Category Archives: Literary happenings

Launch of A Thousand Cranes anthology

Today the Japanese Consul sang me a song. No, really.

It was at the official reception to launch the new Cargo Publishing anthology, A Thousand Cranes, which I’m pleased to have a story in. The project was the idea of Iain Paton, from the Glasgow Writers’ Group, whose wife Deborah used to work in a province of Japan affected by the tsunami last year (he’s also working on a crime novel set there). He asked people to contribute stories, essays or poems with a Japanese theme for a book to benefit the Red Cross’ work there, helping people left homeless or injured by the disaster which killed at least 15,000 people.

I was moved by the TV coverage and wanted to send something but I’ve never been to Japan – and that gave me an idea. So my story, The Unbeaten Track, is about a woman called Henrietta Bird who also never visited the country, but whose sister – the intrepid Victorian traveller Isabella Bird – did, sending back detailed letters to Henrietta back on Tobermory, in Mull, where I imagine that she, too, felt a connection with a faraway land.

It took a while to get the book together (ably edited by Iain Paton, Alex Cox, Alan Gillespie and Cara McGuigan – my pal from last year’s Glasgow Uni DACE course Imaginary Worlds – and produced by the people at the very up-and-coming Cargo) but now it’s available, in a shiny paperback or Kindle edition. This is actually the limited edition first printing; there will be another featuring an introduction by First Minister Alex Salmond (not ready in time for this one), so if you are not a fan of his you might want to snap up one of the first few collectors’ copies.

Mr Tarahara and his wife invited those of us who’d taken part to their official residence today to give a seal of approval to the book, which was a lovely experience if a little strange – I don’t normally mix with ambassadors. But they and their staff were extremely nice and welcoming and it was fun to catch up with writers I knew and meet some new ones. After making many jokes about Ferrero Rochers, when Mr T announced he had a present for us, we were prepared to be ‘really spoiled’ but to everyone’s surprise, this jolly man in a business suit proceeded to sing – in a passable attempt at a Scottish accent – the Robert Burns song Annie Laurie, while we stood around listening. That was a moment I’ll remember for a long time!

Anyway, do check out the book if you can: it’s a good cause and, from my initial browse so far, it looks like there are a number of great pieces in there. It will be available from Waterstone’s soon (with a proper book launch, watch this space) or get it now via Cargo Publishing.


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Monosyllabic tonight

I’m reading tonight at Monosyllabic, now at its new venue at the Old Hairdressers’. The theme is ‘In The Dark’ (as they’re following on from a ‘dancing in the dark’ event) and I’ve written something specially, called Under The Covers With Amy. It’s not as saucy as it sounds. Do come!

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Avec les beatniks à Shakespeare & Co.

Just returned from a week’s holiday in Paris – did lots of fantastic things like dancing the Madison at a gay tango club, was serenaded by a circus accordion lady over dinner, went to a Chopin concert in the park, mooched around bookshops and classic movie cinemas, rode around on the brilliant city Velib bikes, met some nice people, stayed at a terrible hotel which became almost funny in its escalating crapness, ate so many rolls and cheese (stolen from breakfast to save money on lunch and dinner) that I can’t look at one again, read in parks, stared at gargoyles, hated hole in ground toilets, got overwhelmed at Versailles and stunned by the Manet in the Musee d’Orsay.

But possibly the highlight for me was falling in with some literary beatniks (their description!) through the Shakespeare & Company bookshop. I’d discovered from their website that they had a drop-in writing workshop called the Other Writers Group and emailed its organiser, David Barnes, to check if I could go along. It wasn’t too busy because a lot of people aren’t around in the summer, but the people I met there were really friendly and welcoming and gave me wonderful feedback on a story. And then we went to the pub. Two American ladies, Margaret J Hults & Marie Davis, who live and write together, gave us a sneak preview of their upcoming iPad application book, Spoon And The Moon, a sexy interactive fairytale which looks like it will be fun.

David’s story is interesting. He moved to Paris from England a few years ago because “I didn’t feel at home, at home,” slept at the bookshop for a bit and helped out in the shop, then asked them if he could set up a writing group there – you would have thought such a famous place would have all that entrenched, but they didn’t; thus proving, I guess, that if you’re too shy to ask, you don’t get. As a result he was now launching an anthology later that week called Strangers In Paris – stories and poems in English by non-native Parisians – so we went along to that a few days later. It was a great event, held right outside the bookshop, in the sunshine, with loads of people crammed around to listen to some readings (the shop itself, while marvellous, seems to always be so completely stuffed that I guess they couldn’t have it indoors). Incidentally the book, which of course I made sure to have David, Margaret and Marie sign, is really good, some excellent stories and a better souvenir than a Eiffel Tower model!

Later that night, David kindly invited me and Iain along to their spoken word night, Culture Rapide, which is just an incredible event: I was so impressed with the large number of people who came along (and it’s weekly!) and with the very high quality of readings. We have some great literary events here but there seemed to be something special about this, perhaps because of the location, perhaps because of the energy coming from people who had chosen to come together in a writers’ community, a little out of step with the country, with the trends. They seemed to just love words – their own, each other’s, famous words (with a few reading out their favourite passages from well known works). There was singing and drinking and lots of friendly conversations.

Very nervously, I performed my story World Enough And Time (hastily printed out that afternoon in an Internet cafe) – and people laughed! They got it! I was really happy to be part of their thing for a night. Drunkenly, we discussed setting up an international exchange of some kind, a new Auld Alliance. I’m open to ideas.

If you go to Paris, I highly recommend checking out the night, or the bookshop, or the group. If you go anywhere, actually, I recommend seeing what literary community they have there and whether you can visit and be inspired. I know I’ll be doing that on my next holiday, wherever it is.

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A very nice review of my reading at WPM on Sunday. I’m really glad that changing the tone and pace as I read worked for this person at least – I was very conscious that it can be hard to follow a story which gives only half of a conversation (in part, there is also another bit which is an email as well as the stories within the story) so I was hoping this would be ok. Disclaimer: I’m a member of the Glasgow Writers Group but I’m not aware of having met Raymond.

He mentions that the numbers were slightly down on the usual, which is possibly because the event has had to move from Sundays to Saturdays due to changes at The Arches. I hope it picks up again. Still, I think there were probably around 30 people there, which isn’t too bad.

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Words Per Minute

I’m reading two stories today at Words Per Minute, a fine event run by lovely people. This is only the second time I’ve read in public so I have been really looking forward to it (/terrified) but unfortunately, I’ve been so ill this week that now all I want to do is survive …

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I finally went along to Weegie Wednesday last night, as I’ve been meaning to for ages. It’s a very loose event: there were two (very brief) speakers but no questions or discussions, so the evening was really about chatting to people in the bar. Which is good, especially if you aren’t shy and know someone there, but can definitely be hard for some people. It’s worth making the effort though: as well as talking to some people I already knew, I spoke to a couple of strangers and came away with two potential markets for stories, an invitation to read at an event and a promising idea for my novel (from someone who didn’t even know what it was about). Plus, it took my mind off toothache.

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