Saturday, December 25, 2010

It wasn't finding that Santa didn't exist that upset her; but finding out her parents had been lying to her for years.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Reading Challenges Update

I've now also signed up for the Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge, which actually shouldn't be too much of a challenge for me as I have recently read at least one book by Murakami every year and I have three of his books as yet unread on my bookshelves, so....

If you want to join in you can find out more here.

Meanwhile, Sandy commented on my post about the Italy in Books Challenge that he would struggle to find enough books set in Italy. So here are some recommendations:

Any book by Alessandro Barrico or Italo Calvino that is set in Italy
The Floating Book by Michelle Lovric
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco
The Tuscan Master by Peter Adamson
The Igauna by Anna Maria Ortese
Cooking with Fermat Branca by James Hamilton Paterson
Il Vizio dell'Agnello by Andrea Pinketts (though I don't know whether this has been translated into English)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Italy in Books Reading Challenge

This is the second of Brighton Blogger's Reading Challenges on her Book after Book blog. The Italy in Books Challenge asks us to read at least 12 books set in Italy between 1 January 2011 and 31 December 2011. Whether written by Italian authors or not, it doesn’t matter. They don’t have to be set exclusively in Italy but this country needs to play a significant role in the book. The challenge can include non-fiction books about Italy.

If you want to join in, you can find out more here.

LGBT Reading Challenge

Brighton Blogger is co-ordinating a couple of reading challenges at her Book After Book blog. I've signed up for both of them! The first one is the LGBT Reading Challenge. The challenge is to read any number of LGBT books in the calendar year 2011. There are prizes each month!

What qualifies as LGBT reading? Brighton Blogger will accept reviews of books whose author, topic and/or whose characters (even minor ones) is/are lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender. Fiction and non-fiction titles are equally accepted.

If you feel like joining in you can find out more here.

I will read at least two LGBT books next year and will post the reviews on this blog.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Photographing Reality

(For Eve Arnold)

Your untaught hands picked up a camera
and never put it down, finding
instinct for the picture
that carries the burden of history
so lightly it seems no burden at all.

Icons of stage and screen; children and women
whose lives are never seen,
all gently caught; held
in your gaze, your lens capturing
the essence of their lives and times.

Deceptively simple is this art of yours,
framing faces in a view-finder
to create a pleasing image
that seems by accident to encapsulate
history, yet somehow magically transcends it.

Thursday, December 09, 2010


Monsters is a low budget film about aliens for people who value subtlety over big bangs. It is a very impressive achievement, it looks gorgeous (particularly the scens in the Mexican rainforests), is compelling viewing and thought provoking too.

It is set in Mexico, six years after alien lifeforms (giant octopuses that hatch from fungi like structures on trees) have taken hold there and an infected zone between Mexico and the USA has been isolated, separating the two countries. This separation is emphasised by a towering wall built along the border.

Andrew is a photojournalist working on documenting the aliens and charged with bringing his boss's daughter Sam back to the USA. The threat of the aliens is advancing such that, due to a combination of circumstances they find themselves unable to get a ferry back to the USA and opt to make their way through the infected zone. This journey is characterised by huge tension due to the ever present threat of the aliens with the occasional glimpse of the monsters themselves and the damage they can cause.

Finally the pair make it to the USA and have a final encounter with the aliens that leaves them wondering whether they are actually as dangerous as they have been portrayed (they certainly prove to be fascinating and beautiful in this scene).

The film is very thought provoking too. I was constantly struck with how the USA treats Mexican immigrants (I'm currently reading Crossing with the Virgin - Stories from the Migrant Trail, which I will review here in the near future). The journey that Andrew and Sam make through the infected zone brought to mind the perils many immigrants make through the Arizona desert in their attempts to reach family or jobs in the USA. Plus the border wall seems something that could become a reality in the future. I was also particularly struck by the US Army reaction of spraying vast areas of the forest with poisons to kill off the aliens, which brought to mind images of the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam.

Text in green contains hyperlinks to pages where you can find out more!

Thursday, November 25, 2010


One of a dying breed -
an elegant smoker - you lean
casually against the wall
and watch the dance-floor
through the mirror.

You kiss your girlfriend
and whisper a smokescreen
of lies, while you reflect
on another woman.

Your girlfriend keeps
a voodoo doll in her purse -
savage with pinpricks.

Smoke burns her eyes.

previously published in Anon Magazine and in my pamphlet Unthinkable Skies

Sunday, November 14, 2010


cold November day -
why are so many people
carrying their coats?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Chichewa - the language of Malawi

Prompted by a conversation I had on Twitter, I thought I would share some of the phrases of Chichewa that I still remember twenty years after leaving Malawi.

Chichewa is the main language spoken in Malawi (along with around 11 other native languages, plus English), though as Chinyanja it is also spoken in Zambia and other parts of southern Africa, apparently it is the third largest African language in Zimbabwe. Chichewa is a Bantu language. There is a basic phrase book here.

So, here are the phrases that I most remember and am likely to still throw into conversation (!):

Zikomo - thank you, excuse me, watch out
Osoandola - don't worry
Chabwino - okay
Tikupita - let's go
Tsalani bwino - stay well
Pepani - sorry
Sindikufuna - I don't want

I don't have much opportunity to use Chichewa in Scotland (so I'm unlikely to develop my skills, despite my Chichewa book!) but I have occasionally spoken a wee bit with Malawians I've met over here and I did once get involved in a Swahili conversation because of the similarity of some words with Chichewa.

Anyone else remember bits of a language you used to speak a long time ago or from a country you lived in or visited?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010

South African Poetry at Edinburgh Book Festival

Last night I went to one of the best events I've ever attended at the Edinburgh International Book Festival featuring the South African poets Keorapetse Kgositsile and Lesego Rampolokeng. I hadn't heard of either of them before the event, but I'm always interested in discovering new poets, particularly those who probably don't visit Scotland very often.

Both poets are very politically engaged and the poems they read reflected this. Kgositsile has a much quieter style while Rampolokeng is a speed reading hip-hop poet. Both poets are unafraid to speak their mind but are such skilful poets that they can negotiate the fine line between polemic and poetry.

After they had both read they discussed the links between poetry and music and the importance of politics to their poetry. The discussion was fascinating and entertaining, moving organically from topic to topic. One minute the dangers of idolising political figures (such as Nelson Mandela) the next minute the dangers of believing what you read on the internet. The event over-ran its time as much as an event at the Book Festival can over-run and I have a feeling that both audience and poets would have been happy to have stayed for quite a bit longer.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Passing Shadow

She carries her mourning
gravely through the streets
her sombre blurred reflection
in a café picture window
mingles oddly with a laughing
hen night out.

................The bride-to-be
falls silent for a beat
as she sees her shadow pass.

Previously published on Concise Delight

Thursday, August 05, 2010

When I Was A Work of Art

I try to read one novel in French every year and this was the one i chose this year. 'Lorsque j'etais une oeuvre d'art' by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt is a wonderfully strange, compelling and entertaining story about a man who becomes a work of art.

Tazio is saved from committing suicide by a mysterious benefactor who puts to him the proposition that he become a work of art. Many plastic surgery procedures later Tazio has become Adam, a public art installation, owned and controlled by his so called benefactor.

The narrative is compelling and at the same time puts forward very thought provoking discussions on issues around human identity, human rights, the concept of beauty and what is a work of art? It's also surprisingly easy to read in the original French, so I read it almost as quickly as I would have done if it were in English.

Lorsque j'etais une oeuvre d'art by Eric Emmanuel Schmitt published by Le Livre de Poche.

As far as I know this novel has been translated into English!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Paul Squires

I was shocked to hear of the death of Australian poet and blogger Paul Squires, at the age of 46 after an accidental fall. Paul blogged at Gingatao and shared some of his poetry with us on Bolts of Silk. He had a unique poetic voice and was a generous and entertaining commentator on other people's blogs. He'll be much missed.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Drive by Andrew McCallum Crawford

Drive the first novel by Greek based, Edinburgh born Andrew MacCallum Crawford follows a group of young men as they form a band and almost find fame and fortune while getting involved in various weird and wacky situations. The characters are very well drawn and believable and the dialogue is brilliant. The story moves along at a great pace and is entertaining throughout and often very funny. It's set in the Edinburgh of the 80s but an Edinburgh where many of the names of landmarks (particularly University buildings) have been changed, which is disconcerting for anyone who was a student in Edinburgh at the time the novel is set (which I was!) though otherwise it is a very accurate portrayal of the city at that time. The soundtrack to the novel is more or less exactly the music I was listening to when I was a student.

One of the most impressive things about this novel though is the author's use of Scots. The narrative is written in standard English but with a Scots rhythm to it, while the dialogue (for the Scottish characters!) is totally believably (and consistently) Scots.

Definitely an entertaining read, whether or not you were a student in Edinburgh in the 1980s!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Lifestyle Tourist

My life is a foreign land to you.

You pass through with binoculars,
notebook and camera, to capture
my quaint customs, unique features,

I flinch from your gaze,
not ready to bare my soul to you,
an arrogant stranger with no respect
for my personal space.

You return to your own world
full of stories of me,
how good it was
getting to know me.

The value of cultural exchange.

Previously published in Envoi

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Adrift - the film version

Alastair Cook has made a wonderful film of my short poem Adrift, from my pamphlet Unthinkable Skies.You can watch the film (and hear my reading!) on Vimeo here. Enjoy! The timing of this film being made is perfect too as I just realised we're coming up to Refugee Week!

I've also got a new poem and a photo up at the Camel Saloon, a new outlet for poetry, short stories and photos. You can read it here.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Family Her String Quartet

Striding into the home
they have been happy in
for the seven years
since she stormed out
she picks up her bow
and with an imperious nod
tries to rush them
into a march of her design
but they stubbornly hold to
the freeform jazz
they had delighted in
while she was away.

Previously published in Aireings

Sunday, May 16, 2010

sleep deprived

you can't even see me
but i dream you can read my mind
judging my impure motives
as i jump up and down
at your window

the man in the moon
has left the room
trailing memories
of parallel lives

but it wasn't you
or was it

my Harlequin?

(and now the mystery begins)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Unthinkable Skies launch

Unthinkable Skies my poetry chapbook will be launched 6.30pm, Wednesday 12 May at Water of Leith Conservation Trust Visitor Centre, Slateford Road, Edinburgh. There will be refreshments and music!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fragile Beauty

Out of the crowd she appears
bright with her smile and her colours,
perfume in clouds, bells on her wrists,
beauty and youth on her side.

She’s glowing happy with friends,
hands holding hands and sparkling eyes,
comfort in closeness and conversation,
laughter and love all around.

She lifts her hand to long auburn hair,
the sleeve falling back to reveal
ugly red weals, scars of self-harm
across her wrists and her arm.

Previously published in Envoi

Monday, March 22, 2010

Unthinkable Skies

My poetry chapbook Unthinkable Skies is now available! You can order it from: and overseas orders are welcome.

The title Unthinkable Skies is taken from one of the poems in the collection and most of the poems feature the sky in some way. Yes there are lots of birds in there but lots of other themes to interest the non-birdwatchers among you. There will be a launch event at some point and I'm hoping to do several other readings over the next few months, mostly in Edinburgh but also in other parts of Scotland and even perhaps in Manchester and Bristol, depending on opportunities.

I'll keep you up to date on these kind of things, though I hope not to become boring about it. You can always check this post here for updates of what I'm doing.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Twitter as a Marketing Tool for Writers

As some of you may know, I recently joined Twitter. I recently did an online marketing scoping exercise for the charity I work for. While doing this I spent a lot of time on Twitter and realised that I could use it personally. In the first week I found myself with 50 followers and currently have a few over 100 after 3 weeks. Now these aren't huge numbers but they're not bad. Plus a lot of these people are people who didn't know me before I joined Twitter. I've already had Twitter contacts starting to follow my blogs, friending me on Facebook and offering to publicise my forthcoming poetry chapbook.

You can use Twitter in many ways but if you're looking for new audiences for your writing, your blog or your art there are ways you can maximise the marketing potential of Twitter.

1. Think about it first. Look at a few Twitter accounts before setting up your own. Or go to the homepage and search on a topic that interests you. Find out how people are using Twitter and what they're saying.

2. Start out with confidence. It's fine to set up an account quietly and then spend time thinking about how you want to use it but once you start, it's good to sound as though you know why you're there rather than tweeting (posting) 'Not sure why I'm here' twenty times.

3. Have an idea of what you want to say. General chit chat is fine and that's why a lot of people use Twitter. If you're using it for marketing though, it's useful to tweet about your writing and about things that fit in with the persona you want to project. Unless you're famous, people who don't know you are likely not to be interested in very personal chit chat. At the same time make sure you don't only tweet to market your work, because if you do that people will become bored very easily. Some people successfully use Twitter as a noticeboard where they purely post occasional marketing notices, but that misses out on the huge potential the medium offers. I tweet mostly about nature, crafts and poetry, plus I post short poems, links to highlights from my blogs and notices about my poetry. If you're on both Facebook and Twitter, try not to say exactly the same on both, specially if your audience is the same in each case.

4. Follow people! Lots of bloggers use Twitter so follow some of the people whose blogs you read. Find new people to follow too! If you follow people, they may follow you back (though following is not necessarily a two way process. Some people stop following you if you don't follow them back, but you don't need to follow everyone who follows you - some will be spambots, some will just want to sell you stuff, others you may just not find interesting). Getting the highest number of followers shouldn't be the aim in Twitter, it's best to have relatively few followers who are really interested rather than a thousand followers who never read you. You can list people in Twitter and make a 'favourites list' for the days when you're too busy to read everyone's tweets.

5. Retweet things of interest. If your favourite poet has just posted a wonderful haiku or a charity you follow has just posted some vital news you can share that with your followers by retweeting it. This helps to make you popular and shows you're interested in engaging with the medium. It can also help to build your Twitter persona.

6. Use hash tags. Hash tags are a way that Twitter uses to group tweets on the same topic. Some of my favourite hash tags are: #haiku; #senryu; #tanka; #micropoetry; #birds. If you add a hash tag to your tweet then other people interested in that topic will pick up your tweets and may start following you or re-tweeting you as a result.

7. Talk to other people on Twitter. If you include someone's Twitter name (eg @craftygreenpoet) in a tweet, even if you don't follow each other then that person will get your message. Doing this, the messages are readable by anyone. Twitter also offers a private message service.

I now prefer Twitter to Facebook and Myspace, which is ironic because when I first started out on the online social marketing lark, I thought Twitter was the one I would never use! Twitter certainly has proven more useful to me in terms of finding new audience for my work and also in terms of finding new writers I'm interested in.

I'm hoping eventually to write a different version of this article for non-profits for the Information Officer Support Group blog which I contribute to.

For a longer guide to using Twitter to market your work as a writer, please read Debbie Ridpath's excellent guide at:

Friday, February 26, 2010

You Were More Interesting before I Met You

No, not you, the reader
but you of the once long email conversations
discussing philosophy, your thoughts
about poetry, your favourite films,
how you love Autumn
and the sound of the rain.

But since we met
all you do is complain
again and again
about your job, your flatmates
and the endless rain.

When your complaints
finally end (unlike the rain)
you turn on me
with the white glare of interrogation
and say: You,
now you must talk
and just as when I walk
onto stage
under that bright white glaring light
my mind empties
and I take on the persona
of frightened rabbit
in front of headlights

and I forget everything I wanted to say.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Novel Reflections

The Myth of Exile and Return by Desmond Traynor is a strange story of a man who stays at home and inhabits his twin brother's mind as he travels the world. It is very cleverly written with lots of wordplay that does risk verging on the irritating but mostly works for me. Lots of literary allusions too, but mostly of the sort where the phrases make sense even if you don't the original work they're alluding to. I really enjoyed the book and this is a delightful mirror on page 283 that reflects page 282....

The Myth of Exile and Return by Desmond Traynor, published by Silenzio Press.

For Weekend Reflections

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sputnik Sweetheart

I like to read a novel by Haruki Murakami every year and I'm sneaking this one in now before the 30 January deadline for the end of the Japanese Literature challenge.

Sputnik Sweetheart is Murakami at his best, beautifully written, entertaining, thought provoking and odd. Twenty two year old aspiring novelist Sumire is in love with Miu, an older woman, who likes Sumire but is unable to have a full relationship with anyone due to a mysterious incident that happened to her twenty years earlier.

The story is narrated by K, who himself loves Sumire, despite the fact that she is only interested in him as a friend.

The novel beautifully explores love and desire, loneliness and identity. The Sputnik in the title relates partly to Miu's misnaming the Beatniks and also to the comparisons drawn by K between lonley people and space satellites.

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami (translated by Philip Gabriel) published Vintage House

for the Japanese Literature Challenge

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I've got a short story up at the Clarity of Night Silhouette competition, you can read it here. While you're over there you may want to read some of the other entries as well, there are some excellent pieces.....

Sunday, January 03, 2010

alarm bells -
a man dressed in black runs
down a fire escape.