Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

Five lost Edinburgh bookstores that I wish still existed.

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Dangerous Ladders
(Photo credit)

OK, so I was reading this post on Buzzfeed about Edinburgh’s great array of charming bookstores (and newsflash: this aint even all of them!), and although the post is really lovely, it got me thinking wistfully of the Edinburgh bookstores of yesteryear that are no more. I thought that they merited a photoblog of their own and so, here are five. If you have more to add, please do let me know!

the Haynes Nano Stage 01
(Photo credit)

Jim Haynes’ Paperback Bookshop
Did you know that Edinburgh had its own (small) Beat movement? It’s a true fact: and it’s largely down to Jim Haynes and his iconic Paperback Bookshop. The shop was opened in 1959 in Bristo Square, next to the University, and it famously had a rhino head mounted on the wall outside (here’s a gorgeous photo of a wee girl posing next to it!). Haynes claims to this day that his was the UK’s first ever paperback-only bookshop. It was also a mecca for Beat enthusiasts… and trouble. In 1960, a woman famously staged a protest outside the shop by burning one of its copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Sadly, the University decided to redevelop Bristo Square in 1966, and rather shortsightedly kicked the Paperback Bookshop out of its premises. They’ve since realised the error of their ways and created a memorial — which includes the book sculpture pictured above, and a brand new rhino head — to this lost cultural site.

Student reading in the Hub, Main Library.
(Photo credit)

Pickerings Books
Sad fact: I cannot find a single photograph of Pickerings Books online, and yet it was a gorgeous bookstore that sat right on the corner of Buccleuch Place, only yards from where the aforementioned Paperback Bookshop once stood. Were it still in existence, it would have been just about visible behind the totes cool dude in the photo above. Pickerings was a wee place, but it was full of gems. As an English Literature undergraduate/not-yet-fully-formed-human, I used to spend hours in there digging through the badly-organised shelves and random piles of second hand books. One day, I found what I thought was a scruffy old book of Edwin Morgan poems for two quid. It turned out to be a first edition of The Second Life that was signed in the front by Angus Calder. ONLY IN PICKERINGS could such treasure be unearthed.

The new town paperback
(Photo credit)

The New Town Paperback
I’ll admit: this place always seemed a little creepy… but in a good way, if that makes sense? I don’t think I ever met anyone else in it, I was always the lone browser, and I never saw anyone else go in or out. The books in the window display all had really sun-faded covers, like they’d been there decades. And yet, I took huge comfort from seeing this place was still there, in spite of everything, whenever I passed on the bus. It’s now a trendy wine shop, where I will never shop, simply because they covered up that amazingly retro shopfront. Sorry not sorry! (PS: here’s a photo of me, posing horribly, outside the New Town Paperback when it was still a going concern…)

Pulp Fiction
(Photo credit)

Pulp Fiction
Tollcross is my favourite area of Edinburgh, and I loved the couple of years that I spent living in a fifth-floor walk up right on Tollcross Junction (noisy as it was). Pulp Fiction was my local bookstore then, as it was only yards from my front door. It was a sci fi/fantasy specialist store and seemed to have literally every sci fi title in the world, no matter how obscure… plus seriously dedicated and knowledgable staff. It was also a really cool literary events venue. I still have no idea why it closed down and my heart is sad whenever I pass by the shopfront it once occupied. RIP, Pulp Fiction!

Happy Birthday, Allen Ginsberg!
(Photo credit)

Old Hat Books at the Old Forest
I know that the Forest Cafe still lives, and I am super pleased that it moved to its New Forest location in Tollcross (see above). However, I miss EVERYTHING about the Old Forest on Bristo Place. It was just the perfect space for a burgeoning DIY arts co-operative, with little nooks and crannies containing everything from a hairdressers to a darkroom, from the amazing Free Shop to a recording studio. And there was also Old Hat Books! A kind of independent bookstore/library/book club mash-up. Like everything about Forest, there was and is really nothing else like Old Hat Books in Edinburgh, if not the world. Hopefully it will eventually make a comeback at New Forest, and maybe become New Hat Books…?

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

You should read this: The Naming Of Cancer by Tracey S Rosenberg

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Hospital

The Naming of Cancer by Tracey S Rosenberg
Neon Books, 2014

I’m going to do a Dave Poems style disclaimer here and say that Tracey is someone I know well – she’s a fellow SBT New Writers Awards alumna and a fellow Shore Poet! I have also been following her work for a good few years now, since her novel, The Girl In The Bunker, was published by Cargo in 2011. Since then, she’s also published a debut poetry collection with Stewed Rhubarb, who specialise in giving performance poets a space on the page (that collection was called Lipstick Is Always A Plus – it was published in 2012 and comes highly recommended by me). She and I see each other pretty regularly at poetry events – usually, Tracey is kicking butt onstage and I am in the rapt audience. But I promise I did try to read The Naming Of Cancer (a slim pamphlet published in November last year by Neon) with an open mind and a critical eye.

This is a skinny wee collection weighing in at just fourteen poems, none of which go over a page – but they’re poems that really pack a punch. The book follows the myriad journeys that people go on when their lives are affected by cancer – I say affected, because there are poems in here from the point of view of partners, offspring, friends and doctors as well as poems more directly about the patient herself. This is one of the pamphlet’s great strengths. By looking at this devastating subject from many different angles, it avoids many of the potential pitfalls that come with writing about sickness and human mortality: it avoids melodrama and sentimentality, and steers also steers clear of motivational, life-is-short cliché. It’s a poetry collection that says it like it is.

Take, for example, ‘The Oncologist’s Nightmare,’ a poem that pops up to mess with your expectations just as you’re feeling “settled in.” This poem – in which the oncologist replays all of the frightened and angry questions that have been thrown at them that day – is a stark reminder that doctors’ lives are also affected by exposure to terrible illness, albeit in a slightly different way.

A couple of pages later, ‘Touch’ examines the strange and intimate relationship between doctor and patient. This small poem of only seventeen lines pulls into its clever web the doctor, who must work with extreme care as he invades the patient’s privacy; the patient’s lover, recalling his own worries that “she might find him intrusive” when he touches her; and finally the patient herself, waiting for “the blade: it will remove her.”

Several of these poems deal with the more mundane aspects of living with and alongside cancer: the fearful boredom of waiting around in hospitals is captured beautifully by repeated references to hospital trappings: “a six-bed ward,” vending machines and posters in faceless corridors. This sense of constant and perhaps doomed repetition is also captured in the form of several of the poems: the opening poem is a villanelle in which “needles plunge” in almost every stanza, and elsewhere, echoes and refrains abound.

The book opens with a snippet from TS Eliot’s Four Quartets (“East Coker,” to be precise), and there’s something rather Eliotean about the whole thing – I don’t think it’s a coincidence that “Cancer Vilanelle,” the opening poem, comes hot on the heels of that epigraph with its refrain, “consultants come and go.” Certainly, many of these poems exist in a space of isolation, fear and decay that calls to mind the anguish of Prufrock.

The Naming Of Cancer is not a cheery read, but it is by no means depressing or hopeless. Rather, this is a collection in which hope is faint and distant, but not gone. For example, in the final poem, “Bait,” the scraps of a dead body are used as bait on a fisherman’s hook. It’s a stark and violent image, but there is the promise of goodness in it: the body is not only still useful, not only luring a new, live catch. It is also being “restore[d] to the ravenous sea” – a thought that, after the long, grey corridor of illness, seems truly comforting.

The Naming Of Cancer is available from neonbooks.org.uk for the bargainous price of just £4.

(Photo credit)

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

In 2014, I…

Monday, December 29th, 2014

Happy New Year!
(Photo credit)

I feel like 2014 has been my year. Things have been really amazing this year — other people have even said to me “you’re having a great year, aren’t you?” I’m super, super grateful for all the amazing opportunities that have come my way, and for all the support from lovely people like YOU!

Here’s what I’ve been up to! In 2014, I…

* Saw in the new year with my dear family in Wetheral, one of the most chocolate-box-y English villages you can imagine. This was after spending my first ever Christmas in the house that Lovely Boyfriend and I bought together last year! It was a wonderful festive time.

* Signed myself up to read/speak in a bunch of places in the springtime. I particularly enjoyed giving a talk on intersectionality in the Scottish arts at New Scotland: New Culture?

* Learned to knit (well, re-learned — my gran taught me, years ago, but I forgot). This is something I have wanted to do for years and I’m now thoroughly addicted.

* Did my first ever official school author visit — to chat to some second years and then some Advanced Higher English students — at Hillhead High School in Glasgow. I was terrified beforehand, I’ll admit — but it was great! I loved every minute and have been invited to do others since! (You too can book me to speak to your class of students, community group, book group, writing workshop, or whatever you fancy… just click here!)

* Had an amazing Valentine’s Day dinner cooked for me by my personal chef Lovely Boyfriend: Thai beetroot and coconut soup, Jerusalem artichoke risotto, and then peanut butter cheesecake with a chocolate brownie base. All vegan!

* Entered my 28th year and celebrated by eating a chocolate breakfast at The Chocolate Tree, drinking tasty cocktails at the Dome, and finding out that New Writing Scotland wanted to publish one of my poems. A good day!

* Started a 30 before 30 to do list… and started to cross things off it immediately!

* Put the finishing touches to my first full-length poetry collection — about eight years in the making — and started sending it out to publishers! Oo-er.

* Took AGES to complete the very few corrections that needed to be done on my PhD… but submitted it, eventually!

* Finished up the year of creative mentoring that came alongside my 2011/12 New Writers Award — and wrote about how great it was here.

* Helped deliver the graphic novel John Muir: Earth-Planet, Universe into the world, as part of my role as Young Adult Project Co-Ordinator at Scottish Book Trust. The graphic novel is designed for 13 to 15 year olds, and is designed to teach young ‘uns about the importance of environmental responsibility while also telling the story of legendary Scot John Muir. Although this book wasn’t my main focus at work this year, I was proud to be part of the team that delivered it… it really is wonderful!

* Helped my dad to build a book nook in my bedroom! This was mega — I had wanted a book nook ever since I saw this one on Tumblr, and then when we realised that the main bedroom in our new house had a fairly useless cupboard in the corner, it was just FATE. Shockingly, I have yet to take a really decent photo of the finished nook, but that can be one of my ‘to do’ points for 2015. Watch this space…

* Was booked to speak at the University of Edinburgh’s conference style event The Business, alongside amazing writerly folks like Francis Bickmore and Jenny Brown!

* Was booked to deliver the first of what turned into a series of author events/workshops with the Edinburgh branch of Bethany Christian Trust, which works to support people who are homeless or vulnerably housed. I wrote a bit about that first author event here!

* Geeked out with my mum — who is as mad on antiques and collectables as I am — at the Antiques Roadshow when it came to Lowther Castle! (I know you’re rolling your eyes right now but it’s a great day out for those of us with a Delboy streak!)

* Was invited to become a Creative Facilitator on the Inside/Out project, run by Waverley Care. Over the course of the last few months, I have been meeting with Waverley Care service users who are affected by HIV and/or Hep C, to help them write about the ways in which living with a blood-borne virus affects them. It’s been inspiring, and very humbling.

* GRADUATED FROM MY PHD!!!! After nearly four years of working full time + studying full time + being entirely un/self-funded, I DID IT!

* Heard back from Bloodaxe, the first and only publisher I sent my first collection MS to, that they loved the collection and wanted to publish it! HIGHLIGHT OF MY YEAR RIGHT HERE! The collection is titled This changes things and will land in bookstores in February 2016.

* Was shortlisted for the inaugural Edwin Morgan Poetry Award, alongside my lovely pal Harry Giles and a bunch of other fine folks! This meant I got to read at the Edinburgh International Book Festival once again (always awesome) — which included access to the Author’s Yurt! On the night, I came runner-up to Niall Campbell, who I’d predicted would win as soon as I saw the shortlist (why did I not put a bet on?!). I was gobsmacked by the amazing comments from the judges and by the warm and lovely response from everyone I know! Thanks, you guys!

* Went on a massive Scotland-wide road-trip with the amazing Lovely Boyfriend at the wheel. I’ve lived in Scotland for 20 years this year, and until the summertime had never been to about 80% of it. We drove all the way up the east coast to the very northern tip of Caithness, then all along the northern coast, then down the west coast, even visiting Gairloch! It. was. amazing.

* Then jetted off to stunning Barcelona for some autumnal sun with Lovely Boyfriend and my BFF Martyna. A truly amazing time was had by all — and we were staying in hands-down the best airbnb ever!

* Had my feet tattooed with the words “What’s Next?” — both a positive, forward-thinking mantra of mine and the immortal words of President Jed Bartlet, protagonist of the TV show I love madly!

* Was booked to read/speak at a bunch of lovely events in the autumn.

* Began to make a name for myself as a handy freelance writer-for-hire and/or adult literacy worker-for-hire — throughout the year I’ve been booked to bring my writerly expertise to various community groups, book groups and education settings across Scotland. And I’ve loved it! Bring on 2015!

* Spent a spooky Halloween visiting various esoteric sites to look for ghosts and witches… then attending not one but two Halloween parties! For the first one, I dressed as the classic Halloween witch — for the second, which was book themed, I donned some fangs and went as Lucy Westenra.

* Celebrated my fourth year as the other half of Lovely Boyfriend (his real name is Steve, by the way) — personal chef, champion cuddler and all-round cute Scottish bloke. We spent a romantic weekend in York, reading books, writing poems and eating all the delicious vegan food we could find, before heading down to London to hole up in Foyles and then see my fangirl fave Richard Schiff in the London Playhouse’s infamous Speed-The-Plow.

* Pitched myself to the brilliant For Books’ Sake as a possible Scottish tutor for their great new all-female writing course Write Like A Grrrl… and was accepted! My Edinburgh class starts on 24th January and you can sign up right here!

* Continued to build my wee vintage jewellery business, Edinburgh Vintage, with — and I am telling you this because I am super proud of myself — revenue nearly quadrupling in the last twelve months! EV is basically my second job now, and I love it. I have exciting new places to take it in 2015, too!

* Delivered my first full project since joining Scottish Book Trust in October last year. Walk The Walk is a graphic novel designed specifically for adults who struggle with literacy, and is developed using an innovative participatory methodology. I’ve spent the year travelling all over Scotland to meet young people and adults who attend literacy support groups, to chat to them about their experiences and to get their input at every stage of the book’s development. I’ve also got to see the process that goes into producing a specialist book, from the very first kernel of an idea, to the final product being sent out to literacy groups nationwide. I am really, really proud of this thing and want to give a massive, grateful shoutout to the powerhouse all-female creative team I got to work with on it all year: my boss, Koren (aka the best boss ever), genius writer Gowan Calder, and utterly magical artist Jill Calder. Thank you ladies!

* Kept in touch with another powerhouse all-female creative team… the one behind 2012’s Making It Home Project, on which I worked as a Creative Facilitator. We’ve spent the year plotting various ways to take what we learned with MiH and take it forward into a brand new project. I’m hoping that in the new year, we’ll be able to announce what we’ve settled on. Spoiler: it’s going to be really, really exciting. Oh, and this time I’ll be Project Co-Manager! Be afraid!

* Visited a bunch of really great bookstores and vegan restaurants… click on the links for my Top 10 of each!

* Had poems published in loads of places — thank you, kind editors! You can see a full list, and read some of the poems, here.

The year in pictures:

Spring '14
^ Corrections done! Final draft submitted! Beast slayed!

The Bugle
^ Working on The Bugle with service users at Bethany Christian Trust.

A Trip to Wetheral (13)
^ Springtime!

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (1)
^ Speaking at The Business with Jenni Fagan, Francis Bickmore, Jenny Brown and other clever folk!

Edventures2 (1)
^ Oh, Edinburgh.

Tackling Sectarianism (2)
^ Travelling around Scotland to consult with literacy learners for Walk The Walk. This is the Redburn Youth Centre in Irvine, North Ayrshire.

My PhD Graduation! (3)
^ Graduation! You may now call me Dr Askew!

Sinclair Girnigoe 2014 (15)
^ Road-tripping literally the length and breadth of Scotland with my wonderful bloke. Best summer ever!

Edwin Morgan Poetry Award
^ Reading at the Edinburgh International Book Festival — and then winning a prize! — at the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award 2014…

OMG!
^ …then getting permission to go public with this even better news!

Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh
^ My bff Martyna moved back to Edinburgh after five years away!

Autumn in Edinburgh (11)
^ I made my feet more awesome.

Barcelona Autumn 2014 (27)
^ Yet more adventures… this time in gorgeous Barcelona.

Edinburgh, end of autumn
^ Loving my wee house. Spot the Kringle Candles dotted around everywhere… this year, I became a Kringle addict.

York Nov 14 (18)
^ Aaand more adventures: first in stunning York…

London weekend, Nov 14
^ …then London!

Waverley Care Walking Group's Inside/Out Project
^ A Christmas outing with some of the lovely service users at Waverley Care: making concrete poems from natural materials as part of the Inside/Out project.

Christmas Eve 2014
^ And a cozy family Christmas to finish :)

I hope that 2015 brings you everything you could possibly wish for, and that all your resolutions are easy to keep! I say: 2015? Bring it on!

If you want to see what I got up to in 2008, 2009, 2010 2011, 2012, or 2013, just click on each year!

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

My Top 10 Vegan Restaurants of 2014: a road trip in meals!

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

BREAKFAST

Vegan rissole breakfast at Goji, York

Goji, Goodramgate, York

Fully vegan? Nope, this is a veggie place with vegan options. But you can tell that they really care about veganism and vegans aren’t just an afterthought.
Specialism? They don’t have one — literally everything is brilliant. However, I’m going to go ahead and give them extra extra brownie points for having creative vegan breakfasts. A vegan breakfast (let alone a good vegan breakfast) is a rare thing.
Prices? Very reasonable.
Do I need to book? If you’re in York for only a short time and want to make sure you get to eat here, then yes. I have never booked but it’s always been super busy when I’ve been, and I’ve always been very lucky to arrive just as a table has come free.
Easy to find? Yes, it’s near the back of the Minster.
Accessible? Not really. The ground floor is up a step and then inside, the first floor dining area and loos are only accessed via a tiny, winding staircase. That’s York and it’s tall, narrow, listed buildings for you.
Best bit? It’s all great: lovely friendly staff (of course, it’s Yorkshire!), great meals at any time of day, great cake, nice space… it’s a magical place.
They could improve: this is a note for management. Hire more staff. Your waitstaff are all lovely but they always seem super frazzled! One more body could make all the difference!

LUNCH

glasgowaug (10) Special burger mushroom and tarragon The 78

The 78, Kelvinhaugh Street, Glasgow

Fully vegan? Yep!
Specialism? Burgers. This is very much a burger place. But they’re good burgers, and the specials change daily. That beast up there ^ is a mushroom and tarragon burger and OMG it was good.
Prices? Reasonable.
Do I need to book? I doubt it — they have loads of seats. Maybe on a weekend night for dinner as I can imagine it would get busy then.
Easy to find? Honestly? No. Lovely Boyfriend and I wandered around a bit in the rain before eventually getting there… and it’s a fairly long way from either a station or a Subway. There are buses along Argyll Street, though.
Accessible? Fully! Hooray!
Best bit? It’s a cool space: light and bright with lots of windows, but also somehow cozy. Great Glaswegian hospitality… oh, and they have vegan desserts, too, like chocolate brownie and sticky toffee pudding!
They could improve: nowt! Well done, The 78!

glasgowaug (3) Stereo flatbread Stereo

Stereo, Renfield Lane, Glasgow

Fully vegan? Yep!
Specialism? Piles and piles and piles of food. Also their chips are just a little big magical.
Prices? Reasonable.
Do I need to book? Possibly. I tend to go early evening and usually manage to get a seat, but it starts filling up rapidly after 6pm.
Easy to find? Ish. It’s right in the middle of Glasgow, literally a two-minute walk from Central Station. However, it’s also in an alleyway, and if you approach from a certain angle it looks perpetually closed. Give the doors a shove, though… they’re open!
Accessible? Nope, the alleyway is kinda dark and cobbled and narrow, and the restaurant itself is up a ton of steps. They do have unisex bathrooms though, which I appreciate!
Best bit? Eating in this place makes you feel super cool and with it, as you can throw a stone in any direction in this place and hit an art student, poet, or beardy hipster man in a lumberjack shirt. Personally, I like this. It’s good people watching. Plus, Stereo also has a venue downstairs which hosts painfully hip nights — the last thing I went to there was a circus-themed cabaret with loads of nudity (for some reason, they booked me to read poems there. I’ll admit, I was scared).
They could improve: the menu, maybe… it’s a tad limited. I go only occasionally. I’d appreciate some new options!

SUNDAY LUNCH

Vegan Sunday roast at Norman's Coach & Horses, Soho, London

Vegan tofush & chips at Norman's Coach & Horses, Soho, London

Norman’s Coach & Horses, off Greek Street, Soho, London

Fully vegan? Nope, this place is veggie and vegan. But like Goji above, veganism is very much part of the ethos and there are loads of vegan options.
Specialism? Their “tofush” and chips (pictured in the second photo above). It’s a tofu fish supper, and really very good.
Prices? Bordering on cheap, for London!
Do I need to book? We went on a Sunday at 1pm (classic Sunday lunch time), and there were free tables, so probably not.
Easy to find? Yep, it’s in the middle of Soho and near to various tube stations. We walked there from the South Bank and found it fine.
Accessible? Yes, although the bathrooms are not.
Best bit? I had the vegan Sunday roast, which is what that stuffed aubergine thing is.
They could improve: the staff. Sorry! I hate slagging people who work difficult jobs. But… smile and be nice, please! I know it’s London, but come on. You can do it.

Vegan Sunday roast at Goji, York

Goji (again), see above.

I already praised these guys to the sky at breakfast, I know… but I just had to show you their vegan lentil loaf Sunday roast. It was perfect, folks. Get thee to York, already!

TAPAS & SHARING

Barcelona Autumn 2014 (91)

Veggie Garden, Carrer des Angels, Barcelona

Fully vegan? Yes!
Specialism? Juices. They have literally hundreds of amazing juice, smoothie and shake options on the menu. Worth going there for this alone.
Prices? Cheap.
Do I need to book? Maybe. It does get busy around typical lunch/local dinner hours. I’ve now been three times — booked the first time and then chanced it the last two. If you’re eating at UK dinner time (e.g. before 8pm) though, you’re likely to be OK.
Easy to find? Yes. It’s near Liceu Metro, too, which is one of the major stations.
Accessible? Not really. Most of the seats are upstairs, but in good weather you can eat on the terrace outside. The bathrooms are very cramped.
Best bit? It’s one of those places where you can order anything and know that it’s going to be amazing. Even the guacamole is a cut above the usual. The staff are lovely, too, and are happy to put up with terrible Spanglish from the likes of me. Oh, and the walls are covered in amazing, brightly coloured murals!
They could improve: the loos are a bit grim. Nothing utterly gross, but you know, loo roll on the floor, no hand towels, stuff like that. Sorry, Veggie Garden!

El Piano, York

Vegan sharing platter at El Piano, York

El Piano, Grape Lane, York

Fully vegan? Yes, AND gluten free, too!
Specialism? Being FOOD SAINTS. Not only is everything vegan, cruelty free and gluten free, they also really value keeping their meals locally-sourced. Every dish has a circle next to it with a number inside, telling you what percentage of that meal was sourced within ten miles of the restaurant. Most of the dishes are 70% local or more.
Prices? Cheap. The portions are huge. You get so much bang for your buck here.
Do I need to book? YES. A thousand times yes. York folks are not stupid: they know this is the best place to eat in the entire county! It’s always been packed whenever I’ve been and I have always needed to book.
Easy to find? Yep, it’s a stone’s throw from the Minster.
Accessible? The ground floor is, yes. The loos, maybe not.
Best bit? Definitely the two sharing platters (one is pictured above). Their mains are also great… but the sharing platters give you chance to taste the whole range of amazing food they make.
They could improve: the desserts. I was legit shocked that a place that does such utterly amazing savoury food could turn out such average desserts! Perhaps my expectations were too high. But they do get brownie points for having desserts at all.

DINNER

Edventures (2)

Bonsai, Broughton St & Richmond St, Edinburgh

Fully vegan? Nope. This is actually your regular restaurant with plenty of meat and fish on the menu… they just have a lot of veggie things that also, happily, happen to be vegan!
Specialism? Sushi.
Prices? Reasonable.
Do I need to book? Only if you’re dining with a party of more than four, I’d say.
Easy to find? Yep.
Accessible? The Broughton Street one probably is, yes. I’ll hold up my hands and say I have never been to the Richmond Street one!
Best bit? The food is really lovely… it’s just the right amount of experimental, with cool specials like butternut squash maki, or oyster mushroom tempura. The service is also very fast and efficient, and the waitstaff are all lovely.
They could improve: more vegan specials on the specials board, more often! Most times I go all the specials are fish-adjacent.

Part of the Tempura Course at Itadaki Zen vegan Japanese restaurant, King's Cross, London

Part of the Itadaki Course at Itadaki Zen vegan Japanese restaurant, King's Cross, London

Itadaki Zen, King’s Cross Road, London
(fun fact: they also have a seasonal outpost in, of all places, Oban!)

Fully vegan? Yes. In fact, this is the first all-vegan Japanese restaurant in the whole of Europe!
Specialism? Flavour-balancing. Seriously, the chefs here are magicians. Everything you eat tastes clean, crisp, never too salty or spicy or plain. The menu goes into detail about how they try to waste nothing and ask that diners do the same — they discourage the addition of soy sauce or wasabi to their sushi, because it doesn’t need it. And it really doesn’t! Every mouthful is perfect.
Prices? Very reasonable, especially for London, especially for food so good.
Do I need to book? Yes, always. The place is always full to the top, sometimes with a queue out the door.
Easy to find? Yes. Just remember it’s on King’s Cross Road, not Gray’s Inn Road. The two roads look very alike, as Lovely Boyfriend and I discover every time we go here!
Accessible? No, and it’s very small, too! Prepare to get a bit cozy with your fellow diners!
Best bit? The four-course set meals (we tried the Itadaki course and the Tempura course). You get an amazing starter, then sushi, then a bento box-ed main, then dessert, all for a very reasonable price, and it’s literally the perfect size for a meal. You leave feeling the most pleasant kind of full!
They could improve: the loos. Nothing terrible, but a bit scruffy.

COFFEE & CAKE

Once again, The Chocolate Tree wins.  #whatveganseat

The Chocolate Tree, Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh

Fully vegan? No, but lots and lots of tasty vegan options. They value their vegan customers and some of the staff are vegan!
Specialism? They’re probably the only legitimate chocolatier (a company that makes their 100% of their chocolate themselves, from the bean) in the UK. Most companies who call themselves ‘chocolatiers’ are actually ‘confiseurs.’ In other words: these guys are serious chocolate specialists.
Prices? Very reasonable.
Do I need to book? Yes. The cafe recently cleared out some tables to make space for merch instead, so there are only about ten seats in the whole place. Booking is basically essential. However, if you can’t get a table you can always take your chocolate goodies to a bench on the nearby Bruntsfield Links — a favourite pasttime of mine!
Easy to find? Yes. It’s on tons of bus routes or you can take a nice stroll through the Meadows and then the Links to get there.
Accessible? Yes.
Best bit? Their hot chocolate drinks. That chocolate cake above is definitely lush, but it’s also impossible to finish a whole piece in one sitting and then walk away! The hot chocolates, however, come in lots of different flavours and levels of intensity and all of them can be made with soy milk. Yay! Oh, also, on a hot day not much beats their sorbet counter! Vegan chocolate sorbet, be mine.
They could improve: I’ll admit, I liked it better when there were more tables. Sigh.

RAW at La Suite West, Kensington, London

Vegan afternoon tea at La Suite West, Kensington, London

Vegan afternoon tea at La Suite West, Kensington, London

RAW at La Suite West, Inverness Terrace, Kensington, London

Fully vegan? No, veggie — but with a big emphasis on vegan, dairy free and raw.
Specialism? Their all-vegan-all-the-time afternoon tea. I never dared to dream of such a thing existing!
Prices? OK, you knew this one was going to be pricey, right? Afternoon tea for two will set you back almost £50. But actually, as afternoon teas go, that isn’t bad — it compares favourably to the famous Balmoral one. And afternoon tea is a big meal… we left barely able to walk and we didn’t even finish everything!
Do I need to book? Nope. We did, but then the place was pretty quiet.
Easy to find? Yes — it’s a stone’s throw from Kensington Gardens and literally thirty seconds’ walk from the Bayswater tube.
Accessible? Fully!
Best bit? The coconut cream that came with the scones. I know that’s mega-specific, but it was that good.
They could improve: by turning the lights up a little! The mood lighting — not only in the restaurant, but also in the corridors when you’re trying to find the loo — is er, a little too moody! I like to be able to see the cake I am eating!

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

My Top 10 Independent Bookstores of 2014: a northward bookish road trip!

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

PhD grad weekend adventures (12)

Withnail Books, Penrith

Range of books? Excellent for such a small place.
Specialism? Lake District related, and all things Withnail & I.
Prices? About right (all the books are second hand).
Easy to find? Not really. A bit off the beaten track and hidden away in an antiques/restoration salvage yard! You’d be better off looking for Booths supermarket… it’s across the road from there!
Accessible? Accessible-ish… it’s ground level but in the middle of a salvage yard so there may be obstacles.
Cafe? No.
Best bit? There’s a vintage clothing store upstairs, and this aforementioned antiques salvage yard right outside which is also brilliant for a poke about in!

Beckside Books, Penrith

Beckside Books, Penrith

Range of books? Again, excellent for such a wee place.
Specialism? Lake District.
Prices? About right (all the books are second hand).
Easy to find? Yes, it’s in the centre of Penrith and well signposted.
Accessible? Partly — it’s on two floors with stairs to the first floor.
Cafe? No.
Best bit? It’s a place to find hidden gems… and it’s a very, very cute building.

Bookcase Books in Carlisle.  Place of dreams.

Bookcase, Carlisle

Range of books? Massive. This place is absolutely huge. You want it? They have it.
Specialism? Being unapologetically huge and maze-like.
Prices? Cheap (all the books are second hand).
Easy to find? Yes, although not signposted it’s two minutes from Carlisle’s market square and any local could direct you there.
Accessible? No.
Cafe? No, but there’s a tea and coffee machine and lots of posters encouraging you to make use of it!
Best bit? I have been four times and still not seen it all. It’s that big.

Word Power Books

Word Power Books, Edinburgh

Range of books? Great. If I can’t find a book anywhere else, I can usually find it here.
Specialism? Politics, and Scottish writers.
Prices? Almost all the books are new, so RRP or above.
Easy to find? Yes.
Accessible? No.
Cafe? No.
Best bit? Marshall, the friendly Rottweiler-cross who follows you around as you browse and appreciates a good scratch behind the ears!

Looking Glass Books, Edinburgh

Looking Glass Books, Edinburgh

Range of books? Modest, but carefully hand-picked. (I do sometimes find them hard to browse, though… there’s a funny categorising/display system going on!)
Specialism? Scottish writers.
Prices? All the books are new, so RRP.
Easy to find? Yes. Well signposted from Middle Meadow Walk!
Accessible? Fully! Go LGB!
Cafe? Yes.
Best bit? Vegan flapjack. Sorry not sorry!

Glasgow Aug 14

Alba Musick, Glasgow

Range of books? Surprisingly wide for a bookshop that calls itself a music shop!
Specialism? Music.
Prices? About right (all the books are second hand).
Easy to find? Nope. It’s in a yard behind some flats. Although if you know where the similarly-weirdly-placed Glasgow legend Tchai Ovna is, start there… it’s one yard over.
Accessible? Yes… although the yard outside is cobbled and sometimes cars park across the doorway.
Cafe? No.
Best bit? Surprisingly excellent poetry section!

Glasgow Aug 14

Voltaire & Rousseau, Glasgow

Range of books? Very wide… but this bookstore is famous for having absolutely no logical cataloguing system whatsoever. If you’re looking for something specific, be prepared to rummage. For a long, long time.
Specialism? Intimidating, haphazard piles of books!
Prices? Cheap (all the books are second hand).
Easy to find? See above. This one’s in the same yard as Tchai Ovna. Get off the Subway at Kelvinbridge and then ask someone!
Accessible? Theoretically, yes. Realistically, no.
Cafe? No, but the aforementioned Tchai Ovna is a couple of doors down.
Best bit? Rummaging.

Inverness 2014 (8)

Leakey’s, Inverness

Range of books? Huge! Although surprisingly little fiction and poetry in comparison to other stuff.
Specialism? Scottish travel/antiquarian.
Prices? A bit on the dear side (all the books are second hand).
Easy to find? Yes.
Accessible? No.
Cafe? Yes.
Best bit? Just hanging out in this place is really cool. It’s a converted church and every surface is covered with books. There’s also a woodburning stove!

Gairloch 2014 (2)

Hillbillies Bookstore and Trading Post, Gairloch

Range of books? Amazingly great, considering this place is down a 60-mile-long, single-track cul-de-sac in the Highlands.
Specialism? Politics / social science, book-related geeky gifts, and really, really good coffee.
Prices? All the books are new, so RRP.
Easy to find? Once you’re in Gairloch, yes. But first you must gird your loins and drive to Gairloch!
Accessible? Yes — although it’s split-level with stairs, both levels are accessible via their own outside doors.
Cafe? Oh hell yes.
Best bit? The place is papered with political slogan posters, and the cafe’s coffee is great. This place is basically like a little piece of North Beach, San Francisco… in Gairloch.

Thurso 2014

Tall Tales, Thurso

Range of books? Modest. It’s a wee place!
Specialism? None… but lots of Scottish titles.
Prices? Super cheap.
Easy to find? Yes, it’s in the middle of Thurso and Thurso is, well, pretty tiny.
Accessible? No.
Cafe? No.
Best bit? Tall Tales is the best thing about Thurso (although Thurso also has a surprisingly cosmopolitan health food store). Hooray!

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Attention women writers! Brand new writing opportunity in Edinburgh!

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Writing ♥
(Photo credit)

Hello, friends!

I am very excited to announce that from January 2015, I will be delivering the innovative all-female fiction writing class Write Like A Grrrl.

Write Like A Grrrl is already established in London, and a Manchester class is starting up shortly. But I thought it would be very sad if all the brilliant female writers north of the border were unable to take part, so I pitched myself to the lovely people at For Books’ Sake as a potential Scotland-based tutor. After some very excitable chats — and some training in the ins and outs of the course, natch — they signed me up! Now all I need is for YOU to come and join me!

Write Like A Grrrl is open to any self-identifying woman who writes fiction, or would like to write fiction. As well as helping you make your writing as brilliant as it can be — focussing on the essential stuff like characterisation and dialogue — the course also empowers women writers to beat procrastination and create that precious thing, productive writing time!

The Edinburgh course begins on 24th January and runs for six weeks — so if you’re planning to make “do more writing” one of your New Year’s Resolutions for 2015, then Write Like A Grrrl might just be perfect for you!

The venue is the cozy back room at Boda, which — for those of you have never been there before — is full of comfy couches, and a perfect space for chatting about writing and sharing ideas. The course is six weeks long and runs for six consecutive Saturdays, from 24th January 2015, between 12.30pm and 2.30pm.

The Write Like A Grrrl: Edinburgh website has all the info you need, and you can book your place using the drop-down menu, too!

Please do join me! I’d love to see you there!

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Zombie (vegan) pumpkin pie: the same recipe as last year, resurrected!

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

Vegan pumpkin pie!
This post already appeared at One Night Stanzas in October 2012 and 2013. But it’s Halloween, so you need a pumpkin pie recipe… and if it’s vegan, EVEN BETTER.

Folks, Halloween is ON FRIDAY, and if you haven’t yet made yourself a pumpkin pie then U R DOIN IT WRONG. Happily, I am here to help you. I stitched together this recipe from bits and pieces of several other recipes I found online but didn’t like 100%. It results in a truly finger-lickin’ pie, even if I do say so myself.

Fiendish all-vegan pumpkin pie
(Serves 8-10.)

Pie crust base:
125g (half a pack) Lotus caramelised biscuits
A quarter of a cup of rapeseed or groundnut oil
A splash of sweetened soy milk

Pumpkin filling:
Half a cup of dark brown sugar
One third of a cup of icing (confectioner’s) sugar
Ground cinnamon
Ground nutmeg
Ground ginger
The zest of one lemon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
Half a cup of sweetened soy milk
1 tsp cornflour
1 tbsp rapeseed or groundnut oil
250ml soya cream
1 tin of pumpkin puree
Half a tsp vanilla extract

Pre-heat your oven to 220°C, 425°F, or gas mark 8.

Vegan pumpkin pie!

OK, first — the base! Lotus caramelised biscuits are fantastic, because they’re totally vegan and extra super tasty. To make the base, the first thing you need to do is whizz up roughly 125 grams of these biscuits — or roughly half a pack — until they’re broken down into a fine, sandy powder.

Vegan pumpkin pie!

Tip the biscuit crumbs into a large bowl and stir in the rapeseed or groundnut oil (personally I prefer groundnut, but if you’re potentially feeding a person with a nut allergy as I often do, it’s good to have an alternative). Add your splash of soy milk and you should end up with a shiny, sticky, but not-too-wet paste. Press this into the bottom of your pie dish to form your crust base, and stick it in the fridge while you create the filling!

Vegan pumpkin pie!

In a large, clean mixing bowl, sieve and mix the brown sugar and icing sugar together, then add ground spices to taste. If you’re unsure, I’d say one teaspoon of cinnamon and one of ginger, and maybe half a teaspoon of nutmeg. But personally I like my pie spicy, so I’d up the cinnamon and nutmeg, personally! Once you’ve sorted your spices, grate in the lemon zest, and add the salt and baking powder. Mix everything thoroughly!

Vegan pumpkin pie!

OK, slightly tricky bit now: this pie is vegan, so no eggs allowed. But you can mimic the consistency of eggs! Grab your sweetened soy milk, stick it in a pan and put over a low heat. As the soy milk begins to warm, add to it the teaspoon of cornflour and continue to heat, stirring constantly. As the milk heats, it should thicken up. When it gets to roughly the consistency of beaten egg, remove from heat and pour into the dry mix. Add the tablespoon of oil and mix thoroughly. Once mixed, pour and mix in the soy cream, too.

Vegan pumpkin pie!

It’s finally time for the essential ingredient — pumpkin! Some recipes insist that you use actual hollowed-out pumpkin, and yes, if you’re hollowing a pumpkin anyway, it’s smart to make use of the flesh for this. But if, like me, you have three hours before your Halloween party starts and you need to get a move on, then reach for the canned stuff! I use Libby’s myself as it’s relatively easy to get hold of. Pour the can of pumpkin into the mix and add the dash of vanilla. Mix, mix, mix — once you have a thick, gloopy batter, your filling is done!

Vegan pumpkin pie!

To bake, pour the pumpkin batter over your refrigerated base and place in the top half of the oven at 220°C for fifteen minutes. Once that time has passed, and without opening the oven (however tempting!), turn the temperature down to 180°C and bake for another 50-60 minutes.

Vegan pumpkin pie!

Your pie should come out looking only ever-so-slightly wibbly, and golden brown right across the top. It should be allowed to refrigerate for several hours — ideally overnight — to firm up. Then you can carve up and dig in!

Happy Halloween!

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Budding writer? Creative person in need of a fun job? Check out the various resources and services at Bookworm Tutors. Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Featured Magazines #17: The Bugle

Monday, May 5th, 2014

The Bugle

Most of the work I do is with “reluctant readers,” and I am used to having to warm up my audience, convincing them that poetry is not a scary thing and actually, anyone can write it. However, the Bugle team were way ahead of me – several of them regularly write poems for inclusion in the magazine, and reading the creative writing pieces intended for the Bugle’s pages is an important part of the editorial process. In a world where arts columnists are mourning poetry as a supposedly “dead” artform – while poets themselves bemoan the lack of dedicated readers – The Bugle is wonderful. Its editorial team are not only reading and writing poems – they’re also helping to keep this supposedly-dying breed of writing alive, by putting it into their publication and sending that publication out into the world for free.

I wrote a blogpost for the great social action blog Common Good Edinburgh last week, all about the amazing work being done by the team of The Bugle, Bethany Christian Trust’s Edinburgh-based zine-style magazine. It’s made entirely by homeless and vulnerably houses BCT service users and it’s brilliant. Click here to find out more!

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Writing advice from Mary Oliver.

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Swanpy

I want the poem to ask something and, at its best moments, I want the question to remain unanswered. I want it to be clear that answering the question is the reader’s part in an implicit author-reader pact. Last but not least, I want the poem to have a pulse, a breathiness, some moment of earthly delight. (While one is luring the reader into the enclosure of serious subjects, pleasure is by no means an unimportant ingredient.)

[...] Take out some commas, for smoothness and because almost every poem in the universe moves too slowly. Then, once the “actual” is in place (the words), begin to address the reason for taking the reader’s good and valuable time — invite the reader to want to do something beyond merely receiving beauty… Make sure there is nothing in the poem that would prevent the reader from becoming the speaker of the poem.

[...] The poem in which the reader does not feel himself or herself a participant is a lecture, listened to from an uncomfortable chair, in a stuffy room… The point is not what the poet would make of the moment but what the reader would make of it.

Mary Oliver, from ‘The Swan.’

…and here’s a poem written using ^these rules. See what you think.

(Image credit)

You don’t choose your literary heroes: they choose you.

Monday, January 13th, 2014

A version of this post first appeared at One Night Stanzas in November 2008.

I’ve just revisited this article on the Guardian Books Blog, in which Stuart Evers talks about his seemingly rather misguided admiration for the protagonist of George Orwell’s Keep The Aspidistra Flying, Gordon Comstock. He notes that Comstock is really not a nice guy… and the fact that he truly admired this man when he first read the novel makes him feel rather uneasy. Evers admits that upon finishing the novel for the first time, he actually started to emulate Comstock - he started smoking the same cigarettes, spending his money on the same things, and getting interested in the same politics. He ends bitterly, sending out a “thank you so bloody much” to Orwell and Comstock, as though realising with hindsight that, by getting so “involved” with this not-actually-real person, he has somehow done something wrong.

Has he done something wrong? Are we only supposed to like, admire and emulate the “good guys” in literature? Sure, there are a lot of admirable goodies out there - I’d be the first to stand up and say that I truly love and admire Atticus Finch, for example. But surely, as normal human beings, it’s OK for us to be drawn to the “bad guys” - the flawed characters, the dishonest characters, the downright nasty characters… right? Hamlet, for example - arrogant, selfish, murderous and slightly insane, and yet he’s a big favourite. I personally rather like Milton’s Satan, and perhaps even worse, Alex DeLarge. I know for a fact that the normally sugary-sweet Gala Darling has a dark side - she’s forever in love with Patrick Bateman. It’s not necessarily logical - you don’t choose your literary heroes: they choose you. They reach out to something within your personal being and speak to you. Just because they happen to be a “baddie,” that doesn’t necessarily make you one too!

At the end of Evers’ article, I felt like standing up and cheering, because the other day I experienced exactly the same discomfort that Evers feels, talking with some friends about Beat-Generation-era literature.
As many of you will know, I am a huge Allen Ginsberg fan. I first encountered Ginsberg about halfway through my four-year Masters degree, when I had to read “Howl” for class. My first reaction was “what is this absolute rubbish?”, and when I read some background information about Ginsberg, I was even less impressed. Loud, arrogant, misogynistic… he did not seem like a nice guy at all. Who does he think he is, I thought, this man who wrote this epic, spiralling, meaningless poem that everyone seems to love? It’s garbage!
But then I had an epiphany - I heard a recording of dear old Allen reading “America.” I loved the poem, and his reading - with all its humour and seriousness and liveliness and weariness all at once - and decided to give him another chance. I read about Ginsberg’s life, I read his annotations on “Howl” and discovered what every cryptic line really meant (and every line really does have some correlation to his life, things he experienced, or things that were going on at the time), and probably most importantly, I read “Kaddish.” I bought an album of readings which included all these poems, and more, and listened to it from beginning to end, which exhausted but thrilled me. By now, the poems had turned on me, and they’d convinced me that this man - who I’ll freely admit was still loud, arrogant and misogynistic - was one of the greatest American writers of all time. He was not always nice, he was not always fair, and he wasn’t even always all that good. But he was brilliant, and in spite of myself, I will love him forever and ever.

So imagine my horror when, at a party a few years ago, a friend of mine came out with this:
“I don’t get it with Ginsberg. I’ve read ‘Howl,’ which was… ridiculous, and then everything else just looks like a poor imitation of ‘Howl.’”
I won’t lie to you - I felt like I’d been slapped. I couldn’t believe the enormous feeling that welled up in me. This was my friend, and I found myself wanting to grab him and shake him and scream, “why don’t you read ‘Howl’ properly and then you’ll see it’s not ridiculous, like I did?! How can you say everything else is a poor imitation of ‘Howl’?! Have you even read anything else?! Have you read ‘Kaddish’?! And how can you say that anyway?! The man wrote for 50+ years in a million different style on a million different subjects! Saying you don’t like Ginsberg because of ‘Howl’ is like saying you don’t like the Beatles because of ‘Hey Jude.’ Aaaargh!”
Obviously, I did not do this. I tried to express myself in a quieter way, and just said that actually, Ginsberg was my all-time favourite writer and I loved him very much. All I got was (quote), “well, good for you,” which didn’t make me feel much better.

My desire to shake my friend and scream in his face rather troubled me. After all, I knew all this stuff, and I’d thought it and said it myself once upon a time. But it also brought home to me the fact that you really can’t choose your idols - and when they choose you, they can really cling on, dig in. I’m sure the friend in question has literary heroes he’d gladly defend by shaking and screaming at me, if I were to criticise them. I know one guy who deeply loves Iago, and gets the same strange rage when people try to tell him “but Iago’s a really bad guy.” I know someone else who is a big fan of William Carlos Williams, and nearly had to walk out of a seminar recently when one woman in the group said “but it’s all just rubbish really, isn’t it? The Red Wheelbarrow - my children could write poetry like that!”
The fact is, Stuart Evers seems to be worried about admiring Gordon Comstock. Why? Because he’s worried that he’s going to be judged, probably. But I’d be interested to know what his reaction would be if anyone were to actually turn around and say “Comstock’s the worst character I ever came across,” or “that book’s crap, Orwell couldn’t write to save his life”. Personally, I am not worried about admiring Ginsberg for fear of judgement. It’s the defensive rage that’s the truly worrying thing…

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)