Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mistletoe Madness

Hope everyone is enjoying the festive season! Properly speaking the Christmas season continues until Epiphany (6 January) so that gives you plenty of time to read 'Mistletoe Madness' a new anthology of writing about Christmas just out from Kind of a Hurricane Press. You can find it in their book-store (as I write this blog-post, it's the top item in their book-store, but they publish quite a lot of anthologies, so it may be that you need to scroll down to find it!).

I'm delighted to have a poem in there, alongside 34 other writers!

Best wishes for the rest of the Christmas season!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Freshta by Petra Prochazkova

I was delighted to win a copy of Freshta in a Twitter competition run by Stork Press  an independent publishing house based in London that focusses on new writing from Central and Eastern Europe.

Herra, a Russian-Tadjik woman, met Nazir in Russia where they had both been studying. She fell in love with him and married him, moving to post Taliban Afghanistan to live with his family. The Freshta of the title is Herra's sister in law, who is desperate to leave her abusive husband.

This novel explores the culture Herra married into, offering insights into the way of life for women in modern Afghanistan with the constant restrictions on their freedom- for example all the women of Nazir's family have to hide in a closet whenever anyone visits who isn't family. The characters are vivid and the reader really feels for them all caught up in their family dilemmas and the cultural misunderstandings that arise with well meaning, but culturally unaware foreign aid workers.

Mostly this novel is brilliant, insightful and entertaining, though occasionally it becomes quite farcical, which I found a bit irritating. 

This is an ideal book to read soon after The Taliban Cricket Club by Timeri N Murari which is set in Taliban controlled Afghanistan and which I reviewed here.

Freshta by Petra Prochazkova, translated by Julia Sherwood and published by Stork Press

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

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thinking in Numbers by Daniel Tammet

This is a brilliant book of essays that I won in a Goodreads First Reads Giveaway.

Each essay looks at a different aspect of maths in an accessible and engaging way. Many of the essays are in fact as much about linguistics as about maths. Hence we learn how to count to four in Icelandic (and other languages), find parallels between proverbs and the times tables and connections between calculus and the work of Tolstoy. Other essays muse on the nature of the ideal city, the connections between maths and art and whether there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe.

Every essay, though very short, will get you thinking deeply about all sorts of things without ever feeling like hard maths.

A fascinating book, which I would totally recommend to anyone interested in maths or linguistics and literature.

Thinking in Numbers by Daniel Tammet published by Hodder and Staughton.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Un lapin francaise visite a Edimbourg!

We're delighted to be hosting Sylvain, the French travelling Moulin Roty bunny from Cottontails Baby! He is equally delighted to have found a shelf of French books in our flat!

You can read more over on Crafty Green Poet here.

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

Monday, October 15, 2012


Home is a place you won’t see again
Home’s what you lost when you boarded the boat
Home is the songs you sing to keep sane
Home is the seeds in the hem of your coat

Home is the warm soft bread that you bake
Home is the old-country clothes that you make
Home is the musical language you speak
Home is the garden where you plant the seeds

Home is the tree that grows from your seeds
Home is the shelter and shade of the tree
Home is the love in your children’s eyes
Home is the future here to which they aspire.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

The Blue Suitcase by Marianne Wheelaghan

Lots of novels have been written about the Second World War. Very few of them though are told from the point of view of ordinary German people.

The Blue Suitcase is Marianne Wheelaghan's first novel, based on her mother's diaries, the family's letters and additional historical research.

Told in the format of a diary, the novel follows Antonia from 1932 when she was 12, growing up in Silesia, a part of Germany that is now in Poland and ending in 1946, when she leaves Germany to start training as a nurse in the UK.

The diary format works brilliantly, you can sense Antonia's growing maturity, from her self centred attitude to her 12th birthday meal being disrupted through her unsuitable friendship with Liesl and Rolf who are the only children to befriend her when she first moves away from the town of Breslau (now Wroclaw) to a small village to her later forced labour helping to build the city defences during the siege of Breslau.

It is interesting to see the different reactions that her family have towards Hitler as he comes to power and takes over in Germany then their different responses to the war. One of her brothers joins the Communist party and is imprisoned in a series of concentration camps, another enthusiastically becomes a member of the Hitler Youth.Her mother, a doctor, vociferously opposes Hitler, and is pushed out of her job by his edicts against women working in the professions. She later becomes very ill.

This compelling and moving novel is essential reading for anyone who wants to see how the Second World War affected ordinary German families.


Having recently being totally taken in by Binjamin Wilkormski's Fragments (which I review here) I was pleased to read on Marianne's website a full explanation of  how she wrote the book and where her information came from! (Scroll down on this page).

The Blue Suitcase by Marianne Wheelaghan, published by Pilrig Press


Although this novel is unusual in being told from the viewpoint of an ordinary German during 2nd World War, it isn't unique. I recently reviewed Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrick Christian Delius.

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

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Fragments by Binjamin Wilkormski

I'm currently teaching a writing class on 'Writing Our Lives' and am reading through some memoirs to share with the class to give them an idea of the variety in this type of writing.

Fragments is an astonishing, powerful memoir about Binjamin Wilkormski's childhood in concentration camps and orphanages. It is never an easy read, but it is totally compelling.

If like me you have read a lot of books and watched a lot of films set during the Holocaust, you may think you are prepared for the horrors that lie in a book like this. I think though that this book gives more insights into the searing horror of the concentration camps than anything else I've read. The effect is particularly poignant because the author was so young at the time and he remembers things from a child's perspective. Things just happen to him and around him and he has no way of understanding or making sense of any of it, let along even hoping to have any control over things. The fragmented memories presented in the book, with memories from the concentration camp mixed up with memories from the orphanage, are incredibly powerful in the overall sense they give of hischildhood.

Most telling is how, when Wilmorski finds himself finally in a safe orphanage in Switzerland, he doesn't trust it and behaves as he would when he was in a concentration camp.


Talking of trust, though, I've just done an internet search to find a link for Binjamin Wilkomirski and apparently Fragments was in 1999 uncovered as a fabrication or more precisely a book based on false memories (It seems that Wilkimorski was actually Swiss, born Bruno Grosjean). I decided not to rewrite this review, the book remains just as powerful in its effect and still has truths to tell us about the Holocaust, and after all many novels have been written on the same topic. Or does the fact that it was fabricated and presented as a truth, now undermine it completely? What do you think?

You may be interested to read Why Would One Pretend to be a Victim of the Holocaust? which examines themes around false memories, with specific reference to Wilkomisrski's book.

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

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Special offer on Unthinkable Skies!

If you buy a copy of my poetry pamphlet Unthinkable Skies from me (£4.50 plus postage and packing) I'll add in a free bookmark of this style, while stocks last. If you'd like a specific bookmark let me know, and I'll send it to you if it's still available otherwise it will be the most similar one still in stock.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Grave with Lights by JoAnne McKay

On our recent holiday in Dumfries and Galloway (which you can read about on Crafty Green Poet here, here, here and here) Crafty Green Boyfriend had a lovely lunch with poet JoAnne McKay, who blogs at Titus the Dog. JoAnne gave me a copy of her latest poetry pamphlet Grave with Lights.

The first thing you notice about this book is that it's a beautiful object, beautifully packaged in a handmade fabric cover.

The beautiful presentation continues inside with paintings from Victor Henderson to complement the poetry. I do like poetry pamphlets that make full use of the possibilities of presentation, making the pamphlet a lovely thing in itself not just the plain vehicle for the poetry. There is a risk of style over substance of course, but this isn't an issue in this case as these poems certainly have plenty of substance. Variety too.

The poems here range over slaughterhouses, pets, damaged souls, waiting rooms and convents. My favourite poem is I Would Be Fast in which the speaker imagines herself a bicycle and the words whoosh along at the speed and rhythm of a cyclist:

push against casing to ride alongside
racing lines, Cycling pedals hypnotise
on passing, moving air, rush, moving air, rush. 

There are only thirteen poems in this pamphlet, but they're all well worth reading and re-reading and the quality of the production means that you'll want to keep picking the book up!

Grave with Lights by JoAnne McKay, £10 plus postage and packaging, available here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Taliban Cricket Club by Timeri N Murari

When I was a child I used to watch in bemused fascination the cricket that my Dad used to follow on TV. So although I've never been a cricket fan I've certainly always had a certain interest which was very much piqued when I came across The Taliban Cricket Club. (In fact I won the book in a competition on the Curious Book Fans' website.)

The concept of Afghanistan under the Taliban deciding to start a national cricket team is one of those audaciously bizarre plot ideas that really grabs the readers attention (though this unlikely seeming premise is actually true though the novel is entirely fictional).

Rukhsana is a young Afghan woman, educated in Delhi and a respected journalist before the Taliban prevented her from working (at which point she went undercover in her writing). She had learned to play cricket in India and when her brother and cousins get the opportunity to put together a team she coaches them.

Rukhsana is a brilliant character, who the reader can engage with immediately. She is feisty and likeable, pulled between her desire for freedom and her love for her ageing and ill mother. The novel is very well plotted, with the several twists and turns reading entirely naturally, while keeping the reader guessing all the time. The political background is really well drawn too and Murari does an excellent job of weaving telling political detail into the narrative without it bogging down the plotting.

It may be far fetched in some ways, but it's engaging, entertaining and well written, while offering insights into Afghanistan under the Taliban. 

The Taliban Cricket Club by Timeri N Murari published by Allen and Unwin.

As ever, coloured text takes you to other web-pages where you can find out more.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Book Spine Poetry

 The People of Paper Drive the Sea Road, the Cowards!

 Looking for the Possible Dance, all Passion Spent, Penguin lost the Iguana

 The Stone Gods Writing in the Sand the File on H

 Unweaving the Rainbow, the Tiger that isn't the Black Swan

 City of Djinns - What am I Doing Here? Fishing in Utopia!

 The Dharma Bums never trust a rabbit from a Persian Tea House

The Effect of Living Backwards in the Criminal's Cabinet - The Museum of Innocence

Thanks Marianne for inspiring me to pick up my camera for these photos! Edinburgh City Libraries would be interested to see more examples of book spine poetry!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Silent Souls (Ovsyanki)

A bleak landscape. A man who has just lost his wife prepares her body for cremation and takes her, with his best friend and two caged buntings, on a last trip round places that were important to the couple when she was alive.

A funeral pyre on a beach. Ashes scattered in the river to find their way into eternity.

A mesmerising film of the Merja people of the Volga region of Russia.

Osyvanki (Silent Souls) is showing at Edinburgh Filmhouse until Thursday.

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

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Venus in Transition

I was delighted to be asked by Andrew C Ferguson to be one of the voices of Venus Carmichael, in this tribute to the 60s/70s Scottish singer songwriter.

The first show I took part in, was last night at Captains Bar in Edinburgh and went really well. I really enjoyed working beside Andrew with his guitar and Kelly Brooks with her wonderful singing voice (You can listen to some tracks here). The songs are great and the interweaving of songs with spoken word works really well. 

The Captain's Bar is one of my favourite places to read / perform in Edinburgh. It's a long thin room, not obviously congenial to performance but there's always a great atmosphere there. I also get much more of a buzz working in collaboration with other people (specially musicians) so I particularly enjoyed being part of the Venus Carmichael Tribute.

I'm also looking forward to future performances, I think there'll be one in November, so stay tuned!

Meanwhile tonight I'm reading poetry and some other short pieces at Captains Bar, from 6pm alongside Rosie Bell, Mark Gilfillan, James Spence and Helen Boden.

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

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Grim(m) - Unreal Stories for Real Times

I was delighted to win (in a Twitter competition) a pair of tickets to a show of my choice at Greenside (Venue 231 at Edinburgh Fringe Festival). After browsing the excellent programme, we decided to see Grim(m) - Unreal Stories for Real Times. This show, by the excellent Scottish-German storytelling company Louna Productions, is one hour of dark, surreal retellings of Grimm's tales, interwoven with Scottish folk tales.

Storytellers / actors Anna Lehr and Louisa Thornton narrate all the stories and play all the roles, slipping seamlessly from old queen to young boy to old woodcutter to weaver and back again. They have a very engaging style, with a sly humour that pervades even the darkest elements of the stories. The weird undercurrents of violence and obsession with baking people into black puddings comes directly from the Grimm Brothers and pervade all the stories that interweave through this compelling and darkly magical show. 

There are wonderful moments too, my favourite being a young boy's unexpected reaction to two funerals. I won't spoil the moment by saying any more....

The staging is excellent, good lighting, fun costumes and props. The venue in fact is overall, excellent (except the chairs are a bit uncomfortable!). The venue also has a cafe, which I've heard serves excellent chocolate muffins, but we were too late arriving to have time for coffee, unfortunately!

Grim(m) - Unreal Stories for Real Times - showing at Greenside, 10pm tonight is the last show!

Greenside are giving away tickets to one new Twitter follower every day, so if you're on Twitter, please follow GreensideVenue.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Architectural Silhouette

I snapped this photo of St Pauls and St Georges Church in Edinburgh today on the way back from a lovely morning of birdwatching in Musselburgh (via picking up my tickets for Edinburgh Foodie Festival (which I had won in a Facebook competition!) from Real Foods in Broughton Street).

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

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Readings at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

I don't generally do very many public readings of either poetry or short stories, but I'll be appearing at a few events during Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

I'll be reading poetry and short stories on Tuesday 7 and Tuesday 21 August at Captain's Bar, 4 South College Street, Edinburgh. The shows start at 6pm and I have two five minute slots in each of them.

On Monday 20th August I'll be reading as part of the Venus in Transition event also at Captain's Bar, starting at 6pm. This event, devised and written by Andrew C Ferguson is a tribute to the 70s singer songwriter Venus Carmichael. I'll be reading alongside poet Fiona Lindsay and singer Kelly Brooks. 

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

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Edinburgh's Wild West

A while ago, I read about Edinburgh's secret Wild West on the Conversation Pieces blog, and had forgotten about it until @thevintagedoc mentioned it on Twitter. Today I decided to find it for myself! It's off Springfield Valley Gardens, just next to a garage, through an entrance that looks as though it leads to another garage. And it truly is like the wild west! Most bizarre! A wonderful secret piece of Edinburgh that is worth exploring, then you can go and have a cup of tea and a cake in one of the many cafes in Morningside or browse the many good quality second hand shops in the area.

Edited to add: Apparently this was originally constructed as an advertisment for a furniture store!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Sun at last!

We haven't had much sun recently (one hour in the past month before today) so I got very excited when we had sunshine almost all of the day today. These shadows on the steps outside an Edinburgh cafe really caught my eye.

For Shadow Shot Sunday

Friday, June 29, 2012

Edinburgh International Film Festival Reviews

I'm delighted to have a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival again this year. I'm reviewing films here and on Crafty Green Poet. This post is an index, which will include links to all the films reviewed on both blogs. This post will be updated after every review with the most recent reviews at the top, will be cross posted to Crafty Green Poet and will stay at the top of both blogs until the end of the film festival.

Rentaneko (Rent-a-cat) - a woman rents out cats to lonely people in a Japanese city
Children and Nature in films - I review Of Skies and Earth and Kid Thing.
What is this Film called Love? - a walking tour of Mexico city, with a few diversions along the way
Riding Zorro - a biopic of rodeo's most famous horse.
Captive Animals Captured on Film - I review Postcards from the Zoo and Bestiaire Vivan las Antipodas! a contemplation of life in four antipodal pair places on the earth
Hospitalité - a Tokyo household is disrupted by an old acquaintance
Official Best of the Fest - the film festivals list of most popular films which will be screened again on Sunday
Attractive Illusion - what happens to a group of illegal Nigerian immigrants on Greece?
The Lifeguard - an hour on the beach in Chile!
Memory, the Future and Experimental Film - I review Dress Rehearsal for Utopia (a collage of images from Mozambique) and Future My Love (thoughts about the failure of a relationship and the failure of the economic system)
Here There - 3 interwoven stories of Chinese life.
Rose - life in the Masurian region of Poland in the aftermath of World War 2. 
Modest Reception - a couple randomly give out money in the mountains of Iran
Poetry in Film - I review Demain, the biopic of Uruguayan poet Delmira Agustin and In Search of Emak Bakia, a movie about the making of Man Ray's film of that name.

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

Beach Hut - a new poem published

I'm delighted that Every Day Poets has just published my poem Beach Hut.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Despite the French seeming title, Hospitalité is a Japanese film, described as a 'stylish mixture of deadpan social satire, Buñuelian surrealism and unnerving suspense'. 

A mild-mannered Tokyo man catches up with an old acquaintance he barely remembers. The newcomer manipulates his old friend into giving him a job in his small printing business. He soon moves himself and a blonde woman he introduces as his wife into the household that the printer shares with his sister, his second wife and his daughter from his first marriage.

The members of the local neighbourhood watch group are particularly enthusiastic about their civic duties and (along with the audience) watch the new arrivals with great interest.

The newcomers quickly disrupt family life by manipulating the family members, rudely abusing their hospitality. Things become more and more bizarre, disturbing and downright odd, with everyone turning out to have secrets and constant unexpected plot twists popping up. This is a wonderfully surreal and entertaining film, offering amusing insights into human nature.

Hosptalité is part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival and is showing at: 15:20, 30 June at Cineworld 11.

Disclaimer: I have a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and attended a free press screening of this film.

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

Best of the Fest

Edinburgh International Film Festival has just announced its Best of the Fest list (which as far as I'm aware is based on ticket sales). All films are screening for £6 (£5 concession) so here is you chance to see festival films at normal prices:

Showing at Cineworld:  

BRAVE (11:00) 
FLICKER (12:10) which I may review tomorrow
7 DAYS IN HAVANA (12:20) which i may review tomorrow
BORROWED TIME (12:30);  
FRED (14:20);  
JACKPOT (14:50);  
LIFE JUST IS (16:00);  
THE IMPOSTER (16:25);  
FUTURE MY LOVE (16:25) you can read my review here 
GRABBERS (16:45);  
GUINEA PIGS (20:30);  
DRAGON (WU XIA) (20:45) 
PUSHER (21:00).
Showing at Filmhouse 

RENT-A-CAT (20:30) which I have bought a ticket for, having missed the press screenings and the public screenings being sold out! 

I'll probably do my own Best of the Fest post at the end of the festival.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Attractive Illusion

The problem with films like Attractive Illusion is that they tend only to attract audiences from amongst those who are already aware of the issues (in this case the fate of illegal immigrants into Europe). This is a shame, because this film deserves a wide audience not only because of the issues it addresses, but because it is a compelling, moving and powerful film.

A group of Nigerians are seen escaping to Greece in the belly of a cramped boat that is barely big enough for them. Once in their new home, they soon discover that they are not welcome, being moved on by the police and finding it hard to find honest work. One of the guys moves from selling CDs on a street stall to selling drugs; another decides that lazing around in bed for most of the day, dreaming of a big house is the answer. Meanwhile the women move into prostitution. Outgoing Enor seems to adapt to her new life with gusto, dancing with abandon and flirting happily with her clients and posing proudly in her sexy clothes. Amen meanwhile works at first in a kitchen and is forced into prostitution by the owner of the bar where Enor works. Amen shrinks from the very thought of selling her body cowers under dirty bedclothes when she's with a client and is raped by the bar owner.

It is a grim life they've all found, with no prospect of making a living by honest means. However at least for the majority of the film, we see that not everything is bleak, there are real friendships and romance, spontaneous sing-alongs and day trips. Ultimately though, everyone's lives spiral out of control and there can only be a tragic ending to the story. It certainly becomes clear that the idea of Europe as offering a golden future is only an illusion.

Not easy viewing, this is however an important film. I hope it gets released into cinemas in the near future. 

Attractive Illusion is showing at Edinburgh International Film Festival at 20:00, 30 June Cineworld 11.

Disclaimer: I have a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and attended a free press screening of this film.

The Lifeguard

A busy beach in Chile is patrolled by three lifeguards, Mauricio who believes in preventing accidents and helping people on the beach but who never goes into the water, Jean Pierre who does very little until he needs to go into the water to rescue someone, and Teresa.

The Lifeguard follows them over the course of a few days and eavesdrops on the people on the beach, a couple rebelliously setting up a barbeque on the sand, young guys passing comment on the girls, groups of women gossiping and young Luca who wants to be a lifeguard when he grows up.

It's an intriguing film that holds a lot more than it appears on the surface. What are the attributes of a perfect lifeguard? One who prevents accidents or one who heroically rescues people who ignore the warnings? By the end of the film it is very clear that every lifeguard needs both attributes.

This film had two showings at the Edinburgh International Film Festival but unfortunately there are no more!

Disclaimer, I have a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and attended a free press screening for this film.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Rose - a film review

1945. Rose lives on a farm in Masuria, an area that for many years up to and during the Second World War was part of Germany. The residents were treated as ethnically Polish, despite having their own dialect and culture. Now the area is part of Poland again.

During the war, Rose's farm was used as a base by the Soviet soldiers who abused her and her hospitality. Now she lives alone.

Tadeusz, a soldier visits her to tell her he was present at her husband's death and to return the wedding photo that the dead man had carried with him. Rose asks Tadeusz to help around her farm and he stays on, to protect her from the Russian army and the mistrustful neighbours. As they negotiate their own initial mistrust and their individual heavy pasts, they develop a close and loyal friendship.

This is a beautifully shot, moving film that tells the story of friendship arising in unlikely circumstances, against the backdrop of a country suffering intensely from the aftermath of war. The complicated tensions between the various communities in the area are well drawn.There are some moments of fun and enjoyment in amongst all the hardship that show the resilience of the human spirit and lighten the mood of the film.

Rose (directed by Wojciech Smarzowski) is part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, you can see it at:

21:10, 28 June at Cameo 1
21:15 30 June at Filmhouse 3

Disclaimer: I have a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and attended a free press screening of this film.

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Edinburgh International Film Festival

Edinburgh International Film Festival starts today! It looks like another excellent programme and I'm looking forward to reviewing selected films here and on Crafty Green Poet from next Monday onwards.

You can see the programme here and book tickets here.

Tickets for most films cost £9 (£7.50 concession). Howard from Belvedere Mountain Express complained about this on a post on Crafty Green Poet. However I think it's pretty reasonable value when you consider that the cinemas in walking distance of where I live charge: £7.30; £7.50 or £8.70 for a standard adult ticket for an evening screening. If you choose your films wisely at the Film Festival you can see brilliant films that never come back to the screen and for that I think it's well worth paying up to an extra £1.70.

Admittedly I do have a press pass and will be viewing more films than I would probably do otherwise. I can't make the press screening of RentaNeko unfortunately, and may buy a ticket (if there are any left!) for one of the public screenings.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Luneburg Variation by Paolo Maurensig

I was a chess champion at Primary School and have never played since.

When I was teaching in Malawi, I agreed with my student Patricia who wrote in her notebook: 'Life is too short for playing chess' (I'm sure she wasn't the first person to say that either).

Despite these biases against the game, I started reading The Luneburg Variation with high anticipation of a great book and I wasn't disappointed.

The novel centres round the mysterious death of a chess player in Vienna. It's difficult to talk about the plot without giving away a lot of the enjoyment of this short novel. Throughout the novel chess is used as a metaphor for life and the choices we make and the choices made by others that we are caught up in. The novel also explores the effect that chess can have on life when it becomes a consuming passion.

I love the way that every detail counts, and is used to full effect. In an early scene we are shown some photos in the chess player's home, which at that time are immediately seen to be significant, but they reappear later in the story where their full significance is revealed. Details like this are used throughout the novel to slowly reveal more about the chess player, his life and the times he lived through.

This is a taut and compelling thriller which contains much more substance than many long novels. It is particularly impressive when you realise this was Maurensig's first novel (he has since written several more, which I now really want to read!). I also have to say that it is beautifully translated from the original Italian. I've read many translations from Italian that feel quite clunky, but this one flows beautifully for the most part.

The Luneburg Variation by Paolo Maurensig published by Phoenix 

I reviewed this book for Brighton Blogger's 2012 Reading Challenge

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Free Men (Film Review)

Free Men looks at a rarely explored aspect of World War 2, that of the involvement of the Muslim community in the French resistance. 

Younus is a naive, apolitical, non-religious Muslim Algerian immigrant in Paris at the beginning of the Second World War. When he is found out as a black marketeer, the collaborationist police force him to spy on the Paris Mosque. However the more he comes into contact with the religious Moslem community, the more he is drawn into their work in the French resistance (which included hiding Jews in the cellars and giving them false papers). He makes friends with Salim a brilliant Algerian singer, who as a Jew is being protected by the Mosque which has given him false papers.

Much of the film centres round historic characters (Salim the singer and Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit the head of the mosque, who was later awarded for his role in the French resistance) giving insights into an often overlooked aspect of a period of European history that can otherwise feel as though it has been over-documented.

I found this film fascinating but lacking in tension and drama. Younus is far too taciturn to make for a good central character, particularly as so much of the film revolved around conversation. As this character is entirely fictional there seems little justification for his lack of words, which greatly impeded any sense of character development.

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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Robert Mugabe - What Happened? (Film review)

When I lived in Malawi in 1990-92, I taught in a national girls secondary school. It was well resourced and staffed, housed in a handsome building with twenty four hour electricity and running water and  Flamboyant trees in the courtyards. The students were made up of the brightest girls in the country, the daughters of the richest people in the country and the daughters of the party faithful. Although being a national school it was better resourced than most, secondary schools across Malawi were relatively well resourced.

Only ten percent of the population in Malawi at that time attended secondary school and many who did had to wait until their late teens to start doing so. Everyone who attended secondary school needed to pay for it.

In nearby Zimbabwe, the secondary schools were basic, mostly lacking running water or electricity. However, Zimbabwe at that time offered free secondary school education to everyone in the country.

In the first 15 or so years in the life of the country from 1980 when minority ruled Rhodesia became majority ruled Zimbabwe , it was in many ways an African success story with universal education and health care and significant investment in farming. Large landowners who owned huge areas of land were encouraged to sell their land to the government to redistribute amongst landless farmers. (It wasn't perfect though, there was, during that time period, civil unrest in the Matabeleland area which lead to massacres).

So what went wrong to make the land of corruption, poverty and violence that is now Zimbabwe?

Robert Mugabe - What Happened? is a sobering portrait of the freedom fighter turned international statesman turned power-crazed tyrant that is Robert Mugabe and the disastrous effect he has ultimately had on the country. It's a very useful guide to the history of the country since its foundation and a heart breaking documentary on how so much potential can be lost through mismanagement, greed and brutality.

It was particularly interesting to follow how the issue of land redistribution, an election promise at the start of majority rule, has dominated so much of the history of the country. At first handled sensitively it was then ignored, then became an issue of international disagreement and ultimately lead to forced evictions and murders of large landowners.

(The soundtrack to this film is wonderful, much of it played on instruments made from recycled materials.)

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

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Just published

I'm delighted that my poem Family Tree is up on Snake Oil Cure today! You can read it here. (Today, that link takes you directly to my poem, but it looks as though, from tomorrow onwards, you may need to scroll down to reach my poem).

I'm also delighted  that two of my haiku are included in the Sketchbook haiku thread on the theme of brides and weddings. More haiku are being added all the time, so be sure to check back or send your own in (details on the Sketchbook website).

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Giveaway Winner!

 The winner of the My Memories Digital Software Giveaway is Roadbunner! Could you send me your email address so I can send you your promo code for the software? (For those of you haven't visited Roadbunner's blog, it's well worth checking out if you're a runner or if you like bunnies.)

Thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway! 

And whether you won or not, in fact even if you didn't enter, My Memories are offering all readers of this blog (even if you never comment!) your very own Share the Memories code giving you a $10 discount off the purchase of the My Memories Suite Scrapbook software and a $10 coupon for the store - $20 value!)

Just use this code  STMMMS4293  in the checkout to claim your discount!

As ever, coloured text contains hyperlinks that t ake you to other websites where you can find out more.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Parliamentary Shadows

I'm not a huge fan of the Scottish Parliament building, I have to admit (the entrance lobby is so dull and gloomy like a cave and many of the meeting rooms have pillars built in front of the windows so there's not enough natural light and what about all those branches of bamboo over the windows, again blocking out the natural light. But anyway, I did notice some nice shadows there today as we walked home from a nice wander round Arthur's Seat (which I'll blog about on Crafty Green Poet tomorrow).

for Shadow Shot Sunday

Shadow Shot Sunday 2

and don't forget I'm doing a digital scrap-booking giveaway over on Crafty Green Poet!

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

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Digital Scrapbooking Giveaway Now on Crafty Green Poet

If you're into digital scrapbooking, you may be interested in this giveaway on Crafty Green Poet.

And whether you win or not, My Memories are offering all readers of this blog your very own Share the Memories code giving you a $10 discount off the purchase of the My Memories Suite Scrapbook software and a $10 coupon for the store - $20 value!)
 Just use this code  STMMMS4293  in the checkout to claim your discount!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Now on Etsy

Those of you who also read Crafty Green Poet will know that I've set up a shop on Etsy. It's unsurprisingly called craftygreenpoet

The shop will ultimately focus on crafting supplies, but there will be some items handmade from re-purposed and up-cycled materials and the occasional vintage item. So far, to give a flavour of the range, I've listed: a vintage African print dress; some vintage floral fabric; a beautiful piece of sea glass ideal for making into a pendant and a handmade chopstick bag. Today I added these stunning Uzbek trousers! You can see them all if you visit the shop!

I'll be slowly adding more items to the shop over the next week or so, so do pop over very so often to see what's new!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Read me while you can at 24project

I'm delighted to have a poem at the 24project, a wonderful 'pop-up' literary magazine. It's being edited today (starting from midnight last night until midnight tonight) and will be online for one week only after that. There's a wonderful selection of poetry, fiction and photos on there already and you can see my poem here.

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

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

DJ Physics

When you go to a Science Festival, maybe your first thought isn't that you'll end up dancing! However that has been one of my strong reactions to this years events at Edinburgh International Science Festival! I've already reviewed Emotion in Motion and last night I went along to DJ Physics.

I used to go clubbing regularly and was always fascinated by what the DJs were doing with the music but never enough to actually think about it too much, all my attention being given to dancing. So I was fascinated to finally get a chance to see what does go on in the DJ booth, both in terms of the practicalities and the science.

Martin Archer is a DJ and academic physicist who promised to make us all into expert DJs by the end of his presentation. I doubt I could now take over in my favourite club, but it certainly was a very entertaining event. There was lots of music to demonstrate how to skillfully move from one track into the next (and demonstrations on how not to do it). There was also a demonstration of how sound moving through a gas filled tube can cause flames to dance to the music, which was probably the highlight of an excellent event.

Martin Archer claims that DJs are puppet masters, manipulating the crowd to enjoy themselves, keep the dance-floor filled and the atmosphere upbeat. He shared his secrets of how all this works, though I'm guessing there would be more to it than that, to really become a successful club DJ.

Disclaimer: Clicket gave me the ticket for this event.

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

Monday, April 02, 2012

Emotion in Motion

I'm just back from a lively session on dance and psychology at the Edinburgh International Science Festival. If you read my Crafty Green Poet blog regularly you'll know that I'll be blogging the festival for Clicket on their blog. I'm also blogging about selected events on my own blogs. You can for instance read about Saturday's Edinburgh Enlightenment Exchange here and here and also about the Science on a Plate exhibition organised by the Edible Gardening Project at the Royal Botanic Gardens, here.

Today's session featured dance psychologist Dr Peter Lovatt and choreographer Ruth Mills with the members of the Dance House Community Company from Glasgow. Using a mixture of video, live dance and audience participation they explored the ability of dance to communicate emotions. A very lively event that had all the audience dancing!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Worldwide Reading Day for Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaiobo

This evening I attended a reading as part of the Worldwide Reading Day for Liu Xiaiobo, the imprisoned Chinese dissident writer who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.

Scottish writers read from Liu Xiaiobo's moving poems to his wife Liu Xia, who has herself not been heard of since her husband was awarded the Nobel Prize. They were joined by students from Napier University who read from poems they had written to Liu Xiaiobo and from his work and from the Chinese press.

It was a really moving event, good to see writers gathering together to highlight the fact that the freedom of expression that we take for granted is not something that is enjoyed everywhere in the world.

The event was organised by Scottish PEN Writers in Prison who actively campaign on behalf of imprisoned writers. It took place at Wordpower Books, Edinburgh's excellent radical independent bookshop, which has a brilliant selection of interesting books that are difficult to find anywhere else and hold some great events too!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Three Ways of the Saw by Matt Mullins

I was delighted to be sent an advance readers copy of this book of short stories. Some are very short indeed too! Most of the stories revolve around young men, whose attitudes and characters wouldn't necessarily normally appeal to me. But it's a sign of the quality of both the writing and storytelling that I was drawn right into every story. The voices in the stories are very convincing, I was particularly impressed with the way a male writer could inhabit the world of a girl on the cusp of womanhood - Rachel, who spends most of No Retreat waiting for her first period to start while on a Catholc girls' retreat that she doesn't want to be on.

The back cover of the book claims that these vignettes are 'refreshingly void of clear meaning' but at the same time the reader can't help but grasp some sense of what life and relationships are really about in almost every one of these stories. I Am and Always Will Be for example is a small but perfectly formed tale of how a young man reconsiders his judgement of the 'morbidly obese middle-aged lady' who lives near him.

The writing is consistently tight and infused with humour. To take an example from The Dog in Me, in which the narrator adopts a dog from the rescue to help him win over his attractive neighbour:

The plan was simple enough. Next time I saw my neighbor out watering her flowers in her short shorts and bikin top, I'd put Otto into action. Parade him casulally by. Let him work the cute. Nudge him to flutter those big brown eyes and give that floppy tongued smile. To make sure he truly understood what was at stake, I even showed him my view of things inching my bedroom curtain aside to reveal her sunbathing in her back yard. Otto licked his nose, gave a toothy yawn and went right on panting in appreciation. He was on board. All we needed now was an opportunity.

The best story in the collection though is the title one, Three Ways of the Saw, which offers the viewpoints of three people around the felling of a damaged tree. It's such a lovely story, I'll be giving it its own blogpost over on Crafty Green Poet in a few weeks time.

Three Ways of the Saw by Matt Mullins is published today by Atticus Books (whose website seems to be down at the moment!)

Reviewed for Brighton Blogger's Reading Challenge 2012.

To read my latest guest post on Brighton Blogger's Book after Book blog, click here.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Le Ton beau de Marot by Douglas R Hofstadter

This is a huge and brilliant book about poetry, translation, understanding and artificial intelligence that I can't begin to do justice to in my typical short review!

The main chapters of the book look at ideas around translation, particularly the essential untranslateability of certain words and phrases and with a large section on humour. Hofstadter also examines the history and development of artificial intelligence and mechanical translation programmes.

These main chapters are interwoven with multiple translations, by multiple writers of Ma Mignonne a poem by the old French poet Clement Marot. It could feel that this element of the book is overdone, but I found the comparisons between translations to be fascinating (it was also particularly instructive to see translations here made by mechanical translation programmes!). Many of the translations are really 'versions of' Ma Mignonne, or even 'poems inspired by' Ma Mignonne, which leads into discussions about how faithful a translation needs to be.

The penultimate chapter annoyed me. Hofstadter rants against modern poetry, and although I agreed with much of what he says he seems to entirely forget that rhyme wasn't often found in English language poetry before it was introduced from Italy!

The whole book is thought provoking, entertaining and insightful, recommended reading for anyone interested in poetry or translation. (And despite the title, it is in English (except for a few poems and phrases!).

Le Ton beau de Marot by Douglas Hofstadter published by Bloomsbury

I reviewed this for Brighton Blogger's 2012 Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrick Christian Delius

I was delighted to win a copy of this book in Brighton Blogger's Italy in Reading Challenge last year. I'm now reviewing for her 2012 Reading Challenge. Most of my reviews for that challenge will be over on Crafty Green Poet with the theme of nature and environment. This book doesn't fit that theme so I'm reviewing it here.

Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman is a beautiful meditation on loneliness, innocence and loss in Rome during the Second World War. The narrative follows the thoughts of a young, pregnant German woman as she walks from her home to a church where she is going to a musical recital. Her husband is with the German army in Tunis and she thinks about him and their marriage as well as about her position in Rome as a foreigner during wartime.

I felt that the book was a perfect compliment to Elsa Morante's History. That book is much longer (around 700 pages to Portrait's 125) and has many more characters! However both focus on a woman who is quite innocent of world affairs and sees the war very much in terms of how it affects her life.

Portrait is in the form of one long sentence. This sometimes puzzled me as I could see many points in the narrative where full stops would have been useful. It also really made me wonder what the original German text looked like, given that in many contexts in German the verbs go at the end of a sentence.....

Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius translated by Jamie Bulloch, published by Peirene Press

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

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Femmes of Power by Del Lagrace Volcano and Ulrika Dahl

I was delighted to win a copy of this book in Brighton Blogger's LGBT Reading Challenge last year. I'm now reviewing it for her 2012 Reading Challenge. Most of my reviews for this challenge will be over on Crafty Green Poet on the themes of nature and environment. This book doesn't fit in with those themes, so I'm reviewing it here!

Femmes of Power is a fabulous book, showcasing queer-identified femmes (lesbians, bisexual women, transexuals and bearded ladies) around the world. There are interviews, articles written in the style of letters and features, sharing individual's life stories and their thoughts on queer politics and identity.

Femme is about reclaiming femininity and subverting the expected norms of what that means. This book shows there are many ways of doing that!

My only complaint about the book is that it didn't feature any goths! Goth girls (and many goth boys) are total femmes, with all the attitude and confidence (though often not the awareness of gender politics) of queer-identified femmes. Many goths in fact are queer identified (someone once told me that all goths are bisexual though that may not be strictly true!).

But anyway, this book really inspired me to put on my best goth dress and high heeled boots and go clubbing. Though I may just go and sit up a tree instead.

Femmes of Power by Del Lagrace Volcano and Ulrike Dahl, published by Serpent's Tail

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