Noticing the beauty in ordinariness: There are Boats on the Orchard

July 12th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

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I am coming out from behind my usual, third-person editor voice for this post; for I, Maria C. McCarthy, am the author of the poems in There are Boats on the Orchard. These poems began as a filler of time, after I had finished the final draft of my story collection As Long as it Takes. I was bereft, having lived with those characters for so many years, and spending time in my writing shed, staring out of the window, or walking the orchard that I could see outside. So I started writing about what I could see: the bunting I had made dripping in the rain, then drying; the arrival of boats, parked by the dead tree near our fence; a woodpecker in the snow, as I sat at my desk with a sleeping bag wrapped round me for warmth; local children trespassing, bouncing on a trampoline left out by the orchard owner after a family party.

I went away on a residential writing weekend with Lynne Rees, showed her some of the poems, and talked about my feelings of bereavement after As Long as it Takes was finished. Lynne was encouraging, and I kept going, observing and writing and walking the nearby orchards. Lynne is also an orchard walker, observer – in fact an orchard owner –  and I am delighted to read her review of There are Boats on the Orchard, alongside her own thoughts on the changing face of orchards, and how humans deal with change.

And it’s the themes of ‘endings’ and being poorer for what’s lost that percolate McCarthy’s collection: disappearing cherry orchards, the loss of an inspiring view, the absence of seasonal visiting sheep, and the urbanisation of green fields accompanied by the inevitable decline in wildlife: rabbits, woodpeckers, kestrel. So the threads of resentment and sadness throughout many of the 25 poems are to be expected. In ‘Eden Village’, a housing estate built on a former cherry orchard, the children do not play in the natural paradise suggested by the title but “are in their rooms playing games.” In ‘Strange Fruits’ the hedgerows are littered with “Stella cans, a Co-operative bakery wrapper/”. 
But despite this tone and detail I do not leave this collection feeling bereft or hopeless and that may well be down to McCarthy’s lyrical language and syntax which, like the pheasants in the previously mentioned poem, are often “Joyous miracles.” 
In her previous urban home, “The quarter hours chimed with stolen light.” (from ‘Prologue’ p.1). Her home-made bunting survives, “Rain and shine, rain and shine;/ washed and dried, washed and dried.” (from ‘Drought’ p.11). And I’m particularly comforted by the poplars in the final poem, “Last” that “shush as they bend.” 
Because isn’t this how humanity moves forward with grace? By noticing the beauty in ordinariness? By accepting what cannot be changed? By bending but not breaking? And by celebrating and commemorating both past and present, its joys and griefs.

Read Lynne Rees’s review here.

I’d long wanted to work with an artist on these poems, and was delighted to find that Sara Fletcher, whom I knew as a friend of a friend, had wonderful skills in sketching. We walked the orchards together last autumn, which turned out to be our last year living in the house that backed onto the orchard. Sara’s drawings have made There are Boats on the Orchard a beautiful thing, as has Mark Holihan’s design work.

On the day that There are Boats on the Orchard was collected from the printer’s, news came through of plans to build houses on the orchard that I thought of as mine. I am glad not to be there to see this happen, but happy to have the poems and images in this pamphlet to chronicle the years of living next to the disappearing orchards of Kent.

You can only buy the pamphlet from this website, for £7 plus p&p:There are Boats on the Orchard 

The Hungry Writer by Lynne Rees is also available from Cultured Llama.

There will be events to launch There are Boats on the Orchard some of them in orchards. See Events.

Frances Gapper’s In the Wild Wood, where the mundane is made magical.

June 19th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

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A couple of years ago, Frances Gapper won the Save As Writers’ Short Story Prize. Cultured Llama editor Maria C. McCarthy had judged the prize, and loved the winning story, ‘Broken Thing’, so much that she tracked down Frances Gapper, and asked her to submit a book proposal. Maria says, :”I was surprised that a writer this talented had not had a collection out for some years. Why hadn’t a publisher snapped her up?” The other publishers’ loss is is our again, and we are delighted to present In the Wild Wood.  Dear Reader, you are going to love it.

To walk In the Wild Wood is to enter worlds where the mundane is made magical. Loss of memory and self are rendered in dreamlike stories that owe as much to the lived experience of dementia as to fairy tale. In other tales, we learn of Sister Joy’s obsession with spiders, or a funeral parlour worker who collects false teeth from the dead. Poignant, funny and astonishing, this collection showcases Frances Gapper as a storyteller working at the peak of her craft.

978-0-9957381-6-4. Cultured Llama. PB. 203×127mm. 212pp. June 2017. Short Stories. £12.00 

Read a conversation with Frances Gapper, on the short story, on Alison Lock’s website.

Read more about Frances Gapper’s new collection, and order the book for £12 plus p&p: In the Wild Wood.  

Postage and packing is free if you order two or more books, so why not add another story collection to your order? Find books by Maggie Harris, Anna Maconochie, Vanessa Gebbie, Nigel Jarrett, Emma Timpany and Maria C. McCarthy on the Stories page.

David Cooke in the Poetry Shed

June 15th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

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David Cooke features on (or should that be ‘in’?) Abegail Morley’s Poetry Shed, with two poems from his new collection, After Hours. Read ‘Le Nu Provençal’ and ‘Ornithology’ here.

After Hours is also The Poetry Kit‘s book of the month for June 2017, and has received a glowing review, by Emma Lee, on London Grip.

Emma Lee quotes from ‘Last Orders’, a poem about a 1970s home bar that belonged to David Cooke’s late father-in-law:

Embalmed in a gloopy coat of varnish
that set to a brittle sheen, it lacked retro chic,
scuffed down to the wood along its edges,
its surface crazed with memories.

In days when family came to stay
it placed him centre stage, measuring out
precisely his perfect Irish coffees
or each medicinal dose of whiskey.

And yet, for all its high stool bonhomie
we dumped it, an eyesore for the viewers –
then missed a convenient shelf, sorting mail
that even now in his posthumous life

makes him offers he can’t refuse.

Read the full review here. Buy the book, for £10 plus p&p here: After Hours

Postage and packing is free if you buy two or more books via this website.

The Short Story explores internet dating and Flamingos in Thanet

June 14th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

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An interview with Anna Maconochie appears on The Short Story, exploring Anna’s debut collection, Only the Visible Can Vanish. Charlie Parry asks Anna about the recurring themes of internet dating and the digitised world:

I’m not much of a tech person but I thought there’d be more writers out there writing about the NOW. When else in history have we been able to google our lover and find out she’s married, as Jeremy does? There’s this assumption that anyone who writes about internet dating will be writing their car-crash stories but the reality is far more complex, rich and sometimes banal. In Future Digital I wanted to get across how fifty-fifty Tara felt about Pete after their internet date. An agent told me that writer’s fear their work will sound dated eventually if they mention technology but nothing will stand in the way of a timeless story. And I think Google is going to be around for a while, so you may as well mention it if you want to!

Read the full interview here.

Buy Anna Maconochie’s debut story collection for £12 plus p&p here: Only the Visible Can Vanish 

Postage and packing is free if you order two or more books from Cultured Llama.

The Short Story has also reviewed In Margate by Lunchtime by Maggie Harris.

Maggie Harris

‘The Year The Flamingos Came’ is one of a number of stories telling very personal stories about the struggles of everyday life. Harris has a keen eye for people’s struggles, especially those of women, and manages to create a series of memorable characters.

This is definitely a book worth checking out, for the sheer beauty of the writing and the engaging and lively sense of narrative around Harris’s favourite corner of the country.

Read the full review here, and an interview with Maggie Harris here.

Buy Maggie Harris’s short story collection for £12 plus p&p here:In Margate by Lunchtime

Postage and packing is free if you order two or more books from Cultured Llama.

A big win for Rosie Jackson; ‘Light, love and quite a bit of kissing’

June 8th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

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We are delighted to announce that Rosie Jackson’s poem ‘The Heaven that Runs through Everything’ won the 1st prize of £2,500 in the Stanley Spencer Poetry Competition 2017. The poem can be read on Rosie Jackson’s website.  Rosie has also been awarded 3rd prize in the Hippocrates Open competition for her poem  ‘A Ward Sister Remembers the Spencers’.

The lives and art of Stanley Spencer and Hilda Carline, Spencer’s first wife, have proved a rich seam for Rosie Jackson’s poetry, as Graham Burchell remarks in his review of The Light Box on Ink Sweat and Tears. 

There’s also wonderfully rendered ekphrasis, with particular emphasis on the work of British artist Stanley Spencer to begin each of the six sections, and the collection ends on a high note with an angle on one of Spencer’s Resurrection paintings with ‘bodies that cannot have enough of each other,/ this love that is always being made.’

Many other artists provide inspiration for Rosie Jackson’s poems in The Light Box, and other figures such as Margaret Thatcher feature:

Other characters are placed in unlikely settings or considered in suprising ways: Mrs Thatcher leaves her body and meets St Francis, Demeter takes up embroidery and Persephone blames the dress, but these are effective routes to exploring and keenly observing. We see Mrs Thatcher, her mind uncoupled, rising up from her sceptered isle, becoming unsettled, ‘till the light feels more like darkness,/ coal dust,’. So much depends (not on a red wheelbarrow), but­ on the richness and the weaving of Rosie Jackson’s own myths and inventions.

Burchell ends his review:

Stanley Spencer said he wanted to put himself in his work, and as an obvious enthusiast for this twentieth century artist’s life and paintings, Rosie Jackson likewise puts herself into her poems. They are deft, have a strong voice, and if reading extraordinarily good poems full of light, love and quite a bit of kissing, appeals, then ‘The Light Box’ comes highly recommended.

A glowing review of The Light Box appears in Poetry Salzburg Review. Speaking of the final poem in the collection, ‘Resurrection’, Danielle Hope writes:

The poem is an exemplar of the haunting yet light touch of Jackson’s writing. I started reading and couldn’t stop. She has a gift of turning the ordinary into enchantment with her writing. Her poem made me look again at Spencer’s painting. The allotments, gardens, “lamps pooling light over dinner” arise in Jackson’s writing, making everyday living suddenly an incredible and exciting gift.

You can buy The Light Box by Rosie Jackson for £10 plus p&p. Please support our small press by buying direct from Cultured Llama.

Pints of Guinness like priests – poetry by David Cooke, After Hours

April 25th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

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In After Hours, David Cooke returns to the theme of the migrant Irish, visited in his earlier collections, as well as poems of travelling, the passing of cultural icons of the 20th century, and his love of music. Just published by Cultured Llama, here is an extract from the title poem from After Hours. The collection is dedicated to the memory of John Durr, David Cooke’s father-in-law:

5. Fathers

If mine had survived
they might have had some sessions,
the union man,

the ganger, their red
and blue dissolving somehow
into shades of green.

6. A Quiet Pint

Our pints of Guinness
look like priests. Eyeing them up,
we drink them slowly.

7. Laid Out

He has scrubbed up well.
His daughter pins his relic
onto his lapel.

There’s holy water
sent from Knock, the set of beads
his cold hands fumbled.

Find out more, and order After Hours for £10 plus p&p, here.

If you order two or more books, post and packing is free. Why not add a copy of There Are No Foreign Lands by Mark Holihan? Or Zygote Poems by Richard Thomas?

Surprising and unsettling; black holes, worm-holes, and quantum vacuum; masters of the genre – Short Fiction reviewed

April 24th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

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Three of our short fiction collections have been reviewed recently. Tim Love’s piece on A Short History of Synchronised Breathing, by Vanessa Gebbie, is in his style of ‘notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces’. 

“Captain Quantum’s Universal Entertainment” (subtitled ‘an expanding story, with no boundaries’) never sags, though it’s long. It’s my favourite piece – a tour de force. No surprise that it’s already been printed elsewhere. A reporter (with a recorder – this is the quantum world) visits a fairground, shown around by the “Most Qualified Guide to the Fairground”. “Captain Quantum” is the ring-master. “The Great Maximilian” (a juggler) and “Lucille, The Incredible Shrinking Bearded Lady” are the star turns. It’s their last show, and perhaps the universe’s last too. The piece is replete with scientific allusions that like their quantum counterparts, flicker in and out of existence. In the extracts below I detect black holes, special relativity, space-time curvature, epicycles from a bygone age, black holes, worm-holes, and quantum vacuum.

Read more on Tim Love’s Litrefs.

Buy A Short History of Synchronised Breathing for £12 plus p&p (postage and packing free if you buy two or more books).

The Lost of Syros by Emma Timpany is reviewed on New Zealand site Flaxroots.

… all 16 stories are worth reading as their author shows herself to have mastered the genre.
They are well constructed, the situations and observations perceptive, and the writing is well-judged – not verbose or overdone. Word use is well chosen to reveal scenes and evoke thoughts and memories in the reader.

     The diagnosis is pleurisy. Outside, a gorgeous spring’s dispensing its own medicine, a string of warm blue days. Katie’s told to rest and eat, and do nothing else. I fill her room with bluebells. She says they smell like honey. An elderly maid, her skin as crumpled and brown as a walnut shell, brings Katie gooseberry jam on thin slices of buttered bread cut into little triangles. Food to lure fairies from their lairs, Katie calls it.

Buy The Lost of Syros for £12 plus p&p (postage and packing free if you buy two or more books).

Jeremy Page reviews Only the Visible Can Vanish, by Anna Maconochie, in The Frogmore Papers:

The stories in Anna Maconochie’s debut collection are feisty, well-observed chronicles of what it means to inhabit the 21st century. She has the disconcerting habit of leading the reader up the garden path to all manner of improbable destinations, demonstrating the capacity to surprise and unsettle in equal measure. An impressive debut.

Buy Only the Visible Can Vanish for £12 plus p&p (postage and packing free if you buy two or more books).

Llamas packed with baskets of books; sublime short stories from Vanessa Gebbie

February 13th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

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Exciting times at Cultured Llama. We have moved out of the Cultured Llama’s stable of origin, and have travelled on a journey through the frozen wastes of Kent, our llamas packed with baskets of books, including a new treat for you lucky readers – A Short History of Synchronised Breathing and other stories, by Vanessa Gebbie.
Sublime short stories from Vanessa Gebbie, a master of the art. Meta-fiction, fable, satire, instruction manual, or reportage? Sometimes all in the one story. A Short History of Synchronised Breathing is funny, sexy, original, heartbreaking, and with true insights to the human condition.

978-0-9568921-2-6. Cultured Llama. PB. 203×127mm. 160pp. February 2017. Short Stories. £12.00

Charming and challenging, inventive and intelligent – a wonderful collection that is also laugh out loud funny.
Paul McVeigh, author of The Good Son

A prodigiously gifted writer.
Maggie Gee, author of Virginia Woolf in Manhattan

About The Coward’s Tale:
Gebbie is as at ease with humour as she is with poignancy. A hypnotic debut.
Leila Sanai, The Independent

About Storm Warning:
…enough good pieces in enough styles for the book to be used as an anthology demonstrating how stories should be written nowadays.
Tim Love’s Literary References

Order a copy for £12 (plus p&p); p&p is free if you buy two or more of any of our books:
A Short History of Synchronised Breathing and other stories

For more stories, Who Killed Emil Kreisler? by Nigel Jarrett is a great and varied read. Reviewed by Cath Barton for Wales Arts Review:

Jarrett is a chameleon in his use of the English language and changes his style to suit his subject. His fluency and adaptability are remarkable.

It is difficult to pigeon-hole Nigel Jarrett’s writing, and that is all to the good. Sometimes he reminds me of Somerset Maugham, a wonderful storyteller, albeit one who some now regard as old-fashioned. My favourite story in this collection is “Wish You Were Here”. I love its sense of mystery. What is the narrator’s line of work? Who sent him the postcards that had gone missing from his neighbour’s collection after her death? What is the significance of the pictures? And what about the fifth postcard? That’s the great thing about a good story like this one – it makes the reader into a collaborator and it is for each one of us to make our own sense of it. Great stuff.

Order a copy for £12 (plus p&p); p&p is free if you buy two or more of any of our books: Who Killed Emil Kreisler?

If it’s poetry you’re after, There are no Foreign Lands by Mark Holihan is a perfect choice. Reviewed on The High Window poetry website, here is what Michael Curtis has to say:

These patient, expansive poems take the time to describe what’s felt through what seen, what happens, often shot through with a wry, deadpan humour that seems characteristically Californian.

Order for £10 plus p&p: There are no Foreign Lands 

Who Killed Emil Kreisler? Stories by Nigel Jarrett

November 10th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

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We are proud to announce the publication of our (drum roll) 29th publication: Who Killed Emil Kreisler?  by Nigel Jarrett. An intriguing title, and the genesis of the title story is explained by Nigel below. But first, this is what you need to know:

Nigel_Jarret-9780956892119-Perfect.inddPostcards from a dead woman; a tale told in letters, centred on a strange musical instrument; the journey of Bismarck’s helmet … In Who Killed Emil Kreisler? Nigel Jarrett takes the reader through centuries and across continents to places well beyond their comfort zone.

Jarrett’s stories take seemingly ordinary or innocent situations and gently tease out their emotional complexity.

Lesley McDowell, The Independent on Sunday

Who Killed Emil Kreisler?  costs £12 plus p&p. Order two or more books from Cultured Llama and p&p is free.

Nigel Jarrett also designed the striking cover image for the book (overall cover design by Mark Holihan). A man of many talents. Here is what he has to say about the title story of Who Killed Emil Kreisler?

Only twice have I ever been tempted to fictionalise something that really happened. On the second occasion, it resulted in the title story of my new collection, Who Killed Emil Kreisler? It was based on the bizarre (and tragic) death of the composer Anton Webern in 1945. Webern was visiting his brother-in-law, a black-marketeer, just before a curfew was to be imposed by the occupying Americans. On his way out to light a cigar, he was confronted by an US army cook, Raymond Norwood Bell, who was on guard duty after drinking, and precipitately shot the composer dead. Bell survived the war but expired in 1955, an alcoholic and full of remorse.

Before the worldwide web soaked up every fact ever known about the world and made it instantly accessible, the incident was a footnote in the history of music. But even in that fugitive state I found it incredibly moving. Its power as an inspiration for fiction lay in its extra-particular dimension: the idea of a soldier knowing that he’d killed someone famous in battle. Who was the sniper, I wondered, whose unerring bullet had done for the poet Wilfred Owen on the Sambre-Oise Canal on November 4, 1918? Did he survive the war? And did he, unlike Bell, become lost along with his victim in the uproar and clamour of war and its imminent end, never knowing specifically whom he’d shot – one of many, no doubt? I cannot get out of my mind the image circumscribed in his sights, as the poet moves inexorably, silently, into the telescope’s reticule of fine hairs, like a fly in a spider’s web. Bell, of course, would have had to account for himself.

Since I first learned of the circumstances of Webern’s death, the internet has become full of information about the story, to the extent of Bell’s family and friends defending the poor wretch against a swathe of opprobrium. The Webern family’s pain, of course, was no more and no less than that experienced by one mourning an uncelebrated and unsung relative.

I decided on a ventriloquised piece in the first person, depicting how mixed up and tormented Bell must have been. I set the semi-literate narrator down in the mid-West, maybe a prairie so vast one could sense the parameters of the world. I also researched and employed some Western terms, such as ‘freshet’, meaning a river in spate. Anyway, there it is: a short take, almost a piece of flash fiction. It seemed sufficient for portraying a man’s ineradicable anxiety. As a music critic, I was also attracted to other aspects of the Webern incident.

The first story I wrote based on fact doesn’t appear in the collection but is also set in wartime. I read a newspaper NIB (news in brief paragraph) about a concentration camp survivor who’d been known for cultivating flowers, red salvias, outside his hut, and had reached one hundred years of age. The collection’s other stories, I hope, also reflect the imaginative and geographical range of the title.

Who Killed Emil Kreisler?  costs £12 plus p&p. Order two or more books from Cultured Llama and p&p is free.

Reviews and News of Stories and Curious Things

November 10th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

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Maggie Harris is interviewed by Rupert Dastur on The Short Story. Maggie is the author of two short story collections, both published by Cultured Llama, plus many poetry collections and a memoir. Read the full interview here.

Canterbury Tales on a Cockcrow Morning and In Margate by Lunchtime by Maggie Harris each cost £12 plus p&p. Buy them both and p& p is free.

9780993211997-Perfect BC EDIT 060916 Only The Visible v1 CS5.5 VOnly the Visible Can Vanish, Anna Maconochie’s debut story collection, is reviewed by The Erotic Review 

Maconochie’s London, her city, never relaxes its grip on her characters – and the pace is refreshing and brisk; white water rafting down the narrative rapids. The reader is left gawping and grinning at the scope and variety of her distinctive human landscape as it passes by. A brand new talent has emerged. Don’t miss it. It’s sharp and very funny.

Read the full review here. The books costs £12 plus p&p, and can be ordered here: Only the Visible Can Vanish

9780993211911-front-cover-SMALLThe Music of Business by Peter Cook is just one of our Curious Things: often genre-defying or hybrid works of cultural non-fiction. One of the chapters in the book is on business lessons from David Bowie, and is adapted in this article on Management Today.


If you run a creative business, you must also find your focus. Sometimes this takes years of experimentation and occasional failure. In Bowie’s case he began performing music at 13 years old, learning the saxophone and playing in a number of mod bands. All these bands released singles, which were generally ignored, yet he kept learning and adapting.

In 1967, he released the music-hall styled ‘Laughing Gnome’ to commercial success. He later formed a mime company and an experimental art group. All of this formative experimentation across disciplines developed the foundations for Bowie’s unique fusion of music and the arts. It disproves the often-held view that success in business is an overnight affair.
In addition to being the author of several books on business, music and creativity, Peter Cook runs creativity and innovation consultancies The Academy of Rock and Human Dynamics.
Order Peter Cook’s The Music of Business  for £15, and Punk Rock People Management for £10 plus p&p. Order both, and p&p is free.