How Many Wrongs Make A Mr Right? Debut novelist Stella Hervey Birrell on rejection, writing, and men jumping up and down in nightclubs…

April 16th, 2016

Hello friends! Remember me? I am indeed still alive, though my blog hardly shows it. Thankfully, I am lucky enough to know the brilliant Stella Hervey Birrell, and even luckier enough to be able to host one of the stops of her blog tour… so I am, rustily, back to blogging! (Thanks, Stella.) Stella’s debut novel is described as “chick lit with grit,” a slogan so great I wish I came up with it — and it’s called How Many Wrong Make A Mr Right? I managed to corner Stella for a small interview… you’re going to enjoy what she has to say, so grab a cuppa and get settled!

1.  I’m always interested to hear about how people started out writing.  I know that you’re also a singer-songwriter, and wonder — did that come first, then story-writing, or the other way around?  Or do you see them as being wholly unconnected?

Not wholly unconnected, no. I had to think really hard about this question: which did come first? It was terribly earnest poetry, really, as a child and then an angsty teenager. Songs have been part of the deal as an adult for a long time, and my husband normally writes the tunes, so it’s something we do together.
But when I gave up work, it wasn’t to write songs, it was so that I could write a commercial, full length novel. Songs are mostly written as gifts, or for my band, The Domestics, which isn’t a full time job.
I’d love to think that writing lyrics informs my prose, but actually I think they’re pretty different. Although it’s probably best that I don’t write in rhyming couplets!

Sam Burns Yard Domestics Pic
‘And now I will read you my full-length novel…’ Stella with her band, The Domestics. Picture by Caroline Pearson.

2.  Kind of related to that first question: what do you think, say, your sixteen-year-old self would make of the fact that you’ve published a novel? 

Oh my goodness she’d be delighted! She was so pretentious though, she’d have been super snooty about the fact that I don’t have a traditional, paper based publishing deal, or an agent.
She’d probably be more surprised that I’m a generally happy, settled person though, neither of us thought that would ever happen…

Correct cover!
Available on UK Amazon, US Amazon, Kobo, Nook and iBooks. (sorry, 16 year old Stella)

3.  What do you see as the major themes of your work?  What questions are you interested in exploring?  Not necessarily just in your novel, but in your writing in general, I mean.  I’m always nosy about the things folk want to drive at with their writing.

At root, I write for women. In my first book, the strongest theme is probably ‘loving yourself first.’
I’m also interested in writing about the female orgasm, in an educational way though – I don’t write erotica.
In other work, women’s empowerment, women’s support networks (good, bad and non-existent), and the whole parenting lark: things I’m experiencing now. For example, my youngest son started school last year, and the piece that came out of the devastation I felt was accepted by the Ropes Journal. Nothing is wasted, as they say.

Strident Feminist cropped
Melissa, How Many Wrongs Make a Mr Right?

4.  I know (*eyebrow-wiggle*) that you’re a member of at least one writer’s group.  Can you talk about the ways in which being part of writing community helps or influences your writing?  

When I started writing ‘seriously,’ my cousin advised me to join a writers group. I’m so glad she did. Being part of Tyne & Esk Writers means I have a place to read works in progress, the impetus to improve as a writer, a community of writers that I now consider friends, access to a ‘proper’ published author and mentoring from her, a beta-reader who surpasses all other beta-readers, the opportunity to read and comment on other people’s work, and somewhere I go every second Wednesday where I know I’ll have a laugh.

5.  If time, money, and lifestyle circumstances were not a factor, what would your writing career look like in 10 years’ time?

In ten years’ time I’d like a readership, not made up of my close family and friends, and a good few novels under my belt. Like about a million other people!

6.  I have to do it: what advice can you give to other writers?  What have you learned that you wished you knew before you started?

Oooh, advice. Er, no idea. Actually, there have been a few things I didn’t do, because I didn’t think to use Google. For example, I didn’t write a one-line pitch for my debut novel, and at first I didn’t write a good cover email either.
Having short works placed in journals really helps, as you have something to write about in said cover letter. All this advice is online, I wish I’d done my research before going out to agents and publishers! Or read ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King. Especially as one agent emailed me the other day saying she doesn’t accept a second pass, once you’ve been rejected, she’s not interested in looking at future works.

Rejection email table
This is part of the deal folks. I love the smell of rejection on a Monday morning…

7.  I guess we should devote at least one question to your novel…!  What’s your favourite moment in the novel?  And was that moment the most fun part to write?

I really like the scene where the ‘gang’ all go dancing. I’m too old for clubbing now, but I used to go out a lot. It was fun, trying to get across the whole club atmosphere: how you lose all your friends but you don’t care, how obvious it is when a guy wants to snog you on the dancefloor, how, when a particular type of song comes on, all the men jump up and down a lot…

8.  Finally… what’s next for your writing?  Do you have a new novel in progress, or is there something else on the cards for you?

I have a work in progress (The Perfects) which is with my aforementioned beta-reader that surpasses all beta-readers. I am really excited about this second novel, and can’t wait to share it with other people. And I’ve got a sketchy plan for a third too (Having it All). My sisters are slightly nervous about it, because my main characters are two sisters. I’m still submitting short works as and when I can, and blogging twice-weekly.
For me, it’s about keeping going. Helen Fielding said ‘there’s always someone trying to tell you you’re not really a writer,’ and for a long time that person was myself. But with the support of my writing community and the validation of a publishing deal, I’m very nearly convinced.

17.11.2015. Stella Hervey Birrell.
Trying to act normal while getting your photograph taken, there’s another lifeskill I could do with learning… (Photo: Gordon Bell)

Stella says: “please come and say ‘hi’ in one or more of these places!
My blog space is
https://atinylife140.wordpress.com/
Twitter is @atinylife140
I have a page on Facebook here.
Email me at atinylife140@gmail.com.
I can also be found wandering the streets of various East Lothian villages.”

Thanks, Stella!

*

I wrote a book of poems! It’s called This changes things, and you can order it here!

You can now get more content from me — and help me pay the bills! — by supporting my Patreon. Get a monthly writing support pack for just $5 a month! It’s like buying me a pint.
You can also support me by checking out the many sweet and sparkly things at Edinburgh Vintage, my Etsy-based store for jewellery and small antiques.
If you just want to say hi, you can find me on Twitter, or email me via claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. You’ll get a fairly good sense of the kind of person I am by checking out my Tumblr.

Procrastination Station #148

January 22nd, 2016

Four Panels 2
(Photo credit)

It’s been ages since I did one of these!

This was kind of sad for me to see, as a typewriter enthusiast… but it would also make a great short story! Two guys discover a derelict typewriter shop.

It’s kind of hip to hate on Malcolm Gladwell, no? Well, I like this books, and I liked this thoughtful response to the haters.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti talks about ‘minding the shop’ while the Beats all got high. Related: some footage of the Beats hanging out in New York.

You’ve probably already seen Men Explain Lolita To Me, but if not, read it, for it’s great. It will also lead you to 80 Books No Woman Should Read, which may be even better.

Oh my goodness. This deeply sad essay about the death of a whale is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read.

Also beautiful: this long piece about end of life care, by Atul Gawande. I can’t wait to read his book.

Want to know what excellent reviewer Dave Coates reckons were the best poetry books of 2015? ‘course you do.

66 bookstores on route 66? I sense a bookish roadtrip coming on!

This piece, on fairy tales, is absolutely gorgeous.

Speaking of roadtrips, I was really interested to know what stuff you need to walk across America.

I love street photography. I hadn’t heard of this guy, so I was pleased when Medium introduced us.

This essay defining (re-defining?) chivalry is absolutely wonderful, hilarious, and contains a lot of swears.

Sarah Millican: one of my heroes.

Check out 2016’s most anticipated films by and about women also known as my new To-Watch list.

Berlin has a shed hotel, which is… terrible and brilliant all at once.

Did you know there was a 17th century female painter who got even with her rapist by a) painting dudes being murdered and b) getting famous doing it?

I LOVE the Bealtaine Cottage blog, and really enjoyed this interview with its founder, about permaculture and why it matters.

Last year was a Terry Crews Leap Year. Yep!

Do you ever say of an item of clothing, ‘I could never pull that off’? Stop!

…also, eat peanut butter for breakfast.

& finally…


How good is this mash-up of loads of different movie nightclub scenes?!


Say what you like about the royal family, but this TV show looks gripping.


And RIP Natalie Cole. I loved you, and especially this record.

HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND!

*

I wrote a book of poems! It’s called This changes things, and you can order it here!

You can now get more content from me — and help me pay the bills! — by supporting my Patreon. Get a monthly writing support pack for just $5 a month! It’s like buying me a pint.
You can also support me by checking out the many sweet and sparkly things at Edinburgh Vintage, my Etsy-based store for jewellery and small antiques.
If you just want to say hi, you can find me on Twitter, or email me via claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. You’ll get a fairly good sense of the kind of person I am by checking out my Tumblr.

Where is Claire? Readings & happenings in Spring 2016

January 21st, 2016

Me, reading at the Dark Horse 20th anniversary launch, Edinburgh

I have a book to promote, folks! So I guess that means I need to get out of my fluffy slippers and go forth into the world… here’s where to find me. (And yes, I’m counting late January as ’spring.’ I’m trying to be optimistic, OK?)

The Arts & Precarity: Forging New Solidarities (Cabaret)
Friday 22nd January 2016, 19:00, FREE
Kinning Park Complex, Glasgow
This cabaret, featuring a variety of writers, artists and musicians (including the brilliant Harry Giles) is part of a whole-weekend exploration of precarity in the arts. Most artists live precariously: they are precariously employed, precariously housed, surviving thanks to a precarious income, or some mixture of the lot. I’ll be reading poems from the point of view of individuals I have known whose lives might be called ‘precarious.’ There’s also a day of workshops on these themes the day following the cabaret.

Neu Reekie!: The Burns Belter
Saturday 23rd January 2016, 18:00, £16 / £14
Pilrig Church, Leith Walk, Edinburgh
Don’t panic! I won’t be reciting Burns! Burns will, of course, be recited… but not by a clueless Cumbrian bint like myself. I’ll be reading from ye olde collection. There’ll also be haggis and whisky and music and lots and lots of hip stuff. And it’s in the Republic of Leith!

This changes things: the launch (THIS IS MY BOOK LAUNCH BY THE WAY, JUST SAYIN’)
Friday 5th February, 18:00, FREE
Blackwells Bookshop, South Bridge, Edinburgh
Come and help me celebrate MY BOOK BEING OUT IN THE WORLD OMG!!!! There’ll be about a half-hour of free wine, cake, and book-buying, before my dear friend, the amazing poet Colin McGuire will entertain us with some great poems (because he’s ace and more people should know about his work, and also because I didn’t want it to be a solid hour of JUST ME TALKING). Then I’ll read some poems from the book and say some dorky things, most likely. Then there’ll be another half-hour of free wine, when I will be available to sign books, if you’re into the whole defacing of books thing. We all get kicked out by 8pm when the shop closes, so it should all be pretty painless. Come along?

World Book Day event with Scottish PEN - TBC!
Thursday 3rd March

University of Edinburgh George Square campus
The event’s TBC, so I can’t say much about it so far… but maybe pencil it into your diaries, because any event Scottish PEN does is worth going to.

Shore Poets APRIL: The Open Night, + little old me
Sunday 24th April, 19:00, £5 / £3

Oh! (The Outhouse), off Broughton Street, Edinburgh
I always really like reading alongside the Shore Poets open night. It is probably my favourite Shore Poets night of the year, because we welcome brand new voices to our stage and always hear such a great variety of diverse work. I’ll have a fifteen-or-so minute set in the midst of this, during which I will probably read poems from, you guessed it, This changes things. If you’re not sick of them by April, it’d be great if you wanted to come along! (Also, get in touch via publicity[at]shorepoets.org.uk if you’d like to be part of the open mic! But be warned — spaces fill FAST.)

Writing Poetry: Getting Started workshop
Friday 27th May, 15:00, £6

Dunbar Library, Bleachingfield, Dunbar
I’m really pleased to be delivering a workshop as part of the CoastWord Festival in Dunbar! For the past four months I’ve been working as the Creative Writing Fellow at Tyne and Esk Writers, and I’ve discovered that there’s a thriving and brilliant writing community all across Mid- and East Lothian. I hope you’ll come along to this workshop and meet some great local writers, and get started on a new poem with me.

NB: This is not an exhaustive list — more things will be added as they come up! So please check back!

*

I wrote a book of poems! It’s called This changes things, and you can order it here!

You can now get more content from me — and help me pay the bills! — by supporting my Patreon. Get a monthly writing support pack for just $5 a month! It’s like buying me a pint.
You can also support me by checking out the many sweet and sparkly things at Edinburgh Vintage, my Etsy-based store for jewellery and small antiques.
If you just want to say hi, you can find me on Twitter, or email me via claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. You’ll get a fairly good sense of the kind of person I am by checking out my Tumblr.

“This changes things”: my debut poetry collection, now on general sale!

January 16th, 2016

My book!!!

Dear World: meet This changes things, my debut full-length collection of poetry.

Yep, after all these years, I finally published a book. This changes things has been in the works since 2008, when I started work on my MSc in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh. The book contains a couple of poems from my pamphlet, The Mermaid and the Sailors, and a lot of the poems that went into the creative submission of my PhD (also in Creative Writing, also at the University of Edinburgh). It also contains a few new pieces, written with the help of funding from Creative Scotland’s Open Project Fund*. The unpublished MS of This changes things was shortlisted for the 2014 Edwin Morgan Poetry Award, and poems from it have won the International Salt Prize for Poetry (2012), the Virginia Warbey Poetry Prize (2010), and appeared in a variety of journals and magazines. (Don’t worry — there are also some poems you won’t have seen before!)

The book has been available to pre-order for about a month, and I’d like to thank everyone who’s already reserved themselves a copy. Thank you! If you haven’t already bagged your copy, you can buy one right now and I will ship it out to you in the next day or two.

My book!!!

This changes things: FAQs

What’s the book about?
The collection is in two rough parts, which, if pushed, I might call “personal and confessional” and “travelling and spaces.” If that sounds too vague, you can have a look at the description I give at this link, and see what you reckon.

Is it any good?

Well… amazing poets Stewart Conn and Jen Hadfield also said nice things about the book. Check it out:

‘Claire Askew’s voice is arrestingly and distinctively her own, imbued with a sense of caring and inducing, in her more intimate moments, a scarcely bearable poignancy.’

– Stewart Conn

‘Askew’s is a humane consciousness, with a genius for communicating how people tick… She writes with an agenda compellingly, harnessing flashes of imagist brilliance.’

– Jen Hadfield

If you want to find out what other smartypants people think about my writing, you can click here.

Why should I buy direct from you?

A few reasons. Firstly, I can sign your book for you. Secondly, this is the way that I make the most money from selling the book. Thirdly, if you buy direct from me, you’re literally supporting your local friendly impoverished writer, and none of your money goes into the pockets of tax-dodging evil-doing multi-national fiends (yes, I’m talking about Amazon).

How else can I buy the book?

The second-best way to buy my book, if for some reason you don’t want to buy direct from me (side-eye), is to order the book in from your local indie bookshop. This is a good thing to do because a) you local indie bookshop then makes some money, and b) if they’re ordering in a copy for you, they may order other copies and put them on their shelves.
(The book is also being stocked by Blackwells and Waterstones, which is very exciting and makes me feel famous. However, please note that when the book is being sold for less than the RRP, my publisher and I make less money off the sale. Support poets!)

Can I see some of the poems from the book before I decide to buy?

Sure! you can read my poems in various places by clicking right here.

Alright! Hopefully, you’re convinced! If so, you can click right over to the This changes things page, and follow the instructions. If you’re in the UK, the book will be posted to you first class, free of charge, and should reach you within two working days. Shipping costs and times vary for other locations — there’s info on all of this at the link!

Thanks so much for taking an interest in my book!

*NB: I was awarded Open Project Funding to work on my second collection, which is already nearly finished! But a couple of the poems I wrote during this period just fitted better into the first collection MS.

You can now get more content from me — and help me pay the bills! — by supporting my Patreon. Get a monthly writing support pack for just $5 a month! It’s like buying me a pint.
You can also support me by checking out the many sweet and sparkly things at Edinburgh Vintage, my Etsy-based store for jewellery and small antiques.
If you just want to say hi, you can find me on Twitter, or email me via claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. You’ll get a fairly good sense of the kind of person I am by checking out my Tumblr.

My Top 10 Vegan Desserts of 2015: a Very Important Blogpost.

January 4th, 2016

I absolutely love year-end round-up posts! They help me to say thanks for all the great stuff that happened to me in each year, and clear out my head to look forward to what’s next. I’ve already done one for the books I read in 2015, and last year I listed my top 10 vegan restaurants and my top 10 indie bookstores of 2014. This year I wanted to cut through to the really important stuff of my life: the best cakes I ate in 2015. Here you go.

Vegan chocolate cake at the Secret Herb Garden

Vegan chocolate loaf at The Secret Herb Garden, Midlothian
TSHG is one of my absolute favourite places. My dream day is basically this: get the bus out there, wander down the road from the bus stop to the garden entrance, foraging elderberries as I go (no really, I am this whimsical). Mooch around the huge greenhouses, go and see the pigs, dogs and chickens, and visit the bee observatory. Then order a shabby enamel mug of their Duchess Grey tea, with a slice of this chocolate loaf on the side. Find one of the squishy sofas hidden among the plants in the greenhouse, and settle in with a book. Only leave when it’s kicking-out time, or when I have to run for the bus.

Vegan eats

Vegan pecan pie, Peter’s Yard, Stockbridge, Edinburgh
I used to avoid Peter’s Yard because I’d had bad experiences in the one on Middle Meadow Walk, which is always rammed with students. Then this year, my very wise friend Lucy came to visit, happened to mention the PY pecan pie, and asked what I thought of it. I demanded to go and hunt down a slice immediately, and we ended up having a very civilised time at the Stockbridge branch. It’s a bit pricey, but highly recommended.

Recent vegan eats

Rhubarb and almond loaf, Earthy, Canonmills, Edinburgh
Earthy have got so much better in the past year for providing vegan options — I salute them! These days you may find two or three tasty desserts to choose from. They rotate their vegan cakes, so this rhubarb one is not always on offer. Though this one is my favourite, I also recommend the chocolate/coffee/coconut cake they do.

Delicious cake at Shore Poets March!

Chocolate almond cake, Henderson’s, Edinburgh
I scoffed this cake at Henderson’s at St John’s, which has now — very sadly — shut down. But I am pretty sure it’ll make an appearance again in at least one of the other Henderson’s outlets around town. It was a really light cake, especially for a vegan offering, and it tasted just like Maltesers! If they don’t happen to have this one on the day you visit, check out the vegan cherry pie, which is more routinely on offer.

York March 15 (24)

Citrus drizzle cake, El Piano, York
I’ve waxed lyrical about El Piano before, but last time, I mentioned that the desserts were the one thing that could maybe improve. However, I visited again this year and was pleasantly surprised by this citrus-y fruit cake, which comes with a D-I-Y drizzle on the side. You should absolutely head to this place anyway… but now you can also enjoy dessert! Gold star for improvement, EP!

Vegan raspberry & chocolate sorbet at The Chocolate Tree!

Vegan fruit and chocolate sorbets, The Chocolate Tree, Bruntsfield, Edinburgh
Again, you may already know about my love affair with The Chocolate Tree — they love vegans almost as much as they love chocolate, and there are always vegan cake and drink options available. But in the summer a massive slab of chocolate cake is just not an option. Eat sorbet instead. It’s cold, for a start, and you can pretend it’s virtuous and healthy as well…

October adventures (6)

Peanut butter cookies, Sugar Daddy’s, Canonmills, Edinburgh
This place is brand new and ten minutes’ walk from my house, so it’s official: I will never be thin. SD’s offer gluten free and vegan treats, as well as options to accommodate other dietary requirements, e.g. nut free and lactose free. As well as choosing from a cabinet full of takeaway delights, you can also order large cakes for special occasions… they even do a line in intricately-iced all-vegan, all-GF Christmas cakes. Oh, and their logo is the coolest.

York March 15 (2)

Vegan fruit scones, Goji, York
Do you know how hard it is to find a good vegan scone? It’s hard. I had to go all the way to York. And that’s silly, because it’s really easy to veganise scones. Anyhoo, Goji — which is so good that it featured twice on my top ten last year — do a mean scone, alongside lots of other delicious things (vegan Sunday roast OMG)… and their staff are absolutely lovely. Worth going all the way to York for.

October adventures (3)

Pumpkin pie, Henderson’s Vegan, Edinburgh
Yes, Henderson’s again. They opened Edinburgh’s first ever all-vegan, all-the-time eatery, so they deserve special praise. And everything they cook is brilliant… it’s not just the desserts. Great service happens here, too. But book, because everyone wants to eat there and the place is super small!

Vegan peanut butter blondies (2)

Vegan peanut butter blondies, Lovely Boyfriend via The PPK
Yep, you can’t buy these blondies… you have to bake them yourself. Or better still, do what I did and have a cute Scotsman bake them for you. We were inspired to try making these by Sugar Daddy’s vegan PB blondies, and now we’ve tasted the home-cooked version we’re pretty sure SD’s use the same recipe. You’ll be pleased to hear that Saint Isa of The PPK makes all her recipes absolutely idiot-proof — if I can make every single one without any disasters, then anyone can! So have a bash. Next time you have vegan friends round, you’ll knock their socks off.

Know of any other good vegan cake places? Please do tell me where I can go for my next cruelty-free sugar fix!

*

I wrote a book of poems! It’s called This changes things, and you can order it here!

You can now get more content from me — and help me pay the bills! — by supporting my Patreon. Get a monthly writing support pack for just $5 a month! It’s like buying me a pint.
You can also support me by checking out the many sweet and sparkly things at Edinburgh Vintage, my Etsy-based store for jewellery and small antiques.
If you just want to say hi, you can find me on Twitter, or email me via claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. You’ll get a fairly good sense of the kind of person I am by checking out my Tumblr.

In 2015, I…

January 1st, 2016

Happy New Year !
(Photo credit)

This is my eighth consecutive year of creating a year-end round-up post, which is fairly amazing stuff! You can see my previous years’ escapades here: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Not the easiest year, I will admit: my much-beloved grandfather (better known as Gampy) died in January. (My poetry collection is dedicated to his memory: he was the best and gentlest man who has ever lived.) The sequel project to Making It Home, which I was just starting to get excited about at the end of last year, was put on hold, as every member of our team suffered either a bereavement or a spell of serious illness during 2015 (it sucked!). And I spent most of the summer being very impoverished (but having lots of free time!) due to all the freelance work in the world apparently going dormant! I am including these details because I don’t want to give the impression that I lead some kind of charmed life where absolutely everything is rosy. THAT SAID, some freaking amazing things happened to me this year, and I am so grateful for every single one. Here’s the round up: in 2015, I…

* booked, and delivered, the first ever Write Like A Grrrl!: Edinburgh course. It sold out super fast, as did the March course, and the May course, and the September course. I’m now booking for a brand new January semester, and places are already being filled. Oh, there have also been two ‘Next Step’ courses to date, for WLAG! alumni who want to come back for more! Running WLAG! has been absolutely mind-blowing for me… I have met so many smart, talented women and felt privileged to be able to read their emerging fiction. At Christmas, we had a get-together where women from all four 2015 courses met up to drink prosecco and plot world domination. Rarely in my life have I felt such a warm glow as being at the centre of that room! Ladies, I love all of you. Thank you for a fantastic year.

* secured a small grant from Creative Scotland’s Open Project Fund to allow me to work on my second poetry collection. At the moment, it has the working title of How To Burn A Woman, and it’s shaping up to have two themes: eco poems, and poems about witches.

* delivered a poetry performance seminar as a Visiting Writer for the University of Edinburgh’s MSc in Creative Writing (Poetry). It was pretty great, five years after graduating from this course, to be back… teaching on it!

* went to see Frantic Assembly’s amazing physical-theatre-meets-dance mash-up of Othello in London. They re-imagined the play, chopping a load of it out (controversial!) and setting it in a contemporary Working Men’s Club in Yorkshire. It worked so well.

* went to see the Mark Lanegan Band play in Glasgow. I was chaperoning a friend and had heard not a note of his music before walking through the doors… yet I loved it.

* completed the “go on holiday with my brother” part of my 30 before 30 list, by spending a very lovely long weekend in our mutually beloved York… wandering around, thrifting, bookshopping, and drinking buckets of Yorkshire tea.

* went to see Stewart Lee at the Festival Theatre for Lovely Boyfriend’s 30th and my 29th birthdays. Laughed — and felt mildly uncomfortable — a lot.

* finished up my 18-month post as Adult Learning Project Co-Ordinator at Scottish Book Trust. This project absolutely flew by. Working with adults who struggle to read and write is incredibly humbling, very inspiring and really makes you check your own privilege. So many of the adult learners and tutors I met were an absolute riot, too! And I got to spend lots of my time creating bespoke educational resources from scratch… a thing I still miss from my FE college teaching days.

* was immediately taken on again at SBT as a freelance contractor! This year I travelled all over Scotland delivering bespoke training to adult literacy professionals, teaching them how to use a suite of adult literacy reading support materials which I designed. That was pretty damn cool. I went to — among other places — Ayr, Oban, Glasgow, Greenock, Dumfries, Stranraer, Aberdeen, and delivered a special session for folk who work with d/Deaf service users at Deaf Connections.

* went for posh afternoon tea at the legendary Midland Hotel twice in one year… one of the times was for my dad’s 60th birthday! Felt like an unwashed oik both times, but loved it all anyway.

* headlined the Inky Fingers Open Mic in April. Discovered the poetry of Oban-based Jamie Livingstone, who was also on the bill. That’s a name to look out for, trust me.

* had my poem ‘Bad Moon’ featured on the Scottish Poetry Library’s front page! I can now cross that one off the bucket list!!!

* performed at Aye Write! Festival for the second time. Those folks are so lovely. I got a goodie bag with beer and books in it, and I got to eat snacks a-plenty in the green room! (You can see where my priorities lie.)

* delivered an Open Workshop for the Poetry School entitled “Make New and Mend.” We read the poems of two of my all-time faves, Patricia Young and Dorianne Laux

* …and got hired as a proper tutor by the Poetry School, following that success! I was invited to create my own ten-week course from scratch, which I loved doing. It was called Creatrix: Women’s Poetries for the 21st Century, and it went so well. I worked with twelve inspiring and brilliant emerging female poets and felt awed that they allowed me to read and comment on their work.

* got a second half-sleeve tattooed — this time on my upper left arm. It’s a tattoo to remember my Gampy: as a young man, he was a Spitfire mechanic, and later did up and raced Aston Martins. He once raced against Jackie Stewart, no less! So the half-sleeve incorporated all those elements (you can see a photo later on in this post). As always, I went to my fav, Jim at Red Hot + Blue, and as always he did a bloody great job.

* demolished the crappy old shed in my back garden and erected a brand new potting shed, which I painted powder blue and white, like a beach hut. You may be wondering why the heck this is on this list, but let me tell you, my potting shed was one of the major highlights of my year. I grew so much tasty stuff… and I have big plans for 2016 shed activity!

* read at the official launch night of Hot Tub Astronaut on Election Night… to a wonderful, very disgruntled crowd of lefties.

* had a brand-spanking-new author portrait taken by the amazing Sally Jubb of Sally Jubb Photography. I hate having my photo taken but Sally really put me at ease, and I was so happy with the end result. If you’re a writer and you need one of these pesky photos of yourself, hire Sally!

* read at the launch of the Dark Horse: 20th Anniversary Edition, alongside Alasdair Gray, Vicki Feaver and Douglas Dunn. I sat next to Alasdair Gray all evening, which felt like sitting next to a massive rock-star (he was very sweet to me in my star-struck-ness!). Vicki and Douglas were also LOVELY people and really helped soothe my epic nerves. It was a night I think I’ll remember til I die.

* delivered a writing workshop with adult literacy learners at Crisis Skylight and reminded myself how much I love doing this sort of work!

* made a pilgrimage to Millom, home of one of my all-time favourite poets, Norman Nicholson. If you haven’t heard of Norman, seek him out. He’s great. He was writing eco poetry in the 1940s, way before Silent Spring. Check him out!

* spent a scorchingly hot summer week-or-so in Cornwall, where I have never been before, but which I loved… this was the cottage we stayed in, this was ten minutes’ walk from our front door, and the highlight of my trip was the utterly amazing Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft, which you should all visit.

* chaired the event ‘Women Writers Breaking Into Scottish Literature’ at Just Festival. Thank you to Theresa Munoz, Lucy Ribchester and Jenny Lindsay for being such excellent speakers… they made my job very easy!

* went to all sorts of amazing events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, but by far the best was Mark Doty & Naomi Shihab Nye. I met Mark Doty after the event, and he asked me if I was a poet. When I said yes, he asked if I had a book, and I told him my first one was coming shortly and I was terrified. Without hesitation, he immediately went into Wise Elder mode, telling me to take comfort, be brave and celebrate. We talked about how scary it is showing your confessional poems to the world, but he urged me to take heart and said all sorts of nice things about how I must be a good poet if Bloodaxe took me on, and I was in good hands. He was so nice to me (and I had been so nervous about meeting him as he is such a hero of mine) that afterwards I had to go and have a wee cry! Shoutout to my excellent friend Esa for being with me in that moment, getting it, and not judging me!

* recorded a special podcast for Scottish PEN: in conversation with Iranian poet in exile, Sepideh Jodeyri.

* went on holiday with my brother again, this time to this absolutely magical off-grid 16th century fieldhouse on the North Yorkshire moors. We spent a lot of time wandering, paddling in the sea, and doing off-grid things like collecting eggs and getting up at 6am to light our stove so we could take showers… and not much time writing, which is what the holiday was supposed to be for.

* I celebrated five years with my gorgeous bloke, and nearly three years in the house we bought together and are (still) slowly doing up. Steve was the best thing this year — he’s the best thing any year.

* was hired as the brand new Creative Writing Fellow at Tyne & Esk Writers! T&E is an organisation that exists to champion reading and writing across Mid- and East Lothian, especially in the more rural areas. My job is basically to be a peripatetic Writer in Residence, working with eight (soon to be nine — welcome to the fold, Pathhead!) rural T&E groups to support reading and writing, to critique and encourage the work of local writers, and to produce creative work of my own. I absolutely love driving around, meeting lots of new folk, and getting to work in a different library each day. Plus: two groups in Haddington! So I’ve been able to spend a lot of time in the excellent charity shops there!

* was also selected to become Edinburgh’s very first Reading Champion! I don’t start til March 2016, but I’m including it here as I spent a really enjoyable time at the end of 2015 working with librarian Susannah Leake, who works at the gorgeous Craigmillar Library (where I’ll be based). Susannah helped me to write the proposal that eventually landed me the gig, and I can’t wait to become her official partner in crime!

* set up a Patreon, to support the various bits and bats of work that I do now that I am 100% freelance. Did I mention that 2015 was the year I became A FULL TIME WRITER? It’s so amazing being your own boss and getting to land gigs like the two above… but you also don’t get a pension, so it’s not all rosy. The Patreon is designed to just be a little bit extra that I can squirrel away for hard times. If you fancy supporting me, incidentally, you can pledge $5 (about three quid) a month and get all sorts of support for your writing. Have a look!

* absolutely SMASHED my goal for Edinburgh Vintage, my wee side-business! I wanted to make it to 1,500 sales by my 30th birthday in March 2016, and I’m already at over 1,600. It’s been my best year yet… best of all, I can afford to hire an accountant to do all my EV taxes! O happy day!

* secured funding to host Grrrl Con!Write Like A Grrrl!’s summer festival of women’s writing! It’s coming to the Scottish Storytelling Centre on 11th and 12th June, and will feature amazing women writers like Lucy Ribchester, Jackie Kay and Kirsty Logan. You could also be on the bill! We’re looking for workshop leaders right now, so send us your pitch!

* spent most of December in Cumbria, being rained on a great deal and trying to help out flood-stricken neighbours. If you can, please donate a bit to the Cumbria flood relief crowdfunder and help out — especially for those folks who can’t afford insurance. They need you!

* AND FINALLY!!!! I took delivery of 200 copies of my brand spanking new debut poetry collection!!!!!!!!!!! In case you’ve been living under a rock and I haven’t already yelled this at you, ‘This changes things’ is published by Bloodaxe Books and will be officially available shortly. You can pre-order your copy right here!

A few final highlights…

York March 15 (10)
Hanging out in beautiful York.

Write Like A Grrrl! lunch outing
Just a few of my Write Like A Grrrl! alumni, enjoying a quick lunch before going to see Alison, one of our number, read at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, no less!

I had a poem in Gutter!
I was published in Gutter and they called me “very hotly tipped”!

& yet more foragings... brambles and wild raspberries
I foraged tons and tons of tasty stuff this year.

Edinburgh Vintage at the Lou Lou's Vintage Fair, Sept 15, Edinburgh
Edinburgh Vintage had a great year.

Sepideh Jodeyri at Shore Poets October (9)Sepideh Jodeyri at Shore Poets October (9)
Sepideh Jodeyri read at Shore Poets and was wonderful.

Autumn memories from 2015
Living off-grid on the Yorkshire Moors…

Autumn memories from 2015
…with my brilliant brother Nick, who I love a million.

October adventures (12)
Another Write Like A Grrrl! highlight: a bespoke seminar on writing and publishing from the wonderful Helen Sedgwick!

My new tattoo!
The new tattoo! It looks less wonky in person, when my arm’s not bent!

October adventures (39)
With my handsome man <3

Christmas 2015!
I spent a lot of time with this handsome man in 2015, too!

My book!!!
First look at my book! I admit, I cried.

You can see all the books I read in 2015 here, and you can click here to see the various places where I had work published in 2015 (and read some poems!). You can also check out my To Read list for 2016!

What did YOU get up to this year?

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I wrote a book of poems! It’s called This changes things, and you can order it here!

You can now get more content from me — and help me pay the bills! — by supporting my Patreon. Get a monthly writing support pack for just $5 a month! It’s like buying me a pint.
You can also support me by checking out the many sweet and sparkly things at Edinburgh Vintage, my Etsy-based store for jewellery and small antiques.
If you just want to say hi, you can find me on Twitter, or email me via claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. You’ll get a fairly good sense of the kind of person I am by checking out my Tumblr.

Things I Love Thursday #106: Christmas 2015 edition

December 31st, 2015

For those of you who fancy a neb at my Christmas holiday…

Christmas 2015!
Early December, the tree goes up! I’m getting earlier and earlier every year. I just find winter so depressing, and a bit of sparkle helps a lot. (Die Hard on the TV, also.)

Christmas 2015!
The tree in daylight… this is about as tidy as my living room ever gets.

Christmas 2015!
Christmassy fireplace!

Christmas 2015!
We went to Keswick for our Christmas shopping this year, to support the recently flooded businesses. The Wild Strawberry (affectionately known locally as The Strawb) is open for business, and as excellent as ever!

Christmas 2015!

Christmas 2015!

Christmas 2015!
They may have been recently flooded, but Keswick’s shops still brought the Christmassy!

Christmas 2015!
If you’re ever in Keswick, get yourself to Treeby and Bolton’s cafe. (That is where I found this rather festive light.) Most massive cakes you’ve ever seen, I promise.

Christmas 2015!
I made mince pies. These have amaretto mincemeat and orange spiced pastry. I am very good at making mince pies taste nice, but I am terrible at making them not-ugly. Uniformity is NOT something I have mastered in baking, and is the reason I would be the first person voted off GBBO.

Christmas 2015!

Christmas 2015!

Christmas 2015!
This is what my Christmas Eve looked like. My parents know how to do Christmas!

Christmas 2015!
I hope everyone had as happy a Christmas as Benny (pictured!) and I did. Here’s to 2016!

*

I wrote a book of poems! It’s called This changes things, and you can order it here!

You can now get more content from me — and help me pay the bills! — by supporting my Patreon. Get a monthly writing support pack for just $5 a month! It’s like buying me a pint.
You can also support me by checking out the many sweet and sparkly things at Edinburgh Vintage, my Etsy-based store for jewellery and small antiques.
If you just want to say hi, you can find me on Twitter, or email me via claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. You’ll get a fairly good sense of the kind of person I am by checking out my Tumblr.

A 2016 To Read list

December 30th, 2015

april is national poetry month

OK, so I am really bad for talking about my “To Read list,” without actually having a To Read list. A smart person will recommend a book, and I’ll say, “I’ll add it to the list!” Then I don’t. I forget about it. I wander around with this idea that there are loads of books I’d like to read… but no idea what they are. So this year, I AM ACTUALLY MAKING THE LIST. That way, when I get to my Almost All The Books I Read list, I’ll hopefully be able to cross everything off! I love the crossing-off-of-lists.

Books I’ve already bought that have been on my shelf for ages and I really should read…

Frog - Mo Yan
I bought this for Lovely Boyfriend’s birthday in 2015 and have been waiting for him to read it, as it’s only polite. But if he hasn’t read it by his birthday this year (end of January) I’m ditching the politeness and getting in there.

Yes Please - Amy Poehler
I wanted to watch some Parks & Rec before I read this, and I’ve been working through a bunch of other TV shows first. I’m now into P&R, but also less into Amy Poehler than I was when I bought the book. But I really should read it, I’m sure it’s fun.

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
This is one of those that I actually thought I had read because everyone’s talked about it so much and I basically know the whole plot. But then I realised recently that I haven’t, and probably ought to.

We Are Not Ourselves - Matthew Thomas
This was a ‘find a third one to complete the 3-for-2′ job. I wasn’t super enthused, but I was mildly interested. It’s sat on the shelf for months. Time to see if it’s any good!

Being Mortal - Atul Gawande
I was excited to read this… then my grandfather died, and I wasn’t sure if I could handle it. It’s been nearly a year now since that happened, so let’s see.

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Books that have been out there for years, and I should have read by now…

The Shipping News - Annie Proulx (BOUGHT IT!)
Embarrassing admittance: I didn’t realise how ace Annie Proulx was until 2015, when I read Close Range. Now I need to get on with it and read through her entire back-catalogue!

The Dark Road - Ma Jian
Lovely Boyfriend has this, has read it, and really rates it. He keeps telling me to read it. I really should.

The Singer’s Gun - Emily St John Mandel
In 2015 I fell in love with ESJM via Station Eleven. Now I need to read more of her, and this one looks most ‘me’.

Miss Wyoming - Douglas Coupland
Again, I discovered DC in 2015 with Hey Nostradamus!, and I want to read more. All his novels sound ace, but this one in particular piqued my interest…

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2015 books I didn’t get round to in 2015 because I am bad at being a proper book geek

The First Bad Man - Miranda July
When everyone’s salivating over an author, I find it hard to read them. That’s weird, isn’t it? I mean, this book looks great and everyone loves her. What’s the matter with me?

Almost Famous Women - Megan Mayhew Bergman
I want to read more short fic, and this one came recommended by The Millions.

Watch Me Go - Mark Wisniewski
I cannot remember why, but at the beginning of 2015 I made a note in my diary to seek this book out. It was in a list of a few, the rest of which follow. I must have read a review of it and thought it sounded good. I’ve only just found that note again, and now I’m quite looking forward to discovering why I wrote it down, along with these others…

Find Me - Laura Van Den Berg
I have a vague feeling it’s a post-apocalyptic novel. I love those.

The Dead Lands - Benjamin Percy
Yep, this was noted down in the diary too. Also post-apocalyptic, maybe? I’m guessing, from the title only. No memory of this one either.

Girls Will Be Girls - Emer O’Toole
And another one from the diary. Maybe it’s feminist-y?

The Book of Aron - Jim Shepard
Last mystery book from this little clump of notes.

Hammerhead: The Making of a Carpenter - Nina McLaughlin
This looks so great, and I’m annoyed I didn’t get round to it in 2015!

Undermajordomo Minor - Patrick deWitt
He was in Edinburgh this autumn, presumably promoting this, and I couldn’t go and see him. Sadface! Better read the book, ’cause I love him. (And I’m not one of these Sisters Brothers johnny-come-latelies either… I’ve loved him since I read an advance copy of Ablutions way back when I worked for the James Tait Black Prize. Proper hipster fangirl over here.)

The Well - Catherine Chanter
At the EIBF event I went to with Emily St John Mandel, Catherine Chanter was the other author. I swooned so much over ESJM at the time that I sort of forgot to go buy the other book. I really ought to though, because it sounds very interesting.

Fishnet - Kirsten Innes
Yeah, I know. I ought to read this.

A Brief History of Seven Killings - Marlon James (READ IT!)
I was given this for Christmas! Hooray!

The Heart Goes Last - Margaret Atwood
I wanted to read this in time for her event in Edinburgh this autumn. Not only did I not do that, I didn’t get to the event. It looks great though, and I always appreciate a new fix of Atwood.

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Books coming in 2016 that I am super looking forward to…

Gold Fame Citrus - Claire Vaye Watkins
This might already be out in USA? If so, no spoilers please. It’s another post-apocalyptic novel, so just my kind of thing.

The Girls: A Novel - Emma Cline
How great does this look?

Zero K - Don Delillo
OMG HE WROTE A NEW NOVEL!!!!!!!!1!!1!!

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Poetry books I would like to read in 2016…

Settle - Theresa Munoz
I don’t know when this is appearing or who’s publishing but I want to be at the front of the queue to buy a copy!

Wild Nights - Kim Addonizio (BOUGHT IT!)
HOW HAVE I NOT READ THIS YET WHAT AM I DOING?

Dog Songs - Mary Oliver
See above.

The Bonniest Companie - Kathleen Jamie (BOUGHT IT!)
As you may have noticed, whatever Dave rates this highly, I want to read.

The Terrible - Daniel Sluman
Did this only just come out, or did I only just hear of it?!

Hannah Lowe - Chan
It’s not out til June! No faaaaair!

Helen Farish - The Dog of Memory
‘What if everyone who ever lived here had left one thing behind?’ is the loose theme of this, apparently. SOUNDS GREAT.

Nine Arches Press’ forthcoming anthology of UK Disability Poetry / Crip Poetics
It’s a groundbreaking concept (though it shouldn’t be) and it’s edited by a trio of absolute superstars. I am really excited about this.

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A poetry collection I am sick of looking at but which you might like to read in 2016…

My book!

This changes things - Claire Askew
Yes, it’s me! You can find out all about this particular collection, and order yourself a copy, right here. (Thanks!)

*

I wrote a book of poems! It’s called This changes things, and you can order it here!

You can now get more content from me — and help me pay the bills! — by supporting my Patreon. Get a monthly writing support pack for just $5 a month! It’s like buying me a pint.
You can also support me by checking out the many sweet and sparkly things at Edinburgh Vintage, my Etsy-based store for jewellery and small antiques.
If you just want to say hi, you can find me on Twitter, or email me via claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. You’ll get a fairly good sense of the kind of person I am by checking out my Tumblr.

Almost all the books I read in 2015 and the things I thought about them

December 28th, 2015

Yep, I’m doing this again! Gird your loins…

JUST finished reading "Life After Life" by Kate Atkinson. Holy Cow...it was incredible! 5 out of 5.
(Photo credit)

JANUARY FICTION
MR Carey: The Girl With All The Gifts

This book is like crack. I read it really, really fast and couldn’t stop! Then I heard that the main character (a badass middle aged black woman) is being played by Gemma Arterton in the movie adaptation, and now I feel angry whenever I think about it.

Kate Atkinson: Life After Life
This woman’s books really don’t deserve the soppy covers they get. I was put off reading her for years because the covers of all her books made me think they’d be saccharine. Then I finally read this and loved it and wished I’d thought of the idea (a really smart take on “what if you could go back in time and kill Hitler?”, essentially) first. It’s great.

Amber Benson: The Witches of Echo Park
I seem to remember that this author is also an actress who was in Buffy, or something. I didn’t know that when I bought it. I bought it because the idea sounded awesome (a coven of witches in contemporary LA, HELLO). I ditched it about thirty pages in because the writing was about the worst I’d ever seen in a published book. Seriously, it was like having my fingernails pulled out. I now show it to my Write Like A Grrrl! students as an example of How Not To Write Sentences.

JANUARY POETRY
Chris Banks: Bonfires

Things I can remember about this book: I think the poet is Canadian. I think I thought it was OK at the time. I seem to remember it has a weird cover. Make of all that what you will.

Tracey S Rosenberg: The Naming of Cancer
Ooh, this one’s easy! I reviewed it here!

JANUARY NON-FICTION
Francine Prose: Reading Like A Writer
She’s quite pompous: there are some fairly rude retorts written at her in the margins of my copy. BUT her advice is genuinely really useful. The Dialogue and Sentence chapters are especially good.

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Norman Nicholson pilgrimage

FEBRUARY FICTION
Sandra Newman: The Country of Ice Cream Star

I absolutely loved this when I read it, because I thought that the writer was a woman of colour. Then I found out that she’s white, and she’s said some mildly clueless things about the book’s approach to race. Now I just have all the feels about it. All of them.

Beauty Tips for Girls by Margaret Montgomery
This author is an absolutely lovely lady — I have it on good authority from many people who have met her. The book is not my personal cup of tea, but I was happy for her when it was published, and when so many other folk seemed to like it.

FEBRUARY POETRY
Marie Howe: The Kingdom of Ordinary Time

I didn’t like it quite as much as What The Living Do, but that book is actually perfect. This one’s still pretty freaking amazing. I want to be Marie Howe when I grow up, including having her amazing hair.

Kayla Czaga: For Your Safety, Please Hold On
I am getting harder and harder to please when it comes to poetry. I liked this fine, but it didn’t set me on fire. Nice cover design, is the main thing I remember about this ten months on.

FEBRUARY NON-FICTION
Kathleen Jones: Norman Nicholson, The Whispering Poet

I absolutely love Norman Nicholson and I absolutely love Kathleen Jones’ books, so this was a no brainer. It was great. It made me go on a NN pilgrimage, it was so great!

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Mixing The Colours from Glasgow Women's Library

MARCH FICTION
Annie Proulx: Close Range

Short fiction! I keep telling myself I need to read more short fic. God Annie Proulx is horribly talented. Every sentence is bloody perfect. Every story is totally gripping. I love her and hate her in equal measure, the talented cow.

Mixing The Colours: Women Speaking About Sectarianism, ed. Rachel Thain Gray
I followed the fortunes of this project all year, went to its launch, and met many of the cool ladies who contributed to this anthology. It’s thought-provoking, handmade, and gorgeous. Well done, GWL and Rachel!

MARCH POETRY
The Collected Poems of Norman Nicholson

How to be inspired to write poetry: wait til spring, then go to Cumbria, stay there, and read nothing but Norman Nicholson for the best part of the month. I feel like I wrote the best part of my second-collection-in-progress in March, thanks to Norman!

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Hallelujah for 50ft Women

APRIL POETRY
Mary Oliver: Dream Work

Yes, again. Springtime means Mary Oliver. You just can’t get through spring without reaching for her.

Frances Leviston: Disinformation
Another effortlessly talented smartypants. I basically agree with the entirety of Dave’s review. Reading this made my brain hurt, but in a good way.

Hallelujah for 50ft Women: poems about women’s relationships with their bodies, ed. The Raving Beauties
Great poems, slightly cissexist introduction.

Mark Doty: Deep Lane
OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD. Just when you thought he couldn’t get any better, he went and got better. This book is perfect. PERFECT I TELL YOU. I wanted to eat it. I wanted to swim in it. I read it about once a week for six months… but the first time was the best. Buy it, read it, do it now.

Mark Doty: My Alexandria
Mark Doty: Sweet Machine

After I finished Deep Lane I was just in the grip of Doty fever. Addicted, I tell you! PS: Hey look! In April I read only poetry! Nice.

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goverments should fear thir people and support literacy
(Photo credit. I love this pic of Jo Bell!)

MAY FICTION
Laura McBride: We Are Called To Rise

I got this ’cause I had two ‘three for two’ books in Waterstones and needed a third. It was a punt, but it turned out to be great. Holy crap it was good. Just good, strong, confident storytelling. And gripping. A little predictable at the end but I really didn’t care. Bonus: its structure helped me figure out how I wanted to structure my own novel. Yay!

MAY POETRY
Sophie Cabot Black: The Descent

This is a book with two (or three? I forget) sections, the poems in each of which seem to be lots of variations on the same theme. The first section, with poems all about travelling through wildernesses, is bloody great. It was weird how much I liked that section, only to massively dislike the section that was all love poems. It felt like two massively different poetry collections in one. But hey, it won a ton of awards, so what the hell do I know?

Patricia Young: Here Come The Moonbathers
Re-reading this for about the millionth time. Whenever I read this book I wish I was back where I was when I first read it: on the deck of the Vancouver-Victoria ferry with a beer, sailing towards a month-long Canadian roadtrip. Sigh.

Polly Clark: Kiss
I can remember absolutely nothing about this collection, six-or-so-months on, except that there was a naked lady on the cover. That’s not good, but I think the fault lies with me, not the book.

Jo Bell: Kith
I read this at the same time as the book above, and enjoyed the similarity of their titles. I remember lots about this one, though: mainly, the poems are all very short and a good number of them made me snort-laugh. I read them on a sunny long weekend in my aunty’s little Lake District cottage and they were perfect for that time and that place. There’s one amazing poem that really stuck with me, about Jo waking up in her narrowboat and realising that the canal had frozen overnight. Simple and gorgeous.

MAY NON-FICTION
Helen Macdonald: H is for Hawk

Bored the pants off me. Got about… sixty pages in? If that? Then thought… next.

Malcolm Gladwell: Outliers
I was on holiday (see above) and wanted something totally un-taxing. This was a re-read, and I possibly enjoyed it even more second time around. It reinforced my opinion that people who hate on Malcolm Gladwell are suuuuper dull and rather joyless individuals.

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Well hello there beautiful. Next on deck, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons From The Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. "She breathes life into death."
(Photo credit)

JUNE FICTION
Rufi Thorpe: The Girls of Corona Del Mar

Self-absorbed, messily written, totally unconvincing, and somehow also pretty dull. In my line of work, I meet young women who have real actual problems in their lives. This asshole narrator needed to get a grip, frankly. (Maybe she was supposed to be annoying and eventually got her comeuppance, but I’m afraid I ditched out early.)

Peter Carey: Amnesia
What an utterly odd book. It was totally not about what its blurb said it was about. But it was really rather funny (and much funnier, I’m sure, if you’re Australian and get all the in-jokes) and I enjoyed it. May seek out more Carey in future (recommendations of particular titles welcomed!).

JUNE POETRY
The Dark Horse: 20th Anniversary Edition

I can’t say too much about this ’cause I’m featured in it (!!!) but I can say it also features folk like Alasdair Gray, Douglas Dunn and Vicki Feaver, so yaknow, that gives you a sense of things. (Also, it’s not just poetry, it’s a mix of genres, but I put it under poetry ’cause the poetry section includes Little Old Me!)

JUNE NON-FICTION
Caitlin Doughty: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, and Other Lessons from the Crematorium
This is a memoir/rumination on death by a female funeral director, and it’s absolutely bloody brilliant. Very funny, very poignant — I read it on a very wet two-day work trip to Oban and it made my seven hours of train travel fly by. My only criticism would be, occasionally some of her controversial-y, non-PC-y humour felt like it was punching down, not up. See what you think.

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Untitled
(Photo credit)

JULY FICTION
Jennifer Egan: Look at Me

BRING OUT ANOTHER NOVEL ALREADY PLEASE JENNIFER. In order to worship at the altar of your absolutely perfect writing, I am having to re-re-re-re-re-read all your novels, and there aren’t enough of them. GET ON IT.

John Updike: The Witches of Eastwick
I decided to have a summer of re-reading some faves, hence the one above. You may be surprised to learn that a ranty intersectional feminist like myself counts an Updike novel among her all-time top ten, but I do. I mean, it’s HILARIOUS that whenever a person with breasts walks into a room, he needs to tell us (or indeed, remind us, if they’re a main character) exactly what size, shape, and colour that person’s breasts are (often with flower-related similes). But once you get used to just chortling at that and moving on, it’s all fine.

JULY POETRY
Karen Solie: The Living Option, New and Selected Poems

Oi Karen! You could also do with bringing out another book, please. You’re another one I keep having to re-re-re-re-read ’cause I want more of your writing magic! Get it together, ladies!

Mark Doty: Deep Lane
I wrote down in my book-reading diary that I’d re-read this one in July… but basically I never stopped reading it. I’ve dipped back into it so many times this year. But I think this re-read was to prepare me for MD’s reading at the EIBF, and for meeting him afterwards (!!!! he was so kind. So kind. I shall post more about our meeting in my year-end round-up post shortly!).

JULY NON-FICTION
R. Swinburne Clymer: Nature’s Healing Agents
Michael Howard: The Witches Herbal

I bought these two books at the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft, and they have proven totally invaluable… I’m writing a bunch of poems about witches and witchcraft to go in my second collection, you see. The Herbal book is particularly great, and surprisingly, I’ve been able to make use of it when foraging, too. I was sad to hear that its author died this year. He was very involved in the Museum of Witchcraft, aka one of my favourite places in the world.

Katherine Howe: The Penguin Book of Witches
See above. This is probably the most useful reference book you could ask for when writing about witches. So many original sources, presented and explained with handy notes. Also, it was fun reading it on the bus… no one wanted to sit next to me.

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Act 1
(Photo credit)

AUGUST NON-FICTION
Blake Snyder: Save The Cat

It turns out everyone knew about this amazingly useful little book except me, ’cause I try to recommend it to writers now and they’re all like, “yeah, beat sheets. Use ‘em all the time!” Why did no one ever tell me about this oh-so-handy guide to plotting?! It says it’s for screenplays but it applies pretty well to novels. Helped me loads.

Michael O’Byrne: The Crime Writer’s Guide to Police Practice and Procedure
I am writing a crime novel. Or actually, I prefer Emily St John Mandel’s version, which she referred to when I saw her at the EIBF this year (more on that later): “a novel with a crime in it.” Therefore, I felt this book was worth its weight in gold… and it came at a very good time for me, when I was getting tons of writing done and (as you can see) not reading much else.

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie © Beowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center
(Photo credit)

SEPTEMBER FICTION
Susan Hill: The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper To Read

Did you know that the lady who wrote The Woman In Black, and other terrifying creepy things, also writes lovely, whimsical short fiction? It’s true. I bought this collection waaaay back when I was about fifteen and the brilliant writing blew my tiny mind. I needed to teach a seminar on Modes of Narration in September and immediately reached for this book (and the title story in particular) ’cause she’s so brilliant at Free Indirect Speech.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The Thing Round Your Neck
This was for the same Modes of Narration seminar. Best use of second person since Italo Calvino.


SEPTEMBER POETRY
Naomi Shihab Nye: Tender Spot

I saw her at EIBF, reading alongside Mark Doty (can I just say DREAM TEAM?), and then bought the book from her afterwards. I’ve been reading it super slowly ever since (still not done), trying to savour it like a really expensive box of chocolates. Needless to say, it’s great.

NB: I should say that from here on in, things get very sparse. The reason is, I got my job as Creative Writing Fellow for Tyne and Esk Writers. I work 17.5 hours a week in that job, and on some weeks, as many as ten of those hours are reserved for reading the writing of T&E members in order to offer critique. So I’ve been reading loads this winter! Loads and loads of exciting, as-yet-unpublished novel manuscripts and poetry collections and single poems and short stories… I just can’t write about them here. Yet! Wait for it! Some of them are coming soon to a bookstore shelf near you!

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Thanks to everyone who attended the #litsyndicate's heated discussion of Philip Hoare's THE SEA INSIDE! Our next meeting will take place on Tuesday, July 28th, when we'll be discussing the mother of all #smartsummerreads, Emily St. John Mandel's STATION E
(Photo credit)

OCTOBER POETRY
Greta Stoddart: Salvation Jane

I picked this up in a second hand bookstore in Whitby, to have a quick flick through. Ten minutes later my brother came searching for me to find out what I’d got so engrossed in.

Claudia Rankine: Citizen
Again… what Dave said.

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NOVEMBER FICTION
Douglas Coupland: Hey Nostradamus!

Someone told me a while back that I ought to read this book, because elements of it are similar to the novel I am currently writing. I can’t remember who that person was, but THANK YOU SO MUCH. You totally get my taste in books! This was my fiction discovery of the year, though it faced strong competition, especially from Station Eleven (see below). It was just gob-smackingly brilliant. I thought I knew what I was getting into when I started reading, and it just kept surprising me and surprising me and surprising me, right down to the absolutely stunning, beautiful, gorgeous, poignant, heart-stopping ending, which had me weeping buckets. I read this in two sittings: it was one of those books where you just go screw it, I’m not doing anything else today, I just have to read this til I am done. Douglas Coupland, where have you been all my life?! Miss Wyoming next…

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DECEMBER FICTION
Emily St John Mandel: Station Eleven

Yes, I fiiiiinally got around to reading it. I bought it way back in the year: remember me saying I was buying 3-for-2 books back in May? It was one of those three. In June I booked a ticket to go and see ESJM at EIBF and told myself that’d spur me on to read it. Then the event, which was ace, came and went in August. I find it hard sometimes to get myself psyched up to read the book everyone’s raving about, you know? And then usually I kick myself when I finally do read it, as I did with this one. Holy wow. It’s every bit as good as everyone says, and more. Just don’t do what I did and read it when you’re feeling flu-y. Oh, and if you get chance to go and see ESJM speak/read? Go. Her EIBF event was so great. She’s very eloquent, whip-smart, very funny, and I could listen to her lovely Canadian accent all day. But don’t do what I did… read the book before you go.

A few final stats:

Total books read: 45 (down on last year’s 51. OMG SO LOW RIGHT? Meh. You know how every book blogger is telling you they read three books a week for the whole year right now? Unless they sat on the panel for a major book prize, or worked as a reviewer for a big publication, it’s likely they’re fibbing. PS: if you’re measuring the worth of your life by how many books you’re reading per year, you need to get a grip, and also remember that the ability to read at all is a massive privilege and bragging is vulgar. Here endeth the lesson.)

Total fiction: 16 (down on last year’s 17)
Total poetry: 19 (20 if you count reading Deep Lane twice. Waaaay down on last year’s 32)
Total non-fiction: 10 (way up on last year’s 2! Hooray!)

Books by men: 13 (down on last year’s 16)
Books by women: 30 (down on last year’s 35)
Books by multiple authors, or by an author whose gender I don’t know: 2

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I wrote a book of poems! It’s called This changes things, and you can order it here!

You can now get more content from me — and help me pay the bills! — by supporting my Patreon. Get a monthly writing support pack for just $5 a month! It’s like buying me a pint.
You can also support me by checking out the many sweet and sparkly things at Edinburgh Vintage, my Etsy-based store for jewellery and small antiques.
If you just want to say hi, you can find me on Twitter, or email me via claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. You’ll get a fairly good sense of the kind of person I am by checking out my Tumblr.

Things I Love Thursday 105: ALL OF AUTUMN edition

December 3rd, 2015

So it looks like TiLT has become seasonal, as the last one of these I did was summer! Oh well. Here are some things I’ve loved over the past few months…

Foraging!
This was in my 30-before-30 list, and I think I’ve done pretty well this autumn on the Free Food front!

Foraged hazelnuts

Foraged hazelnuts

^ Hazelnuts from Canonmills!

Foraged salmonberries, raspberries and brambles

& yet more foragings... brambles and wild raspberries

First bramble haul of the foraging season!  Plus a few hazelnuts I found.

October adventures (52)

^ Salmonberries from Canonmills, brambles from all manner of places (so many brambles this year!)

Vegan eats

Another one from my 30-before-30 list

October adventures (2)

October adventures (3)

^ Have you been to Henderson’s Vegan yet? Go!

October adventures (53)

^ Lovely Boyfriend’s very best autumn stew.

Vegan breakfast nachos

^ Vegan breakfast nachos (yes, yes you read that right), also made by Lovely Boyfriend, aka personal chef.

Halloween 2015 (5)

^ Here’s this year’s pumpkin pie. (Yes, this one.)

October adventures (51)

^ Best present I ever bought my man? Possibly the waffle iron. OK, definitely the waffle iron.

Vegan peanut butter blondies (1)

^ He also made me peanut butter blondies this autumn. Yeah… I’ll never be thin.

October adventures (6)

^ …especially not since Sugar Daddy’s Bakery has opened only about four blocks from my house!

Edinburgh

a.k.a the most excellent city ever.

October adventures (19)

October adventures (20)

October adventures (43)

October adventures (46)

^ The shops in my neighbourhood got well into Halloween!

October adventures (27)

October adventures (29)

October adventures (37)

October adventures (44)

October adventures (47)

October adventures (48)

October adventures (49)

^ I went for many a good autumnal walk in Edinburgh and its environs…

Botanic Lights (39)

Botanic Lights (36)

Botanic Lights (34)

Botanic Lights (24)

Botanic Lights (11)

^ …and that included the beautifully illuminated Botanics!

Cumbria

OK, I already spend tons of time there but you guys, I just want to live there. I’m sorry, Edinburgh… I’m starting to cheat on you! I mean, just look at the Gelt Woods (near Brampton):

Gelt Woods (2)

Gelt Woods (1)

Gelt Woods (3)

Gelt Woods (4)

Gelt Woods (7)

Gelt Woods (8)

^ IT’S LIKE LIVING INSIDE TUMBLR.

What have YOU been up to this autumn?

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You can now get more content from me — and help me pay the bills! — by supporting my Patreon. Get a monthly writing support pack for just $5 a month! It’s like buying me a pint.
You can also support me by checking out the many sweet and sparkly things at Edinburgh Vintage, my Etsy-based store for jewellery and small antiques.
If you just want to say hi, you can find me on Twitter, or email me via claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. You’ll get a fairly good sense of the kind of person I am by checking out my Tumblr.