Dirt by William Letford.

Happy Sunday one and all!

As you are reading this I will be headed to the Isle of Skye for a week (the great thing about being able to schedule posts). Today I will be doing a review of a poetry collection; something slightly different from the usual literary fiction that I read. I am somewhat of a poetry novice, knowing very little about the technicalities of poetry, however I enjoy it nonetheless.

The poems in this collection celebrate dirt, and try to bring out the beauty within the muck and the soil of society. Sex and religion weave their way through the collection in a manner that grounds them. Relationships and language are brought low to reveal a power at the core of what makes us human. Many of the poems were written during and inspired by Billy’s time travelling through India. Beauty and humor are the threads that bind these poems together. Despite everything that pushes against them, they are all part of the same dance. (Goodreads)

I was lucky enough to meet William Letford and hear him recite some of the poems from this collection at the Edinburgh Book Festival 2016, where he actually signed my copy of the collection.

I have to start off by saying that William Letford has an infectious personality, and that seeing him and hearing him reciting his own work and discussing the inspirations that he drew from and the meanings behind his work added to the experience I had with this collection. There is something to be said for seeing the person behind the poetry and Letford was not who I expected.

Letford’s poetry is diverse, ranging in topic, length and form. He writes about love, travel exploits, his roots in Scotland and more. I loved the changes and how every poem was different and it kept things fresh, as I hate when collections have poems that are too similar in what they may discuss or HOW they discuss it.

Letford writes beautiful poetry and can go from poignant to humour to beautiful description and back again. In addition, while being beautiful and still and oftentimes metaphorical, these poems are not hard to digest or understand. I oftentimes find certain poetry goes straight over my head as it is trying almost too hard to be descriptive or symbolic etc. However, with Letford’s work he shows how beautiful the written word can be and in such an accessible way.

“There are all types of bodies.
If you’re lucky you’ll find someone whose skin
is a canvas for the story of your life.
Write well. Take care of the heartbeat behind it.”

One of the most interesting things that I noted while reading his collection was the use of Scottish dialects. This is something that Letford was asked about at the book festival, and went on to discuss, saying that when and if he uses a more informal and conversational Scottish tone is unintentional and comes naturally to him when writing certain pieces. I loved how he tended to gravitate to Scottish dialect when he was writing a more comedic piece, or one about home or his past in Scotland. However as many of his pieces were about travelling and his experiences while travelling it was noticeable that he tended to use less of said dialect.

In short this collection is beautiful, lyrical, honest, accessible, funny and quote worthy. I would recommend this to anyone new to poetry and who is looking for a short collection with a diverse range of pieces.

Pip pip!

 

Top Five Friday #1: Favourite songs

Hello! I thought a fun non book related post every once in a while might be fun, and so I have decided to introduce a top 5 list on Fridays (not necessarily every Friday), listing top 5 of my favourite things from any area. Today’s list will consist of 5 of my favourite songs. I’m also going to include my favourite lines from each song, because more often than not it is a certain line (for whatever reason) that evokes an emotion from me or causes me to love a song. Certain lines or verses send a shiver down my spine or give me goosebumps and just seal the deal.

1/ Fast Car by Tracy Chapman

You got a fast car,
Is it fast enough so we can fly away?
We gotta make a decision,
Leave tonight or live and die this way,

2/ Carey by Joni Mitchell

Come on down to the Mermaid Café,
And I will buy you a bottle of wine,
And we’ll laugh and toast to nothing and,
Smash our empty glasses down,
Let’s have a round for these freaks and these soldiers,
A round for these friends of mine,
Let’s have another round for the bright red devil, who,
Keeps me in this tourist town,

3/ With or Without You by U2

Sleight of hand and twist of fate,
On a bed of nails she makes me wait,
And I wait, without you,

4/ Who Wants to Live Forever by Queen

But touch my tears with your lips,
Touch my world with your fingertips,
And we can have forever,
And we can love forever,

5/ Send Me On My Way by Rusted Root

Well, I would like to hold my little hand,
And we will run, we will, we will crawl, we will,


 

I hope you guys enjoyed this slightly different post! Happy Friday!

Kim Kardashian and what it means to be a feminist.

In light of the recent hubbub surrounding Kim Kardashian and her essay where she discusses why she isn’t a feminist, I took to social media to read more about what has been going on. I was surprised to see a lot of negativity circulating Facebook, Twitter and the like; from both men AND women. This confused me at first, however after looking into what these Facebook posts/ tweets and YouTube videos are saying, I realised a couple of things.

It seems to me, that many women feel a disconnection with the word ‘feminist’ and an eagerness not to be labelled as such. As well as Kim Kardashian, Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker recently stated that she doesn’t consider herself a feminist. This got me wondering why people are so reluctant to call themselves feminists, and I think it is down to a misconception of what feminism is.

Feminism is a noun and is defined as the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of equality of the sexes. However, this is not how a lot of people see it. To Kim Kardashian and Sarah Jessica Parker, they see it as a taboo word, which causes separation of the sexes. Kim Kardashian says in her essay that labels such as the word feminist or ‘plus size’ or ‘bisexual’ create barriers between people.

“It’s not about he, she, gay, straight, black, white. The fight for equality is about ALL human beings being treated equally – regardless of gender, sexuality or ethnicity,” 

I have a couple of issues with that statement, the first being the nature of the labels and how different they all are from each other. Descriptors such as black, white, gay, straight, male, female etc. are not the same as being labelled a feminist. Gender, race or sexuality are a part of who you are, parts of your identity that you have less control over and that are normally permanent. Being Scottish is not a choice, being born female isn’t a choice, who you are attracted to is also an intrinsic part of you. However feminism, is, and should (hopefully) be a temporary label. While being a feminist is a very empowering thing, the goal is that it should only have to be a temporary. By this I mean that the goal isn’t to keep feminism in existence, any feminist would hope that eventually it need not exist. In the future, while one may still be Scottish, one may still be female, male, gay or straight, I would like to think that eventually, the necessity to keep fighting the feminism fight may not exist, as that would mean that we may have finally reached a stage of equality. Thus, to me, comparing these labels to each other does very little to further Kim’s point.

A second issue I have with this statement is that while in ways she is right, equality should be about ALL human beings being treated equally, the harsh reality is that they are not. Women are not equal to men, just as people in the LGBT+ community are not treated with equality either. While we may wish we lived in a world where equality for everyone existed; unfortunately it does not and we need to address the problems that exist, one of which is that there IS a necessity for feminism and the need for feminists to advocate for women’s rights.

In addition, another aspect that I disagree with is the idea that it is the word feminist or feminism in general that creates a separation between genders. The way I see it, women are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. There has ALWAYS been a separation between men and women, there has always been an inferior gender, there has always been a hierarchy structure and this would exist whether people labelled themselves feminists or not. In fact, I would argue that without the existence of feminists fighting for the rights of women, there would be even more separation, as there would be nobody challenging the patriarchy or its ideas. Without opposition, nothing would change. The development of the feminist movement has not caused this separation, but aims to eradicate this separation. At least with the existence of this movement and the existence of those who label themselves feminists we can be seen to be doing something about a division that has always existed.

I do understand why people are oftentimes uncomfortable with using the word feminist, as it is often greeted with negativity. There are many misconceptions as to what being a feminist is, and this leads to a reluctance to learn more about the cause or to get involved. I think a lot of the time there is also a fear of being labelled as a feminist as people don’t want to come across as ‘man hating’ or ‘angry’ or any other negative stereotype that is associated with the word. As well as this, as so many people have a skewed perception of what being a feminist is, using the term can be a pointless exchange. While some may see feminism for what it actually is, a movement which aims for an equal society for all and in doing so seeks to elevate women to the same level as men, this definition may not translate  to somebody who has been fed the idea that feminists are angry, butch, attention seeking, over dramatic, man hating people who care only about making men look bad.  Using the term feminist relies on the assumption that those around you have an accurate perception or understanding of what the word means.

In my opinion, these kinds of disputes arguing what makes a feminist or who feminists should be or what feminism does distracts from the whole point of the matter and the goal that everyone should be striving for which is at the heart of the debate; equality and fairness. Feminism is not about hating men, it is not about being angry, it is not about separating genders, it is not about prioritising women over men or women’s struggles over those of the LGBT community or other groups facing stigma. For those who say they are not feminist, they are egalitarian; it amounts to the same thing. Feminism is about creating a society where all genders are mutually respected and treated as equals. Feminism is about creating a society that everyone can be proud of. Feminism is an inclusive movement, which is ever fighting towards a better world for everyone; and that better world can only exist when we acknowledge the issues and the necessity for change.

 

 

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik.

A post of a slightly more cheery nature today, this is a book review of one of the funniest books I have read all year!

“Brilliant idea! Excellent! Muslim dating? Well, I had no idea you were allowed to date.’ Then he leaned towards me and looked at me sympathetically. ‘Are your parents quite disappointed?’

Unlucky in love once again after her possible-marriage-partner-to-be proves a little too close to his parents, Sofia Khan is ready to renounce men for good. Or at least she was, until her boss persuades her to write a tell-all expose about the Muslim dating scene.

As her woes become her work, Sofia must lean on the support of her brilliant friends, baffled colleagues and baffling parents as she goes in search of stories for her book. In amongst the marriage-crazy relatives, racist tube passengers and decidedly odd online daters, could there be a a lingering possibility that she might just be falling in love . . . ?

Sofia Khan is not Obliged is the hilarious and authentic debut novel by Ayisha Malik.” (Goodreads.)

I started this on Thursday evening before bed and ended up reading through the night until I finished it at about 6am. While I spent the next day exhausted it was well worth it because this book was so bingeworthy! This is a laugh out loud, refreshing romantic comedy with a twist.

This book read very similarly to Bridget Jones as it is written in a diary format. I don’t normally go for books with this format however it lends itself well to this story, as it is Sofia capturing the moments in between her romantic exploits and her struggle with writing and researching for her imminent book deadline. I enjoyed that there could be several entries from different times during the day, capturing how much things changed in a day or the unexpected twists of the day.

Sofia Khan is both an entertaining and refreshing read, as it tells the story of a strong, independent woman while discussing and challenging stereotypes of Islamic culture, and more specifically of women’s place within that culture. Sofia Khan is a woman completely comfortable in her faith and who is unashamed of said part of her life, and while she concedes that her life is different as a Muslim woman to what is widely accepted and understood in British culture, this does not dampen her spirits or confidence. Sofia is an insightful, intelligent and hilarious woman, and she (alongside her vibrant cast of friends in the book) shows that the common stereotype whereby Muslim women are inevitably oppressed, unheard and forced into marriage is untrue. While throughout the book there are lots of hints from those around her, seemingly pressuring her to find a husband or to get married, Sofia and her friends are never seen to be forced into anything they don’t want to do, and all end up following different routes to romance on their own accord.

I think that this book was brilliant for so many reasons, and as I have said before I really appreciate reading books where the protagonist lives a different life to me; whether this be culturally, their gender, sexuality etc. I think reading books with stories too alike your own is quite counterproductive and eliminates one of the most amazing things about reading, which is to learn and open your mind and outlook through other people’s stories. I didn’t have a religious upbringing, nor do I know much about the Islamic faith and what it is like to be a women in an Islamic culture. It was fantastic to read a book from this perspective, especially in an age where most of what I hear about the Islamic faith is negative or slandering. Malik shows how while there are some irritating traditions or cultural norms or stereotypes etc. that Sofia Khan has to deal with that are associated with being Muslim, she is still unreservedly and unashamedly proud of her faith. Plus, MASSIVE brownie points for the love interest…if you’ve read it you will know whom I mean!

Ayisha Malik did an interview with one of my favourite YouTubers, Leena Normington about what it is like to be a Muslim woman, which is definitely worth watching in conjunction with reading this book if, like me, you enjoy two incredibly infectious personalities discussing the taboos and often unasked questions about what it is like to be a Muslim women. If you would like to watch that video, click here!

Without looking too much into what this book may represent or the messages it may be trying to circulate, in short it is just a great read! If you like a rom com, if you loved Bridget Jones, if you love plot twists and a couple you can root for then this book is for you. It will keep you hooked until the end, as there are various romantic potentials and so many heart warming and funny moments throughout. This was such a change from what I normally read on the day to day but I adored it. Plus, there is apparently going to be a sequel…so get on it now!

Pip pip!

 

The Syrian refugee crisis: thoughts on Crossing the Sea with Syrians on the Exodus to Europe by Wolfgang Bauer.

September 2015: the image of a Turkish police officer stood next to the dead body of a three year old boy takes the internet by storm. He was a Syrian, who drowned as the result of a boat of smuggled refugees capsizing off the coast of Turkey on route to a new life. Outrage and upset ensues, and for many it is as though the horror and brutality  of the Syrian civil war didn’t exist until this very moment. Until the moment that people everywhere were forced to acknowledge the scale of the problem that is the Syrian refugee crisis.

I recently read Crossing the Sea with Syrians on the Exodus to Europe by Wolfgang Bauer, and while I do not feel I can give this book a review as I normally review books on this blog, I am instead writing this discussion in its place, for I have not stopped thinking about it since I finished it. I have done some research since and during my time with this book and so this post will be a combination of conclusions I have drawn from all sources.

I am embarrassed to admit that up until recently I knew relatively little about the Syrian Civil War and the nature of the conflict. However, the information is available if you care to look for it. For those of you who are not as familiar, I have briefly summarised below.

The arrest and torture of teenage protesters in the Syrian city of Deraa in 2011 acted as a catalyst, causing a surge in anti-dictatorship, pro-democratic, peaceful protests, voicing discontent with Syria’s leader, President Assad. As peaceful protests were met with open fire and violence from the authorities the motive was only strengthened, with protests across the country calling for the resignation of President Assad. The shock at the extremity of action by the government to these protests caused protestors to retaliate in defence by taking up arms. What began as an appeal to the government for increased freedom of speech and freedom in general quickly transformed into a bloodbath of epic proportions.

By 2012, protest had shifted to civil war, with rebel brigades across the country trying to gain control of cities across Syria. The death toll continued to grow and grow, furthering the resentment on both sides of the battle. As the civil war progressed so did divisions in the country, with sub branches of Islam, Sunnis and Shia Alawite falling on opposing sides of the fight. In addition to this, the rise of the Islamic State (IS) means a constant battle for control of Syria. In acts of war, chemical weapons, deprivation of access to food and water and medicine, torture, rape and murder highlight the reality of Syrian civilians and their fate if they remain in the country that was once their home.

Thus, the world is watching a mass exodus, one of the largest in history, with nearly 7 million people being displaced within their own country and nearly 5 million having fled Syria altogether.

The exodus has extended outwards from neighbouring Syrian countries such as Lebanon and Turkey into Europe, the most common method being illegally, across the sea. The International Organization for Migration claimed that almost 35,000 refugees travelled by land to Europe, and over 1 million by sea. The journey to Europe overseas is a thankless one; hundreds of defenceless individuals packed into precarious vessels, living in fear of kidnap, starvation, disease and worse. These individuals put their lives in the hands of smuggling gangs at both a significant financial and emotional expense. While the experiences Wolfgang Bauer shares in his book sound the equivalent of hell; it truly says something about the life that Syrians are fleeing from, if risking everything to illegally enter a Western world which does not want or welcome them seems a more desirable alternative to what they are leaving behind.

Bauer and photographer Stanislav Krupař pose undercover as men seeking solace alongside real life refugees, and Bauer recounts their experience and provides an in depth insight into the hell that hundreds of thousands experience in their efforts to secure a better life, or at the very least one free of war. Krupař’s contribution is that of photographs where and if he could take them undetected, and these add yet another dimension to the book and serve as a way for readers to visualise the people behind the headlines, the people behind the crisis.

I can safely say that I have never read anything as devastating and eye opening as this book. Reading of the level of suffering that so many people are facing, reading about the desperation, depression, hopelessness, hope, debilitating fear, frustration and pain that greets those brave enough to strive for safety makes me feel a number of things; namely shame at the Western world that I belong to and at how little we are doing in the grand scheme of things to help those in need.

Bauer’s account of the lives of a group of men he lived amongst and their relentless attempts to escape to Europe is haunting and stripped back, as the stories of these refugees need nothing but honesty to display the sheer horror of what they are going through. Bauer gives a blow by blow account of the painstaking journey to safety and the dangers, corruption and the extreme measures that refugees have to go through. In particular, Bauer focuses on three men; Amar, Hussan and Alaa and their journey across to Europe. While these men were successful in their attempts, Bauer also highlights the fates of those who weren’t, and the reading experience is chilling.

As someone who comes from a life of privilege, I am always eager, yet inevitably dismayed to learn about experiences that I can never truly understand. As much as I empathise, I can never fully comprehend the sheer magnitude of the experiences of the victims of the Syrian civil war. However, Bauer’s work is a true eye opener and sobering insight into a crisis that so many of us have failed to understand or see for what it is.

When I consider the way that the refugee crisis has been portrayed in the media -specifically in the United Kingdom- I see the failings and evident fear and hostility that exists. While we should be seeing the crisis for what it is, a life threatening misery and the suffering of our fellow humans, instead we are being scared into believing that ‘migrants’ are going to overflow our country, dry up our funds and resources and terrorise us. We are convinced that we need protected from the influx of Syrians, when we should be focusing on protecting them from the war that they have been swept up in. Instead of extending a hand to those in need, our country has been overcome with a moral panic which breeds a reluctance to reach out.

One of the most common things that I hear when the Syrian refugee crisis comes up in conversation is the sweeping statement that those seeking safety and security are in fact manipulating and taking advantage of the countries of the West, and that these people are in fact most likely disguised members of the terrorist group, IS posing as refugees. I hear either this or the idea that Syrians are going to take jobs and drain public services. When I consider how many people I know who think this way I cannot help but feel shame and guilt. Especially after reading Bauer’s book, as he shows who the majority of the people behind the crisis are and what their motive is, and it is nothing more than safety for themselves and for their families.

Another issue I have considered after reading this book and as a result of my research is the labelling of this epidemic as a ‘migrant’ crisis. To me, this seems a flaw. A migrant is defined as somebody who moves from one place to another to find better living conditions or work. When I consider the word migrant, I do not see children’s lifeless bodies washed up on a beach, I don’t envision 500 people covered in vomit and faeces, starving and crammed like sardines on a boat somewhere in the Mediterranean, I don’t picture civilians being bombed or tortured for political belief. The use of the word migrant almost downplays the extremity of suffering. In contrast, the word refugee is defined as an individual who has been forced to leave their country to escape war, persecution, natural disaster or fates similar. Indeed, David Miliband highlights this tactic and its implication, stating that the use of the word migrant opposed to what these people really are (refugees) seems to be a bid to deny them of their international right to seek help from elsewhere.

 

“It is a misnamed crisis, and it seems not misnamed by accident. It’s been too convenient to misname it as a migrant crisis, because it suggests these people are voluntarily fleeing, whereas in fact – if you’ve been barrel-bombed out of your home three times, life and limb demand that you flee,” he said. “It’s not about being politically incorrect in using the term migrant. It’s simply incorrect.”

It is easy to come to the conclusion that Syrian civilians have been wronged; not just through the brutality that they face in their own country, but in the quality of the aid they have received from the West. Those who are successful in making the journey to Europe are faced with stigma, violence, abuse and rejection. Bauer discusses this in Crossing the Sea, and the measures that Europe and the European Union have taken during this crisis, and how in many cases they have just increased suffering and death and have done little in the way of solving problems.

When I hear people arguing that there is only so much that we as a country can do, I cringe. We are doing far from enough to help these poor, helpless people. While Germany granted over 140,000 asylum claims in 2015, the United Kingdom accepted a feeble 13, 095. According to the BBC, the ratio of asylum applications per 100,000 citizens of European countries for the United Kingdom is 60: 100,000. This is a rate even lower than the Republic of Ireland, with a ratio of 71: 100,000. Anyone who looks at these figures and is content that this is enough is naïve. Not only does this send a bad message to countries in the East, depicting us as hostile and displaying a lack of correlation in what we are claiming to do and what we are actually doing, this is further weakening our relationship with the rest of Europe.

In the closing chapter of Crossing the Sea, Bauer makes a plea to humanity (more specifically to Europe) which brought tears to my eyes and furthered my resolution to talk about this issue. He asks us to re-evaluate our concept of humanity, have mercy on those who perish at sea. He asks us to consider how our betrayal of these refugees is also a betrayal of ourselves. He begs us to see all that there is to be done, and to stop ignoring the suffering of the world. I would urge any of you who are at all interested in this tragedy that is shaking the world to make a point of informing yourselves of what is really happening. In a world full of suffering, pain and bloodshed it is our duty to be informed and it is our duty to ourselves and to our fellow mankind to help in any way, shape or form that we can. We should NOT be stereotyping, scaremongering, labelling, slandering, ignoring, restricting or downplaying the severity of this situation; we should be offering a helping hand while we still can, and try and regain a sense of charity and humanity. This book is valuable for that reason, as it shows what people and the media overlook: these are suffering people, families, children, and they need our help.

 

The Edinburgh Book Festival 2016.

eddod
(Instagram: @edbookfest)

Edinburgh is a beautiful city teeming with a rich culture; from its architecture to its greenery to its wondrous acknowledgement of the arts. In the month of August, Edinburgh shows off and celebrates art in all of its forms through the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; whether musical, comedic, theatrical, literary or other. As well as the Fringe, while people from across the globe flock to Scotland’s capital for the largest arts festival in the world, mere paces away from Princes Street in the charming Charlotte Square Gardens is the Edinburgh Book Festival.

The Edinburgh Book Festival was established in 1983 and serves as a way to  inspire, educate, enrich and share the beauty of the written word with those who walk through its tents. This year the festival opened on the 13th of August 2016 and will be running until the 29th. There are meticulously planned, continuous events throughout this time, ranging from discussions, readings, author signings and more.

I was lucky enough to attend the opening day of the 2016 festival, and so at 5:30 am on Saturday morning I woke up eager with anticipation, inhaled three cups of coffee and got on a 7am train from Aberdeen to Edinburgh. Arriving in Edinburgh at 9:30am I made my way to Charlotte Square Gardens, stumbled through the entrance tent and into another world; a world that I steadily fell in love with.

ed book fest
(Instagram: @edbookfest)

As you enter the gardens there is excitement everywhere you look. There are children laughing and buzzing around happily, people lounging in deckchairs reading or conversing with complete strangers and bonding over a common love, there are tents circling the stately statue in the middle and being greeted by such a happy and reassuring sight filled me with awe. I couldn’t believe how many people were packed into this one space, and why? Because they value, respect and cherish literature, poetry and words in the same way I do. It felt so reassuring and comforting to be in a place where the passion that I carry through every day is safe and valued and understood. In a world being taken over by technology, social media, video games and television it was cheering to see the sheer volume of people keen to preserve and indulge in something so wonderful. That feeling alone made my time at the festival worth it.

I began my time at the festival by heading into the bookshop tent, where there were shelves stacked high with books by both Scottish authors, featured authors of the festival and others. I perused the shelves, soaking up the happy energy in the room of fellow enthusiasts; watching as people read blurbs and first pages, listening to the chatter of “have you read this?” or “you should buy this one, I think you’d enjoy it” going on around the room. I left the bookshop with four new books, four new wonderful additions to my ever growing, yet still modest library.


After my spending spree, I headed to the Spiegeltent, a quaint and cosy corner of the festival grounds, circular in shape and littered with chairs with a small stage. Kicking off the festival, poets Sarah Howe and William  Letford joined Jenny Niven, the Portfolio Manager for Literature, Publishing and Languages for Creative Scotland on stage, where they recited several of their poems and discussed what inspired said pieces, before they answered questions from both Jenny and members of the audience.

This proved a wonderful experience for me, as I had never been to a poetry recital, let alone heard a poet read their own work. I also had no prior knowledge of Sarah Howe or William Letford until I bought my ticket for their event. This is yet another reason for why I love the festival so much, as it helps budding readers to discover the work of artists they may not have found otherwise. I absolutely loved hearing both Howe and Letford recite their poems, as I felt it gave them so much more depth and emotion, adding to the enjoyment of their poetry. I have already read Dirt by William Letford, and I will be sharing my thoughts on it in my book review this coming Sunday, and I am eager to read Sarah Howe’s Loop of Jade soon.

After the talk was over, I made my way back to the bookshop tent to meet Letford and Howe, and they were kind enough to sign my copies of their poetry collections. They were two very likeable and warm people, asking me questions about myself and seeming genuinely interested in the answers. Letford asked me if I write poetry myself, and although I do (although not brave enough to share it), he encouraged me to try my hand at it again and to share. That very same day while sat drinking coffee in between talks I took out my notebook and wrote a poem. Needless to say, I felt inspired by these individuals and I am unbelievably lucky to have been able to attend this talk.


I then proceeded to the Baillie Gifford Main Theatre, where countless numbers of fans, like me were waiting in suspense to see Ali Smith. Ali Smith is a newfound favourite author of mine, and I am eagerly working my way through her published work. During this talk, hosted by author and poet Jackie Kay (who I enjoyed so much that I shall definitely be looking into her work in the future) Ali Smith read 10 pages of her newest book titled Autumn, which is soon to be released. I am unbelievably honoured and privileged to have been among the first people to have heard the newest story, and I can’t quite wait for the published article, as it threatens to be both beautiful and very topical, with reference to recent events such as the European Union referendum.

After Ali had read the 10 pages of her work, Jackie asked Ali questions and opened up to the floor for questions from the audience. I absolutely adored the relationship between Jackie and Ali, who are good friends off of stage. The event was full of laughter and sincerity, and I was somewhat starstruck listening to Ali Smith, who is just as wonderfully eloquent in person as in her work.

ali and jackie.jpg
“Reading is everything, reading is, kind of, life.” Ali Smith (Instagram: @edbookfest)
As soon as the talk ended, I raced to the signing tent where I queued with my newest Ali Smith book in my collection in my hands. As the line crept on and I got closer to the signing table, I saw the sincerity with which Ali Smith conversed with each and every reader, and saw her offering people advice, listening to them intently, she even gave away the first page of the manuscript of her newest book to a fan, who had told her that coincidentally their closest friend was named Autumn (the name of the newest book). It was clear she was a considerate and caring individual, and an unbelievably likeable character. I found myself nervous to be face to face with her, not sure what I would say. As I walked forward and told her my name she used it frequently, which felt very comforting and almost steadied my nerves. We discussed her newest book, the Brexit issue and being of the younger generations in such a pivotal moment of history, among other things. I left the signing tent with my book and with tears in my eyes. This was a very special moment for me and one that I shall never forget.


After a lunch break, some coffee and some poetry writing I went to my third and final event of the day: The Amnesty International talk on Imprisoned Writers. This was a free event, but one that I would have absolutely paid to see as it really had an impact on me. Four writers read the work of four individuals who had gone through inexplicable torture and suffering; whether they had been imprisoned or forced to flee their country due to political affiliation. It was a sobering experience listening to their work, and one that really opened my eyes to the privileged life I live. I couldn’t help but cry as I listened, but also feel unbelievably inspired by these people, and a great deal of hope.

I left the Edinburgh Book Festival at 6:30pm in order to travel back to Aberdeen, and without being dramatic I truly feel I left a different person. I felt elated, uplifted, educated, inspired to write and inspired to read. I hope that those of you who do get a chance to attend the festival find it as enriching and wonderful as I did. I am already unbelievably excited to plan my trip for 2017, and I can only daydream about the wonders that will be in store.

Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith.

Happy Sunday!

This is a review of Girl Meets Boy, the second Ali Smith novel I have read. I read this during the week in preparation for the trip I took to the Edinburgh book festival this Saturday (more on the book festival this week) to see Ali Smith do a talk about her latest work. After reading and loving How to Be Both last year, I knew Ali Smith was someone who could potentially become a new favourite for me. I picked up Girl Meets Boy as I had heard amazing things about it and knew it was quite a quick, yet powerful read. I was not disappointed!

Girl meets boy. It’s a story as old as time. But what happens when an old story meets a brand new set of circumstances?

Ali Smith’s re-mix of Ovid’s most joyful metamorphosis is a story about the kind of fluidity that can’t be bottled and sold.

It is about girls and boys, girls and girls, love and transformation, a story of puns and doubles, reversals and revelations.

Funny and fresh, poetic and political, Girl Meets Boy is a myth of metamorphosis for the modern world. (Goodreads)

I’d first like to talk about Ali Smith’s writing style, which is rather prolific and is actually a style I have grown to love. Smith’s books read like a stream of consciousness and interestingly enough, do not contain speech marks. You almost read a passage before realising it was speech, and it changes the context of what you have read. This takes a couple of pages to get used to, but I think it just makes everything more free form and fluid. Smith plays about with traditional prose, ranging from short and abrupt sentences to paragraph long sentences or long list type sentences. In summary I find this beautiful.

In this book, Smith uses the characters to provide insights and discussion on several themes; gender, sexuality, love, consumerism, capitalism, family, body image, standing up for what you believe… all in under 200 pages! This is not easily done, however Smith uses her wonderfully poetic writing to create such a stunning little book, with such a big and powerful impact.

I knew nothing of the myth this book retells (loosely) and I was concerned that this would be an issue and that I wouldn’t know what was going on, however that was not the case. While the theme of Ovid’s Metamorphosis is there, it is not the soul centre of the book. Instead it discusses love and the fluidity with which it should be able to exist, feminism and the oppression of women and much more.

I would recommend this as an entryway into Ali Smith’s work, as it is both a short and powerful example of what she can do. I can’t wait to read more of her work, as this has just further proven that she could be my next favourite author.

Stunning, emotive, eloquent, real…everything you could want from literary fiction. READ IT!

My favourite books.

The time has come for me to share a few of my favourite books. This is not a final list as that would be VERY difficult to do, and the list is ever changing. However, here are a few of my favourite books (or series of books) that won’t be budging any time soon.

1/ To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

 

I first read this in 2014 during a rough patch in my personal life and it uplifted me and made me so happy. So innocent in the narration and such a heartwarming but equally heartbreaking story. This is one of the few American classics I actually enjoyed, and I read and reread this regularly. It is very accessible in terms of classics as well, and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to start on that route.

 

 

 

2/ Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

I became sorely addicted to this book from the offset, as it was entirely not what I was expecting. Not only was it not solely a romance as I had previously thought, as it tells a great deal of Jane Eyre’s childhood as well as her time at Thornfield with Mr Rochester, but it is extremely feminist. I enjoy this aspect as given the time period that it is from and the fact that the Brontë sisters wrote under male pseudonyms -presumably in a bid to get published without interference- this book would probably not have fit the traditional mould for a classic. I love the writing and the story itself,  and prefer this to some of the 19th century British classics I have read previously.

 

3/ Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

This book was such a quick read for me, and one that I truly adored! I love books that are set in the southern states of America, specifically during the early to mid 20th century. This book follows multiple characters and boasts a diverse cast of individuals. While it touches at points on race, there are also mentionings of sexuality. It is a warm book, that made me smile relentlessly. It ranges over a few decades and follows several plot points which I enjoyed. It gave me a To Kill a Mockingbird feel, which is probably in part why I loved it so much. I know that this is also a very popular movie, but I am yet to watch it!

 

 

4/ The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

Um…I mean there is hardly any explanation necessary is there? DUH! I recently reviewed Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. If you would like to read that review, click here!

 

 

 

 

 

5/ Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

This is one of the best books I have read this year, and one that in all honesty has changed my perspective on myself and my experiences. I found this book absolutely beautiful and so eloquent. The writing has so much emotion in it and is such an honest look at mental illness. If you would like to read my review of this book, it is available here. 

 

 

 

 

6/ The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett


This is a childhood favourite of mine, that I can vividly remember reading. While Pratchett was quite a challenging author for me to read at the age I did (I believe I was 9), I loved this book. So imaginative, so fantastical yet in many ways with realistic and relateable characters. This book spurred on a love for satirical wit and humour, and the portrayal of the Wee Free Men, aka stereotypical Scottish pixies is second to none. So funny. So excellent!

 

 

 

7/ Anything by Maya Angelou

If you would like some context as to why I love Maya Angelou and what I have read by her, see my author spotlight and my review of Letter to my Daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

8/ The Cicero Trilogy by Robert Harris

Dictator (Cicero Trilogy)

Starting with Imperium and ending with Dictator, this series is jam packed start to finish with drama, action and intrigue. I loved this series, it being the most recent addition to this list. That being said, there is so much information in these books and so many references totally lost on me that it will definitely require a reread at some point soon. For my review on the first book, Imperium, click here!

 

 

 

 

I hope you guys enjoyed this post. This week there will be a book review on Sunday and hopefully some more content next week after my day at the Edinburgh book festival.

Pip pip!

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K Rowling (with John Tiffany and Jack Thorne).

GREETINGS FELLOW POTTERHEADS! Apologies, I don’t mean to shout. I am just SO UNBELIEVABLY EXCITED. Today’s book review is of one of the most anticipated books of the year, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the play written by J.K. Rowling as a follow up to the Harry Potter series.

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016. (Goodreads)

I will begin by saying that as a child, Harry Potter played a massive part in my life. It is the first book series I ever truly loved, and most likely played a massive role in shaping the reader I am today. The eager anticipation of waiting for the books to be released are fond memories I carry from childhood, and so waiting for this book was the first time since the Deathly Hallows that I had that feeling. When my copy of the book arrived, I could barely contain myself. I opened the book up and was overcome by emotion and nostalgia upon reading the first page, just experiencing the feelings I used to get when reading the latest instalment of the series for the first time.

While excited for this story, I was also incredibly nervous and (I hate to admit it) slightly sceptical. You know when something is absolutely perfect the way it is, and you are scared that anything extra may wreck it? That was my fear for the HP series, and I was slightly concerned that Rowling was making a mistake going back to following Harry’s life in the wizarding world. I was nervous that the book wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Turned out it surpassed them tremendously.

Now, I realise there will be some skeptics out there, and I have seen a number of reviews saying that this play read like bad fan fiction and left a bad taste in their mouths, however I disagree. I will concede that it is both not the same as the Harry Potter series or anywhere near as good as them, however for die hard Potterheads who simply want nothing more than to visit the wizarding world again, it is a must read.

The story was meticulously calculated, with plot points weaving together and linking to each other. The plot in itself was great, I enjoyed where it went and I thought it did a good job of incorporating existing aspects of the series while keeping the story fresh and exciting. It pretty much overlaps with the final scene of the last Harry Potter book, 19 years after the Battle of Hogwarts. I absolutely loved finding out where all the characters were and what they were doing, I loved seeing the relationships between my favourite characters and seeing what happened after the last chapter of The Deathly Hallows. I don’t want to spoil this for any HP fan who hasn’t yet read it, so I shan’t say any more about the plot.

Obviously this book is written in script and stage direction format, which I worried may be an obstacle. However, it was all too easy to recognise J.K Rowling’s writing and to quickly fall back into it. I almost forgot this was written as a play as I read it, imagining only the story. In a way, the stage directions added to the experience as they made visualising actions easier. I can only imagine how fantastic this play must be to see in real life. I hope at some point to be able to see it down in London, as it appears to have both a tremendous cast and seems as though it shall be artfully carried out.

If you want to take a trip down memory lane (or Diagon Alley?) for old times sake, and want to find out what happened to the boy whose story you followed through 7 books then you should read this book. If you want to cry, laugh and feel all of the feels then again, I think you should read this book. Try and read it with an open mind, as nothing will ever be as brilliant as the original Harry Potter books. While I agree that it is almost like reading a fanfiction, I find it hard to care if it means I can be back in the wizarding world, following a story I am so invested in and will continue to love.

Pip Pip!

 

 

The works of Markus Almond.

Hello, hello!

I would firstly like to apologise for the lack of blog posts recently. I have had a lots of things going on behind the scenes in my life, which not only stopped me from getting much reading done, but also temporarily killed all of my motivation. However, we shan’t dwell. I’m back with not one, not two, but THREE BOOK REVIEWS ALL ROLLED INTO ONE. Today (two days late, sorry) I shall be reviewing three of Markus Almond’s books of paraprose, I hope you enjoy.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term paraprose, it is very simply as it states; short prose, typically a paragraph or less. This, as far as I can tell is Markus Almond’s primary technique, which he uses to tell stories, discuss thoughts on certain subjects and to drop little pearls of wisdom. I began by stumbling upon and reading Things To Shout Out Loud At Parties.

This is a collection of paraprose by author Markus Almond. Showcasing some of his most honest and personal writing, this compilation contains stories of love and redemption, sex and parties, tales of heartbreak and squinting in the morning sun. Things don’t always turn out the way we expect. But with the right attitude and some good friends, you can always find your way to the next adventure.

I absolutely loved this collection of musings from Almond. I found it so relatable, so real and so unfiltered. It was honest and had a very human feel to it, and as you read you felt almost a closeness to Almond. Reading and enjoying this collection lead to me to read his two others: This Book Will Break a Window If You Throw It Hard Enough and Brooklyn to Mars. Both again follow the same idea.

Paraprose is a format I had never read before, however absolutely love. It is so easy to read (as well as very quick to read) and provides snippets of discussion on a variety of topics, which is oftentimes all that is necessary. It is a true skill to be able to encapsulate all your thoughts on a subject into such a small number of words, however Almond manages to do this on a variety of subjects while never compromising his beautiful and eloquent writing style. His writing style reminds me very much of Matt Haig. Almond has such a profound way of viewing the world and takes inspiration from his experiences in order to generate some passages which have a self help aspect to them.

“I will have shortcomings I may never fully conquer. I will have suffocating fears that I must wake up to every day. But I tango with the beasts until my feet are numb and I will wake up tomorrow to try again.” (Brooklyn to Mars)

As well as beautiful writing, Almond discusses such a wide array of topics, which again adds to the enriching experience. It is almost like an essay collection with a twist, some passages being more like personal essays, others tackling broader issues such as consumerism etc.

I loved the way these books were formatted, and I love the idea of paraprose. I have been looking into it more and more as a result of reading these three collections by Markus Almond and am inspired to try and write some of my own. It seems an intriguing way to try and improve my writing abilities, and I am eager to give it a shot. I like the idea of having complete freedom to use words and prose in a different way, which doesn’t follow the expected format of a book. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed these collections and would recommend them most highly.

Once again, apologies for my absence, I’m glad to be back.