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Mother’s Day & Celebrating Mother-type Figures

Happy Mother’s Day!

My mum’s no longer with us, so while Mother’s Day for me is often tinged with sadness, I’ve realised I can celebrate and appreciate all the women in my life who are mother-type figures – women I love and who love me.

I have a dear elderly Aunt who isn’t related to me but who has been a mother-figure all my life. She was a friend of my mum’s and once, she saved my mum’s life – when my mum needed some crucial medicine. My aunt and I are going to a pony sanctuary together this Mother’s Day weekend as she adores horses.

..and to celebrate, Are My Roots Showing? is on offer this weekend

Then there are friends I’ve known for years – the kind that know you really well – just a word or a look – and they know what’s going on. The truth is, we mother and are mothered all the time.

There are two mother figures in my Warsaw-based novel Are My Roots Showing? and I’d say my mum’s in both these characters. There’s the protagonist Magda’s mum – who is Polish – but who has lived in Doncaster since the War. She dreams of Magda finding a Polish husband in Doncaster and suggests they go to Lidl to look out for one there. Failing that – she could put Magda in the Polish Gazette in the classified section.

My own mum suggested putting me ‘in the paper’ many a time and I can just hear her now. ‘That’s how people met after the War!’ she’d say while cooking up some Polish dish, like pierogi. I’d imagine the ad she’d put in if I let her: “Aged 39, good at most things, with child-bearing hips”.

There’s another mother-figure in the book who is Magda’s elderly Polish aunt, Aunt Basia (AB). If I’m honest, AB is the character who is really like my own mum. She’s been through a lot in the war, struggles with ill health and offers Magda nuggets of wisdom, advice and unconditional love.

The tender times I’m currently having with my elderly aunt are also a really good parallel of the relationship between Magda and AB. You don’t have to be related to someone to love them or class them as family and that describes the bond between Magda and AB.

Mum would have been proud of my book and would have no doubt seen herself in it. I hope that one day – some of the younger people I know and love now – will think of me as a mother-figure too. Maybe even my elderly aunt.

Are My Roots Showing? is on offer for 99p until midnight tonight. Why not buy it as a Mother’s Day treat?

And finally how could I not included a picture of my dog – mum just adored him.

Mother's Day - A Family pic of mum & dog

My author event at the Essex Book Festival March 18

Essex Book Festival ‘Meet the Neighbours’…

The Essex Book Festival is in full swing and I’m delighted to say I will be taking part in their Meet The Neighbours Polish-themed event tomorrow at Harlow Library, Cross Street, from 3.45pm-4.45pm (for tickets click here).

Crime author Aga Lesiewicz and I will be in conversation about my novel ‘Are My Roots Showing?’ The book is primarily a comedy about a British Pole – a bit like myself – who goes to live and work in Warsaw and explore her Polish roots. As relationships both new and old form and develop, she learns about herself, her family and their past.  The Yorkshire Post called it a ‘heart-warming, funny and often very moving’ – read more reviews here.

I always enjoy live author events, possibly because of my theatre and stand up comedy background. You never quite know what’s going to happen. At one event, people started to share movingly about their family’s experiences in World War II. Speaking for myself, I feel that what happened to my mother in particular is never far from my mind and I think that one reason I wrote my book is that I want to pass that story on – history embedded in fiction…

What else is on…

At 1pm in Harlow library, Wioletta Gregg, longlisted this week for the international Man Booker Prize award will be talking to Sarah Perry about her beautiful book that I have just finished reading called ‘Swallowing Mercury’. It’s so vivid and evocative and reading it transported me right back to my childhood, my parents and a Poland of yesteryear. It’s stunning.

Also at 1pm, playwright Nicola Werenowska’s going to be doing a collaborative theatre piece about the effects of war and displacement – a theme I’m very interested in.

At 2.15pm, crime writers Piotr Tarczynski & Jacek Dehnel will be in conversation with fellow crime writers Nicci French (Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) about their book ‘The Mystery of Helcel House’.

From 12pm -4pm you can immerse yourself in family activities such as Polish egg-painting – something I loved to do as a child with my mum using molten wax and plant dyes (using onion skins mainly, and beetroot!) There’ll also be a performance by a pupils from the Polish Saturday School – again, something I did as I grew up – somewhat reluctantly I have to say. (During one performance I had to dress up as a toadstool).

Essex Book Festival family fun

All of Essex Book Festival’s events can be found here and the festival runs until the end of March. Events have been across 45 venues and involved more then 200 writers – amazing!

Poland guest of honour at this year’s London Book Fair

How fantastic – Poland being the Market Focus country at the London Book Fair this year, highlighting Poland’s publishing and writing talent. I shan’t be the only one coming away with a reading list as long as my arm – so many inspiring people have been featured.

Jacks Thomas, Director of the Fair said, “Poland has a rich cultural and literary heritage and with over 32,480 published titles a-year it continues to be a major player, a significant importer and exporter of translated works, and an innovator in the digital space. It’s a great time to be working in or doing business with the Polish publishing industry.”

In children’s literature there was Aleksandra and Daniel Mizieliński, authors of Maps,  graphic artist Marta Ignerska, Olga TokarczukJacek Dehnel and Polish ‘King of Crime’ Zygmunt Miłoszewski. There was historian and writer Professor Andrzej Nowak, award-winning science fiction writer Jacek Dukaj, plus many more.

And on Saturday March 18:

…the excellent line up continues with author Olga Tokarczuk in Liverpool at 1pm – and at Harlow Library – as part of the Essex Book Festival – myself at 3.45pm. I’ll be talking about my novel Are My Roots Showing? with author Aga Lesiewicz, author of the thriller Rebound.

More on the Essex Book Festival, and the other Polish artists featured, tomorrow.

Come along: Kresy-Siberia 77th Anniversary dinner, Feb 12, 1-4pm

Kresy-Siberia commemorative dinner

Are you in or near London on Sunday 12 February – Balham to precise?

Kresy-Siberia invites you to mark the 77th anniversary of Stalin’s first wave of Deportations from Eastern Poland on February 12th, 2017 from 13:00 at the White Eagle Polish Club, 211 Balham High Road, London SW17 7BQ.

Food and sharing stories

I’m going, and there are still some places for dinner available.

What’s on

I know it will be a really special and moving day. My book Are My Roots Showing? is in the raffle I think!


All proceeds support the Virtual Museum dedicated to the victims and heroes
£15 for Sybiraks, £20 for Kresy-Siberia 2017 donors, £25 for others
Ticket includes 3 course meal, entertainment and the famous Kresy Siberia raffle!

Please see here for details – it will take you to this url https://www.facebook.com/events/1765375710369276/

What does the date February 10 mean to you?

February 10, a date etched on the hearts of many

February 10. I know someone dear to me whose birthday is on February 10 – but for me and many others, this date has another very important meaning and it’s coming up soon.

It was on this day in 1940 that my mother and her family and many other Poles were deported by Stalin from eastern Poland to Siberia in the first of four terrible waves.

NKVD police come knocking

Stalin sent his secret police, the NKVD, in the middle of the night – families often had just minutes to pack.  As the drawing above shows, mothers, fathers and children were herded onto cattle trains, often at gunpoint, and sent to Siberia to die.

children on cattle train

While my grandmother did pass away out there from TB, my mum, her brother and their father survived. Granddad, or dziadek, as I used to call him when I was little, was separated from the rest of the family and went to another gulag. Here is grandad:

Karola's-Grandad in the Polish Second Corps

He then joined Anders Army, went to Monte Cassino and was in the Second Corps (above) with Wojtek the soldier bear, an amazing story in itself. Then grandad was reunited with my mother years later in Yorkshire through the Red Cross and its amazing tracing service.

Kresy-Siberia Virtual Museum

You can learn a lot about the deportations to Siberia at this brilliant online museum called Kresy-Siberia Virtual Museum. If you have a relative who was deported to Siberia, you can help the museum in their quest to compile a list of all those deported here.

Anniversary dinner

The museum is holding a special dinner on February 12 in Balham, London, to commemorate 77th anniversary and I’m delighted to say I’ll be attending.

A Homeland Denied

At the dinner, I believe author Irena Kossakowski is going to be reading from her book A Homeland Denied which is just out. It’s going to be great to meet another author who has written about this subject. I really like what is written on Irena’s site – “The soul of Poland is indestructible, and she will rise again like a rock which may for a spell be submerged by a tidal wave, but which remains a rock” Winston Churchill 1-10-1939. By the way Irena, if you’re reading this, I’ve just ordered your book…

ziemlanki deportations to siberia

My dear mum. I miss her so much. I will definitely remember her and her brother on February 10, and at the Kresy-Siberia anniversary meeting on February 12 where I am sure many stories will be shared and many tears shed. My mum never wanted to talk about her time in Siberia, I only ever got snippets, which only fuelled my desire to know more. The photo above shows the sorts of settlements they had out there. There is also a great factual book about the deportations by Professor Matthew Kelly called Finding Poland and B.E. Andre’s wonderful novel With Blood and Scars.

Are My Roots Showing?

And finally, also see my book which mentions the Siberian deportations – it’s called Are My Roots Showing? and is available on Amazon as a paperback or e-book.  It is a funny book mainly, however the history is woven in through some of the characters.

Are my Roots Showing?

By Head Design

360 video of Preston Community Library event

My author event at Preston Community Library

You expect people at an author event, and questions, and tea and maybe even a glass of wine, but I certainly didn’t expect to be filmed in quite such a thorough and unique way as I was at my author event at Preston Community Library in Brent, north west London last month.

Film-maker and photographer Tim Woolford made a special 360 degree film of me sharing about and reading from my novel ‘Are My Roots Showing?‘ As far as I’m aware this has never been done in a library before. It means you can watch and swivel around to look at the audience and location, not just me!

There were about two dozen people at the event and what was really special was how quickly it became interactive. People with similar Polish backgrounds to mine started sharing their family history, often very movingly and with unexpected honesty.

Are My Roots Showing? is about British born Pole Magda who leaves her job in London to work and live in Warsaw and explore her Polish background.  Amid romantic sparks, and through looking after her dear old aunt, Magda also touches on some forgotten parts of Polish history such as the Siberian deportations. Her visit develops relationships old and new and shows that where there are Are My Roots Showing?, new shoots can grow.

The Yorkshire Post called it a ‘funny, heart-warming and often moving’ read.

Thanks Tim for a wonderful job!

Preston Community Library

Thanks to Kilburn Library & Preston Community Library, London

Readings, conversation & pierniki

I really enjoyed my author events at Kilburn Library and at Preston Community Library in London last week, arriving to very warm welcomes from organisers, members and library volunteers.

I read from and spoke about the writing of Are My Roots Showing? also going into my family history and what happened to my Polish parents during the war.

Are my Roots Showing?

There were some really interesting questions and comments too. One person thought I didn’t look Polish and someone else asked how I feel my Polish identity has changed over the years.

I also showed them my sequinned serdak (Polish national costume jacket) that I wore during many a Polish dance in the 70s. img_0159b

We also had some pierniki – spiced winter biscuits that I made and brought along. These went down a treat – the recipe is by Polish food writer @renbehan.

Pierniki pierniki

Thank you again to Sarah and Dorota at Kilburn Library (see below) who did a brilliant job organising everything…

Dorota, Karola and Sarah at Kilburn Library

As did the members and volunteers at Preston Community Library (see below). People shared some very moving testimonies about their experiences in the war and what Poland was like under Communism. It was a real privilege to see people open up.

Author event with Karola Gajda at Preston Community Library

Also… a big thank you to my agent Geraldine Cooke who made the whole thing possible.

See what else is on at Kilburn Library (42 Salusbury Road, London NW6 6NN, Queen’s Park tube) via @brentculture and for events at Preston Community Library (Carlton Avenue East, Wembley, HA9 8PL Preston Rd tube) see @prestonlib.

Events this week: Kilburn Library & Preston Community Library

Book readings at Kilburn Library & Preston Community Library

I’m delighted to announce that this Thursday 17 November I’ll be reading from my novel Are My Roots Showing? at Kilburn Library (6.30pm) and at Preston Community Library on Friday 18 November (1pm).

I’m so looking forward to meeting everyone and talking about the book, how I wrote it and about my Polish Yorkshire background. I’m donning my apron this morning to make some spiced Polish gingerbread, ‘pierniki‘ to bring down. ‘Pierniki‘ are around all year in Poland but most popular at Christmas. We had them a lot at home as I grew up so I hope everyone likes them too.

Many thanks to Sarah Smith (Libraries Development Manager) at Kilburn for inviting me and to all the volunteers at Preston Community Library too for arranging my visit, along with my agent Geraldine Cooke. Preston Library was closed in 2011, along with 5 other Brent libraries, but I’m delighted to say it is now the volunteer-run Preston Community Library. May it go from strength to strength.

Thursday 17 November 6.30pm @ Kilburn Library: 42 Salusbury Road, Kilburn NW6 6NN @brentculture


Friday 18 November 1pm @ Preston Community Library: Carlton Avenue East, Wembley, HA9 8PL @prestonlib

You can purchase my novel, set in Warsaw, and called Are My Roots Showing? here.

My Polish Yorkshire Dad & his accent

A Yorkshire Pole

I was browsing through an old hard external hard drive this morning and came across this video (below) of my late dad on his 80th birthday. I couldn’t play it at first to my horror, then managed to convert it and bring it back to life.

My dad loved being in front of a camera and he was always so natural and ready to be funny. He was always slightly baffled too as to why on earth I’d want to film him.

Here he is – I’d asked him what his favourite biscuit was to bring out his accent. I miss him, can’t have a Rich Tea Biscuit without thinking of him and have shed a few tears watching him again.

Dad was in Germany during World War 2 and come to England afterwards as a displaced person. He took integration and learning English really seriously and wrote new English words up in the shed with chalk. He also often came to me with the newspaper to ask me to explain what certain words meant.

I don’t think he really realised he had a Polish Yorkshire actually, although I have the reverse – a Yorkshire accent when speaking Polish.

The father character in my novel Are My Roots Showing? is based on dad.

Poles in the UK book launch

New book ‘Poles in the UK’ launches

I had the huge pleasure of attending the launch yesterday of a new important book ‘Poles in the UK: A Story of Friendship and Cooperation’ by writer Brin Best, from Otley, and Leeds-based Polish author Maria Helena Zukowska. The book is available on Amazon and the event was held at the Leeds Catholic Centre.

Why do I call the book important? Because it is all about the great contribution Poles have made to the UK.

Poles in the UK book

Brin and Maria have created a book (you can see and like their Poles in the UK Facebook page here) that collates all kind of interviews and amazing facts about Poland. I know I’m going to love it, learn from it – and be dipping into it all the time.

I also finally met writer B.E. Andre (pictured on stage below) who read two wonderful extracts from her novel ‘With Blood And Scars’, which touches on Stalin’s deportation of Poles to Siberia. I’ve just started reading it and I can already identify with a lot of it because of our shared Polish upbringing in the north of England. It was also great to meet and connect with a writer who, like me, wanted to write about a tragic part of Polish history so few people know about.

The event reminded me a lot of  the Polish functions I took part in as I grew up in a Polish community in Doncaster – going to Polish school and being part of Polish do’s and dances (I remember them like they happened only yesterday, in particular one occasion where aged about 8, I had to stand dressed up as a mushroom with a broad paper hat on my head and wrapped up in a sheet).

Poles in the UK launch

Maria Helena Zukowska presented the event and I think she should be snapped up by the BBC as I’ve rarely seen someone link so many varied pieces in such a poised, clear and engaging way.

I also met some ladies, Basia Domzal-Karpowicz and her daughter Maja who amazingly, saw my theatre show My Polish Roots and Other Vegetables ten years ago in Edinburgh. Maja has contributed to the section on Polish geography.

The top photo of the lovely Polish heritage art tree is by Adrianna Green.

To learn so much about Poland old and new, buy Poles in the UK here and B.E. Andre’s novel here. And finally, you can buy my book here.