Sea Glass

A haiku about our trip to Goring on the south coast of England yesterday. While we were swimming and beach combing in the sunshine, two miles away Worthing was deluged with rain. We could see thunderstorms crossing the water, but none came near us.

Sea glass at Goring;

the boys are flint knapping,

the water cool salt green.

‘Igboland’ – a Biafran story

‘Igboland’, by Jeff Gardiner, is published by Crooked Cat Publishing, Edinburgh. It’s fiction, backed up with solid research and factual information – my favourite kind of fiction. I’ll confess an interest straight away – my first novel is also published by Crooked Cat, and Jeff is my editor. I’m enjoying a brief break from writing, and taking the opportunity to catch up on my reading. I’m delighted Jeff agreed to answer a few questions for my blog. Take a look at this book – it’s well worth reading.

Jeff Gardiner – ‘Igboland’

 What started you writing? What made you want to become a writer?

 I’ve always loved reading for as long as I can remember. When I was young, I wanted to be able to write something that affected others as much as a book like ‘The Wind in the Willows’ affected me. (Haven’t achieved that yet, but it’s good to aim high). As an adolescent I wrote terrible, self-indulgent poetry and plays, which I hope never see the light of day. Once I had more life experience, I began to write stories and found some success with those. I write because my head is full of images and stories to tell.

 Your book ‘Igboland’ is set in Nigeria during the Biafran conflict of the 1960s. What led you to choose this topic for your story?

 I was born in Nigeria during the Biafran/Civil War. My parents were missionaries living out in Idoma. I’m very proud and sentimental about my Nigerian roots, and the idea of writing a novel set there was always something I wanted to do. ‘Igboland’ uses some context and details from my Mum’s diaries, but the story is fictional. I very much enjoyed researching Igbo culture and their beliefs – known as Odinani. We in the west could learn a great deal from their profound understanding of the world around us.

 How has writing this book changed the way you approach writing?

 ‘Igboland’ involved more research than my previous novel, ‘Myopia’. I had a strong structure, which did change and turn itself almost inside out at one point. I’m better at structures and planning now. ‘Igboland’ went through a number of edits before being sent off to publishers. I learnt a great deal about editing through the process of completing it. Editing is something that writers must take seriously. It’s an essential element of novel writing.

 In what formats is your book available? Do you favour some formats above others (e.g. e-books versus print)?

 My novels ‘Igboland’ and ‘Myopia’, and my collection of short stories (‘A Glimpse of the Numinous’), are available as paperbacks and e-books. My novel ‘Treading On Dreams’ is in e-book only. I always used to favour proper books, but I am slowly coming round to e-books. I now have a kindle and read most books on it now. The only thing I don’t like about e-books is that it’s difficult to flick back quickly to find a previous extract.

 What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

 You have to believe in your product. If you don’t then nobody else will. Never give up. Have courage and persistence. Get used to rejection and toughen up. Be business-like, and be prepared to work hard at marketing your books. It doesn’t finish when you write ‘The End’. Enjoy being creative.

 Thanks for reading this, and thanks for having me on your blog, Yvonne.

The Map Revealed

Here’s the StAnza poetic map of Scotland. One of my poems is on it, as well as some other fine poems. If your town’s not featured yet – send them your poem, get it up there.

the StAnza Blog

MapWe’ve had a wonderfully enthusiastic response so far to our request for poems with which to map Scotland, 69 poems from almost 50 people in just over a week, and huge thanks to everyone who has submitted. So far we’ve included one poem by everyone who has submitted (including a couple of suggestions of traditional poems), attaching the poems to the locations as best we can identify them, giving the location plus the title of the poem (except where these are the same) and the poet’s name. Then we’ve shown the first two lines of each poem, keeping line breaks as far as googlemaps make this possible. So here is the map as it stands at present.

Click on one of the pins and it will open for the poem for that location. When we post one of the poems in full on our blog, we add a link to that as well, and we do hope to feature most of the poems eventually. Later, once…

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Sonnets for the Sea

In 2012, Sonnets for the Sea won the Britwriters Poetry Award. These poems are at the heart of my poetry collection The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet.

The following year, two local photographers, Sam Jones and Sarah Darling, volunteered to work with pupils from the local High School, to create photographs inspired by the poems. The result was an exhibition, Metaphorical Distance, at our local arts centre, An Tobar (Tobermory, Isle of Mull).

One of the pupils created a slide show from some of the photographs, to accompany a recording of me reading the sonnets. It was a pleasure to work with the young photographers and they produced some great work. It was a lovely example of ekphrasis – where one art form is used to interpret and explain another.

The Importance of Rules

It’s important to have rules, especially if you’re a writer. I’ve been thinking about this since I read Jami Gold’s useful thread about POV changes (see this blog, 28 June 2014). I needed to conquer the Point of View dragon in order to write my latest book. Previously I’ve only toyed with it, but her article came at just the right time for me to take advantage of it.

Rules at their simplest help to make things understandable – grammar, punctuation, word order. If we simply ignored them, our writing wouldn’t be readable. But the real value of rules comes after you’ve taken the time to take in, analyse and understand them.

The great thing you can do once you know the rules is – you can break them. Some of the best writers break the rules with impunity, because they understand exactly what they’re are doing. And, in my opinion, it’s one of the things that distinguishes’ really good poetry. By understanding what readers expect and denying it, the poet forces us into unexpected pathways and that makes us think.

At its best, it gives us a little taste of the potent force that is forever swirling in the maelstrom of the poet’s soul. That’s the word-weaving magic we love.



Ice Cream Star

I’m an inveterate reader. I always have several books on the go, both fiction and non-fiction, and if I run out of new things I’m happy to read old favourites over and over again. Every now and again, though, a book comes along that makes me think: why did I not realise until this moment that my life was incomplete? Some books ambush you in the first few words, and then take up a space in your heart that was waiting for them, it was only that you didn’t realise their place was already prepared.

Such a book is “The Country of Ice Cream Star” by Sandra Newman.

Please let me say: I don’t know the author, I have nothing to do with the publisher, I haven’t been asked to do this review. Ice Cream Star is just by light years the best thing I have read this year. Here’s the review I wrote for it on Amazon:

“It’s not often I wish Amazon allowed the award of six stars. This is one of those books. I’d award it maximum points for its use of language alone: Ice Cream Star speaks to us in a patois of childspeak, mutated grammar and sophisticated reasoning that is compelling to read. She has a unique voice.

The story itself is a beautifully written realisation of a harsh, unforgiving world. It is full of hardship and misery, and the kinds of half-baked systems that you would expect to be invented by children left in charge of their own future. The plot is horrifyingly plausible: a brilliantly realised dystopian vision, with Ice Cream Star front and centre, a reluctant heroine we cannot help but love.

I can only wish to write with such facility. I confidently predict that this book is going to soar.”

If you haven’t read a sample of this book yet, please do. It’s consummate prose, not a word out of place. I stayed up until 1 a.m. because I couldn’t put it down until I’d finished. Now I’m going to read it again, and see what I can learn from it. Take a look. You won’t regret it.


The poem always wins

Yes. All this.

Anthony Wilson


You think it will be about your childhood. It turns out to be about an onion.

Or a night in the rain, or, not so much night, as just: rain. Except it isn’t about rain either.

Somehow your daughter has crept in there.

She is smiling at you, when she was six. It is breaking your heart.

So the poem has all these things going on in it, on and underneath its surface.

Mixed in there are the friendships with other poets, as they look over your shoulder frowning at what you have written.

The thing your grandmother once said to you about hardly being Wordsworth, darling.

Your desk. Its hardness, for you, now, under these words, and then, for the man who owned it before you.

So it is back to your childhood. A blazing summer playtime. Grass in your face and down your shirt. Nettles, the sudden realisation.

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Win a copy of The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet

Competition to win a copy of my poetry book, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet. Just join The Calgary Chessman group on Facebook and post three words that best describe what you expect from my upcoming novel, The Calgary Chessman. The winner will be chosen by me in a completely non-random and partisan way. Competition closes 10 July.

If you’d like to know a bit more about the book, take a look at my blog post from 23 June 2014.

The Last Boat Home

Living on an island has its hazards, one of which is making it back in time to catch the last ferry. Today I nearly didn’t make it.

The Last Boat Home, or, Panic on Rannoch Moor

To be sung, ballad style, to a lilting Scottish tune.

Heading uphill to Rannoch Moor,
The petrol light came on.
There was petrol not too far away:
Behind me – at Tyndrum.

What to do? It wasn’t far.
I could easily choose to turn,
But if I went back and took the time
I’d miss the last boat home.

When in doubt, my motto is,
Always keep moving on.
Twenty-four miles to Glen Coe:
That shouldn’t take me long.

I ploughed ahead, behind a bus,
Willing myself to calm.
Surely it was worth the risk,
To catch the last boat home?

I fixed my gaze on the petrol gauge,
Steadily creeping down.
By the edge of Glen Coe it was south of left,
I was driving on the fumes.

A wind arose and shook the car,
The rain came pouring down.
I really began to doubt that I
Could make the last boat home.

A petrol station saved my hash,
And I filled her up and went on
The wind and rain began to lash,
But I drove my poor car home.

Across Corran ferry, the last dash back
With only an hour to go.
I drove like a fool through tempestuous air,
and arrived in Lochaline with minutes to spare,
but I caught the last boat home.