The Story of Nino’s Song

Discover one woman’s journey as she travels the former-Soviet republic of Georgia, far-flung from her Yorkshire home in both distance and custom, seeking to recover the lost voice of Saint Nino.

The precarious position of Georgia, its history and the fragility of its relations with Russia and the West are cleverly intertwined with the spell binding personal journey of the British narrator, Leah.

After a disastrous relationship with the charismatic but ultimately deceptive and corrupt David, Leah returns to Georgia to find closure and rebuild her relationship with the country she once loved.

With the fellowship of her Georgian women friends, she attempts to finally understand a culture which she has been driven both to love and to hate.

Can the quest for St Nino and her namesake’s box of secrets give Leah the answers she needs to understand the place she once had as a woman in Georgia, and the place she now has as a woman in her own world?

Purchase Nino’s Song here.

Image credit – Tony Bowden

Nino’s Song at the Wakefield Lit Fest

Wakefield Lit Fest

I am delighted to be part of this great Lit Fest in Wakefield.

This is a wonderful and positive outcome that has come from a series of  writing and story telling workshops I have been doing with the women in Wakefield as part of a series of Creative Workshops  and has kept me very busy since Nino Song’s Launch.

Nino’s voice has not been silent however, and more and more people have contacted me to say how moved they have been by her journey and how much they are able to relate to the themes within the pages.

One poem which many women have told me they can very much relate to is this one called Misunderstanding. I wrote this after being ‘kept company’ by a Turkish man during a flight to Tbilisi. Any woman who has travelled alone will be able to relate to this.

“Your husband, he is waiting for you in Tbilisi?” he asked, one bushy eyebrow raised. That eyebrow signalled a shift. Quite suddenly, a perfectly intelligent and reasonable conversation transformed into a series of irritating, and potentially inflammatory, misunderstandings. Why is it that when a woman says no, it is seen as the beginning of a negotiation?

I say, “I love exploring and experiencing new cultures and people.”

You think I say, “Before I sat in this seat next to you, there was nothing interesting in my life.”

I say, “The songs of Georgia move me, haunt me.”

You think I say, “I am a slave to my emotions and do not know my own mind.”

I say, “I have been hurt by Georgia, but I am trying to forgive her.”

You think I say, “I am waiting to be rescued by a strong man, who is not Georgian.”

I say, “I am saddened by the way women are treated in Georgia.”

You think I say, “Can I visit you in Turkey, so I can see how a real woman should behave?”

I say, “I am tired; it has been a long day.”

You think I say, “Of course you can wipe the smudged mascara from under my eye with your spit-moistened thumb.”

I say,“Well, thank-you for your company and interesting conversation on this flight.”

You think I say, “Thank-you for giving me your business card. I will call you and we can have meaningless sex.”

I say, “Goodbye and good luck.”

You think I say, “Please can you take my hand-bag and my rucksack from me, and carry it through the entire terminal until we get to passport control, because I’ve been waiting for someone to relinquish my identity to.”

I think, “You knob.” But instead, I smile. Tightly.

I say, “Goodbye.”

But still, you ask me to call you, your sweaty palm pressed into mine. I do not smile. I say nothing. Your eyebrow twitches at me.

Perhaps you will excuse me then, if to make things simpler, I say, “Look, just FUCK OFF!” So there is no chance for your continued

Misunderstanding.

Details of the workshop based on Nino’s Song can be found here:

http://www.wakefieldlitfest.org.uk/events/208-whats-in-ninos-box-a-creative-poetry-writing-workshop-with-sarah-cobham

Copies of Nino’s Song can be bought via this web-site or on Amazon UK

 

Nino’s Song Enchants Wakefield

 

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“What’s that incredible smell? Where is that smell coming from?”

The people of Wakefield followed their noses and asked me repeatedly about the special aroma that filled the West Gate Main Studio space, that IS  Adjaka chicken. As they entered  their feet took over and led them towards the swirls of spice laden smoke which drifted into the room through the open window.

The Adjaka Chicken sizzled and spat on the outdoor BBQ, which itself  was perched on the fire escape. An outside platform of rough filigree mesh accessed only through a sash window, one of eight in the whole room, gave the illusion of a floating platform. But at a mere  3 floors up, Vako, usually more pre-occupied with telling people about his family’s winery back in Georgia, ignored the perilous drop behind him and kept turning the delicious chicken and frying the aubergines to cater for curious Wakefield folk.

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It was 6.30pm and the 6 writers who had come for the writers workshop, were hunched over their boards scribbling furiously. They were not to distracted by the rumblings of hungry bellies nor the exquisite Rkatsiteli (Kakhetian) Georgian wine  that was waiting for them. Clear heads were needed for this creative exercise and, as it was being led by local poet Valerie Anderson Gaskill, the creation of their companion Haiku pieces to the poem ‘Sanctuary’ from within Nino’s Song, was the main focus.

The writing kept these poets in ‘the zone’ and stopped  them from hearing the growing hub-bub in the room. Performing their pieces to  interested ears, the workshop participants, showed how sensitive they were to the delightful gardens described in  Chapter 11 and filled the room with their own  intense imagery.

Writers Group

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Unique songs from Georgia floated from the open windows and amplified Nino’s Song. They called people up from the streets below, and as Louise Curtis Streich’s (from Hot Banana Music Shop in Holmfirth) community choir sang, more joined, and yet more. They came to learn  polyphonic songs as old as the Caucasus themselves.

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‘Gaumojos!’ ‘Welcome!’

rang out into the evening air and the air danced as the ancient call from the mountains bought more people into this magical space. Enchanted by Nino’s Song they joined others so that soon, the spirit of the supra was upon us. Gaumojos! Gaumojos! rang out as wine made from vines generations old and fermented in the Qeveri, connected ancient memories of soil and tradition to those who drank deep the full bodied dry nectar to the streets of Wakefield.

For hours Nino waited, as she always does, for the right time to be heard. And after myself and three trusted friends, including Louise, sang Shen Khar it was Nino’s time.

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Just a few poems, an extract or two from Nino’s diary and an meander through the Georgian countryside invited listeners to join her as she shared with them, her secrets, her joys and her connection with Georgia. You could have heard a pin drop. Afterwards, the whole room joined in with a rousing ‘Mrvalzamier’  (May you always be victorious in battle) and, as people stayed on to talk  about her, Nino drifted, like the smoke from the dying coals of the BBQ, into her own space and waited, wisely, until her voice could be heard once again, pure, radiant and untainted by the patriarchal re-writings of history.

Nino’s journey has just begun. Within the pages of this book she lives  with beauty and grace and  song.  Stories about her will echo through the streets of Wakefield for a very long time.

A reviewer on Amazon, David Herdson gives a wonderful insight into what the reader might experience if they choose to join Nino in her song:

By David Herdson on 30 Mar. 2016

Format: Paperback

The title page of Nino’s song describes it as ‘a novel’. This is wrong; it’s far harder to pigeon-hole than that and all the more interesting for it.

So if not a novel, what is it? On a purely practical level, one part of it is: the story of Nino, a teenager growing up in Tblisi during Georgia’s brief independence between 1918-21, told through her diary. That narrative, however, intertwines with Leah Cobham’s reflective-travelogue of her visit to Georgia in 2014. A third silver strand running through the book comes via her poetry, inspired by (and presumably written during), that visit.

But that’s only the practicalities. Two broader themes underlie the whole work. Firstly, how Georgia and its people – some in particular, such as a former partner, but also the nation at large – have come to form such a large part of her life, if one that she has a love-hate relationship with; and secondly, her feminism and advocacy of women’s rights.

It’s a lot to fit into a short book (under 150 pages, including several chapter-ending blanks). Does it work? Yes, in a word. Certainly it could be longer but does it need to be? Just as poetry needs to say more than simply the words on the page, so Nino’s Song succeeds in painting pictures that go beyond colour. Her travelogue sections are beautifully observed and written and her use of language is a joy to read. The insight into women struggling to make the best of a country in various states of decay was simultaneously uplifting and depressing. Perhaps the imbalance between male indifference, corruption, violence and abuse on the one hand, and female creativity, moral strength and unity was a little obvious but it was a fascinating insight all the same.

What didn’t quite hit the note for me was Nino’s diary, the parallel story of hope, love and loss in Georgia. Some aspects are again wonderfully well done (the roses!), but other comments jarred: in her first two entries – written in 1918, while World War I was still raging – the teenage girl talks seriously of visiting Vienna, for example.

Overall, this wasn’t the sort of book I’d usually read but I’m delighted that I was persuaded to. Eye-opening and thought-provoking, I hope that both the book and the people within it have a successful future.

Nino’s Song can be bought via this web-site or is available on Amazon
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 A huge thank you must go to the following people for helping to make the whole evening such a huge success:
Keti of Caucasian Spice Box based in Reading.
Vako of the Twins Wine Cellar based in Khakheti in Georgia
Valerie Anderson Gaskill, a local poet and writer
Diane Hall, an independent book publishing consultant
Louise Curtis Streich, a singer and owner of Hot Banana Music Shop in Wakefield
Rob Schofield, an independent film maker
Caleb Shepherd, an independent film maker

A companion to Sanctuary

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I am so delighted to have local writer and poet Valerie Anderson Gaskill to lead a writing workshop as part of Nino’s Song book launch.  Valerie is an exceptionally gifted poet and will be offering this unique experience from 6.10pm Wednesday 30th March 2016.

Val will enable participants to write a companion piece to the poem, Sanctuary. The poem Sanctuary can be found about 1/3 of the way through the novel Nino’s Song.

Participants will be invited to perform their  companion piece as part of the evening but there is no pressure to do so.

Sanctuary

Cool, cool garden.

Dappled sunlight

Gives refuge to

Lush hanging green-red

Grapes and

Kiwi fruit, hard and bitter, wait on the vine.

Apple-peaches

Plump, starflower topped, fill

My mouth, seek corners with her nectar

Which flows through to my deep inside.

Connects me to this land. 

Nana fills

With glistening blue-print life

My cupped hands. 

I drink.

Her kind eyes scrunch and her garden

Sighs.

“Valerie Anderson Gaskill was saved by books from the day she could hold them and learned the alphabet overnight. Words would be her chosen superpower. She and Siouxsie Sioux grew up in the same village in South London, Sioux didn’t wait until she was 48 to leave, however. Valerie finds life hard but addictive.”

 

Nino’s Song and Caucasian Spice Box

 

11233501_124963517856158_8132436465191636930_nWorking with the Caucasian Spice Box, based in Reading, has been wonderful. Keti Maghlakelze and I first met via facebook when she liked some of my posts about Georgia and it was soon clear that she held a deep but realistic passion about the country of her birth. This passion transformes itself into a street food venue that provides a truly authentic culinary experience for the people of Reading every week.

When I first started to put the launch of Nino’s Song together, some months ago now, Keti volunteered to come all the way up to Yorkshire just to enhance the event with her wonderful Georgian food. I have found this kind of enthusiasm and commitment to my crazy Georgian Projects from the Georgian community, time and time again. The generosity of Georgian people when it comes to supporting non-Georgians, can be overwhelming sometimes but, because I feel I have lots of experience in managing these  different kinds of  situations AND my own emotional responses to them, I don’t feel so hijacked anymore at the prospect of every Georgian person who currently lives north of Watford,  landing in for a ‘big book’ launch party. They usually bring wine and food and often there is impromptu singing and dancing. It’s best just to go with it and enjoy the moment.

As part of the madness that will be the launch of Nino’s Song, several Georgian dishes will be available to buy from The Caucasian Spice Box including:

Georgian Aubergine parcels with Crushed Walnuts

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There will also be:

Khachapuri – which is a flat cheese bread and NOTHING LIKE PIZZA. For those interested enough to  click on this link, you can see for yourself how it is NOTHING LIKE PIZZA.

The traditional way of making Khachapuri

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As if all this is not enough, you can also buy the Caucasian Spice Box Style Adjika Chicken.

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Throughout the whole evening you will be able to buy and make  (very hands on, on-gong workshop) the famous Khinkhali dish AND learn how to eat it in a very special way!

Khinkhali

The outstanding Georgian Baklava Cake will also be available.

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You can wash all this down with Eastern Tea and Coffee brewed in  a traditional Samuvsamuvarar

as well as enjoy (glass by donation – suggested amount £3 per glass) the outstanding Georgian Wine –  Saperavi.

In true Georgian form, a lovely chap called Vako Gamtkitsulashvili, who is suddenly and rather unexpectly going to be at the launch, will be available to chat with about Georgian Wine. Vako is the son of the Twins Wine Company in Georgia,  a BBC piece about the company can be seen here: Georgian Twins Wine 

By the time Wednesday 30th March arrives – who knows what other food and wine opportunities might have presented themselves. I know that I , for one, am very happy for the launch Nino’s Song to be a celebration for this extraordinary food and wine and want to give a huge thank you to Keti Maghlakelidze from Caucasian Spice Box for this opportunity.

 

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Georgian Singing at Hot Banana Music Shop

Group of 4

Tonight we worked it out. Louise and I counted back the years and remembered the first time we sang Georgian song together. That was the year before her eldest son was born. That was 10 years ago. The focus of tonight’s rehearsal was to prepare for the songs that were being sung by her community choir ready for the lauch and to go over some of our old repertoire ready for the 30th March. I am nervous and excited all at the same time. It’s the first time I have directed the enormous amounts of energy I used to put into promoting other Georgian artists, into celebrating my own creative work.

Louise and I sang the famous Mravajamier  song together tonight for the first time in what feels like many years. In fact, it has been about 4 years  since Samzeo stopped singing together – collateral damage from  the end of my relationship with a very intimate side of Georgia. Singing with  Louise  was magical and powerful and connecting and it felt wonderful. It also felt right. A Georgian man once told me that you could not sing  Georgian songs with someone if you had no love in your heart for them.  He was right. About the love but not about the someone.   Samzeo did not stop singing together because we stopped loving one another but because  our hearts were so wounded by what had happened to us at the end of our relationship with Georgia, that we were fractured and  needed time to heal, both individually and as a group. We needed time to love ourselves again. No matter how much you love someone, if the wound inflicted by others is that deep,  it stops you from loving yourself, and can stop you from singing,  for a while anyway.

Tonight I felt the power of Nino’s Song swell from deep within my stomach, expand my chest, sail right past my nervous tightening throat, resonate in my mouth and explode and fill  the workshop space at Hot Banana. The old connections between Louise and  me sparked and crackled and the love I feel for myself within such a creative space fuelled my voice and empowered my passion for this Georgian sound.

Next Wednesday I will be singing once again, publically and with pride. I will be supported  by the tremendous singers from the Hot Banana Community choir and we will sing Nino’s Song so loud she might just be heard back in Georgia.

 

A bit of an update

Amazon ReviewsThank you to the  latest reviewers of Nino’s Song on Amazon! They are great – I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of  both readers  who felt as if they were holding their breath with anticipation as they read certain parts of Nino’s Song.
Why isn’t Nino in Prospero’s yet?
I don’t know!
I am trying to track down the 30 copies that are heading into Tbilisi. They were last seen on a pallet on the high seas along with other books going to The Republic of Georgia. I have to admit I am a bit concerned about where  those copies of Nino’s Song are  right now but anticipate that they will arrive safely in the next few days.  Perhaps I should invoke the detective clause in my friendship agreement with my dear friend the spy to find out.
London… London… London – ah London.
The British Georgian Society have kindly asked me to talk about Nino’s Song and do a book reading at the Georgian Embassy in London during April. It is likely to be at the end of April so I am looking forward to blogging about that. The last time I was there was the evening before I set off to Georgia to research the women’s stories for Nino’s Song. Looking back I was not actually sure if I would survive the trip but… here I am to tell the tale.
Lost Property
Imagine my delight when I found out that there is a Georgian Restaurant in Huddersfield!! Lost Property is going to host a Book Event in May and I am going to sample their Georgian cuisine in the next few weeks!