Fiona Pitt-Kethley

Fiona Pitt-Kethley has published more than twenty books of prose and poetry.

From The Blog
14 April 2020

Quiz is based in part on a book written by my husband, James Plaskett, and the late Bob Woffinden. James had himself been obsessed for years with getting on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? He got as far as the studio several times but was lagging on the ‘fastest finger first’ test, so I rigged up a little board with several light switches screwed to it. That seemed to help.

From The Blog
26 September 2019

Southern Spain has suffered a catastrophic storm that will have repercussions for years to come. As I write there are seven people dead who were caught in flash floods. Several hundred have been rescued. Some were given temporary shelter in sports centres. A special army unit was on stand-by and the prime minister has visited some of the worst affected spots. About 1500 farm animals died in the region of Murcia. The sea spat out a thousand dead tuna from a fish farm, and beaches on La Manga had to be closed till the rotting corpses were removed. They had already left an oily film on the sea.

Diary: Santería

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, 27 July 2017

Early​ this year I had my first and only encounter with Santería. It was at the beach. I had long been an enthusiast for cold water swimming. I liked it even when I lived in Hastings, but it’s slightly easier now that I’m in southern Spain, where I snorkel regularly at my local beach. From mid-May to mid-October the temperatures are fine. For the rest of the year I only do...

Diary: The Ravine

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, 20 May 2004

For nearly two years, we have lived in Orihuela Costa, on the Costa Blanca in Spain, among a cocktail of nationalities. Last September, when my son was celebrating his seventh birthday, his Dutch friends brought round a girl from the next road who looked Malaysian. She stayed and had a slice of cake. Her older sisters who came to collect her were introduced as Norwegians. I later learned that...

From The Blog
6 November 2018

The search to find the new poet laureate for when Carol Ann Duffy stands down next year is hotting up. In the past some poets have been reluctant to assume the role. Everything from mock modesty to anti-monarchic feeling has been used as a reason to say no.

From The Blog
22 December 2016

I have spent 15 years or so looking for a new agent. I had one once, but he died. I am being slightly economical with the truth when I say that. I shall tell the whole story. I have spent most of my time writing since 1978. This has only ever been subsidised by part-time work. Writing is much more than a hobby or interest in my case. While my first love is poetry, I also write novels, travel books and journalism. In the early 1980s I began to get more and more work published in magazines (including the London Review of Books, who once put my photo on the cover), anthologies and collections brought out by small publishers. My breakthrough came with the publication of Sky Ray Lolly by Chatto and Windus in 1986.

Poem: ‘Designer Sex’

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, 8 April 1993

(For D.)

You’ve made yourself a master of the art of touch. You play me like an instrument. While I lie passively, as you prefer – eyes closed, you’d rather that I didn’t watch – your fingers (unobserved) combine to seem like other things. Your subtlety deceives.

This time I’m on my front and sneak a look ... I see your hands, then the illusion breaks....

Poem: ‘My Prickly Friend’

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, 8 October 1992

Returning from a party late at night I went to use the basement loo and saw a mass of heaving spikes and bright black eyes and swore I’d never touch champagne again until I realised that it was real – a hedgehog struggling in the lavatory pan.

I held a walking-stick – he grabbed the end and wrapped his body round it like a ball. (He didn’t smell too good when he came...

Poem: ‘‘Expense of Spirit’’

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, 9 January 1992

‘Shakespeare’s a good psychologist,’ I’d said – a casual remark, post-mortemised by the historian I was talking to. ‘He couldn’t be – psychology’s a science that wasn’t even invented in his day ... Shakespeare showed feeling for his fellow man!’ (He told me what he thought I’d meant to say.) I felt the sofa wasn’t...

Poem: ‘Dogs’

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, 13 June 1991

Young men, like pups, can be somewhat unformed. Unless you’re certain of their pedigree, it’s hard to see how they’ll mature and grow. (Alsatians will fuck dachshunds now and then.)

A man who has some mileage on the clock in theory would be best. You know the worst – how much his hair is likely to recede, his face to fold, as ‘character’ comes out. (Furrows...

Two Poems

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, 11 October 1990

Blow Jobs

You’d get more protein from the average egg; the taste’s a tepid, watery nothingness – skimmed milk? weak coffee? puréed cucumber?

Fellation’s not a woman’s idea of fun. Just doing it as foreplay is OK. You kiss me, I’ll kiss you’s a quid pro quo – but carrying on until the buggers come – suck, suck, suck, suck for half a...

Poem: ‘No Smoking’

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, 24 May 1990

Lent is the time for cutting out what’s bad. I’ll give up going to bed with men who smoke, for that and other seasons of the year.

Is it the taste? That’s not too bad as long as I don’t put my tongue into their mouths. The tiredness of their skin? Their bloodshot eyes?

Is it the smell of fag-ash in my hair next day? Not really. That can be washed out.

Post-coital...

Two Poems

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, 25 January 1990

Entertaining

I don’t like visitors. I meet my friends in pubs where others do the washing-up. A dinner-party’s my idea of hell. (Guests come to criticise I’ve learned that much.)

All right – I compromise, and with a smile provide drinks, coffee and a home-made cake (when forced to it). But still I draw the line at full-blown meals – the planning’s difficult...

Poem: ‘Bond Girl’

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, 16 March 1989

Back in my extra days, someone once swore she’d seen me in the latest James Bond film.

I tried to tell her that they only hired the really glamorous leggy types for that. (My usual casting was ‘a passer-by’.)

I’ve passed the lot in Pinewood Studios. It’s factory-like, grey aluminium, vast and always closed. Presumably that’s where they smash up all the...

Three Poems

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, 5 March 1987

AIDS

Condoms can never save the world from germs – machines run out of them and chemists close; a friend blames two abortions on the things; some funny little foreign ones don’t fit; besides, they’re not much use for oral sex.

Evangelists rejoice God’s got the gays. (He’s let off lesbians though – and wankers too – of course, we all know they go...

Poem: ‘Headaches’

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, 4 December 1986

Men are the ones that have the headaches now. Back in my mother’s day, when girls said no most of the time, they were all after it – or so they said – in pain with their erections. But now we call their bluff by answering yes, the truth is out – they want it less than us.

Most of my female friends are on the pill, willing, good-looking too. What do we get? Men who...

Poem: ‘Virtuous Women’

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, 18 September 1986

Virtuous women are those who do not sell themselves too cheap or give themselves for free. In Solomon, the virtuous woman’s price is set far above rubies, we all know. What kind of rubies though? Idol’s-eye-size? Or just small chips in an engagement ring?

A friend of mine has got this man at work – her ‘sugar daddy’. He saves up for weeks to take her out for...

Poem: ‘Baby Doll’

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, 5 June 1986

My cousin sent a baby doll for me – hairless and clammy, waxen yellowish-grey with sunken pale blue eyes and a mouth pursed for pouring water in so it came out through a small aperture between its legs.

I called it Peter though it had no prick – it looked too ugly for a girl I thought. I used to fill it up and souse my lap. Sometimes I’d press its squashy latex head to force...

Diary: Life in Hastings

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, 17 April 1986

Next door but one’s being converted into luxury flats. Some weeks back, a dead rat appeared in the road outside. His body seemed to be pointing in the direction of our house. Luckily, he didn’t make it.

Three Poems

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, 20 February 1986

The Ecumenical Movement

My first years were haunted by foreign names, phrases like ‘apostolical succession’ and strange invasions of dressed-up prelates. After a quick ordination, blessing or what have you in the chapel, they’d go out the back to take their photographs. (I liked the geometry of our garden – first, the square washing-line that wouldn’t spin, then...

Two Poems

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, 17 October 1985

Private Parts

Pencil is less ambiguous than paint, incising hard lines round the genitals. I’ve seen art-students, broad-minded enough to talk naturally to naked models in their breaks from posing, become furtive as they draw a penis – men too. Often, like children cheating in exams, one hand shielded the other’s workings from all view. Others erased madly –...

Diary: Extras

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, 20 June 1985

Five years ago I applied to the Film Artistes’ Association – the union for extras – in an attempt to find a way of funding my writing. I needed a job that didn’t take all my time and yet paid well. Prostitution had crossed my mind – I expect most women fantasise about that – but the memory of a foreign student and patron of tarts whom I’d once taught...

Poem: ‘Swimming-Baths’

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, 20 June 1985

In Acton, the Public Baths’ attendant was not the lifeguard type you might expect. You’d see his fishy, chlorinated eyes above the doors. He’d got it to an art – parading past the cubicles, checking the locks still worked, peering at ground level for extra pairs of feet.

A serious few entered with a low dive, thrusting forward, their heads in wrinkled caps, their...

Three Poems

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, 4 April 1985

Paying for Sex

A Hollywood actress who’d come to stay with a born-again film extra in Richmond asked where she could pay for sex in London. On being told that there was no such place, she asked: ‘How do you manage then?’

The answer is – we manage badly. Free sex is something like the NHS – months to get down to it with some coy types. And all the details that you...

Two Poems

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, 20 September 1984

Sex Objects

I learned from a friend’s porno mag that men can buy the better class of plastic doll (posh ones are hard and unyielding, not the pneumatic sort that fly from windows when they’re pricked), in slow instalments, torso first.

Well-qualified in wanking, Mark saves up his pennies till they grow to pounds and then invests in Ingrid, just the body, for his carnal press-ups...

From The Blog
11 February 2010

I live in Cartagena, Spain's 24th largest city, which was built on five hills and founded c. 227 BC by Hasdrubal on the site of the much older Tartessan city of Mastia. One of the hills is now under threat from a developer. Every day a couple of huge excavators hammer away at the lower slopes of Monte Sacro, chipping away at history. Protests are being led every Friday by Javier Garcia del Toro, a professor of archaeology at Murcia University. He recently bought a toy excavator from El Corte Inglés for the politician who gave building permission for four blocks of flats. He also cleverly dished out mackerel paté to some of the protesters, claiming it was the authentic aphrodisiac Roman garum.

From The Blog
10 June 2009

There wasn't much excitement about the European elections in Spain. A couple of vans with loudspeakers came round my district advertising the main parties, the PSOE (left) and the PP (right), but they caused far less interest than others announcing vegetables, wine by the litre and cheap trousers. I went down to the local polling station at eight, when it was supposed to open. It was indeed open but the police informed me that no one could vote before nine. At nine I was leaving town with a party of friends from my mineral club. And so I spent most of election day en route for the tiny mountain village of Navajun, in the Rioja region. I once saw two pensioners, one of them disabled, get into an undignified physical fight in a village bar over a general election. Local elections, too, can cause feelings to run high. Europe is a different matter.

Letter

No a la guerra

17 April 2003

I enjoyed John Sturrock’s ‘Short Cuts’ about bullshit and other matters (LRB, 17 April). Several months ago I moved to Spain. In current times I am glad to be out of England and living in a country where ‘No a la guerra’ stickers appear everywhere on cars. I can switch between English and Spanish TV channels. News coverage of the war on the latter seemed infinitely more...
Letter

Monkey Business

6 July 1995

I was fascinated to read in Ian Sansom’s review of Carol Ann Duffy’s Selected Poems (LRB, 6 July) of one of her recent verses, a four-liner entitled ‘Mrs Darwin’. The poem runs:7 April 1852.Went to the Zoo.I said to Him –Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.This, surely, must have been inspired by my own four-liner of 1986, published in 1987 in...
Letter

Duw, Duw

4 November 1993

I thoroughly enjoyed Lorna Sage’s account of her childhood in the last three issues (LRB, 7 October, LRB, 21 October and LRB, 4 November. I would like to correct her on one point, though. The ‘Dew, Dew,’ uttered by her Welsh grandmother is spelt ‘Duw, Duw’ and means ‘God, God!’ not ‘Deary me!’ Welsh is singularly short of any non-religious expletives...
Letter

Even bags can fly

24 June 1993

I was intrigued and a little puzzled by several phrases in Hugo Williams’s poems based on his schooldays (LRB, 24 June). In ‘Guilt’ he writes: ‘he caught me in bed with another boy.’ When I was friends with Hugo he told me that there was no homosexuality in Eton, only a lot of talk about it – a story which doesn’t quite tally with what I’ve heard from...
Letter

Let down

8 October 1992

Dick Hill asks (Letters, 19 November): ‘On what basis does Ms Pitt-Kethley assume that the hedgehog of which she writes so feelingly is male?’ I assumed he was male because ‘Harry Houdini’ was the proud possessor of a penis, an inch and a quarter in length. I have not done research on the mensuration of animal genitalia, but I should imagine he was rather well-endowed –...
Letter

‘Sex’

24 September 1992

At the risk of being called ‘an egotistical monomaniac’ once more by Alan Rudrum (Letters, 24 September), may I burden your pages again? I would like this time, instead of talking about myself, to offer some advice to Hugo Williams after reading his poem ‘Sex’ in the same issue. While I am relieved to find that he does know the basic facts of life, I think he could do with a...
Letter

Splash

23 July 1992

I thoroughly enjoyed Charles Sprawson’s Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero, reviewed by John Bayley in the issue of 23 July. I have often been compared to Byron in reviews – probably more because critics wish to call me ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ than for any real resemblance in my work. I would have to admit that I share certain temperamental characteristics...

Don’t

Jenny Diski, 5 November 1992

There are really only two things people want to keep from public scrutiny: their real, private self; or the fact that they have no private self of any particular interest. Now, my instinctive...

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How long?

Hilary Mantel, 27 February 1992

Fiona Pitt-Kethley’s favourite novel is a 16th-century Chinese work called Chin P’ing Mei. This book, she believes, was written as an act of vengeance. The author imbued each of the...

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Rites of Passage

Anthony Quinn, 27 June 1991

Richard Rayner's new novel, his second, opens with a nervous exhibition of rhetorical trills and twitches, buttonholing the reader like a stand-up comic on his first night: ...

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What the doctor said

Edna Longley, 22 March 1990

Most books offered as poetry never leave the condition of prose – which is not to say they are good prose. But when a prose voice enters poetry, it can clear and freshen the air. Beside...

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Promises

Mary-Kay Wilmers, 10 November 1988

Almost every woman I know has at one time or another been to bed with a man she shouldn’t have been to bed with – a married man, a friend’s man or, quite simply, a man who...

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Out of the blue

Mark Ford, 10 December 1987

So characteristic of Paul Muldoon’s poetry as to be almost a hallmark is the moment, unnerving and exciting in about equal measures, when his speaker is suddenly revealed to himself as...

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Here comes Amy

Christopher Reid, 17 April 1986

Amy Clampitt is a most spirited and exhilarating performer. An enormous appetite for observation and zeal to describe precisely what she has observed are transmitted through both the best and the...

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