Madeira Mondays: Scotland’s best preserved 18th century town

I was hesitant to write this month’s ‘Madeira Mondays’ because the town I wanted to write about, Cromarty, is something of a ‘secret’. By this I mean: it’s an off-the-beaten path stop for international tourists. I (selfishly) didn’t want to share it! However, it’s an absolute GEM of a town: which manages to encapsulate Scotland’s past in numerous ways – ancient myths, Georgian prosperity, industrial decline, and a heck of a lot in between. Not to mention the beautiful natural environment, including breathtaking walks and dramatic sea views everywhere you turn.

The town was recommended to me by one of the staff, Isobel, at Moniack Mhor, Scotland’s National Writing Centre, where I had been staying for their International Writers Residency during the month of March. My partner and a friend were coming to pick me up at the end of the residency and we wanted to go somewhere in the Highlands. I asked for a recommendation for a pretty small town, that had some history and opportunities for walking nearby. Cromarty fit the bill.

So, even though I’m reluctant to ‘share’ this special place with the wider world, this ‘Madeira Mondays’ blog series is all about celebrating history and especially 18th century history, so it would be kind of unfair of me not to! 🙂

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Friday Finds: Beyond Time, Classic Tales of Time Unwound (Book Review)

‘I, Doctor Michael Claybridge, living in the year 1926, have listened to the description of the end of the world from the lips of a man who witnessed it; the last man of the human race. That this is possible, or that I am not insane, I cannot ask you to believe: I can only offer you the facts.’ – from ‘Omega‘, Amelia Reynolds Long

The fact that we cannot see the future is perhaps a very good thing. But it means that we sometimes find ourselves in surprising positions, doing things we never would have expected. For example, just a few short years ago, if you’d asked me if I enjoyed science fiction, I would probably have said ‘meh, not really.’ But I find myself currently on a writing residency working on a collection of, as I’m calling it, ‘science fiction poetry’ about cosmic wormholes, and reading books about astrophysics, and Einstein, and time travel.

One of the more interesting fiction books I’ve read during this period was called: Beyond Time: Classic Tales of Time Unwound, edited by Mike Ashley.

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Madeira Mondays: A Visit to Skara Brae (Orkney, Scotland)

Orkney is unlike any place I’ve ever visited before. It’s a wild, somewhat desolate island, with jaw-dropping views of windswept cliffs and rolling hills dotted in ancient stone circles. It’s a peaceful place that feels like it’s at the edge of the world, and where, if you’re lucky, you might catch sight of a giant or a fairy or some other type of mythical creature. While I didn’t see any of those, what I did get to see, on a recent trip there, was Skara Brae, the best preserved Stone Age village in Europe. Over 5,000 years old!

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Friday Finds: Tom Cruise interviews an astronaut

Nothing is more important than what you are doing right now. – NASA Astronaut Victor Glover

I’ve been listening to Houston, We Have a Podcast (the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center) since it’s very first episode. I think that was back in 2017. I remember it was in the midst of my PhD. I was delighted to discover it, because I’ve always loved space stuff. I remember reading books about the planet Venus on the playground. (Yup, I was a very cool kid.) Houston, We Had a Podcast was such a brilliant find during a stressful time and I’ve kept listening for all these years as they invite on NASA people (scientists, engineers, astronauts) to talk about space flight.

I wanted to share with you a great episode I listened to recently…featuring (randomly) Tom Cruise.

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Madeira Mondays: Last Dance on the Starlight Pier by Sarah Bird (Book Review)

The only thing I knew about ‘dance marathons‘, prior to reading Sarah Bird’s new novel, was that Lorelai and Rory took part in one during that episode of Gilmore Girls. Turns out, they were all the rage in the 1930’s during the depression in the USA. It was a time when people were down on their luck and wanted something to root for, someone to cheer for, and ultimately something loud, ridiculous, chaotic and fun to distract them from their troubles.

This is the world that Bird’s heroine – Evie Grace – finds herself swept up in. Although Evie dreams of becoming a nurse, when her previous life in vaudeville catches up with her, it’s through dance marathons that she finds a glimmer of hope to regain the future that she lost. This book was fun, picaresque and full of adventure in a way that perfectly suits this glitzy, turbulent time period.

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Friday Finds: I May Destroy You (2020)

I’ve been meaning to write about ‘I May Destroy You’ for a long time. Actually, it was one of the reasons that I wanted to start this ‘Friday Finds’ series at all. When I watched it last year, based on the recommendation of a good friend, I really wanted to write about it on my blog. But at the time I was writing almost exclusively ‘Madeira Mondays’/historical focused content, so it didn’t feel like I could. But even after I introduced ‘Friday Finds’, it slipped my mind for a while, only to renter it when I was reading about all of the drama surrounding the Golden Globes, and how shows like Emily in Paris received recognition when I May Destroy You (a critical darling, at least in the UK) did not, back in 2020. Anyways: let me tell you about I May Destroy You, which, if you’ve not seen it already, is a really excellent and thought provoking show!

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I have a newsletter!

Hello dear readers! This is just a short post with some exciting news: I’m starting a newsletter!

How is this newsletter different from my blog, you might wonder? Well, it’s quite simple! 

This blog will continue as it is now: in-depth reviews of great books and films, as well as posts about history and travel. Basically, the blog is not really about me and my books (most of the time) but rather about all sorts of stuff I’m interested in. I will continue to publish these fun, in-depth blog posts a few times per month. The newsletter, by contrast, will be news about my writing career: new books, upcoming poetry performances, etc. It will be sent out quarterly (aka 4 times per year).

So if you’re someone who enjoys this blog and just wants to keep reading posts about books, history, travel, etc. then great! Thanks and keep on reading! But if you’re wanting to keep up to date with my writing – new books, upcoming poetry performances, touring dates, all that jazz – then I’d recommend signing up for the newsletter as well.

You can sign up here. 

Thanks as always for reading this blog, and I hope you have a great weekend.

Madeira Mondays: Marie Antoinette (2006) revisited

It’s hard for me to describe how excited I was when I first saw the trailer for Marie Antoinette directed by Sofia Coppola. I was about 15 when the trailer came out and I was riveted: cool punky modern music mixed with 18th century fashion and this glamorous story about a doomed queen in revolutionary France. Sign me up!! Remember, this was many years before Hamilton and while I totally found the 18th century cool and exciting and hip, I don’t think that was the consensus and a lot of period pieces I’d seen felt really staid and kind of stodgy. The idea of a fun, edgy, period film with a rock-and-roll vibe about, and presumably for, young people was really, really exciting.

When I saw the film though, I was disappointed. Assuming my expectations might have been too high, I watched it again a few years later: still didn’t like it. Now, when I was at home sick with a cold (not Covid btw if you’re wondering. I tested a lot), I decided that I’d give it a THIRD try, over 15 years after its original release, to see if the film, which had failed to win over fifteen-year-old Carly could win over thirty-year-old Carly. The answer was, sadly, no. It didn’t.

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Friday Finds: Don’t Look Up (2022) film review

I was on the fence about whether or not I wanted to talk about this film. I hesitated because I like to use these ‘Friday Finds’ posts usually to showcase things that you might not have come across. I’m definitely not opposed to talking about big budget Hollywood movies or famous books (regular readers will know that I definitely have in the past!), but I like to shine a light on worthy, slightly lesser known things whenever possible. That’s what the ‘finds’ in ‘Friday Finds’ is all about: finding cool things that are maybe slightly under the radar. And a film with Leo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence could never be described as ‘under the radar’. (Apparently it’s also the second most-watched Netflix film in the company’s history!) That being said, this film has been running through my mind a lot recently because it left me with such mixed feelings. And I’d really like to talk about it!

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Madeira Mondays: Mercury 13

‘Floating among the stars, that is my objective.’ – Wally Funk

I didn’t know about the Mercury 13 until recently, when I read the sci fi thriller Goldilocks and saw that the book was dedicated to them. I looked them up and learned that they were a group of 13 women in the 1960s who wanted to become astronauts. They aced the same grueling physical tests as the male astronauts, but their careers were cut short before they even began when it was decided (in the USA, at least) that women shouldn’t be astronauts at all. What a tragic story, and equally more tragic when I watched this documentary, Mercury 13, and saw how qualified, capable and enthusiastic these women were.

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