Sunday 3 November 2019

Outfoxed by Sheila Ash - available to read online and to buy

My experimental piece “Outfoxed” has been published in the Nov/Dec 2019 issue of BetterThanStarbucks.
 Better Than Starbucks November 2019
You can view my piece here  and buy the whole magazine as follows (pdf and ePUB versions are in my opinion very attractively priced)
  • PDF version is available here
  • ePUB ebook version is available here
  • Print edition, a 114-page perfect bound trade paperback book, is available here.
  • Premium Print version, larger and printed on heavier stock and 116 pages, available here
By buying, you can help this great Poetry magazine, run by volunteers without outside funding,  to flourish.

21st November 2017: The Today Programme . . . by Sheila Ash - available to read online and to buy

My experimental piece “21st November 2017: The Today Programme…” has been published in the Nov/Dec 2019 issue of BetterThanStarbucks. Better Than Starbucks November 2019

You can view my piece here  and buy the whole magazine as follows (pdf and ePUB versions are in my opinion very attractively priced)
  • PDF version is available here
  • ePUB ebook version is available here
  • Print edition, a 114-page perfect bound trade paperback book, is available here.
  • Premium Print version, larger and printed on heavier stock and 116 pages, available here
By buying, you can help this great Poetry magazine, run by volunteers without outside funding,  to flourish.

Wednesday 30 October 2019

Book Review: Ten New Poets by Bernardine Evaristo

Ten New Poets Ten New Poets by Bernardine Evaristo

Borrowed this as an ebook from the library and found a few poems I really liked

By Karen McCarthy Woolf
Mort Dieu - available in the author's essay
White Butterflies - see here

By Seni Seneviratine

By Mir Mahfuz Ali
Bidisha on the Wall - see here
My First Shock at School
Still Birth

Monday 28 October 2019

Book Review: My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

My Name Is Lucy Barton My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A short novel, not even as long as its 191 pages would suggest. It is told in the first person voice of the Lucy Barton of the title. Growing up in a very poor, somewhat ostracized, social excluded rural family, she finds her escape route through education finally becoming a New York based writer.

This conversationally toned story is based round her extended stay as an adult in hospital following a post operative infection during which her long not seen mother visits. In her way her mother loves her, but I have to say I found their relationship weird to say the least, certainly nothing like my experience of mothers. I couldn't relate to any of her familial relationships. She sees adrift in the city without much in the way of solid relationships. I didn't actually like Lucy. She repeats herself a lot, she is vague where I wanted her to be precise - both in terms of things she mentions has having seen, which are no doubt real, but she doesn't name them, so the reader either just goes with the flow or heads of to Google the place, the person eg she talks about a sculpture, she meets an author Sarah Payne - I still have no idea why as a writer she used a named real author - maybe Payne is more famous in the US, but not here.

The dysfunctionality of her birth family, mother, father, siblings strings out throughout the book and tumbles over into a dysfunctional marriage family which with the only show of gumption - ruthlessness as she calls it - in the whole book she leaves, but again the read doesn't really know why. So she is and the book is unsatisfactory because its so vague. Yes I understand she didn't want to write about abuse - how often has that been done - but her childhood trauma, being stuck in the van with the snake - real, imagined or metaphorical - only puts me into the pragmatic, down to earth mother's voice - Silly girl!

Near the end of the novel she writes "I think I know so well the pain we children clutch to our chests, how it lasts our whole lifetime, with longings so large you can't even weep. We hold it tight, we do, with each seizure of the beating heart: This is mine, this is mine, this is mine." For me this sums up this book and what the author has achieved in writing this story, and shows how the horros and deprivations of childhood impact the manner of adult lives. As her charcter says in the book So sad, so sad.

ashramblings verdict 3* I read this prior to reading the short story collection Anything Is Possible with my face to face book group. I know several friends who have recommended her writing to me, but this didn't exactly 'blow me away' more likely to be like the cheese her character's college room mate gets from her mother, will not throw it away, but doesn't want or like, so leaves it on the window ledge to overwinter. Let's see how aromatic the novel is after a period of 'maturation' and as an intro to her short stories.

Wednesday 9 October 2019

Movie Review – Woman in the Dunes (1964) Dir. by Hiroshi Teshigahara, from the book by Kôbô Abe

Woman in the Dunes
Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara
Writers: Kôbô Abe (novel and screenplay)
Tonight our local Arts Centre The Cut had its weekly cinema night. The movie was the Oscar Best Picture 1966 nominated Woman in the Dunes directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara with screenplay written by the author of the novel of the same title,  Kôbô Abe. I read the book several years ago see my blog post. At the time the book had quite an impact on me I borrowed it from our local library  @HalesworthLib – I gave it 4* , so when I saw the movie was to be shown I had to go. I was not disappointed. A fantastic arts cinema movie full of exacting cinematography, stunning close ups of sand grains, dunes, skin, facial pores, bodies, hands. Filmed in black and white, the movie is full of light and shade, shifting landscapes, contours, curves both of the sand dunes and people. The score is trident, sharp and cutting, never letting you as the audience settle. Very apt.  For a great review of the movie you can't beat Roger Ebert’s which I think is spot on. Not a full house but well done for whoever choses the movie selection at The Cut for this brave and beautiful choice. A great cinematographic experience.

@newcut.halesworth @CutHalesworth

Monday 30 September 2019

Unconditional Love by Sheila Ash

In polished white Mary Jane kiddie chic
a chubby-cheeked study in happiness
looks off stage
Sat atop a table
waxed to glass for the occasion
of my christening aged 10 months
A smiling, bright eyed, hand clapping
reflection of the love behind the camera

© Sheila Ash, 2019

Poem Review – “Ame” / “Rain” by Junzaburo Nishiwaki

I just read, twice, for the first time the poem in ModPoPlus by Junzaburo Nishiwaki entitled "Ame" / Rain and wanted to share the effect this had on me.
The obvious striking use of "s"s throughout lending it a soft sound in English produces a sense of being lulled into a glorious oblivion, of being saturated by the sensual sounds of the words seeping deep into one's soul like the warmth of a long bath. I don't think I have been so moved physically by a poem as I was by this one. Languid, lushness, lying in a bed of feathers.
It reminded me of the movies of Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky and his use of dream sequences, his long takes, and his use of wind and water, the way he immerses his viewer. I thought Andrew Howen's translation was simply stunning and his explanation of how the Japanese language version works in construction and form most informative.
All in all it left me salivating quietly, secretively, like life hung suspended as its words steadily, insistently penetrated all of me, everything natural and manmade, around me and imaginary, past and present, in a hypnotic reassuring stealth of silence until all that could be heard was a gently murmuring purr of pleasure.

"Ame" ("Rain") Junzaburo Nishiwaki, translated by Andrew Houwen

The south wind brought soft goddesses.
Soaked the bronze statues, soaked the fountains,
soaked the sparrow's wings and golden feathers,
soaked the sea, soaked the sand, soaked the fish.
Quietly soaked the temples, the public baths, and the theatres,
this quiet, soft procession of goddesses
soaked my tongue.
Reproduced from
ModPo Video Discussion

Wednesday 25 September 2019

Book Review: The Sickness by Alberto Barrera Tsyzka Translated by Margaret Jull Costa

The Sickness The Sickness by Alberto Barrera Tyszka

An intriguing choice of topic for a novel. This is a beautiful tender subtle rendering of how illness affects people, how obession is addictive and drives our actions, how knowledge of imenent death affects us and our choices. The 4 characters of the novel Dr Javier Miranda, his son Dr Andrés Miranda, medical secretary Karina, and the patient Ernesto Durán are each afflicted in different ways. For Andrés and his father, sickness is tangible, it is cancer, and the subsequent changes that makes to ones body. For Durán it is unreal, an illusion but it is also an obsession as he stalks the Dr in order to get attention - the drug he needs. This he only receives because Katrina takes it upon herself to replay to his emails and in doing so begins at first to empathise and then to mirror Ernesto's symptoms. The plot of the story unfortunately runs dry leaving the reader only with the treatise itself, and some loose ends character wise. The writing is lovely, itself addictive, the English translation (translated by Margaret Jull Costa and shortlisted for Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2011) working really well for this reader who finished the novel pondering the big questions about informed consent, telling or not telling patients the truth about their condition and what to do when you are told you have a month to live.

ashramblings verdict 3* a mixed reaction to it due to the lack of development of plot and character but I was interested enough by the writing to read another of his novels in the future.

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Tuesday 17 September 2019

Book Review: Poetry Collection - In Retail by Jeremy Dixon

In Retail In Retail by Jeremy Dixon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This collection has to be read in its entitity because actually it is one poem made up of 3 clusters of a total of 36 small ones, a series of vignettes of everyday workaday life. 

It captures moments of experiences in work we all forget but which when put together are much more than the sum of its parts. Impactful. Memorable. Reflective. Decisive. The poet as camera, candid. 

Cleverly formatted to resemble till receipts, reading this collection recalled for me the poetry of Frank O'Hara as if it had been transfered from the penniless of the streets of 1950/60s New York to the zero hours contract, minimum wage part-timers of 21st century Britain.

ashramblings verdict 4* deceptively enguiling, these pull you in, leaving you unable to ever again enter a centre high street chemist without a secrect smiles on your face.

Saturday 7 September 2019

Book Review: Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra, Translated by Megan McDowell

Ways of Going Home Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra,
Translated by Megan McDowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This short novel of 138 pages moves about - between a writer and his own life and the life of his characters in his writing , between the present time and the past - a past in Chile during and after the Pinochet years. It represents not just the voice of the post revolution generation but of todays Latin American writers from the generation post Marquez. First there is the story of the young nameless boy and Claudia, the girl he adores, and her Uncle Raul, the boys neighbour. Then there is the storyline of the nameless writer, who is writing their story and his ex Eme. Both stories coalesce off the paper as the four chapters alternate between the writer's fiction and his reality. But this is also a novel about writing, about telling a story, with initially fictional scenes being based on real ones, and real ones reutilised in the fiction. There is a melange of the real and the fictional, a doubling of everything, a redrafting of everything just as any writer would when working on his novel.

It has some memorable passages as this author's style is very natural, smooth in translation (which won the English PEN Award in 2013) the reader feeling she is listening to the man remember. For example,

"I prefer writing to having written"

"That's what we grw up believing, that the novel belonged t oour parents. We cursed them, and also took refuge in their shadows, relieved. While the adults killed or were killed, we drew pictures in the corner. While the country was falling to pieces, we were learning to talk, to walk to fold napkins in the shape of boats, of airplanes. While the novel was happening, we played hide-and-seek, we played at disappearing." Beautifuly poignant ambiguity there!

"To read is to cover one's face. And to write is to show it."

"I want a quiet, simple life. A life with walks in the park"

And finally as he ponders a quote attributed to Tim O'Brien 'What sticks to memory, often, are those odd little fragments that have no beginning and no end', he writes "We remember the sounds of images.......We ought to simply describe those sounds, those stains on memory"

ashramblings verdict 4* Thanks to who ever it was who originally recommended this writer to me

Friday 23 August 2019

Book Review: Of Mice and Men by John Stienbeck read by Clarke Peters

Of Mice and Men Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck read by Clarke Peters
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I listened to this read by Clarke Peters not realising to begin with who this name belonged to - as soon as I heard his voice it was distinctive and recognisable. Yes, we know him from The Wire and many other movies and he has one of those voices which I love and boy does he narrate this one well. It is a well known story, one I had not reread since John Steinbeck was my chosen author to study for my Higher English exam, some 50 years ago!

ashramblings verdict 5* it is a classic story what more can be said except to give this one a 5* for narration as well. Highly recommended

Sunday 18 August 2019

Booke Review: Semiosis by Sue Burke

Semiosis (Semiosis Duology, #1)Semiosis by Sue Burke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An ingenious and intriguing first novel having plant based alien society called The Glassmakers with a chemical language being encountered by distant descendants of humans settled on a planet they have called Pax, named for the peace they had been seeking.

ashramblings verdict 3* The novel is uneven in its pace, slightly too long for my liking, telling the Pacifists story over several generations before they actually encounter the Glassmakers. Once they do the novel matures into what it should be holding out hope for Book 2 Interference continuing in this vein.

Friday 2 August 2019

Book Review: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am not a lover of books which are mostly dialog, they often feel like the author should have just written the script. This books suffers from that in my opinion, although it makes it ripe for a movie/TV series pick up. Having said that, I listened to the author narrate it and read along, that really helped, and did enjoy that depiction of the struggles against the gender, race based misogyny of men as depicted in this alternative post 1950s, post imagined meteorite strike history as Man is propelled to the stars to find a new home.

I came to it having read the author's 2014 Hugo Award winning short novella/ long short story The Lady Astronaut of Mars ( available at ) which is set towards the latter years of progagonist Elma York's life. The character caught my imagination in the short story and I picked up the book, my first readings by Mary Robinette Kowal so I have nothing to compare them to. The space race theme is of course very topical when I was reading these with the 50th anniversary of the landing on the Moon. This is the first book in her series and it takes in many of the themes explored in movies like The Mercury 13 ( ), Hidden Figures ( ). 

ashramblings verdict 3* On the whole I found the book's pace a bit slow, but its premis and characters intrigued me and held my attention well enough to consider picking up the subsequent in the series Articulated Restraint and The Fated Sky.

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Wednesday 10 July 2019

Hope springs eternal By Sheila Ash

At the end of last year the Creative Writing Group I attend undertook a “Secret Sentence”, just like a “Secret Santa” but where your “gift” is a writing prompt. I received the phrase “Doing the Christmas Shift Again This Year”. Now I am an infrequent, if not reluctant, writer of prose but on this occasion that’s exactly what I did. Being pleased with the result sent it off in early February to for their Flash thread and forgot all about it till this morning when my inbox alerted me to the fact that they published it!

Working Christmas Again.

Please read it on the site and vote. Tx

So, all you budding writers out there,  Have Patience and Never Give Up!

Sunday 10 March 2019

Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

The Reluctant Fundamentalist The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Been meaning to read this for ages. Great storyline merging a young man's thwarted love for a young woman doomed by the death of her first love, her childhood sweetheart, with his disillusionment with his work for a valuation company and with American ethics. All complicated by its setting in time, place and culture. Well narrated by the author whose flowing, precise yet minimalist style is supremely suited to the confessional way the story is told.

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Wednesday 30 January 2019

Thursday 24 January 2019

Monday 21 January 2019

Reading at the Swan

I read three pieces of work at Swan Poets Café last Friday evening here in town. 
  • Gone – a poem about the life after loosing a life partner.
  • Snow Country — a poem about unrealised dreams.
  • Outfoxed – a poem inspired by a sketch by American artist Andrew Wyeth.
For me this was the first time I had been, after being nagged by my writing group companions to attend for months  Everyone was most welcoming.

Sunday 20 January 2019

Untitled – A BREXIT Poem by Sheila Ash

10 weeks to BREXIT.
My new passport,
still European red,
gives me 10 more years.
Is that all?
I feel the black hole of fatality shrinking options.

© Sheila Ash, 2019

Wednesday 16 January 2019

Review: Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata, translated by Edward G Seidensticker

Thousand Cranes Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata
Translated by Edward G Seidensticker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kikuji is invited to a tea ceremony in honour of his dead father. The ceremony is conducted by his father's mistress Chikako Kurimoto who has taken it upon herself to as as go-between to organise a meeting for him to "view" a prospective bride Yukiko Inamura. However at the gathering is also Fumiko Ota and her mother who had been his father's long time lover at the time of his death. Kikuji begins a relationship with Mrs Ota which brings much suffering to all. After Mrs Ota's suicide, he transfers his desires to Fumiko.

Just as in the tea ceremony where every move is precisely scripted and choreographed, so every action of the jealous Chikako is laden with meaning. Control and manipulation in abundance, smouldering desires and fierce passions in equal measure are all told with incredible subtlety just like the minute movements within the tea ceremony, the shape of different styled tea cups and bowls, the bamboo whisk stirring up the liquid, mixing up leaf and water.

Kawabata weaves each object involved in the tea ceremony into his story, each with its own significance - a bowl owned by one mistress passes to the hands of another, who uses it to serve the son, becoming a poisoned chalice

But the perfection strived for in the tea ceremony is not found in life - bowls are broken, hearts are broken, life is taken, love is lossed.

ashramblings verdict 3* Kawabata's writings are known for their beautiful language, obsessive sexuality and contempt for the era. But this one suffers from a little too much repetition in the later stages -  it may be the translation although the translator Edward Seidensticker does have a respected reputation for translating number of Japanese authors, or it may be stylistic but its reasoning escaped me and detracted only in places from what is otherwise a lovely lyrical novella.

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Monday 14 January 2019

Review: The Blue Fox by Sjón, translated by Victoria Cribb

The Blue Fox The Blue Fox by Sjón
Translated by Victoria Cribb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Baldur Skuggason is the pastor turned hunter intent on tracking and killing the mysterious blue fox roaming around the snow covered lands of Iceland in the 1883. The middle section tells us of Fridik Fridjonsson some sort of herbalist, who cares for a Downs Syndrome girl Abba whom he "adopted" after she was found shackled to the timbers of a beached ship. The author binds these characters together in a very credible magical tale. ****SPOILER ALERT*** Yes the pastor gets his comeuppance for becoming a hunter and for banning Abba from his church to halt her offkey passionate singing of hymns. It is not until the very end that Fridik tells the reader the truth he found out about Abba's origins and circumstances which led to her enslavement on the ship.

ashramblings verdict 4* Part mystery part folktale, it's beautiful! I especially liked the writing in the opening section about the hunting of the blue fox. This novella received the 2005 Nordic Council Literature Prize. This is second book by Sjón I've read, the other was Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was - most impressed by both.

Both books are translated by Victoria Cribb who seems to translate a number of Icelandic authors. I need to investigate more of these.

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Saturday 5 January 2019

Review: Six Stories and An Essay by Andrea Levy

Six Stories and An Essay Six Stories and An Essay by Andrea Levy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought the audio book of this some time ago just after reading her book Small Island and never got round to reading it. Now after watching the TV adaptation of her book The Long Song and watching an accompanying Imagine interview of her by Alan Yentob I resurrrected it.

Six stories and an essaay was first published in 2014. The essay covers much of what she covers in many of her interviews abouit her upbringing, her family, her awakening a a Black British Writer.
Each story is prefaced with an introduction by Levy. The first story "The Diary" is one she wrote whilst studying Creative Writing at City Lit in London - the classic creative Writing Prompt "You find a Diary....".

"Deborah" is a totally different voice, of a child, written in response to newspapers of the time being full of the story of child murderers .

The third story is entitled "That Polite Way That English People Have" which is readers' first introduction to the character of Hortense who is central to her novel The Small Island.

The fourth story "Loose Change" reflects on the unease felt in the relationships between immigrants of different times specifically here between a Caribbean one and an Central Asian one from different generations of migrations.

The next, is perhaps my favourite story, a short about people's fear of the Other, the inability to communicate even when speaking a common language because of the fear of the unknown, seeing only differences not commonalities in this case a common wellbeing for children as told by "The Empty Pram".

The sixth story is "February" one of Levy's stories inspired by her mother and written to order for a Waterstones diary.

Weirdly there is a seventh story, entitled "Uriah's War" on an important topic of the Caribeean men who volunteered and served in the British West Indies Regiments during the first World War, expounding their courage and discrimination.

ashramblings verdict 4* Levy is a great narrator! She makes her page words into somethingelse. The narration is a 5* one and if you are inclined to read this book I thoroughly recommend the narrated version, available via Audible.

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Friday 4 January 2019

The Dalesman by Sheila Ash

His whistles call instructions -
to outrun, to cast, to gather, to drive,
to go, to come, to stop, to turn
the flock along the wall,
through the gate,
into the pen.

This bond betwixt man and dog,
built on activity and respect
as aged as these Wensleydale hills
speaks to a life fast disappearing,
overtaken by time’s rampage,
retained in trials and competitions.
Old-timers clinging to heritage
awaiting death of man or dog.

© Sheila Ash


Thursday 3 January 2019

Review: Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjón, trans. from Icelandic by Victoria Cribb

Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjón


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With a back page smothered in compliments by A.S. Byatt, Junot Diaz, and David Mitchell, and the black, white and grey picture on its cover and a flash of red tells me its Nordic, then one just has to pick up the book!

The story begins in Reykjavík in the Autumn of 1918. Máni is an orphan who lives with his only relative, his great-grandmother's sister. He is an outsider, earning money through sex with men and spending it going to the cinema. His is infatuated by a mysterious motorcycle-riding local girl who resembles the star of the 1915 film “Les Vampires,” one of his favorites movies, who gives him a red scarf. The island, on the brink of its independence, is not escaping the Spanish Flu pandemic which soon grips the town and decimates its population resulting in the closure of the cinemas. Máni catches the flu but survives and is roped into help the local doctor and undertaker carrying the sick in one direction and bodies in the other. ***SPOILER ALERT*** But Máni gets embroilled in a sodomy scandal with a Danish sailor and is exiled. I for one did not see the ultimate end coming when we learn the circumstances of his birth and the first five years of his life before going to life with the old woman who brought him up.

The writing in this novella is refreshingly simple and straightforward in its language, vocabulary and style. There is none of the common overabundant use of adjectives here. Each word counts. It is the writing of a poet and makes for a great read.
I loved the way the Great War raging to the south of the country hangs over the story and every so often the author uses it like a painter uses light to beautifully convey the story to us readers, for example "There is no cease-fire in the influenza's war on the inhibatants of the town" and after fumigating the cinemas he writes "The greenish-yellow gas that had lately felled the young men on the battlefields of Europe no drifts and rools through the picture houses of Reykjavik"

ashramblings verdict 4* A novel in praise of cinema, the story of a young gay man in a time and place other than the social climate of today, the story of an outsider's survival. Excellent read, highly recommended. I've already ordered more of Sjón's books from my local library.

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