Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell

Would you be drawn to a book that had a picture of a man wrestling with a question mark on the cover? Have you ever read a novel written entirely in the form of questions? How do you think you would feel reading a book written entirely in this form? Would you read this sort of novel quicker or slower than a regular novel? Do you think you would try to answer each question in the text before moving on to the next one? Do you think you would enjoy a novel that includes the following extract?

Are you a sweater person? Do you suppose it's the case that damming some rivers is not an ecological hazard but damning others is? So you picture the days of the week on a calendar in your mind?

Do you think that in a book written entirely as questions that some of the questions would seem rather tortuous and meandering? Would you read them anyway? Do you think reading this kind of novel would annoy you or stimulate your mind?

Do you think I might be recommending this book to you?

The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell, published by Profile Books

Friday, September 26, 2014

Two films about social activism

I came out of today's screening of Everyday Rebellion feeling strangely deflated. It's a film about non-violent resistance across the world, but it gave us snapshots of too many different groups, some of which, including Femen (the Ukrainian feminist activists) weren't really given enough screen time to fully articulate their campaign aims. So we got lots of footage of half naked Femen protesters covered in marker pen slogans and crowds on demonstrations at Occupy Wall Street and across the world. There were some quirky awareness raising ideas (for example writing Freedom on ping pong balls and then lettting them loose in the middle of a city), some great quotes (eg "If you want to defeat a boxer, challenge him to a game of chess) and some impressive cartoons and graffiti. However overall, it felt to me too disjointed and overlong and lacking in real emotional engagement. 
(Having said that the Everyday Rebellion website looks like a great resource for protesting on issues of social justice).

Last night however I had come out of the screening of Pride crying from laughter and emotion and feeling a real sense of the power of solidarity between unlikely groups. This is a drama, based on real events from the 1984 Miners Strike when a group of Lesbian and Gay Activists in London decided to support the a mining community in Wales. Initially there is a lot of distrust between the two groups but gradually they move towards understanding and a shared community spirit, having a lot of fun along the way. It's hilariously funny, emotionally engaging, incredibly moving and ultimately very hopeful and is an example of how drama can often be much more powerful than a documentary.

Everyday Rebellion was showing as part of the Take One Action Festival, which is happening in Edinburgh and Glasgow while Pride is on general release at the moment.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Jutland to Junkyard by S C George

When we last visited one of Crafty Green Boyfriend's aunts, she had just come back from a holiday touring some of the Scottish Islands. While talking about Orkney, she told us how she knew someone who had made his fortune from salvaging the German navy ships drowned  at Scapa Flow. (All of us have seen the remaining ships that stand as memorials in Scapa Flow to this day and our aunt used to live in Rosyth where the metal from the ships was ultimately salvaged).

Later that afternoon, in a second hand shop, I found this book, which is the story of how those very navy ships were salvaged. It seemed such a wonderfully serendipitous finding that I immediately bought the book and will have finished reading it by the next time we see this aunt and I'll give it to her as a gift!

In May 1916 the German Navy surrendered after the battle of Jutland. Their boats were towed all the way to Scapa Flow, in the Orkney Islands, to the north of Scotland, which was the base for the British fleet. On 21 June 1919, the German navy scuttled (deliberately sank) their ships. At first the British Admirality left them there but eventually (due to the ships causing obstructions in the shipping channels and a lack of scrap metals) the ships were brought up from the sea floor and towed to the shipyards at Rosyth, in Fife where the metals were salvaged.

The bulk of the book looks at how each individual ship was salvaged, often with quite a lot of technical detail. There are some fascinating stories woven into the overall narrative

"Next day Hindenburg was beached in Mill Bay. Mrs McKenzie, wife of the salvage officer, found the crow's nest of the ship a delightful place to occupy for her reading and knitting"

The salvage was a long, painstaking process that lasted years and resulted in the loss of several lives.
A fascinating part of history, which I had only been vaguely aware of.

Jutland to Junkyard by S C George published by Birlinn.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Freedom of speech

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.” 


Something both sides need to remember in the current debate around the forthcoming Referendum for Scottish Independence. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg

Subtitled the Biography of a Language, this brilliant book traces the development of the English language from it's earliest days as a dialect of an obscure tribe in northern Europe to its current day status as global language.

Bragg is excellent at weaving the history of the language in with all the strands of history around it. He traces for example how English more or less went into hiding during the French speaking days after the Norman conquest and how the adventurous nature of the American Wild West lead to an adventurous period of development in the English language. He explores how the use of English changed church history in the British Isles and how Shakespeare changed the language forever.

He looks at different Englishes spoken throughout the world, including Australian English, Indian English and American Englishes as well as the pidgins and creoles that have developed particularly against a background of slavery where people with various different native languages would try to create something mutually comprehensible from a common (though poorly known) language. Also the way that English has affected the other languages it has come into contact with.

I felt the book cound have benefited from a section about the forms of English spoken in Africa and that in general most sections of the book could have been extended. I just found it totally fascinating and wanted to find out even more about this amazing language we speak! 

So anyone who's interested in the English language, how it's developed and ow it fits into the general history of the English speaking world, should read this book.

The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg published by Hodder and Staughton .

Friday, August 15, 2014


I was delighted to win these Godzilla coasters in a recent Twitter competition organised by Dosankodebbie. Debbie shares her wonderful etegani artwork at Dosankodebbie's Etegami Notebook.

The coasters are still in their packaging as they're a gift for Crafty Green Boyfriend, who is a huge Godzilla fan. He'll love them of course! So thank you Debbie!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


texting her friend
about her swimming lesson -
she strokes her guide dog.

for NaPoWriMo.


And a reminder that the pdf of an updated version of my chapbook Bougainvillea Dancing is now available to buy in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop. 10% of proceeds from the sale of this book go to VSO for their work in Malawi and other parts of southern Africa.

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

Friday, April 18, 2014

Bougainvillea Dancing now available to download

I taught sciences in Malawi between 1990 - 1992 as a VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) volunteer. My first poetry pamphlet Bougainvillea Dancing, published 2002, raised money for charities working in Malawi. The original pamphlet is sold out now, but I was delighted that Chris Crittenden  reviewed it recently on Owl Who Laughs.

Most of the poems in Bougainvillea Dancing focussed on Africa, but many of them were unrelated to that continent. I've just put together an updated version of the pamphlet, removing all the poems unrelated to Africa and adding in more poems on African topics, plus a couple of prose pieces and some photos. This is now available as a pdf to download from the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop.

(If you don't want to shop via Etsy there are two alternative ways to pay for a copy of this book:

a) via Paypal

b) by cheque if you're in the UK.

Please email me on juliet.m.wilsonATgmailDOTcom for details.

10% of proceeds from this publication will go to VSO for their work in Africa

VSO’s programme in Malawi concentrates on HIV and AIDS, health and social wellbeing, secure livelihoods (food security) and education in seven rural and remote districts. The districts were chosen due to their excessive poverty levels, high prevalence of HIV and AIDS, and low involvement of other international charities.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

senryu from a nightclub

hurting my feet
as soon as I sit down -
new dancing shoes


the man in a dress
dances in stiletto heels
better than I could


on the dancefloor -
a couple make not speaking
into an art form

strobe lights
in the underground nightclub -
my nettle stung arm


for NaPoWriMo

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Women's Work

after Jomwa Phiri

This woman will always be stirring nsima*
over a fire beneath a baobab tree
dark against a sunset sky.

Knees slightly bent, these women will forever
carry pots to and from the water well
and keep the well wheel turning.

But except the woman drinking with the men

these women move through these crowds

I remember such scenes being loud with laughter
but the artist reveals the loneliness
beneath the bright colours.

* nsima = maize porridge

For NaPoWriMo - early bird prompt - ekphrastic poetry

Jomwa Phiri is a well known Malawian painter, who I met when I lived in Malawi. We have several of his paintings round our flat and recently I discovered several more, hidden away in a drawer, one of which is now in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop, the others I'm going to frame and find wall space for.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Shadows on the Art Gallery

It was a lovely sunny day yesterday and I was delighted to see these shadows of the lamps on the columns at the entrance to the Art Gallery on the Mound in Edinburgh.

more shadows over on Crafty Green Poet

For Shadow Shot Sunday

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Bolts of Silk

Bolts of Silk, the poetry journal I've edited for the past eight years, will close to submissions on 17 April 2014. The last poem will be posted the day swifts return to Edinburgh for the summer.

Thanks to all the poets and readers who've helped to make Bolts of Silk a lovely poetry journal to edit over the past eight years. I've enjoyed editing it, but it's just time to call it a day, now.

The site will stay up as an archive and there's a lot of wonderful poetry there, so I hope some of you will continue to stop by and browse in the future.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Missing Picture - film review

Director Rithy Panh was 13 when the Khmer Rouge deported his family from Phnom Penh. Now in his fifties, and having made a series of documentaries about his homeland, he turned to a more personal project with The Missing Picture.

Finding that hardly any documentary evidence remained from the times of the Khmer Rouge atrocities, he decided to make a film using clay figurines to tell his story and that of his family. The figurines re-enact the hardships Panh and his family endured in the fields where they were forced to work with very little food or medical attention in a collective farm where no-one had any personal belongings other than a spoon and clothes that were compulsorily dyed black. The Khmer Rouge punished (and often executed) people for crimes as simple as picking mangoes to counteract the ever pervasive hunger. Many people starved to death, or died of preventible diseases.

The result is a film that is striking in its imagination and devastating in its emotional impact, though it can be acknowledged that it is unremittingly grim. Even the scenes showing happier times in Phnom Penh, before the Khmer Rouge, only underline the horror of the Killing Fields rather than adding any lightness. Which is less an actual criticism than an acknowledgement that this is not an easy film to watch.

Some commentators have said that the figurines, although very effective in conveying the powerlessness and silence of the Cambodian people during this time period, also dilute the emotional impact of the story. I didn't find this, I found that somehow they increased the feeling of shocked horror at everything that was happening.

The Missing Picture is showing at Edinburgh Filmhouse until Thursday 20 February.

Friday, January 31, 2014

1,000 Character Writing Prompts: Villains, Heroes and Hams for Scripts, Stories and More by Bryan Cohen

Bryan Cohen's prompt based books are useful and inspiring resources for writers. This one is no different.

1,000 Character Writing Prompts: Villains, Heroes and Hams for Scripts, Stories and More shares prompts to help you create characters, with chapters including 'Characters Inside and Outside the Law' and 'Non-human Characters'.

In the introduction to the book, Cohen claims that 'the real trick of telling stories is to create a set of memorable characters' and it's certainly hard to argue with that. The ay to use the book is to browse it until you find the character type you want and then try the prompts. Alternatively, you can use it as a more general resource and just try out all the characters!

The prompts are quite detailed so that you have quite a lot of information to use as you create your characters, examples include:

She looked through the crosshairs of the sniper rifle and everything was set up perfectly. She had a pang of loneliness for a second. It was difficult sometimes, traveling around the world alone. Killing and then disappearing without a trace. Her parents never asked her where she'd gotten the money for their swanky retirement home, then again, she didn't stick around long enough to hear the answer. She could have told them she kills bad people for a living, but of course, that would be a lie. What does the future look like for this master assassin?

Your family is what you'd call accepting but conservative. When your aunt came out to everyone during the holiday season, it caused a major shockwave. After all, your parents started a church that tended to exclude homosexuals from joining, but they also felt that it would be a sin to exclude family from their lives. Whenever she brings her partner to family functions, explaining the situation to the kids is always a tenuous and hilarious situation. Your aunt has always been the one to turn to in a situation that your right-wing parents just wouldn't understand. While she tends to talk more often than she listens, it seems like most of the things she says have major value. When did she decide to come out and what is her day-to-day life like with her partner?

During most of his life he hadn't been able to pursue his passions due to a job with long hours and a family with many mouths to feed. Now that his children and grandchildren could take care of themselves, he decided to take up acting in his twilight years. His local community theater was often lacking when it came to elderly actors, and they welcomed him with open arms. Before he knew it, he felt more alive than he had in decades, and that was before the positive reviews in the paper. He always knew he had it in him and was glad to discover his talent before it was over. What are some of the roles he played and what made him such an adept actor?

While she had a feeling that she wasn't going anywhere while she did it, it just plain felt good to run on that wheel. It was something about the wind going through her fur that exhilarated her. She knew that her owners would laugh at her when she started going full speed but there was nothing in the world that made her feel better. Afterwards, she would always down nearly half her water bottle and her owners would marvel at her thirst. She tired herself out so much from the run, she usually went right to sleep. What is it about her running that gives her such an emotional boost and what would she do if her roommate was on the wheel for too long?


Once again, Cohen has come up with an inspiring resource for anyone who needs characters for their stories and novels! (Though there is a serious omission in the lack of a prompt for a pet rabbit).

Thanks Story Cartel for my free download of this book

Bryan shares more ideas on his Build Creative Writing Ideas website and you can follow him on Twitter @bryancohenbooks.

I've previously reviewed two of Bryan's other books, you can read the reviews by following the links below:

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Strange Fire

Did I mouth the words of the songs
as we danced drunkenly dazed 
by your fireplace? 
Tell me I didn’t 
So I don’t need to say 
I didn’t mean the words of the songs 
I mouthed as we danced drunkenly, 
dazed by your fire as I was. 

Did you sing along? 
Out of habit or feeling? 
What is the music revealing? 

I sit here and sing the words of the songs 
I may or may not have been singing 
with you or to you. 

Every word is for you.

Previously published in Poetry Scotland

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Stone Voices by Neal Ascherson

Subtitled The search for Scotland, this is a voyage into the historical Scottish psyche. The stones of the title refer to the geology of Scotland, the ancient standing stones erected by ancient Scots and most of all to the Stone of Destiny, used for centuries in the coronation of the monarchs of Scotland then the monarchs of England. In 1996 the Stone was returned to Scotland in a symbolic gesture.

Stone Voices outlines the history of Scottish cultural identity from ancient times to 2002 when the book was written. Rather too much is written about the Bus Tour for Devolution which the author participated in during the 1997 Referendum campaign. Otherwise this is a fascinating and insightful exploration of Scotland, her geology, archeology, myths, legends, history, cultural attitudes and relationship with the world. Ascherson covers both internal relationships such as the divide between Highland and Lowland Scotland and external relationships including the extensive and successful Scottish settlements in Poland during the early seventeenth century.

Recommended reading as we draw ever closer to a new referendum on the future of Scotland.

Stone Voices by Neal Ascherson published by Hill and Wang (Macmillan). 

And if you're really keen on being well informed on the forthcoming referendum, you may wish to read the White Paper on Scottish Independence.