Friday, December 27, 2013

Ten Commandments for the Thriving Writer by Karen Banes

This short e-book by Karen Banes is full of useful advice for anyone wanting to pursue a freelancing writing career or just interested in widening the audience for their writing.

The advice is wide ranging and includes how to brainstorm ideas, how to build and organise a body of work, how to add value by publishing different pieces based on the same basic idea, how to network and collaborate with other writers and advice on self publishing and marketing and maximising your income.

The advice is concise, sensible and easy to follow. Much of it may not be new to writers who have a fair amount of experience, but it's always worth giving yourself a refresher course in essential techniques for improving your freelance writing career. And at only 35 pages, this book won't take very long to read, while the selected relevant links scattered through the test mean that you have the chance to follow up on your favourite topics.

Thanks Story Cartel for my free e-book version of Ten Commandements for the Thriving Writer by Karen Banes.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Market

We visited the Edinburgh German Christmas Market today and enjoyed apple strudel with cherries and a mug of mulled wine with kirsch and watched the rain come down.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

1000 creative writing prompts

1000 Creative Writing Prompts: Volume 2: More Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More by Bryan Cohen.

This gem of a book is packed full of creative prompts designed specifically to make you think and create blog posts, articles or stories, to explore issues, stimulate conversations or to share in creative writing classes.

The prompts are arranged in thematic chapters: Time and Place; People and Creatures; The Body and the Brain; Concepts; Money; Love and Entertainment and Mixed Bag. This is a useful way of organising your browsing through the book.

As i said at the beginning of the review, these are thought provoking prompts, designed to explore ideas rather than technique. Examples include:

When historians talk about the present day, what nickname do you think they'd give it and why? Would that nickname effectively convey the world you lived in? Why or why not? 

During the oil crisis in 1973 and 1974, 20 percent of gas stations had no fuel at all to provide consumers. How would your day-to-day life be different if you and your family simply couldn't get gas? What changes might you have to make during such a crisis and why?

Each prompt can probably be used to good effect many times over, so this book is a great resource for any writer.

Thanks Story Cartel for my free download of this book.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Fall of the Stone City by Ismail Kadare

I realised Ismail Kadare was a great writer when I read his novel Broken April, which tells the story of blood feuds in the mountains of Albania. I've been waiting for him to win the Nobel Prize for Literature ever since.

The Fall of the Stone City is set in Gjirokastër, Albania, birthplace of both Kadare himself and the Albanian communist leader Enver Hoxha.  The story starts in September 1943 as Nazi troops prepare to bombard the city. However, something stops them and it turns out that the Nazi colonel remembers he has an old friend from University living in Gjirokastër, Big Dr Gurameto, one of two surgeons in the city (the other who is also called Dr Gurameto). A reunion dinner ensues which leads to the doctor being considered a traitor, but then the hostages are released, soi perhaps he's a hero?

The story continues through the city's changing political fortunes. It's a city that has been invaded by foreign powers many times and is used to this, the residents carry on as though nothing has happened even as leaders come and go.

This is a enigmatic and intriguing novel that illuminates a key period in Albanian history, while asking questions about the nature of truth, power and loyalty, lightened by a dark humour. Any reading of it probably benefits from some knowledge of Albanian history, customs and folklore and some knowledge of Kadare's other novels.

Thanks to Jim Murdoch, who sent me a spare copy of this novel and who wrote a much longer review of it last year!

The Fall of the Stone City by Ismail Kadare, published by Canongate

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


She, your daughter or perhaps your niece,
has worked with refugees,
sewn on limbs blown off by mines,
read homelessness in women’s eyes –
the pain of the dispossessed.

You, an insurance man, say
‘they should better have weighed
the risks, avoided the temptation
of escape, stayed at home
for goodness sake!’

Safe and bored in suburban freedom,
you cannot imagine danger
surrounding your home
with paralysing fear
a time-bomb slowly ticking.

previously published on Catapult to Mars

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fragments by Hugh Irvine

Fragments is a collection of eight very short vignette-like short stories, that give the reader windows onto various people's lives. The stories are set in various stages of life, childhood, work, holiday and terminal illness.

The two stories that stood out for me are 'We are so Sorry' which offers a touching indight into the relationship between a terminally ill man and the nurse looking after him and 'Humidity' in which a boy realises his cat has found the best way of dealing with hot and humid weather. 

The stories are very readable, seem true to life and are written with a good eye for detail.Their short length makes them ideal to read when you have a spare couple of minutes.

Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book via Story Cartel.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

She Thought She had Lost Something

When she was five, she thought she had lost something.
She wasn't sure what, the pain and discomfort were overwhelming and no-one told her anything.

When she was twelve, she thought she had lost something.
The blood dripping slowly, every month five days of fever and pain.

When she was eighteen she thought she had lost something.
Feeling only pain, as her husband cut her open again before penetrating her, no love in the act.

When she was nineteen, she thought she had lost something.
Cut open to give birth to a daughter, sewn back again, months of fever and pain.

When she was twenty-four, she thought she had lost something.
Bringing the circumciser round to cut her daughter with unsterilised glass.

When she was still twenty-four, she knew she had lost something.
Watching her five-year old daughter bleed slowly to death in fever and pain. 


This is an entry for the FEMFLASH 2013 writing competition from Mookychick Online. Enter now.

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

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Seeing the film Museum Hours, which I reviewed yesterday reminded me of my trip to Vienna in 1998. Here are some of my favourite photos from the trip:

The Hundertwasser House, designed by architect, artist and ecologist Hundertwasser.
A wonderful and fascinating building!

The Glorieta at Schloss Schönbrunn.

Karlsplatz - an Underground Station that became a cafe.

a pretty street corner

does anyone know the name of this building in the centre of Vienna?

Albertina Platz Memorial against War and Fascism
By Austrian artist Alfred Hrdlicka [1928-2009]. This square is the site of a massacre in 1945 when an Allied bomb killed an unknown number of civilians taking shelter in the basement of a building.

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

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Museum Hours

Museum Hours is the story of Anne, a Canadian woman in Vienna to care for a distant relative who has fallen into a coma. She speds a lot of time in the city's Art History Museum and is befriended by one of the guards there who acts as her unofficial guide to the museum and to selected aspects of the city.

The two discuss the meaning and value of art, politics and their life experiences, while wandering round the Museum, various coffee shops and the wintry streets of Vienna.

The film sometimes feels like an advert for the museum and in particular its Breughel collection, though the wider city doesn't come out of it looking quite so wonderful, as the clouds never seem to lift and the camera lingers on building sites and run down street corners.

However the film is a particularly intelligent tour guide, juxtaposing as it does scenes from the museum alongside the flea markets of the city centre and taking a tour into the underworld of a lake grotto just as Anne's relative slips into death.

Its a lovely, meditative film for anyone interested in art history or in Vienna.

Museum Hours is on at Edinburgh Filmhouse until Thursday 26 September. 


The film reminded me of my visit to Vienna, many years ago now and I may see if I can transfer some of my photos onto the computer and write about the visit!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

City Centre Reflections

I took this photo from the bus as we waited for the lights to change.

This street used to only be used by a few buses, but since the saga of Edinburgh's tram works began, diversions have been in place and all buses in this area of town now use this street.

Apparently the trams will start running next Spring.....

For Weekend Reflections

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Desert Flower by Waris Dirie

This is the story of Waris Dirie, a Somalian nomad who ran away from home to escape an arranged marriage with a much older man, found her way to London, where she worked as a maid in the Somalian Embassy and then at MacDonalds before becoming a supermodel and then a UN Special Ambassador for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation. It's an amazing book, full of life and a passionate commitment to women's rights along with descriptions of female genital mutilation that will convince every reader that this is a practice that ought to be banned everywhere. It is not something that can be respected as a cultural practice, it is gross mutilation of women's bodies that can cause lifelong suffering if the woman doesn't die in the process.

Female Genital Mutilation has been banned in Egypt and is decreasing in many African countries. Unfortunately it is still carried out in some African communities in some countries outside Africa.


The Waris Dirie Foundation

FORWARD - Foundation for Women's Health, Research and Development

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

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Incorporation of Baxters

The Incorporation of Baxters was the Union of Bakers back in the days when Dean Village, was an industrial powerhouse of Edinburgh, full of mills. The first photo shows what looks like a large oven (now filled in) with a plaque for the Incorporation above it; the second photo is a different angle on the same building and the last photo shows a smaller plaque for the Incorporation that is found on the bridge at Bell's Brae in Dean Village.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

The Lacuna is the story of Harrison Shepherd a Mexican American writer who is born in the USA but grows up in Mexico. He works for a while with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, round the time when Trotsky is living with them.

Shepherd then moves to the US, becomes a writer and gets caught up in the anti communist witch hunts after the second world war.

There's a lot I loved about the book, the writing is excellent and the issues raised by the book are thought provoking. Specially the contrast between the relationship between art and politics in Mexico and in the US. Then the fact that Shepherd writes historical fiction that has disguised relevance to the times he lives in, presented in a historical novel that has (disguised) relevance to the times we read it in (issues round censorship and in scapegoating groups we're suspicious of).

I like the way the book is put together, diaries, fictional reviews of Shepherd's books, letter and newspaper articles. Though I am aware that this may not work for all readers.

I'm always uncomfortable though when real characters from history are shown in fiction intereacting so closely with fictional characters that effectively history is rewritten. Shepherd didn't exist, so the stories that centre round him and Kahlo, Rivera and Trotsky aren't true, though those other characters are real and have real stories.

Overall though it's an impressive book and well worth reading

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Wadjda is the first feature length film made by a female Saudi Arabian director. Restrictions meant that Haifa al Mansour took five years to make the film and often had to work out of the back of a van because she wasn't allowed to mix publically with the film crew.

The result though is a wonderful film, beautifully made and acted. The story is a simple one, Wadjda, an 11 year old girl, wants to buy a bicycle so she can race with her friend Abdullah. But girls aren't supposed to ride bikes and Wadjda's family won't buy her one. Desperate for the cash, she enters the school Koran reciting competition. Meanwhile her father is looking for a second wife as Wadjda's mother can't have any more children and he wants a son.

The film gives huge insights into the restrictions Saudi society places on women and how young girls, full of natural curiosity and talent, are gradually cowed and moulded for a future with very narrow horizons. It isn't at all a heavy worthy film though, the characters are engaging and there's a lot of humour in the story.

Wadjda is showing today and tomorrow at Filmhouse, Edinburgh.

Friday, July 19, 2013

How Not to Write a Novel

Any aspiring novelist would do well to read How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. The book includes 200 mistakes to avoid if you want to write a novel that people will want to read. It focuses on mainstream, commercial fiction, but most of the rules apply whatever the genre of novel you want to write.

Starting with Plot and covering character, style and creating a fictional world, the book shares great advice and extracts from imaginary bad novels to give the reader a very clear idea of what doesn't work in a novel.

I have to admit I disagreed with their prohibition of animals in novels. Their point of view seems to be a pet should only be mentioned in passing and then basically ignored. Obviously badly done, a pet can become an over sentimental indulgence in a novel, but, if done well a pet can become a significant character in a novel and can really add to the reader's understanding and empathy for the human characters. I've read many novels with good pet characters (the best being Elsa Morante's amazing novel History, which I reviewed here.)

Apart from that though, great advice and it's very entertaining too. I found myself having to stifle my laughter more than once while reading this on the bus.

How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman published by Penguin

Friday, July 12, 2013


Hannah Stephenson over at the Storialist is running a competition for photographic responses to lines from her poem Kettle Shriek, which is the title poem from her forthcoming collection.

Here is my photo which responds to the first line of the poem 'In the Kettle the Shriek'

 yes, it's silly (but Hannah said silly was okay) and it would be better if it were a real mouse in there or a giant spider, but in those cases I would have been shrieking for real and unable to take a photo!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Die Welt

Abdallah works for a pittance in a Tunis video store where he delights in encouraging customers to try less commercial films. Behind his pride in his homeland though he dreams of leaving the country, inspired partly by his father, who had lived in the Netherlands for several years. Abdallah has a one night stand with a Dutch woman and soon after that loses his job, both of which make him more determined to leave the country.

Die Welt explores the dilemmas faced by young Tunisians, treating the subject matter with a light touch, including enjoyably witty dialogue and lots of vivid scenes set in varied locations including marketplaces, a traditional wedding party and a traditional baths.

The background to the film is interesting. The Dutch director (Alex Pitstra) has a Tunisian father (who plays the father in Die Welt) and the film was inspired by his reactions to the Jasmine Spring revolution in Tunisia. The film blends documentary into the fictional story, even including home videos of Pitstra's childhood in the Netherlands. This brings a revealing and insightful personal element into the film.

Die Welt is showing as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival:

2050, 28 June and 1910, 29 June both at Cineworld

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

Friday, June 21, 2013

Lilou's Adventure

Lilou, the ten year old daughter of a Guinean father and a Japanese mother, doesn't have friends at her school in Okinawa. She keeps herself pretty much to herself, even not liking to join the groups of children who congregate with her father to play drums and dance. Her classmate Kokuru, meanwhile has stopped dreaming and is upset about this, because she has been keeping a dream dairy so she has something to talk about with her grandfather. The two girls ave a lot in common, both of them have musicians as fathers and both of them are shy and serious. Kokuru had been too shy to speak to Lilou until she stopped dreaming and then felt she needed to reach out.

This marks the beginning of the two girls adventures, in which reality, dreams, myths and video games all start to merge into a beautifully surreal collage. But can Kokuru save her grandfather before time runs out? At times I was wanting to shake the characters and tell them to hurry up! Partly this was because it felt like a very long film (it's almost two hours long) but largely because the viewer gets really sucked into the flow of the film and engaged with the two main characters.

The two young actresses playing the main roles give wonderful performances and the friendship between the two is beautifully developed. The film is a lovely meditation on friendship, belonging and the nature of reality.

Lilou's Adventure is showing as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival:

1450, 23 June and 1810, 25 June both at Cineworld

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

Thursday, June 20, 2013

From Tehran to London

From Tehran to London is an unfinished film and presented as such as a testament of the censorship that film-making is subjected to in Iran.

Mania Akbari stopped the filming of the film when several Irainian film-makers had been arrested. She fled to London where she finished producing the film, but left the narrative unfinished.

The story centres on a couple, Ashkan, a wealthy business man and Ava, a poet, who is suffering from writer's block. Near the beginning of the film, their maid Maryam disappears while the couple are on a business trip. Later, Ava's sister has moved into the house.

The whole film is made up of claustrophobic dialogue between the characters, long arguments between the couple and gentler discussions between the sisters as they perform their beauty routines together. Ava is angry with her husband for many reasons, but partly because she feels he is blocking the publication of her latest book of poetry, so the issue of censorship was already at the heart of the film before the director was forced to stop filming.

This is a fascinating film for anyone interested in gender relations or artistic self expression in Iran.

From Tehran to London is showing: 2015, 22 June and 1500, 23 June, both at Filmhouse.

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

I'm posting most of my film festival reviews on Crafty Green Poet, you can read them so far here and here.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

You are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One!) by Jeff Goins

"Every day, somewhere, a writer is born." So opens this e-book from Jeff Goins.

If you are one of these writers, Goins says, then it is up to you to make sure you put in the time writing. Goins also underlines the importance of writing for yourself, following your passions rather than aiming to please the marketplace.

Sometimes I felt that Goins reiterated his main points too often, but there are certainly some good pointers here:

"Everything is practice. Every word you write .... is a chance to get better."

"If you do anything long enough, it becomes habitual". 

Sometimes the book seems contradictorary, we're told that all we need is to write for the love of it then told that writing for the love of it can never be enough.

If you've been writing for a while, you may feel there isn't enough concrete advice in here. Also on a personal level, I found Goins writing style to be pretty annoying.

The book overall reads like a pep talk, and most writers can probably use one of those once in a while. Basically, believe in yourself and you're a long way to being the writer you want to be.

Thanks Story Cartel for my free e-copy of You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) by Jeff Goins

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

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Through a lace curtain

The curtains in our first hotel in Dumfries and Galloway. You can read more about our holiday on Crafty Green Poet: here, here and here.

For Shadow Shot Sunday

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Let's Write A Short Story by Joe Bunting

Let's Write a Short Story is an accessible, chatty guide that is full of good practical advice on writing short stories and finding a publisher for them.

It starts out with considering some of the benefits of writing short stories, outlining how they can be seen as a way of practising for something bigger, or of recycling a failed novel. Also, the author sees rejection as vital to a writer, as it shows that you're trying and so another 'benefit of writing short stories is that they allow you to get rejected sooner.If you write a novel, it could take years for your work to be rejected. With short stories, you could be rejected in weeks.' Which may seem a bit dpressing, but actually means that you can learn quicker by writing short stories than you would if you just concentrate on trying to write the next great novel. Every rejection is a step on the way to success.

The advice on how to write is very practical and to the point, take this on the need for conflict in a short story:

'people only change when they experience pain, and all stories involve transformation. Joy, unfortunately, is a lousy teacher. Don’t be nice to your characters. It won’thelp your story.'

There is an extended analysis of what makes a literary short story, with some in depth critique of style, and underlining the importance for every aspiring writer to read with an eye to both analysising and enjoying. There's an exercise on finding the right balance between showing and telling in your story and advice on how to overcome writers block.

Oh and there are some useful writing prompts in here too, with the author asking the reader to commit to writing a short story within a month of reading the book. 

So, if you want to write short stories, this is a great resource that will inspire you and give you practical help and encouragement. Read it and then write some stories!

Thanks to Story Cartel for my free download of Let's Write a Short Story by Joe Bunting

Monday, May 06, 2013

Shapeshifting Green Style Statement

I don't blog about fashion very much, but I thought that I would post a photo of this wrist cuff which I made from reclaimed fabrics. It's currently in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop, but that may change, as I like it too much and am tempted to wear it myself. (So if you've seen it in the shop and liked it, now is the time to convert the liking into purchasing!).

I'm planning a whole series of fabric wrist cuffs to sell on Etsy, each of them will be unique style statements in a range of reclaimed fabrics, buttons and charms.

Although I often wear jeans and jumpers or even waterproof leggings and anorak as I go about my life as conservation volunteer and leader of guided walks, I actually also really like dressing up.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Fifty Shades of Feminism

I was delighted to win a copy of Fifty Shades of Feminism from Virago in a Twitter competition. It's an intriguing collection of essays about feminism from more than 50 women including lawyers, activists, writers, actors and community workers.

Some of the essays are very personal, some are more formal, though there's only one poem in the book and only Jeanette Winterson offers an essay written in an experimental format. The essays cover topics from pornography to the sexist assumptions behind the construction of five written characters in Mandarin Chinese. Some of the essays make direct reference to 50 Shades of Grey, which was after all the book that prompted the writing of this anthology, most of them are however a more general reaction to that genre of writing or are in fact purely statements of where the authors stand on feminism.

It's a thought provoking anthology, though perhaps with some omissions. As the New Statesman review says, there isn't an essay from a transgendered woman. I would also have been interested to read an essay from a femme lesbian about feminist perspectives on femininity. (If that's something you're interested in, I can definitely recommend Femmes of Power, which I reviewed here).

So for a quick overview of where feminism currently stands, this is a good place to start. 

Fifty Shades of Feminism edited by Lisa Appignanesi published by Virago Press.

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

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Thread by Victoria Hislop

This is a wonderful love story set against the sweep of Greek history through the 20th century.

Katerina the main character is a very likeable character, and I really felt for her from her separation from her mother, her arrival in Thessalonika where she was taken in by a kindly family to her work as a seamstress and her love for Dimitri. Dimitri and Katerina are separated for many years as he fights with the resistance fighters in the mountains. Will they be reunited?

All set against the turbulent tide of history taking in the Second World War, civil war, fires and earthquakes.

Hislop does a wonderful job of weaving Katerina's story in with the history. She writes beautifully (though sometimes doesn't trust her reader enough, over-explaining some things, which can be annoying!).

This is a timely novel given the current chaos in Greece. it was also a timely read for me personally as the theme of refugees here mirrors that same theme which plays an important part in the novel I'm writing!

As a crafter, I was also struck by the detail of the sewing that Katerina did, the wonderful clothes that she made even during times of hardship.

The Thread by Victoria Hislop published by HeadlineBooks

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Year of Doing Good by Judith O'Reilly

Judith O'Reilly made a New Year's resolution to do a good deed every day and in this book she records the deeds she did, how she felt about them and muses on the meaning of doing good. Along the way she makes friends, meets philosophers, carers, lifeboat volunteers and others who spend their lives 'doing good' or in the case of philosophers thinking about doing good.

Some of the good deeds are small, like letting people in front of her in queues, some are large (and ongoing) like teaching a disabled child how to write stories (I love the fact that one of the stories they worked on was called Bunny's Bad Day!). In addition she set up a fund-raising scheme for her local hospice, the Jam Jar Army which is still raising funds for good causes.Oh and she picks litter too.

This is a very entertaining book, which really gets the reader thinking about doing good deeds and being a good citizen.

A Year of Doing Good by Judith O'Reilly published by Penguin

Disclaimer - I won this copy of this book from Penguin's Readarama project.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

When Mary Anne Schwalbe returned from a trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan she was diagnosed with a rare type of hepatitis that actually turned out to be pancreatic cancer, a cancer that is usually fatal within six months.

Mary Anne was a truly remarkable woman and didn't let this diagnosis stop her from living a full, active life for another couple of years, including planning and organising a mobile library service for Afghanistan. Along the way she and her son, Will (the author) set up their own private book club. They read widely and voraciously, linking up what they're reading to their own life experiences. I was totally moved by the close relationship between Will and his mother and how they became even closer through their reading.

I found myself intrigued equally by what Mary Anne and Will thought of books I've read and fascinated by their choices that I've not read. There are definitely a few more books on my wish list now! 

One of the books Mary Anne and Will read is the Kite Runner, probably the most famous novel set in Afghanistan. They both enjoyed it more than I did and I have to admit, I wondered what they would have thought of the two more recent (and I think far superior) novels set in that country - Freshta and The Taliban Cricket Club. (Follow the links to read my reviews on this blog).

This is a beautiful book about family relationships, illness, grief and death and the magic of books.

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe published by Two Roads

Thanks to Curious Book Fans, I won my copy of this book!

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