Review: The List, by Joanna Bolouri

Hello, and a happy Tuesday to you!  I’m reaching out from the pit of NaNoWriMo today to host the second leg of a blog tour, how exciting.


The book on tour is The List by Joanna Bolouri.  It has nothing to do with the popular Scottish cultural magazine, and everything to do with a debut novel about a woman who makes a list of risqué New Year’s Resolutions.  *WHISPER* the list is all sex things.



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How to cure back pain

Tiny scones from the BBC website

Tiny scones from the BBC website

If I were to tweet about my day, it would go something like: ‘sat on my arse eating scones and reading The Last Dragonslayer cover to cover #myperfectsunday #bliss’.  Obviously I would be using these hashtags for comic effect, because I’m cool and ironic and whatnot.

My day was nice, but dominated by the kind of inaction that creates quite a lot of pain in the lower back. By evening I found myself formulating a plan to pop a couple of ibuprofen and go for a walk. It was that or lie on bare floorboards weeping dramatically, and nobody needs to hear that.

plopAnyhoo, this being October in Scotland, by 7.15pm (roughly the time my back pain action plan made itself known) it was basically pitch black outside in the park by my house. I quite like the dark thanks to a childhood of indoctrination by the owl who was afraid of it, so off I went, head filled with a sound wall of stellastarr* and my own thoughts. It was nice, and as I walked I found myself thinking about a story that came into my head a week or two back (likely to become my NaNoWriMo project this year), and generally feeling at ease with the world.

Then, as if on some kind of cue for the narrative of the universe, a face loomed out of the darkness gesturing wildly and evidently speaking to me. I am a well-bred sort of person so the headphones came out and I allowed myself to be engaged in conversation, albeit a reluctant one. It went like this:

Him: You got the time please?
Me: Hang on a sec [fumbling for phone] it’s 7.30.
Him: OK. It’s awfy dark eh, I can’t even see your face.
Me: Yep, it is dark.
Him: It’s creepy, I thought I was being followed for a while there! I was afraid I might get attacked!
Me: [looking in the direction he’s come from – there is nobody around] …um… it is a bit spooky I guess.
Him: [with a massive grin] that’s how I’m not wearing my watch, in case I get attacked!
Me: Er… I’m sure you’ll be fine.
Him: Hope so. Bye!

I’ll be honest, this exchange didn’t leave me feeling totally at ease. A few thoughts chased through my head. Was he winding me up? Was that a veiled threat? Was he – and based on the way he spoke I think this is the most likely – being totally genuine, but equally lacking in the social awareness that says it’s not really cool to stop a woman (or anyone, for that matter) walking alone, point out they are in an environment ripe with potential for attack, and then cheerily vanish into the night?

Whatever his motivation, the results were:

  • I didn’t put my headphones back in straight away, and when I did I only used one earbud for at least a mile. To be honest I think that heightened the sound of rustling undergrowth, joggers about to overtake and the quiet of the area – adding to my unease rather than diminishing it.
  • I found myself stopping to text my other half information about my planned route in the event he got back to the flat later to discover me absent, probably murdered.
  • For a while I seriously considered turning round and going home, in spite of the fact I’ve walked and jogged the same route at that time of night loads of times.

IMG_0807Obviously I got home un-attacked (presumably because I don’t wear a watch, so why would anyone go to the trouble) and proceeded to channel the feelings generated by that walk into my art. By which I mean notes for the aforementioned story, which is my second crack at a YA speculative dystopia. Those of you with long memories may remember that I started writing such a thing for the original 12 Books in 12 Months project, only to discover my idea had already been done by an American writer called Scott Westerfeld.

I am excited about this project to the point where I quite want to start writing it RIGHT NOW, but I’m trying not to as I still have a few changes to make on the most recent incarnation of my silly book for 8 year olds which I’m considering entering for the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition. With any luck it will win, and in a couple of years someone else can spend their afternoon reading it from cover to cover before going out for a walk in the park and failing to get murdered for their watch – thus the circle will be complete.

Did you fail to get murdered on your Sunday evening walk? Or are you finding it hard to finish your current project because you’re overexcited about the next one? Leave me a comment; you don’t have to go through this alone.

Five free literary events for the fringe

Those of us who live in Edinburgh (i.e. me) are two weeks into the Edinburgh Fringe, a rather massive arts festival that annually bankrupts countless comedians, actors and spoken word artists.

Traditionally during the festival I pay for a couple of shows (in previous years this has included Cannibal! The Musical, Re Animator the Musical, and a live action version of the old kids TV series Knightmare) and spend the rest of my time on the Free Fringe.  Some people are arsey about the Free Fringe (see: woman who handed me a flyer last week with the line ‘you don’t want to go to the Free Fringe, it’s awful’ minutes after I left one of the best free shows I’ve ever seen), and to be fair the quality is very mixed – but there are some gems in there.  I found some great stuff in 2008 when I first moved to Edinburgh as a jobless graduate, and in the years that followed it became a bit of a habit.

Having said that, I’d never really thought to look at the Spoken Word section of the programme before 2014.  To be honest, I’m not sure I even knew there was a Spoken Word Section – I thought it went comedy, theatre, cabaret. In my defense, the Fringe programme is the most unwieldy publication in the world, and hey, I’ve found it this year! So here are five free things that have caught my literary eye, mostly from the main brochure but one from elsewhere.

knifeKnife Whimsy
Andrew Blair and Ross McCleary are two rather sardonic writers who are about to take you on a journey of growing pains, from unemployment to crappy first jobs and beyond. They are funny enough on their own, but for their Fringe show they have also employed the technique of getting a different guest poet to do a set every night, meaning every show is slightly different. So far I have been four times, and plan to go again on Saturday – which unfortunately is the last performance.  Essentially what I’m saying is, at the time of writing there are only TWO SHOWS LEFT.  Get on it or forever be kicking yourself.

Be Kind to Yourself
This is a show by stand up poet Tim Clare about living with anxiety and other things.  I saw him in the literature tent at Latitude Festival a few years ago (yes I do know how wanky that sounds, but I basically don’t care) and he was great, so  I plan to see him again. Maybe you should too, although to give you fair warning some friends went in the other night and it was standing room only because he’s so darn good.

Poetry and Politics
Although I plan to try, I almost certainly won’t get in to Rally and Broad at Jura Unbound because it’s the last night of the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the Spiegeltent will be bursting at the seams. However, I feel like I might be in with a chance of seeing them at the Festival of Politics at the Scottish Parliament this Sunday August 17th as they explore Scotland’s political past, present and future through the medium of poetry.

Sophie Wu is minging, she looks like she’s dead
This isn’t strictly spoken word, but my pal who has seen it described it as comic storytelling which feels close enough. Basically Sophie Wu, who you may remember as Heather in Fresh Meat and Jay in The Fades, does a an hour of comedy based on her teenage diaries.  I had teenage diaries. I think I will go to this.

Richard Tyrone Jones: Crap Time Lord
Bit of a niche one perhaps, but whevs. I live with one of the internet’s favourite Doctor Who commentators, and (through him, amazingly) have made number of excellent friends with a wealth of knowledge and a lot of affection for the doctor.  As a result, I find myself fascinated and often charmed by the way Doctor Who affects people’s lives.  I have also heard good things about RTJ’s other Free Fringe show What the F*ck is This?, which leads me to think this one is probably worth a look.

Alternative Walking Tour at Edinburgh Fringe 2014


Things are about to get seriously busy in Edinburgh, as the 2014 Fringe Festival is nearly upon us. This year my partner, who is variously a freelance writer, poet, stand up and poor person, has taken it upon himself to write and perform two shows as part of the free Fringe. One is a spoken word show called Knife Whimsy, taking place at George Next Door.

The other is the Alternative Edinburgh Walking Tour during which you get to see parts of the city you might not ordinarily go to and find out who won Edinburgh’s greatest literary smackdown.  In the following 5 minute video, I asked him to explain a bit more…


EDIT: The Alternative Edinburgh Walking Tour starts at 3.30pm beside the giraffes at the Omni Centre (top of Leith Walk) on Saturday and Sunday only throughout the Edinburgh Fringe Festival except the 17th. The first performance was on Friday August 1st.

The tour was written by Andrew Blair (@freelance_liar) with contributions from James W. Woe and David Bard, and general support from other members of the Chutney Exhibition. It is free, but tips and/or sandwiches are gratefully accepted.

If you get the chance to go then do, and feel free tell your friends, enemies, families and strangers. We’re saving up for a wedding, you know.

How Blogging Can Change Your Life

I spent my last post bemoaning the fact that my printer was behaving like a total helmet, thus preventing me from printing out my latest magnum opus (or 26,000 word nonsense for 8 year olds, if you want to be pedantic).

Now, it’s quite often hard to know who is reading this blog (assuming anyone still is aside from the spam bots, who are as vocal as ever – shout out for my home boy Ben Sherman Shirts, Great Prices). Since I finished the initial ‘write 12 Books in 12 Months’ thing, the site has been a strange mixture of stuff aimed readers, stuff aimed at writers and amateurish attempts at photography. But the ‘my printer needs to stop being an arsepiece’ post provoked the most tangible response I’ve ever had, namely that one of my best pals got in touch after reading it to ask if I want a new printer for my birthday next week. What a result!

I swithered about this for approximately ten minutes before deciding that the post, rather than a childish rant, must subconsciously have been my equivalent of Amanda Palmer’s TED talk about asking for help – and replied saying YESPLEASETHANKYOU.

The upshot of this is that I have now printed out a nearly readable first draft of a bookish piece of writing I’ve been working on for more than a year, and I’ve even started scribbling edits on it (using a schmancy Parker pen gifted to me by another friend. Thinking about it, I’m pretty lucky that they all humour me in this way…).


To explain why printing is important to me – I’m not sure if anyone does do edits onscreen, but I can’t work that way myself. I get to the point where whatever is on a computer screen seems to be written as I meant to write it, but as soon as I have a printed version the typos (and plot holes) make themselves known much more readily. And now I have such a print out, hooray!  Or boo, because it means no excuses for procrastination…

My aim now is to finish these scribbles and transcribe them back into the word doc before I head south for the Birmingham Beer Bash this Thursday. This timeframe is probably slightly over optimistic, given that this morning I put my alarm on the other side of the room to make myself get up at 7am to edit before work only to get up, switch the alarm off, and go back to bed again. Oops.

Still, last time I blogged I was despairing of even getting this far without an expensive trip to an Internet cafe, so maybe the mere act of writing this statement of intent will be enough to make it happen. After all, blogging can change your life. It says so in the header!

(If you still need some convincing, how about this story from the BBC about how starting a blog changed someone’s life in a much more dramatic way than mine..)

P.S. Thanks again Jo! x