Monday, January 24, 2011

The Productive Writer by Sage Cohen

I was delighted to win a review copy of this brilliant book! This is the best book I've read that offers general advice on writing (I've read some excellent books on how to write poetry, but most general writing advice books have left me feeling disappointed and underwhelmed.) The basic aim of this book is to help the reader (who is assumed to also be a writer!) to become more productive in their writing. It covers such topics as time management, identifying and developing your platform as a writer, thinking productive thoughts and developing your networks in real life and online. All the way through we are given practical advice and exercises to work through. I haven't done the exercises yet, I read the book straight through from cover to cover and could hardly put it down. I aim to read it again early in the New Year and work through it slowly, doing all the exercises. To help me with this I'll use the "Free Productivity Power Tools" that can be found in the middle column of Sage's website.

However already I feel as though my productivity has increased. Since reading this book, I've written two ghazals (both of which have been accepted for publication already!), a review (already published), half a short story and several haiku or similar short poems (6 of which have just been accepted for publication!). I've also co-incidentally heard about a couple of successes for pieces of writing I'd already completed. Plus I've given a successful public reading! So I really do feel like a Productive Writer! I would recommend this book to any writer who feels that they could achieve more. Unless you have bad eyesight. Yes my one criticism is that the text is small, that used in the exercises and highlighted case studies is tiny. My eyesight is fine for reading but I know people who would struggle to read this book, which is a shame.

This review has previously appeared on Crafty Green Poet and on Goodreads.

Friday, January 21, 2011


This is one of my favourite buildings in Colinton. Colinton is one of the original villages along the Water of Leith. It is now part of the City of Edinburgh but still feels quite like a village.
Today I took a lot of photos along the Water of Leith in Dean Village, I'll be sharing some of those here in the next few weeks!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

La Bella Figura by Beppe Severgnini

Subtitled An Insider's Guide to The Italian Mind this is an entertaining, accessible and revealing discussion about Italian habits and culture.

We are met at the airport and taken round Milan , Tuscany, Naples and Sardinia then back to the airport. Along the way we are introduced to Italian ideas and behaviour including their relationships with the church, their families and neighbours. It's a fun filled journey though sometimes it can get a little irritating, as the author hops from topic to topic excited to get everything in. I found the earlier chapters were more focussed than the later ones. The section on traffic for example I found particularly entertaining.

Many non-Italians are familiar with the chaotic traffic in Italy, either from personal experience or from other people's stories. However this book reveals the fact that the red traffic light for an Italian opens up a whole philosophical discussion about the nature of red, the relativity of safety and risk, while the chaotic parking is all part of an internal desire to park as close as is possible to the place one is visiting, even if there is a perfectly good carpark around the corner (this however doesn't explain the cars parked on stairs leading from carparks that I saw when I visited Turin.) And all the blaring horns? Well the Italian drivers are composing symphonies!

We are given similar entertaining insights into hotels, houses (including bathrooms, bedrooms and windows), restaurants, piazzas, airports and beaches. Hard facts and statistics are slipped in amongst opinions, amusing anecdotes and quotes from literature, making it entertaining and educational at the same time.

La Bella Figura by Beppe Severgnini, translated by Giles Watson, published by Hodder and Staughton

Read for the Italy in Books Challenge

Saturday, January 15, 2011

street lights and neon signs shine on rain covered pavements

for A River of Stones

River of Stones is a project where bloggers and others are sharing small stones of close observations every day during January. Most of my stones are on Crafty Green Poet, but this one seemed to fit better here.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Weekend Reflections

Three office buildings near Haymarket Station, Edinburgh

I've posted some photos of snowy tree reflections over on Crafty Green Poet here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wish I was Here by Jackie Kay

Jackie Kay is one of my favourite Scottish authors (though she now lives in Manchester, England). She is a very talented poet, short story writer, novelist and playwright.

Wish I Were Here is her second collection of short stories. These are mostly short stories about people and their relationships. In The Mirrored Twins a gay couple climb a difficult mountain (to see the Mirrored Twins rock formation) and get caught in bad weather and consequently test their relationship to its limits, in Sonata a mysterious woman tells a stranger in a train all about her complicated love affair, in Not the Queen, a woman who looks identical to the Queen struggles with her identity.

These stories are written with an easy going style, often with great humour and always with a very observant eye for detail. You Go When You Can No Longer Stay, a story about a lesbian couple splitting up, starts 'It is not so much that we are splitting up that is really worrying me, it is the fact that she keeps quoting Martin Amis.'

My favourite story though is My Daughter the Fox, in which the narrator explores her feelings for her daughter who really is a fox:

We had a night of it, my daughter and I, with the foxes screaming outside. I had to stroke her fur and hold her close all night. She snuggled up, her wet nose against my neck.

These stories are all worth reading for their insights into human relationships.

Wish I Was Here by Jackie Kay, published by Picador

For the
LGBT Reading Challenge

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Crossing with the Virgin

Crossing with the Virgin is a collection of true life experiences from Mexican and Latin American people who have attempted to cross the deserts into the USA. The stories have been collected by Kathryn Ferguson, Norma Price and Ted Parks, who are all volunteers with the Samaritans, a humanitarian group that patrols the desert offering food, drink and medical help to people crossing over.

We are told that in the past ten years over 4 000 people have died while crossing the Arizona desert in search of jobs or to join family. The heartbreaking stories in this book show the lives behind the statistics. Mostly the stories are of the people who are lucky enough to survive the journey, though many of them are then sent back to their home country. However survival comes with a high price for many, severe medical conditions arising from dehydration, exposure and exhaustion.

Reading this book really makes the reader think about the injustice of USA Immigration policies (not that really we should single out the USA here, most countries treat illegal immigrants harshly). We need to find solutions, ways of treating people humanely if they want to come to our countries. After all, many of them want to do the jobs that we don't want to do. And if we look at history, aren't most of today's Americans descendents of the illegal immigrants who stole the land from the native Americans?

I won this book in a giveaway on Mover Mike's blog. Mike had reviewed the book as part of the Green Books Campaign. The book is printed in paper with a 30% post consumer waste content.

Crossing with the Virgin by Kathryn Ferguson, Norma A Price and Ted Parks published by University of Arizona Press.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Preston Street School

Over on Crafty Green Poet I recently said that now I have a new camera I would start to post some quirky photos of hidden architectural gems of Edinburgh on this blog. This proved to be quite a popular idea so here is the first photo in that series!

The photos will be odd little architectural details that catch my eye, my personal favourite buildings in Edinburgh that are off the beaten track and quite a lot of photos of the architecture along the Water of Leith, as I'm putting together a slideshow for this summer's class about that river that I'll be teaching at the University. The photo here is of the bell tower of Preston Street School in the Newington area of Edinburgh, near Arthur's Seat. You can see more photos of today's walk round Arthur's Seat over on Crafty Green Poet here.

One of the best blogs posting regular photos of Edinburgh is Edinburgh Day by Day.