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!

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!

Proceeds

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/

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

and

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.

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’.

My book comes out on 25 May 2016

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