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!


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.