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Siberian Carrots

 

Siberian Carrots – a short animation

Here’s a simple animation I made using clay and other materials to recount a story my late mum once told me about her time in Siberia, where she was deported to by Stalin in 1940, at the age of three.

Not surprisingly, she didn’t like to talk about Siberia, where she spent six years in abject poverty until 1946. She lost her mother out there to TB and also her little sister. Her father was taken to a different gulag nearer the Arctic and was presumed dead.

Mum and her family were among around 1.7 million Poles who were deported east out of Poland during World War II, just because they were Polish. They went in four waves, families often being split up and taken away in the middle of the night by the NKVD, the Soviet secret police.

I’ve since read about the subject quite widely and woven the story of the deportations into my debut novel, Are My Roots Showing?

It’s a light and funny book overall but it has this unexpected serious thread about the war running through it. Poland was greatly effected by the war and those effects don’t just disappear over night but trickle down future generations. I feel this is a neglected part of history and so this has been my way of trying to keep it alive.

As mum didn’t like to talk about Siberia, what she did say had huge significance – and when she told me this story it was as if the icy past of a far and distant land suddenly came to life. I grew up in the northern town of Doncaster and when I heard this in the cold light of day, I really understood she’d been through something really terrible that almost no one had any idea about.

With what’s happening in Syria at the moment, and waves of people moving all because of war, such tragic things are happening again, albeit in a different way and for different reasons. It is heart-breaking.

My mum died four years ago now – but I pass the baton of her story on.

To learn more about this period of Polish history visit the virtual museum Kresy Siberia.

Sound design by Tim Brown.

Are My Roots Showing? on sale at POSK bookshop

POSK reception

Are My Roots Showing? now in POSK Bookshop

I’m delighted to announce that my Warsaw-based novel Are My Roots Showing? is now on sale at POSK bookshop in London.

Weeks ago, hundreds if not thousands of people expressed dismay when POSK, the Polish Social and Cultural Association in Hammersmith, had racist graffiti daubed across its front doors after the EU Referendum. For many days, flowers of consolation adorned the entrance to the centre, founded in the sixties.

I have been to POSK many times myself over the years, to Cafe Maja for golabki and coffee, to see art exhibitions, to listen to live jazz and I’ve been to the more formal restaurant there too. There’s also a cinema in POSK, a library and a theatre – and the excellent bookshop I’m now proud to be in.

To follow POSK bookshop on Twitter see @KsiegarniaPMS or you can ring them on 0208 748 5522. To follow POSK London see here.

POSK bookshop in Hammersmith London

The sign for the bookshop inside POSK

For those of you who don’t live in London or can’t make it to the bookshop, you can also buy the book online here. And if you’ve read it and enjoyed it, please review it for me. Simply log in to your Amazon account, go the book purchase page, scroll to the bottom and hit the button that says ‘write review’. You can also review it on Goodreads. Thanks!

POSK is at 236-238 King St, Hammersmith area, London. The nearest tube is Ravenscourt Park but Hammersmith is not too far away.

So very special: Are My Roots Showing? launch

Are My Roots Showing? officially launched

It’s a special special thing, having a book out. You don’t think that as you toil over it, staring at the words on your screen (thinking what on earth do I write next – or – delete delete delete!)

The launch of Are My Roots Showing? has taken place (Thursday 7 July) and it was such a great evening, so touching and memorable. Hot, summery, with cold white wine and family and friends.

Although you’d be forgiven for thinking differently, we weren’t in a ‘globe shop’ (we meaning my literary agent Geraldine Cooke and myself), we were in Stanford’s travel bookshop in Long Acre, Covent Garden, London. So wonderfully apt for a novel set in Warsaw. If you’d have said to me ten years ago, ‘Karola you will be launching your novel at one of London’s most unique bookshops,’ I would never have believed you.

Meeting the audience

Karola Gajda

Stanford’s launch of Are My Roots Showing?

I read out a section of the novel, signed copies and enjoyed every minute. Someone who was off to Poland to have some dental work done said he was taking his copy to read out there with him and could I also write a note to his dentist to do a good job? (I did).

Thank you to…

Thank you again to Geraldine for making it all happen, to Stanford’s for hosting us and looking after us so well, to Head Design for the cover – it was great to finally meet Tim Peters who worked on it so hard with Clare Stacey –  to agent Lisa Everleigh for her consultancy, to Amy and Kelly at Amazon White Glove, to Janice Brent for copy-editing tirelessly and thank you to everyone who came to support us.

Below is a picture of Geraldine and myself. I brought in a galareta (which my Polish parents loved and which featured in the extract I read out) to show to people what it really is (meat in aspic – believe me, it tastes much nicer than it looks!)

Galareta galore

Geraldine Cooke and Karola Gajda brandishing galareta and the novel at the launch of Are My Roots Showing?

…and of course, Malwina

Also, a massive duże thank you to someone who kickstarted the whole thing off – Polish agent Malwina Świerczynska Skupień. Malwina came to see my theatre show about my Polish Yorkshire upbringing all those years ago at the Arts Theatre nearby – and she introduced me to Geraldine. Malwina, back in Poland, couldn’t make the launch, but Malwina – we drank to your very good health!

And finally….

Last but not least, I am also a Christian – so thanks be to God for getting me here!

This Thursday, 7 July: ‘Are My Roots Showing?’ launch at Stanford’s Bookshop

Wonderful Stanford's

Stanford’s Bookshop – one of a kind

I’m delighted to announce the launch of my Warsaw-based novel ‘Are My Roots Showing?‘ will be taking place at the wonderful Stanford’s bookshop in Long Acre, Covent Garden, London this Thursday, 7 July at 6.30pm-8pm.

When I used to live in London, I remember coming to Stanford’s and browsing through all the wonderful travel books – and also, one day, buying a huge map of the world for my wall at home (they do amazing maps).

Store History

The store was established in 1853 by Edward Stanford – however its doors in Long Acre first opened in January 1901. Now, there’s a branch in Bristol too and a special mapping division in Manchester.

Book launch

I’m going to be reading a short piece from my novel, which is about British born Pole Magda, who leaves her job in London to explore her Polish roots in Warsaw. It takes a look at certain periods of Polish history, namely the Siberian deportations and the Warsaw Uprising – and at how Poland has changed over the years. It also covers some of the more amusing aspects of being a Polish Yorkshire hybrid.

Fear not if you don’t see us in there as you pass by – I’m going to be in the marvellous ‘globe section’ downstairs where some of the unique floor has a map printed on it (naturally!)

I’m going to pick a funny section of the book where Magda’s mother thinks the only reason Magda wants to go to Poland is to find herself a Polish husband (“The best kind… the only kind!”)

Guests

Geraldine Cooke, my unswerving, highly gifted agent, is going to be there plus many others who have worked on the book too – from some of the cover’s designers at Head Design (David Grogan, Tim Peters and Clare Stacey) and, I hope, my eagle-eyed copy editor Janice Brent. I just wish agent Malwina Świerczyńska-Skupień, who saw my theatre show ‘My Polish Roots Roots and other Vegetables’ all those years ago and who kick-started the whole process, could make it too, but if you read this Malwina, we will toast you!

Drop in!

So… if you’re passing Stanford’s bookshop this Thursday, please pop in – there’ll be copies of the book on sale that I can sign – but only if you haven’t bought one already!

The Yorkshire Post: ‘hugely entertaining and funny and a heart-warming and often moving read’.

Wieliczka Salt Mine – what it’s like

salt mine wieliczka chapel king

Wieliczka Salt Mine

The Wieliczka Salt Mine (pron: vee-el-eetch-ka) is located in the town of Wieliczka outside Krakow. It is one of the most astonishing places I have ever visited and I knew I had to include it in my novel Are My Roots Showing? which came out on Amazon in May through Cirrus Publishing. Most of the action in the book takes place in Warsaw but there is also a section that takes place here in the salt mine in southern Poland. I first found out about it as a child in Polish School which took place on Saturday mornings (a common occurrence in the UK at the time). It was in a book about Poland its geography and culture and I knew I had to visit it one day.

Salt production

Wieliczka opened in the thirteenth century and amazingly, it has four chapels hewn entirely out of rock salt, not to mention lots of amazing statues carved out of salt too. It produced table salt until around 2007 but commercial mining stopped eleven years before. There was a time when miners were paid in salt because it was so valuable.

Wieliczka-Salt-Mine-kopernik

Artist miners

Childhood dream it may have been – I’ve been to Wieliczka salt mine twice now – once on my own in late 2004 when it was under a thick blanket of snow and again in September 2010 with my husband (I’d really bigged it up) and he wasn’t disappointed.

The amazing thing is that the miners themselves carved out the chapels and statues out of the rock salt. It took tens of generations of miners to complete it.

Rock salt chapel

Chapel Kinga, the biggest chapel is entirely made out of salt. It has a salt floor, a salt altar, even Jesus is salt. There are rock salt chandeliers that have been treated to be ‘crystal clear’ but everything else is a beautiful and mysterious pale glassy grey.

Last Supper Salt Mine

There are 178 miles of corridors but you only walk along 2 of those miles. As you pass through the cool corridors, passing various salty pools with different statues in them (the waters are incredibly still and you wonder if you’d float in them like in the Dead Sea), as you walk you’ll see occasional bubbling up of some pure white crystals in the nook of a wall, like a sort of white salt cauliflower sprouting. The air feels pure and ‘mineral’ in character and there is a health resort within the mine where people go to have respiratory conditions treated. To me, the air seemed quite pure, cool and curiously still.

You take steps down around 120 metres, although at its deepest, the mine measures around 327 metres. There are rooms for conferences and theatre shows too but these aren’t made of salt!

UNESCO

It’s the most fantastic place and somewhere you simply must not miss it if you ever go to Krakow. It’s been on the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List since 1978.

Also, I have learned that there is an even older sister site you can visit at Bochnia.

For more information about visiting Poland see here.

How Polish are YOU? Quiz

How Polish Are You?

Although I had Polish parents (but was born in the UK), I only score about two out of ten on this. How Polish are you? Do the following quiz and read the results below.

  1. Do you have a round face and chiselled cheek bones?
  2. Do you eat meat whenever possible and genuinely wonder how veggies survive?
  3. Can you calculate the number of Złoty to the dollar to four decimal places, even if you are woken up in the middle of the night?
  4. Do you have an abnormal ability to transport vast amounts of luggage on the top of a car? NB This trait is not just limited to cars. I once saw a man in Poland walking alongside his bicycle with a sofa balanced on the pedal.
  5. Do you go mental over scary food such as galareta, sledzie, or cold soured milk and pickled cucumbers?
  6. Are you always talking about the cisnienieatmospheric pressure – and how it can be blamed for everything form rheumatism to marital snoring?
  7. Do you have a propensity to look glum (or at best very serious) even when you’re happy?
  8. Do you have an enduring love for Poland, no matter how far away?
  9. Do you pray more to Mary than to God?
  10. Can you drink vodka like a fish and wake up feeling totally fine the next day?

Results:

10 out of 10. Excellent. You are a true Pole. If someone cut you in half they’d find a copy of Adam Mickiewicz’s ‘Pan Tadeusz’ inside.

9 out of 10. Very good. You are, to all intents and purposes, a true Polak/Polka.

8 out of 10. Good. You are very Polish and don’t let the side down.

7 out of 10. Good-ish. You are pretty Polish but could do better.

6 out of 10. Average sort of. You need to get more Polish kuchnia (Polish cooking) down you, go there on holiday and speak Polish more often, starting with Poles shopping in Lidl.

5 out of 10. Not really good enough. Your red and white colours are fading pretty fast.

4 out of 10. Errr… you are less than half Polish and need to try much harder. Say five Hail Mary’s in Polish and read ‘Quo Vadis.’

3 out of 10. Hmm. You should have studied harder at Polish school, learned your mushrooms and all your Kings and Queens (then you’d have also known that even the two queens were crowned as kings).

2 out of 10. You, Polish? You’re having a laugh. You wouldn’t know a pieróg from a Krispy Kreme doughnut.

1 out of 10. Sorry, but you have failed the Polish test and are about as Polish as a Union Jack. Go back to the Polski Elementarz and spend five years out there.

Karola Gajda is the author of the novel ‘Are My Roots Showing?’ on sale on Amazon though Cirrus publishing – or go to the homepage and click on the red button.

My first Polish story book

If my house was burning down, then this children’s picture book is one of the few things I’d save on my way out.

IMG_0482

My mum would read to me from it regularly when I was about seven or eight – the story with the man looking for his glasses a firm favourite. She would read it to be over and over again and of course the punchline was that after he’d turned the house upside down and looked at the mirror in exasperation, he saw they were on his head all along (how many of us have been there!)

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I love the illustrations because they’re so naive and innocent – although the one with the old lady being butted by a goat is slightly scary…

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Looking at the back of the book – which is called ‘Pierwsza Czytanka’ (first/early story book) – there is a list of all the authors who have contributed. The book was published by Panstwowe Zaklady Wydawnictw Szkolnych (PZWS) in Warsaw in 1927.

If you’d like to buy my book which mentions storks, scary forests but sadly no exploding dragons, you can buy it directly from my homepage or simply go to Amazon.

Yorkshire Post loves ‘Are My Roots Showing?’

Book review of Are My Roots Showing?

Great news in the Yorkshire Post!

The Yorkshire Post has reviewed my novel, ‘Are My Roots Showing?’

I’m delighted to say they really like it!

As a writer, you know that reviews can go either way, so this article is wonderful news.

Yorkshire Post arts journalist Yvette Huddleston says in today’s Culture section:

“It is a hugely entertaining, funny, heart-warming and often moving read”

and….

“Gajda touches on the changes that have taken place in Warsaw – emerging from the grim Communist era into a stylish modern city – from her own experiences of travelling there while growing up. And Gajda’s stand-up roots are certainly showing – there is some fine comic observation of human foibles and she is particularly astute on the complexity of family relationships.”

Review of Are My Roots Showing? by Karola Gajda

Migrant Literature

The review also sees the novel as part of the developing genre of migrant literature. This is because it touches on the themes of migration and deportation during and after World War II.

‘Are My Roots Showing?’ is a romantic comedy about British-born Pole Magda who leaves the UK to go to work in Warsaw – and is full of funny observations about being a migrant.

However, it also touches on Poland’s tragic past, including the mass deportations to Siberia by Stalin in the 1940s. Also, displaced Poles migrating after the war ended.

A Personal Angle

This side of the story is particularly important to me because my late Polish mum was deported to Siberia during World War II. Also, my late Polish dad migrated to Yorkshire from Germany as a displaced person as he had nowhere safe to go. I wanted to weave their stories into the book, so that a record of what happened to them would stay alive. I’m always struck by how few people know about those terrible deportations east. In this information-heavy age, important historical events can become buried or side-lined.

I’m so glad Yvette Huddleston tuned into the comedy and the tragedy in the book. Isn’t life just that – a mixture of tragedy and comedy? My mum could be so hilarious at times. Sometimes I think it was not despite her tragic start in life, but because of it.

Available on Amazon 25 May

‘Are My Roots Showing?’ is available through Cirrus Publishing on Amazon on 25 May. Why not subscribe to my site for a reminder?

Are my Roots Showing?

By Head Design

Cover by Head Design

My Polish Cousin’s Christmas fridge

Polish Fridge

Fridge extension

I simply had to photograph my Polish cousin’s fridge at Christmas, filled with Polish produce. At this precise moment though, it doesn’t include the dishes that were on the table, ready for us all to eat. As fridge space was at a premium, most of the dishes on the table weren’t going to grace the fridge at all. Anything that remained was going to be carefully packed away in foil and plastic tubs and put safely on the freezing balcony outside.

Christmas Eve (Wigilia) Fish… but no drink

Christmas in Poland is quite different from Christmas in England. While my Polish parents and I celebrated Christmas together at home in Yorkshire many times, my first ever Christmas with an aunt and cousins in Poland was unforgettable.

The Poles celebrate Christmas Eve most of all and this involves a family meal consisting of a vast array of fish dishes. And unless my family in Poland is the exception, they don’t drink alcohol on Christmas Eve either. Now I’m not a big drinker at all, but knowing how much Poles like a tipple, this news came as quite a shock!

Food and customs

The cousin we were staying with had gone to a great deal of effort to prepare a HUGE array of fish dishes for us all – carp, salmon, herring in various forms. I would say a table about three metres squared was simply loaded with pickled fish, fried fish, baked fish and stewed fish!

I think my mother who was Polish stuck to the fish only principle too, although may have relaxed that rule a little as the years went by. I remember she used to put a little hay under the tablecloth to symbolise Christ in the manger and when the first star came out, that was the moment we could open our presents.

Polish Mass

The next day (Christmas Day), Polish Mass was standing room only – everyone was packed together like sardines – and after a light (ahem, heavy) lunch consisting of more fish and now meat – it was a visit to the live crib in the town – plus a trip to the cemetery. I’ve never done this in England, go to remember late relatives at the cemetery at Christmas time, but in Poland the custom is to go and light candles and lay flowers on the graves of our beloved ones. The atmosphere was quite special and the whole place was lit up with different coloured candles, so that all we could see in every direction was a sea of tiny, flickering flames.

Getting lost during a simple stroll

On Boxing Day (St Stephen’s Day in Poland) we went out for a short walk – the roads were white with snow. We went into a sort of emergency corner shop that just happened to be open several blocks away, just to see what they had in there, then when we went out, we realised we were lost. We asked an elderly gentleman who was waiting for a bus just outside the shop the way home (fortunately we’d photographed the complicated name of the street on our phones). He went to great lengths to explain the directions to us, to the extent that the bus he was waiting for sailed past! We felt terrible that he’d missed his bus on a day when the service was likely to be virtually non existent – however, he didn’t mind in the least and said he’d walk around to another stop. We then saw him again a little later at this other stop, quite a way away, talking merrily to another elderly gentleman – perhaps maybe even missing his second bus! Then when we finally arrived home, boiling in all our layers, but with our faces frozen, we spotted him on a bus, waving to us as it went past!

 

 

 

 

 

Karen Joy Fowler at Off the Shelf, Sheffield

The surprise

Karen Joy Fowler started off this Off the Shelf Literary Festival event by reading from the prologue to her book, We All Completely Beside Ourselves.

She then spoke about how she dealt with a particular surprise in the narrative (fear not, no spoilers coming, in case you haven’t read it). She said having a first person narrator helped her set up a world that could then be completely shattered and we’d really see things from the girl narrator’s perspective.

Advice to Writers

Read a lot, particularly out of your comfort zone. The pleasure of writing can be taken away easily – sometimes through criticism spoken through a writer’s group!

Writing Workshops/Groups

Karen learned a huge amount in writing workshops. She says she didn’t so much learn from hearing what others said about her own work (in fact she said she didn’t listen!) but that where she learned most was in reading other writers’ work and giving constructive feedback.

Writing Method

She spoke about the importance of enjoying the process of writing, checking in with yourself and emotional maintenance. If writing’s not a pleasure, re-work your routine.

Writer’s Block

Karen said if she got writer’s block it usually meant she had made a mistake earlier on. She goes back and takes a different turn with her story.

Internet and Self-publishing

Karen said before the internet, self-publishing was seen to be a shameful thing. She said not having your book published traditionally straight away forced a certain patience. Sometimes great novels are not published but can be online and while that’s great, other novels are self-published too early and really, they need to be re-worked taking time and patience.

Karen Joy Fowler on Literary Prizes

Karen was nominated for the Booker and Warwick prizes and someone asked if these were a pleasure or a distraction. Karen answered that she had done many things well in her life, but then decided to really go for it with writing and risk failure. The only way not to fail was to not try at all.

She had a few stories published and hoped one would be in a ‘best of year’ collection. It was. Then she hoped for an award. She got one of those too and then you sort of end up hoping for something bigger!

Karen added that being shortlisted for the Man Booker changed way people talked to her.   She has been on juries where she sees that so much luck is involved. Mistakes are made… and awards are not a reliable way of judging – but awards do keep you going. She would like to think she would be happy without them!

The Title, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Karen does not remember how she thought of the title! Reviews of the title were mixed but she loves it as did her editor and publishing house. The U.K. publishing house was initially not so keen!

Click here for other Off the Shelf Festival Events.