Monday, 24 October 2011

The Culture Diaries - Catherine McNamara

Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney and moved to Paris to study French, and ended up in Ghana running a bar. She is the author of 'The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy'(soon to be released by Indigo Dreams Publishing UK) and wrote the children’s book 'Nii Kwei’s Day'. After many years in West Africa she now lives in northern Italy where she complains about the government, translates for a WWI Eco-museum and skis fanatically. She has great collections of African sculpture and Italian heels.
Crew member at 

Monday 17th
I do love Mondays. I am not afraid of the pre-dawn alarm.Kids are driven off to the bus stop, the lads depart and the house is mine.
I ignore the kitchen mess and read a Grace Paley story, thenthree more. I think, Golly girl, you haveso much to learn.
All morning I send off book launch enquiries to independentbookshops in London. As I am publishing my debut novel with an indie press Ihave to be my own media machine. Have dress/heels, will sell myself. A bitdifficult doing it from Italy and not being able to suss things out.
I hook up with my publisher and then my editor: we are onour last-last run through the novel text. Little wordy tug-o-wars, gluey bits.
I write a blog entry about women being squashed by artisticmale partners and how some of us squirm away. I refer to Picasso and Fran├žoiseGilot. Okay, extreme example, but I’ve had my own head done in too. Does thepiece work? I leave it there and rush to the pool. Given all the running talk inevitablyaccompanying a Murakami release I’ll put my 5p in about swimming: it cleanses,stretches, enlivens the cells and circulation. Today I am on my own except for apregnant lady with a ring. I am very glad I am not pregnant.
Novel corrections, followed by piano practice until mydaughter tells me to STOP. So what else to do except start moving my unhappycacti indoors?
A lovely rush to the end of the day: Ether Books like mystories! Grace Paley is here offering her astute and measured congratulations.

Tuesday 18th
The first ice on the windscreen in the morning and the cactiare looking very snug inside. I can’t find my ice scraper after all that sweatyweather so I use one of my DJ son’s dubstep CDs littering the car. Soon we’llbe heading off to ski on weekend mornings with a scraped five inch square ofdriving vision until the heating kicks in. I love high altitudes but I live onthe Veneto plains.
In the morning I do some blog follow-ups, put my book cover onmy Facebook page, reply to emails, graze about. I read a good article aboutthree types of creative genius with Chopin, who died at 39, being in the firstcategory of those-who-die. Thankfully there is a third group of people who workup to a level of brilliance in their later lives. Shameless, I am hanging ontothis. I am very aware I am not a young emerging writer anymore, just emerging.
I eat chocolate and go downstairs and play Chopin. My pianoteacher, who is a tetchy Argentine conductor, wants me to learn the rest of mypieces by memory. He’s right though, the release in not being tied to the page,it’s like flying.
For lunch there’s just me and my eldest, the one studyingMandarin in Venice. We have a glass of red wine and my tortellini are full ofscrunched-up butter-soaked sage leaves that look like dead flies. Later, it’s timeto bring out serious winter covers and catch an old Law-and-Order episode whilefolding clothes in the attic.

Wednesday 19th
Muggy, warmish and wet with a sharp cough. The sky is looseand it’s time to bring in the last summer cushions. To think I was in sandalsuntil two weeks ago. The hunters are out under the grapevines but I don’t getshot today either, silly buggers with brainless dogs.
This morning I write up my blurbs for my submission forEther and am thrilled when they say they will publish all eight. I cannot believe!The stories are nearly all set on the cusp between European and African ways ofthinking – ever since I studied Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism at university I’vebeen set on this course.
I feel like celebrating but I am too lazy to drive intotown. I think I’ll order a crisp Friday afternoon thanks, for a few drinking hoursat Sartea - my favourite bar. No luck yet with my book launch enquiries although friendsand fellow writers have been helpful. It is starting to look like an intimatebookshop bash in town here with a follow-up at said bar, utilising theorganisational skills of my DJ mate Grinta.
I cook pumpkin risotto and a rich tarte au citron tocelebrate mildly, before heading off to make out with Scarlatti.

Thursday 20th
Now it’s official. I’m up as an author on the Ether Bookssite. Of course my picture is pretty dorky and they’ve put McNamara quite closeto Paul McCartney. The thrill of it. I join the Ether writer community and putmy flashy African barbershop photo on sideways. Whatta goose. I was a manicAfrican art collector once. I had a gallery in Africa. Weird, I also didAfrican independence movements at uni and remember the first words of ourdreamy prof, from Isak Dinesen’s autobiography: I had a farm in Africa… I went to Dinesen’s house once in Kenya andmy fascination dissolved. The whole colonial thing was still so tangible.  
Thursday is also piano lesson afternoon and I play my firstpiece, a Chopin waltz, better than I expected, from memory. No tension in Carlos’face, I can relax! Molto bene (myheart shivers) he says. You are a personwho must play everything without music, here you are playing from the heart.The Scarlatti too comes off well. Ah, Isee the fingers are working, they are working.
My heart feels warm and light.

Friday 21st
After yesterday’s headiness I don’t feel like doing a thing.Just coasting. I reread my book chapters, finding little irks, as many as I canbefore lunch with a mate in town. But then Paola has me google-map Sydneyharbour and my place there on my iPad. Astonishing how I can smell the saltfrom a seagull’s eye view and feel the tide. Growing discomfort, is what thewhole exile thing makes me feel with age.
We talk about doing the book launch here in Vicenza, in thatcool bookshop near the piazza. Okay so it’s written in English but the novel isset in Italy, and at least I will raise a crowd. Then some music and red wine.She thinks it’s a good idea. I’d rather spend my funds on printing up mypostcards and posters. Then it’s England, I guess, to offer myself to bookclubs and whoever will have me. And plenty of reviews and interviews online.

Saturday 22nd
At least the sun and wind have come through. My editor is inmy (virtual) hair and I am happy to get on with it. I continue going backwardsthrough my chapters. Mostly I like what I read, thank goodness, it is smoothand the tone is consistent. There is one nasty glitch which disturbs however soI sit there and work it!
Freaking cold of a sudden, and my eldest makes me ahamburger. I realise it is an age since I have eaten meat. We talk about ourcraving for Lebanese food and our favourite places from the past, especiallythe old Lebanon Club in Accra where he grew up.
That evening we see Melancholia, unfortunately dubbed inItalian, which I loved. The music, the slowness, the rumbling of the collidingplanet. I have had dreams like that. My arty friends try to pooh-pooh it but Ithink it is wonderful and resounding.
I pick up my youngest and meet an interesting Italian/NewYorker mother of a mixed child like me. We stand talking for ages under one ofVicenza’s old arcades. She says all the ‘big people’ were not there at work inthe Twin Towers on that day and mybrain is ticking all the way home.

Sunday 23rd
Sunny autumn mornings are for reading anddelights! Then a trip to the food market and cooking for adolescent returneeswith homework, and hungry friends who arrive from town. We eat very bitterpomegranates from the tree and collect the walnuts I’ve left on the ground.Then drink ourselves silly on Rosi’s Marzemino wine while MG throws a pizza orfive into the oven.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Ivy Moon

'Let it be dark, and it was dark'

A bold rewrite of the opening verses of the King James Bible

Written & Spoken by John Siddique
Music by Katie Chatburn
Paintings by Dania Strong
Animation Supervision by Walter Santucci

Monday, 10 October 2011

The Culture Diaries - Mike French

Mike is the owner and senior editor of The View From Here literary magazine, he also enjoys painting, watching Formula 1, eating Ben & Jerry's icecream and listening to Noah and the Whale. His second novel, Blue Friday is now completed and he is starting work on his third novel. For the last ten years Mike has been a “home dad” after giving up his job in optical engineering to look after the kids full time – much of his first novel,  The Ascent of Isaac Steward was written during their afternoon naps!
The Ascent of Isaac Steward is available at Amazon

Visit Mike's Blog 

Had to listen to Madagascar’s version of Reel 2 Real’s  I Like to Move it, four times on the way to dropping my kid off at gymnastics – and then on the way back ( after my cultural immersion in Tesco for over an hour which is what the whole world will be like in ten years time) listened to Rihanna’s Man Down on my kids favourite radio station Diverse FM. The song which has a police siren looping in the background had me glancing in my mirror all the way home.

After a quick lunch I popped into a workshop run by A Thin Place.  Interesting to hear about the impact on society of the arts and the benefit of working collectively as artists instead of just promoting your own work all the time. My favourite bit being a temporary pop up art gallery that they do in people’s houses – makes a difference from the massive plasma screen that often assaults you as you walk into people’s lounges – my theory being the smaller the lounge the larger the plasma.

All that of course was just a warm up for the high point of my cultural day:  X Factor and the last episode of Dr Who.  X factor is of course the temporary pop up gallery of the music world and my indulgence in nonsense that annoyingly my brain seems to enjoy, and Doctor Who – well the rest of the family loved it, and you know it was okay, but not a patch of the emotional punches that Russell Davies used to deliver. Wife cooked a massive batch of dropped scones- Yum.

Saturday was busy wasn’t it?  Sunday less so.  Kind of an echo of Saturday but more chilled.  As I guess it should be.  So a bit more X factor, ITV’s Downton Abbey instead of Doctor Who.  Wife cooked biscuits and cake –Yum.  Zoomed in and out of the world with my daughter on Google Maps.

A day at The View From Here office with Dog the plant and watching Wacky Races after an impromptu name all the characters in Wacky races competition.  I lost after only getting Dick Dastardly, Muttley, the Anthill Mob and Penelope Pitstop.   Edited a review of The Generation Game by Sophie Duffy that came in from one of our reviewers, before playing hoopla with a roll of sellotape and a plastic cup ( other sticky tapes are available ).  Carried on with a final edit of my second novel, Blue Friday looking in Strunk & Whites The Elements of Style to check my use of colons.  Later kids, tea, a bit of writing for Blue Friday adding in a scene then An Idiot Abroad 2 on Sky with Karl Pilkington.  Best bit by far was watching Karl get buried alive in a grave by a healer working with nature.  Once buried and breathing through a tube he complained, ‘This is one of those things they tell you not to try at home, innit … but then why is it alright for me to do it?’

My ipod despite being in shuffle mode refused to play anything else but New Order on my walk back with the dog from the school run.  At the office again with the window open and my shorts on – I mean what the heck is going on with the weather?  Not that I’m complaining.  As usual I can hear the sound of police sirens, its lovely here: such a creative atmosphere!  Finished final polish of Blue Friday, posted up on The View From Here the review of Sophie Duffy’s book. In the evening I read to my son We’re All Going On A Bear Hunt.  Finished off the day watching David Hasselhoff host Never Mind the Buzzocks which was like being shouted at in a lift in a mildly annoying way that left you wanting bad things to happen to that man in the lift shouting at you in a mildy annoying way.  

Lost the shorts today as the temperature returns to normal and constructed a Dyson bladeless fan out of a polystyrene cup and a roll of sellotape. It didn’t work. In the afternoon I put up details on our site of The Luton Book Festival that we’re running with Luton Library and then in the evening read a bit of George Orwell’s 1984. Interesting to get into that book again, bleak but brilliant but damn it why did I buy the complete works of George Orwell? What a fool!  It’s the weight of a brick, almost impossible to read because of the size of the thing and obviously meant to just sit on your bookshelf.

On the shuffle this morning, Lose Control by James, Climbing up the Wall by Radiohead, Only Martha Knows (from the Doctor Who soundtrack – yes, really) and Europe by Train by The Divine Comedy finishing off with The Certainty of Chance again by The Divine Comedy.  Spent the morning at The Hat Factory in Luton talking through ways to help the town have more of a cultural identity and cohesion between the different art organisations. In the evening watched QI on the TV – favourite bit was about Albert Gunter who in 1952 made a split decision to jump the gap between the rising sections of London Bridge in his double decker bus – Albert received £10 for his efforts – his conductor received a broken leg, his twelve passengers: minor injuries and the bus a broken spring. 

Finished the whole week off with the cultural high of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which I watched with my mate whilst enjoying a few beers and plenty of crisps.  Despite being an avid listener to the radio series, he’d never seen the TV version or film, so introduced him to the marvel of moving pictures.  My favourite moment: the conversion, by the Infinite Improbability Drive, of two thermonuclear missiles attacking The Heart of Gold into a sperm whale. ‘What’s this thing coming to me very fast? Ground.  That’s it ground!’  SPLAT.

Friday, 7 October 2011

The Fall of The West?

Watching capitalism’s crumbing demise from within is very scary, yet as the cracks appearing with greater regularity and depth one can also acknowledge the possibility of light getting in. 

I find myself returning to George Orwell’s essays on social responsibility at this time with a feeling of ‘The more things change the more they stay the same.’ Perhaps it is time to simply stop bailing out banks and let it fall. 

The only way change can ever occur is by embracing the risk and disorder it brings, and we can never know what lies beyond the next moment, even the expert guessers they bring onto news programmes know nothing about what might come, remember they are people employed to look certain when they have less of a clue than we do. Please ask yourself -  besides money, what have these people got? Very little it seems.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Steve Jobs

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Eighty Years

My father Mohammed Siddique is eighty today. It has been twenty years since I last set eyes on him, so that we have no idea if he is alive or dead. How can it be that someone can simply disappear into this world? I choose to believe that he is alive, that he is out there somewhere. I would love to find him and make him some pakoras like he used to make for me, listen to his life; filling in that book of missing pages. I want to sit and look at him, and have him look at me - son & father, father to son. It is all about love and belonging of course, all our lives and stories are. Happy Eightieth Birthday Father, Mohammed Siddique. I Love You.


If you'd like to read about my father's journey you can read a piece from GRANTA about his life and my my search for him. There is also a story about him in the book Four Fathers. I hope one day to compile all the pieces, both poetry & prose, I've written about dad into a book. I'd love to be able to fill in some of the missing years too.. We shall see.

Please do leave a comment on the Granta page if you stop by to read 'Six Snapshots'. It's good to know you've been by.. Thanks


We're cooking up some of dad's favourite foods this weekend: The traditional Punjabi breakfast of parathas and dehi (yoghurt), chicken curry, aloo palak (potato & spinach), and of course his famous pakoras and lots of cups of chai tea.


Some Viewing Material

Migratory Patterns from John Siddique on Vimeo.
This poem is taken from Recital and tells the need for dreams in the life of the young immigrant Mohammed.


Strange how these things happen but just last week someone wrote to me to say that they had really liked a poem of mine from The Prize. It is one of the first things I wrote about my dad, so I thought it would go well on here.

Room For The Invented Father

His walls are plain.
The colour of the room
quilted from book spines.
A sense of ozone.
Comfortable, but not opulent.
His pictures; abstract joy and found things.

A couch of welcome.
A table of manners.
The window reaches over the year,
as it changes, as I observe him,
push against him,
am like him.

The love and pulse of Miles, Coltrane, 
Sonny Rollins, Sonny LeRoi,
change from goose honks to the story of ourselves.

And his chair, like a sea captain's or a poet's.
His back mapped into the leather.
His mixture of pipe smoke,
and his autumn in the woodsness.

This room is lived yet immaculate.
Amber nut wood floor
shining from its washings and
our stockinged feet.

John Siddique 2005