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Will Buckingham's Wayward Things #1

July 2019 Edition

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Welcome to the July 2019 Edition of Will Buckingham's Wayward Things!


Greetings from Thessaloniki. After seven months in Yangon, writing and teaching, I've landed in Greece's most laid-back metropolis, and I'm going to be here until at least the end of October.

Whilst here, I'll be working on my next book, Hello Stranger, due out from Granta in 2020. The book is about what in Greece is called philoxenia φιλοξενία: friendship with strangers, or hospitality. Since arriving here, I've been working on my skills in modern Greek. I'm hoping by the end of the next few weeks to have developed an encyclopaedic vocabulary relating to breakfast foods. Once I have mastered breakfast vocabulary, I'll make inroads into philosophy. Priorities.

But on to the first edition of my Wayward Things newsletter. Thanks for signing up! There's a lot going on in Issue #1: a fascinating conversation between A.E. Stallings and Adrianne Kalfopoulou about hospitality, poetry, writing and many other things aside; a new biopic of Moomin creator Tove Jansson; an almost miraculous potato tart from Marseille; a boy brought up by a gazelle; tips on the arts of writing from sixth century China; news from my own website (Burmese wizards!); and suggestions of things worth reading or hearing.

I hope you enjoy reading and exploring. If you want to say hello, feel free to drop me a line. And I look forward to seeing you next month.

With all best wishes,


Interesting things online

Breathing together” with A.E. Stallings and Adrianne Kalfopoulou

“Something conspiratorial can be positive, of course,” the poet Alicia Stallings says. “‘Conspire’ comes from the Latin ‘to breathe together…’”

My friend, the translator Jean Morris, recently pointed me to this wonderful conversation between the poets A.E. Stallings and Adrianne Kalfopoulou about being positively conspiratorial, hospitality, poetry, writing and volunteering with refugees in a self-regulated squat in Greece.

I think one of the things we have realized is that it is important to the refugees to be able to offer hospitality, to be able to give and not just receive. Human dignity seems to be about what you can offer others. Even if it is just a cup of tea, it is important that it is offered and accepted. — Alicia Stallings

The full conversation can be found on the Image Journal website.

The Incomparable Tove

There's not a huge amount to celebrate in the news at the moment. But occasionally really good news comes along. And here is one such piece of news. The Finnish production company Helsinki-filmi is set to make a biopic of writer, artist, free-thinker and creator of the Moomins, Tove Jansson. The film will be released in 2020.

I'd also recommend Boel Westin's Tove Jansson — Life, Art, Words: The Authorised Biography. I read it a couple of years back and loved it. And if you haven't seen it yet, there's the terrific BBC documentary floating around (you can watch a slightly grainy version on YouTube here). Finally, there is also an interesting overview of queer themes and the complex gender dynamics at work in Tove Jansson's work here.

From the Kitchen: An Almost Miraculous Marseille Potato Tart

I came across this tart in a tiny restaurant in the back streets of Marseille a few years ago. I was on holiday with Elee Kirk, and we were both tired and grumpy. We couldn't agree on where to eat. But then we stumbled across a tiny restaurant — four tables, hand-written menus — by accident. There wasn't much on the menu, so we ordered the tart. It was miraculously good. Our grumpiness was immediately dispelled by a deep and enduring joy. We had the foresight to take notes on the tart, so that we could try to reconstruct it. This was our attempt. It is not exactly the Miraculous Marseille Potato Tart. But, thanks to our sustained efforts in reverse-engineering, it is close enough.
1. Make a pastry using ⅓ butter to plain flour. Roll out thinly and put in a flan dish to blind bake.
2. Combine in a food processor approx 125 g. of grated feta cheese with one egg and a heaped dessert spoon of Dijon mustard.
3. Thinly slice some waxy potatoes (enough to cover the pastry 2 layers deep). Waxy is definitely better than floury for this.
4. Put the potatoes in a pan with some butter, and cook on a medium heat. Keep turning the potatoes. Use a pan with a lid, and put the lid on as the potatoes begin to brown, turning down the heat to medium, to allow them to steam through. Empty out of the pan and put the potatoes to one side.
5. Chop some mushrooms (good, earthy mushrooms are best) and throw in to the pan you used for the potatoes. Continue to cook on a medium heat until the mushrooms are done.
6. Take the flan case out of the oven, spread with the feta mixture, then top with a layer of potatoes, a layer of mushrooms, and a final layer of potatoes.
7. Grate some good quality hard cheese over the top — Emmental, for example.
8. Bake for another 20-25 minutes.

Obscure Philosopher of the Month #1: Ibn Tufayl

Ibn Tufayl (c. 1109-1185) was an older contemporary of the better-known Ibn Rushd (Averroes). He was born close to Granada under the Almohad caliphate, and he served as physician to the caliph. Ibn Tufayl was a man of prodigious talents: he was a renowned court official, a theologian, an astronomer and a writer of a fascinating early philosophical novel that has had a huge, but largely buried, influence on both philosophy and literature.

Ibn Tufayl's best-known work is Hayy ibn Yaqzan, translated into English by Lenn Evan Goodman as Ibn Tufayl's Hayy Ibn Yaqzan: A Philosophical Tale (University of Chicago Press 2015). It tells the story of a boy who is brought up alone by a gazelle on an island near the equator, and who, through studying the book of nature, comes to be a philosopher.

The book was wildly popular in 17th and 18th century Europe, and may have been the inspiration behind Robinson Crusoe; but is now largely forgotten. If you want to read more about this fascinating philosopher, there's a good article over at Aeon.
liu xie

Mr. Liu's Tips on Writing #1

One of my favourite books on writing is the Wenxin diaolong (文心雕龍), or Literary Mind and Carving Dragons by the fifth/sixth century Chinese writer Liu Xie (劉勰). Liu's book is not only a masterpiece of literary writing, but also an insightful and far-reaching philosophy of what it means to create patterns (文 wen) with the written word.

I've been lugging around a copy of Carving Dragons in translation for years, ever since my poet friend Dave Bonta passed on his old copy to me. I accidentally left my copy of Myanmar a couple of years back. Whilst back in Yangon earlier this year, I was reunited with it. And because the book is so very insightful, over the coming months, I thought I'd share a few of Mr. Liu's tips on writing. This month: Mr. Liu cautions against the idea that writing is a hard grind.

“Ears, eyes, nose mouth are the servants of life; thought and speech are the functions of the spirit. When the will is moderated harmoniously, you merge with the order of things, and the feelings are free-flowing; but if you grind away excessively, the spirit weakens and vitality (qi) fades: this is the how our temperament is regulated.”

Latest News and Blog Posts

Recently, I've been communing with wizards in Myanmar, settling in to life in Thessaloniki, and thinking about online writing. I hope you enjoy the following posts.

Communing with Wizards in Myanmar

When I came back to Myanmar seven months ago, I decided to dedicate myself to improving my language skills. When friends asked me why I wanted to improve my Burmese, I told them that the main reason — other than the important matter of being able to order the very tastiest things on tea-shop menus — was that I wanted to talk to wizards…

Read more
Communing with Wizards in Myanmar

Reclaiming the Pleasure of Writing Online

Almost fifteen years ago now, I started up my first blog. At the time, I was grappling with questions of Buddhist thought and practice, and so I set up a blog called thinkBuddha. I saw the blog as a way of thinking out loud about the things that interested and concerned me. I didn’t really know what I was doing …
Read more
Reclaiming the Pleasure of Writing Online

What I'm listening to...

Why has it taken so long to stumble across the sheer, joyous delight that is mother-and-son folk duo Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear? I recently downloaded their album Skeleton Crew, and I can't get enough of it. There's something about their music that makes you think they would be a whole load of fun to hang out with (so if you are reading this Madisen/Mama Bear, consider it an invitation to dinner).

This nice lo-fi version of their song Live by Water over on YouTube.

What I'm reading...

My current absolutely favourite book on writing is Verlyn Klinkenborg's Several Short Sentences About Writing. It is a remarkably incisive and useful book. I stumbled across it a few months ago, and used it extensively in the sessions I ran in Yangon with my Wind&Bones collaborator, Hannah Stevens.

I'll go out on a limb here and say that it is perhaps the best book on writing I've ever come across. So much so, in fact, that here in our little Thessaloniki writing forge, "to Klinkenborg" has become a verb. As in "I'm going through the edits, trying to Klinkenborg them," or "the writing is good, but it needs Klinkenborging."
That's all for July. I hope you've enjoyed reading. I look forward to seeing you in August!

Γεια σας!

Will Buckingham

About me

I am a writer, philosopher, researcher and teacher of both writing and philosophy. I write non-fiction, fiction and children's books. I'm interested in the places where philosophies, stories and lives intersect. Currently freelance and based in Thessaloniki, I am represented by Emma Finn at C+W Agency in London.
Will Buckingham's Wayward Things is a free, monthly digest of things I find interesting, curious or worth sharing.
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