Tag Archives: reading

Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters 2020

At the end of last month and the beginning of this, I had the very good fortune of being able to attend the Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. It was made possible by funding from the festival and from the Author International Travel Fund via Scottish Books International.

Kanakakkunnu Palace, where the festival is based

I couldn’t possibly sum up my whole experience in a blog post – I met and listened to so many amazing authors, from fellow panelists Hannah Vincent and Amanthi Harris, as well as Elaine Chiew, Chandrahas Choudhury, Gowhar Geelani and loads more. The number of books I picked up pushed my luggage right up to the limit (alongside a lovely silk rug, picked up in the beach town of Kovalam). My mind is still buzzing with new ideas and voices. I lost track of the number of people I took selfies with, including with random festival goers and people in the street while I was out sightseeing.

Kovalam Beach

The festival treats its authors very well – providing all meals, and having off-site evening dinners with live music and dancers to pick-up and transportation through the city. At one point, a group of us were invited round to the palace where the royal family of the Travancores, once rulers of the area, still live – for an audience with the princess. Not what I expected when I found out I was going to India.

Melting beside the Hollywood sign for the festival – credit: Hannah Vincent

Thank you so much to everyone involved in running the festival, from the organisers like Sabin Iqbal and Renjini Menon who set everyone on the correct trajectory, right down to the very helpful runners providing all the much needed water, tea, and snacks on campus. Hospitality was first rate, and made my first ever visit to Kerala one to remember.

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The Unsung Christmas Showcase

Just in time to help with any festive gift-giving, here’s a bumper Unsung Letter, highlighting the contributors of this year, and letting you know what they’ve been up to since their letters were published. The spirit of the letter itself is to highlight living writers with books you can read, so in the showcase you’ll find handy links to works and stories, along with plenty of seasonal gifs to make you feel cosy (even if outside it’s dismal. Or sunny)


Read the whole thing here (bring a warm beverage, it’s a long one)

Or sign up here for The Unsung Letter, a weekly missive on an underpraised book by a living author, written by a writer/book lover each time.

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Current Obsessions in Fiction

What I’d like to read right now, what I’m working my way towards in my own writing, what lingers like incense (happy Easter, by the way, to those who celebrate):



hills of grass on and on without end and a puddle here or there reflecting a giant blue sky

diners, motels, petrol stations in the middle of the desert staffed by one person who will not meet your gaze

the mountains were there is a solitary hut above the treeline

constellations when they are considered by small groups of people on the dark face of the earth

ill-defined wrongness and wrongdoing and buttoned lips

islands and their specific, haunted geography

big fat lazy rivers of the kind Scotland is too small to possess

found lines of poetry in spam emails

witches and their fashions and self-forged legends

books which change on contact

forests as impossibly large, engulfing settings for stories (I need more of these)(especially ones which note the way the light shifts and falls, and birdsong, and cracking twigs)

old houses, naturally, with infinite-dimensions of basements and attics and pantries and dairies and outbuildings

little villages in the mesas were all the inhabitance practice a particular craft handed down from one generation to the next

dream logic that is not pure message

graveyards, like shores – with a little mist on them, and great depths

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2014 Roundup

2014, in some pictures:





January – the train ride between Edinburgh and Glasgow





February – in Amsterdam for D’s birthday




March – I read Kirsty Logan’s The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales, one of my 2014 books of the year



Standing stones on Machrie Moor, erected c. 3,500-1,500 B.C.E

Standing stones on Machrie Moor, erected c. 3,500-1,500 B.C.E


April on Arran – ancient standing stones and a strangely dry looking landscape (don’t let it fool you)



photo credit: D

photo credit: D


May – D, A and I went to Moscow


June 1



June 2


June – two images since I couldn’t chose just one. A fantastic birthday trip to Iona and the finished first draft of Monstirs, which would go on to be accepted by Queen’s Ferry Press and renamed On the Edges of Vision – due out in August of the new year!





July – a trip to Butterfly World/ metaphor of the busy bee




August – York from on high (up on York Minster)




September – what else but the Scottish Independence Referendum. The country wasn’t ready yet (and the media was determined it would stay unready). The world turns, and I feel like it will happen in my lifetime.




October – a ghostly park in Glasgow




November – in the Winter Gardens at Glasgow’s People’s Palace




December – lingering seed heads on a vine, in front of a Christmas tree in a window.



This year:



I’ve read 35 books (which is good for me)


Travelled abroad to The Netherlands and Italy


Visited islands and breathed good sea air, damp fog, cut grass –


Wrote – a collection of flash fiction and longer pieces, pieces from which you can find links to HERE and at some point in August or July if you pre-order and if you have the notion you will be able to BUY the COLLECTION because it will be a real object in the real world all holding its many fragments close to itself oh my heart. (And though I linked to it before, here is my essay on the writing of On the Edges of Vision)


Wrote – a novella in flash fiction which was an honourable mention for the CCM Mainline contest/readathon/act of readerly epicness


Wrote – a chapbook of flash which is floating out there being read


– and began writing a linked flash fiction collection/narrative thing which I have neglected recently in the festivities


Read so many stories for Necessary Fiction as the new Fiction Editor there. Here are all the stories I’ve selected so far –



I am trying to keep things at gender parity, without imposing quotas or any such thing. It can be done – it truly believe the ‘but quotas harm art!!’ is a strawman argument. In that light, I will keep calling for submissions for people outside the straight-white-male venn simply so that I can reject just as many stories by diverse writers as by the would be Earnest Hemingways (who I read too, every one). I won’t be able to tell much by a name or the content of a story but I want all writers to feel that they will be read judiciously, where the balance in publishing (in literary journals, reviews, and so on) is weighted currently askew.


The new year will bring more trials and travels (America for one, for a much anticipated wedding AND hopefully readings from me. More details when I have them), more reading and editing and listening and I’m sure joy and grief and dreamy landscapes to photograph and that first collection of mine (have I mentioned it enough yet? It keeps escaping from my fingers) and moves and jobs and writing and writing –


Wishing all of you the best of Hogmanay, whether you spend it out in the cold, cheering fireworks, or inside warm and happy.



Here’s to 2015!

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Impossible dimensions

Today the builders working on my upstairs (and sideways) neighbours’ house cut a wire and blew a fuse in our flat. I spoke to them about it, and the damp seeping in – they briefly looked it over, and said they thought it was from the other side of the building, and not the shared part of the roof. And then we discussed the strange dimensions of the house. Upstairs is a concrete roof, they said, discovered under floorboards. Strange to have so thick a wall above a dwelling, was the message. Our part of the building is half submerged, with a low, subterranean window in the kitchen, but access on street level on the other side. It was a puzzle they said. I told them the place used to be a coach house, but I don’t think that full explains why things are as they are.


Perhaps I’m on alert to strange dimensions after reading Through the Woods, a graphic novel by Emily Carroll (see glimpses of her style here). Full of sinuous lines  – of speech, of landscape, warping black and red, the colours of dark pine and violence – it is precisely the book for the now, for the place D and I live, the strange old coach house at the dark part of the cobbled lane, by the small, strangulated woods. Across the street there is even the ruin of a cottage (it seems) built into the back boundary wall of the much newer fancy Park Circus tenements that turn to face the view on the other side. Brrr.


Today was good for reading – I also finished Among the Dead by Becca Jensen (brief review on Goodreads) which is not at all of dead things, because it is about literature, and the life that flows through it, long after the writers of it are gone into the river.


What else, what else?


More books, I hope. I’m working too on a new project, a novella-type thing with interlinked stories, of nightmares, surreal and unnerving. So far: a swallowing wall, crystal teeth,  taking an acid bath for an audience, marrying a ghost, a giant in a bookshop and a monstrous bothy.  I like the early days. I find writing the easiest thing in the world, like day dreaming. It’s the editing and the organising – ie. the making sharp and clear and enjoyable for other people to read – that is the hard part. Putting that off into the distance for now, like a spectre, pushing it out where the light doesn’t reach (though tomorrow it will).

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Umbrella Death Weather

It’s the season of Umbrella Death Weather in Glasgow now, and if the climate is anything like the last time I lived here, we’re in for this for the next few months. The wind whips up, the rains lash, and umbrellas succumb, crowding the bins and sides of the street along with the golden leaves slowly turning to mush. It’s a time to be indoors, reading, writing, cosying up with a creepy film, adjusting your excursions to limit them to work and back, with a stop on the road home to get supplies. It’s the Hallowe’en lull, before Christmas indulgence and shopping cranks into gear (also in the time of Umbrella Death, because there is never much snow here).  For now, I don’t resent the weather breaking out. This past Summer and early Autumn have been unusually kind, balmy even.  But towards March it will be a different story. But, for now, the novelty of terrible weather.


I have a little news – I am now reading submissions for Necessary Fiction. I’m glad of it. I’ve enjoyed the opportunities I’ve had in the past to read slush – the sense of discovery, a chance to appreciate other writer’s approaches and sharpen my eye – so I’m really grateful and glad to be involved now. Send send send! And obviously, read the site’s fiction feature to get an idea of what appeals (and also because it’s important to know that you like reading the stories Necessary Fiction publish, and that you’d be thrilled to be picked for such company).


Back to work for me – listening, I can’t hear the wind any more. Just the old pipes and the white noise of the dehumidifier.

Work, reading, chill, slush of the leafy and writerly sort.

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New Project: Novellarama

I’ve decided that for my Endless Reads project 2015 I am going to read as many novellas as I can. Slim little pieces, tender weird harrowing classic innovative bright calloused intriguing lyrical stark books under 150 pages long (though I’d prefer around the 100 page mark). I have read shamefully few novellas, and having just written one and hoping to write more, I really ought to know the territory a little better.


To that end, I’ve started a new shelf on my Goodreads called Novellarama – if you aren’t friends with me already and you are on Goodreads, please send a request! That way you can recommend books to me (which I shall try to buy from places other than Amazon, to mildly scupper its having snaffled up Goodreads recently).


I’d love as many recommendations as you have to offer – that way I can pick and choose for a whole year. Top of the list so far are:


Four Novels, by Marguerite Duras, The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa, Toni Morrison’s Home, Ordinary Love and Good Will by Jane Smiley, a collection of novellas by Deborah Levy, and Ottessa Moshfegh’s McGlue. There are many more on the list. Donations welcome, if you happen to have them lying around (or want to swap books with me).


Novellarama will start on the 1st of January and hopefully result in a spate of equally tiny reviews for you to enjoy. If anyone else is joining in I will link to your blog periodically and peer at what you’ve enjoyed.


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Taking the reading cure


There are 1.6 million voters grieving here in Scotland for the loss of the independence vote. Myself, my family, my friends, the people who spoke to me in the street with hope in their hearts. What to do, in the midst of loss? And now in the newspaper headlines ‘Public funds to decrease to Scotland, says no.10’ and ‘English votes for English laws’ usurping the priorities of the promised powers (on tax, welfare) that were supposed to go to Scotland on event of No (a vow signed by three leaders, a vow that looks likely to crumble under their shrugs of indifference). Now bloody strikes with ISIS, with a multiheaded concept, at the behest of America, likely. Meanwhile the shadow Labour government of Westminster say they’ll cap child benefit, as a way to help fix the economy they told us was so much more robust that Scotland on its own. Dystopian.


What to do?


What we can. I’ve been reading. Burrowing down into books, though none of them comforting. Thirst, by Kerry Hudson. A heartache of a book, all tactility and full of fumes and grime and hope. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, that reclaimed feminist classic, gloriously landscaped, which nevertheless suffers for its undercurrents of racism, classism that go unacknowledged. Revenge by Yoko Ogawa, a series of strange, interconnected salt-sweet tales with a smack of coldness to them. Now biting into Gone To the Forest by Katie Kitamura, placeless colonial tension in a world of violent men and arid fields. All in the last three days.


What else?


Writing. I’ve finished the flash novella of island-bound witchy girlhood and charismatic monsters and abandonment – Villain Miriam. Looking for where to send it to, this tiny shattered fairytale. Aside from this, I’ve been job searching, for work in Creative Writing, for ESL, for volunteering opportunities that fit the skills I have to offer. This takes time. And in between the leaves still fall and the nights creep closer, huddling in. Seasons change – at least there is always this.

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More Books on My Radar – Small Press Delights

I am not allowed to buy books at the moment

I am NOT allowed to buy books at the moment.

D and I are moving flat soon, and simply now is not a good time to buy more books.

So of course, I have been seeing books I want to read EVERYWHERE and none of them are library books, of course.

Check them out:


  • Chelsea Hodsons’ chapbook Pity the Animal – Goodreads reviews Glacially cool looking, and spoken of widely with great enthusiasm (Future Tense Books)


  • Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen’s The Rabbit Back Society – I’m looking for a wintery read, and this quote on the (urgh) Amazon page really sells it – ‘[The Rabbit Back Literature Society] Mixes the small-town surrealism of Twin Peaks with the clandestine-society theme of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History’ The List. (Pushkin Press)


  • Amina Cain’s Creature – from the excellent Dorothy Press ‘Amina Cain’s Creature brings together short fictions set in the space between action and reflection, edging at times toward the quiet and contemplative, at other times toward the grotesque or unsettling.’ (Dorothy)


  • Sara Woods’ Wolf Doctors – I think the cover is really cool, and Sara is too, from what I have seen of her on various social media platforms. Poetry, strangeness and heart. (Artifice Books)



Any I’m missing? All of them, I’m missing them all. Ach, well. For now.

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‘The Drowned Sailors’ up on Flash Flood

It’s National Flash Fiction Day here in the UK – and to celebrate, Flash Flood Journal is hosting its yearly, well, flood of flash. And my opportunely-themed story is one of the waves:


It would be best if we didn’t live here together any more.


You like the smell, that’s what you’ll miss. You like the smell of rot on the shore where we staggered to stay, the fumes off our mouldering tar boat huts, and the North Sea itself, cold and humid. A chill territory, a grey steppe with no heaven on any side, but everywhere to be gone. You would have taken longer to know it, if things had been different. 




Stories will be coming all day long, on this longest day of the year, until Midnight, BST. I think the archive will be available over this next year though, should you be busy enjoying the extra hours – or, if you’re south of the equator, the brief light.


As you’ll be able to see, ‘The Drowned Sailors’ is another piece from Monstirs. Now I have to set myself the task of writing two-three flash for a reading I’m giving at an event in Glasgow on the 1st of July. The theme is wilderness, and the big night will revolve around film as well as stories and other wonders. I will be sitting today enveloped in memories of Banff, November to December last year. More details here about the night, when I have the work ready and feel a little more prepared myself.



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