Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Interview - Annette Greenaway

Annette Greenaway interviewed by Frank Burton.

Annette's second poetry collection, The Joy of Atheism, can be read online or downloaded for free here.

Her first collection, Big Fish Little Fish Cardboard Box was the first ever Philistine Press release.

How has your work developed since your first collection?

I think I've got better at writing what you could call "serious" poetry. Most of the work in Big Fish Little Fish Cardboard Box is playful and humorous. While there are plenty of laughs in the second collection, I think of it as being deeper and darker. I'd like to think I've got better at writing since I first started.

Did you set out to write a themed collection about atheism or is that something that developed during the writing process?

I'm not sure if you could call it a themed collection, because a lot of the stuff in there isn't specifically about religion. I didn't intend to write about this one subject as much as I did, but it's something that I was thinking about a lot while I was writing and that spilled out onto the page. I think The Joy of Atheism is a good title for the collection because a lot of my work is about finding joy in unexpected places. I think atheists have a reputation for being bitter and depressed, which isn't necessarily the case.

Do you think religious people will like the collection?

I suppose it depends on their taste. It certainly isn't intended as an insult to any other belief systems. You could say the same about other forms of religious poetry. I wrote a poem called "A Note to Richard Dawkins" which neatly expresses my position on this subject.

Do you perform you work in front of audiences?

No, I'm a 100% online poet. I've never been published in print, and no one has ever seen me read my work live. I must confess, I'm very nervous about public speaking. Never having performed my work in public may be a good thing in its own way because I like the idea of people reading my work online and having no idea who I am, or what I look like, or sound like. It's all about the work, not the poet.

Are you working on anything new at the moment?

I'm starting to write some nature poems which are in their very early stages. I'm not sure if this will turn into another collection, or if this is a short phase I'm going through. We'll see.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Ostrich Cycles by Carl Antonowicz

Another great graphic novel available to download for free ...

This is a somewhat belated review as the book was published in 2007, but I've just discovered it, so it's new to me.

This is an original and thought-provoking piece of work. Antonowicz alternates between conventional comic strips and a series of scrawled notebook entries which eventually become unreadable. It's a risk for a writer to create something that the reader literally can't read but the risk has paid off. You may not know what I'm talking about. Read the book.

You can download it here.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Seamonster by Nathan Castle

I'd like to draw your attention to a brilliant graphic novel which can be downloaded as a free PDF.

Seamonster by Nathan Castle is a dark, haunting and often humerous tale, which grabs your attention from the opening right through to the end. The dialogue is spot on, the artwork is flashy and simplistic - perfect if you're reading on a hand-held device.

More information at

Friday, 24 June 2011

Found Pages #6: Stalin and Khrushchev Investigate by Sidach

No seriously, this is a real online novel. Read the whole thing at

Here's the opening chapter...

Fifties style downtown L.A.

The air is filled with the sleazy sound of a trumpet. Outside our block the road dips, starting a downward slope towards its ultimate descent. The front door is held open by a tatty, battered old brown loafer. The stairs and floor are cracked, dusty and all old wood that fills the romantic dreams of all those who never lived here. Rising up two flights of stairs it becomes apparent that the first two floors have no doors. No one else lives here. The base only exists for the purpose of housing those who reside behind the door on the top floor. Our view rising up the final flight of stairs and peaking through the gap left as the door swings slightly, creaking infuriatingly, finds one of our inhabitants.

From the entrance looking in, the window fills the back wall, covered by blinds, currently open brightening the room. On the left and the right of the room stand opposing desks, whilst a small television with rusty indoor aerial sits atop an orange crate, placed deliberately nearer to the left desk than the right. In the centre of this office, sat cross legged on the floor sits an industrious little buddha in the personage of Nikita Khrushchev.

Papers fly around the surrounding atmosphere, as Khrushchev sits as the chaotic centre of this mini system, throwing these satelites into the air chaotically. His blotchy bald crown and cheeks shine a bright red, whilst the pale white shins shown by the chasm between his grey creased socks and brown slacks reveal his natural tone. A short sleeved white cotton shirt, top button undone in concession to the heat fortunately conceals the undoubted sweat patches. Sensible black lace up shoes complete the ensemble, their scuffs revealing his haphazard, darting nature.

Khrushchev leans over, up on his knees, to reach to his desk and grab a pair of scissors. Upon relanding on the floor his shirt thankfully rides down again and recovers his flabby botched mid-driff, exposed during his recent excursion. He cack handedly holds his scissors at an odd angle as he stabs and separates sections of a newspaper. Then with a highlighter our rotund hero scribbles over key portions of the text in his hand like a child with his first crayon set.

Then a darkness sweeps through our visage. The sunny exterior is negated. The blinds slam shut of their own accord. Khrushchev nervously scrambles together his pile of papers, and hides his pair of scissors behind his back. A series of loud reverberating footsteps give a nightmarish premonition of what is ascending. As these sound stop a solid tension fills the office, like an arm over to slats of wood, quivering in the seconds before it gives and breaks. A dark monstrous shadow slips under the door, enveloping Khrushchev and freezing the sweat droplets immediately to his forehead. The door opens, then swings creaking to reveal a giant at the door. Khrushchev looks up from the floor and gulps. The owner of this office is revealed out of the darkness,

'Hello Nikita Sereyevich'

'Hello Koba.'

Thursday, 23 June 2011


Just want to say thanks to everyone who read my new poems prior to The Joy of Atheism being released. I posted quite a few of the poems on this blog before I completed the collection, and a few of them have been redrafted since then so I was going to delete the previous entries but then I thought it would be quite interesting to have two different versions of some of the poems out there.

I hope you enjoy the collection.


Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Believing in Iron by Yusef Komunyakaa

While we're in a poetic mood, here's another one. More from Yusef Komunyakaa here.

Believing in Iron
by Yusef Komunyakaa

The hills my brothers & I created
Never balanced, & it took years
To discover how the world worked.
We could look at a tree of blackbirds
& tell you how many were there,
But with the scrap dealer
Our math was always off.
Weeks of lifting & grunting
Never added up to much,
But we couldn't stop
Believing in iron.
Abandoned trucks & cars
Were held to the ground
By thick, nostalgic fingers of vines
Strong as a dozen sharecroppers.
We'd return with our wheelbarrow
Groaning under a new load,
Yet tiger lilies lived better
In their languid, August domain.
Among paper & Coke bottles
Foundry smoke erased sunsets,
& we couldn't believe iron
Left men bent so close to the earth
As if the ore under their breath
Weighed down the gray sky.
Sometimes I dreamt how our hills
Washed into a sea of metal,
How it all became an anchor
For a warship or bomber
Out over trees with blooms
Too red to look at.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The White Room by Charles Simic

Another one from More Charles Simic stuff here.

The White Room

The obvious is difficult
To prove. Many prefer
The hidden. I did, too.
I listened to the trees.

They had a secret
Which they were about to
Make known to me--
And then didn't.

Summer came. Each tree
On my street had its own
Scheherazade. My nights
Were a part of their wild

Storytelling. We were
Entering dark houses,
Always more dark houses,
Hushed and abandoned.

There was someone with eyes closed
On the upper floors.
The fear of it, and the wonder,
Kept me sleepless.

The truth is bald and cold,
Said the woman
Who always wore white.
She didn't leave her room.

The sun pointed to one or two
Things that had survived
The long night intact.
The simplest things,

Difficult in their obviousness.
They made no noise.
It was the kind of day
People described as "perfect."

Gods disguising themselves
As black hairpins, a hand-mirror,
A comb with a tooth missing?
No! That wasn't it.

Just things as they are,
Unblinking, lying mute
In that bright light--
And the trees waiting for the night.

Monday, 20 June 2011

New Ebook: The Joy of Atheism by Annette Greenaway

Annette Greenaway was the first writer to be published by Philistine Press when we launched in 2010. Now she's back with her second collection of poems, several of which have been showcased on this blog in recent months.

Funny, touching and packed with attitude, The Joy of Atheism is a mini-masterpiece. It's partly an atheist manifesto and partly a book about life, art and love.

Read the full collection online or download it for free here.

Sample poem:


She’s not me,

That child who sucked the nipple off her dummy

And drenched her bib in second hand orange juice.

She’s not me,

That spiteful brat who slammed her sister’s fingers in the door

When she lost at Monopoly.

She’s not me,

That teen who didn’t want to go to school

Assuming she was fat and ugly because no one told her otherwise.

She’s not me,

That girl who went out clubbing Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday,

And didn’t pay for any drinks.

She’s not me,

That woman who allowed her boyfriend to treat her like dirt,

And secretly enjoyed it.

Sometimes I recall these people,

Inherited memories from my skin’s former occupants,


In real life.

Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing by Margaret Atwood

Better known as a novelist, Atwood is one of the best poets and short story writers around. (To be fair, she's pretty well known for the short forms as well, so I'm probably preaching to the converted.)

I nicked this from - more Atwood stuff on there.

Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing

The world is full of women
who'd tell me I should be ashamed of myself
if they had the chance. Quit dancing.
Get some self-respect
and a day job.
Right. And minimum wage,
and varicose veins, just standing
in one place for eight hours
behind a glass counter
bundled up to the neck, instead of
naked as a meat sandwich.
Selling gloves, or something.
Instead of what I do sell.
You have to have talent
to peddle a thing so nebulous
and without material form.
Exploited, they'd say. Yes, any way
you cut it, but I've a choice
of how, and I'll take the money.

I do give value.
Like preachers, I sell vision,
like perfume ads, desire
or its facsimile. Like jokes
or war, it's all in the timing.
I sell men back their worse suspicions:
that everything's for sale,
and piecemeal. They gaze at me and see
a chain-saw murder just before it happens,
when thigh, ass, inkblot, crevice, tit, and nipple
are still connected.
Such hatred leaps in them,
my beery worshippers! That, or a bleary
hopeless love. Seeing the rows of heads
and upturned eyes, imploring
but ready to snap at my ankles,
I understand floods and earthquakes, and the urge
to step on ants. I keep the beat,
and dance for them because
they can't. The music smells like foxes,
crisp as heated metal
searing the nostrils
or humid as August, hazy and languorous
as a looted city the day after,
when all the rape's been done
already, and the killing,
and the survivors wander around
looking for garbage
to eat, and there's only a bleak exhaustion.
Speaking of which, it's the smiling
tires me out the most.
This, and the pretence
that I can't hear them.
And I can't, because I'm after all
a foreigner to them.
The speech here is all warty gutturals,
obvious as a slab of ham,
but I come from the province of the gods
where meanings are lilting and oblique.
I don't let on to everyone,
but lean close, and I'll whisper:
My mother was raped by a holy swan.
You believe that? You can take me out to dinner.
That's what we tell all the husbands.
There sure are a lot of dangerous birds around.

Not that anyone here
but you would understand.
The rest of them would like to watch me
and feel nothing. Reduce me to components
as in a clock factory or abattoir.
Crush out the mystery.
Wall me up alive
in my own body.
They'd like to see through me,
but nothing is more opaque
than absolute transparency.
Look--my feet don't hit the marble!
Like breath or a balloon, I'm rising,
I hover six inches in the air
in my blazing swan-egg of light.
You think I'm not a goddess?
Try me.
This is a torch song.
Touch me and you'll burn.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

George Orwell - Why I Write

The greatest essay on writing ever written, by (in my opinion) the most important writer of the 20th Century.

"Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality."

Can't argue with that.

Read the full essay here.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Tony Harrison - V

One of the few great examples of poetry on TV. An absolute classic.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Edwin Morgan - The Dowser

Some words from one of the greats…

More info and a few more poems at

The Dowser
With my forked branch of Lebanese cedar
I quarter the dunes like downs and guide
an invisible plough far over the sand.
But how to quarter such shifting acres
when the wind melts their shapes, and shadows
mass where all was bright before,
and landmarks walk like wraiths at noon?
All I know is that underneath,
how many miles no one can say,
an unbroken water-table waits
like a lake; it has seen no bird or sail
in its long darkness, and no man;
not even pharaohs dug so far
for all their thirst, or thirst of glory,
or thrust-power of ten thousand slaves.
I tell you I can smell it though,
that water. I am old and black
and I know the manners of the sun
which makes me bend, not break. I lose
my ghostly footprints without complaint.
I put every mirage in its place.
I watch the lizard make its lace.
Like one not quite blind I go
feeling for the sunken face.
So hot the days, the nights so cold,
I gather my white rags and sigh
but sighing step so steadily
that any vibrance in so deep
a lake would never fail to rise
towards the snowy cedar's bait.
Great desert, let your sweetness wake.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Interview - Stephanie Newell

Stephanie Newell interviewed by Frank Burton

Stephanie's novel, The Third Person, can be read online or downloaded for free here.

What kind of research did you do for the novel?

I wanted to give days and dates for each of Lizzie’s diary entries, but I didn’t want to specify the year in which the novel is set. I’d like readers to be free to imagine a period, rather than be told a particular year. Having said that, I did have a specific year in mind, so most of my research involved ensuring continuity and accuracy. For example, quite a few of the products and cultural references in the novel — from Superglue to Flashdance to the new pound coin — had to be double-checked, in case they appeared too early or too late for the year I had in mind. That’s why I had to cut out a reference to Hobnobs (and most definitely the milk chocolate version) because they arrived on the scene too late for the action in the novel. A packet of chocolate digestives took their place.

Another area of research was into bone processing, as a ‘bone factory’ features prominently in the novel. I found out all about the uses for bones in glue and fertilizer, etc., and also about how the industry deals with effluent and emissions. By the time I’d finished this research, I really could smell the fumes from a bone factory, and, to my nose anyway, the stench permeates the novel.

Perhaps the most detailed and most difficult area of research was into the interview techniques that would have been used back then by police and social workers when faced with child abuse allegations. This was before the ‘Children Act’ of 1989 when significant changes were made to procedures. In order to make the interview scene authentic — when Lizzie and her friend Katie Nelson are visited by a social worker and a policewoman — I contacted lawyers and social workers with long track-records, and asked them to help me reconstruct the interview scene. In the end, my cousin Anna Kerr, a social worker and novelist in her own right until her death in January 2011, sat down with me and provided the bare bones of the scene, for me to embellish. It took a lot of work, but now it’s my favourite scene in the novel.

Finally, in the process of writing this book, I became fascinated by the difference between secrecy and lying. While this fascination was developing, I went to a talk by Carol Smart, who has published a lot of work on the topic of family secrets. Reading her work really helped me to introduce and develop this theme. It’s not meant to be explicit or drummed home, just quietly sitting in the background of the book.

How does the first draft differ to the final book?

This novel went through so many drafts — at least ten — that I can’t properly remember a ‘first’ draft. The manuscript went through numerous changes. But two ideas I refused to budge from were, first, the need for the story to be narrated in fragments, not in smooth, continuous prose, and second, that it should be narrated in the present tense. At the start, I didn’t have any dates in mind, just jigsaw pieces and the immediacy of Lizzie’s voice. I wanted the motif of fracturing and breaking-apart to be part of the structure of the novel as well as a key theme. Numerous readers of drafts along the way found this to be really confusing, though, so I finally made the decision to clearly mark the text as a set of diary entries. But without giving the ending away, the final page of the novel problematizes this notion that the whole text is diary entries ‘as they happen’.

Who are your biggest influences?

I set out to write what might be called ‘Lolita’s story’, re-imagining Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita from the point of view of the adolescent girl rather than the older man. My writing was also inspired by Esther Freud’s two novels, Hideous Kinky (1992) and The Wild (2000), both of which explore sibling relationships and childhood rivalries with particular attention to the child’s-eye view of the world. Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003) also provided a lot of inspiration because, as with The Third Person, his novel is narrated entirely from the perspective of a teenager. In Haddon’s case, the narrator is a fifteen-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome who struggles to understand and interpret other people’s responses.

In these books I looked for ways to resolve one of the key limitations you find in stories that are confined to young first-person narrators: while child or adolescent narrators often have the capacity for empathy, novels dominated by their voices often lack the space for alternative and mature perspectives, or for voices that have the ability to convey complex emotional expressions and interpretations. This is especially the case when a story is narrated in the present tense. Haddon makes a virtue of this simplicity of voice in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by creating an Asperger’s syndrome protagonist who is incapable of viewing the world through others’ eyes. The difficulties and failures of the boy’s connection with others is one of the story’s central concerns. I have tried to follow his example in The Third Person.

Does your research into African literature influence your creative writing?

Not in an obvious way, although my academic research often focuses on issues of visibility, gender and power, so that might have influenced the underlying themes in my novel. But generally when I’m writing fiction, I send my academic self away for as long as it takes to produce a piece of creative writing. I even get uncomfortable reading works of fiction that seem to be too scholarly or analytical. I struggled with Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore for that reason: even though I loved the characters, the wise cats, and all the magical, overlapping spaces in the novel, I fidgeted throughout the long ‘intellectual’ sections. Maybe I need to relax and let my academic side back into my writing. I even skipped all the sections about tractors in Marina Lewycka’s A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian because these parts reminded me of academic books!

Would you describe The Third Person as "controversial"?

This depends on how you see fiction. I think I would describe The Third Person as unsettling rather than controversial. To me, ‘controversial’ means that you deliberately stir up debate about an issue, or you take a strongly provocative side in a debate. The Third Person doesn’t engage in controversy in these obvious ways because there is no ‘side’ to take in a discussion about child abuse: of course child abuse is morally wrong.

Having said that, perhaps there is a controversial aspect to The Third Person in that it doesn’t simply condemn the abuser. The novel contains an intensely damaged and destructive love triangle, and it unsettles the typical media construction of abusers as ‘evil’ by trying to offer an understanding of the complex relationships involved, especially how an abuser both manipulates and charms the victim.

How significant is the setting of the novel in terms of place and time?

The time is not particularly important, but the place is vital. I wanted to create a slightly gothic location, with a creek separating the bone factory from the village, and the sound of boat rigging rattling in the night. I needed a setting that would carry the wildness of the salt marshes and birds into the world of the narrator, Lizzie, as she stalks and preys on her younger sister.

How do you feel about online publishing?

I’m really excited about the new kinds of audience and text that are produced by online publishing. The accessibility and cheapness of e-books opens up a lot of possibilities for readers to download large quantities of material, to read freely and widely, to expand their literary horizons.

For their part, online publishers can produce material that doesn’t have to cross the high profit threshold required by conventional publishers for a manuscript to be accepted. As a result, online publishing is a lot less conservative than publishing for bookshops. Online, books can be put into circulation that conventional publishers might feel are too risky financially because they don’t offer familiar themes.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Ivor Cutler

…and speaking of Ivor Cutler (see previous post) this is one of my favourites…

There's also a lot of Cutler stuff available to listen to on Last FM.

And for more information about Cutler go to…

Monday, 6 June 2011

Colin Shaddick & Roger Nicholls

And while we're on the subject of Colin Shaddick (see previous post) I heartily recommend this collaboration with Roger Nicholls. The production on the spoken word stuff reminds me of Ivor Cutler although the poems are very different to Cutler, if you see what I mean.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Sexton Ming & Colin Shaddick

This is definitely worth a listen.

Considering how long Sexton Ming has been around, it's surprising that this is his first official spoken word album.

Hats of to the multi-talented Colin Shaddick as well.

See also Sexton's website and Colin's website.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Thinking not Praying

I watch you walk across the carpet,
Trapped in your own silence.
You walk into the kitchen, not seeing me sitting here.
I can hear you breathing through the wall.
I want to tell you I can help you,
But I don’t like lying.

I close my eyes,
Join my hands,
Not praying.

Annette Greenaway