Thursday, 29 December 2011

Walking in the Marble Mountains

Looking across to Mt Corchia

It's a bit of a ritual for us to go for a Christmas Day walk in the mountains, whatever the weather.  We've been out in hurricanes, monsoon rains, Lake District mizzle.  I've got a whole album of photographs taken cowering behind walls, under trees, almost invisible in thermo-fleece and Berghaus!  But this year the sun shone - bitterly cold at 4,500 feet, but clear, blue and sunny.

The marble quarries stop work at christmas, so it's a good opportunity to get up into the high mountains using the tracks they've built for the gigantic rock lorries without risking one's life.  This year we went up to the Henraux quarry on the highest flanks of Mt Altissimo, whose summit is getting lower year by year.  They are literally slicing it off.

Tough environmental call for a sculptor who loves working with the stuff, watching the environment be altered so drastically.  But it's not sculpture that's done this - a few blocks here and there for statues etc can be accommodated - no, it's the public appetite for bathroom tiles, fireplaces and table tops that's eating it away at this rate, helped by the ease with which it can now be quarried.  Once it took months to cut a marble block by hand;  now it takes minutes.  And you don't have to take it down to the town by buffalo sled (which took days).  A lorry can do the trip in half an hour.  How much of the mountain will be there when we walk back next year?  I suppose that depends on what happens to Italy's economy.  The machinery is idle at the moment.

Tomorrow we're off to an Italian town further south - Orvieto, near Perugia - for New Year.  It's the birthday of  jazz musician Stan Tracey and Neil (who used to run a jazz festival in England) has been invited to the party.  I'm really looking forward to seeing another part of Italy, as well as the music and the festivities.

Oh, and this year's Christmas picture?  Muffled up to the eyebrows for the sub-zero temps, but at least it wasn't raining!  Auguri and Buone Feste everyone!
Perched on the ledge of Altissimo, Mt Corchia in background

Friday, 23 December 2011

Christmas in Italy

In England in winter, what I miss most is colour - the landscape seems to be leached by cold and rain to a dull, muddy, sepia.  Not so here - where the buildings are picked out in every shade of ochre and rose, the olive trees are still a silvery green, and the sun sets in the sea every night in a spectacular light show.  This was the solstice sunset last night.

The weekly markets too, are gaining in colour towards Christmas.  the Italian have a sense of style in their shop windows and even their stalls.  Not much sign of the Italian economy slowing down here.

I'm signing off for christmas now - to be spent with a group of friends - Israeli, Italian and Danish, a real mix of customs.  And I've managed, despite an oven that probably knew Julius Caesar, to cook an English Christmas cake (and even ice it in a wobbly way!) to take with us.

Auguri a tutti!  Wishing you all a very happy Christmas and New Year, whatever and however you celebrate. Particular thoughts to Christchurch New Zealand, where there has been yet another big quake.  Daughter, husband and two little boys, were fortunately at home safe and not shopping at the time.  Hope everyone else is safe too.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Tuesday Poem: Wordsworth's 'Minstrels'

The minstrels played their Christmas tune
To-night beneath my cottage-eaves;
While, smitten by a lofty moon,
The encircling laurels, thick with leaves,
Gave back a rich and dazzling sheen,
That overpowered their natural green.

Through hill and valley every breeze
Had sunk to rest with folded wings:
Keen was the air, but could not freeze,
Nor check, the music of the strings;
So stout and hardy were the band
That scraped the chords with strenuous hand.

And who but listened? - till was paid
Respect to every inmate's claim,
The greeting given, the music played
In honour of each household name,
Duly pronounced with lusty call,
And "Merry Christmas" wished to all.

William Wordsworth

And a very merry Christmas to everyone!!!

I'm the editor of the Tuesday Poem hub this week and have posted 'A Child's Christmas in Wales' by Dylan Thomas. To listen to this and look at other Tuesday poet's contributions please visit

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Ted Hughes in the BBC Archives

Ted Hughes has just been honoured by a place in Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey.  Melvyn Bragg takes a walk through the BBC Archives with some wonderful tapes of Ted Hughes reading his poetry and talking about it.  Informative interviews with his wife Carole and best friend Seamus Heaney, as well as intimate letters from Ted Hughes to and about Sylvia Plath.  The programme deals very frankly with their relationship.  The best thing I've ever listened to on Ted Hughes and his work.   Available on BBC Radio 4 free anywhere in the world from this link.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Tuesday Poem: One Raven

That day by the lake
when you wouldn’t stop and
I made you and you stalked
off into the bracken and I sat
on the rock looking up
at the crag  wondering why
do I always take it why
am I still here and then
saw a bird circling
as a crow circles its carrion -
but more slowly, wings spread wide
and the feathers fanned out against the sun
and it seemed larger and darker
with more history than a common scavenger
and then I knew I was watching an omen,
riding the thermal, effortless,
croaking a harsh truth.

Kathleen Jones

I've now got almost a complete collection of poems on the raven theme, inspired by the culture of the Haida Gwaii indians of North America.   This one is about a quarrel (quite a long time ago now) and the moment of realisation when you know a relationship is going nowhere!    I'm also guest-blogging about the book that started it all 'A Story as Sharp as a Knife' over on Norman Geras' Blog today. 

For more poetry please go to the Tuesday Poem website and check out to wonderful selection on offer at

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Sculpture by Candlelight

It’s the festive season in Pietrasanta - Christmas markets, parties, and exhibitions.  We’ve been to several lately - nothing big, just quiet celebrations of current work in artists’ studios and small spaces.  

Last night one of the bigger marble studios opened up for the people working there to show their work.   Not just some lovely pieces, lit by candlelight, but a chance to see the context - the rough drafts of WIP.    This is work by Swiss sculptor Rita Meier.

There are so many wonderful women sculptors working here.   At one of the local wine producers, another artist, Swedish Nigerian Italian Yemisi Wilson was showing her ‘Animalia’ - lovely drawings of primates and joyful marble carvings of elephant seals and rhinoceros’s.   There was the added bonus of being able to sample the local wine harvest at the same time!

One of the real treats last night was being able to go up into the loft of the Cervietti studio where they keep the plaster maquettes of all the sculptures that the artigiani used to be asked to copy.  It’s a ghost gallery of figures out of fairy tales  - a film set for a horror movie.   These are just some of the ones that caught my eye.

I could have wandered around this attic all night - there are probably a thousand stories up here!  

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Lost City of Luni

Neil and I try to take our days off during the week, rather than trying to battle crowded roads and pavements on Saturday and Sunday.  This week, grasping the opportunity of a bright, sunny winter’s day, we headed out a few miles north - about forty minutes drive - to find the ruins of an old Roman  city we’d heard about from friends.

You wouldn’t think that a thriving Roman port of several miles in diameter would vanish.  Luni had existed since Etruscan times and was home to tens of thousands of people, but somehow, around five hundred AD the sea began to recede, the population dwindled, the marble temples tumbled and the city disappeared under a tide of river silt and agricultural loam.  Only one or two bits of evidence remained - fragments of the city wall, the ruins of the amphitheatre, a carved column - the rest was buried under farm buildings and fields, as you can see above.   The sea is now half a mile further out and the nearest port is La Spezia.
This is what is under the grass.

In the 1960s archaeologists began to excavate and, although only a fraction of what is there has been uncovered, you can now wander round and look at the buildings they’ve dug up.  Around you, green fields stretch out to the horizon with hummocks and bumps and dips and you know that you’re standing on what were once busy streets and people’s houses.  Most of it will remain underground.   Italy has so much archaeology and precious history - it’s a miracle they manage to afford to preserve so much of it.

This is all that is left of the foundations of the temple - the building itself stood on top in glittering white marble and must have been visible for miles.

These are vats that once contained olive oil or wine.  You can just see the terracotta necks of some of the ones that have survived.

This is the amphitheatre - which is fenced off so I could only take a photo through the wire.

The people didn’t go far though.  Luni is situated beside (and sometimes under!) the modern town of Ortonovo, and afterwards we drove up into the  ‘centro storico’, built - like so many Italian medieval towns, on a fortified hill top. Here you can see profiles straight from a Roman coin, and a woman in the bar with curled hair held back in a band was the image of one of the marble statues in the museum.   Ortonovo Paese was utterly beautiful in the evening light - a stark 9th century tower standing next to a baroque birthday cake of a church in total harmony.   Down below, not a rumour of a Roman city on the plain visible to the naked eye,  and you begin to wonder how long before these human habitations too will vanish and what will replace them?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Tuesday Poem: A Sad State of Freedom, Nazim Hikmet

A Sad State of Freedom

You waste the attention of your eyes,
the glittering labour of your hands,
and knead the dough enough for dozens of loaves
of which you'll taste not a morsel;
you are free to slave for others--
you are free to make the rich richer.

The moment you're born
they plant around you
mills that grind lies
lies to last you a lifetime.
You keep thinking in your great freedom
a finger on your temple
free to have a free conscience.

Your head bent as if half-cut from the nape,
your arms long, hanging,
your saunter about in your great freedom:
you're free
with the freedom of being unemployed.

You love your country
as the nearest, most precious thing to you.
But one day, for example,
they may endorse it over to America,
and you, too, with your great freedom--
you have the freedom to become an air-base.

You may proclaim that one must live
not as a tool, a number or a link
but as a human being--
then at once they handcuff your wrists.
You are free to be arrested, imprisoned
and even hanged.

There's neither an iron, wooden
nor a tulle curtain
in your life;
there's no need to choose freedom:
you are free.
But this kind of freedom
is a sad affair under the stars.

Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963)

Translated by Taner Baybars

For more poems by Nazim Hikmet got to

I thought that, with the elections in Egypt and the ongoing push for more democratic freedom in the Middle East, it might be good to feature work by a Middle Eastern poet for this week's Tuesday Poem.

Born in Turkey in 1902, Nazim Hikmet was politically active as a communist and spent many years in and out of prison for his beliefs, despite being a recipient of the International Peace Prize (alongside Picasso and Pablo Neruda). He is one of Turkey’s most important writers. Hikmet died in Russia in 1963 suffering a heart attack as he bent to pick up a newspaper from his doorstep. His poems have been put to music and sung by Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen and The Byrds.

For more poetry by the Tuesday Poets please visit the Tuesday Poem website at

Blogging at Author's Electric

Today I'm blogging over at Author's Electric on the dilemma of whether to E-publish a novel or go down the traditional route.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Katherine Mansfield in Paperback

Yay!!!!   Katherine Mansfield is out in paperback on Amazon and in all good bookshops.   And on the wonderful blog 'The Reading Life', Mel U is giving away a copy in a competition if anyone wants to try for a freebie. 

The paperback looks exactly like the hardback, but it's a lot cheaper - list price £15.99 but being discounted.

  Here in Italy it's pouring with rain today, raining and thundering as only the Italian mountains know how to do it!  But I'm having a cosy day, making apple and lemon cake to take to a party tonight being held by some Danish friends.  It takes my mind off 3 weeks Cambodian washing steaming on the radiators, and the fact that my ex-husband has just come back from Thailand having married a Thai wife of 4 days acquaintance, to the consternation of the family.  This writer's life is never dull!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Autumn in Italy

So here I am again in the little house in the olive grove.  Despite the fact that it's the 1st December the weather is mild, with hazy sunshine - warm enough to eat lunch outside.  Coming straight from a northern British winter it seems strange to step back a season.  It's autumn here.   The chestnut trees are turning a lovely golden colour and the leaves are dropping. 

In the Pietrasanta Piazza they're putting up the Christmas tree.

And the Pri-mate is back from Cambodia, bringing a hammock in his luggage, which he's strung between the two trees on our terrace.  It will be lovely in the summer - but not too bad even now.  Just the thing for hanging about doing a bit of scribbling, though I might want it higher off the ground!

For me it's back to work - two guest blogs to write before Monday, the illustration permissions to sort out for the Japanese edition of Katherine Mansfield, and a proposal to write for the New Project - all will be revealed soon.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

A Short Intermission

Thoroughly enjoyed the reading yesterday with Martin Malone and the party afterwards with friends.  Thank you everyone who came on a really terrible Lake District day with howling winds and horizontal rain.

Now wrapping Christmas presents, hoovering the carpets and packing the suitcase to start traveling back to Italy.  So I won't be posting anything for a few days.  Looking forward to getting back to the sun and the peace and quiet - this visit has been very hectic.  Haven't read a book or had any peaceful writing time for three weeks! But there is an exciting new project brewing.......    

Looking forward to seeing Neil again  - he's flying back from Cambodia on Wednesday.  And I'll be posting later in the week as soon as I get the suitcase unpacked.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Night Before Nerves

Just getting myself together for the northern launch of 'Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21' at the Wordsworth Trust tomorrow.  Trying to decide what poems to read .......    trying to decide what to wear ........   Taking along a few bottles of wine for the patient supporters who are (reportedly) coming (and a bit of dutch courage for myself!).   Have a repeated nightmare where I go along to a reading and I've come to the wrong place and there's no one there - another one is not being able to find the pages I'm supposed to be reading from.    Some writers really enjoy performing, but I've begun to realise I'm not one of them  -   I'm the hide-in-the-closet and write kind of writer!

Oh - and just discovered that Wendy Robertson has done a lovely review of the poems on her blog at
Thank you Wendy!

Book available from

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Talking about Biography and Fiction

Just been back to Lancaster University, where I was Royal Literary Fund Fellow last year, to meet this year's fellow Philip Caveney   who writes scarey books for young adults.   We'd been invited to give a joint seminar - actually just a posh way of saying that we gave a talk about our own writing to the university staff and whoever else wanted to come along.

Philip started out writing thrillers for grown ups but moved to young adult when his ten year old daughter asked why he wouldn't let her read any of them.  The first YA was written for her and since then he's been very successful.  He read from his latest WIP about a young boy who falls through the floor in a museum in Edinburgh and finds himself back in time and face to face with an infamous Plague Doctor during the time of the Black Death.  It was wonderfully entertaining.

I couldn't compete with that!  So tried to give some insights into how I write and the different approaches to writing biography and fiction and the fact that biography hasn't always been valued as much as fiction - biographers have been vilified as hearse chasers, vultures picking over the bones of the dead, purveyors of literary lace curtain twitching, and upmarket tabloid journalism.  Like a kind of literary Burke and Hare we sell other people's lives and live off the proceeds.

Virginia Woolf said that biography neglected the imagination and worked 'at a lower level' than the sublime art of fiction.  But why should it do that?  I've always thought of biography as a 'found' novel, where you are given the plot, the characters and some of the dialogue and you have to create a riveting story that brings it all to life for the reader.  A novel on the other hand, could be thought of as a fictional biography.

Jane Eyre, a literary fraud
Because I write across both genres I spend a lot of time thinking about the differences between them and how one can feed into the other -  using the techniques of one genre to solve problems in the other.  I've also been puzzled by the recent debate about fake memoirs.  It seems that if a novel is discovered to be autobiographical it isn't a crime, but if a memoir turns out to be a work of fiction this is a sackable offence for an author.  Very strange, since one of the most famous novels of all time began life as the autobiography of a governess, edited by Currer Bell. 

These days, Jane Eyre would never have made it to the shops, the book tour would have been cancelled and the author blacklisted.  Because this is what happened to Love and Consequences published by Penguin USA.  It was, according to the sales team, a riveting, un-put-downable read, but as soon as it was discovered to be (mainly) fictional, it was unreadable and the author guilty of 'a huge personal and professional betrayal'.


Monday, 21 November 2011

Tuesday Poem: Tim Jones

And Not to Yield

Leave home, and your ego
blooms as the square of distance. Return
is a necessary corrective,

a diminuendo of corridors,
anxious crowds, missed messages.
Fretting at the baggage claim:

did they even put your cases on the plane?
And the knowledge that, not far away,
an angry wife is pacing.

Pity Odysseus. Penelope
(the suitors done and dusted)
is on the surface calm

but furious beneath: all that crap
he put her through! She lets it out
in flechettes of resentment.

Odysseus learns to dodge or hide.
All he wants is a quiet life,
a place to write his memoirs,

but she keeps inventing tasks for him.
"I'm not bloody Hercules," he says, and,
"Didn't I tell you there could be delays?"

Tim Jones, from 'Men Briefly Explained'.

This newly released collection from Tim is excellent. There are some very impressive poems in it, but I also liked the way the collection framed them - the flow of the narrative through it. I was very happy to review the book and Tim quotes a paragraph on the back cover.

"Tim Jones writes about how it feels to be a man, of male relationships – father, son, brother, friend, lover, husband – exploring territory that men traditionally don’t talk about, saying what is often unsaid, confronting stereotypes, and genetic imperatives. He writes with a blend of economy, humour and compassion that is rare in poetry, often finding the unexpected phrase - ‘a diminuendo of corridors’ - or an unusual, but exact, image - ‘mountains piled like thunderheads’ - to surprise and illuminate. This poetry is how New Women want their New Men to be – strong, sensitive and empathetic."  Penelope would probably have preferred Odysseus to be like that too.  Living with (or more often without) a hero is hard work!   Odysseus also features in the Derek Walcott poem posted by Mary McCallum this week.

For more Tuesday Poems please visit the website at

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The Creative Cafe Project

My story 'Jazz Cafe' is on the menu at the Cafe Lit Creative Cafe Project site today as a Mango Smoothie.  If you love scribbling at cafe tables with a cappuccino on the side, and haven't found the Cafe Lit site yet, please check it out - there's some great work and some very good stuff for writers.

Friday, 18 November 2011

New Use for a Kindle

Neil is on an island, far out in the Gulf of Thailand, where it meets the South China Sea.   There's no electricity, no mobile phone signal and no wi-fi.  But he's discovered that if he walks along the beach at one end of the island he can get a signal on his Kindle - not good enough for email, since it comes and goes - but enough for Twitter.  And, yes, you can  Tweet on a Kindle.  So my entire relationship now consists of a series of Tweets - an affair in 140 characters.   Plot for a novel?

As for me - I'm twittering from the John Rylands Library in Manchester where I'm doing some more research.  And I'm being followed by three very lively authors from America who want to come and visit me in Italy!  Sounds like fun.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Dark Satanic Mills

The poetry festival was held in one of Arkwright’s old cotton mills - Masson Mill at Matlock Bath -  which has been preserved, partly as a shopping centre and partly as a museum.  Unlike many museums, this is not a reconstruction. The machines have been preserved just as they were when they stopped working and the mill has the eerie feeling that you might have just walked in while the workers have knocked off for a coffee break.  Not that they had many of those.  They worked long hours and conditions were terrible.

My great grandfather came from northern Ireland to work the cotton mills of northern England, beginning at 12 as a cleaner, crawling under the machinery to remove the build-up of lint.  It was very dangerous as the looms travelled backwards and forwards on rails, constantly moving.
some very pink lint

Then he became a loom operator and eventually a pattern maker, putting holes in the card that programmed the loom.
A pattern punching machine

The pattern is hung in the front.

I had the whole place to myself and it was a very moving experience to wander through what would have been his working environment - it made it all very real to me and made me feel that I should write about it.  He died, like many mill workers, of emphesema.  

It was great to be able to just wander around.  The machines were complex and fascinating and the workshops were wonderful - at least to someone odd enough to love rooting about in hardware shops and ironmongers.  They looked like my father’s toolshed on the farm - utterly chaotic - and they had that unmistakable smell of iron rust and old machine oil! 
Raw Cotton

first stage spun cotton

A bobbin machine

It was all very dark, so difficult to take photographs even though it was one of the most photogenic places I’ve ever been to.  Every corner, every basket of bobbins, every strange machine was just posing to be photographed.  And in the dying vats there were cubby holes of dyed cotton in every colour you could imagine.

For a lover of history, it was a fantastic experience and has given me a lot to write about -my notebook is crammed!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Poetry this Way

It's not often you get the opportunity to wallow in poetry for three days, listening to it, reading it, talking to other poets, but that's what I've just had.   The Derwent Poetry Festival is small as festivals go but intimate in a way that  some of the bigger ones aren't.

Templar have a reputation for producing beautiful books and, as one of the three winning Straid poets, I was very pleased with the look of mine - as were Martin Malone and Susanne Ehrhardt with theirs.  I'd met Martin before, but it was the first time I'd met Sue, who is a doctor and has worked for Oxfam in a number of third world countries and is a very good poet and really interesting person.    Martin's also had a pretty diverse life, working as a rock musician, sound engineer and teacher, in Saudi Arabia and finally in Cumbria.  He currently plays in Simon Armitage's band, Scaremongers and works as a special needs teacher.

Also reading at the festival were Jane Weir, talking about Walking the Block, her biography in poetry and image of the textile artists Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher.   Another poet new to me was Christopher James whose pamphlet The Manly Art of Knitting was also being launched.

Stayed in a lovely B and B in Matlock Bath - B & Bs aren't what they used to be - mine was furnished and kitted out like a five star hotel - everything you might possibly wish for from a mini-bar to a tooth-brush (and it turned out to have free wi-fi too!).  And towels twisted into swans on the bed and the most amazing display of fresh fruit for breakfast.  Not to mention the fact that the owner rescued me from a disaster with public transport and drove me to the poetry festival.  There are still nice people in the world.  Thank you Roger!

Now back at the Mill for a few days before going off to do some research in Manchester for a new book proposal.  It's colder than Italy and very misty, grey and autumnal.  I miss the light. 

Friday, 11 November 2011

It's finally launched!

It’s finally going to be out!!!   So forgive the outbreak of exclamation marks!   This weekend is the launch of my new collection from Templar Poetry at the Derwent Poetry Festival.    The books aren’t on the Templar bookshop website yet, but we’re assured that the web update is on its way and any books ordered online (£8.99) will be delivered asap, just  e-mail    Should also be on sometime next week.  I’m reading with several other Templar poets as well as my co-award winners, Martin Malone and Suzanne Ehrhardt at the Arkwright Suite, Masson Mills, Matlock Bath if anyone's in the Derby area over the weekend.  Mimi Kalvati is the guest poet reading on Saturday night and there are lots of others.  It sounds good fun and I’m really looking forward to it.  Won’t be able to blog from there, as the B&B I’m staying in doesn’t have wi-fi.   And no, I don’t have a smart phone, or a Blackberry.   But I’ll take lots of pictures and hope to do an update once I’m back home on Monday.

I write poetry very slowly - so much of the creative energy gets used up by writing prose in order to pay the bills.  It’s ten years since I last had a collection out - an exhibition of poetry and photographs (called Secret Eden)  to celebrate Visual Arts Year.  Before that it was a small pamphlet called ‘Unwritten Lives’.   So this collection has been a long time coming.  But whatever I write in order to make a living, poetry is where I start from, where I feel most comfortable, my natural voice,  and I can’t tell you what it feels like to have the poems out there to share with others. 

It may seem odd, but it means more to have one small poetry collection published than all the biographies put together.   This really is the blood on the page, rather than simply describing someone else’s blood on the page.  This is my chance to show that I can do what the people in my other books do.  Does this make sense?   I’d argue with anyone that biography is an art form, a found novel, a creative act, but deep in my bones, there’s a car sticker slogan or two lurking in the back window - ‘Biographers do it second hand’.  ‘If you can’t write, write about people who can’.

Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21 is about journeys - departures and arrivals.  I seem to have been waving goodbye to people at airports and train stations all my life - I once counted up that I’d had 27 addresses in three different countries by the time I was 25.   The poems are also about different kinds of goodbye - the failure of relationships, the deaths of close relatives.   It contains a few of the most popular poems in the earlier pamphlets  (what the Pri-mate calls ‘Kathy’s greatest hits’!).   But there are a lot of new ones gathered together from little magazines that have published individual poems over the last few years, some that are too new to have been published anywhere, and a few more from E-zines such as the Tuesday Poem blog site.

I have a few review copies to give away - if anyone would like one please leave a comment or email me on

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Travelling and Plagiarism Scandals!

I'm off to the UK  for the launch of 'Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21' at the Derwent Poetry Festival.  By an odd coincidence I've just waved goodbye to Neil who is off to Cambodia via Milan and I'm not looking forward to the next 3 weeks on my own.

Interesting story unfolding in Book World - Q.R. Markham's much hyped spy fiction 'Assassin of Secrets' released only a few days ago has been withdrawn after a tip-off that passages had been 'lifted' from classic spy novels.   Amazon described  the book (pre-revelation) as   'a narrative hall of mirrors in which nothing and no one are as they seem'.  It proved to be absolutely prophetic!

Red faces and big losses for Little Brown and Hodder who have withdrawn all copies -  end of career for author who didn't include the quotation marks.   According to the list on the Huffington Post and a number of blogs, this isn't just the odd phrase picked up and unconsciously repeated,  the book seems to have been a patchwork of other people's novels including classics such as Ian Fleming.  Even Markham's interviews were quotes from someone else.   How can this happen?   Do editors no longer read?  Don't they check for plagiarism?  Apparently the Huff Post compiled their list by putting phrases into Google and seeing what came up.  Shouldn't the publishers have done that?  I have to do it with my student's work to check for originality.

Rain still causing chaos in Italy.  Neil managed a couple of shots from the train as he passed through the Cinque Terre.  At Vernazza you can see the huge mound of rocks, mud and debris that's still being bulldozed from the streets.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Tuesday Poem: Christina Rossetti

A Pause

They made the chamber sweet with flowers and leaves,
     And the bed sweet with flowers on which I lay;
     While my soul, love-bound, loitered on its way.
I did not hear the birds about the eaves,
Nor hear the reapers talk among the sheaves:
     Only my soul kept watch from day to day,
     My thirsty soul kept watch for one away:-
Perhaps he loves, I thought, remembers, grieves.
At length there came the step upon the stair,
     Upon the lock the old familiar hand:
Then first my spirit seemed to scent the air
     Of Paradise; then first the tardy sand
Of time ran golden; and I felt my hair
     Put on a glory, and my soul expand.

Christina Rossetti,  written circa 1853

Christina 1848 by her brother Dante Gabriel

Christina Rossetti's father was an Italian political refugee and poet.  Her mother was the daughter of another Italian writer, Gaetano Polidori.  Christina's uncle was John Polidori who accompanied Byron and Shelley to the continent and wrote The Vampyre.  Although she was born in London and spent most of her life there, Christina was very Italian in temperament - which didn't fit very well with English Victorian notions of womanhood.   She and her brother Dante Gabriel were known as the 'two storms' but while he was allowed to go his own bohemian way, Christina had to conform and she found it difficult to subdue her rebellious disposition.   Much of Christina's poetry is about loss, loneliness and renunciation - themes that mirror her own life.  She broke off two engagements to men she loved  passionately because of religious differences (one was a Catholic, one an aetheist).   She seems to have regretted both decisions in later life.   Her mother was deeply, inflexibly, religious, an older sister became a protestant nun, and Christina's life under their influence was very restricted.  She was always very shy and spent most of her life at home, avoiding social contact,  writing poetry - some of which was erotic and passionate.  Her most famous poems are 'A Birthday',  'In the Bleak Midwinter', which was set to music by Holst, and 'Goblin Market' - one of the most erotic poems in the English language.   The poem above, A Pause, was written at a time when she had just broken off her engagement to the Pre-Raphaelite painter James Collinson who had converted to Roman Catholicism.  

Christina Rossetti:   Learning not to be First, originally published by Oxford University Press,  is available as a Kindle book on Amazon for £2.86.

For more Tuesday Poems, please go to the hub on

For a review of  contemporary American poet Stanley Plumly's collection 'Now that my father lies down beside me' , go to my book review site .