Location, Location, Location: Silk for the Feed Dogs by Jackie Mallon

SILK2x2700Silk for the Feed Dogs, by Jackie Mallon  simply blew me away and I’ve been waiting with bated breath to be able to share Jackie’s guest post and my review of her book. Let’s get things underway with a short bio.

Jackie Mallon is an Irish writer and fashion designer living in New York. After studying at London’s St Martins School, she worked in the world of high fashion in Milan for eight years, stockpiling stories for the novel she didn’t know she was gearing up to write. Jackie is a trained Irish dancer, a secret calligraphist, and needlework enthusiast. She enjoys sketching trees and rainy weather – not necessarily at the same time – and running marathons. She learnt Italian from reading Harry Potter with a dictionary on her daily tram commutes in Milan. She was once a dreadlocked petrol pump attendant and lived above a South London pub frequented by Cockney gangsters.


Take it away, Jackie.



Milan is always hidden behind a veil. Even in the height of summer when the sun is at its brightest, her features are swathed in something resembling mesh. As Italy’s biggest industrial city, it’s also the most heavily polluted. Streets are quaint and narrow but throbbing with vehicles roaring their diesel engines, spewing fumes, and vying for position while mopeds play chicken with well-dressed pedestrians.




Her buildings are spice-colored––mustard, saffron, paprika, garlic and ginger––but smeared with vibrant turquoise or lime green graffiti. The streets are cobbled just like in ancient times but the cracks are grouted with cigarette butts.

Scan 3

The canal area where I lived is as pretty as any Amsterdam equivalent but the water is scummy and a rusty bike protrudes briefly from the surface. In the Porta Venezia neighbourhood, a ratty double door with a single bar latch and in need of a coat of paint staggers open and a trim, expensively attired woman with thick chestnut hair exits sliding her sunglasses onto her nose. Before the doors meet again with an indecisive click, we are provided with a glimpse of the leafy courtyard within. There, stalking between the stone fountains against the dense foliage, as breathtaking as a finale of models on the catwalks of fashion week, is a pageant of flamingos. Long-necked, twig-legged, haughty as international covergirls, they are unapologetic about sporting fuchsia at teatime.

This is the Milan I know and crave. Contradictory, effusive yet unforthcoming, confusing to strangers, capricious. It’s been eight years since I left but my head still teems with the sights, sounds and smells of her. For a decade I designed clothes for some of the biggest names in Italian fashion. After, in desperate need of a receptacle to deposit my stories, I wrote my novel Silk for the Feed Dogs and was able to revisit her in my imagination every day for three years. As I typed I heard the emptied espresso cup striking its saucer; I sidestepped the sunbaked pretzel-shaped dog poop in the doorway of the museum containing Canalettos and Caravaggios; I lapped at the gelato alla stracciatella; my ears protested the shriek of tram wheels; my tongue reacquainted itself with florid curse words…


The fashion industry is a natural stage for theatrics, Italy the home of the commedia dell’arte. But I wanted to avoid the glib, superficial tone female novelists always adopt for the worlds of glamour and beauty. I wanted my story to be humorous but poignant, and as layered as Milan herself. There is nothing one-dimensional about her. She is one complicated dame. Her flaking stable doors open to reveal gilded and majestic high-ceilinged palazzi. She doesn’t care if you walk by, oblivious to her unsignposted charms.


Scan 6Her masterpiece is the Italian fashion industry, glittering and glamorous, but home to as much hierarchical scheming as the court of King Henry VIII. She keeps a pride of artisans sequestered away in hillside laboratories assembling skins of calf and snake by hand, their process shrouded in mystery, yet she permits daily public spectacles in the piazza during which the anatomies of passing females are picked apart by packs of slavering men. Milan considers a handbag a precious thing but a woman a plaything.



Quite the character, she refuses to pose for photos and will not be summed up in tourist friendly clichés. She is not Florence or Venice where the sun is brighter. In Silk for the Feed Dogs, I aimed to strip her of her veil and present her, flaws and all.

I think she liked it.



Five-Star Review for Jackie Mallon’s, Silk for the Feed Dogs

Let’s start with a salute to a brilliant title. Feed dogs are the mechanical part of a sewing machine that feeds the fabric through and under the needle. The word silk says everything anyone would ever need to say about the pure sensuousness of fabric, hinting at so much more. And thus it is with Jackie Mallon’s book – we are fed through an amazing story like a piece of fabric through a sewing machine.

The story plunges the reader into the world of high fashion, careening around the cobbled streets of Milan, from the sacred halls of the Fashion Houses, to the bursting with life neighbourhoods and the pulse-pounding nightlife. Most of us, like Kat’s hapless Italian teacher, are, “as far removed as you can get from the world where she-wolves and lionesses fought over handbags.” And yet, because Kat is our guide we find our way.

We follow Katherine (Kat for short) Connelly as she weathers a shattering failure to conform to the norms of St. Martin’s Fashion School in London, to work with the eccentric and psychotic rip-off designer Lynda Wynter, to the glitzy and surreal Intermezzo Fashion House in Milan run by the constantly wreathed in cigarette smoke, Rosalba and finally to the hallowed halls of the House of Adriani. Kat, the daughter of an Irish farmer-father and a seamstress-mother who specializes in curtain making, is as much an outsider to these worlds as the average reader. “I was the pretender; the hick who had rolled into town in stolen Chanel and deceived everyone.” Kat can’t help but shine a different lens on the world of fashion she has plunged head first into.

In Silk for the Feed Dogs, the reader will find the perfect mix of breath-taking action, fast-paced dialogue, come-alive settings and characters you’ll meet only once in a life-time. Mallon renders each and every location with a confident and seemingly effortless use of description that never bogs the story down. Her characters jump off the pages. One attractive Italian has “the head of a devil and the air of a shipwreck.” Her nemesis employer, Lynda Wynter has, “ratty highlighted hair, the mistreated coat with this season’s shoes, all accessorized with her unique air of vagrancy.” Her words are fresh, providing more than a few aha moments in which the reader sees exactly what is being described.

The thread of Kat’s farm background weaves through everything. It has shaped who she is and how she thinks. A co-worker has a face that is, “small and pretty, as pale as a bowl of fresh goat’s milk.” Kat’s first taxi drive through Milan consists of, “zipping around sharp corners of handsome buildings, like a beast pulled up short by an invisible electric fence.”

Scan 2The author makes no bones about showing us the toll exacted from those living at the higher altitudes of fashion, breathing the rarefied air of The House of Adriani – run by a designer of mythic proportions. “When Signor Adriani provided the rage, the building’s acoustics provided the transport.” Enough said.

Of all the well-drawn secondary characters, my favourite was Silvia– the aging, voluminous of body, head of the technical department who has spent her life worshipping the ground Signor Adriani – her Il Maestro – walks, while he abhors and ignores her. She was once fashion-model thin and glamorous but that is the past. “The difference in the Before and After was the stuff of fables. It was the result of eating the poisoned apple, A Brothers Grimm tale of spinning and pinning fabric into gorgeous gowns for a thankless old king until, one day, you wake to find you have spun your life away in the weave of those frocks.” With this author we are never far from the sewing metaphors. The working relationship Kat develops with Silvia is filled with moments of heart-wrenching pathos that never tip into the maudlin.

The fact that Kat comes at the world of fashion on her own terms and has the strength to steer true and clear through the often turbulent waters, makes her an endearing protagonist. She fights the moral battles that matter, so that even the most fashionably challenged of us can identify with her struggles and feel triumphant as we come to the book’s conclusion. Silk for the Feed Dogs is a stellar accomplishment – get it, read it, you won’t regret the indulgence of silk against your skin.

Scan 16

Thank you Jackie for this fabulous guest piece and the wonderful photos to go along with it.

You can pop over to Amazon by following the link to purchase Silk for the Feed Dogs. Just click here!

Book Promotion or Monument to Self-Indulgence? You Decide.

The Light Never Lies at Jerry Sulla Park

The photo challenge this week is Monument. All kinds of word pairings popped into my head – Monument to Stupidity, Monument to Arrogance, Monument to Self-Indulgence. Let me linger for a moment on that last one. (Leave aside the fact that I can’t link the word monument with anything positive.)

Lately, I sense my blog tipping towards the above title. Blogging is definitely supposed to be about more than me tooting the one note song – look, look, my new book is out, look, look, my new book is out . . . the whole thing does have a nice ring to it but, of course, that’s not the point.

When I first started blogging I followed someone who was on the verge of self-publishing a first novel. I valued this blog because the blogger wrote not only about the process of getting a book out, but also about writing related activities. A life was shared on that blog. Then the book came out. Bang – the whole tone of the blog changed. It was all about buy my book. Every single post – no relief in sight. I gave the benefit of the doubt and hung around for about three months but the blog never returned to the interesting pre-self-published status. So, I quietly unfollowed and drifted away.

I understand that blogger’s dilemma better now, for sure. With two books out, reviews coming in and a blog tour wending its way through cyberspace there are lots of things for me to go on about when it comes to my new book. But I’m getting bored of it myself so can only imagine how others might feel.

DSC_0446Last night I did my last scheduled public appearance to promote the launch of The Light Never Lies. A lively book reading, meet and greet at the Port Alice Library. It was wonderful and at the same time, I’m so relieved to put that part of promotion behind me for the upcoming future.

I can’t promise that I won’t still be shouting out links to great posts about my book or re-blogging posts from the tour. I owe it to my hosts to give something back and if that means generating more traffic for their blogs via this site, I’ll just have to toot away on the horn a few more times. The beauty of putting this tour together myself was being able to appear on blogs I really love. Of course, I want to share those stops.

While that vein is open – pop over and take a look at the great way Gaele Hince at I Am Indeed puts together a book review. A whole promotion package all tied up with a bow. She’s a pro and well deserves her status as a top Amazon reviewer.

On other fronts, watch out for more posts on the location, location, location series – I’ve got a few great ones lined up. I’ve also got a post on the go to promote a book review blog I’ve been following. You can expect more reflection on the self-publishing journey as the dust of launching and promotion settles. And of course, grandmother updates, garden talks and wine out on the cliff deck.

Pete the Cat

As Pete the Cat would say – Groovy Man. It’s all good. Credit  to playrific.com for this image. If my granddaughter Emma were here she could have drawn Pete for me. We’re all crazy about Pete the Cat.


Pete the Cat by Emma

Book review – The Light Never Lies, Francis Guenette

Latest 5-Star Review for The Light Never Lies and yet another stop on my blog tour. Half-way through now, folks 🙂 I’ve been following Roy McCarthy’s blog, Back on the Rock, for some time. Loved his novel – Tess of Portelet Manor. You won’t go wrong by popping over and reading more of Roy’s stuff.

Back On The Rock

Francis Geunette did it again. It isn’t easy to emulate an impressive debut novel, but Guenette manages it very well simply by building on the same formula.

It is certainly advisable to have read Disappearing In Plain Sight as the residents of Crater Lake are reintroduced to the reader several months on. The often-complex relationships between the characters are the strength of these stories, and in one or two cases these have moved on. Izzy and Liam are now a firm item whereas the intriguing Beulah/Bethany relationship is showing signs of fracture.

We were left wondering what would become of young Lisa-Marie. We soon find out as she rocks up again at the remote Crater Lake location pregnant with Liam’s child. Well, I’ve never known the arrival of a baby have such a huge knock-on effect on a community. Major drama which involves Lisa-Marie’s aunt Bethany, Liam of course, Lisa’s sort-of…

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Tea with the Dragon and Francis Guenette

Tea with a Dragon – the latest stop on the blog tour. Whew – it was touch and go there for a few minutes but worth the risk. Oh, the places a self-promoting author will find herself.

patrick o'scheen

The tea kettle hisses in the Dragon’s kitchen and a scaly claw reaches for the pot. Dragon sized trays are laden with delicious treasures and cups far too small and delicate for dragon form are set out in preparation. Soon it will be tea time and I am expecting a victim visitor…
With a loud roar I am pleased to announce my mouth watering guest Francis Guenette, author of The Light Never Lies .
Tea is ready and the Dragon has many questions–

1.Dragon: How did you choose the title for “The Light Never Lies?”
Francis–The title came fairly early in the writing process. I’m not sure how this titling thing works for other authors, but I like to have it squarely in place before too many words are down on paper. The title acts as a compass – keeping me on track. The whole tone of this second…

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Do You Want to Build a Snowman?


Frozen movie coverMy granddaughters are crazy about the latest Disney movie, Frozen. On my recent visit, I got to watch the show, along with them, several times. Children do enjoy repetition. Frozen is, without a doubt, a Disney masterpiece with appealing characters, a heart wrenching storyline, breathtaking visuals, and award winning music. I defy you not to tear up when an act of self-sacrificing love saves the day – and not your typical Disney love moment when Prince Charming’s kiss awakens Sleeping Beauty. This is an act of love and sacrifice of one sister for another.

The story is loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Snow Queen.  If you are familiar at all with the original, you will take the word loosely to mean hardly recognizable. But therein lies the genius of Disney – take an idea and spin it widely in a commercial vein that will find traction far and wide. There is the question of marketing to consider – dolls, books, figurines, costumes, games, DVD’s, and CD’s. The wise consumer knows the movie is just one long commercial for the merchandise. And yet, there is entertainment value and lessons to be learnt.

ElsaIn the Disney version, Elsa (the oldest daughter of the King and Queen of Arendelle) has been born with a gift – she can create snow with the twirl of a hand, freeze the ground with the stamp of her foot.

Her younger sister, Anna, is delighted at Elsa’s ability and the two little Anna and Elsasisters run wild through the castle building snowmen and playing in wintery landscapes created by Elsa. Until one day when Anna is accidently struck in the head by a potent blast of Elsa’s freezing power and needs to be rushed to the wise troll king to be healed. He makes a foreshadowing statement – fortunately it was the young girl’s head. Heads are easily changed. If it had been her heart, that would be a different story. A frozen heart is most always fatal. The troll king erases all memory of Elsa’s magic from Anna’s mind. He warns Elsa that her gift will only grow stronger and, while it can possess great beauty, it also contains great danger.

As is often the case in Disney movies, parents are not especially helpful. Elsa’s parents choose to isolate the poor girl, keeping her from her sister and the world. She is taught to hide and control her secret – conceal it, don’t feel it. Elsa’s emotions turn to ice as she learns to suppress her power. Eventually, in another true Disney twist, the parents are suddenly knocked off. Elsa finds herself in charge of the kingdom. Coronation Day brings Hans and AnnaElsa and Anna back together with icy fireworks as Anna announces she will marry Prince Hans after knowing him only one day. Isolation has had a negative effect on Anna as well – too ready to fall in love with the first person who shows her any attention at all. Elsa refuses her blessing on the marriage and ends up revealing her freezing power as she tries to fend off Anna’s objections. Elsa escapes to the mountains to create an ice palace where she can finally be herself – let the storm rage on, the cold never bothered her anyway. She rules over a frozen wasteland. Unbeknownst to Elsa, her freezing spree spread beyond her mountain palace – she has frozen all of Arendelle, as well. Anna goes after her sister, confident that she can convince Elsa to reverse her actions. A wild adventure ensues where good guys become bad guys, a comedic/philosopher snowman named Olaf comes to life and both Anna and Elsa must confront the women they have grown to be.


My enjoyment of the movie comes from watching how granddaughters, Emma and Brit react to the story. They have quickly learned the actions and lyrics for the most popular songs and with their Elsa and Anna dolls in hand, act out and sing their way through the movie. At five-and-half-years-old, Emma is able to unwind the more emotional aspects of the story. She tells me, “Grandma, this part makes me want to cry.” Yes indeed.

Two-and-a-half-year-old, Brit will run up to Emma with her Anna doll outstretched and ask, “Wanna build a snowman?” She sits on the floor and shakes her little head, singing, “Use to be best buddies, now we’re not. Wish you tell me why.” Emma holds up her Elsa doll and says, “Go away, Anna.” Brit slumps and turns, saying in a mournful voice, “Okay, bye.” If you haven’t seen the movie, pop over and watch the first minute of this You-Tube video. You’ll understand exactly what I’m describing.

Emma knows all Elsa’s words and actions for the wildly popular hit tune, Let it Go. As I watch her performance, I am struck by wonder at the facial expressions and body movements. Emma, a savvy, computer-literate, little girl, pulls up You-Tubes of each song from the movie as well as a host of videos of other kids performing the numbers – some of these are quite elaborate with soundtracks, voice overs and costumes. There is more than enough material available at the click of a mouse to fuel her desire to imitate.

Why should adults watch Disney movies with kids? We get to tease out what lies below the surface – under the ice, so to speak. In the final moments of the movie, it’s easy to miss the fact that Anna turned away from what she thinks will save her (true love’s first kiss from Sven) to save her sister from the sword of good guy turned bad, Hans. The act of love is Anna’s and that is what unfreezes her heart. It wasn’t anything anyone else could do for her. And through Anna’s actions, Elsa learns the secret of her icy gift. As the troll king said, fear was her enemy. Gifts of great power are controlled only through love, never fear.

frozen Anna

I am left thinking, what a mixed bag children’s entertainment is these days. There are valuable messages in Frozen that a wise adult can pull out and emphasize. Who wouldn’t want to play on the theme of the love of one sister for another when dealing with two sisters? And love healing all – wonderful stuff. I wasn’t above making a big deal over the fact that Anna didn’t need true love’s first kiss to get the job done.

So, are Disney movies turning a feminist page? I love this You-Tube Emma showed me of Elsa leading the other Disney Princesses in the song, I Don’t Need a Man. But, lest we toot a congratulatory horn too loud here, all the Disney Princesses are still an animated version of female beauty impossible to achieve, and though Elsa may have escaped the need for a guy, Anna is obviously headed for romance with Sven. But you do get the idea she will be calling the shots. After all, she is a Princess and he is the ice block supplier to the kingdom. Quite the disparity in social position.

If you have a young daughter or son, granddaughter or grandson, niece or nephew, sit down and watch Frozen with them. You won’t regret the time spent ferreting out the teachable moments and you’ll probably find yourself breathless, tears in your eyes, waiting for a miracle – just like the child beside you.

DSC_0348     Anna and Elsa

(All  animated pictures courtesy of Disney promotional material on Google images)

I’m a Lime Margarita. What Drink are You?

Lime Margarita - drinksguide.co

Check out my interview over on Words with Jam – the ezine for writers and publishers. A few great questions – like, what cocktail best represents my personality? You heard it on Words with Jam first, folks. Many thanks to J.J. Marsh and the Jam crew.

Drinking a Margarita on Olvera St. in L.A.

I really am a lime margarita Smile