Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Mammoth Book of Lesbian Er0tica edited by Barbara Cardy

Earlier in the year I won the Mammoth Book of Gay Er0tica in the LGBT Reading Challenge.
You can read my review of that book here. I enjoyed most of the stories in that book so looked forward to reading the Mammoth Book of Lesbian Er0tica that I also won in the LGBT Reading Challenge.

Unfortunately I was disappointed in most of the stories in this book. Many of them were more pornography than erotica with not enough narrative to make them interesting. Often the sex centred purely around 'how many interesting positions can we work into this?' rather than allowing for any emotional content and there was a surprising inability in many of the writers to genuinely build up sexual tension. For example there were the overly politically correct stories. Now I think Er0tica is a great way to address issues such as body image or even office politics, but to interrupt a sex scene so the characters can have an in depth discussion of these issues, just isn't erotic. I was also disappointed in how so many of the characters were defined by men. I know that the 'coming out' story is an important one but surely these days more women should be able to define their sexuality without reference to men (particularly in a collection of lesbian er0tica). I admit I quite enjoyed the couple of genuinely bisexual stories here but I'm not sure they should have a place in a lesbian publication. And in the one story that ended with a lecherous old male patient in the nursing home leching over the two female nurses who had just had sex, why for goodness sake couldn't it have been an elderly female patient?

I've not actually finished the book yet, it's slow work. However it is worth mentioning the couple of stories so far that I have really enjoyed: Inside by Cheryl Moch is a beautifully written story about an artist who lives on an isolated coastline whose life is changed by a visit from a mysterious woman. And Then She Kissed Me by Rita Winchester is a lovely story about two neighbours who fall in love, there's a real sense of the developing feelings between the two before they finally get together and the sex is tender and believable.

The Mammoth Book of Lesbian Er0tica edited by Barbara Cardy, published by Constable Robinson

For the LGBT Reading Challenge

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Miss Garnet's Angel by Salley Vickers

Julia Garnet feels totally at a loss when her friend and flatmate Harriet dies. Feeling she needs a change in her life, she moves to Venice, where she discovers art, new friends and ideas and is encouraged to throw off a lifetime of caution. She becomes very interested in the Apocryphal story of Tobias, a version of which is woven through the narrative of the novel.

I really enjoyed the descriptions of Venice and the art. I also enjoyed how Julia's character developed throughout the novel. I wasn't so keen on the characters Toby and Sarah who were parallels to the characters in the story of Tobias. That just felt a bit contrived to me, though the original story was fascinating.

I bought this book in a second hand shop when I was visiting my parents and decided I would read it immediately and add it to my books for the Italy in Books Reading Challenge.


Miss Garnet's Angel by Salley Vickers published by Harper Perennial.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Nights Beneath the Nation by Denis Kehoe

This is the moving story of Daniel Ryan, who has returned to Dublin after spending most of his life in New York. He finds the city much changed from his memories of it when he was discovering his identity as a young gay man. Much of the novel is told in flashback, where Daniel recalls his passionate love for Anthony and their involvement in a production of Blood Wedding by Lorca. I had a small part in a college production of Blood Wedding when I was 17 so I found this element of the story fascinating. I really enjoyed the way that the play offered an opening into consideration of the Spanish Civil War (which some characters in the novel had fought in) and how the theme of forbidden love in the play is echoed in Daniel and Anthony's relationship. Being in the play together, where they play enemies, strains their relationship and leads to the tragic climax of the novel. It's a beautifully written novel, if somewhat emotionally overwrought at times, and gives a fascinating insight into the changing city that is Dublin.

Nights Beneath the Nation by Denis Kehoe published by Serpents Tail

I was delighted to win this book as part of the LGBT Reading Challenge

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Wrap yourself in poetry

When I was in Malawi I discovered the wonderful world of kanga textiles. These are the cloths that women tie round their waists for everyday wear in several countries across East Africa. The word kanga is a Swahili word, in Chichewa, the first language of Malawi a kanga is known as a chitenje (plural zitenje). Kanga traditionally have proverbs printed on them, usually in Swahili. Given that Swahili isn't spoken in Malawi, I never worked out what most of my zitenje say! (Most zitenje are printed in Swahili, though some, commemorating national events are printed in Chichewa).

I have several zitenje, which I use nowadays mostly as tablecloths (see photo).


I recently found this wonderful article about kanga. You may also like this video of women modelling the kanga and reciting some of the proverbs from kanga.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel

Galileo's Daughter is an account of the close relationship between the famous scientist and his daughter, who was a nun. The book incorporates many of Marie Celeste's letters to her father and outlines how she supported his life and work from her isolated situation in the convent. At the same time the book looks at Galileo's major scientific achievements and his relationship with the Catholic Church.

Galileo was interrogated by the Inquisition for daring to agree with Copernicus' earlier hypothesis that the earth moved round the sun. The book in which he supported Copernicus had been discussed by prominent church men and had been passed by them for publication pending a few alterations. However, when the Pope found himself struggling politically he realised he had to be seen to take a hardline against any potential heretics and suddenly Galileo was being interrogated! For the early part of the time that he was imprisoned after his interrogations, Galileo was under house arrest in the homes of his supporters and used this time to write a lot more and to hold scientific discussions. Obviously the Pope didn't like that and so he was banished to house arrest in his own home, which was isolated from anywhere apart from the convent where his daughter lived. Sadly Marie Celeste died soon after Galileo was imprisoned in his own home so their closeness on that occasion didn't last long. Galileo, despite suffering from poor health for most of his life and living in times when the plague regularly swept across Italy, lived to be 77.

This is a book full of fascinating insights into Galileo's scientific achievements, into his relationship with his daughter and into everyday life in 16th and 17th Century Italy.

Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel, published by Fourth Estate

for the Italy in Books Reading Challenge

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Flu Jag

I had successful heart surgery at the age of nine. I have had good health ever since, my heart is in good working order and my immune system works fine. I'm not prone to flu.

I really resent the annual letter that states "as you have heart disease, you are advised to have a flu vaccine".

I do NOT have heart disease. I will decline the flu vaccine thank you very much.

I am not convinced about the efficacy of the vaccine and there are concerns about some of the ingredients that are included in it. You can read more here.

(If I were genuinely in a priority group I would possibly have a different attitude on this, I'm not saying to everyone 'Don't have the jag' and my annoyance is about being labelled as being something I'm not)

Monday, November 28, 2011

What I've Learned from NaNoWriMo

So I've finished NaNoWriMo early, I had written my 50000 words by midmorning today. It felt like a real achievement! It's been hard work but I've been lucky to have had plenty of time to work on this and was determined from the start to try to finish early. So what have I learnt from the experience?

a) Although to date I have mostly written haiku, short poems and flash fiction, I have proven now that I can at least write enough words for a much bigger piece of work.


b) Just writing with the aim of reaching a given total word count is liberating, as it means you just write without worrying about the quality.


c) at the same time just writing like that means that I didn't get stuck on polishing the first paragraph to perfection only to find myself left with nothing to add to the one perfect paragraph (having said that, the first paragraph is probably the best paragraph in the novel!).


d) but oh, this isn't a novel. Not at all. It's a very rough first draft, which, with a lot of editing and polishing, may one day resemble something like a real novel that people might want to read. (So that's what I'll be doing over the next year or so!)


e) It's useful just to write through the plot dilemmas, in this draft I have characters talking about where they want the plot to go, at one point a character actually says she wishes the author could sort out a particular aspect of the plot (hang on a minute, maybe I should keep that! It could be a nice post-modernist twist to the novel!?)


f) I had always thought that I would find research so tedious it would put me off ever writing a novel but in fact I really enjoyed the research aspect. I think it would be more tedious for me if it was historic research where you need to get all the facts as accurate as possible. Given that my novel is speculative fiction set in the far future then I have a lot more freedom to do what I want with my research. (I've had great fun with extrapolating some elements of the contemporary world into the future!)


So now I'm going to catch up on all the research information I identified but never got the chance to read properly then I'll start looking at the 'novel' in a few weeks time and get it into some kind of decent shape.


And I won't keep talking about it, promise!


How was NaNoWriMo for you?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Zami by Audre Lorde

Zami (subtitled a new spelling of my name) is the memoir of the poet Audre Lorde. It is a moving account of growing up black and lesbian in New York in the 1930s and the lesbian culture in the city in the 1950s.

Lorde's childhood best friend committed suicide, one of her lovers stole all her money when left her and another lover suffered from schizophrenia. Her relationships with her parents weren't exactly easy either. So her life has been punctuated by difficult relationships. She's also had a wide variety of difficult jobs including working in a number of factories.

Zami is full of fascinating details from working conditions in factories to dress codes in lesbian clubs. It also contains some beautifully written, lyrical descriptions of sex. I'm currently also reading The Mammoth Book of Lesbian Er0tica (which I won as part of the LGBT Reading Challenge) and so far there hasn't been any writing in there that even gets close to Lorde's writing about sex.

Zami, a new spelling of my name by Audre Lorde published by Sheba Feminist Publishers

Jackie Kay (whose books I've reviewed here, here and here) has a short piece in the Guardian newspaper about why Audre Lorde is her hero.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hands Up

Hands Up is a beautifully made film about a group of schoolchildren who band together to protect one of their classmates, an undocumented Chechen girl. The young actors are brilliant and the emotionally engaging story is told with a lot of humour. The viewer becomes very aware of how immigrant children become part of the local community and how deportation is inhumane in terms of separating them from that community as much as in terms of any dangers they might face if sent back to their country of origin.

This film was screened as part of the French Film Festival at The Filmhouse and deserves to be released into at least selected cinemas across the UK. So keep an eye out.....

It was a busy day today at the cinema, I also saw You've Been Trumped - which I reviewed here.

As ever, coloured text contains hyperlinks which take you to other websites where you can find out more.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Roma by Steven Saylor

I was delighted to win a copy of Roma in the Italy in Books Reading Challenge. It's a big book (650 pages) and covers 1000 years in the history of Ancient Rome, following the fortunes of the Pinarius family.


I really like the concept of this novel, using one family as an eye on history, showing the reader key points through the lives of that family.


In the first few chapters the concept worked really well - I enjoyed the weaving of myth alongside reconstruction of the very early inhabitants of the very early settlement that became the powerful city of Rome. I was engaged in the stories and interested in the characters. The story moved along at a good pace.


Later chapters though I felt rushed through a lot of very important events. In a sense this probably reflects how the pace of life has become more frenetic but we come to time periods where historical facts are much more well known and I wanted more depth.


Crafty Green Boyfriend reads mostly epic SF/Fantasy series of alternative realities. I usually find even the idea overwhelming but in this instance I found that was what I wanted! I felt that several of the later chapters of this novel would expand to make excellent novels in their own right.


And actually in a sense its not a criticism of a book to say you wanted more, is it? I can definitely recommend this as a very readable overview of the early history of Rome.




Roma by Steven Saylor, published by Corsair.

For Italy in Books

Friday, November 04, 2011

Hopeful Dystopia?

The novel I'm writing for NaNoWriMo is set in a future independent Scotland which has lost a lot of land to rising sea-levels, is recovering from a long war and is just welcoming thousands of climate change refugees into the country.

This is quite a dystopian view of the future Scotland, but I'm aiming to make the book ultimately hopeful. I really think that we need visions of hope for the future. Whether I can weave those visions successfully into a dystopic scenario, remains to be seen!

I've written a total of 12 353 words as I post this. I'm aiming for at least another 500 before the end of the day.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

More NaNoWriMo

So my main character doesn't seem to want to be the main character any more, but that's fine because there's someone else who will make a better main character (and I don't mean the bunny!). The original main character is also refusing to fall for the person I had expected her to end up marrying! She knows her own mind! 3366 words so far today making a total of 9 473. I may leave it there until tomorrow...

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

NaNoWriMo update

I started my novel today! I've spent all morning on it so far and have written 2 551 words (the daily target is 1 667 to get to 50 000 by the end of November). I don't want to become boring about NaNoWriMo, nor do I want to give away too much about the plot of my novel, but I will post occasional updates here and on Facebook. I'm also thinking of sharing links that have been useful in my research over on Twitter.

So far the narrative is flowing reasonably well, some of my characters are developing well and i have a reasonably good feeling about the whole thing!

Any other NaNoWriMo people feel free to share your experiences in the comments below!

As ever, coloured text contains hyperlinks which take you to other websites where you can find out more....

Thursday, October 27, 2011

NaNoWriMo

I was thinking about an idea for a short story, which was getting quite complicated and then I realised it is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November! So I thought, hey, why not? and signed up. So I'm currently plotting and planning my way to a novel, which will be about climate change in a future independent and fractured Scotland. The aim is to get a 50,000 word first draft completed by the end of November. As someone whose favourite literary forms are haiku and flash fiction this will be a fun challenge! Anyone else signed up for NaNo this year?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Foreign Flavours

I'm delighted to be part of the Foreign Flavours anthology, published today by Writers Abroad. This anthology includes fiction and non-fiction about food and cooking abroad (including my piece 'From My Malawian Cookbook'). Proceeeds from the sales of the anthology go to the excellent Bookbus charity, which supports literacy in Africa and Latin America and recently had a book drive for Malawi.


You can buy copies of the anthology from Lulu here.

As ever, coloured text includes hyperlinks which take you to other websites where you can find out more.

Friday, October 21, 2011

haiku

all night horror films -
the woman next to me knits
baby clothes


(this is a haiku / senryu from Crafty Green Boyfriend's perspective from a recent horror film festival he went to. I don't do horror films (nor do I knit!))

Friday, October 14, 2011

Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas

I was delighted to win a copy of this book as part of the LGBT Reading Challenge. I saw the film of Before Night Falls a few years back and was interested to read the book.

This is a memoir of a gay Cuban writer, who suffered badly under Castro's oppression of intellectuals and gays. Arenas describes in great detail the hardships he suffered in prison and the oppressive and invasive surveillance by the secret services. The conditions in the prisons were appalling, though the sense of community between some of the prisoners does shine through.

He also describes very well the community of writers in Cuba and how they met together to support each other, but how they never knew who would turn out to be a secret agent in disguise and suddenly denounce all his friends to the authorities.

He also describes his sex life in great detail, by half way through the book he claims to have at that age, slept with over 5 ooo men. The endless descriptions of sexual liasions actually becomes pretty tedious after a while.

This is only the third book I've read by a Cuban author, but they all have one thing in common. Everyone has sex. All the time. With as many people as they possibly can. And although gays have been badly oppressed in Cuba, it doesn't seem to stop a very vibrant underground gay scene from thriving.

Reinaldo Arenas left Cuba in 1980 and settled in New York, where he died of AIDS related illnesses in 1990.

Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas published by Serpent's Tail

Wikipedia entry on LGBT Rights in Cuba

Friday, October 07, 2011

Inspiration from Helen Keller

I've always been amazed by the achievements of Helen Keller, who lost her hearing and sight at 19 months and didn't start to learn to communicate properly until she was about 7 or 8. Her name has come up several times recently in things I've been reading and so I looked up more about her. You can read her life story and letters from her equally amazing teacher Anne Sullivan here. There's a lot of reading on that webpage but it is totally inspiring!

Not only is Helen Keller's story amazing in itself but her account and those of Anne Sullivan say so much about language acquisition, the importance of reading, natural approaches to education and joy for living - Keller seemed to always be enthralled by the world around her.

Helen Keller was entirely deaf and blind yet could speak English, French and German. She could communicate using a touch based sign language; by morse code or by touching people's lips as they spoke. She could read English, French and German in Braille and in text with embossed letters. Her writing was elegant and well constructed (which really gives the lie to those who say that deaf people can't learn to write properly, though of course some can't). She had a voice that some people found difficult to understand, but was well respected as a speechmaker and campaigner.

She became a renowned campaigner for disabled people's rights and for human rights in general. A totally inspirational woman!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Inspiration from Unexpected Places

I've had to spend some time this week in doctor's waiting rooms. Yesterday I was kept waiting for quite a while, but even when I had already finished the book I had with me, I didn't get bored and in fact wrote several haiku. Here are a couple:

waiting room -
everyone smiles
at the baby.

*
Indian Summer -
waiting for hours to see
the doctor.

*
after
the doctor's appointment -
sudden backache

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami

This is a book of short stories from the great Japanese writer. This selection includes Tony Takitani, which has been made into a film, Firefly, which was incorporated into the novel Norwegian Wood (which was itself, recently made into a film) and Man-eating Cats, which was incorporated into the novel Sputnik Sweetheart.


I have to admit that although I enjoyed most of these stories, I didn't find any of them as brilliant as the best of Murakami's writing (for example his other short story collection The Elephant Vanishes or the novel Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World).


I think my favourite story in this collection is Where I'm Likely to Find it, where the protagonist volunteers to help a woman find out what happened to her lost husband. This is the story that has for me the greatest combination of insight and quirkiness, which is the most satisfying part of Murakami's best writing.


I also really enjoyed A Shinagawa Monkey, in which a talking monkey is discovered as having been responsible for stealing people's names.



Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami published by Vintage


For the Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici

The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici by Christopher Hibbert is a long, detailed look into the Medici family, the dynasty that had such a profound effect on the Italian city of Florence during the Renaissance.

The book follows the ups and downs of the family from the early 1430s with the rise of the near legendary Cosimo de'Medici until the end of the family line in 1737. The loves, habits and politics of each of the Medici are outlined in dense prose. the book has been described as 'thoroughly readable' by Antonia Fraser, herself a well known historical writer, but I found it heavy and hard going. In fact I felt, by presenting so much historical fact in such a dense manner, the book became boring and sometimes confusing, where background was only sketched in and too many characters were introduced at once.

I suspect this is a book that would be most appreciated by people who already know a lot about Renaissance Florence and who want a reference book about the Medici.


The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici by Christopher Hibbert, published by Penguin


reviewed for Italy in Books.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The State of Me by Nasim Marie Jafry

I met Nasim through Story Shop, the Edinburgh City of Literature project at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. You can read her stories here. She is the only one out of the group reading at Story Shop this year to already have a novel out. I bought a copy at the bookshop at the Book Festival.

The State of Me follows Helen Fleet, a promising student at Glasgow University, whose studies are interrupted when she is diagnosed first with Coxsackie virus and then with ME. Based on her own experiences of having ME, Nasim writes beautifully and insightfully and with a great deal of humour and originality about how the illness affects Helen's life and relationships.The novel moves back and forth between Helen's first person narrative, third person narrative and internal dialogues:

helen:........What are you doing today?

stranger:..I'm going to see Dance with a Stranger after work. What about you?

helen:.......Oh, I'm getting new plasma. I'm bored with the stuff I've got, so I thought I'd get some new stuff.

Woven into the background are the music, films, books and news items of the 1980s (so I found myself singing along at times!). Helen goes through a lot of bad times, when she can barely get out of bed and when she is faced by people (including medical practitioners) who deny the existence of ME. However in between times she enjoys life with her friends and family and manages her energy so she can travel a wee bit and do some voluntary work. Nasim has a great eye for amusing incidents:

When we'd finished ...(the meal)... the owner brought out a beautiful black puppy and put her on the table for us to pat, as if she were an after-dinner ritual like brandy and cigars.

This is a wonderful novel which engages the reader on many levels as well as giving a lot of insight into ME.

The State of Me by Nasim Marie Jafry published by The Friday Project (an imprint of Harper Collins)

As ever, coloured text contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Edwin Morgan Selected Poems

Actually the book is the New Selected Poems, but as the book is now over 10 years old, that New can be a little confusing!

Edwin Morgan was Scotland's greatest poet, who died last year at the age of 90. He was an incredibly versatile poet and could move with great ease between sonnets and experimental form and subjects varying from tender love poems to science fiction, poems about the history of Scotland and a poem in the voice of the Loch Ness Monster.

New Selected Poems showcases the whole range of his talents. I love the surrealism of many of his poems, as in From the Video Box: 25 - an imagining of the televising of the world jigsaw finals:


.............But what I liked best
was the last shot of the completed sea
filling the screen; then the saw lines disappeared,
till almost imperceptibly the surface moved

Although he didn't write often about nature, Morgan did have a fine sense of the natural world, as shown in An Abandoned Culvert:

The daffodils sang shrill within the culvert.
Their almost acid notes amazed the darkness

and he could write a good campaigning environmental poem too as in The White Rhinoceros which proves that poetry doesn't need to rant to make a campaigning point:

and the safety catches started to click in the thickets
for more. Run holy hide - take up your armour-
Run - white horn, tin clown, crown of rain woods

Morgan is best known perhaps for both his science fiction poetry and his love poetry. His science fiction poetry is very clever and often highly entertaining such as The First Men on Mercury, in which the voices of the earthlings and the Mercurians move closer and closer together, until they can barely be distinguished and eventually change still further so that the Mercurians are speaking English and the earthlings are speaking gibberish.

Morgan's love poetry is tender and often melancholy. Morgan came out as gay on his 70th birthday, you can read more about his sexuality and his love poetry in this excellent article on Aethelred the Unread, where you can also find Morgan's well known love poem Strawberries.

Edwin Morgan: New Selected Poems published by Carcanet

Reviewed for the LGBT reading challenge


Cross-posted to Crafty Green Poet

As ever. coloured text contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

History by Elsa Morante

This is a huge (over 700 pages), magnificent novel set in Italy immediately before, during and immediately after the Second World War. When I picked it up I thought it might be hard going but it isn't. Admittedly there are scenes of great hardship and suffering and some sections are difficult to read. However mostly it is driven by the irrepresible optimism and liveliness of the central character Useppe, who is born near the beginning of the book and is still a child by the end of the book. His widowed mother Ida is a teacher, she is very timid and ignorant of world events. I wasn't convinced by Ida as a character, feeling that a teacher would have been unusual to have been quite so scared of the world, but teaching is possibly one of the few professions a woman in 1940s Italy could have had, and her ignorance was central to the book's effect. The book explores Italian history of the period very well but its focus is definitely on the lives of ordinary people who are living their lives, often in ignorance about much of the politics that was going on behind the scenes.

Ida and Useppe are bombed out of their original home, find a space in a crowded shelter then move through a succession of rooms. Useppe makes friends wherever he goes, though it is often difficult for him to find people to make friends with and his friends often disappear from his life without warning (which ultimately wears him down). He also finds two dogs, a cat, some rabbits and some canaries at various points along the way. Each of these animals is beautifully portrayed. Bella the dog is the most engaging fictional dog I've ever read about, she is a real friend for Useppe and a fully drawn character.


Useppe is also very much in tune with nature. There are several wonderful scenes where he visits favourite places to sit in trees and listen to the birds. He lives his life to the full and enjoys everything there is to enjoy around him.


Meanwhile history marches on, passing us all by, in our small lives, whether we choose to hide away from the world or embrace it.


History by Elsa Morante, translated from Italian by William Weaver

published in Italy in 1972, first published in the UK 2001 by Penguin


For Italy in Books

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay

Red Dust Road won the Scottish Book of the Year Award and I was delighted to win copies of all the shortlisted books in a competition over on For Books Sake. (Just a week before the close of public voting on the winner, so I had to speed read all four books but I did get my vote in!).

Red Dust Road is Jackie Kay's account of growing up in Glasgow, black, lesbian and adopted. It also covers her search for her birth parents. It is a companion piece to her recent poetry collection Fiere (which I reviewed here for Book after Book).

It is a very moving and often entertaining story. Kay seems to have been very lucky with her adopted parents, who come across as wonderfully supportive in all possible ways. Her birth mother is a very nervous Mormon from the Highlands of Scotland and her birth father is a recently born again preacher from Nigeria.

Kay describes her search beautifully and reflects on nature vs nurture and the meaning of family. It's a book well worth reading, specially if you know Jackie Kay's work.


Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay, published by Picador

reviewed for the LGBT Reading Challenge

As ever, coloured text contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Free events at Edinburgh International Book Festival

There's always lots going on at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, but it can be very expensive. Tickets for most events are £10 and then if you do the expected thing and buy the speakers' books, an event can easily lead to you spending another £30 on top of your ticket price.

I'm delighted this year to have a press pass and so I've been able to get free tickets for several events (and you can read my reviews for these events over on Crafty Green Poet). However, some events are free for everyone! These include:

Story Shop - an up-and-coming Edinburgh writer reads a short story at 4pm every day in the Spiegeltent. You can see the list of readers here. (You may notice that I will be reading a story on Tuesday 23 August).

Unbound - two hours of entertainment for free from 9pm every evening in the Spiegeltent. Last night Kristin Hersh sang and read from her memoirs, it was a brilliant evening! Tonight the Golden Hour, Edinburgh's regular monthly cabaret of music, stories, poetry and cartoons comes to Unbound. You can see the whole Unbound programme here. You may need to turn up early to guarantee a seat!


Amnesty International Imprisoned Writers Series showcases the works of writers imprisoned for their words at 5.30pm every day.

There are also free taster events at 10am every morning. Ten minute readings from a randomly selected author from that day's programme.

As ever, coloured text contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Metallic Abstracts








taken in Kirkcudbright during our recent holiday to Dumfries and Galloway. More photos to follow, mostly on Crafty Green Poet.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Puppets and Flags at Traquair Fair

We went to Traquair Fair today, which takes place at Traquair House in Innerleithen in the Scottish Borders.

There is a mythical Traquair Fair in my mind, where the sun shines brightly all day and I get gently sunburnt sitting in the orchard listening to the music. This happened once, most times we've been to the Fair it has rained constantly and today was no exception. However we still had a lovely time. We enjoyed meeting these puppets:





and these flags brightened up the day:


and we enjoyed beer brewed in the Traquair Brewery and a pizza baked in this oven:

The orchard is lovely, and you can see photos of the apple trees and lichens over on Crafty Green Poet here.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Scottish Book Awards

I was delighted to win copies of all the books shortlisted for the Scottish Book Awards (thanks so much to ForBooksSake for this!). I received the books in the middle of last week and thought the deadline for public voting was in the middle of August, but no it's TODAY! I have quickly read the books (well I'm still reading one of them) and here are my potted reviews and I will be voting before the end of the day:

The Breakfast Room by Stewart Conn - the latest poetry collection from a well respected Scottish poet. I find Conn uses too many pompous words to describe ordinary events without offering the reader any real insights.

Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela - a novel of family life in 1950s Sudan and Egypt. This is very vividly told and the central narrative about Nur, an aspiring poet who fulfils his literary dreams despite major setbacks is inspiring.

The Death of Lomond Friel by Sue Peebles - a novel of family life in Scotland, centring around Lomond who has just had a stroke. Insightful and beautifully written.

Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay - a memoir about growing up in Glasgow black, lesbian and adopted. I'll post a review of this book for the LGBT Reading Challenge. This book is a companion piece to her latest poetry collection Fiere, which I reviewed over on Book After Book here.

If you have read these books and have an opinion you want to share about them then you still have time to vote for your favourite here.

As ever, coloured text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Broetry by Brian McGackin

'As contemporary poets sing the glories of birds, birch trees, and menstruation, regular guys are left scratching their heads. Who can speak for Everyman? Who will articulate his love for Xbox 360, fo Mama Celeste's frozen pizza, for the cinematic oeuvre of Bruce Willis?'

So begins the introduction to Broetry, a book that claims to offer poetry for dudes who don't like poetry. So there's an instant problem for me here, I'm not a dude and I love poetry. So for this review, I used the services of Crafty Green Boyfriend, who doesn't like poetry (unless I wrote it!), though he's not a Bruce Willis fan and he does like birds and birch trees, so he's not perfect for this purpose, but he's the only guy I know who I can randomly read poetry to, so he'll have to do.

Crafty Green Boyfriend could relate to many of the poems, including Final Final Fantasy (though his weakness is computer games rather than video games per se) and When Patrick Stewart Rules the World (actually I think Crafty Green Boyfriend for a while thought Patrick Stewart did rule the world). He felt that The Road Unable to be Taken Because I'm Trapped Behind a Line of Dudes in Stormtrooper Armor Who Feel the Need to Take Pictures with Every Girl They See Wearing a Slave Leia Outfit was such a good title it didn't need a poem. Being a biologist, but not a fan of peanut butter in any form, Crafty Green Boyfriend was very entertained by On the Origin of Reese's a poem in 14 parts on the natural selection and development of peanut butter cups. He was also totally entertained by Modern Day Heroics, in which the narrator uses his skills at removing spiders from a room to win a woman (even though I'm not scared of spiders!).

I also enjoyed the poems here, they are engaging and clever and written on topics that most people (specially dudes) can relate to. Plus there's a good, self deprecating sense of humour in here:

Classical music. It makes you smarter.
And admit it, you could be more cultured;
you just picked up a book called Broetry.

from Why You Should Listen to Classical Music


So yeah, pick this book up and give it to the men in your life who don't like poetry. Or even those who do.

Broetry by Brian McGackin published by Quirkbooks.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sul Po by Mario Bonfantini

This is a series of five stories set around the River Po. Most of them split themselves into descriptions (of for example the contrast between the river as it flows through towns and cities and as it flows through the countryside) and the story itself. I personally preferred the descriptive passages, but that probably has a lot to do with the fact that I found these passages easier to read. The Italian in these stories is quite colloquial in places! I actually find it quite difficult also to do a longer review of these stories, as I read them in between the novels I was reading and my memory has faded a wee bit, this happens more quickly when I've read something in a foreign language for some reason!


I've not been able to find out whether these stories have been translated into English, but they're definitely worth reading if you read Italian (specially if your Italian is better than mine!).



Sul Po by Mario Bonfantini published by Einaudi, 1975


For Italy in Books

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Royal Mile


on of the many wonderful architectural details along the Royal Mile, Edinburgh. (Another is the sculpture in the blog header!).

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Strangers

Our eyes meet
across the room

electricity

a sudden memory of us
hiding in an orange grove
as soldiers approached

previously published in Anon Magazine

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Mammoth Book of New Gay Er0tica edited by Lawrence Schimel

I won this book in the LGBT Reading Challenge hosted by Brighton Blogger. I rarely read erotica (though you can read my review of a collection of French language erotic haiku here) and it's not giving away any secrets to admit I'm not a gay man. So I'm not really the target audience for this book. Having said that I enjoyed most of the stories in this collection. There's a very wide range from a couple of stories which are almost pornographic in their concentration on sex to the exclusion of any real narrative and at the other end of the range there are some that have so little sexual content that they read more as romantic short stories rather than erotica. This range did get me wondering about how erotica is actually defined....

Some of the stories that I most enjoyed:

Alaska by Trebor Healy - a writer and teacher lives in Alaska for a while where he climbs trees, discovers himself and changes the life of a young man in the local community


Divide and Conquer by William J Mann - an outrageous soap opera of a story about a novel approach to healing broken family relationships

Two Hearts by David May - two lovers realise just how much they mean to each other, with more than a little help from their cat, Schrodinger.

The Mammoth Book of New Gay Erotica edited by Lawrence Schimel, published by Robinson


for the LGBT Reading Challenge

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Films at Edinburgh International Film Festival

As most readers of this blog will know, I have a press pass for Edinburgh International Film Festival and am positively overdosing on great films for the next two weeks. I'll be reviewing most of the films over on Crafty Green Poet, but some will be on this blog. I thought it might be useful to have an overview post with links to all the reviews, so here goes (click on the links to read the reviews):

1. Shut Up Little Man! (noisy neighbours, invasion of privacy & copyright issues. Documentary)
2. Calvet. (how art transformed one man's life. Documentary).
.......and an interview with Jean Marc Calvet and the film director Dominic Allan
3. Project Nim (can we teach chimpanzees to communicate using language? Is it ethical to even try? Documentary).
4. Borrower Arrietty (gorgeous anime based on Mary Norton's classic children's book The Borrowers)
5. Cityscapes (experimental short films about cities across the world)
6. Mysterious Object at Noon (surreal storytelling on a road trip through Thailand)
7. some thoughts on nature therapy after watching King of Devil's Island
8. Convento (kinetic art in rural Portugal. Documentary)
9. Off the Beaten Track (rural life in Rumania, Documentary)
10. Burning Ice (art and science respond to climate change. Documentary.)
11. Almanya - Welcome to Germany (entertaining drama about a Turkish family in Germany)
12. Albatross - (coming of age drama focussing on an aspiring writer)
13. A Better Life (depressing story about an undocumented Mexican family in California)
14. Perfect Sense (romance against the backdrop of an unknown epidemic)

A Better Life

Yesterday I reviewed Almanya (you can read my review here) - an upbeat, entertaining film about a Turkish family in Germany. Still on the theme of immigration, today I saw A Better Life, a low beat, depressing film about a Mexican family in California.

Carlos is an illegal immigrant working a regular job as a gardener, but his boss is selling up and moving back to Mexico. He offers Carlos the sale of his truck, but Carlos can't afford it and hasn't anyway gor a driver's licence.

This truck forms the centre of the film as hopes are raised by Carlos' sister lending him the money to buy it. But where this should help Carlos to create himself a better life, things aren't that simple.

Meanwhile Carlos' son Luis is skipping school and getting into bad company. He is much more Americanised that Carlos. Where his Dad tries to keep in the background, Luis is quite quick to fight. Over the course of the film though the two become much closer and start to understand each other's perspectives.

This is a very well observed film about the issues around being undocumented in the USA. Behind the main characters there's a whole world in view, as the action passes through many areas of Los Angeles, showing fights, political rallies and lines of illegal immigrants looking for work.

I saw a press screeing of this film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Public Screenings are: 19.45, 24 June and 17.45, 25 June, both in Cameo 1. You can book tickets on the EIFF website here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Almanya - Welcome to Germany

'Am I German or Turkish?' This is the central question in Almanya - Welcome to Germany, an engaging and highly entertaining drama about a Turkish family who have lived in Germany since the 1960s.

When grandfather announces he has bought a summer house in Turkey, just after he and his wife have finally become German citizens, a journey starts, taking the family through their past and their two cultures. We see how the identities of grandfather and grandmother have changed so much since they first left Turkey for Germany, where once they identified totally as Turkish, they now feel just as Turkish inside but have become totally used to life in Germany and find elements of Turkey quite alien now they return. At the same time their grandson finds he isn't accepted by his school friends - he's neither properly German nor properly Turkish.

The film is beautifully structured and filmed, using a documentary approach to the historical elements of the story and with wonderful surreal touches to highlight the emotional journey of the characters. There are dream sequences including grandfather's hilarious nightmare about what German citizenship might involve.

There are wonderful details, such as the embroidered handkerchief that grandfather had given to grandmother when he had first gone to Germany, which add subtlety and depth to the story.

And viewers may well be advised to make sure they have a handkerchief at the ready too, this is a film that will make you laugh and cry.

I saw the press screening of this film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Public screenings are 17.45, 23 June and 13.00, 25 June, both in Cameo 1. You can book tickets on the EIFF website here.

As ever, red text in this post contains hyperlinks which take you to other websites where you can find out more.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Unthinkable Skies CD launches

The CD of Unthinkable Skies, which features my poetry set to music by Belvedere Mountain Express is now available as a download from CD Baby, or as a home-made (and beautifully packaged) CD-R from here.

As ever, coloured text contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more!

Calvet

I'm in the middle of reviewing the Edinburgh International Film Festival! I've seen ten excellent films so far, but one that made a particular impression on me is Calvet (you can read my review here). This is the amazing story of how Jean Marc Calvet's life was transformed when he discovered art.

I was delighted yesterday to be able to chat with Jean Marc and with Dominic Allan, the director of the film.

Jean Marc Calvet had a hard childhood and an early career as a bodyguard, a French Legionnaire and a vice cop. He abandoned his partner and young son to take a shady job in the USA, which led to him absconding to Central America with huge amounts of cash he had stolen from his employer.

Dominic Allan has worked in TV, directing such films as The Pipeline; Mandela: The Living Legend and Israel Undercover. He was travelling in Nicaragua in 2004, when he met Jean Marc in a restaurant, which was decorated with huge paintings. These paintings of Jean Marc's made a big impression on Dominic but it was only two years later that he had the idea to make a film about how art had transformed Jean Marc's life. Jean Marc admitted in our interview that at that stage he hadn't entirely seen Dominic's vision, but that he saw the film project as an extension of the therapy that art already was for him.

The most memorable part of the film for me is where Jean Marc discovers painting as therapy. There is an extended sequence of impressionistic visuals and soundscapes that recreate the drug-fuelled hallucinations that Jean Marc experienced for several months while he had imprisoned himself in his house in Costa Rica. At some point, he discovers several pots of paints and literally starts throwing the paint around the rooms. At this stage, Jean Marc says, he would deny he was an artist, when people asked him. It was only five years later, when someone contacted him wanting to put on an exhibition of his work in New York that he realised that he was a real artist.

Jean Marc has used lots of different styles in his art. In his early days as a painter, people would compare his work to Jackson Pollock or Jean-Michel Basquait but he'd never heard of these artists. So he set out to learn as much as he could about art and became an avid reader of art magazines. He is entirely self-taught and uses different styles depending on what best fits what he wants to say. Art, he said, is like a 'big walk inside' himself.

Jean Marc is now a respected artist and is inspiring the next generation of artists, not least his own daughter, who is deaf. She is allowed a lot of freedom in his studio where she enjoyed expressing herself through art and she appears briefly in the film.

Dominic had wanted to use film techniques that would best capture the immediacy of Jean Marc's art and the intensity of his life story. He wanted to mostly avoid reconstructions of the past (though one scene in Jean Marc's old house on Costa Rica is a very effective reconstruction with slides of his first paintings projected onto the now white-washed walls). Dominic chose to intercut the narrative with segments of impressionistic film to suit the mood of the story. This approach works brilliantly and really does give the film a sense of immediacy and emotional impact.

Dominic said he wants to make films that are inspiring and Calvet certainly is! The film should be touring various film festivals in the next few months and hopefully should get released into cinemas after that. If you get the chance, see it! Meanwhile you can see some of Jean Marc's paintings and read more about his life on his website here.

The website for the film Calvet is here and there's also a Facebook page here!

Thanks to Edinburgh International Film Festival for making this interview possible and to Jean Marc and Dominic for making the time to chat to me!

As ever, coloured text contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more. This article also appears on Crafty Green Poet.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Edinburgh International Film Festival

This lunchtime I went along to collect my press pack for the Edinburgh International Film Festival! As I've said before, I'm very impressed with this year's programme, based purely on the fact that there are more films I want to see than there have been for years. So I'm looking forward very much to seeing lots of films over the next week or so. I'll review most of the films I see over on Crafty Green Poet, but one or two might find themselves reviewed on this blog. And of course I'm delighted to find myself mentioned in this article on bloggers to watch out for at the festival.

As ever, text in green contains hyperlinks to other webpages where you can find out more.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Leamington Lift Bridge, Union Canal

Leamington Lift Bridge is a vertical lift bridge located near the end of the Union Canal in Edinburgh. It was built by Armstrong of Newcastle in 1906 and was originally located further up the canal, which then extended further towards the centre of Edinburgh. When the canal was shortened, the bridge was moved to its current location. You can read more about this fascinating bridge (and see animations of how the mechanism works!) here.

Edinburgh City Council is holding a consulation on the future of the Union Canal, which you can read and comment on here. You can read my blog post about the consultation here. You can read more about our most recent visit to the canal here (which includes a photo of a family of swans).


For Sunday Bridges

Monday, June 06, 2011

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

This is Jeanette Winterson at her best. I've read most of her novels and this is one of my favourites. The story follows Henri, a French peasant who hero worships Napoleon. He is torn between his pride in serving Napoleon his meals as the army travels Europe and his feelings of not belonging in the army.

The second strand of the novel follows Villanelle, a young Venetian, born with webbed feet (as myth suggests all Venetian fishermen are). She dresses as a boy to work in the Casino, where she meets a mysterious married woman, who becomes her lover for a while while her husband is away.

Eventually the two narratives merge - everything is connected.

The novel is beautifully written. The language is gorgeous, but also concise, there's barely a word out of place. There are wonderful touches of surrealism, as in the shapeshifting Venice of everchanging waterways and the fishermen's webbed feet. It feels like an exagerrated picture of Venice as it really is, and the reader can almost accept it as being real, just as we can almost accept as real the alternative version of history we're presented with.

Wonderful book.

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson, published by Penguin

For the LGBT Reading Challenge and the Italy in Books Reading Challenge

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Hollywood Haiku

I was delighted that one of my film haiku was a runner up in the Best for Film Hollywood Haiku competition! You can read the winning entries here.

My entries were originally posted on this blog here and here.

I'll be reviewing lots of films during the Edinburgh International Film Festival, mostly over on Crafty Green Poet. You can read my initial thoughts about the festival here and here.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Angelic Shadows






for more shadowy photos from our day in Roslin Glen visit this post on my Crafty Green Poet blog.



Saturday, May 21, 2011

Edinburgh International Film Festival (2)

I blogged recently about the Edinburgh International Film Festival and mentioned how excited I was by the programme. Yesterday Crafty Green Boyfriend finally got the chance to look through the programme and said it was very disappointing for him, but then we have very different tastes in films! I'm particularly impressed that the festival has ditched the red carpet celebrity focussed strands of the last few years in favour of a more serious, issue based approach (but then I can see a lot of people not agreeing with me on that, as we live in such celebrity obsessed times). I'm also impressed by the number of films that have an environmental theme to them. My views this year are also coloured by the fact that (whisper it) I have a press pass, which means I can see all the films I want to see in return for reviews (mostly over on Crafty Green Poet) and for some general publicity (like this blog post).

Howard of Belvedere Express made a very valid point about the price of Film Festival Tickets in his comment on my first post about the festival, but I'd say:

a) it's better value than the Edinburgh International Book Festival where you pay £10 to listen to an author market their book which they then expect you to buy (I'm not knocking the Book Festival as such, I've been to some great events there - the best ever being last year's reading from two South African poets I had never previously heard of).

b) my secret to the Film Festival is to pick the films least likely to ever get released (because they're obscure or deal with unpopular topics) and to avoid going to films that are likely to get general release - why pay festival prices for a film that will be in all the cinemas only two weeks later?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Customer Care

This isn't really something I would normally blog about but some things that have happened recently have annoyed me and another couple have really pleased me so i thought I'd write about them!

First the good:

Saraband Books held a competition on Twitter, asking people to tweet about Woodlands. I was honoured and delighted that my tweeted haiku won this competition. I was equally delighted by the fact that Saraband sent me a direct message on Twitter immediately asking for my address and congratulating me and telling me when they would post out my prize. I was even more delighted when the prize (a copy of the wonderful Woodlanders book, which I will review on Crafty Green Poet in due course) arrived the next day.

As readers of this blog will be aware, I recently entered a Hollywood Haiku competition on Best for Film, which asked for haiku reviews of films. I sent in two haiku (you can read them in the posts below) and was annoyed when the second one bounced back! I left a comment in their blog and within a few minutes I'd received a reply asking me to send my entry to an alternative email address, which I did. Then today they've emailed all contestants, apologising for the bounced emails, extending the deadline to 23 May and assuring us all our future entries to the competition will reach the organisers!

So those are two examples of good customer care, unlike:

The publisher who shall remain nameless who held a competition on Twitter, which I won, but even six weeks later, after a reminder via Twitter and an email direct to the company, still has not only not sent my prize, but they haven't even communicated with me at all!

The environmental organisation in Scotland, who shall remain nameless, who contacted me, about a month ago, to say they were so pleased that Crafty Green Poet drove a considerable amount of traffic to their website, that would reward me with a substantial free gift. They then have not communicated with me at all, despite me asking them for clarification. I had linked to their website with no thought other than visitors to my blog would enjoy their site and their charity, and never expected to receive anything in return. Now however I have begun to feel antagonistic to this organisation, because their customer care is so poor.

The moral of the story is that if you want to offer a gift or a prize then you make very sure that you actually deliver on your promises otherwise you risk annoying people and losing customer goodwill.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Film Haiku 2

team of samurai
recleaim noble heritage
kill everybody

(a haiku review of 13 Assassins)


This is an entry for the Best For Film Hollywood Haikus blogging competition. Enter now.


Film Haiku

replay the journey
try to solve the mystery
replay the journey


(a haiku review of Source Code)

This is an entry for the
Best For Film Hollywood Haikus blogging competition. Enter now.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Edinburgh International Film Festival

The 2011 Edinburgh International Film Festival has unveiled a fresh programme mix for its 65th year. The festival is always a major cultural highlight of my year and this year is packed with screenings, new events, collaborations and innovative film experiences. The selection of films looks like the most exciting for the last several years at least.

The festival this year runs from 15 - 26 June and the programme includes:

• Thought-provoking ideas: screenings, debates and events that explore the power of film in topics such as conflict and science
• Experimental events: 24-hour debates, cinema recreations in public spaces, ‘Cineconcerts’ with live music, and live video game performances
• Distinctive collaborations: screening the film favourites of some of the most creative minds in film, music and the arts, plus partnerships with the pioneers of the film and digital world
• Cinema experiences: outdoor screenings, gallery exhibitions and a bike powered mobile cinema

It looks like it's going to be a brilliant festival so if you're in Edinburgh in June make sure you try to get along to some films!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Luxury of Exile by Louis Buss

Claude Wooldridge is an antiques dealer and second hand bookshop owner with an obsession with Byron and an impending midlife crisis. When he finds what may be letters leading him to Byron's memoirs he thinks this may be something that will bring meaning left to his life. His profession means that he is acutely aware that the memoirs (and indeed the letter leading him to them) may be a fake and increasingly he is becoming aware that his whole life may be fake. So he rushes off to Naples and buys the old mansion that Byron is reputed to have lived in, where he can uncover the truth.

The part of the novel set in the UK is entertaining, Wooldridge is a colourful and not entirely likeable character and his dysfunctional family and professional life is described in an amusing and insightful manner. Secrets abound, which are revealed gradually through the narrative. Great use is made of the weather to accent mood (though this is perhaps overdone in one scene, where an argument is counterpointed by an ever increasing thunderstorm that becomes rather melodramatic).

However, once action moves to Naples, the book totally deteriorated for me. Rather than Italy acting as a backdrop for adventure, discovery and closure it is a setting for depressing introspection and self involved misery.

The Luxury of Exile by Louis Buss published by Random House

for the Italy in Books reading challenge

Thursday, May 05, 2011

To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life

This is a fictionalised journal of the author's struggle with AIDS in the relatively early days of the disease (He died of AIDS in 1991.) It is profoundly moving with its meditation on the meaning of friendship and how illness affects friendships and other relationships. It makes an interesting point about AIDS despite its horrors and ravages in some senses being 'kind' because it gives the sufferer time to live the last of their life knowing that they don't have much time left and allowing them to make peace with things. Of course in lots of other ways it isn't at all a kind disease, as is made very clear by some parts of this book.

The book is beautifully written with some humour, making a poignant read. There is a lot of medical information in the book, but the quality of the writing means that this does not distract from the human elements of the narrative. The fact that it is a fictionalised journal does mean that the reader wonders about who some of the characters really are!


To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life by Herve Guibert published by High Risk

For the LGBT Reading Challenge

I won a copy of the Mammoth Book of Gay Erotica in the LGBT Reading Challenge, which I am currently reading and will review sometime fairly soon. As its short stories, it will be a while, as I read short stories a few at a time between novels.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Weekend Reflections

I've always wanted to take a photo of these reflections in the fireplace in one of our favourite cafes in Edinburgh, so today I did! I took a lot more photos today as we wandered round Craiglockhart Hill and Pond and the Union Canal. You can see those over on Crafty Green Poet here.



Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Titian - The Last Days by Mark Hudson

This book is a wonderful, though sometimes slightly confused, mix of travelogue, biography, art history and general history. The subtitle The Last Days is entirely misleading as it looks at most of Titian's life and a large proportion of his paintings and puts his work in context with the other developments in Venetial art at the time.

Large amounts of the narrative is spent detailing Titian's paintings, and where these paintings are shown in the colour plates in the centre of the book this is wonderful reading. I totally enjoyed discovering the depths to paintings that were being discribed to me as well as being available in front of my eyes. Some of the described paintings weren't available in the book though and these long descriptions became slightly tiresome as I wanted to have them in front of me, I'm not sure that the author should be expecting all readers to have a good visual memory for large numbers of paintings!

The book also went into a lot of detail about Titian's methods of working and how he had access to a large number of styles of painting, not to mention his assistants! I found it fascinating that often he would quiet blatantly adapt paintings by other artists, add his own background, paint the head of his model (or patron) onto the existing body and hey presto! another masterpiece! Not to mention the studio copies (mostly carried out by his assistants) of his own works.

There is also a lot of information about the art scene in Venice in the 1500s, the history of the times and the epidemics that periodically swept the city, including the 1576 plague which is believed to have killed Titian.

Added to all this, are a lot of discussions about eroticism in art. Many paintings of the period (including several by Titian himself) used naked people in suggestive poses, that were made respectable by the addition of a mythological tale. Titian seems to have been the first artist to have drawn a naked woman without this justification, and this painting The Venus of Urbino scandalised many people (Mark Twain reportedly described it as 'the obscenest picture the world possesses') while what we see is a beautiful young woman in a pose that is no more suggestive than the poses of many nymphs in many mythological paintings.

Interspered in all this are accounts of the author's travels round Venice in search of Titian's last home and round various art galleries and religious buildings in search of the artists paintings.

It's a totally fascinating book and a must read for anyone interested in art history or in the process of how artists work.

Titian - the Last Days by Mark Hudson, published by Bloomsbury

for Italy in Books

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Dean Village Bridge

This is a bridge across the Water of Leith in Dean Village. It was built more or less at the point where the original ford crossed the river when Dean Village was first established as a settlement. You can see more of my photos of Dean Village on this blog here (and that post itself includes more links if you're really interested!).



I posted a photo of another bridge across the Water of Leith today over on Crafty Green Poet. You can see that here.



Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Orangerie

We had a lovely walk through Dalkeith Country Park today. You can read more about it over on Crafty Green Poet here. This building is the Orangerie, built in the mid nineteenth century and currently being renovated.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Friday, April 08, 2011

Strong for Potatoes by Cynthia Thayer

Strong for Potatoes follows Blue Willoughby as she grows up in eastern Maine. Blue was one of twins, but her sister died a few days after the girls were born and has haunted Blue ever since. She herself was severly injured in an accident which ended her brief career as a child movie star. This accident haunts her too, as do memories of Maria, her make up lady and guardian during her movie days. Blue's parents are difficult and she turns to her grandfather, a Passamquoddy Indian who teaches Blue how to track wild animals and inspires her to take up basket making, a craft that she learns to imbue with her own distinctive style.

Blue struggles to find her own true identity, as a part native American, as a crafter, as a disabled woman. She also needs to find a true companion as she struggles to leave behind her memories of her sister. Will it be Brian, her childhood friend, Darrel, the handsome boy who takes her to the Prom or Leonora, the beautiful woman whose dog has died?

This is a beautiful, moving novel, that introduces the reader to Passamquoddy culture while exploring human relationships with a great deal of sensitivity.

Strong for Potatoes by Cynthia Thayer, published 1998 by St Martin's Press

For the
LGBT Reading Challenge

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Busking

Richard plays the blues
in a lunchtime-crowded Rose Street
Two policemen on the beat
stop to have a chat

No we don’t want to see your license, son
We don’t want to move you on
We’d just like to come back later
To listen to you play

And talk about the blues.

Rose Street is a pedestrianised street in the centre of Edinburgh.
Edinburgh Sketcher just posted a sketch of a busker in the Royal Mile, you can see it here.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

St Bernard's Well




Assording to legend StBernard's Well was originally discovered by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the founder of the Cistercian Order, in the 12th Century, who was ill and living in a cave near the Water of Leith. He noticed the spring because so many birds visited it and he drank its healing waters until his strength returned.


The well was re-discovered by three school boys from Heriot's School while they were fishing in the Water of Leith in 1760. A simple well house covered it until 1789, when the current building was commissioned by Lord Gardenstone and designed by Edinburgh landscape painter Alexander Nasymth. The marble statue represents Hygieia, Goddess of Health.

For decades wealthy holiday makers used to visit Edinburgh to take the well's waters. These waters were believed to cure arthritis, back ache, and even blindness. The taste was apparently pretty disgusting though. At one point the pump room apparently resembled a continental cafe and the water was even bottled at one point. The well remained open until 1940. Nowadays you can access the interior only on special occasions such as Edinburgh's Doors Open Day.



I posted a photo of bridges further up the Water of Leith over on Crafty Green Poet. You can see them here.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Coming of Age

Scared of your slender, blossoming beauty
Mother dresses you in baggy clothes,
chops off your auburn hair,
bans make-up, jewellery and perfume,
points out fat-legged girls in mini-skirts to say:
“See no-one looks good like that!”

You return from your first term away
bright with friendship, ideas
and a rucksack of fashionable new clothes.
One afternoon while you’re out
she blacksacks your prized new possessions
visits Oxfam* but describes a theft.

Thin-lipped she marches you to BHS**
for modest brown tweed to suit
your new adulthood. Next term end
she puzzles over your absence,
your postcards from Paris and Milan.


previously published in Envoi

*Oxfam - an international development charity which runs second hand shops in the UK to raise money for its work.

** BHS - British Home Stores, not famed for its funky fashionable clothes, not that I'd know these days, given all my clothes are second hand! Mind, none of them have BHS labels!


Not literally true, this poem is however, based on my mother's attitudes to my clothes, when I was growing up. It's a favourite a poetry readings for some reason.