Friday, 16 March 2018

Tar for Mortar

I'd like to give a huge shout out to Jonathan Basile (@JonotrainEB) who has just released his first book: Tar for Mortar: "The Library of Babel" and the Dream of Totality.

This is the guy who created the virtual Library of Babel, making it live online.
Tar for Mortar offers an in-depth exploration of one of literature’s greatest tricksters, Jorge Luis Borges. His short story “The Library of Babel” is a signature examplar of this playfulness, though not merely for the inverted world it imagines, where a library thought to contain all possible permutations of all letters and words and books is plumbed by pious librarians looking for divinely pre-fabricated truths. One must grapple as well with the irony of Borges’s narration, which undermines at every turn its narrator’s claims of the library’s universality, including the very possibility of exhausting meaning through combinatory processing.

Borges directed readers to his non-fiction to discover the true author of the idea of the universal library. But his supposedly historical essays are notoriously riddled with false references and self-contradictions. Whether in truth or in fiction, Borges never reaches a stable conclusion about the atomic premises of the universal library — is it possible to find a character set capable of expressing all possible meaning, or do these letters, like his stories and essays, divide from themselves in a restless incompletion?

While many readers of Borges see him as presaging our digital technologies, they often give too much credit to our inventions in doing so. Those who elide the necessary incompletion of the Library of Babel compare it to the Internet on the assumption that both are total archives of all possible thought and expression. Though Borges’s imaginings lend themselves to digital creativity ( is certainly evidence of this), they do so by showing the necessary incompleteness of every totalizing project, no matter how technologically refined. Ultimately, Basile nudges readers toward the idea that a fictional/imaginary exposition can hold a certain power over technology.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Setting Sail

Today, I set sail upon a sea of words.

And, like the picture above, it may all go up in smoke.

The start of this year has seen a lot of faffing. March already! Goodness. I thought I'd be so much further along with so many projects.

In a bid to clear my desk, I've given myself a rather punishing schedule this week. I'm thoroughly enjoying ghostwriting a business biography for a client. They've lived an extremely interesting life so it's a pleasure to help put it to paper. 

That's actually going much better than my own work because it's got a lot of structure to it. We did many hours of interviews, so for me it's now a case of reconfiguring what we talked about into neat chapters. I'll spend one day listening to a chunk of the tapes and collating that material into a logical plot progression, then I'll spend the next day padding out those transcribed notes into something that flows. 

The way we narrate stories is rarely a straight chronology. If you listen to anyone talking about things they've done - your grandfather's war stories, your mother's misspent youth - people jump about all over the place. Remembering one thing often causes them to remember something else that is related but happened in another place or time. People often jump to that other thing before coming back to complete what they were talking about in the first place, or drifting off into something else entirely.

For the writer, you need to find all those loose threads and tie them together in neat paragraphs. If someone starts off talking about one thing, jumps to something that happened later in life, then comes back, you need to gather together the beginning and end, and push the middle to the bottom of the page. It's more important for a reader to have the chronology straightened out than for a listener. I think it's down to the ways in which we're used to having information presented to us. We expect to jump around when having a story told to us, whereas we're used to the written narrative following a more considered course.

Anyway, that's coming along nicely at the moment. My client is happy, though wants me to add more humour. We'll fix that in the edit.

My own writing is not progressing in the least. I never recovered from losing those two chapters of Still Life. It irritates me to tears every time I think about it, so I haven't thought about it.

This week I'm fixing that.

I'll never move forward with the novel until I rewrite the missing scenes. So, this week's schedule is:

MONDAY: Ghostwrite one chapter.
TUESDAY: Write one chapter of SL, transcribe notes for next ghost chapter.
WEDNESDAY: Ghostwrite one chapter.
THURSDAY: Write one chapter of SL, transcribe notes for next ghost chapter.
FRIDAY: Ghostwrite one chapter.
SATURDAY: Edit ghostwritten chapters and send to client.
SUNDAY: Drink wine, eat cheese.

It's kind of like knit one, purl one.

By the end of this week I should have three more chapters to send to the client, plus I should have returned to where things were with my own novel and can then continue writing the rest of it.

So, this morning I stare into the gaping space left by my failure to backup, and remind myself never to be so silly again.

Anchors away!

Saturday, 10 March 2018

My Name is Life, Book Launch

Braved the wet weather yesterday to attend the launch of My Name is Life, the first adult novel published by Rwandan publisher ImagineWe. I helped to edit this, so it was really nice to see the finished product. Fabulous cover design. It was also my first time inside Kigali Convention Centre, currently Africa's most expensive building.

Author, Karen Bugingo
bugingo means life
ImagineWe founder, Dominique Alonga

Karen Bugingo is a normal teenager roaming the streets of Kigali. Bugingo means Life in Kinyarwanda. Her story seems quite usual, almost boring, until a series of heartwrenching events tear her from her friends, her school and life as she knew it. This is the journey of her courage to fight back and the strength to look death in the face and say "My name is Life."

It was really interesting to see the people she wrote about in real life. Her grandmother plays a big role in the story, which tells of her struggle for diagnosis and treatment as a cancer patient. Her grandmother was at the launch, along with other members of her family, and stood up to say hello. Strange to see them step out of the pages into the room. 

It was a stormy night, and the speakers were lit by lightning through the ceiling-to-floor windows behind. Glad I faced the weather, though. It's fantastic to see publishing houses producing contemporary work in Rwanda. They plan to take this one on tour to other countries, so keep an eye on ImagineWe's social media: website, Twitter, Facebook. We were also encouraged to live-tweet the night, so check out the hashtag #MyNameIsLife for more pictures and comments.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

International Women's Day Reading List

Image from So Here's a Thought...

To celebrate International Women's Day, here's some top women authors who have written books about women and their worlds:

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an author I often mention as I love her work, which usually features some very strong-minded women navigating difficult situations. Her novels are often set in India and America and examine the culture clashes and challenges that come with bridging those countries. Sister of My Heart is probably my favourite.


Bem Le Hunte wrote one of my favourite novels of all time, The Seduction of Silence. Similarly to Divakaruni, it examines relationships from the Ayurvedic hills of India to a spiritualist church in London. The complex relationship between mothers, daughters and wives is deeply explored.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a huge name in world fiction, featuring women at the forefront of her stories. The relationship between the sisters Olanna and Kainene in Half of a Yellow Sun is one that I'm still unpacking today. As well as being a brilliant writer, she's also a clear voice on the subject of feminism. I highly recommend watching her TED talk on the subject.

Inga Muscio is an America writer who wrote Cunt: A Declaration of Independence. It's a very interesting look at the language used, especially in a derogatory sense, towards women, and how we might reclaim those words and put them to use in a positive sense. It also navigates a range of issues from birth control to female rivalry. Well worth a read. 

I'm including the late, great Diana Wynne Jones in this lineup. She's best known for YA fiction like Howl's Moving Castle and the Chrestomanci series. Her stories usually include a balance of male and female characters, but the thing I love about them is that, despite their fairytale settings, the women are never passive. Sophie in HMC kicks ass and princesses are just as likely to rescue the princes. Good stories for young minds.

You can also find a back issue archive of the feminist magazine Spare Rib online.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

World Book Day 2018

Well, I'm a little late this year, or extremely early if you go by the other World Book Day date of 23rd April. Carrying on the tradition of 2015, 2016 and 2017, here's my annual Book Day roundup.

The book  I have just finished reading:

The Rising of Bella Casey by Mary Morrissy was a surprise find. I stumbled upon it whilst looking for something else and was soon smitten with talk of pianos. It really was a good read. It tries to answer the mystery of why playwright Seán O'Casey killed off his sister ten years early in his memoirs.

The two books I am currently reading:

I'm really loving The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan. It retells the history of the world with a focus on the Orient and the Middle East, and how the later-developing politics of the Western World were formed by these trade routes. It's really well written, more of an epic adventure than a history book.

Also currently reading a novel by one of my all-time favourite authors, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, for which it was my great pleasure to actually read her work in India recently. I even took a photo of the cover in front of the Water Palace in Jaipur. Earlier in the year I'd also read Before We Visit the Goddess.


Huge shout out to this wonderful work of adult fiction by Rwandan writers, called Versus. Published by Huza Press. A real treat to read such varied voices across so many genres, from romance to Sci-fi. It's the first anthology of its kind in the country and well worth picking up a copy.

Author crush of the year:

My author crush of the year goes out to Ralph Pullins for Antiartists. He's said some very nice things about my work in the past and it was an absolute pleasure to stick my face in his book. The pages flew past. It's dark and packed with insecurity, self-harm and humour. Fabulous debut novel and I look forward to reading more from him.


Brought to you by Kate Harrad, the author of All Lies and Jest, Purple Prose is an excellent introduction and exploration of bisexuality in Britain. I contributed to the crowdfunder for this but it's taken me far too long to get around to reviewing it. Worth the wait. Very satisfying.



After watching too much Black Sails, I decided to delve into the original Treasure Island. Ignoring a drifting scene in a coracle, it was swashbucklingly good adventure with a few interesting language lessons. Gaaaarrrr. Worth having a read before International Talk Like a Pirate Day comes around.


I have read remarkably little poetry this year. I think this book comes closest. It's called This Could be Such a Beautiful World... by a lady called Rosalind Welcher. I found it in the second-hand bin at a local café. I'm a sucker for old-smelling books. It's described as a short essay, but it's extremely poetic and very beautiful in parts.


Top of my TBR pile this year is a murder mystery called The Honking by Ugandan author Mulumba Ivan Matthias. I picked it up at Acacia Book Café a couple of months back and was intrigued by the back blurb. Looking forward to reviewing it.

For more reading suggestions, check out my Juicy Reads tab.

Monday, 5 March 2018


Just introduced a friend to the joys of Salad Fingers and saw something else by David Firth that I hadn't watched before. I love this guy's work so much.

I once wrote to him offering to pay for the right to make one T-shirt of a scene I really liked. He replied telling me that so long as I wasn't printing them and selling them commercially, I was welcome to make one for myself fee free. My friend Daniel put it together and I wore that T-shirt until it fell apart.

Salad Fingers on Tour in Kenya and Rwanda.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

My Name is Life

A book I helped edit has its launch coming up. If you're in Kigali on 9th March, head for the Convention Centre. It's the true story of a Rwandan cancer survivor's battle for diagnosis and treatment. Published by ImagineWe.

Friday, 2 March 2018


Sorry for the silence everyone. Just been on a mammoth trek through the DRC. Normal programming will resume shortly.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

The BBC Needs Proofing

I appreciate today's connected world, but along with 24-hour rolling news and the desperate search for continual content, comes an extreme slip in the quality of presentation. The British paper The Guardian once earned itself the nickname The Grauniad for its frequent typos and spelling errors. Back then, people noticed when their news was poorly proofed. Now it seems to be so standard we just accept it. And perhaps it wouldn't be so noticeable if the BBC wasn't the only news outlet in the UK to benefit from a license fee, with television viewers earning it £3.7billion a year. They also sell advertising so that people viewing their website from outside the UK see adverts. Which raises the question: can they not afford a proofreader?

It seems every second article nowadays has a really obvious mistake. Here's a handful from the past few months:

fifth woman


was a simply a folly of youth

comes to feminism +
would close the clause nicely


up to 1ft


that deals that would be

In addition to


not undergone gender reassignment

Thomas's life

Today, one article had the same photo and caption in two separate places.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Titanic 2: Jack's Back

I spat coffee at Titanic, the Musical.

@WorldAndScience: The Titanic compared to a modern Cruise Ship 

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Love Letters in the Old Oak Tree

A 500-year-old oak tree outside the town of Eutin, Germany, has been matching singles for more than a century and is reportedly responsible for 100-plus marriages.

Write to:

Dodauer Forst
23701 Eutin, Germany

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Arse Biscuits


Just done something monumentally stupid. Got a new laptop. The old one had some issues and crashed a couple of times, so I was saving my novel to an external hard drive. 

Of course, when I decided to transfer all of my files over from the old laptop to the new, I forgot this - deleted everything on the hard drive and transferred the old laptop files wholesale. 

I've tried every data recovery trick but can't get back the 4,000 words I'd written. Thankfully that's not a lot, but it was - from my perspective at lease - some of the best stuff I'd written. 

Now I can't entirely remember why it was so good or what it was about. Just going to crawl into a dark hole for a while. 

Trying to work out how to get my writing mojo back and start that bit again.

Friday, 2 February 2018


Just to introduce Gizmo, the latest member of the pride.

I was having a quiet beer on the porch with my friend Luke the other week, when we heard a sudden bout of mewing. Went to investigate and found a terrified six-week-old kitten looking extremely lost. Possibly thrown over the wall, which is a thing that happens here in Kigali. Sometimes people toss puppies and kittens into the gardens of soft-hearted muzungus then turn up to collect either the pet or payment a few days later. No one's come knocking for this little one, though. Perhaps he got lost and somehow scaled the barbed-wire walls around the compound...

Anyway, I took him in and looked after him. He cried solidly for three nights, separated too early. Then he heard some feral kittens outside and decided they were family. I let him go to investigate. He followed them down a storm drain, where they promptly abandoned him and he sat crying for two hours in the middle of raging thunderstorm. 

Eventually, a very wet, cold kitten crawled back into my garden. I went to collect him. He cowered against a drainpipe trying to be invisible. I picked him up, dried him off and fed him.

We haven't spoken of that night since, but all crying stopped, replaced with purrs.

He spent a couple of days at Dr. Arum's with poop problems, earning him the nickname Little Pooper - poop everywhere.

It's taken a couple of weeks, but he's finally made friends with my other three, Howl, Sophie and Sen (who were thrown away in a bag in the street - what's with people?). The girls aren't convinced, but Howl is the perfect babysitter. Gizmo attempts to ride him around the room like a gimp, and Howl batters him into submission. They seem to enjoy it.

It's bloody expensive to keep cats in Kigali, feeding them especially, but it's too late now. Someone did offer to take Little Pooper off my hands, but I've grown rather attached, and last time I gave away a kitten it ended very badly, so I think he's a keeper.

But please, people - stop throwing away animals.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

This Could be Such a Beautiful World...

Was raiding the secondhand book bin at CasaKeza yesterday and came across this little gem. Written by a lady called Rosalind Welcher, who appears to have had an illustrious writing career. Full of lovely little doodles accompanying a charming piece about how we could make this world a little better by protecting the environment and being lovely to one another. 

We are using up the earth as if there were no tomorrow; and in fact if we do not do something about this fast, there may actually be no tomorrow. In this gentle essay on what might have been and what might yet be, Rosalind Welcher reminds us that time is running out.

No publishing info on the verso, just a small pen-written note inside the dust cover reading: Pamela E. Beard (possibly?) 12.9.75. On sale for 45p in the UK. Bought in Rwanda 43 years later for £2.50.

It smells deliciously aged.