Friday 29 December 2017

The Rising of Bella Casey

Had a read of this whilst away on holiday. I stumbled upon it on the publisher's website whilst looking for something else, and the brief synopsis caught my attention:

From a piano abandoned on the strife-torn streets of Dublin in Easter 1916, Mary Morrissy spins the reader backwards through the life of one-time enigmatic beauty Bella Casey, sister to the famed playwright Sean O’Casey.

An ambitious novel about love, history and literature.

As you may be aware, I'm currently trying to manufacture pianos in Africa, so anything to do with pianos pretty much has me. The Rising of Bella Casey weaves in a few lovely descriptions:

It was a Broadwood, an upright Broadwood, intact in all this ruin, offering itself to her. Indian rosewood case, inlaid panels and candle sconces, the lid open to show a perfect set of teeth, a music holder with a scrolled inset in the shape of a treble clef. She laid her hand gingerly on it. The wood was silky to her fingertips and she felt a rush of the sublime.

It was a Chapell [sic.] upright with turned columns and panels of fretted silk in the top door, with the name Elysian carved in gold above middle C.

But her proudest possession was a vertical Cadby, on which she'd made a downpayment at Butler's Instruments. It would not have been a proper home without a piano...

Home would always be where the piano was.

The descriptive was beautiful. You could become a pick-pocket of the imagination, listening to the smacking stammer of bunting, feeling a chilly estrangement tinged with shame whilst your breath came in globes on a cold night. Really nicely written. It also introduced me to the concept of gur cake, an Irish staple.

The Rising of Bella Casey stems from an interesting mystery surrounding the  Irish dramatist and memoirist, Seán O'Casey. It reimagines the life of his elder sister, Bella, tracking her fall from a bright young schoolteacher to an impoverished mother of many in a tenement building. In his memoirs, Seán O'Casey killed his sister off a full ten years before she actually died. This novel attempts to offer an explanation why.

A really nice surprise of a book. Bought on a whim, read with interest. It was longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award in 2014.

Thursday 28 December 2017

Lotus Temple

Had a lovely time in India, exploring the Golden Triangle and Goa with family. I'll post more about that soon, but something that was particularly interesting was a visit to the Lotus Temple in Delhi.

For those of you who read Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran, you might be as interested as me to know that this is a  Bahá'í temple. Those Rosy Hours touches on the genocide against the Bahá'í that followed an assassination attempt on the Shah of Iran after he executed the Báb, Sayyed ʿAli Muhammad Shirāzi, in 1850.

Later the Bahá’u’lláh, the head of the Bahá'í faith, was expelled from Iran along with all of his followers. 

“Haven’t you heard, Shahzadi? Your brother exiled the Baha’u’llah months ago. The Bábí can no longer call Iran their home. Their marriages will be annulled, their books will be burned, and any who resist will find themselves chained in the Síyáh-Chál at Tehran. You no longer need to fear the insurgence. They have left like lambs.”  - Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran

Through writing that novel, I knew a bit about the origins of the Bahá'í faith and the period in history which led to their expulsion from Iran, but I really didn't know what came after that, or much about their specific teachings. 

It's actually evolved into a really fascinating concept. You can be Bahá'í whilst also being a follower of any other faith or religion. The temple itself is built of white marble, extremely cool beneath the hot sun. There are no icons there and everyone maintains silence within. The idea is that you fill the space with your own thoughts and prayers. They provide the silence, you bring it to life.

I've taken the liberty of scanning the information brochures provided at the temple.

You can also find out more about the Bahá'í via

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Happy Holidays

Heading off to India tonight to meet up with my dad and Marilyn. We're doing the full tourist trail - down to Goa for a few days on the beach, then up to Delhi for the Golden Triangle. Other than Skype, I haven't seen my family in almost two years, which is how long it's been since I last left East Africa. Really looking forward to it, especially the food. Hoping to pick up some new clothes in Mumbai on the way home as I'm looking a little threadbare. 

It's dad's birthday on 15th, and we'll be spending Christmas in Mumbai, then home to Rwanda in time for New Year and my annual Oath, Boast & Toast.

Wishing everyone a cool Yule and plenty of nommy muncies.

Sunday 10 December 2017



I know I'm late to the part on this one, but if you enjoy murder mystery whodunnits, you need to listen to Serial. A very clever podcast which tells a different part of the murder investigation each episode. Thanks to my friend Dani for putting me onto it. [NB: sorry about the jovial tone. I only realised halfway through that it's a true story.]

Saturday 9 December 2017


Aw. I really enjoyed this TedX talk. Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Here's my attempt to draw cartoons when I should be writing.

Thursday 7 December 2017

Revved up on Writing

Wanted to get the Still Life manuscript up to 60k before heading off on holiday. 

Sometimes social media can be useful. After announcing to the world that I was going to write 3,000 words, I felt as though I had to do it - so I did. Here's the timeline...

2:04 PM
Right. I'm going to sit here until I've written 3,000 words.
This may take some time.

3:00 PM
1,000 down, 2,000 to go...
3:51 PM
2,000 down, 1,000 to go...

4:35 PM
3,000 words done. MS now at 60,100. I rest.

What I personally find interesting about this is the time perception v. reality conundrum. It felt as though the first 1,000 words were the easiest to write, the second 1,000 I was flagging a bit and the last 1,100 were slow going, but my Twitter feed proves otherwise. It took me about an hour to write the first 1,000, 50 minutes to write the second 1,000 and only about 40 minutes to write the final 1,100 as I even took a 5-10 minute break to dunk biscuits!

Not a bad day's writing. Now I probably won't do any more until I get back from hols. But it's a nice round number to leave things at.

Wednesday 6 December 2017

The Piano That Saved Christmas

(Picture shared with permission from Autisme Rwanda)

A really special week so far, thanks to Pianist Without Borders, Fabio Tedde, Autisme Rwanda, and Ilse Lasschuijt. Here's a Christmas story about music, autism, and the kindness of strangers: The Piano that Saved Christmas. Part of my side project, Kigali Keys, attempting to build pianos in Africa.

Sunday 3 December 2017

Crystal Clear

Crystal Palace

Finally returned to writing after a long hiatus. Just polished off 2,000 on Still Life, a story exploring postmortem photography past and present. Looking at the age of Victorian England and the Great Exhibition, through to very modern maternity wards.

It is extremely difficult to go back to writing after you've taken a long break. As most writers will tell you, it's a muscle, and if you don't use it you lose it. Well, not entirely, but it takes some work  getting back into shape.  

The weirdest part is when you think you remember where you left off, then return to find an extra couple of chapters you hardly remember writing. That's when you really know you've been away too long.

However, it is nice to return to a solid manuscript. It's now at around 57,000, so just reaching the edge of a novel. I think it's easier to find enthusiasm for finishing something off than for building it up. Less of a marathon ahead. I've got a fairly clear idea where I'm going and the characters are fully formed. I'm also feeling more at ease with the Victorian era, which means I can write more words before I need to stop and Wikipedia something.

I have about a week left to press on with it, then taking a break. Off to India for Christmas. Hopefully that'll refresh my brain, as there's quite a few projects I want to work on when I get back. 

After a long period of distraction and side projects, it's really nice to come back to the page.

Friday 1 December 2017

Notes From the County


Coming soon.

I know I have been silent on matters of writing for quite some time. There's a story behind that, but it'll have to wait. Let's just focus on the fab cover for a moment, shall we?

The work of José Bethencourt Suárez, a talented cover designer.

For those of you who haven't been following the Creeper's journey, this is a tale set in Hookland, a mythical county in England where all the folklore you've ever heard of (#FolkloreThursday) takes on a life of its own.

Hookland (@HooklandGuide) is the brain child of bestselling author David Southwell. We were introduced through my publisher a while back, and I fell in love with his idea. A place where every type of mythos, from UFOs to pixies and ghouls, has a home.

David's currently working on the Phoenix Guide to Strange England, a guidebook for tourists to Hookland, and an inspiration for anyone who wants to jump aboard the creative commons ghost ship. The beauty of Hookland is that artists of any ilk, from writers and dramatists to photographers and finger painters, can come and play. Every story told, and each piece of art, helps to build the county.

As far as I know, this is the first novel set there.

It's a story about bricks and mortar, and the memories held within.

This is also my first attempt at self-publishing in print, which I'm sure I'll talk about later on. It's going to be available through Amazon CreateSpace and on Kindle. Possibly also Smashwords.

Just waiting for Mr. Southwell to complete the forward, which will appear as Notes from the County, for anyone curious to learn more. Also hoping to feature a map of Hookland.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a tingle of nerves, not having published anything in quite some time, and making my return in such rich literary landscape. I am hoping to write a few more tales there. But I think I'm ready. Shut my mouth, sharpen my pencil - release into the wild.

Keep an eye out for dates and pre-order.

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Grandstanding Bandstands

A while back I was doing some research into the age of a bandstand in Bristol. It was for a work of historical fiction - I needed to know whether it would have been there at the time my characters were.

I stumbled across a really helpful website by Paul Rabbitts, which includes a database dating bandstands in the UK.

He's just launched a crowdfunder to publish a book on the subject, and I wanted to give it a shout out. You can donate to the project here.

Tuesday 14 November 2017

The Allusionist

My new favourite podcast at the moment is The Allusionist hosted by Helen Zaltzman. It explores all aspects of etymology (the origin of words). Here's a sample episode about why you can't trust dictionaries. You might also like to check out the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Saturday 11 November 2017

Grammatical Fuckwittery

I was just reading a post on a page I follow. The question was: What grammatical rules do you struggle with?

Where does the list begin? 

Here's my top five:
  1. Remembering that adjectives are hyphenated before a noun but not as nouns (stained-glass window, the stained glass). 
  2. I often find myself editing sentences where I spend far more time than I should figuring out if it's 'and I' or 'and me.' 
  3. Capitalisation, and what counts as a true noun, annoys me like nothing on earth. I don't care what anybody says - it's internet. 
  4. All right (because everyone known in a decade it's going to be alright, right?).
  5. The fuckwittery between US and UK English, especially enrolled/enroled (US/UK) when it's the other way around for traveled/travelled (US/UK) - I mean, seriously, WTF?

Drop a comment and let me know yours.

Friday 10 November 2017

Silky Cover

I would just like to say that the cover for Peter Frankopan's The Silk Roads is one of the loveliest things I've set eyes on in quite some time.

Monday 6 November 2017


My new housemate is a cocktail expert. He's trying out a few things for a local bar. 'Write drunk, edit sober,' - but what are you supposed to do with the hangover?

Tuesday 31 October 2017


A shout out to ImagineWe who have just released a children's story about the 1994 Genocide Against the Tusti from the point of view of a young girl, Mahoro, and her friend. The book is written by Natacha Karambizi and illustrated with photographs by Rwandan photographer Eric Murinzi. It has a similar feel to it as Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti and Christopher Gallaz, which tells a child's perspective of the Holocaust. You can get your copy of Mahoro by contacting ImagineWe directly.

Friday 27 October 2017

DeAnne Smith

Stumbled upon DeAnne Smith on YouTube the other day and lost a couple of hours of my life laughing. Not sure how I hadn't seen her before, but definitely up there among my favourite comedians. If you liked that, check out Melbourne Comedy Festival, Straight Men, Step Your Game Up and Great Debate.

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Lake Bunyonyi

Stories are always a good idea, wherever you are. Just back from a lovely weekend at Byoona Amagara on Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda. Highly recommended. Potential writer's paradise.

Saturday 21 October 2017

Adrian Magson Q&A


Adrian Magson is the author of a wide selection of gripping crime and spy thrillers, a YA ghost novel and Write On! - a writers’ help book. His latest book is Rocco and the Nightingale, the fifth in the Inspector Rocco series. It came out with The Dome Press on 19th October 2017 in the UK.

A regular reviewer for Shots Magazine, Adrian also writes the Beginners and New Author pages for Writing Magazine.

Find him on his website, blog and Twitter.

Hi Adrian. Welcome back to Deckle-Edged. Always a real pleasure to chat to you about your work. Last time, you talked a bit about writing female characters. This time, I want to ask you about your life as a crime writer.

Who were the crime writers you read growing up? Who got you hooked?

Leslie 'The Saint' Charteris was undoubtedly the first, at age eight. Him and Zane Grey, who wrote westerns which I regard as crime novels on horseback, followed by Mickey Spillane, Hank Janson and some other harder-boiled crime writers. Then it was the likes of Alistair MacLean, Adam Diment, Peter O’Donell (who wrote Modesty Blaise), Berkeley Mather and Gavin Lyall. Some of these won't mean much to younger crime readers, but they formed the backbone for my love of crime and spy thrillers, and basically made me want to be a writer. I figured telling stories must be a cool way to make a living. Mmm... took a while!

Did you start out writing crime or have you written other genres? What was the point in your career where you finally realised that crime was your calling?

My first published short story was a crime caper for a newspaper, followed by a few which didn't sell. But my first regular sales were to women's magazines, and basically romance and relationship stories, about as far removed from crime as you could get. Men were secondary and there was nothing allowed 'beneath the chin'. It taught me to write for a market, meet deadlines and word counts, so it acted as my apprenticeship and lasted many years. In between, I wrote half a dozen crime and spy thrillers which didn't sell, features for magazines, which did, a short play, slogans for T-shirts and beer mats. Essentially, anything I could sell and get my creds as a writer. In the end, I thought if I enjoyed writing crime and spy stuff so much, I should put all my efforts into it. That's when I sold my first book featuring a young female reporter called Riley Gavin.

If you could work a case with any fictional detective from literature or television, who would it be and why?

Sadly, though I write crime novels, I'd be pretty rubbish at solving them. I tend to get distracted too easily, and would probably arrest the first person who annoyed me and didn't answer my questions.

So, being a crime writer doesn't give you an edge with other crime series? 

I wish it did! I'm so often wrong. I just go with the flow and enjoy the surprises. I think I probably over-analyse who does what, and why, too much and it gets in the way of things. My wife, Ann, usually gets the guilty party way before I do.

What's the last plot that left you stumped, or where you guessed the wrong person? 

The Cuckoo's Calling was the most recent I can recall - and I was dead wrong.

Do you always know who dunnit before starting your own novels? If so, how difficult is it not to let slip or give the game away whilst you're writing? 

I suppose most of my books could be classed as 'why-dunnits', so I have an idea of the ideal culprit from fairly early on as, in some cases, do the readers. For me, the baddy is as essential to the book as the central character, so I have to get that fixed in my mind. That doesn't mean I might not change it halfway through writing. And yes, sometimes the characters do force their way to the front!

Why did you choose to set Rocco's adventures in France? How much research goes into setting a crime novel in a different country and legal system to the UK?

I went to school in a tiny rural village called Picardie in northern France. After writing five Riley Gavin crime novels and a Harry Tate spy thriller called Red Station, I wondered if I could write a crime novel set in France during the sixties - yes, that long ago. I figured that nobody else would have used it as a setting, so why not? 

I knew the places, the people and the atmosphere, so it was simply a matter of doing what all writers do, which was to come up with a plot or two. I like to use some elements of French history as a hook on which to hang the story. For example, echoes of World War Two and their own Vietnam War, the Indochina War, in which Inspector Lucas Rocco served. There's also the effects of Algerian independence, the assassination attempts on President de Gaulle, and what was a very changing society. These were mostly incidental background to the plots, but still required accuracy of research. Being a series, it's actually the characters who come out as most important. 

The French judicial and police systems are very different to ours. Trying to explain too much of the detail can easily get in the way of the story. I try to keep it to the plot, the crime and the characters, and smooth out all the technical bumps.

You write several crime series: Rocco, Portman, Gonzales & Vaslik, Gavin & Palmer, and Tate. If they were all working a case together, who would team up, who would start a fight and who would have a fling?

What a great question! I'm not sure they would all mix at all well. Rocco, the French detective, would shrug them off and do his own thing, quite apart from being in a different era. Portman, a freelance protector, would find a high spot with a sniper rifle. Harry Tate, ex-MI5, would wonder why he should bother. Gonzales and Vaslik, private security company investigators, would argue the merits then ignore the others and get on with it. Riley Gavin and Frank Palmer, her ex-RMP sidekick, would only get involved if there was a story to it. Actually, I reckon Riley Gavin might have a fling with Harry Tate. She likes ex-military types.

You've recently signed with The Dome Press. What are your hopes for the future?

Well, the first four books in the Lucas Rocco series were published by Alison & Busby. But they decided they didn't want any more back in 2014, so I got on with writing my other series instead. However, I had the nagging feeling that there were more stories for Rocco to experience. The problem was, it's very tough selling a new book which is part of a series when another publisher retains the publishing and distribution rights to the first ones. I happened to mention this one day to David Headley, who owns The Dome Press. He recognised the problem but, very bravely in my view, took on the challenge and agreed to publish Rocco and the Nightingale. I'm already working on another book for them. It's not a Rocco book, but I have started work on a sixth Rocco one. So, I guess you can say I'm hopeful for the future! Having worked with David and his team, especially my editor, Rebecca Lloyd, and seen the quality of their production, I feel very enthusiastic.

What's your advice for anyone aspiring to be a crime writer in today's market?

I've been writing the Beginners page in Writing Magazine for fourteen years now, out of which came a compilation called Write On! It's a writer's help book, which is full of tips and advice. Plug over. My advice is, if you have a desire to write crime fiction, you already read lots of it and know the general format,  sit down and write whatever's in your head. Don't over-analyse, just put together characters, setting and a good crime to solve, and let your imagination go. Doesn't matter if it ends up as a short story. The thing is, write something and see where you go. The main thing is, enjoy it, because if you have fun writing it, that will show through and it will make the job so much easier.

When a minor Paris criminal is found stabbed in the neck on a country lane in Picardie it looks like another case for Inspector Lucas Rocco. But instead he is called off to watch over a Gabonese government minister, hiding out in France following a coup. Meanwhile, Rocco discovers that there is a contract on his head taken out by an Algerian gang leader with a personal grudge against him.

Thursday 12 October 2017

Adrian Magson Blog Tour

Hi everyone. I know I have been absent of late. I will catch up soon, honest. But I wanted to let you know that on 21st October I'll be hosting a Q&A here with the lovely Adrian Magson. He's dropped by before to talk about writing female characters and he's got a new Rocco crime thriller out on 19th October called Rocco and the Nightingale. If you've never read him before, you don't have to have read any of the previous Rocco novels to pick this one up, so please pre-order your copy or buy on the day. Release day sales mean so much to authors. If you have a question you'd like to put to Adrian, you can let me know via Twitter (@AuthorMGW) or Facebook and I'll try to slip it into the interview.

[UPDATE: Interview here.]

Saturday 30 September 2017

Adam Ruins Everything

I really enjoy Adam Ruins Everything. Some of my favourites include free websites, hospital costs, death, Columbus and tipping (which is a major bone of contention between Brits and Americans abroad).

Sunday 24 September 2017

Emma Interviews George R.R. Martin

In Emma style, for those of you who don't know... Emma Newman is the voice behind the Rosy Hours audiobook. She's also a very successful author in her own right, and runs the Hugo award winning podcast, Tea & Jeopardy. In this special live edition from Worldcon, she interviews Game of Thrones creator, George R.R. Martin.

Monday 18 September 2017

What Now?

Oh, heck. I can't believe how long it's been since I last updated.  I got swept away on the tide of life. So much has been happening.

We built a piano frame! The first ever in Rwanda.

All hail Samuel, modelling said piano frame above.

Suave. Sophisticated. Very gold.

The rest is causing a bit of brain ache, but we're getting there slowly.

My awesome cousin Tamsin came to visit with her partner, Guido. Last stop on a seven-month tour of Africa. You can follow their onward adventures in Dubai, Asia and India on their blog. We did lots of fun things, including drinking, partying and exploring a creepy abandoned funfair at midnight. Lots of sobering things too, like Kigali and Nyamata genocide memorials.

Mostly what's kept me away is another batch of textbook editing for Rwanda Education Board. I work through an education consultancy as a proofreader. There's a little team of us. It's hard work, but also quite a privilege to think that the words we help to polish will be read by school children up and down the entire country. That's fairly fabulous. I've been doing so much proofing lately: textbooks, children's books and two novels (not mine), one of which I'm due to start working on after I finish this contract.

I'll get back to blogging eventually but, after a heavy day of editing, all I'm really capable of is cracking a beer and watching movies.

Monday 4 September 2017

Piano Girl

I do apologise for going so quiet recently. It's because I've been making a lot of noise in other arenas. Namely as a piano tuner and repair lady. Busy sorting out my Kigali Keys project. I have done a small amount of writing, but that has rather taken over for now. That, and turning my back shed into a self-contained guest apartment. Lot of builders in the yard from early in the morning until dark. Off tile shopping tomorrow. Hard to get much done with that and a recent spate of internet issues. I have family visiting this weekend, and once the building's finished and things have returned to normal, I plan on returning to writing. Until then, I can mostly be found wandering around Rwanda dressed as a piano. What do you think - new uniform?

Tuesday 15 August 2017

2nd Edition

Very excited to read this article in the New Times today:

Activists are pushing for the recognition of sign language as one of the country’s official languages.

This would make it the fifth official language after Kinyarwanda, English, French and Swahili.

The development comes at a time when the country is awaiting a new sign language dictionary, which is expected to be ready later this year.

The dictionary, which would be the second of its kind for Rwanda, has been in the works since 2014.

I first came to Rwanda as a sign language researcher, and was involved with the inaugural dictionary right up to its publication in 2009. We travelled all around the country, documenting regional linguistic variations. It's really great to see it's being updated, and that the fight to recognise sign language is going strong.

1st Edition

Saturday 12 August 2017

Flip the Flop

I haven't been making many posts recently as editing is keeping me busy. Just wanted to share this, though. 

Possibly the world's first ever piano hammers made from recycled flipflops. Made for our Kigali Keys piano project thanks to our friends Ocean Sole in Kenya.

It'll be a couple of months before we can test them properly, but it's a really exciting experiment.

Monday 7 August 2017

Perdua Publishers

Extremely proud to be working as an editor for Perdua Publishers in Rwanda. Or, rather, extremely proud of how far my friend Firmin has come. We first met back in 2008 when he was running Kivu Writers, a project to get secondary school kids writing. Now he's helped to found a publishing house.

I've just taken charge of ten short stories for upper primary and lower secondary.

I'm excited to be involved in the project whilst doing what I enjoy.

Tuesday 1 August 2017


Very happy to be reviewing this collection. It's a bit of a milestone. The first anthology of contemporary adult fiction I'm aware of in Rwanda. Published by Huza Press (pronounced hoo-sa - Facebook/Twitter). They hope to have it available in e-format by the end of the year.

Each year, Huza run a short story award for Rwandan writers, with a $1000 prize. The eight shortlisted stories from their 2015 competition have now been released as Versus. This is a really big deal. ImagineWe has been making strides into children's books with Oh Rwandan Child! and ABC's of Rwanda, but this is the first time contemporary adult fiction has been offered up, and it spans a wide range of genres including literary, fantasy and science fiction.

I was really excited to get my hands on a copy. 

A couple of the stories that really stood out for me: 

Today I Leave You by Jean-Claude Muhire (Twitter): I first met Jean a couple of years ago when I was country director of a youth and human rights program. He came to give a talk on LGBT rights, and he has been a passionate advocate of women's rights since. Many of my friends in the writing community became friends after I read their work (and gushed about it): Remittance Girl, Will Davis and the like. It's always really awkward when you start as friends first, then sit down to read somebody's work. You're always terrified by the thought: what if I don't like it? It's easy to write honest reviews about strangers, but it's always really hard when there's a personal connection behind the writing. Thankfully, I can honestly say, I really enjoyed this story. A harrowing, and at times poetic, exploration of domestic abuse written convincingly from a woman's perspective. I look forward to reading more of his work. He told me he is developing something at the moment, so watch this space. 

Nomansland by Dayo Ntwari (Twitter): I've never met Dayo, but it's not for lack of trying. When I moved back to Rwanda and heard there was a science fiction writer here, I desperately wanted to read some of his work, but it's only now, with this compilation, that I've had the chance. I even turned up in the rain to a talk he was giving, only to realise the Facebook event was a year old and nobody had taken it down. He wasn't even in the country. Felt like a right plonker. Anyway. Finally got my hands on his work and it stood out a mile. A futuristic, apocalyptic war zone with shape shifting hyenas, spider-based hallucinogens and space castles. I bloody loved it. Very talented writer. Apparently he's working on a collection of short stories and a novel - absolutely one to watch on the scifi scene.

A Little Red Car at the Gusaba by Eva Gara: According to her bio, Eva is a retired teacher who began telling stories to her own children. This was a really touching one exploring childhood tragedy and how love has to battle to overcome family traditions. I just really enjoyed both her style and the flow of the story.

Back in 2007, when I did my VSO training before coming to Rwanda for the first time, there was a session on cultural adjustment. I remember we were shown a drawing of an iceberg, two-thirds submerged beneath the sea. As the little penguins on top, we were told that we would probably only ever come to understand a small amount of the cultures we were venturing into, and that there would always be a huge amount we would never understand.

That was until local authors started writing, and local publishers started printing them.

At which point, that iceberg starts to rise rapidly out of the water. 

I've been teaching a fiction course in Kigali, and was really intrigued to receive a piece from a local student recently which explored both lesbian and asexual characters. What often stands out about my students' work, and the work in this collection, is that issues are similar around the world: sexuality, love, death, violence, loss, happiness. 

The fascinating gift that literature gives us is to see that, quite often, our thought processes as human beings are remarkably similar globally. What differs are our circumstances. Sometimes our laws, our religions and our social traditions force us to make different choices, or behave in a certain way, but, through literature, nothing is incomprehensible. Reading these stories has filled in a few blanks for me, and offered up some knowledge about local language and culture that I didn't know, but it's also affirmed that, thankfully - people are people. We can understand most things if we're willing to listen. Stories transcend any boundary. 

That's why collections like Versus are so important. 

The Lovely Mr. Jean-Claude Muhire

Saturday 29 July 2017

Your Best Side

Ah, those crazy Victorians (quite literally, what with lead in the pipes and arsenic in the wallpaper...)

Finally broke the 40,000 mark on Still Life. I would have gotten there sooner, only I took a break to write fairytales.

It's not all doom and gloom in the world of postmortem photography. Well, mostly it is, but I'm also exploring the early world of photography in general. It's quite incredible how something we take for granted today, which has become so point-and-click, took so much painstaking skill in the early days. 

Thirty years after the invention of the Daguerreotype and collodion processes, we were still taking pictures in a similar way to the way we still use the internet today. It looks a bit flashier, runs a bit faster, but, essentially, we're yet to achieve the Polaroid or the digital camera. 

It provides an interesting, and contrasting, insight into how technology moves forwards in spurts, interspersed with long periods of normalisation as existing technology catches on with the masses. 

40-45k is roughly half a novel, but it's taking a lot of time as there's so much research required. Some days you can type a couple of lines then disappear into Wikipedia for an hour. 

When I began this, I didn't really have much of an interest in photography. It was really the mortality and memento mori side of things that drew me. Since then, I've really come to appreciate just what went into creating early photographs, and what we might have lost with the invention of digital photography. 

Friday 28 July 2017


Recently finished reading an excellent debut novel, Antiartists, by author Ralph Pullins (website, Twitter):

What do you do when you don’t know who you are, when who you thought you were, who you thought you would become, is destroyed? This is the story of young man, Chris, seeking an identity after the seemingly catastrophic collapse of his life, seeking what it means to be a creator, and, ultimately, seeking a glimpse of hope and recovery after a rock-bottom event. 

During his search, he comes to the conclusion that instead of creating beauty for an ugly world, he wants to destroy beautiful things. Because of his background and education in art, Chris knows of a secret: Michaelangelo’s David has a fatal flaw, a weakness that if struck correctly would shatter the marble into fragments. What will Chris and his newfound group of society’s rejects do with this knowledge?

Antiartists is both bleak and darkly comic, playful and serious. It is about broken people doing broken things, and about trying to find a reason to carry on when there seems no escape from the downward trajectory of one’s life. It is, in the end, about redemption and hope, about finding a way to keep living when everything seems lost, about finding a light in the darkness. It is the story of an outsider coming to terms with his differences. This story is ultimately about believing, once again, that it is worth carrying on - that even after seeing rock bottom, life can be beautiful again. 

The book begins with the warning:

This is a story of broken people doing broken things. If there is anything in the pages that follow that seems like a good idea, please seek appropriate help.

I really enjoyed it. It played to my dark sense of humour and fascination at how far people will go in desperation. It reminded me a bit of DBC Pierre's Lights Out in Wonderland, in its exploration of addiction and self-destruction. 

Very much looking forward to whatever he writes next.

Thursday 27 July 2017

Freelance Report

The Creative Industries Federation in the UK have released an interesting report into the state of the creative arts freelancing industry. It explores the experiences and obstacles faced by freelancers in the creative industries, including a lot of input from writers.

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Proper Dead

Another week, another questionable search history.

I've just returned to writing Still Life, a novel about the history of photography, and postmortem photography in particular. It's been an interesting journey, but you do have to be a little bit careful. Not everything is quite what it seems.

Whereas this gentleman in the centre is absolutely dead...

...the little girl at the top of this post isn't. Though the circumstances of Lewis Carroll taking a photograph of her sleeping may in themselves appear somewhat creepy, it's not an actual death photo.

And the slightly queasy feeling you might have in your stomach right now is precisely why I've been looking into all of this. People do strange things, and it's interesting to try to work out why.

Unlike anything else I've ever researched, Victorian postmortem pics seem to have the greatest amount of misinformation. There were many photos I looked at and thought, these people don't look dead. It's been really nice to discover this Pinterest page, which lists the most commonly circulated pictures which are actually either forgeries or modern photos of people who are alive. I've seen a lot of them on postmortem sites.

There's also a helpful website about Victorian postmortem photos.

Some of the telltale signs it's not a postmortem photo:

  • The subject is slightly blurry or soft-focused, especially in relation to the furniture around them. When photography was first invented, exposure times could take over a minute. It's quite hard to sit absolutely still for that length of time, and any movement would result in blurring. The image of a truly dead person is usually very sharp compared to anyone living in the photo.
  • Because of the need to remain very still during exposure, stands were often employed: headrests for sitting poses and taller poles for standing. This was common in living photography and not to prop up a body, which was usually lying down.
  • Closed eyes don't automatically mean dead. Pretending to sleep was a popular pose.
  • Look at the clothes of the people in the picture. Mourning traditions were strict in Victorian society. If they're not dressed in black and wearing mourning clothes, the person they're posing with probably isn't dead.

It's an interesting piece of history. We've certainly got better at making people look more lifelike in death, even if we're taking fewer photos. Though mobile phones are seeing a resurgence in postmortem photographs.