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

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Review of Wakefield Lit Fest 2017

Edited version 16/10/2017

Wakefield has worked hard over the past 6 years to create a diverse, vibrant and inclusive festival so it was with great anticipation I began to research both the paper leaflet and the web-site to plan what I was going to see. I was very aware that the Lit Fest had a much smaller budget this year and came on line later than normal due to the funding situation (believe me waiting for funding and working within this arts sector is a very frustrating process as so many great projects get ‘shelved’ because a funding body does not feel, for what ever reason, they ought to get funding to enable them to go ahead.) The challenges that go with this very much include working to both print and digital deadlines which can sometimes lead to things being left out. I have also had the privilege of working with Beam on the Words For Well Being project and have always found them to be open, fair and honest. In fact it has been a joy to work with them.

Let it be said right now that this blog was never written with any Arts Council reporting in mind. I have never been privy to the structuring of the festival and have had no clout in its programming. It was always an observation of how the Woman’s Voice was represented from the outset.  My views are entirely my own.

Bearing in mind that the project I had been commissioned to deliver by the Well Women Centre called ‘Words For Well Being’ was feeding into the ‘Beautiful Minds’ day, a day  dedicated to exploring Mental Health, as well as  my passion for empowering the woman’s voice, I was keen to go to as many female focused events as possible.

It soon became clear that the male voice dominated the paper programme, which was disappointing. Men were mentioned by name or imaged  on average 72 times as opposed to a mere average 43 times for women.  There was one woman of colour mentioned  and the ‘We Need to Talk About Music ‘ day had only one event representing women’s creativity. Fringe event information was available on the web-site, which was ‘interesting to navigate’ so as new events came on line the only way to find out about them was via the usual social media channels so that even though women were involved in a great many events, they remained hidden.

This all served to create the impression of a white male dominated based festival  rooted in a local white male community which unfortunately, overall, does not represent the wide and diverse communities that make up Wakefield and who had engaged in events in previous years and was not, I believe the intention of the festival.

The perception and the reality of gender balance can be very different. Of course alot of behind the scenes work goes on to produce any kind of festival and until that information is collated and published the whole picture cannot be seen. The statistics here show a much more gendered balance which is great and I am pleased. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

I have been told that my review is ’embarrassing’  and that I have written about ‘nothing positive’ and  indeed what I have written is now redundant in the light of these statistics. I have also had an offer of a potential job (if funding had been secured) to direct a day dedicated to the woman’s voice at a City Festival next year, withdrawn as a direct result of speaking my truth. The irony is not lost on me.  How do I feel about that? Sad. angry, resigned, frustrated, inspired, determined and resolved to continue being part of the strong movement that already exists and is continuing to grow in Wakefield,  no matter what.

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The figures speak for themselves.  Women were represented extraordinarily well in the 2017 Lit Fest. Go us!

With all this in mind I stand by what I have written below. I am not embarrassed by my observations of the Festival, of my role in that, of the way I have articulated how I feel,  nor of the women who performed in it. I am more than happy to have open and honest conversations with anyone who feels they want to respond or reply.   Please, if you have something to say to me. Say it to me. My e-mail address is sarahcobham@hotmail.com

Saturday 23rd September

I planned to  go to the Breakfast Epiphany performance at Unity Works with Genevieve Walsh and Valerie Anderson Gaskill.

Genevieve is from the royal line, being an original member of The Firm and Valerie has been a voice to watch in Wakefield for some time. Their union produced some great electric, social commentary and well written, poignant pieces. Attended by about 25 people, not put off by the 10am start, the performances were initially hampered by technical hitches but once the microphone situation was sorted and the windows had steamed up, it began.  It reminded me somewhat of Wednesday night Unity Words events I had attended over the past 16 months. Crackling with expectation and talent and a platform to showcase established and up and coming Northern Voices, Gen and Val had a mountain of audience expectation to climb. And climb it they did. Once at the top, they planted the flag for Women’s Voices in Wakefield and stood proud.

Genevieve Walsh

All photographs taken by and with huge thanks to  to Jess Robottom

The difference between the Wednesday Unity Words evenings run by The Firm  (which  have finished now)  and this event,  was that the women had space to really explore themes of family and relationships and to paint pictures of colourful  characters that we could all relate to.  I have never seen Gen deliver her line:  ‘as she turned to a small child, hunched by the door, and said, NO BRADLEY, I TOLD YER DOWN T’PARK, DON’T EAT OFF THE FUCKING FLOOR’ in her homage  to women who are walking ‘Contradiction’s poem with such aplomb before. I felt as if I really knew Valerie’s mother by the end of her set. Both delivered with sincerity, warmth and authenticity and invited real empathy from an audience  who already loved them.

After the Epiphany I had a choice. Should I go to The Book Doctors (there was no mention as to who they were so I had no idea if I would be accessing the woman’s voice or not but have recently found out that Valerie was part of this event) followed by Wakefield’s Gudrun’s Sisters  in Wakefield Library or should I go to an event at The Hepworth? The Hepworth event was an afternoon exploring how post war art and literature has helped to define national identity and was delivered by three women who held doctorates in this field. I chose the Hepworth.

I had been to see the exhibition, ‘Approaching Thunder’ the weekend before. Desperate to get out of the house after a bout of illness, it had not made an impact on me so I was glad to be able to re-visit it again. Gill Saunders from the V & A spoke briefly about the role of the ‘Recording Britain’ project which helped a post war torn Britain to idolise the pastoral  ideology through a series of propaganda posters. This was followed by a ‘substitute’ speaker from The Hepworth who spoke about modernism in Britain post second world war as the original speaker had fallen ill.  There was a flimsy link to literature. The third speaker, Sophie Hatchwell, from Bristol University, was fascinating in both the content and  her delivery . She highlighted strong links in ‘Letters from the Home Front’ between Robert MacBryde and Keith Vaughan (who were life partners) which demonstrated how their passivism and  social commentary was reflected in their art work. The panel discussion was also interesting  and there was a good and balanced mix of questions from the audience which really helped to unpack the links between art and literature during that time.

Lively, knowledgeable, respectful and informative debate took place until a male member of staff from the Hepworth, who had summarised the three talks, interrupted and talked over the women numerous times. ‘Sigh.’

The Big Night Out at St Austin’s Church theatre was stupendous in its vibe, energy and charisma. It was a sell out. Billed as ‘The Firm’s Last Gig’ Dartford, Abbott, Darwin, Walsh and  Stoppard were introduced by Marina Poppa, who delivered her legendary feminist piece about how women’s bodies are at the mercy of the beauty industry and how important it is to fight back against that by not botoxing, not shaving, not plucking and not generally giving a fuck.   Marina is a favourite guest at the bi-monthly Women’s Voices Ring Out,  and it was wonderful to see her grace the stage and to own it with such power. Genevieve Walsh was, once again, in her element. Like an inspiring dynamo she swept the whole theatre up in her black taffeta Gothic poetry, twirled us about and sat down with us, with a thump, with twigs in our hair, after a several breathless performances.

Other women who took to the stage that night were Wakefied’s Laura Potts, accompanied by a cellist, it was very other worldly. Becky Cherriman, who is another favourite of the WVRO events,  held her space magnificently and told intimate and compelling stories. Kate Fox  finished her set with a flash of her burlesque bra and made the wonderful observation that most women who get up and speak in public seem to be labelled as ‘unruly’ got lots of loud whoops and claps from an entertained audience and Zodwa Nyoni,  absolutely bought the house down with her advice to her niece that came in the form of a list poem. The supportive yells and cries that came from the women in the audience as each wise point was made and delivered in a powerful, life affirming and vibrant spoken word performance raised the bar. I am delighted that Zodwa has agreed to perform at the WVRO event in December this year.

Sunday 24th September

This was a big day for me.  I had been leading a writing course called ‘Words For Well Being’ with women who had been working up to performing at the Lit fest for 5 months. Going from never having written anything creative before  to performing on a stage, in front of an audience, using a microphone and owning their space without either being sick, bursting into tears or having a nervous break down was an epic challenge. The afternoon was dedicated to their achievements in a celebration event. This was book ended by two discussion panels about issues to do with Mental Heath and how to break down those barriers within Wakefield. The woman’s voice was represented by Shannon Wishon from the Well Women Centre. She made compelling arguments for the benefits of women only spaces to enable women to recover from mental health  using creativity at the core, but she also pointed out that men’s mental health needs are not being met at all by the NHS and that  issues around mental health are not gender exclusive.

Several people who attended the first panel discussion event then came to support the women as they performed their poems. This celebration  event had made it into the Lit Fest paper brochure so we were hoping for a good attendance and we got it.  We started our event by showing a wonderful film made by Amy Charles which captured the very essence of the past 5 months and after both the film and the performance there were tears of relief, hugs of achievement and whoops of delight from both the audience and the women.

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The evening event was also something special. We had been missed off the publicity despite the evening being named after our project but we had rehearsed and rehearsed on the stage, had taken excellent advice and practiced with microphones and were ready. The nerves were stretched tight in the green room and the rescue remedy was flowing. My pep talk was different this time, this was not a performance for an audience it was an opportunity to experience something new, to share something unique we had created and so we were inviting people to join us in that moment. It was up to them if they wanted to be with us or not but WE were with us. We had one another’s backs. The lighting was just right, the mood was electric and each of the women took their place at the front with confidence, looked their fears in the eye and told their truth with no apology through the medium of spoken word. They were magnificent and the audience thought so too and gave us a standing ovation.

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The only other female voice that evening was Hannah Chutzpah who went on immediately after us. We were in the bar, drinking gin and generally being amazed that we had achieved what we had. I was sorry to miss Hannah as I understand she is really very good.

In between the weekends.

The five days between the two main weekends  of the festival were peppered with different events during the days and evenings. This was an opportunity for local groups who, with or without seed funding to provide events and celebrate their contributions to the cultural landscape of Wakefield.  Only three events represented the women’s voice so  as I was unable to attend the Women’s Poetry Group workshop run by Jasmine King on the Tuesday morning I went to the launch of Kit Eyre’s book ‘Valerie’ in the evening. I had been asked to perform alongside poets Halima Mayat and Susan Darlington. It was a lovely hour with the author reading the first chapter from her novel, participating in an informal performance and sharing a cup of tea and a bun afterwards. Wednesday morning saw Kath Padgett at the Library but I was working and unable to go.

 

Saturday 30th

My mother’s 74th birthday prevented me from seeing the two women led events that day. The first was with, Zoe Howe and Celeste Bell in conversation at Unity Works. This had been advertised in the paper brochure. The  second, not readily advertised, was the Labour MP Rachel Reeves talk about Dame Alice Bacon based on a book she has recently published. Apparently the talk was fascinating. Dame Alice Bacon is the first woman my next project ‘Forgotten Women of Wakefield’ is focusing on so even though I was not able to go I have met with Rachel Reeves to talk about both Alice, and the project, and now have the book.

I made it back in time, however to catch the One day After School commission performance of Simon Armitage’s poetry collection, ‘The Dead Sea Poems’ at The Mechanics Theatre. A little known and I hope, soon to be more used theatre in the old Museum on Wood Street. Dean Freeman and his band produced an incredible musical piece which was accompanied by several well-known local spoken word artists reading the poems out loud against different back drops of pictures, lighting and sound.  The whole performance was really innovative. I would have liked to have seen more female spoken word artists  involved as it was, once again white male dominated.

Sunday 1st October

Based at The Cluntegate Centre in Horbury, there were two events dedicated to the woman’s voice. The first, The Merry West Collective, which was not highlighted as being a woman’s voice event, so I missed it, and the second, a musical ending to the festival, Ruby Mackintosh, a local singer song writer. I have seen Ruby before, and can say with some authority that she is magnificent in both her songstress skills and her performance. I did not, however, get to see her this time due to prior commitments.

I did catch ‘Welcome to the Mad’ which was a partner collaboration between Valerie Anderson Gaskill and William Anderson Gaskill. This was the fifth time Valerie had appeared at the Lit Fest but not once had her name appeared on any programme. They were both extra ordinarily good. So much so that at the end of their piece, William had to announce it was ‘over’. The whole audience were all so hooked we just did not want it to end and were waiting to hear more.

That Sunday demonstrated just how talented the drama collective Cuckoos Egg is. Their piece was interactive and immersive, in that the audience was invited to attend an official press conference outlining the reasons why culture and art could only now be accepted if it were set within the framework of being economically profitable and that all other types of ‘art’ had been de commissioned. (Including songs by Robbie Williams) Art for art’s sake had become unpopular and indeed, something to be laughed at and ridiculed. The piece slipped in and out of different scenarios and took a dark turn when it turned out that the young people ( beautifully acted by younger members of the cast) were being persecuted by what can only be described as an ‘arts hunter’ for being creative. The whole piece was challenging, thought provoking and clever. For me, this was the highlight of this year’s Festival. It was inter-generational, tackled diverse and relevant topics and showcased an incredibly talented group of writers, artists, actors and social commentators.

If I had only gone to see events that empowered and enabled the woman’s voice I would have had a very thin experience indeed. As it was I feel I was able to engage in a good amount of different experiences which showed Wakefield’s white creative community in a strong, confident and creative  light.

I do however, feel uncomfortable and some what embarrassed that,  as many of my Asian friends, Polish friends, friends from the asylum seeking community and LGBT friends who had been represented in the past in events I had put on,  have asked of me this year, ‘Where was  my place in this festival? Where was our voice?’

The incredible Genevieve Walsh

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I  asked Genevieve to lead the Words For Well Being group on the theme of Power and Justice and she certainly did that. Gen bought in a dimension which none of us had thought of as she got us thinking hard about who and what represented power and or justice to us. From, Martin Luther King to The Statue of Liberty, from The Suffragettes to Ella Fitzgerald we connected with figures, ideas and metaphors through out time to help us empower our own voices.

It was incredible the way Gen got us connected to our fore mothers and their voices and from that some amazing poetry was born. She also bought in the beginnings of the skill of performance and had us stomping around the room as if we were wearing dockers!

Thank you Gen. We all look forward to sharing our work with you as part of the Lit Fest this September 2017!

A series of wonderful workshops with Matt Abbott

As part of the Words For Well Being Project it has been utterly delightful to welcome one of, in my opinion,  the most gifted poets in West Yorkshire, in his capacity as workshop leader.

Matt Abbot joined us twice! The first time was to look at how important it is to speak and write about  how important journeys and life lessons are whilst the second was to explore how humour is used for effect in Spoken Word. Both workshops produced some incredible poetry and much laughter. Who can forget the ‘Knickers Down in Down Town’ poem written by the gifted Jo and based on a tweet she wrote in that workshop.

The poem itself.. by Jo can be seen here:

Jo’s Poem Knickers Down in Down Town

Matts first workshop poster

Words For Well Being

Words For Well Being Full Film

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The Words For Well Being Project in Wakefield has been an utter joy to lead.

The Well Women Centre, where I have been working as a Freelance Creative Facilitator since 2013 and was the Writer in Residence during 2014- 2015, asked me to lead this project and of course I said yes!

We started in June, and have been meeting every two weeks to explore different themes around mental heath through writing, drama, art and spoken word and have been delighted to share our space and growth with some guest writers such as Genevieve L Walsh, Matt Abbott and Zena Edwards who brought incredible skills and insight to aid our growth.

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I want to give a big shout out to them and say thank you.

To be a writer and workshop facilitator/lead at the same time is  impossible for me so I took the decision to step back from taking inspiration from the course (as a writer) but instead focus on supporting the women alongside learning about myself within an environment that has been joyful, challenging, painful and beautiful all the time.

I have learnt that my passion for nurturing the woman’s voice is well placed. The trust, care, respect, growth, the style, passion, connection, honesty and integrity that the women I have been working with has left me humbled and often in tears. It’s an exhausting but not thankless journey and as a writer, no doubt the lessons I have and am continuing to learn along this journey, will come out later (often many years later) but I would not change it for the world.

Having said that, I was inspired to write the following piece, dedicated to every woman who has been able to, for what ever reason, leave an abusive relationship. It’s called DONE.

Poem DONE

I am looking forward to the next few weeks as we head towards the Lit Fest (2017) Beautiful Minds Day where  we will  cement our ‘performance’ for the public and empower our voices even more. As each session goes by, I feel less of a facilitator and more of a participant who just happened to land a dream job.

It’s been an utter utter pleasure. Thank you Words For Well Being Women for just… well.. everything.

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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