Thursday, November 12, 2015

My Riastrad by Kevin Hogan

In this collection, Hogan muses on topics including relationships, gay and bisexual identity, loneliness and ageing. It also includes a poem about shovelling snow and A Lovelier World in which a dog that

has never caught more
than tennis balls

dreams about 'furrier prey'.

Hogan offers occasional sharp insights as when he meditates on night terrors in Off My Chest

I would rather 
see the demons
than suddenly awaken 
one day blind

He has skill with rhymes  as here in Oh, Wicked One
On the day I should have drowned 
in the ocean's lost and found 

(though on some occasions it feels as though lines are distorted somewhat by the rhyme.

I particularly liked Hogan's ability to make interesting connections as in Fitting Room when confusion over the labelling of clothing sizes leads on to thinking about the labels he has endured as a bisexual man.  Even more unexpected a connection is made in Party Split Ends when shampoo and conditioner are compared to opposing political parties.

And the title? Riastrad is the Irish Gaelic term for battle frenzy. You can certainly sense rebellion coursing through much of this book, and well channelled into verse.

My Riastrad by Kevin Hogan, can be purchased here.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Open Air Chess / Draughts board

This nice little table was installed in 2013 in Roseburn Park, today would have been a nice day for a game of outdoor chess or draughts, if you had remembered to take your pieces along with you!

The park also has an outdoor table tennis table.

for Shadow Shot Sunday

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healy

Maud has dementia and struggles to remember things, but she does know that her friend Elizabeth is missing. She struggles to get other people to believe her and is constantly frustrated in her search for her friend by her own inability to organise her thoughts.

Interwoven with Maud's attempts to find out what has happened to Elizabeth are her memories of her childhood, specifically of the time when her sister Sukey went missing. The two narratives play against each other in enlightening and thought provoking ways.

As well as being an excellent crime novel with a convincing unreliable narrator, this is a beautifully written, moving exploration of memory and family connections that convincingly details Maud's decline in her memory and abilities. A heartbreaking book.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healy published by Penguin

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Ball's in Your Court - Learning a Foreign Language e-book

This short guide is intended to inspire and direct your language learning. Covering topics including learning styles, the origin of languages and the importance of learning about culture alongside language, this is an energising read for anyone learning or thinking of learning a language.

The book usefully helps the reader to identify and overcome their own barriers to language learning, whether lack of self confidence or difficulties with hearing spoken languages. It also helps you decide whether you would be better learning in a classroom (and if so, how to find a good teacher) or by yourself with books and tapes and how much time you can afford to devote to your studies. It goes into some detail on selecting learning materials (including recommending some individual programmes. It also offers some useful techniques for learning and using a foreign language - including circumlocution (rephrasing what you want to say to avoid coming up against words you don't know) It offers suggestions for how to build up your fluency, including suggesting reading a magazine of interest to you (for example, I read the Italian version of Focus magazine, which not only helps me develop my understanding of Italian but also gives me plenty of genuinely interesting articles, many of which are about science.)

The Ball in the title of the book, refers to BALL, an acronym gor Brain Activated Language Learning.

Though by the end of this book you won't have learnt a new language, you will have your mind thinking about how best to go about it. Which is a very important place to start.

The Ball's in Your Court - Learning a Foreign Language by Aurelia McNeil is available here

Disclaimer  - I recieved a free review copy of this e-book. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Shoeshine Killer by Marianne Wheelaghan

At the opening of The Shoeshine Killer, Detective Sargeant Louisa Townsend (who we first met in Food of Ghosts which I reviewed here) arrives in Fiji to attend a conference on money laundering, just as a military coup is announced.

The coup means that Louisa can't stay in the conference hotel so she ends up staying in a small bed and breakfast, where she quickly makes friends with the owner. Unfortunately the owner is soon killed and rather than being a conference attendee, Louisa finds herself faced with a murder to investigate, if only the local police would let her help them, or perhaps they think she's a suspect?

Meanwhile what about the shoeshine boys, who live all together in a communal house and are overseen by a domineering boss. What is their connection with the bed and breakfast owner? Do they know anything about the murder?

Louisa is a very well-drawn, realistic character, grumpy, impulsive and obsessively clean. She's not entirely likeable but the reader can't help but be on her side, as she's so very human in all her failings and we very much feel for her as she struggles against her difficulties. It must take a lot of determination to face eating from a communal pot let along coming across a murder scene when you're obsessive about cleanliness and tidiness.

Throw in a corrupt church minister and local opposition to plans to build a gay holiday resort and there's a lot to keep the reader's attention in this story. 

The Shoeshine Killer by Marianne Wheelaghan, is available to buy for Kindle here.

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

Monday, August 10, 2015

Beyond Expectations

Beyond Expectations, a theatre show from Untold Theatre revisits Charles Dicken's classic great Expectations and re-tells the story from the perspective of Estella.

The story starts with Estella as a youngster, living with her mother, a passionate gypsy and her father, Magwitch, a drunk who beats her mother. She is then taken into the care of Miss Havisham, during which time she meets Pip. Although Pip loves her, she coldly rejects him, flirts with many other men and ends up in an unhappy marriage. Miss Havisham taught her well how to destroy men's hearts, demonstrating by ripping off the wings of a moth. At the same time though, she never taught Estelle the art of self preservation.

It's really interesting to see this well known tale told from a different perspective, though I felt it didn't really give a huge amount of insight into Estella as a character, over and above what we already know from the novel.

That aside, this is a wonderful production. The use of music and film add a great deal of atmosphere, whether it's restless ocean or scudding clouds or the forbidding gates of Miss Havishan's Satis House. The acting is consistently excellent and there is a good balance between humour and pathos. There's great attention to detail too, for example, I loved the puppets that were used to represent Estella and Pip in their very young years.

 So all in all, a definite recommendation if you don't know what to see in the mass of theatrical possibilities that is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Information on the show: 
Disclaimer: I received a free review ticket for this show.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Best of Fest

Edinburgh International Film Festival has announced the line up of the Best of the Fest screenings to be shown on Sunday.

Tickets are on sale now and films screen from Saturday 27 - Sunday 28 June at:
And now for my own Fest of the Fest! Follow the links below for my reviews

Chicken - a beautifully made coming of age drama focussing on a teenager with learning difficulties and his pet chicken.

Scottish Mussel - a romantic comedy focussing on the fight to conserve the freshwater mussel

Black Mountain Poets - a hilarious tale of two sisters on the run who pretend to be poets and hide out at a poetry retreat in the Welsh Mountains

 Desert Dancer - amazing choreography in this fictionalised biopic of the Iranian dancer Adshin Ghaffarian

Liza the Fox Fairy - a surreal comedy from Hungary

When Elephants Fight - an important documentary about conflict minerals in the Congo

It's been a great festival and many of the films shown deserve to be released into cinemas. 

Disclaimer - I had a press pass for the film festival and attended free press screenings of these films (except for Liza the Fox Fairy)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Liza the Fox Fairy

I wasn't able to get to a press screening of Liza the Fox Fairy but managed to buy a ticket for the last public screening and went along with Crafty Green Boyfriend.

This is a surreal film ('delightfully bonkers' according to Crafty Green Boyfriend) set in a beautifully imagined alternative reality 1970's Hungary where capitalism has replaced communism and everyone eats at Mekk Burger.

Liza is the live in nurse for the widow of the Japanese ambassador. The ghost of a Japanese pop star lives in the same flat and onstantly sings to Liza, though no-one else can see or hear him.

A series of unfortunate incidents in which people close to Liza die convince her that she is in fact a fox fairy, a creature from Japanese mythology who kills everyone who loves her. Can she find her one true love who can break the curse?

This a wonderfully escapist film, entertaining and very funny in parts.

Liza the Fox Fairy was shown as part of the Edinburgh International Film festival and hopefully will eventually get released into cinemas.

To read my other reviews from the film festival, follow the links below

Scottish Mussel - a romantic comedy centred on the fight to save the freshwater pearl mussel

 Black Mountain Poets - sisters on the run join a poetry retreat in the Welsh mountains

Desert Dancer - drama inspired by the life of Iranian dancer Afshin Ghaffarian 

Under Milk Wood - a new cinematic interpretation of Dylan Thomas' classic prose poem

Brand New U - futuristic thriller /  love story 

 Of Chickens and Camels - a review of Chicken (a wonderful coming of age film about a teenager with learning difficultie) and Nearby Sky (a documentary about the camel beauty contests in the Emirates). 

Infini - disaster on an off-planet mine

La Tirisia - love and life in the cacti covered mountains of Mexico

When Elephants Fight - conflict minerals in Congo

 Iron Ministry - a cinematic journey through China by rail

 Index Zero - dystopian SF set in a future Fortress Europe

30 Days Wild goes to the cinema - how the landscape backdrops two films set in very different countries (Sand Dollars and The Gulls

Disclaimer - I have a press pass for the film festival and attended free press screening of  these films.

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Brand New U

Brand New U, showing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival is a tense, futuristic thriller about parallel identities that at heart is a love story. Slater visits the Brand New U corporation after his girlfriend Nadia disappears. He is given a new identity and a new lifespace with the warning that he musn't take anything from his old life with him. He is however, obsessed with Nadia and is convinced he has found her in his new lifespace, with complicating and dangerous consequences.

This stylish and moody film brings up interesting issues around identity and the existence of a soul-mate and plays with ideas around parallel realities.

It can be confusing. As I left the cinema, I heard someone say she thought it was much more confusing than she had expected, but I found it less confusing than I had expected. 

The soundtrack severely begs for Placebo's track Every You and Every Me. Luckily I know that song pretty well and could add it myself at the appropriate moments. Silently of course so as not to disturb the rest of the audience.

Brand New U is showing as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival at 1550, 27 June at the Odeon.

You can read my other reviews from the film festival over on Crafty Green Poet by following these links

Under Milk Wood - the film (2015) - the new cinematic interpretation of Dylan Thomas' classic prose poem 

Of Chickens and Camels - a review of Chicken (a wonderful coming of age film about a teenager with learning difficultie) and Nearby Sky (a documentary about the camel beauty contests in the Emirates). 

Infini - disaster on an off-planet mine

La Tirisia - love and life in the cacti covered mountains of Mexico

When Elephants Fight - conflict minerals in Congo

 Iron Ministry - a cinematic journey through China by rail

 Index Zero - dystopian SF set in a future Fortress Europe

30 Days Wild goes to the cinema - how the landscape backdrops two films set in very different countries (Sand Dollars and The Gulls)

Disclaimer: I have a press pass for the film festival and attended free press screenings for these films. 

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

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Sound Quality matters

Placebo are one of our favourite bands and we were really looking forward to seeing them in concert last night. Their tracks are guaranteed to get us on the dancefloor and we have most of their albums. They're brilliant musicians and lead singer Brian Molko has an anazing voice. So to say we were disappointed by the appallingly bad sound quality at Edinburgh Corn Exchange is an understatement indeed.

The band played a great selection of songs but it all just sounded like noise much of the time.

This wasn't some local band playing in a basement bar which isn't set up for gigs and where good sound quality is a bonus if you can get it. This is a major band, excellent musicians with a very distinctive sound in a venue that likes to think it's one of the best in Scotland.

So Edinburgh Corn Exchange, what are you going to do? Can I suggest sacking the sound engineers?

Sunday, February 01, 2015

My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor

This is a must read book for anyone who has had a stroke, needs to care for someone who has had a stroke and particularly for anyone who works in the medical profession. Actually it's a must read book for anyone with a brain.

Bolte Taylor is a brain scientist, At the age of 37, she experienced a rare form of stroke that left her so disabled that she could not walk, talk, read, write or recall any of her life. This book gives an account of how she observed her brain deteriorate during the stroke and how she (with the assistance of her mother and medical professionals) helped her brain to heal, to eventually, after 8 years, make a complete recovery. 

Her stroke occured in the left hand side of her brain so she lost her language and mathematical abilities and found herself in a state of 'feeling at one with the universe' as her right brain took over. From this 'euphoric nirvana' she had to bring her left brain back into action. It is incredibly inspiring to read how she did this! Obviously her training in neuroscience meant that she was able to be much more informed and helpfully analytical about her brain than most people would be, but her insights are helpful for everyone, whether recovering from a stroke, helping someone else who has had a stroke or just in terms of interest about your future brain health. 

Before telling her own story, Bolte Taylor outlines some brain science and at the end of the book she outlines practical things that people who have suffered strokes need to help them make a full recovery. Plus she gives advice on how to be kind to your brain and how to maximise the value of both sides of your brain. These parts of the book would be particularly useful for people in the medical profession to help ensure that the best possible care is given to people who have had a stroke.

As well as being helpful and practical though, this is a totally inspiring story about how someone can recover from a major stroke and live the life they want to live, though it does get irritatingly new-agey in parts. In Bolte Taylor's case that is educating people about their brains and creating, anatomically correct stained glass brains.

(This is a book that seems to inspire very different reactions in its readers, as you can tell if you read the reviews on Good Reads).

My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor published by Hodder.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Sun Breaks Through

I was delighted today when a copy of The Sun Breaks Through arrived on my door mat. This is the long awaited anthology of writing from the Write On Course (based at the Ripple Project in Lochend). I currently teach the Write On Course and was delighted to edit this anthology that contains wonderful poetry and short stories from class members.

A Bit of a Breeze by Dot Stuart follows an autumn leaf as it floats above Edinburgh to finally land in the Lochend Community Garden.

In The Most Amazing Thing Happened Kathleen Byron shows us how the tar sands of Canada affect the surrounding communities

We meet an unusual and melancholy character in Louise Bankhead's The Wooden Peg

St Jane is a poem from Elaine Pomeransky about a Scottish nurse who died in Auschwitz

Margaret Bruce tells us the story of a missing person in I Was Alarmed

[at falling tide on islay] is an atmospheric poem from Louise Bankhead

Everything is not quite as it seems in Kathleen Byron's Where Did You Hide the Body?

The Trams are just the starting point for Dot Stuart's story of reminiscences

and finally Lindsay Oliver shares a story I Love Leith.

The anthology is available from the Ripple Project and costs £3 if you buy it in person or £4 (including postage and packing) if you order it by post from an address within the UK. For overseas orders, please contact the Ripple Project for information on postage rates. The Ripple Project contact details are on their website.

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