The Cloth of the Mother Goddess

HR -7

This week I had the pleasure of attending a talk at Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery by Tara Books, a remarkable collective of writers, artists and designers from India who publish illustrated books for children and adults. They produce limited editions, hand-printed and bound, of works, ranging from religious and mythical subjects to stories of their everyday lives. The books are created through a complex process starting with the artists’ originals, through to screenprinting and then binding the pages into books. While there are some editions printed with the more conventional lithographic process, most are all hand-made, numbered limited editions.

Their visual books span a range of genres: children’s literature, social and art pedagogy, popular culture, photography and art. They are committed to returning the senses back to the physical book in an age busy writing its obituary. They value experimentation: in content, design and production.

Tara Books say, “We also like to enhance the quirky pleasures of reading, for both children and adults—from picture books for all ages to experimental graphic narratives, we have developed new genres of expression.

“The hallmark of our publishing is our engagement with the rich diversity of Indian folk and tribal art. We have brought many of these traditions into the book for the first time, by combining them with contemporary design and fine production, and in the process, have changed the perspective from which stories are usually told. Our books are universally accessible, and for us universality is not global sameness, but a genuine connection with difference.”

Tara are well-known for books made entirely by hand and they have created a range of what may be called ‘crossover’ picture books. Children are drawn to the tactility and graphic richness of the art in these books, while adults value the fine printing, unusual paper and brilliant design.

 While such artists’ books exist in small editions, Tara are able to create them in large numbers, making them affordable and available to the average book buyer. They create this exquisite form of the book—where each page is an individual print—to showcase beautiful artwork. They work with skilled book artisans from India, including handmade paper manufacturers, silkscreen printers and hand binders. The artisans have developed their skills to come up with standards of perfection unimaginable in the trade, winning several international awards.

Recently, Tara have gone on to explore the fascinating field of crossover titles in other forms—for example, the textile book.

This exquisite hand block-printed textile book that takes its inspiration from an ancient tradition of textile art called Mata-Ni-Pachedi. This painstaking work of art and labour is a unique offering that doubles as a book and art object.

Tara’s ongoing dialogue with the incredibly rich and varied forms of indigenous tribal and folk art in India began 15 years ago.

Tara Books adds, “We are privileged that in India, unlike in many parts of the world, these artists are our active contemporaries, ready to engage with us. Many of the artists that we work with come from remote and marginalised communities, but as is evident from the books themselves, their talent, intelligence and imagination are inspiring.

“Whatever direction a particular project takes, there is one basic premise on which our collaboration is based. We would like each artist to be an ‘author’, the active creator of a book. So when we work with an artist from a particular tradition, the book is not ‘about’ this tradition—it is not a documentary. The book is a gallery space which is offered to the artist to tell a story. We work intensively with them, developing the possibilities, pushing the boundaries both for the artist and for the book form. As publishers we play a curator’s role: linking art, story, design and printing and finally the book with its readers.”

At the Fruitmarket talk, Tara Books showed extracts from short films about their process, which you can see at Vimeo. They also highlighted, among other works, a new project, a fold-out book called The Cloth of the Mother Goddess. The images here don’t do it justice, however – the book is a beautiful object, tells a story, has a wonderful tactile quality and is abundant with rich and beautiful imagery.

The books are available from Amazon and elsewhere, but I recommend you seek out gallery bookshops that stock the Tara range, since these are books to be experienced as well as read.

Postings and podcasts elsewhere

borrowedmanI’ve been remiss with the blog lately, but busy(ish) elsewhere. So I thought I might share some of the stuff I’ve been doing with, and for, other people.

First, a couple of things for Adventures in Scifi Publishing. Most recently I reviewed Gene Wolfe’s latest novel, A Borrowed Man. I had mixed feelings about it, but I was also intrigued by the novel and it has seriously made me consider a re-read at some stage, which is not something I do much of as a ruifthen-144dpile. I suppose that tells you something about the book.

Second, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Matthew de Abaitua following my review of his amazing novel, If Then. It was my first time as a solo podcaster for AISFP, and Matthew was an absolutely fascinating guest. I hope you will consider taking time to check out the interview and/or read my review of his novel…and indeed, rushing out to buy If Then.

Finally, my review of the best anthology I’ve read in ages, The Monstrous, edited by Ellen Datlow. If you’re not scared already…you will be.


Cole Porter is alive and well…and she’s called Rachel

Rachel CollisEvery so often a musician comes along and takes you completely by surprise. In a music industry dominated by clones (this singer sounds a bit like that singer, that band is a new version of that other band that was famous last year), it’s always a pleasure to know that there are still originals out there. With Australian singer-songwriter Rachel Collis, comparisons have rightly been drawn with Kate Bush, but I’d throw into the mix, of all people, Cole Porter. Except that there is no one else quite like Rachel Collis – and she isn’t really like anyone else, either.

Nightlight albumRachel is not only a wonderful singer and pianist but she has a terrific facility for witty, moving, funny, clever lyrics and melody which can take you through a range of different emotions even in the course of a single song.

I recently had the opportunity to interview her, and urge you all to check out her excellent albums, which I can’t recommend highly enough.

John: How did you first get into music, and what were your early inspirations?

Rachel: I started learning piano at age 5. I did well in my exams and even won some competitions, but it was really in the context of singing church music that I first became truly inspired by music. I went to a religious school, and every week we had these incredibly dynamic chapel services where the whole school would sing in four parts. We sang everything from old hymns, to negro spirituals, to contemporary Christian songs.

When I was 11 I was given my first pop cassette tape – Amy Grant, Heart in Motion. That was when I began listening to the radio. I listened to practically every style of music and loved it all, but over time it was the singer/songwriters who stuck with me – Amy Grant, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan. I was also greatly inspired by those before my time – Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Simon and Garfunkel.

John: Apart from the school experiences, have you performed in other contexts prior to becoming a solo artist? 

Rachel: Music’s been a big part of my life from an early age, so I was always performing in some context or another.As a younger adult I played for musicals, and accompanied many singers for their performances. Immediately prior to pursuing a solo career I was playing in a Salsa Band, a jazz big band, and some smaller combos, and performing gigs around Sydney. For the past ten years I’ve also sung in a semi-professional chamber choir that performs traditional music.

John: What brought you around to writing your own songs? And can you remember the first one you ever wrote?

Rachel: I wrote prolifically as a teenager. (In fact, I remember writing an absolutely terrible song at school in music class which the music teacher then took and arranged in 4 parts for the whole school to perform!) Unfortunately I didn’t really have anyone to mentor or encourage me, nor did I have anywhere to perform my songs, so I gave up for many years, despite my dream being to be a professional songwriter.

Many years later in 2011 I back to university to do post-graduate study. I started out in piano performance, but the people around me just seemed to ask the write questions, and soon I reconnected with my dream of being a songwriter, transferred to the composition course, and began writing songs again.

John: What’s your process? Lyrics first, then music or visa versa? And do you compose to the piano or some other way, like in your head, and writing down the notation?

Rachel: In general I tend to start with a lyrical idea. Sometimes I will flesh out the entire lyric first, sometimes I’ll start working on musical motifs while I’m still fleshing out the lyric. I find it easier to write music to fit lyrics, rather than the other way around, although I do sometimes force myself to work the other way around just for variety. I used to always write music at the piano, but it’s so easy to fall into the same old patterns. Now I try writing melody without referencing any instrument at all. I find that frees me up quite a bit.

John: One thing that strikes me about some of your songs is their tremendous wit, and sensibility of real life as it’s lived. I can be laughing one minute and be shedding a tear the next. In one of your albums, Ever After, for example, you have a suite of what I’d call realistic love songs, with unlikely people getting together, and reflections on people who are made for each other (in spite of the farting in bed – I love the song For Steve with that line in it – it made me laugh and shed a tear). How did the material evolve for you, and do you see each album as a concept or grouped around a theme?

Rachel: The first album, Ever After, followed close on the heals on a one-woman show called The Art of Letting Go. The show had a lot of humour in it and was somewhat of a deconstruction of many of the fairytale notions surrounding love and marriage. Those themes tend to weave the songs on the album together.

When I started writing for Nightlight I had no particular them in mind. I was simply writing songs. However, in mid 2013 I found working on a song called Winter in Munich and knew somehow that this song would define the entire flavour of the album to come. So I took my photographer out to a town in the Blue Mountains called Mt. Wilson where the trees shed their leaves in winter and we took the cover shot for the album. From then on my writing for the album took on quite a melancholy flavour.

John: I hear in your music bits of jazz, Tin Pan Alley and classical ballads and so on. I have compared you to Cole Porter, justifiably. Where would you place yourself on the musical spectrum and what influences you now?

Rachel: To be honest, I don’t think I sound too much like my influences. I love listening to songwriters, particularly those form the country genre – Kasey Chambers, Sheryl Crow, Vince Gill, Darius Rucker. I love the honest storytelling of the country genre. But because of my classical training, and my experience playing jazz and theatre music, I think those styles have crept in. Also, I’m very much a city girl – Sydney born and raised, so I don’t think I could pull off country!

John:  Some people compare you to Kate Bush, which I can see in terms of your uniqueness and the general vibe of your music. For UK audiences I would also cite someone like Kate Nash, another unique writer and performer. What are your feelings about originality in the music industry at this point, at a time when “more of the same” seems to be the norm?

Rachel: I used to view my uniqueness as a curse. Many people tell me I don’t sound like anyone else. And as a young woman I never really got the opportunity to sing because of that. My voice just didn’t fit neatly into any genre, and when I first started performing I was repeatedly rejected by music venues. In fact, I was even told sometimes that I wasn’t a real “songwriter” because songwriters wore flanelette shirts and jeans and strummed guitars. But I persisted because I knew that so many of the people I admired were not flanelette-wearing strummers, and they did not have the kind of voice that would win on X-Factor of The Voice. I’m thinking of the truly unique – Kate Bush, Regina Spektor, Tori Amos. I found myself craving the original, the subtle, the unique, and realised that if that’s what I wanted to listen to, maybe there were people out there who would appreciate my music for the same reasons. And slowly the situation turned around as I found myself my own niche audience.

John:  Aside from changing your name by deed poll to Kate, what are your aspirations at this point? And what’s next for you?

Rachel: I’m hoping to record again in 2016. I’ve been slowly working on songs. In fact, I’ve even had the offical photo shoot for the album already! I’m also focussing at the moment on direct-to-fan digital marketing and having some success with that as it allows me to put my music directly in front of people who don’t want “more of the same”. I hope to continue expanding that next year and to market my music in Europe.


If you would like to sign up for 2 of my latest songs for FREE, go to

I’m also offering a special Christmas deal at the moment. I will send your loved one a digital copy of my album Nightlight, plus my exclusive EP The B Side, plus a personalised video message where I wish them happy Christmas. I will send it to their email address on Christmas morning, so when they wake up there is a special email there waiting for them! All for just US$9.95 All you have to do is buy here, then email me at with the name and email address of the person you would like me to send the album to, and any message you would like me to read to them in the video. Simple! But orders need to be in by this Friday, December 18.



Creative Writing Classes – Winter 2015/16

UPDATE: FIRST CLASS, MONDAY 23 NOVEMBER, 7.30pm-9.30m at The Canal Centre Tearoom, Linlithgow.

I shall be running my first season of classes this winter, for ten sessions initially, with a break for Christmas and New Year. The first class will be on Monday 23 November at the Linlithgow Canal Centre Tearoom, from 7.30pm to 9.30pm. Cost: £15 (discount for all 10 classes £120 – normally £150).

The classes will be a combination of structured and informal (fun) participatory elements. The objective for this first season is that everyone completes at least one short story of between 2,500 and 5,300 words, which will be published in an ebook, to be made available free through Amazon.


Creating the story
Using The Hero’s Journey structure, you will learn how a story is assembled and the elements that go into making an engaging tale.

Creating Characters
An all important element of great stories is great characters. We will look at how to create complex, multi-dimensional characters with whom to populate your fiction.

Dialogue is not conversation. I’ll say that again: dialogue is not conversation. We will look at the purpose of dialogue, how it differs from conversation, and how to use it to best advantage in your work. And how to write it, naturally.

Point of View (POV)
Understanding point of view in a story and how the POV character draws in the reader. We will also take a look at tenses (and tension!). Third person point of view, first person point of view and second person point of view – present, past and future – yes, you can use any or all of these to great advantage.

Student choices. We can take a look at some of your favourite genres and see how you might begin tackling them: crime, romance, science fiction, horror and others.

Preparing and formatting manuscripts, editing your work, and submitting your work. Yes, I will be encouraging all of you to submit work to prospective publishers – short stories, poems or otherwise.

On the Night
Please bring along your writing tools – notepad and pencil, laptop or tablet. Laptop users, please ensure you have a fully-charged battery as there are no power points at the venue.

If you have any questions or wish to confirm attendance, please email me.

Thanks for your interest, and I look foward to meeting you on the night. And I hope you will let others know about the classes, too. Please note that there is scope to change the night of the class, subject to everyone’s availability.