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Far Off Blog

September 2013

Other stories and other stories

As a child, each time I finished whatever book I had been reading under the covers, I would lie awake for nights, imagining what happened next. Did Cassandra one day go to America with Simon? Did the tiger who came for tea ever come back? I would place myself in the guise of a minor character - a fifth March sister, Katie Morag’s next door neighbour - and probe what might have happened if I’d been there to guide them differently. Would Anne not have dyed her hair green if I had doubted the veracity of the peddler’s ‘black’ hair dye?

What does happen to characters the moment we close the pages of a book? Do they freeze into sepia photographs, or do Lizzie and Miss Bingley snipe at each other with unpenned insults, becoming ever cattier? Do they reimagine their story, playing out alternative after alternative, so that in one version Juliet wakes up before Romeo finds her, while in the next Tybalt ducks out of the way of the fatal blow? Or do they climb out of the book altogether and, wraith-like, explore the nooks and crannies of your room?

sleeping books

Listen to the whispers coming from the paperbacks on your bookshelf and tell us what happens between the leaves. Deadline for submissions to Issue IV is 30 September, so best get writing! (To earn yourself a shiny gold star, to check out our submissions guidelines first!)

Image (cc) Mengjie Jo/ Flickr

Always keep your readers close

Once upon a time in the Far Off city of Edinburgh, there was a gathering of Far Off people - minstrels, poets and storytellers - who came together to share words, wit and wisdom, and whose fame travelled Far and Wide.

Ahem. Okay, I’ll talk normally now. At least, I’ll try to.

We had angsted and anticipated, planned and pontificated - and last Thursday was the day. Shortly after 7.30 in theLia and Nicola on the bar L-shaped function room of the Meadows Bar, the Far Off Places shindig kicked off. We were somewhat astonished to have almost 50 people attending - Annie spent much of the first half running downstairs to steal (ahem, borrow) more chairs from the bar. It was, therefore, a very cosy atmosphere.

Note to self: next time, find a venue with more chairs.

We had always been clear about the structure we wanted: an organised reading, showcasing some of the authors from our first couple of issues, followed by a more informal open stage, where anything might happen. Even ukuleles.

The first half kicked off with an introduction from Trevor, in a scarlet waistcoat, and a slightly overwhelmed Annie, in a hat. (But was it green or teal? We still don’t know.) There were thank yous and exclamations of delight (mainly from Annie) and more exclamations of delight (also from Annie). Trevor then became the ringmaster in a circus of exceptional readers, starting off, appropriately enough, with Jessica Johannesson Gaitan, who reminded us in the first lines of her unexpected short story The Readers to always keep our readers close. The evening then proceeded with fairy tales, fantasy and flights of delight. All the while, a black top hat was circulating with slips of paper for anyone who wanted to perform in the second half to put their name on.

The interval was too short. That is, it actually ran over - but even so there was not time to talk as much as we would have wished to all of the wonderful people who were there. Everyone was delightful and delighted: we were now even more overwhelmed, but this time by compliments, rather than by chairs (and their lack).

Chelsea Cargill on the autoharpThe black sorting hat came into its own in the second half, which proved to be a music-words sandwich. We started and finished with musical whimsy from Nicole Strachan on the ukulele and Chelsea Cargill on the autoharp - who both, coincidentally, not only write for Far Off Places but are also Very Important People at our sister magazine Antizine. In between their songs of journeys to the moon and men who don’t recycle, we heard the opening of a novel for teenagers, some hilarious “found” poetry and a tale of cider and stardust. Annie finished off the evening with a story about stories and their worth.

Moral of the story: be nice to your writers, or they’ll turn you into a stag.

Finally, after more compliments and more exclamations of delight, we drifted slowly, reluctantly into the lamplit streets of Edinburgh. It had been a good night.

There is a rather touching postscript. On leaving, one lovely lady had mentioned that she might write a poem about the hats sported by various of the young (female) writers. The next evening, the following poem (or prosem) winged its way to us, reflecting on, in Gillean’s own words, how things change, albeit sometimes just on the surface. As an editor, I tend to end up with a lot of poems in my inbox. These range from the playful to the poignant, the wonderful to the wondering. Few have moved me quite as much as this.

Hats in a First Floor Bar

More than a century ago
My gran wore a hat like Emmeline Pankhurst’s
And my grandfather loved her.

In the 1950s when I was very young
Everyone wore hats
And Gentlemen tipped them to Ladies.
Black bowler-hatted lawyers
Strode up Edinburgh’s Mound, matchstick thin,
Pinstripe trousered, umbrellas furled like weapons;
Schoolmasters wore trilbies,
Soft-centred men who knew their grammar
And could spell the word;
Working men, dextrous of hand,
Wore flat floppy caps like Paw and Granpaw Broon.
Lesbians wore alpine hats of Loden green,
Suggestively spiked with cocktailed plumes;
Smart women wore smart hats to all events,
And to afternoon tea at Fuller’s;
For casual they wore headsquares,
Knotted under chins like the young Queen in mufti,
Or sculpted into turbans for dusting out the living-room
Or pegging out the washing.

In the 1960s we who thought we were so cutting edge
Wore no hats
But high above our miniskirts, seriously short,
We bore great lacquered bouffant beehives,
Enclosing pale pink lipsticked mouths
And eyes mascara-ringed
Like marmosets, or mourning missives.

Now The Hats are back,
But these Andro-babes sport their titfers with a difference:
Jaunty bowlers Chaplinesque,
Teal Alpinettes, cherry cloches,
Or crinkled purple shapes that wander
Like a new concept in Architecture or Physics;
Perky, quirky, risque.

So, girls, here’s a kiss
Blown from a white-haired watcher in the shadows
Down the long years
You have yet to reconnoitre.

Gillean Arjat
Meadows Bar upstairs,
42-44 Buccleuch Street
12 September 2013

Our thanks go to The Meadows Bar for hosting us, to the many writers who so generously shared their work with us, and equally generously dragged their friends along, to Nicholas Davidson for some fantastic photography and to Beth and Ceris, who were with us in spirit. And of course to Gillean, for such beautiful end to a beautiful evening.

Thank you.

The Dropping of [L]eaves

I love catching snippets of conversations. Sometimes these are indicative of relationships or characters.

An elderly couple stroll down the street and the woman remarks to the man, “Well, I don’t know what you do to make it that dirty! I mean, mine doesn’t get that dirty.”

Sometimes they are surreal, and slightly worrying.

“Really?” says one student to another. “Because I drink blood, you know.” (I’m sure that’s what he said…)

Recently I was in a bar which was empty except for a group of awkwardly adorable guys who were playing a storytelling game. Snatches of the story found their way to the bar stool where I was sitting.

“And then,” exclaimed one of the guys, “they stopped growing into trees and grew into creatures.”

There now. If that isn’t a good writing prompt, I don’t know what is. Take that in whatever direction you like, and let us know what you come up with.

To make us love you, send your creations to submissions@faroffplaces.org. To make us love you more, check out our submission guidelines first.

An Exciting Thing: Far Off Places for iOS

These days Far Off HQ feels less like a magazine and more like the kitchen of a 5-star restaurant, complete with white-hatted chefs juggling hot soup and waiters singing loudly to one another in wonderfully French accents. That may be because one of our number is away in Paris, eating delicious crusty bread and being an international journalist. Then again, it may just be because we like to cook.

Either way, we have definitely got a lot of projects on the go right now, with Issue III almost ready for release, submissions rolling in for Issue IV, and new episodes of the Far Off Podcast airing once a fortnight. Plus, we will be holding our very first live reading and storytelling café in Edinburgh next week.

You will be there, right?


Until then, I’m pleased to announce that the magazine, which up until now has only been available online and in a very limited print edition, is now available on iOS as a Newsstand app.

If you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch you can download the free Far Off Places app from the App Store right now and get a free copy of Issue I just as soon as you finish that cup of tea. Plus, if you subscribe from within the app future issues of the magazine will automatically be delivered to your iOS device while you’re off dancing in moonlit puddles or stowing away on creaky pirate ships1.

Go on, have a look. You never know what you might find, and a little written whimsy is a good thing to have on those balmy Caribbean nights. Oh, and if you like the app please leave us a review on iTunes — it will really help us out and brighten our already glowing smiles.

Far Off Places, on iOS, in stupidly high contrast.

1 Magazine delivery onboard pirate ships may vary; wireless reception while sailing the seven seas is notoriously unreliable.

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