Kandy Kottage - The Musical

I never expected to write a musical - but I have anyway.  Through Liar's League I met Gary Albert-Hughes- a musician, composer, actor graduate of The Royal Academy of Music who hunted me down and asked to use my story - The Kandy Kottage.  Two years later, last week in fact, we showcased it and it felt like such an achievement! The best bit was rehearsing in The Dance Attic in Fulham Broadway - you climb the stairs, and Don't Rain on My Parade is belted out from one studio, tap dancers hammer away in the next and right at the top in a room with a view, a wooden floor and a piano - Gary and I sat working out the lyrics, the music and the story, I felt a thrill each time we did it, like I was in one of those old |Hollywood musicals.  Now we need some funding! So if Penguin or Bloomsbury publish The Birdskin Shoes, and if Salma Hayek buys the film rights......well I can dream can't I?


Calling all book clubs!

Do you belong to a London  book club or reading group or know anyone who does?  I'm looking for twenty book groups interested in choosing The Birdskin Shoes  to read and share.  In return I will come along to the group to discuss it and answer any questions, I might even bring biscuits! Just email me and its first come first served. I can probably stretch south and east if its within reasonable reach of a train.   


Paperback Writer!!!

The Birdskin Shoes by Joan Taylor-Rowan and Teresa Villegas (Paperback - 7 Jul 2012)

Buy new: £7.99

Get it by Tuesday, Jul 10 if you order in the next 24 hours and choose express delivery.
5 out of 5 stars
Eligible for FREE Super Saver Delivery


High-wire stunt in elkskin shoes

Nick Wallenda, 7th generation highwire walker (don't confuse him with Wallender) has just crossed the main part of Niagara falls ...wearing ELKSKIN soled shoes that his mother made him!!!  I mention the Wallenda family in  The Birdskin Shoes. The family are renowned for terrifying stunts without the use of the net. The cable was 2" wide and 1/3 mile long, and the spray made it very difficult to blink, he was reported as saying this morning.  In addition the length of the cable made it impossible to stop it swaying so he had to deal with a moving cable in a brisk wind, I tell you the man is part winged-god.


Heads or Tales?

What is there to do on a Monday night? Come and listen to some stories by me of course! Eurovision, rubber bullets, John Lewis and a word-obsessed lonely heart, plus a bit of circus magic in Mexico.  Need more inducement?  The £3.00 entrance fee will be going to RoomtoRead -a charity that build and fills libraries throughout the world, and commissions books in local languages. Bring lots of Kindle-owning pals, publishers and literary agents with wads of cash waiting to be spent on fat advances. (What an imagination - I should be a writer!)


Fishy Business

Regular readers of my blog may remember that I went in search of Bird-skin Shoes and Fish-skin gloves, items listed in then poem Donal Og which partly inspired The Birdskin Shoes.  I was amazed to find that a company in Canada were producing fish leather - so of course I had to order some.  It arrived yesterday. Thick, craggy suede, with a scaly pattern on it - a fish whose been around a bit I'd say - no smell though.  Its a beige colour - not my first choice, but still subtle. Gloves are out unless I want to look like Monty Don clearing out the compost heap - but a bag perhaps? I'll let you know - with pics.


O.L. Festival (3) Dogs Who know when their owners are coming home

If a student at Corpus Christi College fails to get a top class degree then they deserve a good slap. It is the most beautiful learning environment on earth, like a pale golden nunnery in a scented garden. Perfectly inserted into this paradise is a modern lecture hall where I heard Rupert Sheldrake - maverick scientist/heretic, discuss the ten dogmas of science.  I love any lecture where a tiny old lady asks detailed questions about String Theory and is not assumed to be referring to crochet.
His opening notion - that scientists subscribe to these dogmas in working hours and then many go home and  are happy to believe that their dogs know when they are coming home, that their children are not mere robots and that there is a God - was a great starting point. He believes that scientists should at least be prepared to contest some of these dogmas (the conservation of matter; that all matter is unconscious; that all nature is mechanistic etc. ) which according to him have some quite insubstantial foundations. I would like a partner who can remember when I'm coming home.

Oxford Literary Festival (2) Short story prize in Hogwarts Dining Hall

I was in Hogwarts Dining Hall! A table set up in The Hall at Christ Church College like the Last Supper with grumpy Hanif Kureishi at one end a dashing Melvyn Bragg next to him plus Andrew Holgate, the literary editor of the Times - who set himself up to be knocked down by the others which made me like him instantly- Alison McLeod and two skilled performers, to honour the finalists of The Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award.
The extracts read from the six shortlisted stories took us from a beer trip to LLandudno to  the American Civil War. The Beer Trip to Llandudno by Kevin Barry won my vote - touching, restrained and perfectly pitched - a story that gradually unwrapped the deep bonds that bind a group of emotionally scarred males. The judges agreed and he pocketed the £30 000. For a writer like me the CVs were rather terrifying, all the finalists were shortlisted for, or winners of, major prizes - (and I don't mean the "Guess the Weight of the Paper Mache Cow," prize that I won at the Girl Guides' jamboree).

Oxford Literary Festival (1) Defy the ageing effects of gravity - stand on your head!

Oxford makes you feel intellectual before you've even had your breakfast. The Times-sponsored literary festival with events held in a range of colleges around the city, made me feel especially learned. I only had a day there so had chosen three diverse events:- Jane Shilling talking about women and middle-age; the Times/EFG short story competition shortlist and Rupert Sheldrake discussing science and its dogmas. I would perhaps have got more out of Jane Shilling's interview if I'd already read her book - The Stranger in the Mirror. A review by Melanie McGrath in The Telegraph claimed she had uncovered a middle age 'rich in ambiguity and nuance’ and found the fun to be had in discovering 'what remains of the wilder joys of love and sexual exploration’ as well as a mature pleasure in 'an orderly, settled life, self-knowledge and formed tastes.’The interview however didn't seem to mine this aspect of her book(we got the negatives:- loss of fertility, empty nest syndrome, sagging bodies, boo hoo).  The book does sound well worth a read for her elegant writing and the fact there are so few books about middle-aged women that are not patronising.  I don't want to sink into terminal beige but neither do I want to wear purple and monstrous rings that make me drag my knuckles on the pavement.  I know the secret to a good middle-age (when I get there, of course): get rid of mirrors; stop reading womens' magazines even in the newsagent's and have a good laugh with your friends, then spend half the day on your head to offset the effects of gravity on your body - you can pretend you're doing yoga and get an entirely new perspective on life.


Liars' League - stand-in is stand out!

The Phoenix, Cavendish Square.  Smack bang in the middle of town, basement bar - roomy but intimate- food, drink, seventy or more people, cool characters, facial hair (on the men of course), bright red lipstick, a little Boho, a little Kerouac and a stamp on my hand that says Free Drinks. My story RENEWAL is being performed. I arrive to find my actress is in A&E but the stand-in turns out to be stand out. With only five hours rehearsal, she nailed it.  When she reached the converstion between the main character and the transport police over the fate of the dying man she'd seen at the station - you could have heard an aitch drop.
The other stories were all high quality stuff; surreal, hilarious, poignant and well-written - worth a fiver of anybody's money. Look out for the recordings on www.liarsleague.com


the barnswallow: let there be light

the barnswallow: let there be light: A farmer and amateur photographer in Canada is in love with firefly light. He has tried to capture it using traditional methods of slow...

Do you want to help me write a story?

I want to write a story set in Wapping for a new collection based on overground stations - so I would like some suggestions for the following:
  • a main character's name
  • something that this character wants
  • an emotion
  • one unusual object
I'll try then and write a story based on those - you've got until tomorrow night.


Gloves of the skin of a fish...

Fish fingers anyone?
I envisaged elbow length evening gloves shimmering with golden scales not golf gloves but still they are gloves of the skin of a fish - and look at the lovely leather! I want to order some and get to work on a pair of fish finger gloves for my little lady hands. It can be made made from carp, salmon or perch and apparently does not smell in the least bit unpleasant. It's a great way to make use of the skin,which would otherwise be wasted. I see a range of fishy accessories swimming off my sewing machine - bags, mermaids' purses, slippers. There is no time to waste - its the 29th February tomorrow. Sieze the day or should that be Carpe Dyem.


Spidersilk cape? Pah! A thistledown coat is what you need...

If spider silk makes you yarn, and you think a seal-gut parka is offal (like these puns) then The Thistledown Coat by Adrian Bannon is for you. Dandelion seeds held together with fine filaments create a jacket that the fairies might have made. Now I need to find the other garment mentioned in Donal Og - the poem that was an inspiration for my book - gloves of the skin of a fish...


Lend me your ears...

I'd forgotten how wonderful it is to be read to.  The White Rabbit's "Are you Sitting Comfortably", performed in Jackson's Lane Community Centre, turned out to be a really brilliant evening. Bernadette Russell and Gareth Brierley were superb performers sucking you in with their characterisations and creating a magical, intimate atmosphere even though we were in a sizeable theatre space. Stories of dying angels, mysterious villains, demon gangsters and sealed fates would, I think, have satisfied Dickens although he wouldn't have known what a neon-coloured tracksuit was.  Amanda Hadingue from Theatre de Complicite read my story and she did it so well she made me weep and I wrote the bloody thing! The teacups of sweets and literary pass-the-parcel went down a treat too.


You gotta have guts to wear this....

Continuing my garments made from unusual animal products...an Alaskan seal gut parka, and it's decorated with BIRD SKIN strips (you knew I'd get it in somewhere). There is one of these at my favourite museum - The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford - which is all a museum should be  - glass mahogany-edged cases crammed with gorgeous unidentifiable objects with fascinating provenances. Their parka is edged with the finest braids woven out of reindeer hair. The seal gut sections are sewn in strips to make a translucent, lightweight waterproof garment - now you can't get one of those in Millets.


How to make words fly off the page

Words turn into butterflies, a book becomes a forest of birds, a dress takes flight - paper artist Su Blackwell makes you gasp.


What to wear with those Birdskin Shoes - a spider silk cape!

Eight legs good - two legs bad. Okay so it does look like Fr. Patrick's favourite outfit - but it really is spider silk - not just any spider, the Golden Orb spider of Madagascar, with a body as big as a 50p piece and silk the colour of gold doubloons. It's the colour that is the most extraordinary thing - Rumpelstiltskin came to mind when I saw the skeins of thread, or the shiney petals of buttercups. One million spiders, four years, each thread made of 24 strands of silk.  They've never been able to farm spiders because they eat each other if there are too many in one place - a metaphor for modern urban living if ever I heard one.


New event

I've got a story into an event, "Are you sitting comfortably" at Jackson's Lane Community Centrre in Archway Thursday 23rd Feb 8pm,
Box office 020 8341 4421 or book online at www.jacksonslane.org.uk
Inspired by Dickens, the company creates a show performed by actors around stories selected by them - I've not seen any of their shows but was told by a friend that they are wonderful.
"fantastic alternative fun" Time Out
"storytelling made supremely sexy" Latest 7 ****
"comic..haunting..an enchanted night" Total Theatre ****


Shoes for birds...

Wow these shoes by Israeli designer Kobi Levi really are birdskin Shoes - well inspired by birds, I think the mallards are for me... his others are equally amazing - I do love a whacky shoe though I don't think these would help my character on the tightrope.


Cover artist


Teresa Villegas, artist, book illustrator and writer is responsible for the beautiful cover on The Birdskin Shoes.  I chose the image because of its Latin American feel and because the design of birds and banners was so glorious.  It took me a long time to find what I was looking for.  I'd seen one or two artworks that I liked but they lacked that extra something.  When I discovered these paintings I knew I had what I needed.  I drew up a contract with Teresa allowing me (for a one-off sum) to use the image for promotion purposes and the cover of the book, and her work is acknowledged in the book. Graphic designers then turned her image into a book cover.
 It turns out that Teresa Villegas and I both spent time in the same town in Mexico in the same year.  I love the idea that we may have passed each other on the street. Please look on her website to view more of her gorgeous work and www.amazon.com for her book, Loteria!


As featured in the The Observer - well maybe...

Having read a piece on a new novelist (26) inThe Observer, who it appeared could do everything but fly, I decided to write  one all of my own. My tongue was slightly in my cheek but all of it is true especially the part about the book having bestseller written all over it (well not literally of course, at least not yet).

Ah, a debut novelist.  But isn't it virtually impossible for anyone to get their first book published?
Self-publishing is the real deal now, do you think publishers need to sit up and take note? Having won short story awards and had several stories on Radio 4 Joan Taylor-Rowan has just self-published her first novel -The Birdskin Shoes (through Amazon).  It is rather brilliant.

OK, we've got our reading glasses on: more detail please. The Birdskin Shoes is a marvellous tale of love and redemption that transports the reader from the grey skies of rural Ireland to the dazzle of the Mexican circus in the company of Joey, a young man with a remarkable gift but a guilty conscience. Taylor-Rowan is half-Irish and has travelled extensively in Mexico - but has never performed in a circus. She has been up the Amazon on her own though and also has a PhD.

But writers often struggle after their first novel don't they? Pah! She has already plotted her second and is in the middle of the research - a story of alienation set in the heyday of Space exploration.  She also has a book of short stories ready for publication.

Words words words. What does she do in her spare time? Paying a mortgage is of course a prime concern so she works full-time teaching Art and Design, but she still manages to make and sell textile artworks, run the occasional pop-up ice cream parlour and write the libretto for a musical based on one of her short stories with a young composer who is currently performing his own songs on E4's Playing it Straight.  She also has just started to learn swing dancing - after all the body needs a bit of fun too.

She says: I think if I picked up this book, I'd say, "why hasn't anyone published this yet – it has bestseller written all over it! - plus the most beautiful cover on Kindle."  Her favourite writers include Carol Shields, Annie Proulx, Laurie Lee, Truman Capote and Carson McCullers.

We say: If only she was young and moody-looking we might feature her, but at her advanced age (52) she might not live long enough to prove us (and Waterstone's) right.

The Birdskin Shoes is available now at www.amazon.co.uk

Or read Ms. Taylor-Rowan's blog through http://www.joantaylorrowan.com


New Short Story


This story was selcted by Storytails back in July and you should be able to hear it through this link, let me know what you think.

Absence makes the art grow stronger

Baby didn't look quite as I'd hoped when I lifted her Kindle blanket so I decided to do some additional work.  As with any child, it's very hard to know when to stop interfering and let them be. Each time I go back and read something I've written there is a word or phrase that still niggles.  Sometimes it's because I've become overattached to a metaphor and I'm going to shoehorn it in whether its right or not; sometimes the pace is wrong, or the word not quite accurate enough. 
But absence makes the art grow stronger. After a couple of weeks I finally downloaded and read my own book as a new reader would. I read the first page and knew I had to fix it.  Luckily with e-books you can make changes and then upload again.  I spent two night playing with words, paragraphs and rhythms until it felt right.  It's the first page after all, it's got to grab the reader and give an immediate sense of the book's style and mood.
You might think that to have got to the stage of publication and not sorted the first page was somewhat remiss but I assure you, that page had been worked and reworked more than a hundred times - and that is the problem.  Like a piece of pastry it had become overworked and grey. It had lost it's spring and I'd lost the ability to see it.
The new beginning I hope, has the reader actively involved with the earthquake along with the character; in the first edition the reader was watching along with the character which I think was less effective.  If you have bought it already and want to read the new beginning use "Look Inside" feature on Amazon. (And by the way this is about the fifth version of this post, having found numerous changes were required when I looked at it this morning.)


It's an e- Book!

I've finally delivered, after a long labour.  Mother and offspring are doing nicely. It was a little late - but the first ones usually are. The formatting looks clear and the cover in colour looks splendid. I can't quite believe it and keep smiling to myself everytime I think about it. So many decisions to be made, pricing, method of payment, DRM (Digital Rights something) I did think it might never happen.  I hope you buy it, read it and love it and if you do let others know and please leave a comment here and on Amazon. If you hate it you'll have to ask Amazon for a refund.
I've had one written review:

"A wonderful tale about love and redemption set in a Mexican Circus. Joan Taylor-Rowan writes with great freshness and assurance, and her descriptions of the 'cirqueros' and circus life are pitch perfect. I LOVED this book; and it deserves every possible success." - (Katie Hickman, award-winning travel writer and best selling  author of A Trip to the Light Fantastic - Travels with a Mexican Circus, The Pindar Diamond, The Aviary Gate.)


It's a Miracle

This is from a collection at the Wellcome Foundation - fantastic place on the Euston Road full of marvels. Exhibition on until February of ex-votos - Mexican paintings to thank various Holy Beings for prayers answered. This mother prayed to St Francis for her son to return home and he did - as he looks dressed for Studio 54 we might well ask where he has been...
Some wonderful  prayers though...
"In the middle of my suffering I invoked with intimate truth at the core of my heart the Powerful Queen of the Mexican Nation, Our Mother of Guadeloup who cured me..."

Two fantastic film clips, one from a man who rescued a woman from the earthquake of 1985 by using his back as a leverage point for a crowbar to raise a concrete door, and he survived without breaking his back. Very moving witness to human courage. And from the sublime to the ridiculous a woman invoked Senor de Villaseca because she couldn't make round tortillas.  Her prayers were granted and she made an entire basket full of them and called all her family to witness it. 


Creature comforts...

 CAPTAIN COSTENTENUS   The Tattooed PrinceCaptain Constentus, claimed to have been tattooed against his will in Burma (almost certainly untrue although his tattoos are certainly Burmese in style) and was a great attraction in the Barnum and Bailey circus in 1870's, reputedly earning $1000 a week. I noticed in the summer the incredible amount of people who are heavily tattooed now, sporting everything from gorgeous Japanese style flowers and fishes to futuristic anime inspired creatures.  I'm sure he could have incorporated his nipples into the design in some more imaginative way. I've never had a tattoo but if I sell 1000 copies of my novel I must just do it.  Why am I so interested in tattoos - you'll have to read The Birdskin Shoes to find out. Found this image at www.thehumanmarvels.com.