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

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.

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’.

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.

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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.

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.

Zofia Nałkowska’s ‘Choucas’

Zofia Nałkowska's Choucas novel

Cover of Zofia Nałkowska’s novel ‘Choucas’

I’ve just bought this modernist novel online, ‘Choucas‘ by the late Polish author, Zofia Nałkowska, and I’m waiting for it to arrive in the post (can’t wait! / nie moge sie doczekac!)

It’s a new translation by Ursula Phillips, translator of Choucas. Zofia Nałkowska (1884-1954) was a writer, journalist, playwright and diarist. She was also an executive member of the Polish Literary Academy between the World Wars.

The novel’s set in a Swiss sanatorium and the patients are from different countries with different political view points. ‘Choucas’ is a type of blackbird found where the book is set.

I’d love to find a Polish copy so that I can read bits of it in Polish.

I’m also interested in ‘Medallions’ by Zofia Nałkowska. This is a collection of stories about the Holocaust published in 1945.

My book comes out on 25 May 2016

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