Memory Maps

English: The North Cuillin ridge from Portree.
English: The North Cuillin ridge from Portree. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is such a neat idea. I read about the concept of the memory map in our local weekly newspaper, the ‘West Highland Free Press’, last week.

West Highland Free Press logo
West Highland Free Press logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have never heard of anything like it before. I’m so taken with the idea that I wanted to share it with you and then I thought I’d give it a try – but using only words rather than words and drawing.

So what is a memory map? It’s a work of art primarily, but it can also be used to find your way around a place. Artist J Maizlish Mole recently produced one for Portree, the town where I live. To produce such a map, Mole spends time walking around a place such as a village or town. He’ll do it for hours and on several occasions. He’ll speak to locals and respond to landmarks and the landscape at a personal level. Then from memory he produces a, to scale, personally annotated map of his walks.  For example on the harbour section of the map of Portree, he has the note ‘helluva place for oil tanks’.

Portree
Portree (Photo credit: stevecadman)

Beside the main road into the town from the south he has noted at one point ‘many rabbits’. Other labels include, ‘extreme danger of sudden and violent death’ this is beside the cliffs; ‘grassy knoll’, scrubby knoll,’ huge supermarket,’ ‘graveyard spend eternity,’  ‘ghost trail’, ‘marvellous walk’, ‘scrubby clearing’, ‘boats to Raasay, Rona and round the bay’.

Skye coast
Skye coast (Photo credit: Paul Albertella)

Initially Mole had done only the map of Portree, Skye’s main town. But then Atlas Arts and Portree Area Community Trust commissioned another map – this time of the whole of Skye and its neighbouring island of Raasay. The maps will be displayed in the centre of Portree as public art – and print copies will be available from April. They will be Mole’s personal response to the experience of driving and walking round the islands. Emma Nicolson, director of Atlas Arts, was quoted in the West Highland free Press as saying that what Mole has created is a ‘love song to Skye’.

By coincidence, while I was out walking last Saturday, my mind wandered back nearly fifty years to my childhood street. As I walked I made a metal map of the area where I played, got shopping for my mum – or ‘got the messages’ as it was described in the local vernacular, and rode my bike.

Tenement in Marchmont, Edinburgh built in 1882.
Tenement in Marchmont, Edinburgh built in 1882. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I grew up in a typical Edinburgh tenement flat. There was me and my five wee sisters. It was a two bedroomed flat.  So we were outside a lot. There was no garden – but instead there was the drying green – where all the residents shared clothes drying space. Strictly speaking children weren’t allowed to play there. But of course we did. There were the ‘peever stones’ – that is a slabbed path where we played hopscotch. There was the ‘big wall’ which looked down to the ‘deep garden’ and from where, if you were brave enough to sit on top, you could see into Armstrong’s (the butcher) back shop and take in the gruesome sight of animal carcasses hanging on hooks. Then there was ‘over-the-wall’. This was a lower boundary wall that separated the drying green from the gardens at the back of the big Victorian houses in the next street. We would hop over ‘over-the-wall’ and play with the friendly – but definitely posher – private school kids.

English: Angel sculpture, Morningside Cemetery
English: Angel sculpture, Morningside Cemetery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Out front was a busy street. Across the road was the local cemetery. Or ‘hide- and- seek land’. Its gates were directly opposite our front door and we were small enough to slip through the bars. We knew all the paths, headstones and statues and it was the perfect place for hiding. Up from the cemetery was the swing park which contained ‘the tree where John fell and broke his arm’ and the ‘swing which hit wee Lizzie on the head’. On the route from park to home was the spot where ‘the collie dog bit me as I cycled past’.

On the same side of the street as our flat were – ‘the ivy wall’, the newsagent, from where I did my paper round, Armstrong the butcher’s and the mysterious Masonic hall. Down from there was the cobbler’s – this was the ‘place I cleared my throat loudly to get the attention of the cobbler when I went to collect my dad’s shoes and he couldn’t see me over the high counter because I was so wee’. And then it was the hairdresser – where I had my first hairdo for the primary school ‘qualie’ (leavers) dance. On the corner was the bakers shop and across from that the grocer and greengrocer, the sweetshop – ‘the place whose existence means I have a mouth full of fillings’ – and ‘where the dead people go’  i.e.the undertaker.

Edinburgh City Hospital, Feb 1996
Edinburgh City Hospital, Feb 1996 (Photo credit: alljengi)

At the top of the street was the lunatic asylum – yes it was still called that in the sixties – and this was the only forbidden territory where we actually respected our parents instructions and never ventured near. And close by to there was the city’s fever hospital – which I would label on my memory map as the ‘place where my wee sister nearly died of bronchitis and where me and my granny sat outside on a bench while my parents kept vigil at the bedside’.

One day I might try to draw all that childhood street stuff out on a map. Maybe it’s something you could try and/or blog about. What would be the labels on your memory map? And where would be its location in time and space?

 

Atlas Arts exists to facilitate innovative arts projects in Skye and Lochalsh. It offers a platform for projects that are not fixed by or to a gallery.

Portree Area Community Trust aims to stimulate the economic, cultural and environmental regeneration of the Portree area in response to community-identified priorities.

I’m indebted to the report in February 1st 2013 edition of the West Highland Free Press for the information provided there that I have used in this post.

Shocking, funny and oh, so clever!

Eight Cuts Gallery Prize – Thomas Stolperer wins

As well as the Al-Aswad prize, Eight Cuts http://eightcuts.wordpress.com  also announced its Gallery Prize winner on the first of October. This award was open to EVERYTHING and in setting it up, Dan Holloway gave himself an almost impossible task when it came to deciding on the winner – as he said himself, it was like comparing apples and oranges. So do visit the site and see not just the winning entry, but also the others on the shortlist. I’ve already blogged about one of them – ‘ MUT@TUS’, the book by Joan Barbara Simon and I intend to blog about another of the shortlisters – Pereine Press –  at a later date.

But this post is about the winner – namely Thomas Stolperer’s blog http://stolperer.blogspot.com

Don’t visit the blog if you’re offended by ‘bad’ language, sexual references or are in any way up yourself.

Do visit if you want to be entertained, made to think, shocked out of complacency and don’t mind making an effort.

It’s an effort that will be awarded. Okay you might not get it at first – but like any ‘good’ art it repays revisiting and a willingness to be open and actively engaged. You may have to attune your reading brain to the long, no pausing for breath sentence (or lack of) structure – but don’t be put off.

Thomas Stolperer is an artist and a writer. His line drawings appear (deceptively) simple – almost childlike – they’re anything but. The art and the writing work together – you really couldn’t have one without the other – and boy, do they work!

The blog is shocking, clever, arch, cynical, subversive and FUNNY.

Just three examples:

The August 11th post – ‘Woman Looking in Mirror in Hotel’ –  a wry smile of self-recognition was my main reaction. We all do it – well me and her do – justify our existence, keep busy-busy and avoid thinking about the real, the shameful and the insecure, terrifying aspects of being human.

The August 23rd post – ‘Sneak Peek – Titles of Drawings of the Anthony Bourdain Finnish Project’ NOT for the prudish – but worth leaving your sensitivities to one side and retrieving them after reading.

The August 12th post – my favourite – ‘Small Slidable Plastic Tiles’. Apart from wanting one of these ‘nostalgic toy/game’ things custom-made with images of people in my own industry, this is just SO CLEVER and SO FUNNY. It’s a knowing, mocking – largely self-mocking – piece on the artist’s craving for recognition.

He’s not got the write up in Artforum that he claims to crave, but Thomas Stolperer is definitely a worthy and deserving winner of the above award.

Congratulations and Slàinte Mhath to him.

Go on take your own sneak peek…

‘The Dead Beat’ – Drums Out A Message of Life

‘The Dead Beat’ by Cody James is due to be published on November 1st 2010 by Eight Cuts Press. It is one of the first two books that the press is publishing. The other one being ‘Charcoal’ by Oli Johns – previously reviewed here.

I must admit to not liking the book at first.

Komeet Hale-Bopp; eigen foto
Image via Wikipedia

 

 It wasn’t the subject matter – Adam, the main character gives a first person recollection of his drug addicted life in San Francisco in 1997 – the year the Hale-Bopp comet appeared in our sky. He shared a house with three other addicts. Their lives are described in grim detail – shooting up, STDs, cold turkey and loveless, violent sex. All are powerful ingredients with the potential for a cracking (no pun intended) tale. I worked for many years with families whose lives were blighted by heroin, prostitution and HIV, so I wasn’t shocked by the details in the tales of the lives of drug addicts.

Neither was I shocked by the ‘bad’ language – I don’t believe in the concept – words are words – but if you overuse the ‘f’ word,  it loses its effect and it just becomes a verbal tic.

 However, I was irritated by the characters. I wanted to tell the main character to grow up and the three supporting characters seemed 2D and stereotypical. I was annoyed by the plethora of adverbs – especially the ones attached to almost every dialogue tag – the frantic signalling of emotions, the repetition, the use of upper case lettering. There was an awful lot of telling – lecturing almost – a feeling that the reader was being told some home truths.

 I didn’t think I’d be able to finish it. I put it away at the bottom of the pile.

The Dali Atomicus, photo by Philippe Halsman (...
Image via Wikipedia

But something about it nagged at me. I had the feeling I was missing something, that if I didn’t get it, it was maybe because I wasn’t trying hard enough. It reminded me of when I first saw the paintings of Salvador Dali way back in the 1970s, when I was a student. I hated them – my reaction was physical – I found them nauseating. Pictures like the one on the right really shook me up and scared me. But I was also fascinated by them and so went back to take another look and now consider them utterly incredible and beautiful. The slim little volume at the bottom of the reading heap seemed to exert a similar hold. It kept beckoning – so I went back to it.

And something strange happened when I started again. It was like I found the key – or maybe I just stopped being thick and prejudiced.

I believe Cody James knew exactly what she was doing when she bravely and brilliantly tore up the writing manual of received wisdom on what makes good literature. How else could she convey this counter-culture? How else could she draw these inarticulate, powerless individuals?

 Of course her characters are stereotypes, of course they talk in over-dramatic, hyper prose, of course they over-react and telegraph their every emotion. Of course their lives are passive, bleak and pointless. They’re JUNKIES – overgrown, overblown, self-obsessed adolescents – exhausted no-hopers – deadbeats. But Cody makes you care about them – see them in a ‘there but for the grace of fortune go I or my kids’ kind of light.

The comet doesn’t prove to be either omen or harbinger. As a symbol of change for Adam and his housemates, it’s as empty as their lives. But as a symbol of their lives it’s powerful – travelling in the dark a contradictory mix of cold and heat, of death and life.

I also realised that, as a reader, I was being 2D – blinded by the junkie label. As I saw the characters as Cody portrays them – really saw them – I began to see their humanity. Adam strives to get clean, to hold down a job, admits his sexual relationships are sick, in every sense. Xavi proves to be a character to care about, as do Sean and Lincoln – because, actually, they all care about each other.

The scene in the hospital where Adam and Lincoln are tacitly reconciled is beautifully written – the understatedness shows that Adam has changed – grown up a bit – and that the author is perfectly capable of conventional/ subtle when the occasion demands it. And if you still need reassuring that here is a remarkable writer whom a reader can trust – just look at the passage where Adam himself is hospitalised and ‘retching and wretched’ just wants to die.

And as for the ending – well if it’s gifted use of symbolism, metaphor and adverb-free writing you’re after, you’ll be well satisfied.

Image of comet C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp), taken on...
Image via Wikipedia

So approach with an open mind and a trusting heart – Cody James is a brave and unique writer – the book fizzes and burns as it lights up the cold dark – just like the comet – and I should have realised that from the start. 

  

  

 

‘The Dead Beat’ can be downloaded for $2.99 from http://eightcuts.wordpress.com or bought as a paperback after November 1st 2010. There are also a couple special editions left which you can pre-order from the website. Mine’s ordered.

Document 8 – International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival

‘Document’ is an organisation that has put on an annual human rights film festival since 2003. This will be their eighth – hence the title. You can visit their website at http://www.docfilmfest.org.uk/ and you can follow them on twitter. And whether or not you can attend the festival, just visiting their website and downloading this year’s programme are well worth it.

This year’s festival runs from Tuesday 26th October until Sunday 31st October.  It is in Glasgow at the centre for Contemporary Arts.

They will show 90 films from 35 countries over the 5 days.

‘Charcoal’ by Oli Johns

Oli John’s book, ‘Charcoal’, due to be published by Eight Cuts on November 1st, could be shelved along with the work of Kafka, Dostoyevsky and Sartre, but it’s probably best placed alongside Camus  in the absurdist section. However, it’s also genre-defying. It’s literary certainly. It’s possibly, at least partly, autobiographical. It’s contemporary, erotic, noir, ironic. I can’t define it – it defies defining. JUST READ IT. As with all ‘good’ art, it requires active engagement and there will be as many interpretations as there are readers.

But I’ll do my best to give you some idea of what to expect.

First some personal background – so you know what I brought to my reading of the book.

I’ve suffered two bouts of depression – the first was post-natal and the second was post-cancer. Both occurred at times when I ‘should’ have been happy – after all, in the first instance, I had a new baby daughter and the second time, my cancer had just been confirmed as in remission.  Both bouts were due to a combination of biology and life-changing/threatening events. I was fortunate to receive appropriate medication and therapy. I recovered.

Mental illness is as life-threatening a disease as cancer. 

I’m also sure even the most mentally robust and least introspective of people have moments where life seems meaningless or they feel worthless. It’s also part of our human frailty to doubt ourselves. Those of us who are kept purposefully busy enough, who have a network of supportive people and have reasonable levels of self-esteem, mostly manage to keep on keeping on. Good physical health, a family to raise, a rewarding job, an absorbing hobby,  a loving partner, loyal friends and a curiosity about what life still holds – any one of these things can help us to keep fear and stress at bay.

BUT what if our minds get sick? What if the job is unbearable, or the people who should care about us don’t, or we find ourselves despicable? What if all that toxicity unravels us? Or what if we succumb to biological and chemical changes that upset our moods, emotions and rationality? How do we cope with daily life and its pressures? How do we find our way back? How do we get healed?

“It is/was like that for me too” – surely amongst the most reassuring and moving words a person can hear. They’re a marker of recognition, affirmation, shared humanity. And if the speaker has since recovered from whatever ‘that’ was, then they are words of hope to the vulnerable.

And sometimes ‘insanity’ is the only sane response to an insane world.

Reading the inner monologue of the narrator of ‘Charcoal’ led me to many intense, sometimes painful, moments of recognition, and I wanted to tell him “it was like that for me too” – to offer hope.

This is a brilliant account of an unravelling personality. The charcoal of the title refers to using the substance as a method of suicide – i.e. by burning it in a confined space so that it uses up all the oxygen.

The story is told by a first-person narrator in the present tense. Author and narrator are both called Oli – but the question of how fictional the tale is, is an open one.

The text is mainly single lines and sentences. The effect is intense and claustrophobic. The prose is hypnotic; the atmosphere sombre and fearful and the tone self-deprecating – right from the off with the apparent ‘quotes’ about the book.

 The reader is forced to put logic and rationality to one side and to just ‘be’ with the narrator and see things as he sees them.

At the beginning, Oli, the narrator – a stressed out, burnt out teacher who’d rather be a writer – is living alone and working in Hong Kong. He’s considering methods of suicide – even going so far as to experiment with the charcoal method in a hotel room. Then the story jumps forward a year and gets progressively darker. The narrator becomes increasingly paranoid, psychotic and disorientated. He cannot cope with his teaching job or relate to his colleagues. He becomes fixated on a Korean model who has committed to suicide. Even although she’s already dead he believes he can save her. She becomes real to him. She moves in with him for a time before disappearing and then reappearing throughout the narrative.

He is also obsessed with existential philosophy. He tussles with the work of Bergson and Deleuze – with concepts of time and theories of personality. After all, if you can get your head round, and go with the theories of these guys – abandon Newtonian laws and take the Einstein quantum view – then the possibilities are infinite. If time is merely movement and not a one way track – then maybe Oli can save the model. And maybe Oli can just ‘be’ – no cause, no effect, no regrets, no recriminations, no dread.

As for Oli’s writing, he wants success yet he also fears it. He wants recognition but is desperately scared of exposing himself to criticism and failure. He ponders upon the plight of writers who peak with one great (often the first and sometimes their only) novel. He thinks particularly of Fitzgerald and the ‘The Great Gatsby’. He realises that achieving success can be double-edged – because having achieved it – what’s the point in continuing to strive? He refers to Camus’ assertion that life’s about the rebellion and not the revolution. But it’s not the answer he’s seeking – because what if he never finishes anything, never has any success – that would be depressing and depression leads to…

And so it goes.

The book raises all the big questions – questions of core identity – is there even such a thing? It’s life, death and the whole damn thing.  There are no pat or trite answers.

It’s a slim volume – a novella really – but has the scope and feel of a much larger work. The author is fearless in his honesty about the human condition and our potential for self-destruction – the reader has to admit – yeah, I’ve had these what if moments too, moments of reckless fascination – what if I just jump in front of the train, let go of the rope?

 The flashes of humour and of hope – such as the graffiti episode where he asserts that ‘real art is not presented but found’, the admissions of weakness – for example when he admits to just wanting something simple to read – all add a bit of warmth to what is often a bleak landscape.

Reading this book, you may also long for something simpler – BUT – you’ll probably find you can’t put it down either. It stays with you, calls you back, forces you to take a look at yourself, forces you to accept there are more questions than answers, that control is an illusion and the only constant is change.

This is glorious writing – Camus with added warmth and humanity and a dash of uncertainty, philosophy wrapped in and woven through ‘real’ life. In the end Oli has to accept he can’t save the Korean model from herself. He also admits he doesn’t know where he’s going – none of us do – and everything in life, as in art, is open to interpretation. But the important thing is he IS going on and the reader can only wish him well. Perhaps, as Camus said, meaning in life is to be found through simple persistence. 

Johns is an incredibly talented writer – gifted not only with the required depth of insight and self-awareness that is vital for any artist but also with enough humility to be an excellent communicator. What you make of ‘Charcoal’ will be down to your effort and interpretation – as with any work of art. All I can guarantee is that it will be worth the effort.

Available as an ebook for £2 now or as a paperback for £6 from November 1st 2010 – go to http://eightcuts.wordpress.com/collaborate/coming-in-2010/charcoal-by-oli-johns/ You can also read the first chapter there.

Christopher Al- Aswad Award Winner

Image representing Escape into Life as depicte...
Image via CrunchBase

The first ever winner of the Christopher Al- Aswad prize has just been announced. This annual award was set up by Dan Holloway at Eight Cuts http://eightcuts.wordpress.com and it is intended to honour and commemorate the life of a very special young man who died in July this year, aged just 31. Christopher set up Escape Into Life  a community where barriers in the arts and literature could be broken down. He was a visionary artist and writer. You can read the beautiful tribute to him on the Escape Into Life site. Make sure to read his poem ‘The Pleasures are Fleeting’ – heartbreaking and heartlifting.  And apart from reading the tribute, you’ll be able to see the poetry, pictures and collages created by the members and to read about the amazing Moleskine Project.

 The prize is “for outstanding contribution to breaking down barriers in literature and between literature and other arts.” And the inaugural winner is – Johanna Harness, the founder of #amwriting.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

Johanna describes #amwriting as an ongoing chat amongst a community of writers who care about one another. She likens it to a water-cooler. It’s a gathering place where writers can pop in and out during their writing day. There they can say what they’re writing or share concerns, blocks and queries about the writing process. It’s reckoned there are more than 2000 writers using the #amwriting tag.

But there’s more to the concept than the hashtag on Twitter. There’s a website http://www.amwriters.com On the site, besides an Amazon linked #amwriters store, there’s also the opportunity to view and apply for listing in the #amwriting directory.

Johanna is, of course, a writer herself and she also has a new writing blog (begun in June this year) at http://johannaharness.com/blog    Here you can read about her own writing – as an author of YA and flash fiction.

So, what are the barriers that #amwriting seeks to breakdown?

Well  – they may be barriers of the writers’ own making – writing so often involves self-imposed exile and a siege mentality. The solitude required by writers can be a blessing when the mood and motivation are high, but it can also leave room for self-doubt and feelings of isolation. Having a staff room of supportive colleagues to check into is something to be cherished.

The barriers may be between writers – we can be a bit of a precious bunch, can’t we – defending our own areas whilst dismissing those of others? The genre writers versus the literary, fiction or non, prose versus poetry, shorts or novels, traditionally published as opposed to independent, journalist or academic – we like everyone safely boxed in. We can be overly judgemental and hyper-critical – of ourselves and others. And, as for those who won’t/can’t be pigeon-holed – artists who write, writers who make films, poets who write music…The #amwriting mentality has no truck with any of that – if you write – you’re a writer.

On the other hand the barriers may be between writers and their audience. We need to get our work ‘out there’. We need a network and we need outlets. The #amwriting community provides that too – the directory, the store, the support.

 And in case you’re not convinced about Johanna’s axe-wielding powers – I’ll let her words speak for themselves…

‘I don’t care if you write fiction or non-fiction, if you’re pre-published or published, if you’re traditionally or independently published, If you’re non-agented or agented, if you’re a blogger or a novelist or a reporter or a business writer.  *Pausing here to gasp for air*  I don’t care what you write or how you write it. I don’t care if you’re a planner or a pantster. I don’t care how much formal education you’ve completed. I don’t care how old you are or how long you’ve been writing, if you’re a newbie or a sage.  You don’t have to prove your credentials to be included.  You do, however, have to show up and write alongside other writers on twitter.  You have to say, “Here I am. I’m writing too.”  -And we say “welcome.”  That’s all there is.  It’s what we do.’

All the best and Slàinte Mhath to Johanna – and to all present and future members of #amwriting.

P.S. Johanna tells me she has plans to further develop #amwriting during the next year and she has agreed to do a guest blog here at Write Enough in December.

Into the Desert

Center of Makhtesh Gadol, Negev, Israel.
Image via Wikipedia

I previewed the Eight Cuts Gallery Exhibition  into the desert  a few posts back. The exhibition opened yesterday – and is only a mouse click away. I urge you to visit – there’s art visual and literary – poetry, short fiction, novel extracts… Here’s how my visit went:

Visiting any exhibition at any gallery has the potential to be exhausting. The senses are assaulted, the brain challenged, the body disorientated, time stands still and the feet and back get sore. And in the case of the Eight Cuts exhibition all but the last one apply – at least you can visit this one sitting down. I started by clicking ‘on the edge of something’ and then on each category listed in turn, after that on the website’s header. You can flit around, clicking on links within the exhibits – but I’m a linear sort of girl –and tried not to be distracted by glimpses into other rooms or to get too lost in the desert.

I began my visit yesterday evening. Fortified by a glass of wine and my husband’s excellent Friday night curry, I set off.  First I downloaded and read through the programme – so that I could be, at least a little bit, familiar with the contributors. Then for the next two and half hours, while a force 7 blew along the loch and the rain battered against the windows, I became oblivious to everything – except this most amazing, joyous, original, jaw-dropping gallery space. I’ve visited galleries all over the world – Barcelona, Edinburgh, London, Glasgow, Boston, Cape Town, Sydney, Verona, Hobart, Prague, Jerusalem,  Singapore and, oh yes, Portree! And this virtual example is up there with them all.

Then this morning, the necessary household chores completed to keep the cottage sanitary, I returned to continue my exploration of the treasures on offer. Fortified this time by a cup of Taylor’s rich Italian blend coffee, I set off. I was very glad not to have to go further than my desk as, the south-westerly gale continued to howl and whistle and the white-crested waves bashed against the cliffs at the foot of the croft.

Pausing only for lunch and another, mid-afternoon, dose of caffeine I completed my tour. And, yes, it was an amazing journey. What talent is on display!  Artists – literary and visual –of great integrity, honesty and depth are all on show. Your philosophy, politics and preconceptions will all be challenged. Your brain will hurt – but at least your feet won’t.

Wow – just – wow! Glé mha! My preview didn’t do it justice. Dan Holloway, the curator-creator of this truly wonderful space, has done an incredible job putting this lot together.  As for the exhibitors and their exhibits – a few thoughts from me below.

But don’t take my word for it. Go visit!

BREATHS

Andy Harrod’s ‘Repeat till Fade’ – a picture = a 1000 words -a nightmare in a handful of words.

Allyson Armistead’s ‘Oasis’ – what a beautiful story – not a wasted word. Warmth, humour, pathos, love and that all-consuming fear of mortality all conveyed in a deceptively simple story. Wonderful!

AT THE EDGE OF SOMETHING

Andy Harrod’s ‘At the Edge of Something’ – moving- in my case to tears. A very close family member committed suicide ten years ago. Those of us he left behind will forever wonder if we could have listened and helped more. The photos and the words – I can’t think of a more intense example of human heart to heart communication.

Andy Harrods’s ‘Alice’ – DISTURBING! Chilling, menacing, ambiguous – it’s brevity makes it all the more sinister – and leaves the barriers in tact. Masterly writing.

SOMEWHEN OTHER ME

Sarah Melville’s– ‘French Lesson’ – three cheers for the child – in the story, and in us all. Acquiescence doesn’t necessarily mean compliance. The feisty, wee narrator says a lot – about adult/child relationships, power/vulnerability, and respect/disrespect in  a very few words. Clever, economical, powerful, story telling.

Oli Johns’ –  ‘The Things They Let Into the Classroom’ – VERY dark. We’re inside the head of a burnt out, exhausted, stressed, depressed, paranoid teacher. A narrator provoked beyond endurance and tolerance by a difficult pupil. Boundaries – between reality and dreaming, between characters and between right and wrong blur and bleed into each other. Horrible and sinister double standards surface – loving fathers are also potential child molesters. Reading this will affect the reader deeply. It’s gripping, horribly fascinating and unsettling. Oli is an original and uncompromising writer and he presents the more unsavoury truths about human nature and our capacity for destruction – of ourselves and of others.

ON A ROLL

Penny Goring’s‘Temporary Passport’ – this recollection of a long gone love – a busking, poverty laden, peripatetic, partnership is raw and haunting. There are no regrets over the fact of the relationship but the loss of the narrator’s drawings of her former partner’s ‘fantastic face’ is deeply felt. The language and the imagery give this short story the feeling of a novel.

Kathryn Megan Stark’s ‘Touchdown Toward Midnight on the Potomac River’ – is a story of a plane ditching in a freezing river. The passengers’ stories are told with such depth that they made this reader gasp. Wonderful writing. I was especially impressed by the assault victim’s take.

EMBRACE

Cendrine Marrouat’s ‘Grains of Sand’– the photo is striking – are the structures nothing more than sand sculptures – vulnerable and frail like life? The poem is a liberation from concerns over life’s fleetingness. Cendrine takes an eternity-embracing view in this deeply philosophical musing on time and life. The desert she presents here is anything but barren. An incredibly talented poet at work here.

Joyce Chng’s ‘Desert Mother’– this is a reverential and touching poem – the tone is both respectful and sad. The desert mother could be both literal and metaphorical. is the ‘heat and grit’ symbolic of a late mother’s personality. This is a poem to ponder upon, and to revisit.

SHRINKING FROM THE SUN

Marc Nash’s –‘Feed Tube’   This poem is surreal – I hope I’ve ‘got’ it – it’s one hell of a drug-induced trip. It’s a stream of yearning consciousness; at least it is on the surface. I don’t mean it’s gone straight from the poet’s brain to the page – there’s real craftsmanship present here and I think Marc’s poem demands re-reading – in a good way.

SOMEWHERE ELSE

Stacy Ericson’s ‘Sole’s Rest’ – this is awesome – a waltzing rhythm of arresting imagery – depicting day’s (life’s?) end – a fading to black of sky and hills and being called home by the desert dogs.

Quenntis Ashby’s ‘Into the desert of breaking things without pause for concern’ – post-apocalyptic prayer and warning message for those haunted and taunted by their casual disregard of our beautiful, wee, blue planet, of its structures – physical, natural, political and economical – i.e a call to all of us. This is reminiscent of P.D.James’s ‘Children of Men’  (I loved that book and the movie) – it’s ‘Children of Men’ on the moon, if you like, and what might come next. Clever and entertaining.

Alexander McNabb’s ‘The Salamander’– Fuelled by ‘power and passion made molten and pure’ the Salamander – or is it really a rather sick and discarded old tramp in a heat induced nightmare stupor – roams the streets – looking for the One. Delusion, illusion, drunken dream – whatever it’s powerful, it’s shocking – you’ll stop and, in a weird way, you’ll enjoy.

Sabina England’s ‘Brown Trash’– it’s a hymn, a war cry for inclusiveness, for the right to be yourself, to embrace your beliefs. Go girl! Here’s to all who dare to be different just by being themselves. Nobody has a monopoly on truth – Sabina’s shout needs to be heard.

STRANGER

SabinaEngland’s –‘Self-Portrait’ video – GASP! LOL! GASP! OMG! love it! Just remember the little old lady might not want to cross the road or indeed the young woamn may not need you to holler ‘Stop!’ She might actually be able to manage just fine by herself!

Chris Graham’s ‘What’s Going On?’– dark! I laughed, then felt I shouldn’t; hands covering mouth, I watched the narrator drop his bomb on his parents and then applauded him for doing so. Being true to yourself has its price – but it’s worth every penny.

THE DESERT

Thomas Stolperer’s ‘The Desert’ – Stick with this one and come back. It’ll repay a revisit or six. The characters reflect on the many aspects of a/our desert life. There’s self-justification, self-deprecation, cynicism, subversion, regret, humour and resignation. It’s life as we know it.

WASTELAND

Grace Andreacchi and Natasha Guy – are the contributors here.  Theirs is  stark, bleakly beautiful poetry.

Grace’s ‘On the U-Bahn’ and ‘Dream’ are laden with menace and (self) destruction and Natasha’s ‘Barren Determination’ sings out with perseverance.

Thank you, Dan and all the exhibitors for a wonderful day out (of myself).

Oh and for anyone in or around Oxford on November 18th there’s a LIVE SHOW with presentations by many of the above artists and authors – at the O3 gallery.I wish I could go – yes, there are times when I wish I didn’t live in the Hebrides.

Tony Blair and The Third Pig Detective Agency…

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

OCTOBER ISSUE OUT NOW.

Go to http://www.wordswithjam.co.uk/currentissue 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 …”

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 http://eightcuts.wordpress.com 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 http://www.wordswithjam.co.uk – 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 http://eightcuts.wordpress.com/eight-cuts-prize/ 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.