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)”

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”

Crowdfunding your novel: 3 campaign tips and 5 ways (not) to cope with the stress

I have a good line in quackery and jargon that may assuage many of the problems you are presently encountering

Dear Doctor Taylor,

For the last six months, I have been crowdfunding my novel The Backstreets of Purgatory with Unbound. Although I am making good progress, certain things are beginning to concern me. Recently I have noticed that when I start a conversation, my partner’s eyes glaze and he stares wistfully over my shoulder as if he is reminiscing about a time when our conversations sparked with such intellectual firecrackers as whether it is acceptable to add milk while the tea bag is still in the mug, or whether Cheddar or Gruyère makes better cheese on toast.

Tea bag in a mug of milky tea
Milk before the teabag is out? Unacceptable, surely.

Worryingly, whenever we are out and about and I open my bag to rummage through it, he flinches and distances himself from me as if I’m about to batter him with a baseball bat, which is frankly ridiculous because Continue reading “Crowdfunding your novel: 3 campaign tips and 5 ways (not) to cope with the stress”

Frisson

those small moments of everyday ecstasy

Frisson. A ladybird walks over the back of your hand. A chickadee feeds straight from your palm. A deer brushes by close enough for you to feel its breath on your skin. You’re filled with a rush of joy (if you are a ladybird, finch, deer loving kind of person, that is) and something akin to love, and the whole thing tickles slightly, and you want to laugh from the unexpected wonder of it but you know that if you do, the moment be spoiled, so you hold your breath and watch in fearful anticipation and hope that it lasts. Someone is running a feather over your heart and you don’t know whether to smile because it feels good or squirm because it is distinctly unsettling.

A chickadee feeds from my palm
Don’t breathe, don’t laugh

Frisson. That’s how I think of it anyway. That feeling you get from a piece of music that thrills you, from a poem that resonates perfectly, from a work of art that leaves you speechless.

Recently, I read a couple of articles on exactly this subject and it got me thinking about the physical and emotional responses that we have to art in its various forms. Andrew Scull’s article in the Times Literary Supplement gently mocked the idea of the enlightened connoisseur being overwhelmed by the sublime, their extreme sensitivity a measure of their delicacy of taste, of their elevated cultural discernment. A sensitivity not dissimilar to religious exaltation and taken to an extreme in Stendhal’s Syndrome.

Panoramic view of Florence
Florence: Frescoes and Fainting for the Oversensitive? Photo by Ghost of Kuji

But my measure of frisson is on a less dramatic scale. I’m not talking about fainting attacks in front of Florentine frescos or falling to your knees before a breathtaking view of an unfamiliar dramatic landscape as experienced by 18th century enlightened tourists on their grand tours (landscapes, incidentally, unappreciated by the vulgar and loutish peasants who are too busy actually having to work the land to contemplate the scenery). I’m talking about those small moments of everyday ecstasy. The intro to Space Oddity. The tension of unsaid words Continue reading “Frisson”