Monthly Archives: October 2012

Happy birthday, Mersina’s daddy

One of my favourite things about birthdays is the idea that the sun in its position in the sky is at the same place as it was last year and the year before that all the way back to the day that you were born. A physical skymark (as such) that here is the point where you can start again. Go through all the fun and adventures one more time but fresh and new and for the very, very first time.

I thought you might enjoy a visit back to all the brand new things of last year when for little Mersina they were even more new and sparkly.

Happy solar return.

October 27, 2011 to October 26, 2012






















Here’s to another year of hair cuts, adventures, baaaahs and cafes.

Literary Blog Hop, 27 October – 31 October

Welcome to another Literary Blog Hop by the voracious reader Leeswammes who has hosted this giveaway for the past two years. There are around 50 blogs which have signed up to this and they are all giving away something book related. All their links are at the bottom of this post and anyone can visit and enter – just mind the blog’s own restrictions as some don’t post worldwide.

I am giving away a book of your choice up to the value of £10 from the Book Depository. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post and you will be entered. Since it’s so close to Halloween / Samhain feel free to leave a scary book suggestion in the comments, just for fun. This won’t affect the giveaway.

The winner needs to respond to my email within three days or I will choose someone else. That’s it! Have fun discovering new blogs.

  1. Leeswammes
  2. Read in a Single Sitting
  3. Ephemeral Digest
  4. My Devotional Thoughts
  5. Devouring Texts
  6. Tony’s Reading List
  7. Nishita’s Rants and Raves
  8. Too Fond
  9. The Parrish Lantern
  10. Kristi Loves Books
  11. The Book Club Blog
  12. Sam Still Reading
  13. Silver’s Reviews (USA)
  14. Bibliosue
  15. Heavenali
  16. Under My Apple Tree
  17. Misfortune of Knowing (North America)
  18. Lena Sledge’s Blog
  19. Lost Generation Reader
  20. Seaside Book Nook
  21. The Relentless Reader
  22. Rikki’s Teleidoscope
  23. Monique Morgan
  24. That READioactive Book Blog
  25. kaggsysbookisahramblings
  26. Ragdoll Books Blog
  27. Kate’s Library
  28. The Book Garden
  29. Uniflame Creates
  30. Curiosity Killed The Bookworm
  1. Ciska’s Book Chest
  2. The Book Divas Reads
  3. Alex in Leeds
  4. Simple Clockwork
  5. Bluestalking (USA)
  6. Fresh Ink Books
  7. Sweeping Me
  8. Giraffe Days
  9. Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book (USA)
  10. Books Thoughts Adventures (USA)
  11. emmalikestoread
  12. Colorimetry
  13. Page Plucker
  14. Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity
  15. 2606 Books and Counting
  16. Book Nympho
  17. She-Wolf Reads
  18. The Little Reader Library (Europe)
  19. Booklover Book Reviews
  20. Dolce Bellezza

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I didn’t tell a soul I was reading Never Let Me Go because I couldn’t risk anyone spoiling it for me. There was something so precious about these recollections of a former student at one of what seem to be specialised schools around England. Kathy H spends her time driving around the country caring for others and telling her story.

The stories involve a time of gentle and developing friendships between children in what seems like an orphanage. They spent their time navigating the rules of friendship and social relations in a manner so familiar to anyone having navigated school and other people.

The stories go back in forth in time in a story full of foreshadowing and intrigue and of the utter gentleness of these little characters. I fell so in love with them and felt their anticipation and fear at growing up and having to transition into a strange and scary life outside of a known home.

This was a beautiful story, written so lovingly and carefully. I highly recommend it.

Al Lewis at the Louis 2

I don’t know if Louis 2 is the smallest venue in Bristol but it’s the dinkiest one I’ve ever visited, that Like a Hurricane solo by a former housemate at university, aside. Down some steep stairs, and behind the crowd, the singer is barely visible but the sound reverbates off the walls.

Folksy, winsome Lily McCauley sings “how did I know you’d catch me when I’d fall” and finishes up with Those Eyes and Fragile. A great introduction by a very recent addition to the West Country music scene, only picking up a guitar for the first time in 2010.

I have a friend who walked out of a Portishead gig at a Manchester pub a few years before they hit their heights of fame and that is how I expect the few people who walked out, before Al Lewis came on stage, will feel very soon.

He has been played on Radio 1, 2 and 6music, was Best Male Artist two years in a row at the BBC Radio Cymru Awards and on Friday played to a handful of people in a very intimate gig in a cellar while sounding like he should be on the main stage at the Colston Hall.

A guitar twang and the addition of the harmonica brought to mind Neil Young while the singing and the cello by Mary reminded of Damien Rice, especially the higher notes which bounced off the ceiling and filled the room.

Lewis is on tour for his latest album ‘Battles’, produced by Charlie Peacock of The Civil Wars fame, with long-time collaborator Sarah Howells, from Paper Aeroplanes, who plays the Louisiana next month.

He played us the version of Road Rage he sang with Cerys Matthews on stage while his own songs were accompanied by music designed to capture emotions that come by fleetingly and dash off in a hurry. An intimate gig was just right.

We were mesmerised by Battles and the first single off the album Treading Water. Fault Lines seemed faultless and the more up-tempo number which he wrote in New Orleans at a friend’s wedding got people shuffling away. It was a wonderful gig, the best one I’ve been to in a very long time.

While Mary packed up her cello and got ready to go to the train station, Al took time to play us his encore, Arsonist. Just him and his guitar in the middle of the room. Poignant, sweet and probably one of the last times we’ll ever be able to be so close to him at a performance.

A lifeline for the eternal student

I can’t afford to study with UK higher education institutions (HEIs) anymore. Since the introduction of tuition fees were introduced under the coalition government, undergraduate courses at the Open University have gone up from 200-300£s to around £1200 for a small course. I can’t afford that kind of money now that I work part time and am raising a little girl.

I have instead turned to free courses from overseas universities. Some very good and indeed elite universities like Stanford, MIT and Harvard.

Do check them out – here’s a list of 50 courses, which offer some sort of certificate, from Open Culture.

Update: The Guardian has now also written about this phenomenon in Do online courses spell the end for the traditional university?

Off Life, a new street press publication in Bristol

Now and then it would be nice if life was truly surprising. If someone who had never worked in the art world decided to pursue their dream of getting those doodles they’d been scribbling over the years into a publication for all to love and embrace.

Well it’s not that easy. I was speaking to Daniel Humphry, editor of OFF LIFE, in an email exchange after I asked whether I could send him some questions.

Daniel is editor of the UK’s only street press comic magazine and it is distributed in delis and cafes around Bristol. My copy was from Mud Dock Deli just beyond the M Shed. It’s really rather good. In fact bits of it are genius. Especially one which is not only set in Australia but has Zen in the title and talks about the Buddha’s eightfold path and the four noble truths.

The magazine is new and fresh and it was the first issue and I liked the idea that some random unknown cartoonist made it work after a crowdsourcing campaign on indiegogo. It wasn’t quite like that. Daniel studied journalism and has spent the last six years working in magazines so when it came time to put his own creation into a tangible article he was able to do it very well. As he says, if he hadn’t had that experience he would “have been terrified”.

So here’s a chance to take some advice on how to get your own creation to come to life and find out more about him.

1. Just like you asked Tom Gauld, I’d like to ask you what first drew you to comics?

For me it was just a natural progression from Saturday morning cartoons. Whereas they ended at 9am I could pick up my Beano or Marvel weekly at any time, and as with books there’s more imagination required in ‘reading between the panels’ than there is in sitting back and watching the TV. You almost create your own little story when reading someone rises, if that makes sense.

2. What advice do you have to give to people who want to self-publish their creations? Practical tips are always useful.

Well we’ve done something a bit different in using advertising to fund the magazines and then just giving them away. That was our way of getting our publication, incredible indie talent and the comic medium out there to a new audience. As for how to get an anthology to sell in a comic shop, i couldn’t tell you. But I guess the principals of networking within the industry, finding a good printer, being very critical of anything you produce and being willing to take that big risk all still apply.

3. In the graphic novel industry there seems to be a perception that self-publishing is a normal way to get published. Would you agree and how long did it take you to publish the first edition from concept to delivering physical magazines to Mud Dock deli in Bristol on a Sunday?

In all honesty it took about two months. I quit my job and fortunately already had contacts in the design, printing and press industries that might otherwise have taken months or even years to make. I have to say that we wouldn’t have created anything though without our peers in the comic world kindly lending their support and spreading the word. Thankfully the comic industry is a friendly one!

As for self publishing, it of course has its draw backs and limitations but it does mean that if you have an idea you don’t have to wait for a major publisher to come along and find you. It’s a lot of hard work though!

4. You raised $1170 of your $1700 goal on indiegogo. Is that how much it cost to create the first edition? Is that the way you will fund the second one and do you envisage being able to pay your contributors at some point?

Financing the project far exceeded the indiegogo target – which we were surprised to gain such a response from – but advertising will always be our main revenue stream that funds the project. I don’t think we’ll run another crowd sourcing fund as the goal now has to be becoming self sufficient. As for paying artists, we would have loved to from the start but initially it’s impossible for a start up like ours. We’ve already heard word of OFF LIFE Issue One artists gaining paid commissions off the back of their inclusion in the magazine and that’s out main hope for all artists.

5. Zen for beginners is one of three of my favourites – Loud Neighbour and Doppelganger are up there in the number 1 slot too.

Did your trip to Australia influence your addition of the zen piece? How did Australia influence your creative vision?

The sheer quality of the zen piece was enough to influence its inclusion, but overall my time in Melbourne did inspire the magazine. Their street press culture is incredibly strong and affords very creative, little magazines to explode without the rules or guidance of a major publisher. I think if that model spreads past the music and what’s on genres that currently exist here in the UK (and many are very good!) then it’s good for readers, the publishing trade and creativity in general!

Check out more of OFF LIFE around Bristol and online.

Women out of the pink box and into a pink festival

You only need to read through the themes of the workshops of women outside the box to realise what a useful resource this may have been for women running their own business: “Inspiration-Perspiration; Inspiring stories from entrepreneurs, Start-up, Growth, Work-Life-Family, Marketing, Pitching”.

Breaking into markets is hard so there is excellent help for these entrepreneur mums. Mentors, exporting, writing press-releases. Invaluable help really that people working in business and industry have instant or at least some access to.

I know that juggling work and a family life are difficult. I have a friend whose life consists of sleepless nights with her son, running knitting workshops, a cake-making business, learning to crochet and various other things on the side. This festival seemed ideal for that type of very busy mum so I became rather curious at the branding of this conference with its emphasis on fun and femininity.

Why does Women Outside the Box need to sell their event as fun and by extension (maybe?) frivolous. There are pamper evenings and glamour times. All of this gives me the message that women’s business is not serious business. “De-stress in the Pamper Studio” says one of the messages just underneath “girls to girls” market as if it is teenagers having a laugh, and all you need, after the fatigue-driven evenings and mornings of getting everything ready in your life, is a quick break in a spa.

I am unimpressed with the branding and I suspect if it was aimed at cardiac surgeons or others in a position where people relied on them professionally, this flippancy and trivial approach to the amazing effort a lot of women are putting in, would not be accepted.

Admittedly there are plenty of trivial people who don’t run their business out of a sense of having no other choice and to support their families. There is no consequence to their failure – men or women – so de-stressing is probably best done in a spa with a glass (or bottle) of wine. A lot of people, however, and many of them are women, face severe consequence if they fail. Forget letting your nails go undone for a month, they may not be able to pay rent or support their child as a single parent.

Of course, fun is a good thing and it would be nicer if all of life was approached in this way but I suspect that it is not the joie de vivre of just existing that the branding was aiming for but rather the whole “girls just want to have fun” slogan that Cindy Lauper cursed us with.

I have asked Women out the Box to comment.

EBooks are not that cheap when you’re writing from the heart

I was talking to a volunteer at the Cheltenham Literature festival yesterday who told me that it’s one of the only festivals that makes a profit because authors can be bought cheaply as they are promoting their books. In fact, there was some confusion at the Frankie Detorri event as people looked for a book and had to be told there wouldn’t be one until next year.

This made sense to me, that Cheltenham especially was used as marketing. Same with chat shows where celebrities go on to promote something. I’m not saying it is true, it was all in passing and I haven’t asked the festival itself but it fit with my perceptions / biases.

Reading this Deepak Chopra article though you’d think it was all doom and gloom for authors and that the eBook was the culprit because it’s a lot cheaper than other versions / editions. The biggest proof of this may be that the biggest release of the year, the Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling was in third place on the kindle list on Amazon on that day because rubbish such as the Expat was being sold for 20p.

Rowling, however, was certainly not discounted and nor did she need social media marketing such as blogger reviews. Allegedly, the Guardian reviewer, in fear of possible leaks, had to read it under the watch of a guard. The publishing house did not need us bloggers. Nor for Marian Keyes new book which was selling for £9.50 on kindle, just 40p cheaper than on hardback. I never knew until know that it was the immediacy of availability that cost so much and not the production process.

In fact, if the eBook is selling at the same price as the hardback, the profit margins must be hugely different. No publishing, material costs nor delivery to worry about with eBooks.

What we do have to worry about is the idea that there is something wrong. Chopra has written 65 books and behind his admonition of following your heart and do what you love, his text-heavy article is a nostalgic trip to a time where things were more secure. New writers would have to deal with a brave new world of insecurity.

But it was always a time of insecurity for writers. It was only ever secure for those best-selling authors whose advances were secured and now they’re getting knocked a bit because 20p books are keeping them from the number one slot and people are buying drivel like 50 shades of get a life.

So I did like Chopra’s point of write from the heart. He had other points too but ultimately at least you will have written something that you can enjoy even if you never make any money from it. My personal theory is that quality will always stand out but there you go. Maybe the second book can have all the marketing thrown at it.

** Look – on the day of publishing this post, the pre-order of Bat by Jo Nesbot on Kindle, is £8.54. That to me is such a large amount for a book which can’t be shared and can’t be passed on after my death.

Tasting menu at the Square Kitchen

Alert: Partly-free-meal disclaimer in the text; gratuitous picture of toddler and her dad

As my 19-month-old daughter, Mersina, and her father, Martin, convened underneath our edge of the very long table at the Square I felt myself getting a little restless. It had taken one hour for our first two courses to arrive and we were waiting for the third.

The Ms were having a chat while I wondered why only every other or so course had a glass of wine as part of the wine flight and wouldn’t it have been better to add the apple from underneath the scallop to the mackerel tartar which is described as having horseradish and cucumber but all I could taste was beetroot. The sharpness would have helped it go from quite okay-ish to delicious.

There wasn’t far to go for the whole menu. It was all a very pleasant experience as the Ms and I enjoyed our complimentary^ seven-course taster menu. (I suspect the reviews would all be a couple of tones more positive if the wine had been included.)

Two dishes stood out as outstanding, the Battenberg of foie gras, ham hock and confit duck with piccalilli, apricot and hazelnut which was our third course and the Thai curry flavours dessert which was our seventh. The latter had little chilli meringues surrounding a ginger cake, lime leaf ice cream, lemongrass custard and a coconut & coriander panna cotta.

I was very glad of the lighter flavours rather than the chocolate salt caramel or some similar combination which is rather more popular. Martin, on the other hand lamented the lack of chocolate caramel and Mersina was instructed to go nowhere near the too spicy chilli meringues.

The Battenberg was fantastic although the piccalilli was rather pointless. Even as a mostly meat-averse diner I enjoyed this dish more than all the rest and we were even discussing it with the staff at the end of the night. A definite highlight.

The rest was nice, the two mains predictably filling, with the turbot slightly under-seasoned and the mussels a bit over-flavoured. If we could have been served a little more quickly I think I would have felt much happier.

There were three long dining tables with couples and groups scattered around the place. It didn’t ruin the intimacy because we had no one sitting next to us although the places were handily set.

When I mentioned that I needed a fork for my turbot and pork belly dish, the smiling waitress nodded and never brought one. I took mine from nearby. This reminds me of another issue with cutlery. The dishes all seemed to be served in a bizarre arrangement of tablets and little glass dishes or just very rounded bowls so I never knew where my cutlery should go or whether we would be getting a new set each time.

The food was all quite good and perhaps if I had gone on a date where I was too lost in my companion’s eyes to notice that hours and hours had passed by from start to end then I wouldn’t have minded the lack of attention. Both our single solitary scallop’s dishes (which our little girl devoured – both of ours) were left sitting next to us for a couple more courses. As it was, we barely ate at the same time as we were in entertaining-the-toddler mode.

The restaurant is, as we were told, child-friendly with a high chair set up for us and our little girl happily greeted wherever she wondered off to. The food is enjoyable and the two dishes I mentioned, the battenberg and the dessert are worth trying no matter whether you go for the tasting menu or not.

As my receipt reminded me, because our discount was labelled as such, there is a Groupon deal* for the Square Kitchen albeit not the seven-course one. It has a glass of prosecco each as well. Scoop it up while you can. (Don’t go with a toddler although ours did enjoy herself.)

Thank you, Square Kitchen. The food was enjoyable. , 15 Berkeley Square, Clifton, Bristol BS8 1HB


^ Complimentary as in we ordered one wine flight to share at £19.50 – four 125ml glasses of wine; a service charge of 12.5% of £129.50 cost and a subtraction of £55 each for the food since we were dining there at the request of the Square Kitchen in return for a review (total: £35.69).

*Not an affiliate link – I get no commission if you click through.
**Note, there is a pre-dessert of pear & whiskey, home made sherbert which is not worth mentioning.

Understanding life

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.
– John Lennon