Wednesday, 8 December 2010

the snows

Since I've come back from Ghana I have pieced together a new life. Not being Italian I have been able to select certain things, without having to submerge as one does in a culture as pervasive as local Ghanaian life, and comfortably stay on the rim of things. Perhaps that is why I will always be - and there are many ways of describing this state - an outsider, an exile. And isn't it a bit of a con too? hanging on to this mildly celebrated state. After all, I have kids who are bi-lingual, even the one who is half-Ghanaian. I own a house. I have my passport. But even if I thought I could travel to the core of this place - embrace literature in another tongue, write in it, feel something other than the superficial buzz of return - would I? No I wouldn't.

While every place has its woes I think that this corner of the world is particularly woeful. The roadworks over the hill - nasty. The rude driving. The hunters after little birds. The racism. The fog. The mud. There are times when I am ready to flee.

Thank goodness we have the gorgeous Dolomites nearby. This place makes winter surviveable and the people there provide gutsy, impassioned talk. Yes, even there the economic situation is devastating and there are no guarantees the season will pan out well. But to ski again, to see Civetta and Pelmo appearing through the cloud, these make me feel a special charge and gloriously happy.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

new dreams

I have started sending the collection out. Must start chewing over. Have sent query letters to the U.S. and U.K., a couple of kind rejections already and one request for a full manuscript which was a small thrill, so I am living in suspension, just like the fog outside.

Today I'll be writing more and more of these, just to get to the end of that list. Even publishers and editors will be ensnared. I have a couple of favourite imprints who will probably happily ignore my efforts but that's okay, harden the f*** up Catherine!

And when the fog clears it will be time to forget submissions and emails and words and files and I will write another story. Am beginning to hear snippets, echos, words.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

hair do

I had to change my site image. I always knew I would. The lovely pink lady is a postcard (copywrighted!) given to me by a friend and is framed with the tags from a box of teabags I brought back from Japan. I've held onto her for a long time (even used her for a series of promotional bookmarks), but now that I am compiling the story for more serious circulation it is time to pull something out of the hat myself.

This is a barber shop sign bought on the roadside in Lomé, Togo, when Omar was about two. Omar has just turned eighteen.

The new cover design that I am working on is different though. I just wanted to put this up for fun. I have always suffered this divide between the Graphic and the Word. How lovely to be able to play here.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

the drum

Ever since I left Ghana I have missed the drums. The way some guy a few houses away might just pick one up and start to play, or kids across the street, or a funeral in full swing for the last couple of weeks. Here there is such silence it took a while to accept. But now, being such a thin sleeper, it has become a part of the way my days and nights expand. I used to worry I would become a shrivelled aunt who had forgotten how to speak, but I haven't started to hum and don't expect answers from my dogs. Besides, my brood make such a racket when they are present, the silence is the cleanest tide, the only way to function.

Autumn damp makes for great working conditions although the flooding in town has been a worry. Last night I was terrified the canals would fill and my piano would be knee deep in water, such an awful thought. I have friends in a big fix but here the fields are drying out, the long strips of water have subsided.

Today it is so quiet.

I have had a great time with three stories lately. I try to tug away from Ghana but there are so many stories there that won't stop tapping inside my brain. I have started compiling the Collection in case AE ever gets back to me. I have 19 and discovered one set in Sydney, published an age ago, which still rang true. I have always gone for culture overlapping, how one party is often subservient, suffering.

This is from 'Where the Wounded Go', my current favourite.

'They drove to the hills that pushed the city against the coast. As they rose the change in altitude made her head feel looser, or perhaps she had just had her face in his groin so long. Now she lifted her head. Though the scrappiness of the city was gone there was a different tide of erosion up here. The colonial buildings stood tall, fettered with all manner of appendage, and the roads were thin, drawn over the landscape with their endless trails of unfit transportation. Huge old trees carried the heaviness of history as much as their scored vaulting, vegetation was stiff.

She was thirsty, the two beers at the hotel had brought it on. Now she was clammy with his liquid and everything felt flawless. She looked at him as he drove, wanting to rub herself harder into his skin once again, wanting to lick his eyelids and use her tongue to feeler his teeth. She wanted to chase him, bring him down, feed on the spurting from his neck.'

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

the push

Somehow it's come through. Good energy. Good synergized energy if that's what they say. Energy that doesn't need to eat or talk but just be filtered strictly, with calm, without too much coffee. I am enjoying it. Trying to get to a goal of twenty short stories in order that some may be cut - inevitably.

Now the screen feels sore and my eyes would like some goggle time. Da pool.

Monday, 4 October 2010


Ernesto said if they ever did it again they were going to stuff the dog. It was spoken lightly and we were already half-drunk. I giggled as I glanced at the lithe Weimaraner collapsed on his mat in the corner, whose grey eyes soaked up the lot of us. No! You wouldn’t dare! Ray’s gaze coasted to the office building opposite. The façade was chequered brick, the unrestored thirties style still wearing pocks from the War. A man was speaking to a woman sitting at a tilted draughtsman’s desk, her attention was caught.

Ray managed a laugh, then his voice came in a lower register, plugged in his throat. We took eighty sleeping pills that time, didn’t we? Wasn’t it eighty or so? But we woke up. The doc said it would have killed a horse.

The pair of them laughed loudly, their Friday afternoon in-joke. The window was open and the man and woman in the office looked our way. Ray removed some chopped pineapple from the freezer and Ernesto handed him a bottle of Tequila, the one with the worm inside. I watched their bodies intersecting, Ernesto’s brown limbs and my brother’s scrawny biceps and hairy forearms I used to tweak as a kid. He was wearing the shirt from the performance of ‘Priscilla’ I brought,

A cock
in a frock
on a rock.

I was passed Ray’s version of a Tequila Sunrise. I wandered out to change my dress. Afterward, the restaurant had hard lights and the huge, unwieldy bike they’d stolen for me must have belonged to a post-Aryan giantess.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Can't wait for kids to go back to school and story-writing to take off again. I miss solitude! And hours of uninterrupted work. Here it's a circus again, as they are back from the beach and shirking homework, while I am counting the hours to brain freedom.

Started a new story, gathered some new ideas on a drive up to a dairy on the highland above Verona. Cheese pats on wood in a chilly stone room, miles of hills crinking in smoky light. Would have unrolled a blanket and stayed.


Monday, 9 August 2010


The ex is in town, ready to squash me again! The only way I can turn it inside-out is to think of all the writing material this person has provided and will continue to provide. I just wrote another story - sent to the Wasafiri fiction competition and hoping to win! - call Opaque which tells of a kidnapped child. The protagonist is a mother, acquaintance of the woman from the whom the child has been taken, who has to decide whether she can take part in this action. It is about how being a mother can also mean being a cruel unfit mother, or an unjust human being.

The story helped me! and I think it reads well. Hmmm. Back to hawking my work.

Friday, 30 July 2010


rain and more rain and my veggie patch is the saddest ever. I am reviewing the novel on the other side. I never knew grammar so intimately before. Grammar currently lives on my shoulder wearing an orange jacket and sipping a cup of tea. We are becoming shifty friends.

I sent a good story in for the Wasafiri competition. It is a story that for me signifies a big release in personal terms, although the subject matter is all indirect. I love the heavy lightness in play in the work, although I haven't read it back lately.

My story 'Nathalie' is coming out in The View from Here in August. Do read!

Thursday, 15 July 2010


I've been pushing it. Waiting for replies about stories I've sent out. Three months ago. At four can I write a weakly worded query the colour of thin tea?

I just want some good news dammit, something to brag about. For the novel editing, publicizing, cover job is starting to weigh in - I am losing even more sleep through the powerhouse nights!

Whoever remembers snow, and legging it dressed like a sherpa up the stairs?

Friday, 9 July 2010

all systems go

For some reason the heat, the trips to the dentist, the summer visitors, the night time romancing under the walnut tree - not to mention the woven green Costume National chunky heels purchased in Milano in the sales - have wired my brain in the most alarming way. Shouldn't I be drowsy, half-dumb, moaning with the heat? Instead I am fired up, but really. Why and why? My novel across the way has been accepted for publication. And while this means more copious editing and risk, a slinky breeze has crept in through the window. It is the breeze of relief.

Oh yes. Better than the night time cool and the woven sandals. Some might even say the romance in the night. Writing satisfaction comes so rarely but when it pours in it is almighty, is it not?

Have just finished another short story for the collection. It feels good. I'm putting it in the Wasafiri competition if I can work out how to use Paypal or borrow a fiver.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The sculptress

Why do we write stories? And not articles or diaries? So many words have been written about what drives a short story - whose are classical, whose are effective or trendy, whose deliver the most powerful punch. And how hard is it to better the works of Katherine Mansfield, Hemmingway, Chekov, Carver? Why even bother? Why dare to think your works could be valid, or quixotic or admired?

African traditional sculptors work within the parameters given to them by their ancestors. A Baule woman will always have an elongated body, her arms stuck to her sides, her hair divided into bunches, her breasts two prongs. Within this form, the artist will choose a particular grain of wood, will push the sculpture out of this, making a work that differs little from what is known, but it is different.

And what is there of human nature that we do not already know? What have we not yet discovered of the strains of life we all share? What on earth can there be that is not original?

And yet we write, we feel it hammering, we build, we sit back.

I still believe it is worth it.

Thursday, 17 June 2010


Tom’s girlfriend Mary sees dots on the mountain flank. We work out they are skiers heading downward in tight S-curves, the ultimate motion, along a lush blue pleat in the snow. The mountain is colossal. Some sort of palpable convection pulverises your thought and sucks you inward, spits you out. I enjoy being so little. We look carefully and see there are still more dots making their ascent. They are staggering vertically toward a sling of whiteness between one outcrop and the first shoulders of the peak. The biggest slide in the park. They can’t make it. They won’t. In twenty minutes and two more espresso to the unnecessary beat of Jamiroquai, they have.

The girls drink coffee, losing interest in the skiers, maintaining their guise of getting along. It’s not working, the Mary-and-Corinne thing. It’s far from the first time. Tom looks tired and I know he’d rather conserve his best energy for the snow, not Mary’s delights on a narrow bunk. Thankfully Corinne’s seasoned sociability is more pliant. I watch her eyes drift over the peaks then back to her nails, to the grain of the wood, to a declaration of love some teenager has carved there. For a crazy second, I think of eating raw fish. It must be the purity of the elements – the zinging air, the grey rucked wood, Corinne’s flesh.

Another story excerpt, currently out looking for a published home. To be included in my fantastic anthology

Friday, 11 June 2010

Pelt, a published short story

Rolfe triggers it. In the way that is the way of all men. In his case a type of athletic bragging ruined by the self-defeat he hangs his hat on. I feel a plock and, with his surprised, involuntary retreat my waters come splashing out, gay and heralding, whereby he bounds back to inspects the folds of his manhood.
My abroni baby will come this day. I roll onto my back and raise my knees in sweet excitement, the baby nestling back even though her head is plugged within my pelvis. Soon after Rolfe is agitating with a towel, peering cautiously at my dark opening. No action there, I laugh. He looks perplexed. Despite his thirty-nine years Rolfe is unfamiliar with the mulch of his own body. A fever sends him into studied ecstasy. The tumbleworm in his butt, whose head and long wrinkled body I inch into the light, is repellent and edifying.
At the apex of his growth curve I suspect I must place myself. This is the man who continues to daub his hands on my sheeny back and breasts. He told me that in Ethiopia, his last posting, they call girls like me ‘slaves’ because of our broad noses and skin a shadow cannot cross.
This is Rolfe’s first child. His wife Karina was barren. I have led Rolfe to believe that this is my first although I had two others before. They are at the village and I send them money. The midwife will no doubt perceive all of this.

This is the first in a series of excellent stories. More to come. It was published in Pretext UK and will soon be part of a marvellous collection. Astrid here.