Book Post – Rise Up & Repeal

‘Ní Saoirse go Saoirse na mBan. There is no Freedom until the Freedom of Women.’                                                                             

In a month which has seen British abortion rights tentatively extended to Northern Ireland, a book arrived on my doorstep. An anthology, to be precise, of poems, essays, letters and emails celebrating the Republic of Ireland’s historic vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

On 25 May 2018, Together for Yes won the referendum with a significant majority.  Announcing the result outside Dublin Castle, Ireland’s Taoiseich Leo Varadkar described the campaign as a ‘quiet revolution.’

Until then, abortion was effectively illegal regardless of rape, incest or severe danger to the mother’s health. Irish women and girls were forced to travel, mainly to the UK, for the procedure. This repeal means it can be carried out safely within Ireland and represents a positive step forward in the broader fight for a fairer future for women.

Supporters celebrated outside Dublin Castle with After Eight chocolates and Champagne. Photo: The Irish Examiner

Rise Up & Repeal is the result of a collaboration between contributors of all walks of life, both from Ireland and abroad. People had worked tirelessly during the campaign to raise awareness of the issues, and poetry written in response was shared on social media. That spontaneous creative capturing of the zeitgeist grew into this thought-provoking anthology.

The reader bears witness to some frank discussions. A 14-year-old girl unsure whether to call it rape when her 32-year-old boyfriend makes her feel like she can’t say no. Abandoned babies placed in carrier bags and left in fields. Illegal abortion pills carrying the threat of imprisonment. It’s a challenging read that doesn’t hold back but it’s joyful too and there are moments of humour throughout.



In Radical Doula by Sally Shakti-Willow, clinical details about the abortion procedure are interwoven with an aching sense of loss. Her words highlight the gravitas of a process that it is in no way an easy option. Physical, mental and emotional pain are laid bare, both on the operating table and across the page, as the unborn ‘would not uproot – hanging on for life (in the earth of my body). Dark in there and warm.’

An urgent need is expressed for ‘continuous uninterrupted support’ without judgment. Sally explains: ‘This text is written with the intention of performing a ritual, as a long-distance doula for the birthing of conscious and supportive abortion practices in Ireland.’

A recurring theme in this anthology is the grip and reach of strict religious practices which have repressed people for generations. Keeping girls in the dark about sex and then vilifying them if they find themselves ‘in trouble’ is a very effective way of putting women in their place. Stigma and shame permeate the pages, chronicling years of powerlessness and restricted choices.

I have brilliant memories of spending every school summer holidays in Skerries, County Dublin, where I was christened

This unique anthology doesn’t tread lightly around complex and often contradictory attitudes. But it also pays tribute to what a wonderful country Ireland is and its culture of kindness and compassion. The sense of jarring disconnect between that reality and the fact women had such limited autonomy over their own bodies for so long is not lost.



In a world that seems to be veering ever further to the right, Ireland continues to rise up for what matters. When marriage equality was voted in, I was in Italy and joined the Irish Club of Rome at Pride. We marched with a banner declaring in Italian, Irish and English that ‘Ireland said Sì, Tá, Yes!’

Tackling difficult subjects such as domestic violence, unequal pay and harassment, while ultimately sharing a message of hope, Rise Up & Repeal is a timely collection promoting the possibility that after years struggle, perhaps now women in Ireland and elsewhere will have a stronger voice.







Rise up & Repeal: A poetic archive of the 8th amendment. Edited by Sarah Brazil and Sarah Bernstein. Published by Sad Press. All proceeds go to the Abortion Support Network.

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Book Post – The Apple Tree

The Apple Tree by John Rebholz. Illustrations by Zoe Saunders. Published by Lightning Source. 2018.

A young soldier sits in a trench, his head bowed in concentration. As a new father sent to fight in the First World War, he knows that he may not live to see his baby son grow up. With remarkable foresight in the shadow of heavy shelling, he writes a letter movingly addressed ‘from the father you’ll never know.’ He sews it into his uniform along with some seeds so that, upon his untimely death, his little boy is gifted the opportunity of planting an apple tree in his memory.

The Apple Tree is a rhyming children’s picture book with a powerful message. It can be read by older children independently or out loud to younger ones. Just a few pages long and yet spanning the past hundred years, it reveals a story of love across nations and generations up to and including the present day.

The soldier’s legacy is an eternal reminder of fatherly love. His son saves the precious seeds for when he, too, has a boy and they plant the tree together on the family farm in the Swiss Alps, its growth and development mirroring the child’s own. Time passes and fashions change. During the Cold War, the soldier’s grandson leaves the farm and becomes a soldier himself, discovering the wider world and falling in love with an English girl. Proving that love has no barriers, they eventually get married and start a family in the UK. Through changing seasons and shifting eras, the apple tree continues to blossom, inextricably entwined with the family’s story. Its leaves change from green to red and back again as generations of children play in its shade.

The beautiful illustrations by Zoe Saunders (Twitter: @WhimsicolourArt) vividly bring the story to life. From rustic family pictures on the mountain farm where the tree grows, to the harsh reality of life in the trenches, her evocative images effortlessly draw the reader into the action and take them on a journey through time. World War One is recreated in a poignant scene showing a rare moment of quiet reflection amidst a background of chaos. The alpine settings are particularly lovely, showing a carefree childhood in the shadow of grief and poverty. Surrounded by snowy mountains and barnyard animals, the children share one roller skate but aspire to travel and follow in their ancestors’ footsteps. The images are strangely comforting, instilling a sense of security in the young reader whilst addressing difficult topics.

The Apple Tree is a moving story of love and loss. Difficult topics of grief and bereavement are incorporated, helping children to explore the concept of losing a loved one whilst offering the reassuring message that they are always with us. As a children’s book, it nicely facilitates intergenerational dialogue, offering a way of starting a conversation about the past that the young and old can enjoy together, reminiscing and sharing memories from generation to generation. An interesting follow up activity to reading the book could be piecing together the reader’s own family tree. Based on a true story, it has the potential to be developed into an epic family saga and international love story for grownups or young adults.

About the Author:

The Apple Tree is the debut children’s book of John Rebholz. John’s great grandfather was the World War One soldier featured in the story and his family tree dates back to the 1800s. A passionate advocate for children’s mental health, his own experience of grief when his father passed away and the resulting questions from his children who missed their beloved ‘Grossi’ (as their Swiss grandfather was known) prompted a desire to preserve both his own childhood memories and those of the family’s previous generations.

SCBWI member John says: “I would like to raise awareness about children and young people’s mental health and to encourage the use of an art-form to understand and deal with the grief and pain following a bereavement.’ Follow him on Twitter: @theappletree10

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On the Trail of Alexandros Papadiamantis

Whilst on holiday on the beautiful Greek island of Skiathos, I stumbled across the Alexandros Papadiamantis House-Museum. Built in 1860, this pretty bougainvillea-strewn building features the original furniture, paintings and letters of the famous Greek writer and his family.

It is a perfectly preserved time capsule nestled in a quiet little square in Skiathos Town. Local street cats lounge about outside, languidly observing the passing tourists with their claws at the ready for the occasional pounce.

The house

Alexandros Papadiamantis was a prodigious Greek writer famous for his lyrical style. He was born on Skiathos in 1851 and went to school in the nearby islands of Skopelos and Piraeus. After studying philosophy at the University of Athens, he worked as a journalist and translator before returning to the island of his birth where he died in 1911.

One of the writer’s most famous novels

I bought a copy of The Murderess, which he wrote whilst living in the house, from the museum bookshop. It is a deeply sinister read. Like Charles Dickens, Papadiamantis was an astute observer of the human psyche, good and bad, and his characters inhabit microcosms of the world in which he lived. His works feature modern and ancient Greek influences and his novels, short stories and poetry vividly capture mid-eighteenth century island life.

View of Skiathos Town from the Bourtzi fortress.

The writer’s grave is in a peaceful corner of a cemetery in the Acropolis district. It is marked with a cross made of wood instead of the traditional white stone.  There’s also a memorial bust in his honour outside the Bourtzi fortress. I needed a translation of the Greek inscription and was very grateful to a local man who kindly offered to phone his daughter, coincidentally also called Rebecca, and read it out to her so that she could translate it into English for me.

The inscription reads: ”Everyone who visits this grave, please pray for Alexandros Papadiamantis.’

During a walking tour of Skiathos Town, the guide mentioned to us in passing that the skull of the writer may have been preserved in a local church. Intrigued, I decided to investigate…

Cheeky vinos at a taverna in the upper neighbourhood

Maria at the ice cream shop in the new port area wasn’t convinced about the authenticity of the claim. She rightly pointed out that it’s customary in Greece for only the skulls of saints to be preserved in this way. But as I polished off my ice cream, I couldn’t help continuing to wonder…


So I got in touch with Professor Georgia-Farinou Malamatari, president of the Papadiamantis Studies Society at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, who explained that the skulls of distinguished persons who were not canonised were sometimes kept in churches in veneration of their memory. It is not a sign of sanctification, although Papadiamantis is known in some literary circles as the ‘Saint of Modern Greek Letters.’

I eventually found myself in the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin (Panagia Limnia) high up in Skiathos Town’s upper neighbourhood. Built in 1838, its beautiful bell tower can be seen from the boat approaching the town. The skull was indeed inside the church, hidden away upstairs beneath a silk sheet. I had a feeling of trepidation as I followed the church warden up the stairs and must admit that the viewing was an unexpectedly slightly grizzly experience.

Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin

It’s always such a pleasure to visit the amazing island of Skiathos. I can’t wait to continue exploring!

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Dead Poets Society

Keats-Shelley House in Rome is a wonderfully quaint tribute to the work of John Keats and the English romantic poets.

View of the Spanish Steps from Keats’ deathbed

The sad history of the house is that Keats moved there from England after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. His friends thought the warm climate might help but the disease was incurable and he died there just three months later in February 1821, aged 25.

He had already witnessed his younger brother die a slow and painful death from the disease and when he realised he had it himself, he referred to his remaining time as ‘posthumous’ because he knew he was under a death sentence. He ended all contact with the love of his life, Fanny Brawne, as he felt he could never experience real joy again. Jane Campion made a film about their story called Bright Star.

A tribute near Keats’ grave

The house has been a museum for over a hundred years. There is a library with an extensive collection of around 8,000 volumes relating to the works of the romantic poets, including Keats’ contemporaries Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. Inside, it feels like stepping back in time as the rooms have been painstakingly renovated to appear as they would have when Keats lived there.

It’s in a stunning location at the foot of my favourite spot in Rome, the Spanish Steps.  There are usually hundreds of people outside socialising in the sun and the rooftop bar at the top, Il Palazzetto, does fabulous Bellinis.

The House is at the bottom of the steps on the left

There are also wonderful views of the city from the stunning Trinità dei Monti church at the top of the steps where you can watch the sunset.

How beautiful is sunset, when the glow Of heaven descends upon a land like thee, Thou paradise of exiles, Italy! (P. B. Shelley)

Keats’ grave is in a peaceful corner of the beautiful (if unfortunately named) Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners, near an ancient pyramid dating back two thousand years.  The ashes of Keats’ peer Shelley, who died in a boating accident near Pisa aged 29, are buried nearby.

Shelley’s grave

Keats actually wanted a nameless tombstone stating simply ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water.’  But unfortunately, some of his acquaintances waded in after his death and misguidedly arranged for extra wording to be added.  His actual epitaph is therefore: “This Grave contains all that was mortal, of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET, who on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his heart, at the Malicious Power of his enemies, desired these words to be Engraven on his Tomb Stone… ‘Here lies One whose Name was Writ in Water.’

Keats’ grave

Bizarrely, there’s also an underground cat sanctuary at the cemetery so you may find a few feline friends wandering amidst the graves. When I told someone about this recently they thought I meant it was a pet cemetery so just to be clear, the cats are alive! I’m no cat lover but I must admit that when I was reading on a bench once near Keats’ grave and a black cat came and sat at my feet, I got goosebumps.

Keats’ former home in London is also a museum, the lovely Keats House in Hampstead. There is also a statue of him sitting on a bench at Guy’s Hospital as he was a surgeon there before becoming a poet full-time. It may have been a big career change but both vocations are creative in different ways.

My dog Peggy visited Keats House London with me. A huge Keats fan, she’s currently tackling Endymion.

Keats-Shelley House Rome and Keats House London host events including literary talks and plays. Each museum is a must-visit place not only for poetry and history lovers but also for anyone who fancies a random slice of old-fashioned life and a unique haven away from the chaos of both these amazing cities.

NB) This is an updated version of my original post published on my closed Rome lifestyle blog Living La Vita Roma.

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Charity Writing Competition Finale

The results of the Link Age Southwark UK & Ireland-wide writing competition were celebrated this month as part of the charity’s twenty-fifth birthday party.

It was a lovely evening during which many dedicated volunteers were recognised for their ongoing commitment and support.


Author K.A. McKeagney and poet Corina Moscovich, who helped judge the competition, mingled with the charity team, prize winners and guest speakers including the Mayor of Southwark before the hilarious Jenny Éclair took to the stage to present certificates. Corina had travelled in from Luxemburg especially for the occasion.

I launched the competition back in April to raise awareness of the charity’s aims and help celebrate its milestone birthday. The themes of friendship and generations were chosen to encourage engagement with the charity’s mission of reducing isolation and loneliness in elderly people.

We were delighted to welcome the following competition winners to the stage:

Wayne T. Brown, whose poem Regeneration came second in the Adult Poetry category.

Caroline Ward Vine, whose piece Bread Lady came third in the Short Stories – Adults category.

Ann Abineri, writer of What’s in a Name? which won first prize in the Short Stories – Adults category.


All winning entries are published on the charity’s website here. The complete list of winners is available here.

In his keynote speech, Toby Williamson, Chair of Southwark Dementia Action Alliance, revealed that dementia is now the leading cause of death in the UK.

Link Age Southwark offers specialist support for people of all ages living with the disease.



The evening also marked the launch of the charity’s history brochure I co-wrote with charity Chair Katharine St John-Brooks. Katharine presented it as part of her celebratory speech, declaring:

‘Here’s to another twenty-five years of making Southwark a great borough to grow old in!’





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Charity Writing Competition Winners

I was absolutely thrilled with the response to the Link Age Southwark UK & Ireland-wide charity writing competition! We were inundated with entries from both adults and children. Judging is now complete and winners have been notified. Everyone was most impressed with the high standard across the competition. Winners from each category are listed below.



First Place – Roger Elkin for Saving face with Grandpa and not being huffed

Second Place – Wayne T. Brown for r e g e n e r a t i o n

Third Place – Zoe Ellsmore for Nan’s Bread Pudding Recipe

Short Stories

First Place – Ann Abineri for What’s in a name? 

Second Place – Alison Woodhouse for Cherry Chocolates 

Third Place – Caroline Ward Vine for Bread Lady



11-14 Age Group Winner – Kaartika Chitturi for My Best Friend

15-17 Age Group Winner – Jasmin Kaur for A Call to the Register

Short Stories

11-14 Age Group Winner – Lucy Gardner for Blackbird

15-17 Age Group Winner – Isla Polovina for The Girl Who Never Left

Huge congratulations to the winners and those shortlisted and thank you so much to everyone who entered!


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Charity Writing Competition

There’s just over a month to go before the deadline of the UK & Ireland-wide writing competition I’ve organised to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of lovely London charity Link Age Southwark. Entries have already started coming in and there’s plenty of time to get involved! We welcome short stories and poems from both adults and children on the theme of friendship and/or generations.

For a quarter of a century, Link Age Southwark has been facilitating friendships between older people and volunteers in order to tackle loneliness and isolation in the community. The theme of the writing competition reflects our aim to raise awareness of the charity’s mission. There are fantastic prizes available and our prestigious judging panel features authors, poets, book reviewers and publishers who are really looking forward to reading your entries.

I’ve been interviewing our amazing judges to find out what motivates them in their own creative activities. These interviews are being published on the charity’s blog on a regular basis up to the closing date and currently include Glasgow-based children’s writer Maisie Chan, London publisher and editor Emily Thomas, and poets Kevin Higgins from Galway and Luxemburg-based Corina Moscovich.

The deadline is 11.59pm on Friday 31 August so don’t delay, enter today! To find out more about the competition and to get involved, please click here.

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Writing Competition Launch

I’m thrilled to be organising a UK & Ireland-wide writing competition to celebrate twenty-five years of Link Age Southwark. This lovely London charity ‘builds friendships between older people and volunteers in order to end feelings of loneliness and isolation in the local community’.

The competition launched this month and is open to UK and Ireland residents, both adults and children. Entries may take the form of either a short story or poem, based on the theme of friendship and/or generations.


18+ Category:

  • 1st – £200
  • 2nd – £150
  • 3rd – £100

Children’s Categories:

  • 1st, 2nd & 3rd – Book vouchers

Winning entries will be published on the blog. Copyright will remain with the writer.

Winners will also be invited to the charity’s birthday party and AGM in Dulwich Village, London, in October if they wish, where prizes will be presented. Attendance is not essential and prizes will of course be sent by post to those unable to come. The Charity cannot cover transport or accommodation costs.


The theme is friendship and/or generations

Short stories can be between 250-1000 words in length

Poems can be up to 40 lines

The competition is open to UK and Ireland residents only

The adults category is for aged 18+ and the entry fee is £5 per entry. You may make multiple entries but each requires a payment

The children’s category is for aged 11-17 and is free to enter. Children’s entries will be divided into 11-14 and 15-17 age groups.

Entries must be the writer’s own unique work and unpublished

Meet the judges:

Our prestigious panel of judges includes authors, poets, publishers and book reviewers who can’t wait to read your work. Read all about them here.

How to enter:

Entry to the 18+ category will cost £5. Children’s entries are free.

To enter, please email your submissions to as a .doc or .docx file. Please include your name and age group in the subject heading, whether your entry is a short story or poem and proof of payment if entering the Adults Category by including the receipt number in the body of your email.

Adults Category Only: Please submit your £5 entry fee here before emailing.

Save the document as the title of the short story or poem. No personal details are to be included in the document

The deadline for entries is 11.59PM on 31 August 2018.

Winners will be notified by 1st October 2018.

Main competition webpage.

Posted in Blog, Charity, competition, Contest, Diversity, Dulwich Village, Ireland, Literature, London, Poetry, Prize, Publishing, Reading, Short Stories, shortstories, Storytelling, UK, Writing | Leave a comment

When in Doubt, Go to the Library

The local library I used to visit as a young child has recently closed down, prompting me to contemplate the many positive experiences I’ve had at libraries throughout the world.

Kents Moat Library was a tiny but vital community hub at the Poolway Shopping Centre which is now set for regeneration without it.

The lady who ran the library for many years was very good with children and introduced me to Roger Hargreaves’ Mr Men series. The first book I ever borrowed was Mr Greedy, which must have been an influential tome as I do love cake! Apparently there’s a new version for grown-ups called Mr Greedy Eats Clean to Get Lean which I may have to check out…

My favourite library in the world is the New York Public Library. But the one in the most atmospheric location has got to be Leabharlann Oilean Chleire, the tiny library on Cape Clear Island, Ireland’s southernmost inhabited spot. Housed in a prefab building, it’s situated beneath the ruins of a 12th century church with spectacular views of the harbour. I came across it during the International Storytelling Festival on the island last year.

I used to volunteer at the Santa Susanna English Language Library in Rome. It was a lovely social place for Italian people and international expats to meet up at events like afternoon tea and book sales.  I made lifelong friends there and donate the review books I’m given to the library.

Since moving to London, I’ve spent a lot of time at the fantastic British Library. I was given the opportunity to recite from Jane Eyre there for a special recording to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Bronte’s birth and also met Sir Trevor McDonald at the library’s World Book Night celebration.

I must give a shout out to the Library of Birmingham, possibly the biggest library in Europe. This stunning building houses the Shakespeare Memorial Room, one of the most important Shakespeare collections in the world. Unfortunately it has to close on Sundays due to cuts but I’ll be glad to visit again next time I’m in my home town.

Literature should be accessible to all, something I bear in mind when writing deliberately unpretentious book reviews. Now a member of my local library in South East London, I look forward to the many benefits that will bring.

“The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man” ― T.S. Eliot

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Link Age Southwark Charity Celebration

I’m delighted to be volunteering with Link Age Southwark, a fantastic London charity providing support for isolated older people in the community. I’m organising a UK and Ireland-wide writing competition to celebrate the charity’s 25th birthday this year as well as co-writing a commemorative history brochure.

Both projects are currently in the planning phase but will be launching fairly imminently so watch this space!

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