Thursday, 30 August 2012

Literary Spotlight: Max Wallis

I just have to introduce you all to someone very special.  See the man in the picture above that you're currently swooning over (don't even try to deny it) - his name is Max Wallis.  He just so happens to be an incredibly talented poet and a model!  Brains and beauty - some people have it all!

Whenever I confess my love of literature to those with a similar passion, I'm often asked to list my favourite authors and poets.  When I mention e. e. cummings and Pablo Neruda, people nod knowingly.  When I mention Max Wallis, I am greeted with blank faces, dismissive 'never heard of him's and perplexed 'who's that?'s.  This upsets me greatly.  Max's words are so beautiful I want to share them with everyone I meet.  So, if you're lucky enough to have stumbled across this post, I'm going to share them with you.  They're bound to make your day a little brighter.


It’s winter-turned lips that were kissed to warm them.
It’s shedding reservoirs through tiny tear ducts
and how I never saw you cry.
It’s ice, the not-so-nice,
and the colour of found-out-lies.
It’s depth, so, so much depth and deep
where we kept treasures
and all our insecurity.
It’s the security of being alone
and having no one else to rely upon.
It’s not always cold but rich cupcake icing
Food colouring. Smarties and all their e-numbers;
wax crayons melted down in the pan in the oven.
It’s waves, sea, royal and navy
school jumpers aged eleven-to-sixteen
in summer-sweat-swaddling.
It’s old-young boxers before I knew what sex was
before I gave a toss
or tossed off.
It’s the colour of remembering
how we feel
when we’ve stopped loving
and can’t stop wanting.
It’s the meaning of emptiness
and the emptiness of meaning
it’s believing in nothing but hoping
and having no hope in believing.
It’s the subtler flecks
that make and etch your eyes.
It’s everyone

Ironically, I find it difficult to put my admiration for Max's poetry into words.  Suffice to say, I adore him.  And you should too.

If you liked my little teaser, you can find a lot of Max's poems at
His book, Modern Love is currently only £4 on Amazon, or £2.70 for the Kindle edition! Find it here.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Book Cover Design for Dummies

Hello everyone! Remember me?

I've been absent from the blogging world for a week or two and I'm sure you have all been racked with anxiety over my disappearance (ahem). But fear not, dear reader, I am safe and well. I have merely been off enjoying the final few weeks of my last ever student-length summer holiday which has flown in even quicker than usual with the prospect of The Real World looming ahead of me at the other end! I have been on countless adventures, but there is one in particular that I wanted to tell you about.

Last week The Boyfriend and I journeyed to Edinburgh to explore the city that I am soon to call home (2 weeks tomorrow, yikes!). Edinburgh is a beautiful city and has always held a special place in my heart and it was great to take the time to remind myself of all the reasons I adore Edinburgh and discover a few new ones at the same time. My excitement about moving there has increased tenfold since our trip. Summer decided to visit Scotland that day and we were blessed with warm sunshine and not a drop of rain - although I have to admit, I love Edinburgh best on overcast days. There's something about a steely grey sky and rolling dark clouds that really sets off the dramatic splendour of the castle on the rock. We rifled through the vintage shops on Cockburn Street and tried to resist the temptation to invest in ridiculous paisley pattern silk shirts; we strolled up the Royal Mile enjoying the street performances and all the spectacles of the Fringe festival; we behaved like five-year-olds in the Camera Obscura, giggling as the Morph Machine merged our faces together and transformed us into old people, apes and babies; we gorged ourselves in the Hard Rock Cafe; and we explored the tents of the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

The Book Festival was the motivation behind our trip. We had tickets to see Jon Gray and Jamie Keenan discussing their theories of book cover design in the Peppers Theatre tent. Cover design is one of the aspects of publishing which interest me the most and Jon and Jamie are breathtakingly talented artists. They discussed  the 20 theories of cover design which they employ to attract readers to books whilst demonstrating with a slideshow of examples of their own work. Unfortunately the tent the presentation was held in was swelteringly warm and Jon and Jamie were limited by a strict schedule which forced them to rush through many of their points, but their talk was informative, humorous and enjoyable nonetheless. It may sound strange, but it actually never occurred to me before when admiring the images on my favourite book covers that the designer may have actually created the objects captured in those images him/herself. I found it particularly interesting to hear Jon and Jamie's stories of not only the idea that sparked a cover design but the process of making it a reality: for example, for the cover of Bright Shiny Morning by James Fray, Gray actually had his handwriting made into the lights we see on the book cover. There is an article on the Guardian website which explains each of Gray and Keenan's 20 theories of book cover design in a far more concise way than I ever could, so for anyone who is interested you can find that here.  I am simply going to show you some of my favourite book covers by Jon and Jamie, because in spite of all the theory behind them, I think they speak for themselves.




 Can you work out which of the 20 theories Jon and Jamie used to create each of these covers?

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

When pictures spoke louder than words...

When I tell people "I've loved reading all my life", I really mean it.  I was lucky enough to be born into a family of avid readers who were always eager to share their love of literature with me.  They read to me when I was too young to speak or even comprehend language.  I almost shocked my mother into crashing the car when I came out with my first complex sentence at 18 months old ("It's a poor shame for my wee daddy, away on the bus") and I believe the effort they made to read to me at a young age encouraged my speech to develop so early and sparked a passion for literature which would last a lifetime.  Books provide me with an unrivalled source of wisdom, inspiration, pleasure and comfort and I cannot thank my parents, aunt and uncle enough for introducing me to them.  To this day, I still appreciate the beauty, fun and exquisite joy contained between the covers of children's picture books and my old favourites still hold a special place in my heart (I think my poor parents can still recite them word for word!).  As I don't have any very young siblings, little cousins or nieces and nephews to shower with picture book presents, I thought I would share some of my favourites on my blog in the hope that I inspire someone else to gift a child with the pleasure of a really good book.

Peepo! by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Beautifully illustrated, like all Ahlberg books, Peepo! is based on Allan Ahlberg's own recollections from his early childhood and tells the story of a day in the life of a baby.  Holes on each page peek through to the next, keeping children engrossed and entertained whilst enabling them to see events from the baby's perspective.  His father sleeping late, his mother making breakfast, his older sisters out playing: daily events that all children are familiar with are infused with the imagination of childhood.  The repetitive rhyme of the narration allows children to participate in the "reading", whilst the descriptions of what the baby sees encourages them to spot individual details within the busy illustrations.  Recommended for children aged 0-3.  Find it on Amazon

Mog and Bunny by Judith Kerr

I would recommend all of Judith Kerr's Mog books, but I think Mog and Bunny was the first one I ever "read".  Mog is an adorably endearing absent-minded cat, who is "nice but not very clever" and looks remarkably like my own feline friend.  Any child with a love for animals or a beloved pet will relish the opportunity to imagine life from a cat's perspective as they follow Mog's misdeeds and adventures.  What I admire most about the Mog books is their refusal to shy away from serious topics.  Although I was much too old to be reading Mog books by the time the final book in the series, Goodbye Mog, was published in 2003, I was nonetheless saddened to hear of her demise.  The numerous books in the series enable to children to develop a strong affection for Mog, so Kerr's decision to depict her death was a brave one.  For many children, the loss of a family pet is their first experience of death and Kerr admirably makes this difficult topic accessible and comprehensible to children.  I struggled to find an age recommendation for the Mog books - one website suggests 3+ but the language and sentence structure are quite simple and I'm sure my parents started reading the books to me when I was about 2.  As with everything else, I suppose it depends on the child.  Find it on Amazon

Katie Morag and the Two Grandmothers by Mairi Hedderwick

The Katie Morag books are another series I adored and Katie Morag and the Two Grandmothers was always my favourite - I thought Granma Mainland was the most glamorous woman in the world and she looks a little like my own Granny who died when I was four.  The books are set on a fictional island off the west coast of Scotland and depict life in a small and rather isolated community, but they have been translated into various languages and it pleases me to think that these little Scottish books are being enjoyed by children across the world.  With labelled pictures of the small island, the books really provide children with a sense of the setting and enables them to enter into Katie Morag's life on a small island.  Feisty Katie Morag is an excellent character for a children's book: far more endearing and relatable than demure fairytale princesses.  And whilst scanning the wikipedia page for the Katie Morag books to refresh my memory, I discovered that Katie Morag's Grannie Island 'was widely hailed, as for example "a positive image, a celebration of the strength of women, and a challenge to gender stereotyping"'.  The author, Mairi Hedderwick, visited my school when I was in primary one, and though I don't recall a single word she said, I believe that was the first time I realised that you could create books as a job - and now, through publishing and someday through writing, I plan to make that job my own.  So thank you for everything, Mairi Hedderwick.  Recommended for children aged 3+.  Find it on Amazon

Angel Mae by Shirley Hughes

My aunt gave me Angel Mae when my mum was pregnant with my younger sister.  Part of Shirley Hughes's Tales from Trotter Street series, Angel Mae is the story of a little girl who experiences conflicting emotions regarding the imminent arrival of her new baby sibling, whilst dealing with the added pressure of performing the important role of the Angel Gave-You (Gabriel) in her school's Nativity play.  Hughes's illustrations are beautiful and her subject matter is an important issue in the life of many children: how to deal with the arrival of a younger sibling.  Hughes does not trivialise the child's experience: she recognises that children experience stressful events just as adults do.  Recommended for children aged 3+.  Find it on Amazon

The Jolly Postman (or Other People's Letters) by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Another Ahlberg book.  They're so brilliant, they deserve to be on the list twice.  The Jolly Postman may well be my all time favourite book for younger children.  The book is narrated in (often humorous) rhyme and it tells the story of a jolly postman who is delivering letters to various fairytale characters.  The Ahlbergs play with media by incorporating the letters into the book - six pages take the form of envelopes containing actual little letters!  Children can really participate in the story as they handle and read the letters for themselves, with the added fun of recognising their favourite fairytale characters.  Recommended for children aged 2 - 6.  Find it on Amazon

Maisie goes to Glasgow by Aileen Paterson

Another series of books about a tabby cat - this time a Scottish one.  I don't know how familiar the rest of the UK is with the Maisie books but if you've never read one you're missing out!  The stories are about the adventures of a kitten called Maisie who lives with her Granny in Morningside in Edinburgh whilst her daddy is off exploring the world.  Unlike Mog, Maisie is a cat with human characteristics - indeed, the whole world seems to be populated with cats instead of people.  The stories are detailed and entertaining and the illustrations are captivating.  For a Scottish child, there is the additional enjoyment of recognising the places Maisie visits and seeing them in a new light, infused with child-like imagination. I can't find an age recommendation for this one at all - I'd suggest 3+ or maybe a little older.  Find it on Amazon

Which picture books hold a special place in your heart?

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Printed page nails

I've been drooling over the countless photographs of printed page nails floating around the blogosphere for quite some time and today I finally plucked up the courage to try to create my own.  Every time I glanced at the instructions, I thought to myself "that cannot be as easy as it sounds!".  But I wouldn't lie to you folks: it's as easy as it sounds!  This was my very first attempt so my nails turned out a little messy but I think I've mastered the technique now so they'll hopefully turn out better the next time.

Required Materials:
  • Pale nail varnish
  • Several small cuttings of text from a newspaper
  • Alcohol - I used gin.  I'm told you can even do it with mouthwash!
  • A clear top coat
  • Cotton buds and nail varnish remover

How to create your own printed page nails:

1.  Paint your nails with a pale base colour. 

I chose white, but as you can see from the pictures above, other pale colours such as light grey and beige work well too.  I think they would look nice with a pastel shade if you fancy something a bit more colourful - as long as the colour is pale enough to make the printed words stand out.  Often, pale nail varnishes don't provide a solid, opaque colour on the first coat so it may be necessary to apply two to achieve the desired effect.  Oh - and if you're sensible (I'm not), you might want to apply a clear base coat before applying the nail varnish to protect your nails.

2.  Dip your nail into the alcohol and keep it immersed for about five seconds.  Then press a piece of newspaper firmly against your nail and hold it there for about fifteen seconds.  Learn from my mistakes: make sure the newspaper covers the whole of your nail or the printing will be uneven and try to hold it as still as possible to prevent smudging. When you peel the paper off your nail you should have your printed page effect.


3.  It's important to apply a clear top coat to prevent the print from smudging or rubbing off your nail.  Clear up any excess print or nail varnish that has strayed onto your fingers using a cotton bud dipped in nail varnish remover.

Ta-da!  enjoy your printed page nails...


Cover of the week

The Last Skin by Barbara Ras
Publisher: Penguin
Publication date: 30th March 2010
Designer: Oliver Munday

Monday, 30 July 2012

My favourite poem


somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

- e. e. cummings

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Book Art: Robert The

"Obsession with the semiotic erosion of meaning and reality led me to create objects that evangelize their own relevance by a direct fusion of word and form. Books (many culled from dumpsters and thrift store bins) are lovingly vandalized back to life so they can assert themselves against the culture which turned them into debris." - Robert The

Friday, 27 July 2012

Skin: a mortal work of art


As anyone who is remotely familiar with the goings on of the Publishing industry - or, indeed, anyone who reads - will be aware, stories are no longer confined within the pages, covers and bindings of the traditional book.  New media is taking the Publishing industry by storm: with the growing popularity of e-books and e-readers and the astonishing success of Fifty Shades of Grey two notable victories in the ongoing revolution.  Like Fifty Shades, which began life as a Twilight fan fiction published episodically on websites, many authors are now using the internet as a means of publishing their own work and Penguin's recent purchase of the self-publishing company Author Solutions suggests that publishers are taking these new media very seriously indeed.

Just as I was beginning to get my head around all of these new ways of writing, publishing and reading stories, Shelley Jackson's name appeared on my computer screen.  As a writer and artist, Jackson is known for her hybrid genre experiments and her project Skin takes the use of new media in publishing to a whole other level.

Launched in 2003, Skin is described by Jackson as 'a mortal work of art'.  It is a 2095-word story published one word at a time in tattoos on the bodies of numerous volunteers, referred to as "words".  The story in its full form will be provided only to words, on receipt of proof that they have been tattooed - and the story will die with its words, constantly morphing until the last word's demise. If 2095 volunteers fail to materialise, the incomplete story will be considered definitive.

Personally I have always been rather uneasy about the idea of getting a tattoo, but I absolutely love the idea of a story published on the human body.  Sometimes I feel such a fierce connection with the words on a page that they may as well be branded on my skin.  And perhaps the thing I love most about literature is the endless variety of interpretations that can be made of a single text - what a collection of words means to you is exclusively yours.  No one will ever feel exactly the way that you did when reading those words and your interpretation dies with you, just as Skin dies with its participants.

As much as I admire Jackson's project, I don't think I have the guts to become a participant.  Can you imagine getting a really bland word, like "a" or "the"?  Or some kind of curse word or insult?  However, if you're a great deal braver than I am, Jackson's project is currently only approximately 553 words complete - although she does have over 10,000 applications for the remaining words to sift through.  But there's no harm in trying your luck, particularly as applications are accepted in no particular order: as Jackson states "you could write to me today and get in".

For details on how to apply, or for more information about the project itself, the following links may be of use:
Call for Participants
Project Status

You can visit the web page for the Skin Project here and Shirley Jackson's website here.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Cover of the week

The Kiss by A. P. Chekhov
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publication date: November 30th 1999
Designer: Darren Hagger

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Reading al fresco!

Much to my dismay, reading is a hobby that tends to be kept behind closed doors.  Us bookish types spend our whole lives shut up in rooms without windows.  We have deathly pale skin and failing eyesight and we shriek with pain when exposed to sunlight - which is why we are often mistaken for vampires.

But in spite of my love of literature (and contrary to any suspicions that may be raised by my own Casper complexion), I adore The Great Outdoors.  There is nothing I hate more than being confined between four walls for extended periods of time.  One of the main struggles I faced at University was having to contend with a lack of fresh air and the consequent lowering of my spirits.  I spent my days reading, reading, reading and reading some more in underheated computer labs and overheated libraries with windows that resembled the little slits in medieval castle walls used for firing arrows out of.  I suppose the architect thought it wise to minimise the chances of anyone leaping to their death in the throes of essay stress.

However, whilst foraging the internet this evening I made an interesting discovery in the form of Bookyard - an outdoor library in Belgium by artist Massimo Bartolini.  This sent the cogs whirring in my little literary brain: maybe reading could be considered an outdoor pursuit after all?  I've spent the past hour looking up pictures of outdoor bookshelves and I thought I should share some of my favourite finds:

Bookyard - a public library in St Peters Abbey vineyard made by Massimo Batolini for the Belgian Art Festival: TRACK: a contemporary city conversation in Ghent

Hay Castle Books in Hay-on-Wye: a town of bookshops in Wales (road trip anyone?)

More from Hay-on-Wye, where outdoor reading is evidently the norm!

Moonraker Books in Langley, WA

Trees become books of knowledge in Stacks - an outdoor bookshelf installation by David Harper

Ikea create the world's largest outdoor bookshelf on Sydney's Bondi Beach

I feel happy inside just looking at these.  I hope they brighten your day a little too.  Now to sleep, perchance to dream - of forests full of books.