Pantry Vaults: Inky Interview with Kathleeen Jones by Anushree Prashant

Kathleen Jones is an award-winning freelance writer, poet and biographer. She has previously worked with the OU as a tutor of Creative Writing, and her comments for prospective students and tutors are insightful and helpful.

Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I was born and brought up on small hill farms in a remote part of northern England – quite wild and beautiful, but isolated. So it could have been a lonely childhood, except that I loved it and I think it was all that space and freedom that made me a writer. I wrote a lot of poetry and got journalistic items published in teen magazines and local papers. I left as a teenager to go to London – thinking that that was where you went if you wanted to become a ‘real’ writer, but I hated living in a city.

I got married as a teenager, to someone whose job took him all over the world, and started to travel. We spent roughly ten years in Africa and the Middle East. I found expat life very boring and did quite a lot of writing to fill the time, and was lucky enough to get a job in English broadcasting out there – writing for radio was very good training. Eventually, I came back to the UK and got divorced. Being a single parent wasn’t easy but I found that freelance writing gave me the opportunity to be at home for the children while still earning money. I went back to university as a mature student and published my first book.

Do you have a preferred genre?

Not really. I’ve always enjoyed doing different types of writing – sometimes having several projects on the go at the same time. At the moment I’m working on a new collection of poetry, a couple of short stories, and a biography, as well as editing the novel I finished recently and doing quite a lot of book reviewing. I still occasionally write features for magazines and e-zines. It’s the variety I love. Or maybe I’m just a workaholic!

Do you prefer to write poetry structured within forms or do you prefer free forms?

I probably enjoy free forms best. Every now and then I play around with sonnets, or terza rima, just to prove I can do it, but I’m happiest creating my own forms to fit the subject matter. At the moment I’m experimenting with a ten line form as well as longer, narrative poems.

Do you have favourites amongst your books/ characters?

Yes – particularly the biographies. I loved them all at the time, but in retrospect the ones I enjoyed writing most are A Passionate Sisterhood, which was the story of the women who lived with the ‘Lake Poets’ – Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey – and the biography of the New Zealand-based author, Katherine Mansfield. Mansfield was a wonderful writer and a very interesting person – I admired her courage immensely. How do you cope with having a stillborn illegitimate baby at the age of 19, all alone in a strange country? How do you cope with being told ten years later that you are terminally ill? She died of tuberculosis shortly after her 34th birthday.

Among the fictional characters I’ve created, I’m fondest of Tamar Fell in The Sun’s Companion. She’s based on my mother, so I suppose that’s why. Tamar is very shy and gentle and struggles to deal with the social upheavals of nineteen-thirties England just before the war.

How difficult did you find getting published for the first time?

Not difficult at all – and I realise now just how very lucky I was. I was working on a documentary for BBC radio, so I had to get an agent to handle the contract. They suggested that I extend the research into a full-length biography, and introduced me to the new Bloomsbury publishing house, just being set up. I was one of their first authors. That was in 1986/7. When I lost my current agent to maternity leave a few years ago, it was a very different picture – I found it almost impossible to find a new agent. I wrote to 16 and only 2 bothered to reply! Fortunately, one of those took me on. But it’s now very difficult to get publishers to take an interest in your work unless you’re already a best-seller, or a new author they can market.

What awards you have won, and for which genre?

I’ve been short-listed for quite a few, but haven’t won many. The Barclays Bank Prize for biography for A Passionate Sisterhood was one I was very happy to win. And in 2011 I won the Straid Award for a collection of poetry called Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21. Oh, and one of my short stories once won a fiction award sponsored by Fay Weldon.

What inspires you to write?

I don’t honestly know. I’ve been writing since I was a small child – it’s just something that’s part of my personality – who I am rather than what I do. It’s a kind of addiction.

As a published poet/author would you go back and change anything in your past learning process?

Yes! I wrote a novel as a teenager – the usual teen stuff – and sent it off to the address of a publisher I looked up in a bookshop. I didn’t know there was any such thing as the Writers and Artists’ Yearbook. I got a letter back saying that it wasn’t good enough to publish as it stood, but if I rewrote bits of it (they told me which ones), they would take another look. I was so inexperienced and naïve that I didn’t realise what was being said. All I saw was rejection. I chucked the manuscript into the bottom of a cupboard and abandoned it. Now I know that I should have worked on it and worked on it and sent it back to them as well as submitting it to several other publishers – it was an opportunity I missed because I didn’t know. There were no creative writing courses back then.

What would you attribute to writers like George Eliot and Charles Dickens who become famous without ever taking any creative writing courses?

They just learned their craft from reading other writers and practising endlessly. That’s what Katherine Mansfield did, too – and DH Lawrence and Virginia Woolf. I think that there are many authors who have an instinctive sense of form and a gift for language. They develop these gifts by sheer hard work. A lot of writers in the past also had mentors who helped them to self-edit, and many of them learned good techniques through journalism. It was a kind of apprenticeship.

Are you working on anything at present?

I’ve been commissioned to write the biography of an obscure northern poet to celebrate his centenary in 2014. His name is Norman Nicholson and he was a protégé of TS Eliot and one of the early eco-poets. He was rather reclusive, so it’s a challenge to get enough material to flesh out his personality.

I’m also editing the final draft of my second novel, which is about a rather controversial subject. The central character is an ageing artist who was born trans-gender in the 1920s. She has become an international celebrity, but has found personal happiness elusive. It’s narrated by a young writer who goes to Croatia to research her life story, and becomes drawn into a big family conflict centred around who is going to inherit her property and the rights to her work.

Do you feel social media presence is required for a writer? How does it help?

I think these days it’s essential. The higher your profile, the easier it is to sell your work. Often, being active in social forums is a requirement of the publisher’s contract. They expect you to blog and Facebook and have a profile on Goodreads, not to mention tweeting as well! And you need a website of some kind (blogs can work well – they’re free and easy to update yourself) to advertise your work – something that you can supply as a link to anyone interested in what you do. You can also have an author page on Facebook that people can access. Not everyone wants the hassle of a website that you have to pay for and then wrestle with html or pay a webmaster to update.

What advice would you give to our prospective creative writing students and tutors?

I think the main advice I’d give to tutors and those who set the courses is not to be too prescriptive. Otherwise you get writing that is just too formulaic – I judge writing awards sometimes and it’s easy to spot the creative writing course poem or story. The very best writing is often experimental, off-the-wall, tearing up the rule book. But I know from experience as a tutor that it’s the most difficult work of all to mark!

To students I would say read, read, read… and then write, write, write. There’s no substitute for practice. And I’m all for writing freely, without thinking about grammar or form or spelling. That can all be put in at the editing stage. You have to get the raw material down on the page first and tweak it afterwards. And write what excites you. If you don’t care about your characters the reader won’t either. You have to have total commitment.

Kathleen’s Blog

Poetry Drawer: A Sonnet to the She Wolf by Lenore S Beadsman

A Sonnet to the She Wolf Aglaya
Red curled hair, glittery eyes, modest

A quote by another of the names was still a listless debate
While applying the softness of a makeup should round out each
Reaching can be the element for which those carry out a twist
Put through the heftiest of side to carry forward the most to relate
How there is a future with the bemused side of the esteem to reach
The moreover unlikely was the prudent to follow along the only list

However she must survive the elements of the cryptic and not low
Within the parenthetical group is a loophole to seethe forward onto
This could be the berated sounds have been presumed the lost cares
Have alliteratively been her solid enough careful to resume the blow
Must have to carry of the edge of the truly looked over for a same blue
This the hype within the crusty and been the lengthy look for scares

A Sonnet to the She Wolf Arya
Snake skin boots, baseball cap, high strung

Only to cope with the charging out of the stammering glows
Has her complexion been the sorry result of another old squabble
What must have to obey the stances are a rudiment of wishing not
So elegiac as the taunting snow to the head of the peak for shows
What can mystify the lumpiness of the driest of the heated wobble
Has luckily been the stayed for what is the crimson and a very lot

Was to ramify the brilliance of the quaint is not inertia to her skin
How was this a possible not lanky longing that impedes the dusty
Was convinced to yield to the nodding is not here to stammer on sin
This can be the winning cycle of her not so taken to treat a spin
Was so likely to navigate about the changing can be a future misty
Filled with the tepid heat of a hot clamouring and instilled to be thin

A Sonnet to the She Wolf McKayla
Boots with zippers, long leather gloves, facetious

A true telling sign was not told for her to announce another
Craving victimless taken to a hardship was ever known for
The mystical zooming can be the leap to eke over a sketchy
Explaining away the half side of the rather morbid sound other
Can it pass from the seething to the hyperactive lurid is a chore
With how one can compensate the pestering was an amused testy

Only to impact the other of the sidereal and mostly to flounder her
Is the passing on of the blankly poured over the listening was a bait
To catch on her lapses of the torrid enough can be the humility hence
What should have to matter with the miraculous enough starry blur
Was a change to have reached the utmost of the funniest can go fate
Was a stance until it would have to grip the utmost of her pure dance

Lenore S. Beadsman lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She believes the Truth lies in 19th Century Russian and French literature. 

She is very serious about her Sonnets. She has written three cycles of Sonnets; Witch, Goddess and Siren. A number of these have been published online and in print.  She is currently working on a cycle of Mermaid Sonnets.

When not writing, Lenore enjoys driving fast cars and listening to Mozart (not necessarily simultaneously).

Poetry Drawer: Shake: Penance by Dr. Gale Acuff

Shake

I throw up my breakfast in Sunday School
–Cheerios and Tang–but Miss Hooker’s there
to take me to the bathroom and help me
hunch over and hack what’s left out of me.
Not much. I spit a few times and I’m done.
All finished?, she asks. Yes ma’am, I say. She’s
our teacher. We love her but I love her
best because one day we’ll get married

–I saw it in a dream the night after we
listened to her talk about Joseph and
Pharaoh. Pharaoh came to Joseph and asked
Do you know what my dream means? and Joseph
said, You bet, it means this and that, and he
got promoted from slave to good-as-king
so that night I dreamt about Miss Hooker
but it was no puzzle–I dreamed exact:

we were sitting on the sofa in our
house and watching cartoons and wrestling
and then more cartoons and eating popcorn
and sucking a chocolate milkshake, one
chocolate milkshake but two straws. My arm
was around her shoulder. My left arm. Her
right shoulder. Chocolate milkshakes made with
chocolate ice cream, and chocolate milk, so
they were as chocolaty as you can get.
Thorough, that is. Maybe it’s a good sign
that Miss Hooker and I go together
through and through. 100% chocolate,
that’s what we are. Maybe I’m like Joseph
after all. I mean as smart, or almost,
at least when it comes to my own dreams. Then

it was time for us to go to bed so
I kissed her and she kissed me–we kissed at
the same time, I mean, right flush on the lips.
Then we shook hands and went to bed. We kissed
again in the dark and said Goodnight. Then
I said, We forgot to take off our clothes.
Then we did but I couldn’t see too much
–I had one eye looking and one not so
if I sinned it was just 50%.
Then we woke and kissed and shook hands again
and made breakfast–Pop Tarts and bacon and
Kool-Aid–and went outside to play baseball
–well, we only just tossed the ball around.
We took a break for lunch–macaroni
–and at the table I suddenly said
I forgot to go to work today. She
laughed and laughed. Don’t be silly, she said–we’re
rich, remember
. Oh, yeah, I said. We kissed
again and I ate her macaroni
because she couldn’t finish it. Girls. Then
we watched TV. Then we took a nap. Then

we woke and went for a drive. I don’t know
how to drive, I said. That’s why this is
a dream
, she said. Oh, yeah, I said. I drove
us to the hospital so we could buy
a baby. They were having a sale so
we bought two and put them in the back seat
and by the time we got home they were grown.
Please allow us to introduce ourselves,
I said–we’re your parents. That’s nice, they said.
Can we have some money? Ask your father,
Miss Hooker said. Can we have some money,
they asked. No, I said–money doesn’t grow
on trees. Then I woke up. I was alone.

Miss Hooker even cleaned up my vomit
and shushed the other kids, who were laughing.
I hope they all go to Hell. I take that
back–they’re just jealous but I forgive them.
I sit down again and Miss Hooker
asks me how I’m feeling. Good enough to
make a woman out of you, I say. But

I’m not sure what that means. It just came.

Penance

I’ve been naughty so I’m in the closet
again, this time for hitting my sister.
I warned you not to hit girls, Father said.
In fact, I warned you not to fight at all.
Not only did you fight, but you fought girls.
A girl. And the girl was your sister. Good
God Almighty
. I have my head bowed and
my thumbs clasped behind my back. Behind my
butt, really. I think and try not to smile.
My butt. But my head’s down so he can’t see.
And he’s a lot taller and that helps, too.
What do you call those holes in your shoes, where
the laces go in and out like worms? I
don’t know. Look at me, Boy, he says. I look

up. I’m not going to spank you, he says.
No. I’m going to put you in a quiet
place, where you can think about what you’ve done
.
I don’t want to think about it, but I
don’t say so. Father’s plenty hot. If his
face was a fire and I had a hose, I’d
put it out and so much steam would rise that
he’d be all clouds above his neck and then
I could get away. March, he says. Go in
the hall closet and close the door behind
you. I’ll come get you when you’ve had enough
.
He means when he’s had enough, and I hope
he won’t forget me. Last time I almost
peed in my pants, I was in for so long.
When he opened the door I felt like that
guy in the Bible, that fellow who died
and came back to life, thanks to Jesus. So

much light and all at the same time. Even
all the darkness that was trapped inside and
came out with me couldn’t water it down.
If he’d said Cover your eyes I would have.
Now shame is what I have to cover up
and it’s no match for the brightness, either.
But of course my eyes adjusted. You’ve learned
your lesson now, I’ll wager
, Father says.
Go outside and play. I do but my heart
isn’t in it and, besides, I might see
my sister out here. That would be awkward.
The last time I saw her she was crying
and I caused her tears. She likes the Beatles
and I like the Dave Clark 5. She made fun
of the Dave Clark 5. So I pushed her down
even though she’s older and somewhat bigger
and I punched her on the shoulder. Now she
hates me but good, I’m sure. Apologise,

Father yells out the window. I’d rather
forgive and forget. There she is now, on
the swing set, going back and forth as if
she’s a pendulum on a clumsy clock.
I approach from one side so she can’t knock
me down. She’s swinging so hard the swingset
is jerking from the ground. Any faster
and she’ll have it walking across the yard.
I’m sorry I hit you, I yell, my words
like scattershot at her moving target.
Never mind, she says. How was the closet
this time?
Not bad, I say. I’m beginning
to like it. She laughs, but sounds like a bird
and stops swinging. You’re a brave little boy,
she says, and kisses me, then goes inside.
I take her place. I’m rising higher and

I’m not even swinging. Father calls me
from the kitchen window. Get in here, Boy,
he yells. His mouth is like a closet and
his words escape but they’re not innocent.
I go to the window. I said Come in,
he says. There are no closets outside so
I say, Make me. By Ned, I will, he swears.
He runs out with his belt in his hand and
his trousers sagging. You’re not a nice man,
I say to him. I stand with my arms out
to the sides and my eyes closed. Crucify
me, I say. I goddamned dare ya. He knocks
me down and wraps his belt around my throat.
This must be child abuse–I’ve heard about
this. When I open my eyes it’s dark–back

in the closet. A few minutes later
I’m freed–by my sister. We’ll run away,
she says. To England. To Liverpool or
London or Tottenham or Manchester
.
No, I say. I like it here. It’s our home.
Let him run away. Let’s kill him, she says.
No, I say. No future in that. Come in
here where it’s safe. She does. I close the door.
You’re right, she says. It’s like not being born.

Dr Gale Acuff taught English university courses in the US, China, and Palestine. He has been published in Ascent, McNeese Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Poem, Adirondack Review, Maryland Poetry Review, Florida Review, Slant, Poem, Carolina Quarterly, Arkansas Review, South Dakota Review, Orbis, and has authored three books of poetry, all from BrickHouse Press: Buffalo Nickel, The Weight of the World, and The Story of My Lives.

Poetry Drawer: You, springtide by Paweł Markiewicz

You are the first beautiful flower from dreams.
Your times are like an ancient myth.
You bathe in the dew at dawn – the time of the morning star.
You are a miracle of romance.
You are a friend of the most tender muse.
The ancient druidic tale is in your soul.
You are a spiritual insight.
You are a mythical liberation.
You smell the most pleasant fragrance.
You paint a night rainbow.
You love the morning star.
You like a ball for the elves.
You will love the ancient pleasure.
You continue like the goblet of Osiris.
You fill your soul with Osiris´ambrosia.

Poetry Drawer: Poem about Prometheus by Paweł Markiewicz

the fire is for You a beloved magic
which You are easily able to give to the people like gold
the love of the people is an overjoyed day-dreaming
dear Titan You, like the people against Zeus, deeply,
the human-being made from tears and clay is admiring You
the eternal dreamer and the cloudy rider so delicately
thanks to humane skills – we know them anyway
with Apollo You go on a journey of silvery cranes

just Ibycus and Zeus-like voyage homewards
through the spiritual eternity full of melancholy

mountains of Caucasus are no longer the mental curse
an eagle as well as a vulture were forever killed
by Heracles who counts always the Apollonian legends
Your philosophy has revealed the bliss
Be kind and dreamful my dear friend of poetries!
the wonderful crane is leading thousands of Ibycus-men into dream
where Prometheus and spring muses can live
Your little charming shine seems to be infinitely beautiful

Pantry Prose: Tulip Mania by Susan Dean

The year 1636 saw the Netherlands in the grip of an enormous and unlikely demand for all things tulip bulbs! So great was the demand, that people were making fortunes on the stock market; the rarest of bulbs could fetch as much as the cost of a house, each. Every day the stock market was bursting at the seams with brokers and buyers all shouting, pushing and shoving in the fight for tulip bulbs. A number of people believed they would make their fortunes overnight. Hubert van Meissen was one of them. Now middle aged, he had been born an opportunist and was convinced that tulips would be his future, the gateway to the aristocratic lifestyle he had always dreamed of living.

Indeed he had already purchased a large, airy, spacious house in one of Amsterdam’s most exclusive areas; now to complete his show of new found status in the world, he needed a wife. It was after another hectic morning in the stock exchange and while in a coffee house with some of his friends that he noticed an attractive and very young woman preparing to leave the coffee house with two older women, her chaperones. Before leaving the coffee house himself, Hubert made enquiries regarding the young woman, and the proprietor informed Hubert the young woman’s name was Anna-Marie Helzing, a frequent visitor to the coffee house. Van Meissen decided he would like to meet this Anna-Marie Helzing and planned to frequent the coffee house more often and find a way to contrive an introduction.

About a week later Hubert van Meissen’s luck was in while walking down the strasse heading for the stock exchange, when he spotted Anna-Marie Helzing and her chaperones entering the coffee house. He hesitated for a moment then made for the coffee house. A little brass bell above the entrance tinkled as van Meissen opened the door and stepped inside. Then, seating himself at a small circular table covered in a bright red, chequered cloth close to the three women, he ordered coffee.

For some time Hubert sat sipping his coffee and eavesdropping on the conversation of the three women until it became obvious that they were preparing to leave. Then, he suddenly moved his chair backwards as if to stand up and bumped into the back of one of the elderly ladies. As Hubert had planned, her coffee cup from which she was about to drink the final drop tipped forward and spilled down the bodice of her gown.

‘Oh, my goodness,’ gasped the surprised elderly woman as a small brown stain began to spread over her bodice. Pretending concern, Hubert began apologising profusely and quickly produced a handkerchief for the lady to dap at the stain with.

Hubert began introducing himself and offered to purchase cakes for the ladies by way of an apology for his clumsy, foolish behaviour.

‘Cakes,’ replied the second older woman. ‘I’m afraid, Meneer van Meissen, that is out of the question, although kind of you to offer, but we are about to leave as miin man has business associates arriving for luncheon and we are expected to attend.’

‘But I insist,’ pressed Hubert. ‘We are yet to be properly acquainted and I will also pay for a cab for you ladies. Now, how does that sound?’

‘Oh, very well. I suppose one little cake won’t hurt,’ replied the woman who now introduced herself as the young woman’s Moeder and her dochter as Anna-Marie. The second older woman was the young woman’s Tante. Hubert pulled up a chair and sat down. Indicating for a waiter, he ordered cakes and soon found he had the two older women eating out of the palm of his hand, particularly when he emphasised his wealth and status in the community. The dochter, Anna-Marie, seemed a little less interested at this stage.

The result of this meeting was a number of accidental brief encounters, and before long Hubert had asked permission of Anna-Marie’s parents if he may ask her to go walking through the parks and along the canals with him, which were soon added to by way of dining out, theatre and concert evenings.

By the time Anna-Marie’s birthday came around, Hubert had discussed marriage with her parents, who had agreed with enthusiasm as van Meissen was clearly wealthy and had a more than suitable home for a bride. So Anna-Marie was not only delighted with the gift of a puppy, but acted surprised as young ladies were expected to at the marriage proposal and engagement ring purchased at great expense from Amsterdam’s diamond quarter.

Arrangements were hastily made and the couple were married within the month, with Anna-Marie moving into the beautiful spacious house with a servant to do the cooking and chores. On arrival Hubert surprised her with a gift of a beautiful green and blue parrot in a cage, which had been suspended from the ceiling in the hall of the great house.

Shortly after Hubert and Anna-Marie had settled down to married life, Hubert invited a friend to dinner who was familiar with the thriving art community in Amsterdam to discuss with the couple Hubert’s wedding gift to Anna-Marie. She was to have her portrait painted, and the three of them sat round the table discussing this intention while waiting for the artist to arrive.

Anna-Marie was the first to notice a tall young man approaching the house, and shortly afterwards a knock was heard.

‘Ah, that will be Matteo,’ laughed Hubert’s jovial friend as the servant opened the door. The moment their eyes met, Matteo and Anna-Marie were attracted and could barely keep their eyes off each other throughout the discussion to arrange for Anna-Marie’s portrait to be painted, and a considerable sum was agreed. Almost simultaneously as the young couple met for the first time, the parrot flew from his cage, which had been carelessly left open, and disappeared through an open window. Matteo, who couldn’t wait to be alone with Anna-Marie and get to know her better, wanted to begin immediately and suggested the following morning; Hubert having noticed nothing agreed.

At ten am the following morning, Matteo arrived with his artistic accoutrements in a cart and was shown to an upstairs room that had been prepared for use as a studio and he began setting out his materials. First the easel, then one or two canvases were propped against one wall and a table beside the easel was spread with paints and brushes. Then he set about a nervous wait for his subject to arrive.

Twenty minutes later two pairs of footsteps were heard on the stairs, and both Hubert and Anna-Marie entered the room. Matteo’s eyes lit up at the sight of Anna-Marie, as did her eyes at the sight of him. The sight of the lovely Anna-Marie this morning, a little more scantily clad than the previous day, excited him, and as he indicated for her to sit down on a chaise longue, then picking up charcoal and paper, he asked her to lower her pink silk dressing gown to reveal her slender long neck and sculpted shoulders. He felt the merest trickle of perspiration slide down his torso. Feverishly he began to sketch, trying hard not to spend too much time gazing at the way her neat, small, pert breast swelled slightly while resting on the weight of her arm, as the silk dressing gown slipped a little lower causing her white cotton chemise to fall from her shoulder.

Just as Anna-Marie raised her dark smouldering eyes towards Matteo, her lips parting slightly, Hubert gave a short cough and dropped his watch back into his pocket, which brought the couple back into reality with a sudden start.

‘I think that will be enough for today. We have a ball to attend this evening and I do not want my wife to tire herself. Anna-Marie, get dressed, please. I want you to rest now so you will enjoy the evening more.’

‘Perhaps, Meneer van Messien, you would care to inspect the sketches before I transfer them to a canvas?’ gushed Matteo.

‘Very well,’ replied Hubert. ‘You go ahead, my dear. I’ll ask the servant to bring lunch to your room and to you here,’ instructed Hubert turning to Matteo.

‘As you wish, miin man,’ replied Anna Marie, pulling both her chemise and dressing gown up around her shoulders as she moved towards the door and left the room.

‘These are very good drawings,’ murmured Hubert thoughtfully. ‘Yes, begin work. My wife will sit for you again tomorrow.’ And with that van Meissen left the young artist to his work.

A short time later van Messien was heard leaving the house. Moments later a note slid under the studio door. Matteo left his work, picked up the note and read:

come down to the lower floor

my boudoir is the third door on the left.

AM

Without a moment’s hesitation, Matteo left the studio and descended the stairs only to be met by the servant on her way up with his lunch.

‘Oh, Meneer Matteo, I was just bringing you your lunch. Don’t you want it?’ questioned the surprised servant.

‘Yes, of course,’ replied Matteo, ‘but I need some air first so I thought a short walk. Please leave the meal in the studio for me.’

‘Certainly,’ replied the servant who continued on her way upstairs.

Careful not to attract attention Matteo knocked softly on Anna-Marie’s door.

‘Come in,’ a soft female voice bid.

Matteo opened the door and stepped into the room, closing the door behind him and locking it. Anna-Marie was stood beside the dressing table still wearing what she had worn for the sketches.

‘Matteo,’ she gasped and a moment later they were in each other’s arms, each searching for each other’s mouths, kissing passionately, exploring each other with their tongues. Matteo’s hands moved towards Anna-Marie’s waist and untied her dressing gown, which slid down to the floor; then, with arms raised, her chemise came off revealing her naked body. Matteo began caressing her small perfect breasts while Anna-Marie tore at Matteo’s shirt, which he quickly pulled off. Turning Anna-Marie around, he lifted her onto the bed and, still kissing and caressing her body, teased her legs gently apart and slid his hand between them. Anna-Marie gasped and tore at the lacing on Matteo’s pants, aware of the stiffness beneath the fabric. At last her hand caressed his cock and she guided him inside her. Their skin glistened with sweat as they moved together in perfect synchronisation, both enfolded in ecstasy. Peaking at the same time, they then lay breathlessly entwined and fell into a deep slumber.

It was late afternoon when they both woke. For a few moments they lay still, listening to the patter of rain drops on the window pane. Then a clock chimed five pm from somewhere in the house.

Anna-Marie gave a start. ‘We must part, my love, for now. Miin man will be home soon and I must be ready for the evening.’ With a lingering kiss, Matteo reluctantly left.

Regular love-making afternoons began to take place, meaning the portrait did not come along as quickly as expected, and the servant began to grow suspicious, then so did van Messins. With Matteo making feeble excuses, such as the paint being a problem, it was taking longer than expected to mix it to the right colour and consistency he would often claim, but van Messiens kept life normal.

Then, as the weeks passed, the air grew cooler as the seasons began to change, leaves changed from green to brown and began falling from the trees. Then came the day van Messeins returned home to find the servant standing waiting in the hall for his return.

‘She’s packed her things and left with that artist this morning,’ the servant sniffed. Van Messiens just shrugged, poured a glass of wine and waited for supper. This would be the start of his downfall, although he did not yet realise it.

The following February 1637 just one year after van Messiens dream appeared to have become a reality, the mania for tulip bulbs came to a dramatic end. Overnight the stock market crashed, leaving a number of newly wealthy people destitute. Shattered and numb with shock, van Messiens returned to his beautiful house, which would soon be lost to him in a daze.

As when his wife left, the servant was standing in the hall waiting for his return. When he walked in, he looked straight at her and said, ‘I’m sorry.’

‘I know the whole of Amsterdam knows,’ the servant replied solemnly. ‘It was the least I could do to wait for your return.’

With tears in his eyes van Messiens gazed about him at the large spacious rooms and antiques, then he looked at the servant. ‘I’m sorry I can’t pay you, I’ve nothing left to give.’

‘I know, Master. It will be fine,’ she gently answered.

‘Before you go, you know the silver chocolate pot?’

‘Of course,’ replied the servant.

‘Then find something to wrap it in. Don’t let anyone see you with it. Take it. You should get something for it to feed your family,’ instructed van Meissens. ‘Then go before the bailiff’s arrive.’

Alone now, van Meissens took a bottle of wine from a cupboard. He sat at the table and drank until the bottle was empty. He then left the house, leaving the door open for the bailiffs, and walked dazedly down first one strasse then another, gradually filling his pockets with stones. When he reached the canal he stood for a few moments looking at the gently rippling water reflecting the blackness of the night sky; then, sitting on the canal wall, his feet dangling in the water, he gradually eased himself down further and further into the dark water, feeling the weight of the stones pulling him beneath the water’s surface, until only one or two air bubbles could be seen. Then nothing but calmness.

Two days later a farm labourer walking along the canal noticed a body floating face down in the water and raised the alarm. Several people came hurrying to the scene and with some effort pulled the bloated body of van Meissens free of his watery demise.

Poetry Drawer: Even Big Guys Cry by Dan Provost

Fostered, aligned
Along the walls of
Guilt…

I lean into graffiti
of hate, of despair.
Where tears leave
me to write shitty
poetry and try to
eliminate the thought
from my mind of
banging my stupid
head against the wall…

Anger—king anger,
Never smiles or looks
for a postcard from
Utopia

It fades along
the late fall skies

The tremors of Plath

The worth of Judas…

Just wrong, so fucking wrong…

Dan Provost’s poetry has been published by the small press for many years.  His latest chapbook Wear Brighter Colors was released by Analog Submissions.  He lives in Berlin, New Hampshire with his wife Laura and their dog Bella.


Poetry Drawer: I Will Be A Ghost One Day by Louise V. Brown

I read a poem about you today.
I was nearly naked before my audience,
scarcely dressed in death-spattered rags of pain,
speaking of your dying by suicide.

Grief gave me downcast eyes,
and a voice that stuttered and broke,
like a rusty old chain on a bike,
the wheels not turning as they should.

My eyes tried to become blind
to the listeners sorrowing faces,
and my head lowered to this page,
eyelids now a rampart for gallons of oily grief.

After one lecturer said I must achieve catharsis
before I speak of you. That my reading was destabilised
by my grief, better get some stabilisers then
for this battered broken old bike.

He said I must control the material,
not let the material control me,
those grief spattered rags I wore today,
I need to turn them into an elegant gown.

They want me to turn my mourning for you into beautiful art,
all my messy grief erased and transfigured into
silken threads of understanding, cloths of gold,
instead of this jumble sale of sadness.

One day I will come back as a ghost
and haunt him with my swirling drapes of mourning.
I will bury him with my heavy sorrowing
and will whisper wailing poems of you into his startled ears.

Ghosts do not have downcast eyes
or voices that crack,
death is pretty good at ridding us
of the troublesome past.

Louise is an MA student at the University of Leicester.

Poetry Drawer: Mea Culpa by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

It was all my fault
My immaturity got the better of me
and I found myself less interested
in finding a solution to our problems
that in hearing her say
You’ll not make an arse of me again
in her rich British voice

Each time she said it was like
a little thrill-spike to my rat brain
a jewel in my diadem
Or maybe it wasn’t—
that phrase just popped to mind
I don’t even have a fucking diadem

Our relationship was doomed
due to nothing more than my penchant
for colourful language

She was easily angered
I was superficial
I also didn’t care to develop a long-term committed relationship
and said as much on the various
dating websites I’d joined
I’d even joined Christian Mingle
because I’d been hooked by the poignancy
of one of their commercials
the one in which the dewy-eyed woman says:
He’s my second chance

I guess my heart wasn’t in the game
as much as it should be
and when my new partner protested:
I’m no one’s twat-waffle
I couldn’t get enough of it

We would go down in flames
on the Hindenberg of vociferously expressed non-twat-waffledom

Inky Interview: Author Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois from Denver, Colorado

Flash In The Pantry: Serotonin Reuptake by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Flash In The Pantry: Mandela Warp: A Moment in History by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Flash In The Pantry: Cooking Shows by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Flash In The Pantry: Still Wet by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Poetry Drawer: Loch by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Poetry Drawer: Photogenic by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Poetry Drawer: Microwave by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Poetry Drawer: Granite by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Poetry Drawer: Trick by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Poetry Drawer: Coal by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Poetry Drawer: Poetry Slam by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Pantry Prose: King Melvin and the Green Castle by Andrew Williams


It’s hard work being a king. At least, that’s what kings would have you believe. All those heavy crowns and the repetitive strain injury from all that royal waving. I imagine at least one king must have met his end after toppling from a balcony, too (though it’s quite plausible that some assassin gave him a push).

Yet, somehow, I think kings have it easier than they make out.

Kings are lazy. That’s all there is to it.

Even on the chess board, the king is the laziest of the bunch. Those bishops and rooks are zipping all over the board. The knights are the champions of jumping. The queen – well, she’s the busiest of them all. Even those slow moving pawns can be forgiven, as they march slowly into the jaws of certain death. But the king? Not him. He’s skulking at the back, hiding behind his army, never moving more than one square at a time except for darting into the shelter of his castle.

No. The average king is only interested in doing the least he can get away with. Work? That’s for the peasants. The occasional gala event, perhaps opening the odd library or hospital, and spend the rest of the time on hunts and at balls and feasts. No sense doing anything that might upset the people.

Once in a while, however, a king breaks the mould. A king takes power with energy and enthusiasm and some downright bizarre hobbies. They inspire their subjects, terrify their enemies and put all the other kings to shame. They don’t tend to last long. Regal duties soon crush their outgoing spirits and leave them as bitter, twisted old men, if they don’t get assassinated in the meantime. That balcony is looking particularly tempting tonight, your majesty…

And sometimes, cruel irony alone is enough to bring them down.

One such go-getting, unusual king went by the name of Melvin. I know, I know. You can’t believe there could ever be a King Melvin. The history books do tend to overlook him, it’s true. They tend to skip over the gap between Henry XVIII and his uncle’s wife’s grandson, Henry XVII (what can I say? I think the scribes lost count – it was a confusing century) and declare that either one Henry ruled longer or the other started earlier, or even that the kingdom spent three years in anarchy. Perhaps historians prefer it that way. Trying to explain King Melvin is… difficult.

For one thing, Melvin refused to wear a crown. He had the most magnificent hair, which he kept on a stand by his bed at night so he wouldn’t crush it in his sleep, or vice versa; a bouffant wig some six feet high and home to three birds, a family of dormice and a small butler that could attend to his every whim should the regular butler be off on holiday. A crown, he said, would be taking things too far. On royal occasions when a crown was demanded, the royal potato wore the crown instead. (Sorry to disappoint you, but the potato was a Maris Piper, and not the King Edward you might expect. That would just be silly.)

King Melvin was a kind and friendly king, often throwing gold from his castle windows to the starving peasants below. This went a lot better after the first attempt, when he started first taking the coins out of the sacks that held them in his vault. Three peasants were crushed in that first deadly display of generosity.

He also had a fondness for nature. At the start of his reign, it was not uncommon for King Melvin to be seen going for a gentle jog in the forests around the castle. This was brought to an equally gentle end after three bears, two wolves and a confused badger had to be executed for threatening the life of the king. Melvin was sad about all of these, especially the badger, and he proposed an alternative – he would live in a brand new castle, made entirely from nature, and he could smell the fresh grass and the woodland flowers without ever leaving his home.

It took two years, but the finest architects, weavers, forestry experts and farmers found a way. The new castle was not so much built as grown. The walls were a light frame of saplings strung with ivy, the carpets were the freshest of spongy forest moss and the walls were clad with tall reeds and grasses from the river banks. The entire castle was a living sculpture, every blade and petal still living and growing. Birds nested in the parapets and insects buzzed happily over the canopy of leaves that formed the roof. The people were immensely proud of the Green Castle. Even Versailles could not compare to the grandeur of this bold undertaking.

And perhaps all would have been well, if it were not for King Melvin’s unfortunate hobby.

I said before that these more… active rulers pursued pastimes that were a little strange. King Terence III held yodelling contests during his reign. Queen Alfreda was so fond of cake that she ate six cakes for breakfast every day. When she finally died of her outrageous obesity, collapsing with simultaneous liver failure and heart failure just as she was walking down the aisle to marry the Duke of Pembrokeshire, even the wedding cake was in tiers. Compared to the knife juggling King Michael IV or the Elvis memorabilia so loved by King Phillip IX (not the singer Elvis – this was long before his time – but Elvis Cooper, the bawdy jester), King Melvin’s obsession was positively tame.

King Melvin loved to collect thrones.

Small thrones, large thrones, gold thrones, silver thrones, bone thrones, lone thrones, twin thrones, trombone thrones, moaning thrones, groaning thrones, home thrones, work thrones, thrown thrones, lost thrones, found thrones, thrones of swords, thrones of skulls, thrones of games… he didn’t care. Whenever he found a new throne, he had to have it.

Soon every visiting dignitary or merchant looking for a favour knew what to do. Buy the king a new throne, and he’d shower you with gold, and he’d even take it out of the sack first. The floor of Green Castle was packed full of royal seating. The annual festival’s game of musical chairs could last for days as there were far more chairs to take than people to sit in them.

As the throne count went up, Green Castle grew ever more cramped. Finally, something had to be done. The king summoned the architects, the forestry experts, the farmers, the weavers, the thatchers and told them that the castle needed expanding. They needed more throne room.

A quick survey of the surrounding area ruled out the land to the north (too rough, too rocky) and the south (arable farmland, vital to the kingdom). The western expanse was no use – that’s where the old castle still stood, and several armies over the last three centuries had failed to take it down, so demolition seemed unlikely. To the east, the old forest still called Melvin for a last jog. He didn’t have the heart to cut it down.

There was only one direction left to build, and that was straight up.

Construction work began that very day. An old weeping willow, spiralling up from the floor, served as a staircase to the upper level, where two lines of young oak trees provided a second floor via a network of branches. A carpet of foliage covered these branches. With space to move at last, King Melvin ordered his collection of thrones moved to the upper level. Downstairs, the business of ruling the kingdom could finally proceed – and the next game of musical chairs would be over in less than four hours.

Perhaps, in hindsight, they should have known. The King of Monaco, on a flying visit from his homeland, was so impressed by Green Castle that he gifted King Melvin with the largest, most extravagant throne that had ever been built. Mahogany framed, lined with gold and jewels, cushioned with the finest down from the fluffiest of pipistrelle bats, it was a dazzling and irresistible gift. Twelve footmen were needed to drag it up the curving willow to the upper level, where it was given pride of place in the very centre of the upper floor.

There was a lot of ominous creaking, and then came a mighty crash. The new throne had proved too much for the delicate natural timbers of the castle. As it came crashing down, so too did dozens more thrones of all kinds. The castle groaned and shivered, and then the sapling walls and the grass cladding folded in on itself. To the horror of all who watched, Green Castle collapsed inwards. King Melvin, along with his retinue, was crushed to death beneath his own throne collection.

King Henry XVII took over the kingdom, moving back into the main castle. He didn’t collect thrones, or indeed collect anything – aside from dust, and taxes. He lived another fifty years before falling off his balcony, but he was one of those boring kings that never did anything special beyond that. He’d learned a valuable lesson from his predecessor.

People living in grass houses shouldn’t stow thrones.