Saturday, 25 September 2010

Firebrand by Gillian Philip

I was at the Glasgow launch of Firebrand by Gillian Philip last night. Gillian is a writer of young adult books who is going places. Her publisher received an advanced notice of a review that The Times are planning to run in October. A quick quote from their reviewer contained the words “the best fantasy book of the year”.

Praise doesn’t come much higher than that.

So what’s it all about? The blurb runs like this...

“It is the last decade of the sixteenth century: a time of religious wars in the full-mortal world. But the Sithe (pronounced She) are at peace, hidden behind the Veil that protects their world until their queen, Kate NicNiven, determines to destroy it. Seth MacGregor is the half-feral son of a Sithe nobleman. When his father is assassinated, and Seth is exiled with his brother Conal to the full-mortal world, they vow not only to survive, but to return to reclaim their fortress and save the Veil. But even the Veil’s power cannot protect the brothers when the brutal Scottish witch-hunts begin... Brimming with intrigue and rebellion, Firebrand is the first book in the Rebel Angels series by Gillian Philip, the Carnegie Medal-nominated author of Crossing the Line and multi-award nominated Bad Faith.”

Although Gillian is a YA writer this is a book with universal appeal. The themes, the characters, the writing, the action – boy, the action are all elements that will be enjoyed by everyone.

Gillian is one of those writers who writes books that make you forget you are actually reading. So effortlessly convincing is her prose that you experience the book in the screen of your mind rather than on the page. Seriously.

She writes about characters you pin your heart on – I heard a grown woman last night talking about Seth McGregor in terms you only normally hear when the ladies (and quite possibly a few boys) are talking about the likes of Pitt and Clooney.

Her sense of place and time in Firebrand is so strong you’ll think you’ve actually visited 16th century Scotland through some form of time continuum thingummijig. The Tardis in book form if you like.

But all of this will only take you so far without a story and that’s where Gillian excels. Her storytelling ability is wonderful. The cliché “edge of my seat” never was more apt. This is a lost weekend kinda book, so stock up on coffee and cookies, pick it up, dive in and tell your nearest and dearest you are “out” for the duration.

Monday, 20 September 2010

A pie, a pint and a whole load of poetry...

That was what the good people of Newton Mearns in Glasgow enjoyed last Friday. It was part of a week long Food Festival the local council were organising and the local library got in on the act when they asked The Makar Press Poets – Sheila Templeton, Rowena M Love and my good self – to attend and provide the poetry. Unfortunately, Rowena couldn’t take part but Sheila and yours truly were happy to fly the poetry flag.

Around 40 people turned up, a few of whom indicated at the start they had no idea what to expect.

We got so many people approaching us at the end to tell us they enjoyed the event more than they ever anticipated that it shouldn’t surprise us. But it does.

Few people habitually read poetry, even fewer people buy it, but when given the opportunity to enjoy it they appear to lap it up. It would be nice to think that they go home and search out other poets they might enjoy.

Our work is accessible, works at different levels and can be in turns touching and humourous. They’re not my words but comments people have left with us – and we didn’t have to pay them.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that with just a little effort from the great unwashed we poets would be as lauded as anybody in Hollywood, or on the tv or on the sports park.

Ooooh. Did someone just hit me over the head? Like that’s ever going to happen.

Anywho, in the interests of getting more poetry out there here’s one that went down well on Friday. (Hat tip to New Writing Scotland who published it in their collection a couple of years back.)

Wounded Knee

My black trousers stumbled to a point half way
to the skull-grey cap of my knee
while I steered my way through the corrals
of school playtime, avoiding the gunslinger
glare of bullies, who’d queue
to lassoo with threats.

Pencil point stabbed between my shoulders,
beef-jerky breath in my face
and a low growl in my ear…
…."as soon as the bell rings, you’re dead!"

I was faster than any of them
Knees and fists pumping the air,
I was the best rider
the Pony Express never had.

A half-breed scout, I wore
a Colt pistol under my belt
and an Eagle’s tail feather in my hair.
A combination that won
neither friend or foe
from reservation or ranch.

A fall…and the bony plate of my knee
became a wound with hard baked gravel
ground under the torn and grieving skin.

I grew my thumbnail especially
for that moment when the scab was ripe,
when the blood had hardened
to a brown as deep as the colour of apache skin.

I would tease off the scab…
…until baby pink skin winked in the sunlight,
fresh for the next gallop across the prairie
and the race into the unreachable horizon.

Friday, 17 September 2010

In case you missed it...

...the Pope is visiting Britain right now. As a (lapsed) Catholic is was nice to see him being we well received particularly when there was a fear that he would be largely met with indifference. With regards to the politics of his "message" I'll leave that to others who are more qualified.

Anywho I was reading a poem to an audience on the eve of his visit and it seemed apposite to read the one you will find below. When I wrote it ithe poem was really an exercise (suggested by a poetry workshop leader) in bringing together two sensory memories from my childhood - a stolen sip of altar wine - waking up after wetting the bed. It became an exorcism, if that's not too strong a word, as all poems do that are anchored in truth.

As I read it I remembered a comment from an audience member from an earlier reading. He (very politely)accused me of having a go at the Catholic Church. I told him it was a truthful experience and the poem states the facts without judgement. The judgement was his.

Here's the poem...

Drinking Jesus’ Blood

Sister Mary tears me from my dream,
mouth pursed white like the lip of a drawstring bag.
Again, urine had seeped from my Judas bladder.
Pyjamas in deep, wet, cotton folds burn from belly to knee.

Sister Mary, a window-less room and a bath of ice water.
The drum in my ear shivers at the machine gun rattle of my teeth.
Naked, I hide my hairless sex behind bone-thin hands.
‘Get your hands away, you dirty little pervert.’
My mouth opens, my hands move from sin, then back.

Cold water bites flesh. Skin and muscle shrink to a tight sheath.
Her black sleeves rolled up, forearms white as a frosted soul.
She tries to find suds in iced carbolic. I bite on the questions:
will my teeth chip or break from clattering,
how much will the tooth fairy give me if they are in crumbs?
Rubbed with stiff towel till skin heats, blue to pink.

In the Sacristy with Jim Docherty, the other Altar Boy,
itch of shame replaces the nip of urine.
‘Wet The Bed,’ he chants.
‘Shut it, Big Nose,’ I bruise his arm - and don white.
‘Lads,’ says Father Kieran, tousles our brylcreemed heads

and leaves us with a chalice full of communion wine.
The vessel grows until it shrinks the room,
I lean forward to touch it.
Jim’s eyebrows bounce off his hairline, ‘Bet you wouldn’t.’
I grip the stem in answer to his hushed taunt.

Heart charging at my ribcage I moisten lips, and pour.
Teeth and tongue fur sour before I force open my throat.
A blazing bolus flares a trail to my stomach.
Jim, slack mouthed with fear and awe,
‘Oh-oh, that’s a sin. You’ve just drank Jesus’ blood.’

‘Aye, and it tastes like piss!’

Saturday, 11 September 2010

long time no speak...

It’s the end of the week, the sun is shining, Bob is darting at my feet as I walk about the house and the wee fella is up in his room shooting up some space bandits on his xbox. At least I think it was “bandit!” I heard him shout at the screen.

I have been delinquent in my blogging duties of late – like you care – so I thought I should post a quickie to say hi.


So what’s been happening? It was my birthday this week. The Queen of Chaos who as my 3 regulars will tell you is my twin sister, gave me a card with some cash inside and explained her lack of imagination with the question, ‘What do you buy the man who has everything?’

I answered, ‘More.’

Thing is I’m a long way from having everything, but I’m not really into STUFF anyway. Give me a few gadgets, some RnB and a pile of books and I’m happy. Oh and an e-reader.

I’m continuously tempted to buy one and then I talk myself out of it. I get lots of free books and I like to hold the book in my hand, so why do I want an electronic thingummyjig? Anyone out there got one? What’s your impressions? If I buy one should I go Kindle or Sony or some other version? And why would I want 3G on one?

Anywho, the best present I received wasn’t in fact a present but a review copy of James Lee Burke’s next novel due out in November (I have very kindly provided a photo of the jacket above), and a review copy of Bateman’s next offering, Dr Yes.


Oh and a (small indie) publisher asked to see the full book (one of my crime novels) after reading the first three chapters. They also want a marketing plan. I believe this is fairly common on the other side of the it becoming common practise over here as well? Anybody got any experience of this.

Right better go. Bob has very cleverly managed to pee on the puppy pad (a large absorbent towel thing) but get most of it on the floor.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Something for the weekend...

Police in Florida arranged for a local TV news station to show a store’s surveillance video in which an identified man was seen pistol whipping another dude. The news station appealed for help from their audience to solve this crime and received help from a wholly unexpected source.

The pistol-whipper himself phoned the police department to ask why his picture was on the news.


Just as I’m about to take on the emotional ties of a pet I come across a news article that makes me worry about what might happen should I get too attached. ..

Tsutomu Mizumoto, 31, was arrested early on Wednesday on the northern island of Hokkaido, the Mainichi daily reported.

Police said they responded to an emergency call about 5:45am about a car driving the wrong way on a motorway near the city of Otaru. They spotted the vehicle and pursued the driver, ordering him to stop.

Mizumoto ignored them (as you do when you are upset) and drove on, smashing through five emergency blockades and passing through a tollgate. He finally stopped at about 7:15am. (Did he run out of petrol?)

"I was sad that my pet cat died," he was quoted as telling police. "I wanted to do something crazy."

The average dog lives what, 10-15 years? I have lots of time to think up something nuts to do when he pops off to doggy heaven. Any suggestions?

Driver Bryan Parslow, 19, injured himself and three passengers when he crashed into a tree near Wheatland, N.Y., in May. He was playing "hold your breath" with his passengers and passed out

You’ve got to admire his determination to win, dontcha?

It’s silly season in UK newspapers with everyone (tabloids and broadsheets alike) getting all prissy about William Hague (the Foreign Secretary) and the allegations that were jumping all over the interweb. It appears he’s been found “guilty” of sharing a hotel bedroom with a political aide who happened to be male. Oh the shock of it. Two men sharing a room. They must be gay, was the verdict on the electronic highway.

Grow up, people.

Then proving that smart people do incredibly stupid things Hague compounded matters by using his wife’s miscarriages as “proof” he is a hetero.

WTF, Willy?

Back to men sharing a room –whether they are playing hide the sausage or not – here’s a great big SFW.

I’ll admit to liking my own space when away from home. Part of the joy of having a room to yourself is being able to go about in the buff, fart and snore to your heart’s content without someone else screaming at you to hide your man junk, go to the loo or sleep with a tennis ball sown onto the back of your pyjamas. Just saying.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Its the first of the month and that means...

...that there are some great new books reviewed in the fabulous CRIMESQUAD website.

Go on you. You know you want to.