JACQUELINE Karp-Gendre has lived in France for over 30 years, writes Beryl Brennan. She speaks French and Spanish like a native, as well as a smattering of Arabic.
Her mother was a journalist, so writing is in her blood, and she never travels without a notebook and pen.
"People I meet, things that happen, places I visit, all inspire me and trigger my thoughts, and I have to sit down there and then and write them down," Jacqueline explains. Nowadays, she also carries a laptop.
"My parents met in Jerusalem during the Second World War, my father was in the British Army and my mother was reporting on the British Mandate.
"They often spoke Arabic to each other, so I grew up wanting to learn it, and that’s where my interest in languages began."
She met her French husband, Regis, whilst she was teaching languages at High Wycombe Technical College.
"Regis was spending a year at the college as a language assistant to improve his English, and we came back to France in 1977," Jacqueline said. "I've scribbled for as long as I can remember."
Jacqueline has won literary prizes for her poetry and her first book, Sudden Maraschinos, is a compilation of her poems from visits to several European countries.
"We were in Upsala and I was in a café. I got chatting to a man sitting on his own, who talked to me about feeling lonely. He inspired me to write 'Loneliness' that night."
Loneliness is a fork
over a mound
of uneaten coleslaw.
I have tasted that.
As I have felt my oval face
droop, watched my blond hair grow
I avoid those glances at my two-day stubble,
choosing with care
a single seat
in the vegetarian restaurant.
"My grandparents emigrated to England from Belarus, now part of Poland, so I decided to go back to my roots, it was a very emotional visit," Jacqueline said.
"I stayed in an isolated village where I was a novelty. It was like the end of the world. There were no shops, no work, the men used to drink vodka all day.
"Kolodno Diary was the outcome of that visit, which was commended in the Scintilla Competition Long Poem section in 2001."
Her second book of poems, Tears of Honey and Gold, is a reflection of journeys through Spain.
"I wrote 'Campsite Jottings' one wet and windy day when Regis and I were staying near Santander," explains Jacqueline.
Was it the wind blowing through our hair, indigo
breakers rising like foaming cobras and lashing out at us
above the cliffs, or because we were together? You are my
active muse, you take ten steps for every thought I have,
striding past long empty beaches and the homeless man
drunk and sleeping off his drunken night against a tree
and me trailing behind.
Did you see him? Or notice the poets set in bronze?
Gerardo Diego, Fernandez Moreno, Rio de Sainz, all
guarding the wide bay. I breath in the north here,
Cantabria, en route for Asturias, glass-fronted against
the Atlantic gales.
While you sit reading, a mouse has just hopped past your
foot, his silky fur almost black
and somewhere in the night a toad is croaking.
What does she especially like about writing poetry?
"I like the immediacy. One acts on the feeling there and then. If you come back to it, you don’t remember it. We travel a lot, Regis drives whilst I write," Jacqueline said.
"As with many writers, I need space so sometimes I go away and stay somewhere and write. I go through my notes, I don’t like my poems too regular, and I play around with rhyming."
Jacqueline has also written a couple of novels, one of which is set in central Asia and Sangatte, the former refugee camp near Calais, where she gained permission to visit the facilities.
"But most excitingly, my latest book is entitled Reporting from Palestine 1943-1944 by Barbara Board (Five Leaves)," Jacqueline said.
"Barbara was my mother and I discovered the unpublished manuscript of the book under the bed when she died in 1986, along with a suitcase full of cuttings and telegrams. Its publication had been stopped by censorship back in the 40s."
Jacqueline's mother was a local journalist in Dorset, by-lined only as 'our woman reporter', until her reporting on a capital punishment case sent her career soaring.
Within months she was reporting from the Middle East, during the last years of the British Mandate in Palestine.
What gives this account of the years 1943 - 1944 its unique standpoint is that Barbara didn't live the ex-pat life of parties and social gatherings in Tel Aviv, but chose to live in a village that was one of the first Jewish settlements, begun in the 1920s.
She talks about how these Jewish settlers and their Arab neighbours lived in harmony before politics and extremism created a rift and eventually a wall, including going to a feast at an Arab neighbour's with Jewish friends.
Along with her vivid descriptions of daily life, she covers all the important political events of the day. It explains a great deal about what went wrong in the Middle East.
"Before publishing this book," Jacqueline said. "I visited Israel and Palestine, and found the son of the neighbour who had given the feast described in the book. I’ve also got the actual telegrams which my mother sent, wiring her stories back to England."
Editing the manuscripts left by her late mother was an emotional journey for Jacqueline.
For her, the most important thing is not only that the book is at long last published, but that she feels it is a debt repaid, as it was put to one side after she was born.
"And now, suddenly, it is so contemporary," Jacqueline feels. "Change the actors and you could be reading today’s news. So, a big thank-you to Mum for not chucking this manuscript away, deep down she must have known that one day it would outgrow being out of date."
Title: Reporting from Palestine 1943-1944 by Barbara Board (available from Five Leaves)
Beryl Brennan worked for more then 10 years with BBC Manchester regional radio, before moving to western France in 2002. While still writing about France, her other passion is greyhounds, helping to rehome rescued dogs through the Galgo News website.
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