Saturday, July 28, 2012

Liz Lochhead Giveaway!

Liz Lochhead: Making Nothing Happen

Scotland’s national poet is a veteran Fringe performer whose performances always put a smile on the face.

Making Nothing Happen is a celebration of the word, with a mix of poems, monologues, characters and theatre pieces. Each day Liz is joined by a guest artist, bringing with them a song and a bit of music to give each performance a life of its own.

Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy described Liz as: “an inspirational presence in British poetry… a writer who has tirelessly brought poetry to the drama and drama into poetry.” Making Nothing Happen shows just why the Glasgow-based Makar is one of the country’s most loved institutions.

Liz performs daily at 1.15pm in the Assembly Rooms’ Studio 1 for the duration of the Fringe (August 13 excepted) with tickets priced £10.

Sounds good, doesn't it? You want to go, don't you? I know I definitely do. 

As for yourself, I'm giving one lucky winner the chance to win two tickets to see Liz Lochhead in performance on Saturday 4th August.

How to win? Just comment below with your name and an email address, and let me know that you want to go! I'll announce the winner at 10.00am Friday 3rd August, so you have until then to comment and take part. The winner will be chosen completely at random, so the chance is yours! Go for it!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

For Review: Gillespie and I ~ Jane Harris

Gillespie and I was one of those books that was doing the rounds of review sites and blogs for a while. It sounded nice: an English lady of independent means moves to Glasgow in 1888. There, she makes friends with a young artist and his family. In the blurb, there's hints of a tragedy that might vaguely ruin their friendship. See? A nice book. And what's more is that when my paperback copy arrived in the post, it was pretty. It's got a hot pink cover and some lovely illustrations. Aww, sweet.

How wrong I was. Never did I expect that this book would turn out the way it did. But really, I can't say much here of what actually happens. It's one of those novels where there are so many fantastic wows that to give too much away would waste the effect. Honestly, I gasped and exclaimed my disbelief out loud at several points of reading this. It is that good. And the best part is that not all the twists and turns are set up, nor are they massively farfetched.

What I can actually tell you is that the novel is the memoir of protagonist Harriet Baxter. She writes the book from her London home in 1933 in an effort to set straight the horrible allegations that were made against her. Initially, she's introduced as a proper lady, though a spinister, who is fortune enough to spend her money as she will. She chooses to do this in Glasgow and becomes very attached to the whole Gillespie family. Really, Harriet seems quiet lonely, and it's good for her to make so many friends. Unfortunately, her relationship with the family becomes strained as the eldest daughter Sibyl begins behaving in some horrifying ways, and then the big thing that I dare not spoil happens and everything just becomes so awful and confused. Harriet is very elderly as she's writing her memoir, and though at first I was happy to trust every word that came from her pen, I began to be unsure of her character. She became, at parts, perhaps too friendly or needy. And, of course, writing about an event that happened around forty years previous doesn't make for the most reliable of writers.

By the end, I was spooked. Actually, I had no idea how to take any of the information that I'd be given throughout the novel. Probably a second reading would be an entirely different experience, and I'd be keeping an eye out for clues. What Harris has done here is very clever, and such a brilliant read. I haven't had the same thrill from a book in a while, and it was vastly enjoyable. Harris has created what seems at first a charming read, which then becomes quite chilling. And, if I'm honest, I rarely ever use the word 'chilling' to describe anything but the temperature. The book itself weighs in at 605 pages, but it flies by with its engaging excitement.

Really, I need to find some other people who've read this book to talk about all the very exciting bits, because it would be so unfair to potentially take anything away from a person coming to Gillespie and I for the first time. Go read it, and then we can talk.

Gillespie and I
was part of this month's Scottish Book Talk reads. You can check out more info and a podcast by clicking here.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

We All Die

That is all, for today.
Thanks Chuck.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

For Review: Lanark ~ Alasdair Gray

Lanark is massive. It was a pretty big weight to carry around in my handbag, but it did keep me company on a four and a half hour train journey from Edinburgh to London. It was one of those books that attracted attention - oh, what are you reading? - as in, why is it brick sized and shaped, and why is the writing so tiny? Because it's epic.

Told in four books (and a prologue, an interlude, and an epilogue), Lanark follows two stories. There's Duncan Thaw who lives in Glasgow, and Lanark who lives in the fictional city of Unthank. Their lives become interlinked through... well, they just do. They are two stories that are interlinked, interwoven, intereverything to the point where they cross and converge and become both the same. If that sounds intricate and maybe slightly confusing, then it is. But not in a nasty way, but it a whoa, what is going on in my head, kind of way. This is the kind of book that begins at book three and does not end with the epilogue - that's what Gray is playing at.

So what happens? Duncan Thaw grows up, has unfortunate episodes in his childhood, then learns that he is a great painter, and gets a scholarship into art school. He tries to be successful, always wants to be better than he is, is constantly striving for attention and affection, but struggles. It's the tortured artist like you've never seen him before. It's heartwrenching, frightening, and terrible. But so, so good.

Lanark, on the other hand, is in Unthank somehow, with no time and no sunlight. He's trapped in a dystopian world where he struggles with society, making friends and knowing women. Always an outsider and considered a bit of a weirdo (in fact, as I write this, I am brought instantly to mind of Radiohead's Creep. Seriously, the song could have been written for Lanark). But he finds himself beginning to be seen as an important person, a somebody with potential to make changes, even though the politics of it all is confusing and elusive. There are similarities between the two throughout, and Lanark even wonders if it's possible that Duncan is him, or vice versa.

One person at work noticed that I didn't bring in a change of book as frequently as usual, and asked if it was really tough going, or if I'd been doing reading in between. The answer to both was yes. As if the size of the thing and its font wasn't enough warning, there was the set up of four books, and two different worlds. It is, actually, properly, epic: long, and quite great. Reading other stuff in between was to give my head a break. Not that is was horrible to contend with (though parts of it are rather hefty), but staying with Duncan and Lanark for so long was difficult. There were just days when being with either of them was the last thing I wanted - not an easy ride when your head isn't in the right place, or when you want something cosy and warm. But I love my literature so darkly inclined and I was well rewarded with a fantastically clever read. At points, the clever ratings were stupendously high and I did feel like I was sharing headspace with Duncan/Lanark/Gray at close quarters.

Really, it isn't any wonder that Lanark took around twenty five years to write. The thing is mammoth, and too careful and deliberate to be just an exaggerated whim. This review feels like it's taken a while, and still I don't feel like I've really said enough. But Lanark isn't the kind of book you can put your finger on with one sentence. Despite all the striving and heartache of both Duncan and Lanark, I felt a good sense of satisfaction on finishing the novel, and not just because it was so big. Resolve is really not the word that springs to mind, nor ideas about redemption, or relief. And yet, I put down Lanark feeling as though it had been nothing but a privilege to read.

"I ought to have more love before I die. I've not had enough."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

For Review: The Liberation of Celia Kahn ~ J. David Simons

Most of what I know about Scotland's recent history has come from reading fiction. When I read James Robertson's And The Land Lay Still I was hugely enlightened to the kind of country that my grandparents and greatgrandparents knew. So far, my Scottish Literature challenge has been adding to what little I know of the history and politics of this past century. Reading The Liberation of Celia Kahn was no different.

The novel begins in 1915 Glasgow and follows the story of a young Jewish woman who starts to take an interest in protesting for feminist and socialist causes. Following what the book calls a 'personal trauma', Celia's interest in politics lead her to undertake huge campaigns for women, and for contraception. But for all the politics, The Liberation of Celia Kahn is a coming of age story of a young woman with many difficulties to face - a drunken gambling uncle, Russian revolution, all the problems of the first world war, and being a Jewish woman expected to marry. It wasn't easy being a Jew or a woman in those times, and it was an interesting look at a world I knew very little about.

Celia herself grows several years as the novel ends in 1923. She's initially naive, and quite happy to go along with the life she's expected to have - housemaking, marrying into a wealthy Jewish family. But as she grows up she encounters several people who change her ideas about the world completely, not least an Agnes Calder, who introduces her into the world of feminist politics. In 1915, feminism was a completely different ball game - no vote, and lack of contraception - so there was a lot of work to do. Really, it's an exciting world because people were much more willing to fight for the causes they believed in. But being a modern woman conflicted often with Celia's Jewish family ideas. By the end of the book, Celia manages a way of understanding herself as human, female, and Jewish. The decision she makes towards the end confused me a little, because it almost seemed contrary to the strong woman she had proven she was. Not that it was a bad decision necessarily, but it felt like running away almost. Still, through all difficulties Celia copes, and it was enjoyable to see her grow and learn.

There's a lot going on in The Liberation of Celia Kahn, but it's a good read. There were points where the dialogue felt awkward, not quite genuine, but mostly the narrative was colourful and thoughtful. Another interesting read, and I think I learned a lot.

I read The Liberation of Celia Kahn as part of my Scottish Literature challenge. You can learn more about the book and the author and J. David Simons' website.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Writerly Stuff

There's a new tab on Subtle Melodrama for Writerly Stuff. It's a small list of places where I've had words published with links so that you can read them, if you like.

I've got short stories there, and some poetry too. There's a couple more things in the pipeline so the list should hopefully grow and grow.

So, for all my talk here about writing, rejections, the difficulties and the joys, there's actually some final products to read!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Small Blogger in a Big City

Things have been all quiet on the blogging front lately, but I've been plugging my way through the epic that is Lanark, been busy with various writing ventures, and I've been for a trip to London. For those readers that don't know, I was born in a town (Falkirk) with a population of less than 35,000 people. Then I spent four years in a smaller coastal town (Dunoon) with less than 8500 people. As far as I'm concerned, the city I live in now (Edinburgh) is massive with just under 500,000 people. Okay, so that's all numbers. London has more than 7,500,000. Yeah. Exactly.

So London overwhelms me. I love it, and it's great. But it's so massively huge. Ridiculous. It makes sense that it's been an attraction for writers and artists for centuries. I wasn't off the train long before I was scribbling notes about the place, about how different it was - and I hadn't even left the train station. And it's the writers who I made a point of visiting while I was there.

First stop was half of the resting place of Thomas Hardy. Thomas Hardy wanted to be buried in Dorset, and his heart was buried there, but his ashes are in Westminster Abbey. It's a curious thing, and very sad, because it wasn't what he wanted - atheist/agnostic, not a fan of institutions. Rudyard Kipling was one of Hardy's pallbearers, and it was beautiful to see that Kipling is buried beside him. Westminster Abbey is a stunning place, for all the tombs and the sheer beauty of the building. In all, it was very humbling to be there, to see his resting place. It was a little pilgrimage that I am very pleased that I made. Hardy is buried in poets' corner, along with Browning and Dickens. And there was a monument to Shakespeare too.

Shakespeare's Globe theatre was reconstructed in 1996 afer years of hard work and fundraising. It's a gorgeous place, and has been replicated according to architect papers found from the Elizabethan age. We had a fanastic tour of the theatre, and it was only shame that I wasn't in London long enough to have booked tickets for a performance there. It was all very exciting, to think of how theatre and drama worked in the 1600s and how it makes a difference to actors and audience today to perform in a very similar space - natural light, no microphones, live music, and trap doors. Seeing a performance there today would be a far better experience that seeing it in the stinking midden that it would have been back then. Yuck. (In fact, the same can be said for London itself!)

But for the Thomas Hardy loving and the Shakespeare happiness, I immersed myself in the huge cosmopolitan spirit of the city. I felt especially foreign when asking for an Earl Grey tea (you try it in my accent, compared to any English one) but I was just another voice, another visitor, in the huge vast concrete greatness. London is a fun place to be, and a great city to spend time with friends, but I couldn't live there; I think I'd just get lost.