in the mid-1800’s, made the first systematic exploration of Etruscan tombs and abandoned sites. That morning, when I scooted out to the hammock with the two-volume edition of Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, I was immediately enchanted both by the strange illustrations, and by Dennis’s erudite but at the same time amiable prose. It was like holding the hand of a charming uncle-ish sort of figure who knew … well … everything (and provided footnotes for what he didn’t). A man one could accompany on a fascinating tour, not just around Etruria as it had been in the mid-1800’s, but also deep into the Etruscan past.
            Later, I managed to find a rare edition for myself. On subsequent trips to Tuscany, George Dennis was a constant companion on my own forays to tombs and ruins.
At the same time, the past of that other constant companion, Clare, began to come clear - the lonely young girl she had been, who did have an uncle of that enviable erudite sort. An uncle who (though in a location far from Italy) took her on imagined trips around the Etruria he had always longed to see, and read to her from that same book, which was his greatest treasure.
            An uncle who became not so amiable, alas.
Eccola!  The Whirling Girl.

Barbara has a video trailer of The Whirling Girl on You Tube at

You  can also watch it on her website at

Barbara Lambert's previous work includes A Message for Mr. Lazarus (2000) and The Allegra Series (1999). She has won the Danuta Gleed Award for Best First Collection of Short Fiction and The Malahat Review Novella Prize, and been a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Prize and the Journey Prize. Currently she is editor of the online literary Salon des Refusés, Dr. Johnson's Corner.

Lambert has lived in Vancouver, Ottawa, Barbados, and Cortona, Italy, where she stayed in a five-hundred-year-old mill house and researched Etruscan archaeology. She now lives on a cherry orchard in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, with her husband Douglas Lambert.

Read my review of The Whirling Girl.....

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Monday, 3 December 2012

Tuesday Poem: Nature Writing 101, by Catherine Owen

Today I'm the editor of the Tuesday Poem website and I'm featuring a young Canadian poet, Catherine Owen, and her poem Nature Writing 101, which is included in the new Entanglements anthology published by Two Ravens Press.  Catherine is a very original and inventive poet who is also an art model.
The poem begins:
'Our minds can turn anything romantic.
Is the problem. . .'

Please click the link to the Tuesday Poem hub to read more......

Saturday, 1 December 2012

The rain it raineth every day .... and in Pisa with Kandinsky

Large areas of Italy - Tuscany, Liguria, Umbria and Lazio - have been underwater recently and still are.  We've had apocalyptic thunderstorms and rain.  One small seaport had a tornado, which in Italy is called 'La tromba d'aria' - the trumpet of the air.   Apparently the floods, mud slides and winds have caused as much damage as the Emilia earthquake - factories and houses, roads and railways - near us a whole hamlet was covered when a part of the mountainside came down.  Fortunately, loss of life has been very small.

On Thursday we took an afternoon off and went to Pisa.  The Arno is very full, and has been cascading through the streets of Florence, but here it was contained, though running high and fast towards the sea. 

Pisa looked very beautiful in the rain with the lights just coming on and a very odd open window of sky - the eye of the storm? - where the river and the sea meet.

We came to Pisa for the Kandinsky exhibition, which I will write about later - more than fifty of his paintings and drawings from the early period of his life, charting the progress of his work from figurative (rooted in Russian folk art and folk tales) to abstract.
This 'Autumn'  in 1908

'In Blue', 1925
 There were quite a few quotes from his own writing and I spent a lot of time reading them - the sheer joy of colour comes off the page.
"The sun melts all of Moscow down to a single spot that, like a mad tuba, starts all of the heart and all of the soul vibrating ....  Houses and churches in pink, lilac, yellow, white, blue, pistachio green, or flame red - each sings its own chorus."
Which is exactly how I feel when I look at his work!

Neil has posted some of the paintings on his blog here.