Sunday, November 27, 2011

Expat Author Interview with Alyson Hilbourne

Alyson Hilbourne
Alyson Hilbourne, born in the UK, has lived overseas for twenty-five years and is now into her sixth country, Japan – Yokohama to be precise. She writes short stories, young adult fiction and travel pieces but would love to find the time and the enthusiasm to complete a full-length novel. And she's a diver!

IMBO: Alyson! Welcome to I Must Be Off! I know only how to say Siranara in Japanese, so I’ll save that for the end. Why Japan?
Hilbourne: I don’t mind where I live, but warm is one of my main criteria. Unfortunately, my husband rather fancied Japan, so we are going to experience winter for the first time in eight years. I’m also about to be reintroduced to skiing this Christmas after about 17 years. This may be a mistake.
Besides writing, at the moment I work in learning support in an international school, where my husband is a maths teacher. I like helping children with literacy, it gives you a huge adrenalin rush if you’ve helped a child understand something they were having trouble with. Occasionally I have to help with maths and that is not so good for the world. I am trained to teach English to adults. I have a love of language and words.
IMBO: Tell us about your writing.
Hilbourne: I write mostly short stories. A couple of young adult novels are lurking at the back of my computer, but success is a great inducement and my success has come with short stories. I also find I don’t have the time to devote to things that take longer.
I also write for a travel website: short descriptions of attractions, restaurants etc in the places we live. It is a good incentive to go out and explore and has provided a regular small income over the years.
Takayama, Japan
IMBO: What inspires you?
Hilbourne: Besides writing – I love travelling. I’ve just been to Takayama, an old Japanese town with traditional wooden buildings dating back nearly five hundred years in some cases. With the leaves turning colour it was all very scenic. I also love diving. I could happily live on a beach or a boat and just fall into the water and dive or snorkel all day.
IMBO: How has being an expat affected what, and the way, you write?
Hilbourne: I don’t think it has much, I’m afraid, except for the travel writing which is a little different. My stories could mostly be set anywhere and on the whole I think of as English. I don’t use the countries I live in as backgrounds. I write more about people and their feelings and emotions, and short stories don’t have so much scope for settings.
Being abroad however has widened my reading hugely. I read books from the countries we live in, and expat friends tell me about favourite writers from their own countries so I read a wide range of literature from around the world.
IMBO: Let’s say you’ve just boarded a transatlantic flight. As you make your way to your seat, adrenaline shoots through your chest. You’ve dreamt about this moment with this person for years. He/she is sitting in the seat next to yours. Who is it and, assuming you get the nerve up, what will you talk about—for nine hours?
Hilbourne: This would seriously be my worst nightmare! I hate flying and the best thing for me is to disappear into a good book and be lost for most of the flight. Someone who wants to talk drives me to distraction. Give me a new novel by William Boyd or Kate Atkinson and I’d be much happier than if they were sitting next to me!
IMBO: Care to share some of your work with us? 
Hilbourne: "Aliens" is a winning story with Wyvern Publishing in their 2011 short story competition. I like the idea of writing for young adults – I like reading YA fiction too. I’m very interested in playing with emotions and how people react to things. I also like fantasy, so there is often an element of supernatural or unreal in my stories.
I’ve also just had a story published in Fangtales – an anthology published by Wyvern Publishing. It is available from and This is another YA story, although more lighthearted than the first one. The brief for this story was a vampire tale. I found that a hard brief with a straight face – I usually write about people being afraid of something that comes from within themselves – so my story is written slightly tongue in cheek. My heroine, a vampire, is looking for a mate and is unsure what to put in the hobbies column. “Bloodsports?” suggests her friend.
I’ve also recently been published by Pill Hill Press in their anthology Big Book of NewShort Horror.
IMBO: And something by another expat author?
Hilbourne: I’m not always aware of things I read being by expats particularly, but being part of Writers Abroad, an online site for expat writers, and part of their 2011 anthology has been a great experience. All the writers included in Foreign Flavours are, or have been, expats and the variety in the writing is amazing. Two stories that stick in my mind are Jany Gräf’s “Schnitzeltopf Saga”, a wry story of people coming to visit and preparing her special dish, and Helen Watson’s “Cycling the Potato Road”.
IMBO: Ever get homesick? Has your concept of home changed since you’ve been an expat?
Hilbourne: I am always homesick, each time we move. Once the initial euphoria of a new place has worn off, I start remembering little things about the last place we lived (having conveniently forgotten all the things that annoyed me). At the moment I’m remembering how nice and warm Bangkok is (and forgetting how revoltingly sticky it is too). But really home is where all our stuff is and that at the moment is Japan. We talk about ‘going home’ each summer when we visit England and family, but it isn’t really and after a frantic tour round the country living out of suitcases and being unable to slob on your own sofa, we are glad to get back to ‘home’. I think it is at that point after a move that I make the final adjustment and accept where we are living.
Alyson, thank you for sharing your writing and your life with the readers of I Must Be Off! I wish you continued success. Stay safe on those Japanese ski slopes! Siranara!
I must be off,
Alyson Hilbourne is an expat writer living in Asia. She writes short stories and travel pieces in her spare time. She has had ghost/horror stories published by Bridge House Publishing, Pill Hill Press and Wyvern Publications.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Free Photo Friday -- Nature's Light

Somewhere in South Dakota. I suppose these are barley fields or wheat--something I can't eat. The earth is blanched and then seared in the background with a line of green in the middle. It wasn't possible to get a picture that showed the grandeur of this place. Miles and miles and miles of pale earth.
This is one of my favorite pictures. I took it in Hamburg at sunset. The sky looks like a canvas against the silhouette of the tower. While the eye is drawn to the sun of course, don't miss that lamppost, which went on as I was taking the picture.
Also one of my favorite pictures, taken in a church in Israel. The way the sun is beaming in directly toward the column signifies divine inspiration to me--and it also reminds me of Stargate for some reason. You too? I have a tender place for Stargate.
Another one of my favorite pictures. I have taken so many "path" pictures (maybe 500 of them). Obviously I love walking, but I also love Nature and observing how the elements of Nature play with one another, strobing shadow and creating the illusion that enlightenment is just ahead. Don't we all hope it is?

Overlooking the bay in Antalya, Turkey. A sparkling backdrop for the a silhouette. When the sea reflects the sun so intensely, everything is in silhouette against it.
Side, Turkey has seen its share of occupation: the Greeks, the Romans, the German tourists. The thing about ruins is, there's just not much left to occupy--but Side is well worth a visit. My camera, reflecting the sun and making a spot of light on the ground, attracted a dog, who followed me around for an hour. He chased the light, pounced on it, and generally entertained everyone.
The sun casting a delirious impressionist's drawing on the floor of a church on the island of Madeira. Have you ever had the special, fortified wine from Madeira? After you finish the bottle, these are the lights you see.

As usual, these photos are yours for the taking. Use them if you want--but if you do, please include a link to my blog.

I must be off,

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving and a Pushcart Prize Nomination

When I called my mother this evening to tell her my story "The Shoes, The Girl and the Waves that Washed Them Away" had been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, I expected to interrupt her chopping carrots and whipping sweet potatoes; she was frying sausage. My family was in the middle of a Thanksgiving Breakfast.

"You won?!"

"No, Mom. I was nominated."


"It's a big honor."

"Uh huh." My mother has won prizes herself, so she's not easily impressed. Actually she was really pleased for me. I'm just playing with you.

Thanksgiving is a great day to nominate people for prizes. The Pushcart Prize is given to outstanding stories published by small presses. I'm having a sweet and thankful day, so I want to share it with you. I would also like to share this moment with three writer/friends of mine who were nominated with me. Congratulations, Julie Innis, Sheldon Lee Compton and Bill Yarrow. You are all INCREDIBLE.

If you have a chance, stop by Blue Five Notebook and give Sam Rasnake and Michelle Elvy some love. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

I must be off,

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

London Feeds the 5000

Feeding the 5000
Did your mother also compel you to eat your broccoli with the phrase, "There's a starving child in Africa who would love to eat my [overcooked] broccoli!" Did you know that nearly 35 million people in the US suffer from food poverty? The number in the European Union is actually higher: 43 million. In the UK alone, with its population of around 60 million, 4 million people do not have the food they need to live a healthy life.

Considering these sobering statistics, you'd think the West had a serious shortage of food. We don't. The UK actually has twice the amount of food it needs to meet the nutritional requirements of its 60 million. The EU has almost three times what it needs, and--hold onto your plate--the US has almost four times the amount of food required to feed 330 million people. Ho ho ho, that's a lot of peas, Jolly Green Giant!

The Jolly Green Giant
Friday on my walk home from London Bridge to Canary Wharf, I took a detour--for uninteresting reasons--and ended up at Trafalgar Square in the middle of the Feeding the 5k event, whose goal it was to feed 5000 people a delicious-looking curry--made completely from food that would have been thrown away--between 12:00 and 14:00. OK, the feat with the loaves and the fishes was just a tad more impressive, yes, but Feeding the 5k had to do it without Jesus. Think about it.

More statistics for you statistiphiles: US households, retailers and food services throw away 40 tons of food every year. UK households throw away a quarter of what they buy. And 20 to 40% of fruit and vegetables in Britain doesn't even reach the supermarkets. Why? Because they're not pretty enough. Feeding the 5k doesn't care how pretty the carrot is or how misshapen the potato is. Actually, the carrot handed to me in the crowd at Trafalgar Square on Friday looked good enough to eat.
Trafalgar Square

The point? We have enough food to meet the needs of our growing global population; we simply have to manage that food better. Maybe we need to think about who "we" are. Maybe I can't send my mother's broccoli to Africa, but I can try to be more mindful of food waste. Actually, I come from an adorable family who don't waste food. Once, when my mother was in the hospital, my father made a soup out of everything in the fridge. He was so proud of that soup. It was a memorable soup.

A mosaic near the Sea of Galilee
Friday's Feeding the 5k event was the second of its kind, the first being in 2009. If you're interested in learning more, go HERE, where I got the statistics for this post. There are lots more there. Feeding the 5k is sponsored by the Mayor of London and a host of organizations including FareShare, Love Food Hate Waste, Friends of the Earth, Recycle of London and Food Cycle.  

I must be off (to clean out my fridge),


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type, a parodic pastiche of sitcom America and its influence on gay identity. Available from Amazon Anything. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Expat Author Interview with Dan Powell

Dan Powell
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Dan Powell has been publishing regularly, both online and in print journals, since 2009. His story “Half-mown Lawn” won the Yeovil Literary Prize for short fiction in 2010. He’s currently studying for an MA in creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. Dan—a homedad—lives in Germany.

IMBO: Dan, welcome to I Must Be Off! I know how I would describe your writing, but how would you?

Dan: I would describe my work as moving between realist and magical realist fiction, dealing with the themes of love, family, parental-child relationships, and the loss of those things.

IMBO: How has being an expat affected what, and the way, you write?

Dan: Though in Germany I live amongst a British community and as such have a limited experience of what it is to be an ex-pat. With Western culture being so homogenised it perhaps shouldn’t be surprising that moving within Europe has perhaps had less impact upon me than I thought it might. However, Germany is a very family-focused society and I feel this aspect of the culture has infiltrated my work. My wife and I are very focused on our children and a lot of my writing grows from my experiences as a parent. We’ve had some great family holidays here in Germany and more recently in Denmark, another country which seems to share the focus on community and family.

IMBO: Let’s say you’ve just boarded a transatlantic flight. As you make your way to your seat, adrenaline shoots through your chest. You’ve dreamt about this moment with this person for years. He/she is sitting in the seat next to yours. Who is it and, assuming you get the nerve up, what will you talk about—for nine hours?

Dan: There are quite a few authors I could see myself talking to for nine hours. I say talking, it would more likely be me grilling them about their work. John Irving would be one and I’d spend the whole time talking to him about The World According to Garp, the book I remember having the biggest impact on me in my late teens/early twenties. Alan Moore would probably be on a lot of people’s list, but to his relief I wouldn’t want to talk Watchmen with him. Instead I’d be interested in talking about his first novel A Voice From the Fire and his current work in progress Jerusalem. I just listened to a podcast interview with him today and he always sounds like such a top chap to talk to.

To be honest it would be too hard to choose from the list of writer’s whose brain I want to pick (Ali Smith, Amy Hempel, David Mitchell - the list goes one) so I would go with the one person I would really want to talk to more than anyone else, my Dad. He died ten years ago and since then I’ve gotten married, started a family and achieved some small success with my writing. I’d love to have nine hours to tell him all about the last ten years and pick his brains about the tricky job of being a father.

IMBO: Care to share some of your work with us?

Dan: Ultrasounds is a trio of stories that grew from my direct experience. The three ideas literally came to me as I was watching my daughter’s ultrasound scans over the course of my wife’s pregnancy. They came pretty much one on top of the other and I remember writing them one after the other in rapid succession. The ability to see your child before he or she is born is a modern miracle that we pretty much take for granted now. The magical elements of my three stories grew out of that, investing a sense of the magical back into what has become just another piece of technology we have grown complacent about.

I like stories that mess about with structure, and list stories are perhaps the simplest way of doing that. Things I No Longer Wish To Possess is my attempt to try and convey the lingering rawness and self-doubt that remains after a relationship breaks down. It’s one of the few pieces of my own that I re-read for pleasure. To me, it feels like it was written by someone else.

IMBO: How about a link to a story written by another expat?

Dan: I haven’t knowingly read work by many other expat writers, though I am sure to have read plenty unwittingly as part of my blog The Short and Long of It, which I use purely to post links to great short fiction I find across the web. Perhaps your readers could use the comments to direct me to some of their favourite online fiction by expat writers which I can read and link to.

IMBO: That’s a great idea, Dan. In fact, readers are always welcome to recommend writing by (other) expat writers. Hey, you’re just an EasyJet flight away from home presumably, but do you ever get homesick? Has your concept of home changed since you’ve been an expat?  

Dan: I get homesick a little, but for an idealised version of the UK. When we left the UK we were glad to be doing so, but now, five years later, we miss it in what I am sure is a rose tinted manner. Apart from family there is little I specifically miss, beyond being able to speak English everywhere. My German is pretty shocking for having been here five years now. I miss being able to get British goods easily. I miss being able to go into a bookshop and browse; though we do have a  pretty decent second hand English bookshop in the community and having a Kindle makes up for some of what I miss. Biggest thing I miss? English Fish and Chips from a proper English Chippy.

As for a concept of home, as a child my family moved around a lot, all across the UK, as did I in my twenties. I haven’t really got a strong sense of home as a result, though my wife and I plan to find somewhere to settle for the longterm in the near future. We have no idea where that will be at present but check back in with me in five years and I might have the name of a place. We’d love to get a house on the coast in Denmark which isn’t totally outside the realm of possibility as dream homes go. As it stands though, home is wherever my wife and kids are.

IMBO: Thanks, Dan, for share your life with the readers of I Must Be Off! And just to let them know: Dan Powell's "The Leaving of What's Left" is at Metazen today. Stop by and read his work. 

I must be off,

Dan Powell’s work has appeared in the pages of Spilling Ink Review, Staccato, Litsnack, Neon, Metazen, The View From Here and Dirty Bristow. He has had stories included in the charity anthologies 100 Stories for Haiti and 50 Stories for Pakistan and his short story ‘Half-mown Lawn’ won the 2010 Yeovil Literary Prize for short fiction. Originally from the West Midlands in the U.K., Dan calls Gütersloh, Germany home these days. He blogs at

Christopher Allen writes fiction, creative non-fiction and of course this here blog. His work has appeared in numerous places both online and in print. Read more about him HERE.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Free Photo Friday -- Lions

Welcome to Free Photo Friday on Sunday at I Must Be Off! where cool cats don't wear blue jeans. These cats are basically naked. And free. Enjoy them, use them . . . steal them if you want. Who knows when you'll need a lion pic, right?

Why I'm drawn to lion faces, I'll never know. I'll probably never even ask myself the question. This lion, one of the many small lion statues in a park in Istanbul, kept smiling at me. What a goofy, happy lion. Like Istanbul.

The Merlion, the lion-headed fish mascot of Singapore, always looks like it's making a pizza. The fish part of the statue represents Singapore's heritage as a fishing port; the lion head commemorates Singapore's first name, Singapura--or lion city. On February 28, 2009 at about 4:26 in the afternoon, the Merlion (pictured, um, spewing) in front of the Fullerton Hotel in Singapore--was struck by lightning. He's OK now.

  This is a real lion in Kenya. Or I suppose a lioness. Rarrrrrr.

Sometimes I dream about this lion staring at me. When I took this picture, people laughed at me. This often happens. Sometimes I take pictures of cow pats, and people laugh at me. Sometimes I take pictures of other people taking pictures, and people laugh at me. Sometimes I take pictures of people laughing at me.

"Oh, darling! You shouldn't have! A ring? For me? Per me?"
This lion is this prissiest lion I've seen since the lion in The Wizard of Oz. He lives in Florence and has a beautifully groomed mane. Curly. I wonder where he gets his hair done. 

Did you know there were Greek Sphinxes and Egyptian Sphinxes? That the Greek Sphinxes were typically women? And the Egyptian Sphinxes were often men . . . or androsphinxes? I'm going to start calling The Sphinx in Giza the Androsphinx just to make people think I know my way around an Androsphinx.

The wall between Jewish- and Palestinian-controlled Jerusalem. Nothing to say about this one except . . . Pray for peace.

As always, the photos I share on Free Photo Friday are completely free. If you choose to use them, please share a link to my blog.

I must be off,

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Expat Author Interview with Inka Piegsa-Quischotte

Inka Piegsa-Quischotte alias The Glamour Granny
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Inka Piegsa-Quischotte is what you might call a ‘dual’ expat. At present, she lives in Turkey and Miami, Florida. She was born in Germany but went to university in Switzerland, the UK and Spain. She’s been travelling her entire life – first with her parents, then on her own. She worked a few years in Germany as an attorney, but when her inner nomad stirred again she went to live and work in the South of Spain and in London, simultaneously, and travelled extensively during that time on business. Inka speaks five languages.

"There came a time when I realised I'd been to the most exotic places in the world but had seen . . . absolutely nothing. Practically over night, I decided to give it all up and travel the world to see."

IMBO: Inka, welcome! I always enjoy reading your travel articles. How did you wind up in Turkey and Miami? I also live in two places, so I know the ups and downs of it.

Piegsa-Quischotte: I need the thrill of juxtapositions, but another more mundane reason is that I hate the cold, so now I have the luxury of being able to live in warmth and sunshine all year long. A new lifestyle required a new place to live too, that’s why I bought a place on the Aegean Sea in Turkey and another one in Miami. Two very different countries and cultures with the added advantage that Turkey is my gateway to the East and Miami to the South and West.
IMBO: How did you get started writing?

Piegsa-Quischotte: I have always written short stories and the odd, very bad poem, but the more I travelled – finally with enough leisure to discover the wonders of this world – the more I wanted to share my experiences with others, which, in turn, led to travel writing. I haven’t abandoned fiction. I have written two novels, one of which won Readers’s Favorite Award 2009 in its category.

My writing tries to combine information with fun, humour, extraordinary stories and spellbinding places. Being in my 60s, I also want to encourage other women of my age, to get off their behinds and see the world. Being an armchair traveller is NO fun!! It also makes you fat.

IMBO: That’s quite a wide range. What don’t you write about?

Piegsa-Quischotte: I know, it’s all the rage and the most successful travel writers write about it, but I do not like food! That may make me unpopular, but I don’t care. I can’t cook and have no intention of learning and if I could swallow a few pills instead of eating a meal, I would be the first to do so. I have better things to do with my time than to chop carrots and on top of it, I hate putting on weight. As far as I’m concerned, eating is a necessity to stay alive and that’s as far as my interest goes.

IMBO: How has being an expat affected what, and the way, you write?

Piegsa-Quischotte: I think it hasn’t affected my way of writing at all. I have never had or felt the need for ‘roots’. I’m always happy at the favourite place of the moment and when it ceases to attract me, I just move on. Of course, living the way I do, I have been able to experience in depth very different cultures and feel confident to write about them.

IMBO: Tell us about what inspires you—not only as a writer.

Piegsa-Quischotte: Creativity, originality, curiosity. I can listen endlessly to other people’s stories.

IMBO: Care to share some of your work with us?

Piegsa-Quischotte: I am in search of yet another country where to pitch my tent and one of my favourite candidates is Morocco. That’s why I travelled up and won the country and ended up in Fez which inspired this story:

Otherwise, my articles and also my two novels as well as a small guide book to Galicia can be found on the portfolio page of  GlamourGranny Travels.

IMBO: You’ve just published a travel guide on Turkey. What makes this travel guide different from all the others?

Piegsa-Quishotte: My guide book, Istanbul, City of the Green-eyed Beauty, is unconventional because it combines Istanbul sites with literature. Not your usual 'what to do and where to go' guide, Istanbul, City of the Green-eyed Beauty follows three writers—Pierre Loti, Barbara Nadel and Orhan Pamuk—whose stories all play out in different locations of Istanbul, some very off the beaten path. I thought it would be fascinating to visit the places mentioned in their books, and whilst I was doing so I decided to write a guide book to 'accompany' these works of literature so others could enjoy what I found. The 'hunt' was great fun. From the history of the brothels in Karaköy to the cast iron church in Balat, I have included background information and anecdotes—and of course many pictures.

The title is a reference to Pierre Loti's book Aziyade which describes his love affair with a Turkish married woman who lives in a harem. It is her green eyes looking out at him from behind the bars of a serail which first seduce him.

IMBO: Ever get homesick? Has your concept of home changed since you’ve been an expat?

Piegsa-Quischotte: I can’t get home sick because I have no real concept of ‘home’. Home is where my heart is at the moment.

IMBO: Inka, thank you for sharing your two worlds with the readers of I Must Be Off! All the best! 

I must be off!

Inka piegsa-quischotte was born in Germany, went to boarding school in Switzerland and to university in Basel, Granada (Spain) and College of Law in London. She practised as an international attorney for 30 years in Germany, Spain and the UK. She currently lives between Miami and Didim and Istanbul (Turkey).

Christopher Allen writes fiction, creative non-fiction and of course this here blog. His work has appeared in numerous places both online and in print. Read more about him HERE.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mermaids Tail -- Gluten-Free

I always have to Google the name of this restaurant on Leicester Square in London. I would like to suggest renaming the restaurant Mermaid's Tale or simply Mermaid. First of all, all the signs for the restaurant are grammatically incorrect. There should be a possessive apostrophe between the D and S; and second, I find Mermaids Tail a bit vulgar or at least open to vulgarity. Or maybe it's just my dirty mind. Mermaid's Tale sounds more Disney.

Possibly vulgar name notwithstanding, I gave Mermaid(')s Tail a tug last time I was in London. I wanted to try their gluten-free fish and chips--my first fish and chips after six years of eating a gluten-free diet.

My first impression of the restaurant was shaky. In preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games, Leicester Square has been under construction for months. Despite the deafening construction noise, several guests were eating at the eight or ten tables outside the restaurant. It was a sunny day, but I chose to eat inside--where it was a lot quieter.

The interior is a classic, upscale British pub. Lots of wood. The menu--with steaks, ribs, fish and chips and a few vegetarian options--caters for conservative tastes. Which is fine. I like a good honest plate of food as much as I love a sophisticated one. In the end, Mermaid(')s Tail occupies an important space on Leicester Square: a British atmosphere with sort of British food. 

I was greeted warmly. In fact, friendly service was the restaurant's strongest suit. 

How much would you usually pay for fish and chips? How much would you pay if you had waited six years to do it? At Mermaid(')s Tail, fish and chips will set you back around 16 pounds. That's one piece of fish, chips and mushy peas. London is expensive, but 16 pounds for fish and chips is exorbitant. Still, I was on a mission.

People with Celiac Disease in the UK like cider, and I really would have liked to drink a cider with my fish and chips. Mermaid(')s Tail doesn't offer cider. They must be the only restaurant with a bar in the UK who doesn't offer cider. I had wine for 7 pounds a glass.

The best part of the meal was the mushy peas. They were tasty. The fish was bland and the chips were, well, chips. I suppose it's the type of food you would eat when you're really hungry, maybe starving. The batter on the fish was completely tasteless. When I asked my server what kind of gluten-free flour they use to make the gluten-free batter, she had to ask the cook.

The cook relayed the message that they buy a mix, which wasn't my question, but it answered other questions. Even if you buy a gluten-free batter mix, you can still add pepper and salt--something to add flavor to a very blah affair.

Is Mermaid(')s Tail worth a visit? Certainly not for their gluten-free fish and chips. If you love fish and chips and you have Celiac Disease, you'll be disappointed by the taste; if you only mildly like fish and chips and have Celiac Disease, you'll be disappointed by the price. The restaurant is definitely worth a visit if you want friendly service in a traditional atmosphere on Leicester Square. They're also running a special right now, so you could save a few pounds on dinner.

Wait, there was more gluten-free madness at the weekend. As I was walking home from the gym, I passed The Hummingbird Bakery. Actually I went into it before I passed it just to see if they offered anything gluten-free. They did. Almost. They couldn't guarantee that the red velvet cupcake with butter cream icing was gluten-free since it was made in a kitchen where wheat flour was used, but the girl assured me they'd taken good care to make sure it wasn't contaminated with gluten. Now, the question is, was this tiny bit of goodness--it really was very small--worth 3 pounds? No. Even in its cute little box? No.  

I must be off,


Christopher Allen writes fiction, creative non-fiction and of course this here blog. His work has appeared in numerous places both online and in print. Read more about him HERE.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Free Photo Friday -- The Colors of Autumn

Fall. Autumn. The space between summer and winter. Balmy days. And Hallowe'en. Today's free photos are all taken at the time of year when the colors deepen, the temperatures drop and we all start thinking about what we want for Christmas. Hey, have a photo! Yep, you can have these. They're not much, but they're all I have--like that old woman who gave her last two coins. Sort of. If you use these photos (and please do) just make sure you tell your readers where you got them.

Happy autumn!

I must be off,

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Expat Author Interview with David Brazier

Dharmavidya (David Brazier)
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David Brazier lives a mobile life – about ten countries so far this year, rarely more than three weeks in one place, but his anchor points are the Canary Islands, where his partner lives, France, where he has a small retreat, and the UK, his home country. He writes prose and poetry. His latest – Her Mother's Eyes and Other Poems – comes out in November 2011 by QUG. Most of Brazier’s writing is on spirituality, psychology and culture. Love and Its Disappointment is considered to be his most important essay on the meaning of life so far. Brazier’s books have been translated into around ten languages.

IMBO: David, welcome to I Must Be Off! Reading about you has been fascinating. Ten countries this year. Wow. Why do you move around so much?

Brazier: The reason for my travelling is to teach Buddhism and Buddhist psychology, to promote inter-faith understanding, support cultural events and simply deepen my own encounter with the big existential questions.

On the one hand, I am an internationalist, happy to put up my hammock, as it were, wherever. On the other hand, I'm definitely English and very much European. My mother gave me a love of England and of poetry and although one can sometimes transcend one's home culture, one never throws it off.

I spent much of my childhood in Cyprus when it was a British colony and a very cosmopolitan place. My parents had friends who were Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Lebanese, Egyptian, and American as well as British. Coming back to spend my adolescence in UK was a shock. I felt hemmed in. I have always had itchy feet.

IMBO: And the fingers? How did you get started writing?

Brazier: When I left school I went to university, but dropped out. Dropping out was what one did in those days. I went back to do a masters degree when I was in my forties and went on to do a doctorate. While I was doing it my tutor asked me if I would take off his hands a book of conference papers that.he was editing That, in due course, turned into my first full length book, Beyond Carl Rogers: toward a psychotherapy for the 21st century. I'd already done a lot of shorter pieces of writing – articles, monographs, pamphlets and so on – on Buddhism and psychology mostly. The book sold better than the publisher expected and so I was asked to write more. Writing books has become an integral part of my personal evolution.

I am a Buddhist priest, but I have the mentality of an artist. Nonetheless, I was useless at art at school and did not get a feel for writing either until much later. Interestingly, of my three children, my younger daughter is an artist (painting and sculpture) and my elder one works in the music industry.

IMBO: What inspires you?

Brazier: I enjoy gardening, walking, photography, and working in the woods (of which there are quite a few hectare at our French place). I like reading history, geography, travel, philosophy, good fiction, and poetry as well as spiritual works from many faith traditions. I enjoy solitude but meet hundreds of people. I enjoy doing new things. Right now I'm visiting Hawaii to give teachings to Buddhist groups and earlier today I got an invitation to go ocean kayaking tomorrow morning early which is something I've never done before so I'm going . I am a very poor swimmer so if I don't survive I might not get to read this interview; however, there is some chance I might see a whale.

I am a free spirit and am interested in a multitude of subjects. My friend Mary Midgley (philosopher, author of about fifteen books) has “freelance philosopher” on her visiting card and I can identify with that. I am a Buddhist priest and the leader of a religious community and so am publicly identified with that, but I am interested in all forms of the mystical traditions and in the engagement of faith with social action. I am also interested in political and economic theory and the current state of Europe's sovereign debt crisis intersecting with America's economic problems fascinates me. I started a Facebook thread on this latter topic and it has already attracted 96 comments and 14,000 words!

IMBO: I have to say that I’m inspired by how engaged you are in the breadth of experience in the world around you. Has this always been true?

Brazier: In Cyprus, as a child, during the independence struggle, I had an early exposure to war as well as to cultural diversity. Then, my parents moved frequently. My father was a civil engineer. I was acclimatised to moving every couple of years. This shaped my outlook. For the past 15 years or so I've spent part of every year in France and now I live part time in the Canary Islands. I'm gradually getting better at speaking Spanish and starting to love delving into Spanish culture, history and literature. I'm voracious for that sort of thing and my real limit is time to do it all. I do not feel exiled in any sense. It is much more a matter of encompassing more of what is out there. Seeing things through the eyes of another culture is liberating. It makes it possible to see what one has been taking for granted that may be questionable. It is also a mine if rich resources. Many great writers from Chaucer onward started off as translators and although I have only done a little formal translating, I have learnt a huge amount by seeing things through the perspective of other tongues and cultures. I am a regular visitor to India and also to Japan and Korea and these contrasts have openned my eyes to how limited a view one has if one never ventures outside Europe or North America.

Yet, for me, writing is also an art form. I am interested in language and words as well as the subject matter. I started writing poetry as much in order to experiment with language as anything and then I had a friend who was a poet. It has often been meeting particular people that has made all the difference in my life. Then I went on a solitary retreat for nine days and poems started pouring out of me, several per day. It was amazing. This spring of creativity ran on for the next couple of years very gradually slowing down. Now I still write poetry, but not in quite such a binge. There is something about the essence of poetry that is close to our most profound sense of the meaning of life. It is seductive, elusive, fascinating.

IMBO: OK, let’s say you’ve just boarded a transatlantic flight. As you make your way to your seat, adrenaline shoots through your chest. You’ve dreamt about this moment with this person for years. He/she is sitting in the seat next to yours. Who is it and, assuming you get the nerve up, what will you talk about—for nine hours?

Brazier: Well, I do have this experience, or nearly, from time to time. When I was young  I was terribly shy. Then my second wife (I've been married three times) took me in hand and taught me to be a social being, so now I strike up conversations with all sorts of people. Often there is not much in it, but I have sat on planes next to people who turned out to be writers like myself, or just very interesting personalities such that one gets talking and time disappears. We talk about books, publishing, languages, and writing, or about travel and the challenges of being a person who is in part a misfit everywhere yet also in part somebody who can adapt to just about anywhere, or we discuss spirituality and existential questions and alternate between the profound and the absurd; we have fun, exchange experience, and laugh.

IMBO: Care to share your work with us?

Brazier: My books are informative or philosophical or poetry. Either way they attempt to break new ground  in people's thinking. My sense is that there are two widespread consensual positions holding sway today across the domain of popular spirituality and popular psychology in the West, and neither is adequate. On the one hand there is a range of spiritualities and psychologies that are essentially self-focussed – self-assertion, self-esteem, self-worth, self-concept – a swathe of ways to love oneself. On the other hand, there is an increasing vogue for the kind of quasi-scientific approach that recognises nothing that cannot be measured and tries to reduce human life to a mechanism. Neither of these approaches seems to me to liberate us. My focus has, therefore, been on the nature of love and upon the importance in our lives of creative forces over which we have limited control. This approach seems to me to do more justice to the experience of those who are truly artistic or creative; it gives sustenance to the human soul without centring everything upon the small mindedness involved in just getting personal needs met.

The book that expresses this philosophy of mine most clearly so far is Love and Its Disappointment, but it is an on-going process. In each book I am taking a new angle and, often, a new “language”, not in the literal sense but in the sense that psychology, art, spirituality , poetics, and so on each have their own vocabularies and modes of discourse.  I'm looking at and playing with different ways of regarding the meaning of it all and enjoying the paradoxes and limitations as well as the breakthroughs.

Cover art by E. Dickie
I'm very excited about being about to become a published poet. (Brazier's latest – Her Mother's Eyes and Other Poems – comes out in November 2011 by QUG). Also, I have an autobiography coming out next year, and another book (on prayer) written but waiting for some editing.

IMBO: What about another expat author or artist?

Brazier: I have a lot of respect for the work of Richard Crookes, a calligrapher, who lives in Thailand. His work is really impressive. He has done the cover designs for my new poetry book and for my autobiography that comes out next year. The painting on the front of my poetry book was done by my daughter E. Dickie who is a very talented ex-pat living in Auckland, New Zealand.

IMBO: Ever get homesick? Has your concept of home changed since you’ve been an expat?

Brazier: No, I never get homesick but I have experienced extremes of emotion when, after an interval of many years, I have revisited places where I lived as a child. I am working up the courage to go back to Cyprus one day. I have not been there during my adult life. The south has no doubt changed enormously with the tourist industry, but the north is probably pretty much how it was. My concept of home is more cultural than locational. If I am among people with whom I share some basic assumptions I feel at ease, but such people are not anchored to one place.


David, I can't tell you how interesting you have made this interview. Thank you for sharing your life and your work with the readers of I Must Be Off!

I must be off,

David Brazier, PhD, is an author, poet, traveller and spiritual teacher. He is also a psychotherapist and inventor of pandramatics, an improvisational theatre method. He has eight published books and numerous chapters in other works. He has founded social, mental health and educational projects in a number of countries. He is a Buddhist priest and head of a religious order. He is a social and cultural critic and was listed by Huffington Post earlier this year as one of the dozen Buddhist commentators most worth following on Twitter alongside the Dalai Lama and others.

Works by David Brazier:

A Guide to Psychodrama
Beyond Carl Rogers: Toward a psychotherapy for the 21st century


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type. Allen writes fiction, creative non-fiction and of course this blog. His work has appeared in numerous places both online and in print. Read more about him HERE.