Sugar and Tobacco

Individually we may not be able to atone for the past, but we must acknowledge it.

Fiction is often the gateway into fact for me. The books that stay with me longest are frequently those that have changed the way that I look at the world, taught me something fundamental or submerged me in an unfamiliar culture. Books like Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie which centres on the Nigerian-Biafran war of 1967-1970, a war about which I was shamefully almost entirely ignorant until I read the book, or Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits which, even though the Latin American country in which it is set is unnamed, was my point of discovery of the history and politics of Chile and led me towards the more factual (but beautifully written) books about South American history and politics by the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy—one of my favourite books of all time—not only evoked the most profound memories of the short time that I worked in West Bengal Continue reading “Sugar and Tobacco”

Unbound and Golden Hare Books in Edinburgh

Come along to meet some new writers, discover more about an innovative company and support your local independent bookshop.

VENUE UPDATE: We’ll be reading in the bookshop rather than the Great Hall.

Are you a writer, a reader? Are you interested in publishing or being published? Are you a bookshop devotee or an ebook enthusiast?

Yes, yes, yes, of course!! If you happen to be near Edinburgh on Wednesday 10th May, I’d love to see you at a special panel event featuring myself and three other Unbound authors, Martine McDonagh, Ian Skewis and Tabatha Stirling. The event is being hosted by Stockbridge’s wonderful independent bookshop, Golden Hare Books in the glorious surroundings of the Great Hall of St Stephen’s, Stockbridge.

Photo of St Stephen's Stockbridge, Edinburgh
St Stephen’s, Stockbridge, Edinburgh

We all know the publishing and bookselling industry is changing fast. The boundaries between traditional publishing and the standard model of self-publishing are blurring as innovative companies like Unbound challenge the status quo. Unbound’s radical new publishing model takes traditional publishing and combines it with a crowdfunding platform. Their ethos is to publish adventurous, exciting books, produced to an impeccable standard, for a readership who are eager to support these books.

And how often do we hear about bookshops struggling? Far too often, I’m sure you’ll agree. So it is fantastic to find an independent bookseller who is going great guns. Golden Hare Books opened its doors in 2012 in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket before moving to its current location in Stockbridge three years ago. The bookshop has a small team of knowledgable staff who are all avid readers and deeply involved in the literary world. Community involvement, collaborations with artists and writers, story and craft sessions for youngsters—Golden Hare Books is committed to being a space for everyone to come and celebrate books. And it isn’t only about the words inside but also books as physical objects, as objects of beauty. I can certainly relate to that. Cover designs, the weight of a book in your hands, the ruffle and smell of freshly turned pages. Bookshop heaven.

From 6 pm until 8.30 pm, while you sip a glass of wine in the beautiful surroundings of the Great Hall in St Stephen’s Stockbridge, the four Unbound authors will discuss the pros and cons, the highs and lows, the success and the difficulties of our crowdfunding campaigns. Although we have all written novels, there the similarity ends. Our projects span hardback, paperback and digital editions, some of us are published, some of us funded or still funding. You can find out more about each of us on Golden Hare’s event page (where you can also buy tickets), or follow the links on our names above to our Unbound pages.

The Great Hall is a magnificent space. It would be fantastic to be able to fill it. Admission is ticketed and the tickets cost only £2 (and you get a glass of wine for that). Come along to meet some new writers, discover more about an innovative company and support your local independent bookshop. We’re looking forward to meeting you!

Image credit: St Stephen’s Centre, Magnus Hagdorn, Flickr reproduced under a Creative Commons licence.

 

 

West End Pat answers my Proust Questionnaire

Pat Byrne: smitten with the West End of Glasgow and intrigued by the people, the parks, the history, the architecture and the atmosphere

Logo for Glasgow West End: Pat's Guide

Pat Byrne is the person behind Glasgow West End: Pat’s Guide, a website aimed at promoting this great part of Glasgow. It focuses on the local community, with a ‘what’s on’ guide and loads of useful information about restaurants, shops, pubs, galleries and more. She’s also a writer and involved in other projects, most recently Ten Writers Telling Lies, a unique collaboration between a group of storytellers, poets and the singer-songwriter Jim Byrne and which was performed as a live event and is now available as a book with an accompanying CD.

Pat was born in Glasgow’s Royal Maternity Hospital (known to most of us as Rottenrow) but her childhood was spent in Old Kilpatrick, a village half way between Glasgow and Loch Lomond.  As a child, one of her great treats was to go ‘up the town’ so the city has always been close to her heart but her discovery of the West End came later, as a student in the 1970s. Now, she says she’s ‘smitten’ with the area Continue reading “West End Pat answers my Proust Questionnaire”

Ecstasy (and a tiny bit of agony)

Celebration time. The Backstreets of Purgatory, my debut novel, has reached its crowdfunding target. The special edition will be published by Unbound later this year. The commercial edition should be available in a bookshop near you sometime early next year. Since I heard the news just more than a week ago, I’ve been wandering around in a bit of a daze with a huge grin on my face, not able to concentrate on anything productive. I’m thrilled, excited, totally chuffed.

And more than a teeny bit scared.

A few years ago, I had a short story published in the (now sadly defunct) Ranfurly Review. Titled very imaginatively as The Kiss, it stars Ade who is in hindsight certainly a forerunner to Finn (the main character in Backstreets), and Crystal, a transvestite who despite not bothering to shave when she goes out on the razz Continue reading “Ecstasy (and a tiny bit of agony)”

Little Blog of Horrors’ Ayden Millar answers my Proust questionnaire

My favourite journey? The drive up north to The Drovers Inn or Rest And Be Thankful. Scotland is just bloody breathtaking.

The latest contributor to my Proust questionnaire series is Ayden Millar, a Scottish lifestyle blogger based in Glasgow. I came across her Little Blog Of Horrors when I was browsing Glasgow blogs and was immediately impressed by the the fabulous mix of content, how well written it was, and how striking the photographs were. (Actually, to be honest, what first impressed me was how flipping cool she was.)

Ayden’s blog started life as a university project when she was studying at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) where she was encouraged to keep an online journal of her work, experiences and reflections. Once she discovered the fashion, beauty and lifestyle community which existed online, it started to develop into something much more personal and less uni related. Seven years later, she works freelance in the art department for the TV industry and updates her blog regularly.

On the Little Blog of Horrors you can find everything from fashion to makeup, hair and skin care, tattoos (Ayden has some cracking tattoos), and her favourite places to eat, drink and play in Glasgow and beyond. Here she obligingly and honestly answers my rather intrusive questions, introduces me to a poet and an artist that I didn’t know (but probably ought to have), and reveals her slightly unsettling obsession with zombie apocalypse scenarios and her shameless delight in bbq sauce stuffed-crust pizza (who even knew that was a thing?).

1. What was the first music that you ever paid for?

The Spice Girls’ Album, ‘Spice’ in 1994.

2. What was the most recent music that you paid for?

A cheeky wee pre-order of my boyfriend’s band’s latest self-titled album, Alburn.

3. What was the most recent book you read?

A Mindfulness Guide For The Frazzled by Ruby Wax.

4. What is your favourite novel?

The Beach by Alex Garland.

5. Who is your favourite poet? Continue reading “Little Blog of Horrors’ Ayden Millar answers my Proust questionnaire”

Let’s be Frank. Writing critiques: the diplomatic, the honest and the just plain rude

And I remember…the crushing humiliation the first time the faults in a piece of work that I considered to be a masterpiece were gently and tactfully revealed to me in all their over-written and pretentious glory.

Recently I had the enormous privilege of critiquing an early draft of a short story written by a friend. This is the sort of thing I love doing but also one of the things that I find tricky to carry off. At least, the part where I summarise my thoughts.

As a veteran (or perhaps a more suitable term would be ‘recovering addict’) of creative writing courses (Open College of Arts, Open University, Lancaster University) and having been for several years now part of a cohort of writing friends who share work regularly, the task is something with which I’m pretty familiar. I love the process of picking apart the structure, the details, the dialogue in a piece of work. Of scrutinising everything that is written to see if it is essential or if Continue reading “Let’s be Frank. Writing critiques: the diplomatic, the honest and the just plain rude”

Fillide Melandroni: Caravaggio’s crooked-fingered courtesan

A world of poverty, violence and prostitution, where a pimp claimed his profits in cash and in favours, where knife fights and scarring were common, where the girls were both the victims and perpetrators.

Phillida mia, più che i ligustri bianca,

Più vermiglia che ‘l prato a mezzo Aprile

She may have shared a name with a pale-skinned, rosy-cheeked, golden-haired shepherdessly love-interest in Jacopo Sarazzano’s seminal pastoral poem Arcadia —a prose poem considered to be the first literary work of the Renaissance which was wildly popular at the time of its publication and whose influence can be heard in the work of, among others, William Shakespeare, John Milton and Philip Sydney (who wrote a version of his own)—but Caravaggio’s model Fillide Melandroni, at home among the drinking dens and brothels in the medieval heart of sixteenth century Rome, was an altogether more streetwise creature.

Although she was born in Siena, Fillide had been in Rome since she was a youngster. When she was barely in her teens, she was put to work as a prostitute by her mother. The traces of her that can be found in the archives and the court records show that she was frequently in trouble with the authorities, and not simply for prostitution.

By all accounts, Fillide was a girl with attitude. Take the incident in December 1600 when she suspected that the relationship between her pimp, Ranuccio Tommasoni, and another of his ‘girls’, Prudenza Zacchia, was more than simply transactional. Continue reading “Fillide Melandroni: Caravaggio’s crooked-fingered courtesan”