Friday, 26 December 2014

Nicholas - The Stolen Reindeer

Nicholas would like to wish everyone a very happy Christmas. He's been busy for the last few days, but you can find out how to hear his story by visiting this website.

'Nicholas - The Stolen Reindeer' is a traditional Christmas story that's available as an app and features illustrations and words from Marina and Tom.

Colourful Star hopes that you've had a wonderful Christmas and wishes you well for 2015.

Marina, Tom and Vasilena xx

Friday, 19 December 2014

Весела Коледа/Merry Christmas

"Once upon a time, in the mountains far away, there was a farm. On it lived Mary Torpipit and her parents, Elspeth and Gregory ..."

Here is the beginning of a new collaboration ...

'Nicholas - The Stolen Reindeer' is a seasonal children's story with illustrations by Marina and a text by Tom.

It's a traditional festive adventure in which a young girl living in the mountains sets out to save the Christmas spirit and, in fact, Christmas itself.

It's published by x-ovation and is now available as an app - with hand-painted illustrations, animation and audio version - and is for children aged between four and seven.

You can download it in English (and other languages) from Amazon in territories across the world, including the UK, AmericaAustralia, Spain and there is also a German version on iTunes here.

If you have liked our posts on Colourful Star so far, we hope you will like this new children's story too.

Colourful Star will continue and we'd like to wish you a very happy - and, of course, colourful! - Christmas,

Marina, Vasilena and Tom xx

Friday, 12 December 2014


Петдесет картини,
петдесет стихотворения,
с много работа и много любов
един общ език,
една обща земя.

През планини и гори,
по мостове и улици
през малки, китни села,
съхранили спомените от детството
през моментите на пътуване,
от България и Англия
ние тръгваме
по нови пътеки.

Нима има нещо невъзможно
на този свят?
Не можем да знаем ...
защото това пътуване

Fifty paintings,
fifty poems,
much work, much love
so as to find
a common language
common ground.

From mountains and forests
to the bridges and streets
of small and beautiful villages,
from memories of childhood
to moments of travel,
from Bulgaria and England
we look for new paths.

What isn’t possible
in this world?
We cannot know ...
this journey
is to be continued.

This is Colourful Star's fiftieth post

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips and Vasilena Shiderova.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Before snow

Smudged yellow light at dawn suggests a cold snap.
On this new route to work, trees fluster with russet leaves;
the snug stone of a church, village cottages, a vinegary purple
line up like opportunities beyond barbed-wire fences
snaggled with accidental wool scrapings from sheep.

Flowers still bloom. Or seedheads flaunt their ochre fruitfulness.
Keats looms – but then buses pass, aircraft wheel in
and the great long winter opens up between the clouds.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 28 November 2014


What to us was a park lined
the drive up to that country house
where The Beatles’ maharishi
made arguably plausible claims.

Damp yews turned out to be
promises made but not kept.
At that age, of course,
we raced amongst them,

played war games in thickets
on the far side of ploughed land
which led to Bridego Bridge –
a 1960s topography.

Where Beeching’s cut line
swung around the border
of an aristocratic estate,
we fired air pistols into bark.

Dunstable lovers came out
to woo in secluded lanes.
We were already there –
witnesses and irritants.

In the decade’s last evening,
we marched home, immune
to sunset and shadows,
a geometry of trees.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 21 November 2014


How your blue eyes stopped me.
Your exhausted mother was out for the count.
In that small room we’d been moved to,
upstairs somewhere
in the maternity hospital,
a nurse came in and handed you over,
asleep for the moment,
and I was like what now?
No more than one hour old,
you woke up on my knee,
took a look and went back to sleep.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 14 November 2014


A face is etched at the years’ expense.
In the longest of runs, something reached at
comes down to a look, a landscape,
a placement – to the particular
arrangement of time and space,
and then, sobering, biology.
Emotions tumble like circus gymnasts.

In the longest of runs, it boils down
to discoveries in the asteroid belt
and this etched face.
We'll say ‘I’, of course, but pronouns
are always more than
the first word in a story.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The Old Bridge in Winter

Because I only remember the place in summer,
it will never be the same, revisiting
arrangements of wood and stone,
angled balconies, shuttered windows –
the histories I thought to decipher
by running my fingers against the grain.

Too cold for that now. And the trees
have sharpened for winter,
thinned along a softened horizon.
What’s fixed here’s illusion seen
in different weather, affirming the old thought
that every return is also an arrival. 

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 31 October 2014

Gourds and pumpkins

If I had my time over,
I’d make more pumpkin soup.

I’d bring you coffee in bed
on Sunday mornings,
then we’d dress for the weather
and scout market stalls
for gourds and squashes,
testing for signs
of ripeness in the rind.

You’d wear the scarf
you’ve had since before we met,
your favourite coat,
and we’d blow steam from our mouths
like children pretending
they’re smoking cigarettes.

Back home, we’d ignore
the recipe books and be
profligate with flavours,
promiscuous with spices, herbs.

While the thick liquid
bubbled in our largest pan,
we’d sit at the table
and talk of other lives
we might have led.

If I had my time over,
I’d make more pumpkin soup.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Saturday, 25 October 2014


To hear him speak of it,
perhaps you’d think him unclear,
the way sentences spiral outwards
until, reaching what’s yet to be spoken,
he’s finding new fixed points –
a dangerous promise, the hurt
which even triumph contains,
this year’s anniversaries of war,
the specific occasions and their weight.

It is not enough to reverse
into commemoration. That’s something –
but here he is and saying it again:
the game’s not up yet, no.
No, it isn’t. Not by a long chalk.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 17 October 2014

Autumn in the Mountains

A landscape’s engrained.
Differentiated perception
gives name to, tries to
surface the unfathomable.

And coming up that slope,
up a last stretch of path
which seemed to give out
before you spotted footprints
in mud beyond slabs of granite –
there we were, at a vantage,
looking out and down
on mountain woodland,
unintended spectacle.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 10 October 2014


Facing each other across a tiled hall,
mirrors exchange reflections
into a diminishing infinity –
our shrinking reflections
look back as if imprisoned
in some alien dimension.

Elsewhere, in unvisited rooms
of this former royal palace,
crates, uncatalogued, hold
blouses, jackets, skirts,
painstakingly embroidered,
painstakingly collected,
but left, for now at least,
like miraculous secrets
on the far side of a looking-glass.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 3 October 2014


A reservoir’s evening sheen,
not fifteen minutes out of the city,
extends to matt, interleaving slopes
which pepper with house lights
as commuters, running late, come home.

By a converted rowing station,
I’m browsing a translated menu,
picking up conversations from a year ago.
What to choose for this return visit?
Flavours don’t just recall themselves –
they are memories and places,
friends you shared them with.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 26 September 2014

Grandmother with Apples

Orchards were an Eden
just beyond the end of our lane –
a temptation for boys with scuffed knees
and memories of last year’s crop
as a daredevil scurry over railings
and a clandestine feast.

Come autumn, pickers turned a blind eye
to our impertinent raids:
what were a few scrumped apples to them?

Fruit trees are generous. Had we known it,
apples are gifts to be offered over fences.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Independence Day

A grounded constellation in the distance
I’d like to think is your city –
but threaded onto radio beams
we’re coming in to land
in another country.

Not that anything’s far in time and space.

Crossing another decided border,
I’m handing over my passport with one hand,
texting news of arrival with another –
 then watching plimsolled shoes
measuring out paces along the yellow pavements.

In this swirl of whistles and vuvuzelas,
plash of fountains and shrieks from the tramlines,
I’m making for what I know,
I’m making for somewhere
which feels like home,
which doesn’t feel like a missed target.

20 September is independence day in Bulgaria - the anniversary of the 'de jure' declaration of independence from the Ottoman Empire in Veliko Turnovo in 1908.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 12 September 2014


Beyond the orchard and plain church,
escaping some fury of my own invention,
I’d be crossing the road to the railway station
to the edge of a wide, familiar view:
uncut wheatfield extending to stands
of remnant Victorian planting –
oaks and cedars which at one time lined
the driveway of those misnamed Towers.

How to decipher mechanised pastoral
under Luton Airport flight paths
might well have proved distraction –
in another emptying village, pale blues
and yellows in an overgrown courtyard
are plants which, had I given attention
to what was growing among the cornstalks
I might have been able to name.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 5 September 2014

For 6 September

As the sudden dusk mellows stone distances,
crowds shuffle down, find spaces to regroup
below the citadel on this poised thoroughfare.
We’ve been walking all afternoon
through suburbs and past the blue house
where that war artist lived – in the heat
our son complains, is demanding a drink.

The crowds are a memory from this time last year,
how they gathered into this space,
and if I listen, I’m sure to hear them again –
those exultant whispers, that ripple
at the furthest edge of history that we’ve reached. 

6 September is a national holiday in Bulgaria and marks the anniversary of the unification of the northern and southern parts of the country in 1885.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 29 August 2014


A flotsam of pebbles and shells
she’s gathered on our window sill –
they’re from strands and shores
we’ll have found time
to idle on, browse
for mementoes of summer.

Forgetful of each occasion,
they won’t take us back
to where, looking down,
she found mother-of-pearl,
 or striated curiosities
of granite, flint and jet –

yet on some cold morning
we might be close enough
to interrupt ourselves
with rough textures,
banded colours
accumulated over years.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 15 August 2014


Suggesting a different season,
breeze through a classroom window
seems to take us back to his question:
‘When you’re happy, why bother to write?’

Does the bookshelf’s scarred parade bear him out?
Can happiness survive murderous dissection?

Only just too late, as students file away
over cypress-shadowed lawn,
I remember that day a few months before –
how, having climbed between stone houses
to the monument, we sat looking out
across rooftops, gardens, from the shade.

And yes, perhaps, there’s nothing need be said,
but here I am again, returning to coffee
in paper cups, scribbling down details,
happy all right to be trying to retrieve
the sweetness of those late-summer grapes.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 8 August 2014

Pine Tree

It was a place for kite-fliers and tobogganists,
the bare dome of a wind-flustered knoll,
but that chalk figurehead fronted a ridge
whose flanks and gullies were thick with trees.

That was more my scene – where branches raised
hopes of adventure in an elevated world,
where birdsong might be taken for promises,
and, running between the tall pines,
I’d be sure to come home reeking of their scent.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 1 August 2014

Baba Dana

That winds change and rain lifts,
that weather comes and goes,
that thought feels much the same –
its abruptness, its evanescence –
as it has always done,
that the imaginable may happen,
that we are momentary,
as unique as cloud formations,
that anticipation endures,
that life may be cumulative,
that the beauty of age is unflinching.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 25 July 2014

A Cup of Cherries

Outside the kitchen, from the bench,
you look up into branches that you might call –
were they human – over-enthusiastic.

Sparrows, finches occupy
a wooden cascade.
Let them have their gluttony.

Their chirping arguments
are a kind of drama.

When it’s time again,
we'll remember –
go out picking with plastic bowls,
put cups of cherries on the sideboard.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 18 July 2014

The Piper

Intrigued by affinities,
we’re talking again
on a favourite theme:  
how traversing
reputed distances
we keep stumbling
across common ground.

Maybe here’s something
we might take for a clue:
suggestive plangencies,
bagpipe music,
exiled to the shores
of Celtic Europe,
held tight to
in the Rhodope Mountains.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 11 July 2014

July Morning

How light works to bring back world
and summer put on rash splendour:
such homecomings and departures
as city rooftops shield appear –
as they might rightly be – adventure.

Not so much grateful for small mercies
as learning to spot small miracles,
you’ll be savouring thick coffee smells
and prospects of a day unfolding
into distant car-horns, rumorous traffic

as colour glides in to repossess
the crags and angles of night’s canyons.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 4 July 2014

Old Trees

Somewhere, not far inside the gates,
but not so far beyond the artificial pond,
its muddy cusps slimed with frog spawn,
I’d be little more than five years old
and struck by the lightning-split trunks,
the furred bark, the sheer age of trees.

Like that sliced-through giant Redwood
in the Natural History Museum
with rings picked-out marking dates
of human events, it wasn’t so much
our frailty they brought to mind
as their own solidity, their endurance.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 27 June 2014

The Old Bridge

How far stone endures,
not in only great monuments –
temples, ruins, castles, cathedrals –
but wonders of the everyday:
how, quarried, split, cut, shaped,
it’s fabricated for houses, bridges,
pocked and scored by climate,
worn-smooth by traffic,
inscribed by time and the impulse
to see what’s on the other bank.

Leaning over grainy parapet,
we’re pausing again to look
down into water furling at pillars,
heading for an elsewhere we can’t tell.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 20 June 2014


Static heat and a veil of light across fields,
a too-bright sky bring us back to this path,
its attendant hedgerows and here
in the nooks of dry stone walls
pale seasonal flowers as if in hiding.

Between shifts we’d be out in midsummer,
taking to that familiar stretch of farmland
and each other: infinite worlds
among the cornstalks, under pebbles,
in the splash and froth of busy streams –

soon we’ll have to return or move on,
but for the moment, love, here’s
the pair of us, out of harm’s way,
shading our eyes against the sun.

Midsummer’s Day is on 21st June in Britain and 24th June in Bulgaria.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 13 June 2014


Judiciously in absentia from rumorous circulations,
Joyce embarked on his reconstructive journey
somewhere beyond the plate-glass windows
and reversing lorries of Zürich bahnhof
conjured Bloom to wander a Dublin question mark,
and Stephen, his fallen, fearful Telemachus.

Rough magic and heavenly music,
from Sandymount Strand to Eccles Street,
from declarative ‘Stately’ to reparative ‘Yes’,
signatures of all things, words changing colour –
a single day amounting to an odyssey,
refindings of the ineluctably modal.

16th June is Bloomsday – the anniversary of the day in 1904 on which James Joyce set ‘Ulysses’ – a novel written in Trieste, Zürich and Paris.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 6 June 2014


Sharp, crisp smells in the packing shed,
another year’s crop despatched
along conveyors, boxed, crated
loaded onto trucks: our village industry
of pickers, sorters, packers,
ladders propped among branches,
trugs of cookers and eaters,
a methodical tree-by-tree advance.

All I would do to take you there –
to those orchards beside our lane,
their close fruit-heavy ranks,
some time towards the tail-end
of a Cold War summer
of beer gardens and mown grass –
all I can do amounts to these words,
the taste of these apples.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 30 May 2014

Jean Valjean

Articulate among the rocks
of this expedient exile
not so far from home,
what thoughts, what stories
recur like aftertastes
of not so haute cuisine ...

Victor Hugo on Guernsey,
amongst his poems
and les miserables,
plotting the fate
of convict Jean Valjean,
the sea his own barricades.

22 May was the 129th anniversary of Victor Hugo’s death.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 23 May 2014

За 24 май

Как да пиша, но с букви
от една древна азбука,
със звуци от сърцето?
Те носят дълги години,
спомени и истории:
една култура стои тук
в техните обикновени линии.

Тя следва моите ръце,
които създават думите,
които откриват карти
в най-малките кътчета.
Без тях – никаква любов,
никаква болка, никаква песен.
"Красиви са," казва тя.

How to write but with letters
from an ancient alphabet,
with sounds of the heart?
They bear long years,
memories and histories:
a culture stands here
in their plain marks.

She follows my hands,
which make the words,
which discover maps
in the smallest places.
Without them, no love,
no pain, no song.
“They’re beautiful,” she says.

24 May is Bulgarian Education, Culture and Slavonic Literature Day or Ден на българската просвета и култура и на славянската писменост. It is also St Cyril and Methodius’ Day, commemorating the brothers who devised the Glagolitic alphabet from which, in turn, Cyrillic is derived.

Images: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips (with help from and thanks to Iliyana Mircheva and Tsvetomira Peykova)

Friday, 16 May 2014

Bulgarian Monastery

A freshness as after rain
in this deeper seclusion
where our putative span figures –
from gardened beds to slim trees –
in an architectural scheme,
epitome of calm between storms.

Navigating corridors and cloisters,
we thicken patina and paintwork
with thoughts we’ve brought to bear
from guidebook précis,
biography of this or that artist,
history of dates and erasure.

By a bench on these stone flags,
some internal murmur frets,
pushes out into a penumbra
where others meanings
might wait to be distilled
from a precinct’s iconic silence.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 9 May 2014

The Kettle

 So simple in construction –
but who first thought
to fashion that shape,
add spout and handle?

And who before them
found that leaves dropped
into boiling water
blossomed, made tea?
Or that clay transformed
to porcelain? And who
took fire and tamed it?

An untraceable regression –
but one which leads back
from this corner of the kitchen,
through centuries, millennia,
to a moment of discovery
on the margins of
a vast and unmapped plain.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014


Inside this hushed rotunda, frescoes,
haloed figures, patches of worn plaster
around serpent-dragon, horse and lance
are like a map of endurance,
faith held to and held onto
through years of omen and eclipse.

We move through incense traces,
iteration of prayers and blessings,
not so far from shopping hall and traffic,
along a cusp of the sacred and shadow,
where everything might be laid out before us
in resurgent light across the iconostasis.

6th May is Гергьовден or St George’s Day in Bulgaria. 

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 2 May 2014


They seemed to bloom for weeks,
banks of tulips in the college yard –
bright as crimson envelopes you filled
with mementoes, drawings, news.

Hurrying back from the post-room –
a student in daps and my own world –
and rashly tearing open what you’d sent,
I had to stop beside those vivid beds:

breeze-taken, a lock of your red hair
scattered across those sun-dappled flowers.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 25 April 2014

Valia Balkanska

Always a story there if you stop and look:
hers begins in mountains and meadows
and will not end until, on some distant planet
or in the emptiness between stars,
the fragile messengers we've sent
meet whatever their fate might be.

We will not, cannot know –
but might take some hope in thinking
that these traces of ours will be found
and that the song of a хайдук rebel,
music drawn from the grass and earth,
will be heard beneath unfamiliar constellations
will sound beneath an otherworldly sky.

Valia Balkanska’s recording of the Bulgarian folk song ‘Излел е Делю хайдутин’ features on the Golden Record, a selection of the sounds and music of the Earth sent into space on board the two Voyager probes. The song's on YouTube here

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

On 'Twelfth Night' (For Shakespeare's 450th)

I was tempted to ask it myself
as the ferry ground against
seaweed-greened harbour walls:
‘What country, friends, is this?’

Overlooked by abandoned palace,
remnant of some earlier kingdom,
we pulled in by a customs house
with handwritten welcome sign
and sprouting wire palms
across the dockside development area.

Who knew what we would find?

In a dark cell,
perched above shale-beds
in this corner of a promontory,
I’m overlooking absences
of a neatly turned plot,
a plunging watercourse.
‘We’ll come out of it
all right in the end,’
I think I heard you say.

Over our heads, birds plunge
and swoop into the thermals.
Stripped down to no more
than a bare, forked fear of heights,
I’m walking back up the slope
into a myriad coincidences,
opportunities for love amended.

23rd April marks the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth - and we wanted to celebrate it on Colourful Star, not least because Marina took inspiration from Shakespeare for the design of the project's logo. 'Twelfth Night' seems an apposite choice of subject for this post, because the answer to Viola's famous question at the beginning of the play - 'What country, friends, is this?' - is 'This is Illyria, lady', effectively locating the play in SE Europe.

Images: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Честит Великден Happy Easter

 In the quiet of Easter morning,
the children are all anticipation.
We are prone in our bed,
rumpling the cover into a sea.

Light doesn’t so much insist
as wash against the windows.
The year cleanses itself.
This game of waves flings up
rubbery dog fish, spiny crustaceans.

At the point where water laps
at rock pools and shingle,
our daughter reaches out,
finds a black-and-tan egg case,
hope washed up, an angel’s purse.

Bulgaria's Easter traditions are rich and various: you can read more about them here.

Images: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 11 April 2014


On the cusp of tulip season
in our mid-spring garden
colours break through damp grey:
pie-eyed crocus, fried-egg plants,
daffodils, snowdrops, keen annuals.
Blossom fills out the teetering branches.

Somewhere else (not far, not wild),
on this Palm Sunday, Flower Day,
visits and greetings, tables laid
for those who’ve come to say
Честит имен ден!
in living room, hall or kitchen.

The smell of loam and petals
the same in both our houses.

Sunday 13 April this year is both Palm Sunday and Flower Day – a name-day for all those in Bulgaria whose names derive from flowers. 

Images: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips