Tag Archives: literature

The Unsung Letter No. 33

…is on a book which circumnavigates exhausted territories of holocaust stories to walk on other, neglected paths.


It was early 2016, and more than a million refugees were on the run from Syria and Afghanistan. I was visiting Australia to write about my father, who had been labelled an “enemy alien” and deported from Britain (along with other refugees from Nazi Germany) to an internment camp in Australia. I wanted to link the stories of Second World War refugees with present day refugees.

Zable, I discovered, had worked with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Sanctuary, and the Melbourne Refugees Studies Program. He was also the author of several acclaimed books about earlier generations of refugees in Australia. His own parents had fled Europe and found refuge in the Southern Hemisphere in the years after the war. Before a mutual friend suggested I contact him, I had never heard of him or his writing.

Read more by signing up to the weekly Unsung Letter, written by a different writer/book lover, each time praising an undersung work by a neglected living author.


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Big Songs, Wild Words

If you are near Edinburgh tomorrow evening this announcement is for you:


Come one come all


– for a very special fusion of Canadian pop and Scottish writing! Come hear singer-songwriters Iskwé and Melissa Bandura, along with writers Ailsa Crum, Laura Tansley and Helen McClory.

Iskwé (pronounced iss-kway, meaning “Woman” in her native language) draws upon her Cree/Dene (Aboriginal) and Irish roots to produce a sound filled with booming bass lines and heavy beats, defining her distinctive offering of Alternative RnB/TripHop.

She has recently been listed by the CBC “Top 10 Canadian Musicians You Need to Know” and twice by The Grid TO as “One to Watch”.

Melissa Bandura is a member of Canadian band Familiar Wild: Familiar Wild writes intuitively from a melodic space, what results is a brand of “Pop music with heart and soul…& brain…& kindness”- DJ Champion.

Readings from Ailsa Crum, Helen McClory (author of On the Edges of Vision – Saltire First Book of the Year 2015), and Laura Tansley add wildness, salt and weirdness to flavour the night.

Merchandise and books for sale. Ditto Alcohol (and soft drinks) in abundance.

£5 on the door.



Melissa Bandura

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The trick is to keep reading

…about all I can manage right now.


I’ve been unwell since Hogmanay, knocked flat by a nasty cold, which keeps warping into new variations. Today I can hardly speak, my voice all withered, but do have the energy to cough weakly and sneeze, great chains of sneezes when they come.


But anyway, this is not to complain, just to explain my absence. My lack of reviews (I had resolved to write more, but then, this), my hazy words right now. While staying inside and drinking hot toddies with D (who is also ill with the same bug), I’ve had plenty of time to watch films and TV shows, and to read.  You’ll see in the Endless Reads tab I’m continuing on into the new year. Last year I managed only 21 books (22, including Steve Himmer’s lovely ms, FRAM).


This year I’d like to do a bit better, but the truth is I’m never going to be a monstrous devourer of books – I’m too slow, for one thing. Most books I read take me at least two weeks. I’ve read a collection of short stories which took me far longer than that, Joanna Walsh’s beautiful Fractals. I gave each story a day or two, for the most part, to dissolve slowly in my head. For a while I went without reading any, when I was off in Banff. I hope to write about the collection for The Female Gaze as soon as I’m sharp.


Before Christmas I did eat up Deathless, by Catherynne M. Valente, and now feel the need to push it into the hands of every Angela Carter and dark fairytale loving friend. I’m not a fan of the word ‘masterful’ but that’s the right sort of word for it. Russian twentieth century life combined with folk tales and devilish forces, perfect for this time of the year, whether it is wind and rain raging outside, or soft, murderously thick snow.


And just the other day I finished The Falling Sky by Pippa Goldschmidt (which was fine) and The Trick is to Keep Breathing, by Janice Galloway, which was brilliant. Both grief-filled women, who can’t go on and will go on (to appropriate Beckett).  I’m sending the latter on to Emily Books in NYC, so see if they’d like it. Emily Gould is very kindly sending me Mary MacLane’s diary-novel-beast, I Await the Devil’s Coming, which I have been very keen to read since I heard of it. That’s definitely something I’d like to do more of in 2014 – book swaps.


I tried to think of a theme for this year – books only from small presses, or only from one country (I was going to cheat and go with Ireland, just for riches). Right now, I’m reading Matt Bell’s In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, so how about books with long titles? Or maybe, with my slowness, I should pick only novellas, so as to artificial boost my numbers. I don’t really mind how few I read, only, that sometimes I feel a bit bad when I see people who have read over fifty in a year. I think, well what did I do with my time? Over a hundred and I’m just struck with a mix of awe and suspicion. Superhumans, or skimmers, either way, why compete? Write my own titles down, if nothing else but memorial, to trigger the where and the when, to be able in the end to look back on a year’s worth of reading.


The real outcome for me is likely to be haphazard picks like 2013, and 2012. Whatever comes to hand. Whatever I’m given, or choose to read or reread before sharing. I know I’d like a classic or two in there. Our flat is near a library I’ve shamefully neglected so far. But other than that aim, which may or may not get fulfilled I’m going to be happy, as long as – slowly or not – I just keep reading, endlessly.


If you’ve any goals, I would like to hear them though. And as always, recommendations for books, either published or un-, yet.


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Literature of the Girl: Jess Stoner and Eimear McBride

My last essay is up on Necessary Fiction, and it took a lot of rousing to write this. Anxiety is ever-present when speaking of difficult, deeply important texts and trying to do them justice. Do please go and check out what I could scramble together:


The best ghost stories are always the ones about haunted people. Girls haunted by their own erasure. By place. By elemental suffering. Both these works above are deeply haunted most of all by loss and loss’s giantess handmaiden, grief.


Read More…

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Excerpt from Kilea up on The Island Review

I’m very pleased to report a short extract from my novel ms Kilea, entitled ‘circlets’, is up on the wonderful The Island Review:


 On either side was only the wildness. Vast, still, in the quiet morning. She took it in, or tried to; the clouds shredding and reforming high above the bare rocks, and the shallow flushes, greener dips in the land, surrounded by rust-coloured flats of bog myrtle and spiked grass, cotton tufts and stunted willows. On the right, the landscape opened out into stretches of small silver lochans, bright wide puddles and ditches of water. An inland sea, with now and then a reedy, treacherous island no human foot could land on.


Read More…


The photograph is also one of mine – taken on the isle of Rum just after D and I got married.


I’m currently waiting for news on Kilea from a press I deeply admire – always I have hopes for this novel of landscape, girlhood, memory. And awaiting judgement too on whether I have made the cut for the Scottish artists’ residency at the Banff Centre in Canada. Hope, hope, hope/wish, wish, wish, like silent incantations written in wet shore sand. Or in this shorelike, changing space. Thank goodness I have work to be doing – ESL teaching, and very fortunately the residency at Necessary Fiction. I’m working on an overdue Bad Girl Lit essay for that, but expect to see a post of Girl Lit fiction later today – check my next post.

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Thankful for the bad days

hiking up the beacon


Slog is one of those words that fills the mouth like a caramel, like you’re trying to eat a caramel as you say it, pushing it off the back of your teeth. It’s a nice word. Does that bring comfort? Can you really be thankful for a bad writing day. For a week of slowness. thickness. I don’t know, I don’t think so. But I’m saying it anyway. Performative utterance to make something happen. To keep my fingers on the keys.


Writing at the moment is so much like a millstone churning round. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a millstone in action, but we can all imagine it. The grooves in the stone catch and crush the wheat. Rasp the casings from them very slowly, spreading their insides out until all that’s left is a fine powder. Is this a healthy process? I’m tapping with blank eyes, with dry lips. I’m cutting the flour with white dirt, that’s what it feels like. Nothing is pure as I want for it. And it’s my own doing.


But let’s say that the upside of the imagination currently stalling is that moment to, if not pause, at least look around as you crank the handle, as the internet fizzes about you. Rub your aching hands. Waves hit the sea on a distant beach. The sun lingers a bit in the sky, never quite enough. A cold front moves in West from the Atlantic. Someone sits very quietly in a room, hating their hopefulness and ill at ease with all they have written, and alone with this. And then you find two pieces, one after the other, that help:


I am tired. I am tired of speech

and of action. In the heart of me

you will find a tiny handful of

dust. Take it and blow it out

upon the wind. Let the wind have

it and it will find its way home.


And then,


There are beautiful wild forces within us.

Let them turn the mills inside
and fill

that feed even


The first is Tennessee Williams, from ‘Blue Song’, and the second, St Francis of Assisi. The internet gives us the illusion of symmetry which is the truth of sympathetic thoughts, across time, across language, across veracity – who knows if St Francis really wrote those words, I am trusting a random quoter on the internet – whatever form, whatever instability is present in both sentiments shared in the one space, it feels good to have faith in the complicated something they give. In the current that passes through them when you bring them together like this, and let them blow out again.


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Looking for Dr Livingstone + interview news

Edinburgh cityscape


Today D and I made our way back to the National Museum of Scotland with the aim of walking through the exhibit on Dr David Livingstone, explorer, missionary and abolitionist. True to his reputation, he was a little hard to find. The exhibit was tucked away on the third floor of the new part of the museum. It was interesting, if a bit piecemeal.


Livingstone was born into a cotton mill worker family, and worked at the mill from the age of 10. An exceedingly bright boy, he was taught to read and write, then taught himself Latin. He saved up enough money to go to University in Glasgow, but to save a penny on the cart fare, had to make his way on foot up the river clyde from Blantyre every morning. Good training for his later rambles around Malawi and southern Africa. There was a video, filmed in Malawi, talking to residents there in the Malawian town of Blantyre – they seemed happy with his legacy there, of his pacts with local tribe leaders to end the East African-Indian Ocean slave trade.


But I am suspicious of heroes, particularly of strong men of the British Empire who, regardless of whether they were doing good themselves, went into ‘the dark continent’ with the aim of opening it up to Europe.  There wasn’t a lot of analysis, and only one dissenting voice was lightly mentioned, that of John Kirk, the botanist who traveled on one of Livingstone’s expeditions. Livingstone was, it seemed, a hard leader. And then there was that famous meeting with Stanley, where the presumed Dr Livingstone refused to come back to Britain, and later died in a village in Malawi of a nasty combination of Malaria and Dysentery.


Well, whoever he was (D wants to read his journals now), we saw his little navy cap and his nice sketch of a fish from Lake Malawai.


I enjoy visiting the museum, which has free entry, and it’s a good thing too. Coming in the new year, after I’ve finished this second ms (May at the latest, I hope), I will be going there a lot. And to the grand Central Library on George IV bridge. Research for novel number 3. It is going to be about a strong, egotistic leader and her followers, and set in the wastes of Edinburgh. I’ll not reveal too much more before I have an outline in place. As you can see from the picture above, there’s a certain atmosphere to the city in winter – a soft harshness – which I want to learn and replicate for my postapocalyptic version.  Anyway, that’s enough for now.


The other piece of news I have is that Smokelong Quarterly is coming out next week. In it will be my Edinburgh-based flash, ‘Boy Cyclops’, and an interview with me (first ever interview!), facilitated by the excellent writer Casey Hannan. (Casey’s book, Mother Ghost, is available on pre-order from Tiny Hardcore Press. His writing is really beautiful and weird and compelling, and I’ll be picking it up when I can).  When Smokelong goes live I’ll link to it here, and you will have lots to read, should you wish.


Finally! Don’t forget to submit your photograph for my competition! The deadline is the 31st of this month.


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