Injustices and small acts of defiance: There are Boats on the Orchard

December 6th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

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Alex Josephy notices more than a “simple elegy” for the vanishing orchards of Kent in her review of There are Boats on the Orchard by Maria C. McCarthy. Josephy writes: “The poet notices both injustices and small acts of defiance in the rural context.”

In many of the poems, McCarthy turns her attention to the slow processes of abandonment and decay, and here, for me, there is a move into particularly interesting territory. She doesn’t romanticise, but invites us to enjoy a borderland between ‘natural’ and human objects, where littered beer cans are as much a part of the landscape as blackberries and ‘bletted plums’ (wonderful word for the softening of fruit that I now know thanks to the poem ‘Strange fruits’). Several poems focus on the orchard’s array of dumped vehicles and domestic machinery, gradually overtaken by natural processes as if caught in a time-lapse sequence. There’s a ‘bramble-clamped car’ (how could you better that description?), the lingering presence of ‘spectres of ponies’ around a semi-dismantled horsebox. I especially liked the small but very telling poem ‘Dry Dock’, in which McCarthy tunnels with great precision into usually unobserved moments; three catamarans become:

hour    minute    second     hands
stilled around the dead tree

and in the rain:

Each new drop arrives by stealth 
as quiet as a theft

Alex Josephy’s review appears on London Grip.

A MsLexia reviewer also notices the wider political and ecological consequences of the decline of the orchards, chronicled in the collection:

The title poem, in five sections, sees boats out of their element: “a parched prow points towards the water / butt that catches the run-off from the outhouse roof. // It’s seen the turning of the seasons twice…” The various boats are absorbed into the landscape “a speedboat … / … sat so long … / … I noticed neither its presence nor absence …” […] and section (iv) draws attention, once more, to what is lost, or what is about to be lost, in the reference to the “floods in fifty-three” where sheep “were drowned / to due loss of local knowledge ‘ left to graze on marshland …’ A “loss of local knowledge” has dire consequences for the ecology.

This reviewer describes the book as: “slim, smooth and crisply illustrated by Sara Fletcher.”

There are Boats on the Orchard is available exclusively from Cultured Llama for £7 plus p&p.


The Year of the Crab by Gordon Meade – sold!

November 20th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

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Sally Evans was reviewing The Year of the Crab by Gordon Meade in the Callander Bookshop, which she runs. On leaving the book on the counter for a few minutes, Sally returned to find her copy of the book had been sold. What better review for Gordon Meade’s poetry collection on his experience of cancer. Sally Evans says:

If you overcome cancer you are a winner, not merely a survivor, argues Meade in one of his poems. Using the craft he has learned writing of birds and animals, he firmly and gracefully describes a whole range of effects of cancer on his life: how the doctors did or didn’t interact with him, how he felt, how he determined to beat it by reading and writing. The poems refer to various gurus including Eve Ensler and Plath. ‘1) Why have you got cancer. 2) Do you want to live?’ Is the header quote in one poem. His reading of cancer is not medical so much as confrontational. Writers who have overcome cancer and dealt with it repay our attention as we follow his poems.

Poetically the book is mature and sound. In its theory and approach, it has relevance for everyone involved with cancer – surely a majority of readers, when friends or relatives are hit by the disease.

You can read all of Sally Evans’s review here.

Buy a copy of Gordon Meade’s new collection for £10 plus p&p: The Year of the Crab

Add in Les Animots: a Human Bestiary, also by Gordon Meade, with images by Doug Robertson, for £13. If you buy two or more books from this website, p&p is free

Spotlight on our best short stories: Anna Maconochie, Maria C. McCarthy and Frances Gapper

November 20th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

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Only the Visible Can Vanish, Anna Maconochie’s debut story collection has been named by Rowena Macdonald as one of the best books she read in 2016. This post appears on Under the Radar 

I really loved Anna Maconochie’s debut collection, Only The Visible Can Vanish (Cultured Llama). It was one of the best books I read last year. Reminded me at times of Angela Carter and Haruki Murakami. Really sharp, sparkling, funny, slightly surreal, occasionally dark stories about love, sex and work in contemporary London. It should be better known.

Anna Maconochie’s book costs £12 plus p&p. Order it here:Only the Visible Can Vanish

Kieran comes home “with his shirt splattered with blood”, on the night of the Guildford pub bombings. His mother knows that soaking the blood from his shirt is the least of her worries as an Irish woman living in England.

Maria C. McCarthy’s story, ‘Cold Salt Water’, appears on East of the Web.

Another story by Maria C. McCarthy appears on East of the Web – ‘Caged’.

‘Cold Salt Water appears in As Long as it Takes, by Maria C. McCarthy, £12 plus p&p, or with free p&p if you order two or more books from this website.

In an interview with Frances Gapper on Flash Frontier, Frances explains the title of her story collection, In the Wild Wood:

The name comes from a conversation I had with my mum, Patience. At the time I was staying in her house and trying to look after her – she had Alzheimer’s and I was heading for a breakdown. She asked me “Are we going to the wild wood?” Part of me hoped there might be an actual wood nearby, somewhere between the main roads in dusty Brentford, West London. I asked her “Where is the wild wood?” and she replied “I’ve no idea.” Of course the Middle English word wode also means mad or insane; in that sense we were already in the wild wood together. The title’s associations for me also include the opening of Dante’s Inferno: “In the middle of the journey of our life / I found myself astray in a dark wood…” (Seamus Heaney’s translation).

Frances also talks about the beautiful cover image, by her friends Jane Eccles.

This beautiful book costs £12 plus p&p, and can be ordered here: In the Wild Wood

There is free p&p if you order two or more books from this website.

‘Never mind the bucolics’ and other poems

October 25th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

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There are Boats on the Orchard, Maria C. McCarthy’s illustrated pamphlet of poems has been reviewed in The Frogmore Papers, and two of the poems have been posted on Abegail Morley’s The Poetry Shed. Jeremy Page writes:

There is a distinctly elegiac feel to many of the poems in Maria C. McCarthy’s latest collection, which ‘chronicles seven years of living alongside the disappearing orchards of Kent.’ A sense of loss together with a keen awareness of what we are losing is expressed in language that is deeply felt but never mawkish.

Our favourite comment following the launch of the pamphlet, courtesy of Roundabout Nights in Chatham, is ‘Never mind the bucolics, here’s Maria C. McCarthy.’ Others have said:

I love the juxtaposition of the extraordinary and the mundane, the natural and the human … the human as natural. The clever crafting that doesn’t wear its heart on its sleeve. A beautiful elegy to lost ways of life, parts of life that we leave behind (willingly or unwillingly), and a gently spoken hint at renewal. Moving and accomplished; it’s a lovely thing.

The two poems posted on The Poetry Shed are ‘Boy on a Ladder’ and the title poem of There are Boats on the Orchard,  both of which are accompanied by Sara Fletcher’s illustrations (see below).

Order the pamphlet for £7 plus p&p: There are Boats on the Orchard

Order two or more books from this website and postage and packing are free.




Two Cook(e)s reviewed – poetry by Rose Cook and David Cooke

October 25th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

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Robert Garnham reviews Rose Cook as both a performer of poetry and a page poet with ‘the deftest of touches’. Of Rose Cook’s latest collection, Hearth, Garnham says:

The family is at the core of this collection. Many of the poems are meditations on her relationship with her mother, or the shock of a life-threatening injury to her own son. At such points there is real emotion, though never overblown or overwrought. Rose has the most deft of touches and can, with a very simple or honest phrase, provoke real emotion and universal sentiments […]

The world is a better place with Rose in it, from the turns which bring truth to the fore throughout her poems, to the humour she brings to the everyday. And if, like me, you’ve been lucky enough to hear her perform, her voice will stay with you throughout this wonderful collection.

Read the full review here.

Order a copy of Rose Cook’s latest poetry collection for £10 plus p&p: HearthAdd a copy of Rose Cook’s Notes From a Bright Field to your order, also £10, and postage and packing is free.

David Cooke’s After Hours is reviewed by Rachel Playforth in The Frogmore Papers:

This is a subtly elegiac collection, dedicated to the poet’s late father-in-law. The title sequence switches between the days and weeks following his death and scenes from his ‘stage Irish’ life, adding up to a lovingly realised portrait of a man and his allegiance/ to a place that doesn’t exist/ beyond exiled memories. Memory and history within Irish immigrant families and beyond are explored throughout the book, with decades melting away and generations united through a painting, a voice, an heirloom or a ritual. This culminates in ‘Biscuits’, an unlikely and masterful sestina conjuring up not only abstemious teatimes but a whole way of life.

Order a copy of David Cooke’s collection for £10 plus p&p: After Hours

A Short History of Synchronised Breathing – ‘quirky blueprints for getting by’

October 19th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

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A Short History of Synchronised Breathing and other stories, by Vanessa Gebbie, has been reviewed in the lovely Frogmore Papers (a favourite litmag at Cultured Llama HQ). Here is what Charlotte Gann has to say:

These stories are elegantly varied while strangely united. Peopled by characters living in some degree of dislocation or isolation, they’re funny, serious and compassionate. (I’ll remember the divorced taxi driver, Frank, carrying his fare without direction.) Often surreal, many contemplate past relationships, especially marriages, and are riddled with irreverence, ribaldry and flights of fancy, as well as reflections on the process of writing. Overall, they seem to me quirky blueprints for getting by – most, arguably, more sustainable than a nationwide programme of synchronised breathing!


A Short History of Synchronised Breathing and other stories costs £12 plus [email protected] Order two books or more and post and packing is free.

Readers have great things to say about The Lost of Syros, stories by Emma Timpany. An anonymous reader says:

This short story collection is a joy to read. I had a sense of the generosity of the writer, as I entered each story and found it to be a different world. In a strange way, the experience was somewhat like the satisfaction I had reading ‘The Examined Life’ by Stephen Grosz (a brilliant, heart-warming book), because what Emma gives the reader is a series of insights into very varied lives. Emma Timpany is a writer’s writer: one of the best. Her style is unobtrusive, but lyrical. Often I don’t read every story in a collection, but with this one, I found each one had something very different to offer. These stories are revealing, intriguing, funny at times and shot through with beauty.

Victoria Field adds:

Accomplished and riveting short stories mostly centred on the experiences of girls and young women, always vividly located in a specific place. There’s a sense of loss and confusion, of things not always being what they seem, a kind of fugitive grief., even if as in one story, there’s a happy ending when the lost child is found. I loved this book.

The Lost of Syros costs £12 plus [email protected] Order two books or more and post and packing is free.

Poetry of hope – Hearth, by Rose Cook

October 16th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

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Rose Cook’s Hearth has been reviewed on Literature Works:

From the outset of this powerful collection, there is an inescapable warmth of feeling which is clear and consistent in the poetic voice. As one delves deeper into it, every passing poem causes one to consider that term ‘hearth’. There is a real sense that these are poems to be shared at the epicentre of one’s home considering as they do matters of life, death, togetherness, loneliness and what it means to be alive.

Sandra Tappenden says:

I needed this book, and didn’t know until I’d read it. It’s a mindful, sensitive collection of poems that echo life’s hidden work, where fracture is a constant threat but wholeness is promised through reflection. It’s poetry of hope, and how good is that?

Buy the book for £10 plus p&p: HearthAdd in Rose Cook’s Notes from a Bright Field, also £10, and get free post and packing, as you will when you buy two or more books from this website.

Frances Gapper – one of the most exciting imaginations producing fiction today

September 13th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

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We knew we had chosen well when we tracked down Frances Gapper and asked her to submit her stories for publication. Now, Rachel Fenton has described Frances Gapper as ‘one of the most exciting imaginations producing fictions today.’ Here is what Rachel has to say about the title story of Frances’ new collection, ‘In the Wild Wood’:

The story details the metamorphosis of a mother into a child due to the symptoms of dementia, but really what’s being described is the fear of a child forced to become a parent to their parent, the grief of losing their own life to the shepherding of the person whose care consumes them. Old age, filtered through a child’s lexicon, is made new, a contrast symbolised beautifully by the cover illustration for In the Wild Wood, an original artwork by Jane Eccles that evokes Oscar Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant” for me.

Read Rachel Fenton’s review of In the Wild Wood on snow like thought

To celebrate the publication of In the Wild Wood, Frances Gapper visits Jessica Patient at her imaginary bookshop, on Writer’s Little Helper.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
My bookshop would be very different indeed from all the other ones. The emphasis would be on relaxation. Women over 60 would be invited to stay over free of charge for as long as they liked in private book-lined bedrooms with large bathrooms and writing tables.

Order Frances Gapper’s story collection for £12 plus p&p at the link: In the Wild Wood.

Postage and packing is free if you order two or more books

While we’re on the subject of stories and fiction writers, Nigel Jarrett is interviewed by Rupert Dastur on The Short Story. Rupert asks if Nigel has a favourite story in Who Killed Emil Kreisler: 

I don’t have one! But in the opening story, Old Roffe, I like to think that I managed to combine big themes –  human innocence, human frailty, and our relationship with the animal kingdom – in an almost minimal style […] Affairs of the heart confuse Evelina the zoo keeper but she alone is privy to the amazing behaviour of Roffe, the aged but delinquent gorilla. The story is set at a failing zoo in Sweden for no reason other than that creating a variety of geographical settings is my way of dealing with universals: it could happen here, it could happen there, it could happen everywhere.

Who Killed Emil Kreisler is reviewed by Katie Witcombe on The Contemporary Small Press:

Jarrett’s most successful stories, and the ones that burrow deepest under the skin, are those concerned with the ghostly traces we leave behind after we’re gone, like fingerprints on a windowpane […] One of his narrators asserts that ‘So much dies of us when we die’, but many of the characters in these stories leave indelible traces which reach out to warp and stain the lives of others, like watermarks on a page.

Order Nigel Jarrett’s story collection for £12 plus p&p at the link: Who Killed Emil Kreisler 

Postage and packing is free if you order two or more books

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.