Monthly Archives: September 2010

Tony Blair and The Third Pig Detective Agency…

…are just two of the features in the latest edition of  Words with Jam


Go to to see the latest edition of this fantastic FREE e-zine about writers and writing.

“As well as Tony Blair On Himself, cover author, Bob Burke, talks about his path to publication; David Robinson explores the advantages of e-book as a medium for your work; we are pleased to have been asked once again to feature the results for the second quarter of Flash 500, and there’s an article on How Not to Lose Friends and Alienate People. 
Not to be missed, Catriona Troth has some tips on getting the most from your library card. There’s more satirical letters in Dear Ed. Manager of the Canterbury branch of Waterstones tells us why bookshops WILL survive. And Anne Stormont comes back with part two of Just Do It.
Gillian Hamer explores the phenomenon that is Stieg Larsson; Danny Gillan gives us a piece on The Right to Write as well as another Comp Corner challenge to stretch us; and Michelle Romaine explains Microsoft Word’s Track Changes with a quick How To guide. 
Oh, and Perry finally reveals what happened to his cat …”

Into The Desert Exhibition – preview

Eight Cuts  – those of you who’ve been paying attention will know exactly what this is – is about to have its first gallery exhibition. See for a full list of, and links to, exhibitors. The exhibition runs from October 1st until November 30th.

In this post I present my personal pick of the previews. As always Eight Cuts takes the word ‘eclectic’ pummels it, kneads it, stretches it to its limits and shapes it and bakes it into a damn fine, tasty mix.

Here’s my sample:

  • Stacy Ericson’s ‘Images without Borders’ showcases and sells photos with all profits going to the charity Doctors without Borders. Many arresting and thought-provoking pictures.
  • Penny Goring’s ‘Bone Dust Disco’ is disturbing, poignant, cheeky and laugh out loud funny.
  • Natasha Guy’s poetry includes the hymn to love – ‘Steady Lover’ – a read it and weep.
  • Andy Harrod’s ‘Decoding Static’ blog is a rich and delicious blend. There’s music and books and plenty of his own writing and reflections. His ‘Love Letters to the Mind’ parts 1 & 2 are achingly sad. His novel ‘Deception’ – a work in progress – is a psychological study of responsibility and choice.
  • Quenntis Ashby – WOW! Gorgeous poetry. From the poem ‘Wake Up’“Tune into you and switch off your berries and pods and eat them instead as you unfreeze time and the images imprisoning the spirits of artists such as yourself.” Then there’s the amusing and clever ‘Mr Grape’ and the gut-grabbing ‘Suicide’.
  • Grace Andreacchi’s website is a thing of beauty and her poems for children are superb. But that’s not all. there are plays, fiction, non-fiction. One example of her wonderful writing that I particularly enjoyed was ‘The First Stone’  – a clever retelling of the ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone’  bible story.
  • Allyson Armistead’s – inspirational blog on writing. Great honesty, humanity and support on offer here for writers as well as an interesting reading log.

So spend a little time at the gallery over at Eight Cuts and see the above – and more – for yourself.


MUT@TUS – sexy, funny,thoughtful read…

I’ve blogged about the Eight Cuts site before   and it’s best described in the words of its creator, Dan Holloway, as ‘a space to bring writers to readers and readers to writers in the most exciting way possible’.

‘MUT @ TUS’  by Joan Barbara Simon is one of the nominees for the 2010 Eight Cuts Gallery literary prize. I’ve just finished reading it. And – Wow!

The title suggested that the book would explore mutability and mutuality. The cover impressed and the unusual layout grabbed the attention. The content lived up both to the promise of the title and to the book’s good looks.

In this novel, modern ‘lady of letters’, Gini Mendes, engages in an epic of self-exploration, with particular attention to her sexuality. Her twenty-first century epistles are emails – sent and received by her – and through them she comes (no pun intended – well, okay then, it was meant) to fully know and express her needs.

The correspondence begins when Gini emails Maurice, an artist, from whom she has bought a painting. She has never met him but she wants him to know how much she likes and appreciates the work. Something clicks (yes, more punning) between the pair and many more emails are exchanged. They embark on a virtual affair played out via their increasingly intimate and passionate exchanges.

Even after the affair ends, Gini continues to interact in a similar way with others that she encounters online.

Throughout, Gini speculates and theorises on life in general and on her own life in particular. She considers the nature of subjectivity versus objectivity. She looks at the effects of instinct, sensory perception and intuition on cognition and how all of these interact to give humans their sense of self. She also examines the confines and downsides of the concept of time.

Big themes, yes – BUT- the novel is no literary bore. It’s exuberant, raunchy, erotic, funny and wonderfully honest. Like the painting that sparks the whole thing off, the book is vivid and arresting – from the start to the stunning and joyful ending.

Approach with an open mind and be prepared to be entertained. This is that great thing – a life affirming book. click link to go to amazon and buy the book

International Literacy Day

UNESCO International Literacy Day

Image via Wikipedia

I suppose it sounds a bit of a grand and pompous claim, but I think I’m justified in saying I’ve devoted my working life to helping children become literate. After all I am in my thirty third year of being a primary school teacher.  Ten years ago I did a Masters degree in education and my thesis was on the topic of literacy. And for the last few years I’ve been a teacher of children with special needs such as dyslexia. Added to that I’m also a writer – and writers need readers.  So all in all literacy is a bit of an obsession of mine.

Today was International Literacy Day – hence my even higher than normal level of interest. Being literate is something most people take for granted. But across the world there still remain many barriers to people’s acquisition of literacy.

As part of my Masters degree I studied the role of education in sustainable development and through that I got the chance to go and teach in some township schools in Cape Town.

  There were classes of 60 or more children with few, or sometimes, no books. But the children were incredibly eager to learn. When I got home to Scotland I contacted my employer, The City of Edinburgh Council, and they agreed to send out the Edinburgh Literacy programme with all its resources and reading books to the schools I’d worked in. I hope my time there and my employer’s support may have, at least in a small way, improved some lives.

But there’s still so much to be done. ‘Knowledge is power’ according to the saying. And it is literacy that gives access to much of our knowledge. Check out UNESCO UK’s website   There you can read (amongst other things) about projects in the developing world to empower women through literacy. In the words of Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, ‘When a woman is literate she can make choices to dramatically change her life for the better.’ And presumably the lives of her children will be improved too. See also the website of  Room to Read This wonderful organisation does much to create and distribute books to children in the developing world. 

On the same website there is information about the forthcoming Knowledge and Innovations Network for Literacy where literacy researchers and practitioners can share knowledge and debate literacy topics.

Education and communication in our globally networked world depend more than ever on the ability to read and type. But literacy is not yet a universal right. So, even if you just read your kids a bedtime story, do your bit to extend that right.

Eight Cuts – a gallery but not as we know it…

The thinker...walking @ Vecāķi beach, Riga

Image by Grozz via Flickr

eight cuts ‘exists to champion extraordinary literature from people you may never have been given the chance to encounter, be it a single poem, a performance or a body of novels’.

Those of you who know me would probably describe me as fifty-something wife, mother, teacher and writer. I don’t suppose you’d see me as a radical thinker who pushes at convention but I hope you do see my subversive streak – at least occasionally.

 I fear complacency, believe passionately in freedom of speech, hate even a hint of being patronised and like being shocked by the new – heck I even like the Scottish parliament building. If you share these tendencies then I urge you to visit without delay – or rather –  immediately after you’ve read the remainder of this post.

If you care about reading, writing, access to the arts and freedom in all things creative then you must read the eight cuts blog – also hosted by the wonderful platform that is wordpress.

I was alerted to the existence of the amazingness that is eight cuts by Jane Dixon-Smith, my editor at Words with Jam – the bi-monthly FREE e-zine for writers, to which I contribute.

The eight cuts concept is radical, original and refreshing. It’s almost too big to describe and do it justice. In the words of its creator, Dan Holloway, ‘it’s a space to bring writers to readers and readers to writers in the most exciting way possible’. As to what it’s not – again in Holloway’s words –‘ it’s not a group, collective or publisher’.

Your best way in would be to read the manifesto on the eight cuts blog. BUT I must warn you to make sure you’re home alone when you do so as your shouts of Yes! Oh Yes!! Ohhh Yes !!! will otherwise get you some strange looks.

The space is a doorway to an artistic world that other gatekeepers such as commercial publishers don’t allow access to. Going through the doorway is to set off on a magical tour.

This is a gallery of wonderful works to explore. The latest venture is the gallery press which is about to release two first editions – ‘Charcoal’ by Oli Johns and ‘Deadbeat’ by Cody James. I plan to review at least one of them in a future post. I’ve already read the first chapter of the Johns book and I’m totally hooked by its originality of voice and content.

And most exciting and radical of all is the Christopher Al-Aswad prize – an award sponsored and organised by the site. See the details at This award is to honour ‘the person, organisation, website, community, whatever that has done most to promote brilliance, diversity, and the breaking down of barriers in literature over the preceding twelve months’. It is done ‘in the name of christopher al-aswad, one of the most brilliant, farsighted, innovative, generous, and supportive people in the arts. christopher, the genius behind escape into life, one of the most wonderful places in cyberspace, died in july 2010 at the age of just 31’.

I also plan to do  a piece on the recipient of the award after the announcement on October 1st. But I get the feeling that all the nominees will benefit just by being nominated.

And if you facebook, blog or tweet please consider publicising this wonderful, courageous and above all optimistic venture.

Trophy, birthday cake and good craic!


Birthday girl with writing trophy


It’s a 580 mile round trip from Skye to Edinburgh so we wouldn’t normally go just for the weekend. The narrow, winding, Highland roads and the bad joke that is the A9 make it a demanding drive at the best of times – but at the end of a tiring week at work it’s a daunting prospect. 

However, just after four p.m. last Friday the husband and I set off for a weekend in the capital. A couple of hours into the journey, we stopped at the Little Chef at Spean Bridge for something to eat. Fortified by tasty and filling fare –  hunter’s chicken (husband) and steak pie (me) – and two good cups of tea each we were on our way south again before seven o’clock. 

By nine thirty we were sitting in our son’s flat catching up with his and his girlfriend’s news.

Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh in Scotland, Great ...

Image via Wikipedia


The weekend was all about Saturday. I had quite a day. It was my birthday so it began with opening cards and presents. Then I had the optician and the hairdresser to get to before I could go to the first main event of the day.  By eleven thirty a.m. I was in a taxi – a few hundred pounds poorer having ordered new specs – and sporting a flattering new hairstyle – on my way to Edinburgh’s south side for a special lunch.

The Edinburgh Writers’ Club lunch for country members – i.e. members who live too far away from Edinburgh to attend the fortnightly meetings – is laid on every August by members of the committee. It takes place in the home of one of the committee members – this year it was at Angela’s. I’ve never managed to attend before but at the beginning of this year I resolved to make the effort to go. And I’m SO glad I did. 

The committee had laid on a beautiful buffet and it was such a lovely, sunny day that the party spilled out into the garden. It was good to meet up with Elaine, Kate, Anne and Sheila again (to name but a few). It was so nice to talk writing with other dedicated scribblers, to pick up tips and to share the joys and frustrations of our craft. 

the quaich

I was also presented with a book token and the Alanna Knight trophy for winning this year’s Writing for Children competition. The trophy is a pretty, little, silver quaich (a traditional Scottish communal drinking cup) and I’m so proud to have won it. Several of the lunch guests told me how well the judge, children’s writer, Lari Don, read out my wee story and how much she said she’d enjoyed it. I wish I could have been present on adjudication night – but this was absolutely the next best thing! 

Candles spell out the traditional English birt...

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And so having enjoyed such warm hospitality and stimulating, writerly chat I made my way back to son’s flat. There I was greeted by the husband who produced a surprise birthday cake. So in spite of the lunch I’d just tucked into, I had to have coffee and cake. This was then trumped by son’s girlfriend who’d made that most delectable and sweet Scottish confection – tablet – for the first time and had put some into a little birthday bag, complete with pink ribbon and tag, as part of my pressie from her and the boy. I had to save the sampling of this for later. 

To round of a wonderful day, me, the husband, son and girlfriend, daughter and boyfriend  went across the street to ‘Dino’s Diner’ – the local bar-restaurant –  and were joined there by more friends and family for a most relaxed evening of good food, drink and great craic. 

Scottish Tablet

Image by ckaiserca via Flickr


What a fab birthday! 

Sunday was an early start for the long drive home. By the time we got back to Skye, I was ready for a weekend to recover from the one I’d just had. All in all it was exhausting – but so worth it. And the verdict on the tablet – scrumptious!

The Skye Bridge that links Kyle of Lochalsh to...

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