28 September 2008

One ought...

"One ought, everyday at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if possible, speak a few reasonable words."
- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
I try. I really do.

09 September 2008

08 September 2008

Big Brother is watching

And when things are darkest, I look back.

I could never understand why thousands, maybe millions, of people pay good money every summer so they can leave the comfort of home to fight for a couple of square meters of beach or poolside in foreign climes. Once there, they can spend hours basting their bodies with smelly SPF-stupid lotions (to keep away the cancerous lesions) while exposing as much flesh as possible (to avoid unsightly tan lines). When the sun goes down, these same people lubricate their insides with organ numbing concoctions so they can jockey for position on a noisy dance floor with gyrating sweaty strangers who might later agree to share whatever communicable microbes they have managed to collect along the way. And this is called a holiday. For a couple of weeks maybe they can pretend their humdrum lives don’t exist and come away a few hundred pounds lighter in the wallet but fully appreciative of the homes and jobs they thought they had to get away from.

About three years ago I had to give up the day job and, more importantly, the salary that came with it. Holidays (should I ever fall prey to the mystique) are simply unaffordable these days. But even retirement has its moments, and sometimes you just have to get away from it all: away from answering emails, writing blogs, reading a good book and writing that review afterwards; away from remodelling the bathroom, updating your wardrobe, taking a long walk in the countryside; away from having lunch with a friend, painting that masterpiece, completing that novel.

It is at times like this, I can really appreciate a good bout of depression and the accompanying morass of dark feelings that makes me want to crawl into a cave for a week or two. Or thirteen.

Enter Big Brother. Not Big Brother from 1984, the iconic Orwell novel that shaped my philosophy in those tender years, but the tragically compelling reality TV series produced by Channel 4 in connection with Endemol. I am currently finding my way back from the altered state through which I absorbed UK’s ninth summer series, Big Brother 2008 (UK). As part of the weaning process, I will need to write about the experience in the next couple of blogs.

Nothing compels you to read it.

29 June 2008

Bet you can't list just one

Had to jump in on Ken Armstrong's Movie Meme (I love lists almost as much as I love movies). The difficulty is in choosing only one for each category as my film addiction started at age four. My choices are among the first that came to mind, not necessarily the best for a particular category. I've stolen the last two questions from Jim Murdoch's post.

1) List one movie that made you laugh: Clerks

2) List one movie that made you cry:

Everything makes me cry. I cry when I listen to music, when I read books, when I peel onions. I am always getting handed a hanky (and sometimes they are clean). The one that made me cry most recently was Big Fish.

3) Name one movie you loved when you were a child:

Alice in Wonderland was the first film I saw in a theatre and it made a tremendous impression even though it took many more watchings to absorb all the subtext.

4) List one movie you've seen more than once:

I saw Georgy Girl 37 times the year I lived in New York (1966-7). It may have been because they served free coffee and donuts in the lobby. A girl has to eat.

5) One movie you loved, but were (in some company) embarrassed to admit it: Love Actually

This film could slot into a number of these categories. I expect to watch it a few more times.

6) One movie you hated: Caddyshack

This seems to be a 'guy' movie – all my peers at the time just loved it, but I thought it was stupid.

7) List one movie that scared you: The Ox-Bow Incident with Henry Fonda

I was reading the book for school so thought I would watch the film when it came on in the late hours. I was alone in the house and was afraid to go to sleep afterwards.

8) List one movie that bored you: Waterworld

Most of the earth's surface is covered in water. I get that. I don't need to have so many panoramic water views to drive the point home.

9) List one movie that made you happy: Truly, Madly, Deeply

10) List one movie that made you miserable: Dogville

But it was an excellent film. I will watch it again someday.

11) List one movie you thought would be great, but it so wasn’t:
Blue Velvet

12) List one movie you weren't brave enough to see: American Pie


13) List one movie character you've fallen in love with:

Dr. Robert Campbell (Sean Connery) in Medicine Man.

14) Name one pointless remake: The Longest Yard

Why would anyone want to mess with the perfection of the original prison football classic?

15) Name your favourite movie of all time:

Giuseppe Tornatore's Un pure formalité starring Gérard Depardieu and Roman Polanski. I saw the French version with English subtitles and the translation captured all the poetry of the original. Brilliant script, Ennio Morricone score, striking visuals and sound effects - a perfect experience.

Gratuitously Irrelevant Eye Candy:

04 June 2008

Holiday Reading

"Leave the worthy stuff at home and fill your case with the books you have been looking forward to all year," says Mariella Frostrup in this Telegraph article:

The knowledge: how to pick your holiday reading

It is a quick read, so I won't rehash it here, but in keeping with Mariella's advice I decided to give you a few of my own suggestions for takealong tomes. I have added an Amazon search box in the right column for your convenience in locating your own copies, should you find my suggestions inspiring.

Short Story Collections

When you are on a busy holiday, sometimes the shorts are just the thing. No time to invest in heavy character studies or complicated plotlines, but still want that literary fix, then go with single author collections or an anthology if a more varied selection appeals. These are some I recommend or want to read:

The Cusp of Something by Jai Clare
Apologies Forthcoming by Xujun Eberlein
The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
Indiahoma: Stories of Blues and Blessings by A. Ray Norsworthy
Bonfire, an International Conflagration by various authors

Guilty Pleasures
It's your holiday, read what makes you happy. Crime Fiction, Sci-Fi, Historical Novels, Romance. (Did I say Romance? Not for me, but knock yourself out.)
Exit Music by Ian Rankin
Bones to Ashes by Kathy Reichs
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
The Spa Decameron by Fay Weldon
Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson

A Gratifying Reading Experience
When I am travelling, I like to connect with something I can get my teeth into, but that also allows for some level of detachment of my higher brain function. This isn't the time for study or obsession with literary merit. Books like Atonement by Ian McEwan or The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka are for reading at home when there are no other distractions. When I am on holiday, I look for something to get lost in, something to exhilerate me, something to make me sit up and take notice:
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Living with the Truth by Jim Murdoch
Gut Symmetries by Jeanette Winterson

A Little Bit of Madness
OK, I admit I like my books a little weird, hang the reality. I have no problem at all suspending disbelief if I am having a good time. These are some of my faves:
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates by Tom Robbins
Vaudeville! by Gaetan Soucy and Sheila Fischman (tr)
Boating for Beginners by Jeanette Winterson

Enjoy your holidays, enjoy reading, enjoy life!

15 May 2008

Fandango Virtual Press Release

GLASGOW, UK / 15 May 2008 – Jim Murdoch’s Living with the Truth Has Been Published by Fandango Virtual, an Independent Scottish Publisher

Fandango Virtual today announced the release of Jim Murdoch’s Living with the Truth, a cross-genre novel which portrays a worn-out bookseller's two-day encounter with the personification of truth. The author creates two vivid characters who play off each other like a pair of music hall comedians.

Jonathan Payne, a fiftyish bookseller, is sitting in his flat in the seaside town of Rigby when he hears the door. He would be quite content if it was the angel of death but instead he gets to spend two days in the company of the personification of truth. Truth takes Jonathan on a spiritual, intellectual and emotional journey through his life, past and present, providing him with many of the answers he might have sought, if he was the kind of person who went looking for answers, and a few of the answers he would never have wanted to know.

Living with the Truth – ISBN 978-0955063619, May 2008, £7.99, Publisher Fandango Virtual.

About Jim Murdoch

Murdoch is a native of Glasgow and brings the city into many of his works. He has written for most media including two plays, a collection of short stories, a large body of poetry and four novels, of which Living with the Truth is the first to be published by Fandango Virtual. Its sequel, Stranger than Fiction, will be released at the end of the year.

About Fandango Virtual

Since 1995 Fandango Virtual has provided quality poetry and fiction to international readers through several ezines and literary magazines, including Gator Springs Gazette and Bonfire.

Contact information

Publisher’s website: www.fvbooks.com
Publisher’s e-mail: fvbooks@ntlworld.com
Author’s website: www.jimmurdoch.co.uk

11 May 2008

My Totie Wee Press

When I was ten, I came into possession of a funny little tin typewriter with lithographed keys. The type wheel had to be rotated into position then pushed down with considerable force to print each letter on the page. I took it to school and started a newspaper with a couple of my friends. We took turns typing, but soon realised that it was going to be far too labour intensive to be practical. The process was awkward but we eventually managed to create a single page with a few manufactured news items sure to titillate the imaginations of our literate classmates. We laboriously reproduced the original by hand in pencil and sold the copies for a penny a piece. With the profits we purchased a pack of gum from the local sweet shack, Tiger’s Den.

At that time, I was more interested in the process and the collective energy than the need to communicate any particular ideas. The gum was an added bonus. It was forty years before I felt the need to publish again, but I never forgot the importance of that shared experience. Each of the various Fandango publishing endeavours had its own appeal, but my favourite has always been Gator Springs Gazette, during the years when production was a communal effort.

I hoped that I would be able to parlay the Gazette into something that would not only reach a broader audience, but would also provide some income for the contributors. Bonfire was an attempt to unify publishing efforts in an easier to manage and slightly more elegant package. All efforts to do so met with obstacles. Money didn’t flow freely, but the real difficulty was in trying to find an appropriate distribution channel. It’s like the old conundrum of only qualifying for a loan if you don’t need the money. I suppose I was a bit naïve in thinking I could balls my way through on my own steam, but while the press was not in a position to get universal exposure, it was getting recognised in some circles as a unique voice and a few really good writers were gaining some well-deserved exposure. I never had a chance to find out how far it might go: personal illness compelled me to give up the day job (my biggest financial resource) and all the work I was doing on Bonfire, Gator Springs Gazette and the planned first Fandango novel. It was a major disappointment to have to abandon all of this work. Additionally, manifestations of the illness made it difficult for me to write and even to read anyone else’s work. This was devastating for me.

I am still not well, but I am able to read, edit and even to write a little again. It is important to keep the light going, but I don’t want to burn myself out. For this reason, Fandango will concentrate on celebrating creativity one work at a time.

Visit Fandango Virtual

23 April 2008

Poet as Potter

Here it is almost the end of National Poetry Month. I have enjoyed reading the extra bits and bobs of poetry posted in the blogs and forums I frequent. I even had a good dig through some of my old work. Quite a revealing experience, and no, we don’t really want to go there. While rummaging, I found something I wrote for the ancient online version of Bonfire on the subject of publishing poetry on the web. Most of it was mind numbing, but some of it was salvageable. In keeping with the present eco-ethos, I will share it with you now:

I am drawn to commentary by artists of all sorts who talk about why they do the things they do. One point is invariably made: we write (paint, sculpt, photograph, etc.) because we have no choice to do otherwise. We are compelled to express or create or try that thing which our instincts have chosen for us. But how important is it that someone else will ever appreciate the fruits of that inspiration? Like the rest, I write because I must. But when someone else reads what I have written, and drops me a line or two about how they are touched, it is given another dimension.

I wrote this verse to explain what writing poetry means to me:


sometimes I need to make a pot
sometimes I want to play
sometimes I long to wallow
in the wetness of the clay

sometimes I want to watch the wheel
and listen to it sing
or contemplate in silence
why I ever bought the thing

I wonder in amazement
when I wander off in thought
not knowing whether I'll return
as potter or as pot

Carrie Berry
© 1997
There are degrees of skill in poetry as well as pottery. Maybe it's enough to get your hands covered with clay, and see the crude lump turn into something vaguely resembling a vessel. Until one day someone comes along and says, "Hey, you really have something there. Have you thought about selling your work?" You might pull together a few of your pieces and sit in the sun at the next wine and art festival or, if you are clever, talk a local shopkeeper into displaying a couple of your pots on his shelves. If you are possessed of genius, your work might attract the attention of an art critic along the way, or you might win a competition if you can only find out where to apply. But the process is pretty random, and public tastes aren't ready for your style. They can get glitzier looking imported stuff from chain boutiques for only a few quid.

What is the market for poetry? A few of my friends have complained that poets these days are only writing for other poets. I am not sure that is such a bad thing. Poetry has been important since I was a child, but I have read a lot more of it since I started writing my own. The earlier authors may have been better known but, with a few exceptions, I have been touched more by the unknown authors that have crossed my path. Something about the personal writing process made me appreciate how well the successful poets were doing it. I couldn't get enough. I was disappointed in the two foot long poetry sections in my local bookstores, and started pawing through piles of discarded books at flea markets. I found a second-hand book seller who, noticing my tastes, would watch for poetry volumes, selling them to me for no more than fifty cents a piece. I could tell within a minute or two whether I was going to like the collection, and rarely came home from his stall without three or four volumes to read.

The literary magazines I picked up in the larger bookstores were disappointing. In most cases, I couldn't justify spending the three or four dollars asked. There were collections of the more well known poets, but new books are so expensive. I didn't need to own them - I just wanted the opportunity to read the poems. The library was full of older stuff, but there was nothing published after the seventies.

In the course of searching for good new poetry to read, I discovered the internet. Now talk about stuff not worth reading: the web is full of it! But on the other hand, access is easy, and resources abound to point you in a direction, if not necessarily the right one. But it is a path into which you can take the first step. It doesn't take long to glance at a poem or two on a site and get a feel for the tastes of an editor, or the lack of same.

For a while I even edited my own poetry zine: iguanaland: the hottest poetry rag south of the virtual border. I received hundreds of submissions for publication that I felt the need to reject. Better than 50% of the poems I actually published were ones that I recruited from other sources, including the poetry workshop portion of my old site. The only important criterion for inclusion was that the poem had to sing to ME. I received only a few letters from people who wrote to say they loved the mag. I finally reached a point where the time spent in keeping it up didn't justify the satisfaction I received from it.

I am surfing and reading a bit more these days now that I am retired. And I am beginning to feel more like being read. Whether I will do anything about it is anybody's guess.

Those of you who write poetry and want to be read can find a multitude of places that will accept your work. Look for a venue that seems to be selective and features work that sings to you. In spite of your frustration with being told that your work is not right for a particular zine, take all criticism in the spirit in which it is offered. Be especially grateful if an editor takes the time to tell you what seems to be lacking. Even if he or she is "wrong" you can learn something. Don't try to see how many places will take your work. I would rather have my work published in one or two zines whose standards reflect my own, than to have my name splattered all over the web in forums that advertise, "send us your poems - we will print anything."

At some point I hope to give you a list of my favourite spots.

14 April 2008

Every Burning Thing

What better way to celebrate America’s National Poetry month than to read the work of contemporary American poet, Beverly A. Jackson.

I just received my copy of her new chapbook, Every Burning Thing, and I want to show it off. I have always been a fan of the chapbook as a way to sample poetry – just the right size and not too many poems to be overwhelming. This one is beautifully presented with one of her art works on the cover and 24 poems deliciously sandwiched between black endpapers.

I’ll share one poem with you as a taster, but you must add this chapbook to your collection if you haven’t already.

Inscription on Tombstone:
"Angelina Weaver,
Beloved Wife of Chas. S. Boehmer,
Died Oct. 19, 1907
She Did What She Could"

She Did What She Could

In blackest night,
dragged by the hair
along rocky ruts,
marauders take her.
The slice between her legs
distinguishes her from those
who swing their bloody clubs
in her and out. Outside the cave
the giant lizards hear her wails
as she gives birth in fetid air
on hands and knees.

Think of her leap
to creamy skin, hoops
of needlework; shy, blushing
glance with sonnets on her pen.
Once weathered hide now soft
in lace, a grosgrain bow, so meekly
in her lady place. O be thou gentle,
maiden fair. And still, -- be still!
While men-folk stir the air
with wisdom, and the smoke
of fine cigars.

The children flow like milk,
like cream from lactic teats
on any cow. The woman does
what she does best, the men
proclaim. And what's this leap?
She wants the vote?
She wants to talk? She wants
to travel to the moon?

She wants to bludgeon animals
and men with axes in her dreams,
the heads of lizard husbands on
her spear. Alas, her dreams are
not as real as children's cries
and death's quick knock.
This woman - and that -
does what she can.

"She did what she could,"
Charles Boehmer says
to the assembled mourners.
They cluck and sigh. Then
young Elizabeth Morton
curtsies and snags
his reptilian eye.
This one touches me deeply, but my favourite in the collection is “Fish Tale” – buy the book and see why it made me smile. You may also smile when you realize that the proceeds will help fund a trip to see her WWII-hero father's grave in France. Read more about this on Bev’s blog, Action Jackson: The Big Bitch

Purchase Every Burning Thing by Beverly A. Jackson by sending

$11 to Paypal at litpot@veryfast.biz
or by check to:
Beverly Jackson, 102 Adams Hill Road, Asheville, NC 28806

13 March 2008

The Cusp of Something hits Cornwall

Cold winds are not the only powerful force to hit Cornwall:

Elastic Press announces the Cornwall launch
of Jai Clare’s new collection of short stories,

The Cusp of Something

Jai Clare’s stories are filled with the disaffected, those who kick against their everyday lives, who crave the mystic when seeking their spirituality, and who are desperate to be alone as much as they are desperate to be with someone. Whether in North Africa, Greece, or Britain, her characters’ concerns remain the same. To find meaning in the universal and the personal, through transient sex or emotional depth. All told with a fluid intensity of prose that cuts to the heart of them, lays them bare to misfortune and fortune, and stands them waiting on the brink of discovery.

“Jai Clare is a courageously inventive writer whose short pieces are clever, ambitious, delightful and always surprising.” – Jim Crace, author of The Pesthouse

“Jai Clare has understood the secret of the short story: lyricism, brevity, consequentiality. She brings to her writing an easy and deep-reaching grasp of character and a lovely open eroticism. She is a serious writer whom we are lucky to have.” – Sebastian Barker, editor of London Magazine

When: 7 pm on Thursday, 20 March
Where: Waterstone’s Bookshop
11 – 12 Boscawen Street, Truro
Cost: £2, includes wine and light bites

Please book in advance on 01872 225765

Weaving Dreams

What a wonderful surprise to find a comment from one of my dearest friends currently riding high as DreamWoven. I will always be grateful to the artist formerly known as Rachelsent for introducing me to my husband nearly twelve years ago. No surprise at all to see that she is still weaving poetic with yarns and fabrics instead of words.

Her work, such as the recently sold creation above, is art of the highest order, but you don't have to embrace haute couture to revel in woven dreams. DreamWoven has created a wide range of funky and wonderful wearable art for the person who wants to make a unique statement. Check out DreamWoven's Etsy Shop.

10 March 2008

I'm back!

I can't believe how hard it was to reclaim this account from the Google gods, but here I am - there is no stopping me, now.