Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

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)

In 2013, I…

Monday, December 30th, 2013

Happy 2013

At the end of 2012, I wrote, “it’s been a great year. I feel I am a million miles away from the place I was in this time last year — phew! I am also extremely excited about 2013 and all that it holds for me. I plan to finish my PhD, put together my first full-length poetry collection (at last!), get more tattoos (yeah!), and start work on a ton of exciting new projects. Wish me luck!” Did I manage all those things? I freaking well did! Check it out!

In 2013, I…

* saw in the New Year with loads of lovely friends around me, shimmying on down at the Summerhall New Year bash. Amazing night! (If you can go to this year’s one, I highly recommend it!)

* re-joined the Making It Home Project for our ambitious film-making phase, thanks to funding from the wondrous Creative Scotland! Keep reading to find out how it went…

* began a year of mentoring sessions with Sarah Ream, poetry ed at Polygon and total and utter superhero, funded by the Scottish Book Trust. With help from Sarah, I began taking nervous little baby steps towards creating a first collection MS.

* spent a very cold few days in and around gorgeous Oslo in the new year: negotiating several feet of snow, discovering the incredible TV show Borgen (and becoming totally hooked!), and writing plenty of poems.

* baked a lot of stuff.

* celebrated my 27th birthday: there was snow! In March!

* celebrated my first veganniversary by pledging to continue to eat as much delicious cruelty-free dessert as I can find. Win!

* repeatedly apologised to everyone for not doing more poetry gigs… when actually, when I look back, I did quite a lot.

* spent Easter in beautiful, deliciously warm Barcelona: revisiting all my favourite vegan restaurants, sunbathing in parks and on rooftops, and again, writing lots of poems. Hooray!

* became suddenly able to afford to buy a house with Lovely Boyfriend. Began immediately and excitedly house-hunting!

* successfully co-edited (alongside the gorgeous Jane McKie) the Making It Home Book, with thanks to all of YOU for your generous crowdfunding!

* spent over nine hours under the needle to have my Oliver No. 9 typewriter half-sleeve tattooed. It is so lush! (Scroll down!)

* escaped one heck of an evil manager, and immediately boosted my self-esteem, by negotiating a transfer to teach at a different campus. (He’s since been demoted and is no longer anyone’s manager. Thanks, karma!)

* went out filming with the brilliant media co-op and our gorgeous groups of Making It Home women. I learned all about how hard film-making is (needless to say, the women were all flippin’ geniuses at it), held lots of things, and ran around with coats keeping our actresses warm!

* I went to lovely London for a few days and discovered Foyles. HOW HAD I NEVER BEEN TO THIS MAGICAL PLACE BEFORE?! (I bought so many books. So many.)

* successfully negotiated the purchase of our new house, a sweet two-bed semi off Inverleith Row (no less)…

* …and immediately began the process of completely re-vamping this never-modernised house. The phrase “no idea what we were getting into” doesn’t even start to cover it!

* learned how to work a belt-sander, learned how to plaster, and wielded a sledgehammer (oh hell yeah!) for the first time ever, thanks to the above!

* went on tour around Edinburgh and Glasgow, showcasing Making It Home. Thank you so much to the many magical people who supported us on our whistle-stop tour!

* finally drew a line under three-and-a-half years of study, and submitted my PhD.

* started the serious work of putting together my manuscript.

* was selected for the Contemporary Women’s Writing Skills Development programme, and attended the amazing first session at the University of Southampton.

* re-launched Edinburgh Vintage as a jewellery store and saw a fourfold increase in sales!

* successfully interviewed for, and accepted, a brilliant amazing fantastic wonderful new job (basically, my dream job, I’m serious) at Scottish Book Trust. I am now their Young Adult Project Co-Ordinator!

* spent four great days in beautiful Munich: eating vegan food, petting lots of kitties, and being constantly surrounded by pretty autumnal foliage. (We also visited the memorial camp at Dachau, which was exhausting, but I now believe that visiting a concentration camp is something every privileged human ought to do at some point.)

* completed a first draft of my first collection manuscript, and began test-driving poems from it at various events… including at Book Week Scotland!

* organised and judged the inaugural One Night Stanzas Poetry Contest! Have you read the winning poems yet?

* had a wood-burning stove put in as part of our new house renovations. Imagine how good that might be, then double it.

* successfully defended my PhD thesis to examiners Miriam Gamble and Dr Leontia Flynn at my viva. I passed! You may now call me Dr Askew!

* finished building and renovation work on our living room only just in time for Christmas, and spent my first Christmas morning with Lovely Boyfriend — after four years of being together! Blissful.

The year in photos…

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Chilling in Oslo…

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…but warming up again in Barcelona!

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27th birthday cupcakes!

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A storyboard from one of the amazing Making It Home films.

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The half-sleeve! Six months on and I still swoon when I look at it.

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Out filming with the gorgeous Sheena, Elaine and Stacey of Making It Home. Such pros.

Ahlam, Augusta, Lucinda and the MIH posse, Making it Home Farewell Party at NEA
Celebrating a successful Making It Home tour, with a triumphant boogie at North Edinburgh Arts!

Floor sanding
House flippin’! Sanding, sanding, so much sanding…

In the English Garden, Munich, 16/10/13
Hanging out in autumnal Munich.

Goldenacre Path.  My new neighbourhood!
My new neighbourhood!

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Sparkly stuff goes live at Edinburgh Vintage!

Making it Home meets Book Week Scotland at Glasgow Women's Library!
Book Week Scotland 2013!

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The thesis-beast: SLAYED!

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FINISHED IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS!!! …just.

Wishes for 2014?
You know what? I am so freaking happy right now. In the past year, so many amazing things have happened — passing my PhD, buying my first house with my gorgeous man, landing my dream job. I feel greedy wishing for anything else, really. However, I do like to have goals, so here are one or two hopes for the year ahead…

*Shop my poetry MS around some cool publishers, and hopefully place it somewhere fantastic (I know, I know. Poetry is dismal right now, especially for first collections. But we can but try).
* Gather my strength to continue the great renovation and finish off the kitchen, tackle the bathroom and create a veggie garden!
* Adopt a dog… or two! Probably greyhounds!
That’s basically it. Oh, and write some good poems. That’d be nice, too.

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

I hope 2014 brings you everything you could possibly wish for, and more besides. Happy New 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!

One Night Stanzas Poetry Contest: the winners!

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

I’m very proud to announce the winners and runners-up in the 2013 One Night Stanzas poetry contest!
Grab a cup of tea, get comfy and have a read…

G-VLIP

RUNNER UP:
Branson’s Brother
by Joshua Seigal

Have you heard of Branson’s Brother?
He lives on an estate in Southgate, London,
owns no car nor hint of a career,
and scratches a living from a part-time job
in the grounds of a local school.
Branson’s Brother doesn’t have a wife
and, whilst not quite a virgin, enjoys
no intimacy with any other living soul.
He lingers awhile reading books at night,
quoting Kafka to the kids
in the playground the next day,
and stops to tie his brown suede shoes
on the steps of the local kebab shop.
From the window opposite his bed he sees
pigeons in the morning trees.
Branson’s Brother considers these:
flight means nothing and everything to him.

Aileen: Deep Blue

RUNNER UP:
Village of the Mermaids
by Penny Shutt

They come in droves, flopping
out of fearful waters;
smooth bellies against the shore
of the village.

In lustrous gowns, their salty tresses
combed out, they wait
for sailors,

their boats guided inland
by the eternal flames of the chimaera
ablaze against the darkening mountainside.

They sit, uniformly lining
The village’s only street,
hands primly folded
on gowns that hide the glint of scales.

Enfolding their fish-flesh
as they stare ahead,
hoping to be chosen
by sailors made uneasy

by the scaly replications
of their lustre.
Not knowing which mermaid to take
to the room behind, to be lain

like a pike on a slab;
globular eyes pointed at blank ceilings.
Except they will not flounder or thrash,
or bare jagged teeth.

But will lie disquietingly still
in silent pursuit of a soul,
to later return to the glistening waves,

as silvery water rises to immerse
opalescent eyes
whilst unreturned souls
burn bright on the hillside.

Shimano

HIGHLY COMMENDED:
My Bike Squeaks Like an Old Bridge
by Dan Dowe

My bike squeaks like an old bridge,
some wooden planked arch,
that drivers must pray while driving over.
And the clack when I shift gears,
just like the old typewriters when the keys,
tired from years of striking,
would bind up together in a metallic jam.
But it’s red and shiny, a Schwinn,
like the one my brother ditched in the cellar,
only this one is new, from L.L. Bean.

I have difficulty riding it slowly.
My legs always want to pump faster.
I want wind and yards passing by,
like I’m always late for supper,
and I’m still blocks from my mother’s voice.
My hands leave the steady handlebars,
With a teenage casualness or summer confidence.
With arms like a crucifix, I’m balanced,
a graceful cowboy or skier,
Leaping off a jump into blazing whiteness.

Rabbit Run

SECOND PRIZE:
Running
by Tracey S Rosenberg

When the dog ran past
we were in my front yard –
Jimmy, Lizbeth-Ann, Ketchum and me.

Jimmy was standing on his head, forcing
the world upside-down with ground for a sky.
Lizbeth-Ann’s skirt hiked up as she bent over
to plant blades of grass in a dirt garden.
I kicked and kicked the porch steps
wondering if you could make a road stretch forever
by making your feet never stop.

The dog loped by, tongue flapping,
a stinky happy goldeny kind of dog.
It never looked at us, just swung its matted tail
like it was running to be someone’s dog
and if it was one minute late they’d know it was a deep down bad dog
and beat it with a wooden spoon
so hard they’d splinter
the spoon across its back.

Ketchum started to cry.

Jimmy flipped himself up, grabbed his hunting knife.
Was that Old Man Graham’s dog?

Naw, I lied. Old Man Graham’s got a mean old dog with three teeth.
Two more teeth than Old Man Graham’s got.
I never saw that dog before.

Lizbeth-Ann stumbled out to the road – a little slow, like her mother.
She stared like she stares when she thinks
maybe her daddy’s coming home.
Someone make that dog get back here right now.

Jimmy pointed his knife.
It’s my dog.
I’ll kill anyone who hurts it.

We all squinted till the shadows down the road
stopped looking like a dog.

Lizbeth-Ann decorated her garden with stones.
Jimmy stabbed his knife into the dirt.
Ketchum dropped down on all fours and howled.

I watched the road,
praying that dog would never turn around,
wondering how it ever got away from Old Man Graham
and when it would ever stop running.

260 creepy woods

FIRST PRIZE:
We Find A Severed Thumb In The Woods
by Michael Conley

The thumb nestles
in a pile of wet leaves,
real as a joke thumb.

Lying either side of it,
we play
who dares get their tongue closest.

Interesting, this cleanly carved flesh,
this pea sized dot
of crosssectioned bone.

It mightn’t be a thumb after all;
could be a stubby finger.
It’s hard to tell

without the context of a hand.
You are winning; your tongue
is practically touching it. Why

do we always end up
competing like this?
We are grown men.

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(Photo credits: one, two, three, four, five)

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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!

Typewriters: they’re awesome and you should get one.

Monday, November 11th, 2013

A version of this post first appeared at One Night Stanzas in December 2008. (Back then the first line said “at this moment I have five manual typewriters.” Erm…)

Guilty secret: I am obsessed with typewriters. At this moment I have thirty-one manual typewriters, including my latest acquisition, a freakin’ gorgeous Olivetti Valentine. Why am I so obsessed with typewriters? Well, they’re noisy, heavy, impractical and difficult to use, but they’re also the ultimate poet’s accessory. Allen Ginsberg hauled a massive Underwood 5 around with him; William Burroughs typed on his own namesake, and was The Good Doctor ever without his trusty IBM SElectric…?

Why should I get a typewriter?
Well, I’ll be honest with you… if you think you’re going to be sitting down to write a 600 page novel on your manual typewriter, you might want to think again. It doesn’t matter what you do (Margaret Atwood apparently used to sit her typewriter on top of a wad of newspapers), it’s going to be noisy. It’s also going to be a pain in the butt to type on, particularly if you’re used to the feather-light keys of a laptop! Around about 1950, typewriter manufacturers started to advertise “noiseless” and “light touch” typewriter models, but even these are pretty cumbersome. You also have the typo issue - there’s no room for error with a manual typewriter, unless you’re cool with crossings-out and tippex! So if you’re planning on doing any serious writing, you might want to consider an electric… quieter, zippier and generally easier to work with.
However, electric typewriters are nowhere near as cool, and in a world where everyone has some kind of word-processor, a typewriter’s main appeal is its cool factor! Personally, I think manual typewriters are incredibly beautiful — I have mine sitting around my house making the place look pretty. They’re also a serious feat of engineering… try opening one up some time and inspecting all the weights and springs. A manual typewriter makes a laptop look boring.

How can I get hold of one?
Manual typewriters are ten-a-penny if you’re not fussy about make and model, so you don’t need to look to far to find one. Try checking out thrift stores or flea markets and see what you can find, or click around on eBay. There’s a whole load of choice out there so have a look around and find a typewriter you love — if you’re into the older, clunkier ones, eBay might be the place. But post-1960 typewriters turn up regularly in charity shops and at jumble sales and the like. I inherited my Smith Corona from my Dad, but all my other typewriters have come from junk shops and thrift stores.

What should I be looking for?
Well, when I buy a typewriter I’m usually after something that looks nice, and if it’s in its proper case and works that’s an added bonus. But you might want to check that all the parts are there — sometimes typewriters can be missing covers, bases, feet, or bits and pieces from the outer bodywork. It’s not necessarily a tragedy if these things aren’t there but you can sometimes haggle the price down a bit. If you want the typewriter in full working order, you need to check a few things:

- The space bar. On manual typewriters, the space bar is often operated by a weight system which pulls the cartridge along on a string. If you press the space bar and the cartridge doesn’t move along, it might be that the string has snapped. This is tricky to fix yourself (trust me, I’ve tried) and you might have to get an expert to take a look. So bear in mind that this could cost money!

- The ribbon feeder. Second hand typewriters have often been sitting unused for years, so more often than not their ribbons dry out. However, even if the ribbon has no ink in it, you should try typing a few words and pay attention to the ribbon movement. Does it move along through the spools? If it sticks or clogs, you can usually fix it yourself, but it’s worth checking. If your chosen typewriter has no ribbon fitted, you’ll need to find out what ribbon it takes, either by asking the seller or by doing some online research. It’s hard to find a replacement ribbon if you don’t know the right type.

- All the keys. One of the most common faults on old manual typewriters is the ‘capslock’ key, which is usually just connects to a little hook in the mechanism that locks the shift key down. This hook can wear out and stop sticking on. Other keys to check are the lesser-used ones - the numbers and symbols, but also the tab key, which should shuttle the cartridge along. But the best thing to do is just to try them all!

- The cartridge itself. Just check that it does move back and forth and doesn’t stick anywhere. Again, the movement of the cartridge is directly connected to the string-and-weight system, so if it doesn’t work it might cost you £££ to fix.

- Other things you might want to do: pick the typewriter up (sometimes the bottom will drop off or parts will drop out!), feed a piece of paper through (the rollers can be very dirty or can stick), test the carrying case (the last thing you want is the case breaking open and the typewriter smashing on the way home!) and look into the mechanism (sure, you might not know what you’re looking at, but if there are springs, strings or shards of metal sticking out, you might need to worry).

Obviously if you’re buying from eBay, you can’t do this stuff yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask your seller for all this information, and if you’re even slightly worried about the condition, look elsewhere! (I’ve found that eBay sellers tend to be sincere and honest and quite willing to deal with queries like this, so don’t worry too much about asking.)

Ginsberg & typewriters
Some of my babies.

What should I be paying for a typewriter?
Prices vary massively with manual typewriters, but if the typewriter you’re looking at is post-1960, chances are it is not rare or expensive. You have to remember that typewriters were the laptops of the 50s, 60s and 70s — everyone had one, so if anyone tries to tell you that they’re “rare,” you might want to be suspicious. Wartime and pre-war typewriters are less common and perhaps more valuable, but again, you shouldn’t really be paying too much unless your typewriter is something really special. Things you might need to pay more for include:

- Wooden casings. Typewriters with wooden bodies are quite unusual - metal, bakelite or plastic is much more common so a wooden typewriter is a rare typewriter.

- Unusual colours. Some typewriter manufacturers brought out special editions in weird and wonderful colours. In pre-1960 typewriters, colour might be an expense factor (but post-1960 it was pretty common for typewriters to be colourful, particularly if they were plastic) — look out for dark green or dark red casings.

- Leather embellishments. Another feature of special edition typewriters.

- Iconic typewriters. The Underwood 5 is reasonably common but it’s also iconic. People will part with quite a lot of cash for a nice one. Similarly the aforementioned Valentine, which is a coveted design icon… though I got mine for fifty quid in a charity shop!

- A foreign language. If you come across a typewriter whose keys are cyrillic or in another language, it might be worth a bit more.

Just be careful - don’t be ripped off. For just about any post-1960 typewriter, you shouldn’t be paying more than £30. I’d even say that in 99% of cases, you probably shouldn’t be paying more than £20. The most I’ve ever paid, apart from my Valentine, was £15 for my blue bakelite Imperial, and I think I might even have been ripped off a bit there! For a pre-1960 typewriter, keep a limit of £30-£50 or so, unless your typewriter is something special.
If you think you might need to spend money on renovating or cleaning your typewriter, try and haggle the price down! I once found a wartime metal typewriter in a charity store which had a £50 price tag on it, but which had been sitting in a chicken shed for decades… and it was full of feathers and chicken poo! I told the store that I’d need to spend money on cleaning it and I’d give them £35, but they wouldn’t haggle. It certainly wasn’t worth £50, so I left it… don’t be conned!

What if I’m buying on eBay?
eBay sellers can be a bit cheeky with their prices, and on eBay you can’t haggle. Just don’t get carried away in a bidding war — you really don’t need to pay over the odds. Bear in mind also that you’ll have to pay to have the typewriter delivered, and this can cost a huge amount, as typewriters are heavy things! They’re also fragile things, so if you want yours in proper working order, you might want to think twice about having it flown across the world… particularly if it doesn’t come with its own carrying case. Many people will opt for surface shipping rather than airmail with an item like a typewriter, too - it’s cheaper and gentler, but it does take a lot, lot longer… we’re talking months! And there can be problems when it comes to getting typewriters across borders — many older typewriters have keys made of or containing ivory, and if you try to ship ivory into the USA for example, it can end up just being destroyed by customs officials. So online shopping is a bit of a minefield… don’t be afraid to do some research and ask your seller questions about these issues!

What can I do with my typewriter once I’ve got it?
Well, despite the fact that they’re noisy and heavy, they can still make pretty sweet writing machines. If you just want to write letters, or the odd short, sweet poem, they’re perfect. They also make awesome ornaments and I often use mine to stick photos or paperwork in. I have a friend who used to use a heavy old typewriter (don’t worry, it was in a fairly serious state of disrepair when she got it!) as a doorstop. If you want, you can dismantle your typewriter (just make sure it’s not worth major £££ first!!) and turn it into all sorts of stuff… look around on Etsy and you’ll find jewellery, mobiles, paperweights, bookmarks, sculptures and artwork, all made out of typewriter parts! Typewriters are also useful things to have around if you’re into Steampunk.

Something I always like to do when I buy a new typewriter is get on the internet and do some research. It’s great to find out when your typewriter was made and what it might have been used for… maybe a famous writer used the same kind of typewriter as you, or perhaps it was popular among chic 50s office workers. I’m always fascinated by this stuff and there are heaps of typewriter-related sites to help you find out all about your typewriter!

What kind of typewriter(s) do you have? How much did you spend, and where did it come from? Anyone have a cool typewriter tale to tell? I want to hear it!

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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)

Thought for the day:

Monday, October 28th, 2013

Courtesy of Scott Ginsberg, via Twitter.

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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!

Making It Home: my photos, my thank yous, and the project films

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Sheena, Making it Home at the Scottish Storytelling Centre

The Making It Home Project officially “ended” in June 2013 (I put “ended” in quotemarks because of course such a project never ends — our films are still being seen by interested eyeballs and there are still ideas for events and other exciting follow-up things in the works. Hopefully more on that soon!). I’d meant to write this post then, as things wrapped up. Then life got in the way, as life likes to do. But I didn’t forget about the post…

Mainly, I wanted to share some of the photos I took at the various MIH events in June, when we took our inspiring band of powerhouse women on the road to showcase their work. For folks not involved in the project, these just look like photos of people… but they’re a testament to the great achievements of everyone involved in the project.

Up at the top there, for example, is Sheena, one of our fabulous filmmaking women. In the photo, she’s addressing the Scottish Storytelling Centre’s cinema/lecture theatre, full of folks who came to their screening of our films. In this photo, she looks like the world expert in her field… because she is. All the women who took part in our project can now call themselves experts in the field of filmmaking. How cool is that?

Making it Home at the Scottish Storytelling Centre

Making it Home at the Scottish Storytelling Centre

Sheena and Stacey, Making it Home Farewell Party at NEA

Some of our women hanging out at our various events. Only a year ago they’d never met, and many of them were daunted by the prospect of working together, especially when filmmaking was such an unknown quantity. In next to no time, however, they formed a hugely productive creative community, achieving gobsmacking things. They — heck, we! I include myself here 100%! — have also formed friendships that, I hope, will last lifetimes. I want to thank all of them equally for their hard work, their courage in the face of the scary cameras and sometimes-tricky conversations, and the wicked humour and energy they deployed throughout. You guys made films that changed the way people (myself included) looked at the world. AMAZING!

Rema, Making it Home at the Scottish Storytelling Centre

Here’s Rema Sherifi, who’s of the most impressive women I have ever met. (Seriously. Just look at her story.) Rema runs the Maryhill Integration Network, where she’s made a difference to hundreds of lives. Without Rema’s expert guidance and great wisdom, our project could never have happened.

Esa, Making it Home at the Scottish Storytelling Centre

Here’s Esa Aldegheri, our brilliant project leader and another super inspiring woman! Throughout the project, she’s been a quiet but vital presence, doing constant hard work behind the scenes, tirelessly plotting and preparing so that the rest of us could carry out our work with minimal disruption. I wish I had even a tenth of her patience and calm… I’m basically convinced that Esa could (and should) run the world! Can we make this happen, please?

Lynda and Vilte, Making it Home Farewell Party at NEA

Lynda Peachey (left) was my closest “co-worker” on the project, and basically, my rock (I mean it) whenever things went wrong. She was always ready with a cup of tea, a filthy joke, or some sage advice whenever and wherever it was needed. She was also there with hugs and smiles when things went right, which is just as important! I’m starting to keep a mental list of the various Wise Women in my life, and Lynda tops that list.
And Vilte Vaitkute (right) is just a sickmakingly talented filmmaker and facilitator of all-things-film-related. While the rest of us get all nostalgic about this great project coming to a close, Vilte’s still working hard to keep our films in circulation, and to get new eyeballs in all sorts of exciting places to see them. Her colleague Catherine Weir — who managed to avoid all my photos! — also deserves tons of credit for this work. They’re a fearsome and brilliant team!

Jane, Making it Home at the Scottish Storytelling Centre

A few more fine folks who deserve praise: first up, Jane McKie, who some of you may already know as a bloody excellent poet, winner of the Edwin Morgan Poetry Prize and all sorts of other accolades. Jane worked as my opposite number on the project, working her magic in Maryhill while I kept an eye on things in Pilton. I feel really privileged to have worked with such a fine poet and such a genuinely lovely person. Thank you, Jane!

Rachel, Making it Home at the Scottish Storytelling Centre

Next up, Rachel Farrier — who looks like a 1940s movie star all the time, incidentally, not just in this photo! Rachel was another vital presence on the project, working away tirelessly to make our lives as straightforward as possible. She also co-ordinated much of our events tour in June, and got loads of real actual human beings to come and sit in seats and watch the films the women made. Massive props to her partner in crime David Farrier, too — another person who apparently avoided my camera at all times, but who deserves to be warmly thanked and celebrated here nevertheless!

Lucinda, Making it Home Farewell Party at NEA

Lucinda Broadbent is another of these women who’s so impressive you feel like you ought to be a bit frightened of them. Look at all the amazing stuff she’s done! However, being frightened of someone so warm and smiley is rather tricky. Instead you just feel chuffed to have met and worked with such a total pro.

Sheena and Stacey speak at the Making it Home Farewell Party at NEA

And last but by no means least is Alison Hughes, who was at my side almost every minute of the project, making sure that the women and I had all the help and support we needed. Without Alison’s presence, I would have felt considerably less confident in our various workshops and discussion sessions — lady, you really were invaluable. (PS: Alison is also a GREAT yoga teacher, and if you’re in Edinburgh, you should go to her classes!)

Finally, I need to thank everyone else who was even vaguely involved with making this project work — staff from Maryhill Integration Network and the Pilton Community Health Project; all the folks from our partner organisations who aren’t mentioned here; Alan Lennon, and all our Sponsume donors, who helped make our book a reality… and any friend or family member who supported anyone involved as we worked through our exhausting and rewarding year!

Ahlam, Augusta, Lucinda and the MIH posse, Making it Home Farewell Party at NEA

Here we all are, dancing with proper, unfettered joy at our final screening and farewell bash. If you’ve read this far, you surely want to see what all the fuss is about… please do scroll down and take the time to watch the four films that the fabulous folks above all worked incredibly hard to create. (You can also watch the Making Of Making It Home right down at the bottom.) If you like what you see — if these films make you laugh, cry, think differently about the world — please do pass them on, share them, and widen the conversation. The wonderful women of Making It Home made these films for you. I hope you love them.


“The Shortest and Sweetest of Songs,” by Team Sami, Maryhill


“It Could Happen To You,” by the Dream Team, Pilton


“Choice,” by Team Choice, Maryhill


“Come Home,” by The Sweeties, Pilton


The Making of Making It Home

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, our sister site. 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!

Dear Poetry Newbies: quit procrastinating!

Monday, January 14th, 2013

An earlier version of this post appeared at One Night Stanzas in September 2008.

Procrastination. You know, that thing where re-cataloguing your record collection or washing all the skirting-boards in your house suddenly seems really important? Here’s how to beat it.

1: Start.
When you have a task or tasks that you’re avoiding, for whatever reason, it’s often just the thought of getting started that’s daunting. It may be hard to do, but just sit down, shove everything else out of your mind, and start. Even if you can only write a title, or the first sentence, it’s something… you’ve given yourself something to work from. Get something done; knowing you’ve started can make all the difference, because that task is no longer “to do”, it’s “in progress” instead.

2: Make a timetable.
When I had my PhD thesis to write, I found I couldn’t empty my head of all the other stuff that I “should” be doing — laundry that I’d previously been happy to leave spilling over the top of the washing-basket, sorting out my bank-statements, writing to people I hadn’t been in touch with for years, etc. Of course, none of these things were essential, but my brain wouldn’t let me focus on my essay-writing until I’d removed these distractions. In the end, I made myself a timetable. I wrote up a mental list of all the “other stuff” I needed to do, and then spent a full morning completing these tasks. At 1pm sharp, forced myself to start writing. And eventually, I’d get into it… or maybe I just ran out of “other stuff.”

3: Unplug the internet.
Just about anyone you ask will tell you that the internet is one of the worst distractions there is. It doesn’t just eat into your writing time… all too often it disguises itself as a writing “aid”, so you feel justified in surfing when you should be working. If you’re reading writing blogs or other people’s poems, then surely that’s just research, right? That’s just helping? But you know, deep down, that it’s just not true.
Stop it! Pull the plug! Disconnect your internet… or move to another room, the garden, or anywhere out of range! If you don’t need the internet to do what you’re doing (and chances are, you really don’t), then there’s no reason for it to be accessible. For some people this feels like severing an arm, but try it, and see what a difference it can make!

4: Bitesize it.
As a tutor, I constantly get pupils complaining that they can’t concentrate for long enough to get their revision done properly, and I always send them in the direction of Bitesize. You can browse it by a subject - say, English Lit - and it will break your subject down into its modules: in this case, Reading, Close Reading, Speaking, Writing etc. The students find that it makes their essay-writing and revision sessions so much easier, because they are given managable amounts of work to do at once.
When you find yourself procrastinating, you have to do the same thing. Think about your task. Do you need to write an essay, put together a poem, do some editing? Think about how you could split the task into several smaller tasks. Could you edit a stanza at a time? Write your essay paragraph by paragraph? Doing something slowly is better than doing nothing at all.

5: Don’t go it alone.
You might think that having other people around would be even more distracting, but in fact, working in someone else’s presence can really focus you. Get together, have a cup of tea, talk things over, and then get to work. If someone else is keeping an eye on you, you’re less likely to leap up and say “I think I might just wash the car / clean out the kitchen cupboards / bake a cake” or whatever… and if the other person is working away diligently, you’ll feel the need to keep up. If you can’t concentrate with someone else sitting next to you, or if you can’t find anyone who’s willing to come and work too, just get your partner to look in on you every so often to see if you’re still working, or get a friend to text you for a word-count at the top of each hour. It might feel a bit like being in detention, but it’ll keep you going!

6: Take breaks.
I nag and nag and nag my students constantly about this. Your brain only works at its best for 45 minutes at a time… after that, your concentration starts to flag and the task you’re working on gets less and less of your attention. For that reason, you should only ever work for one full hour maximum before you take a break… and your break should be a proper break, where you set aside at least ten minutes to do something other than the task at hand. Not taking breaks can encourage procrastination, because if you work and work until you’re sick and tired of working, eventually you’re going to get to a point where you walk away from your task and don’t go back to it.

7: Go against your habits.
You may not like working in the evening (or in the morning, afternoon, whenever), but that’s tough luck if your deadline is looming. Your favourite library or internet cafe may be closed, your favourite writing pen might have run out. Deal with it! Don’t let these things become excuses not to complete your task! Procrastination is pressure enough without you placing further limitations on yourself. Even if you do have to work in the evening / in your living room / with a different pen, you’ll be glad you soldiered through once the task is finished!

8: Give yourself an incentive.
For some people, just the idea of getting a project finished is incentive enough. However, telling yourself that “eventually I will have a finished poem” or “some day I will get paid for this commission” or “perhaps this poem will get into a magazine once I edit it” might not be enough to get you worked up to the task. If so, you need some incentive, so think of a way to reward yourself once you’re done. Resolve to treat yourself to a takeaway, a long soak in the bath, a new book or whatever you think will make it all feel a bit more worthwhile. Sit down to work with your reward in mind, and you may well find that you suddenly feel more like putting your nose to the grindstone. No cheating though - don’t let yourself dial for a pizza or step into a bookshop before you’re done. Get the task finished… and then you can mix the relief of finishing with the sweet taste of a celebratory tub of Ben and Jerry’s!

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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. 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)

A To Do List For 2013: Why, how, and what.

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

An earlier version of this post appeared at One Night Stanzas in December 2008.

OK, as regular readers might have noticed, I am an obsessive list-maker. I make time for a Love List and a Link Love List every week, and New Year is my favourite time — it’s all about wishing and hoping, planning and dreaming, as Dusty would’ve said (or rather, mimed hideously!). I’ve been reading a lot of articles recently rubbishing this kind of thing, but forget it — I am a typical dreamy Pisces, and I need to organise myself well in advance. So I will still be making New Year’s Resolutions (though only ones I know I can keep!), and I’ll also be writing a 2013 To Do List.

Why should I write a To Do List for the whole year?

Well, everyone writes To Do Lists from time to time, no matter how well organised they are… usually when they have a lot on, and it’s important that they get everything done. Well, apply that kind of thinking to a whole year — how much stuff will you have to deal with between now and December 31st next year? Surely it’s a good idea to have a bit of a plan before you start, in order to hit the ground running. You can never be too organised.
Also, a year might seem like a long time but as we all know, you get to Christmas every year and inevitably find yourself commenting on how it only seems like five minutes since it was January. This is why it’s not only important to write down all the achievements of the past year, but also to get ready for the next one, to make sure that the 365 fleeting days are well-spent. Here’s a fact for you: if you write down your goals, you are more likely to achieve them, so To Do Lists are NOT a waste of time. If there’s something you really want to achieve in the next 12 months, write it down now… it could make the difference between success and failure.

How should I do it?

Prioritise: Maybe you have some goals that you’re desperate to achieve — getting really good exam results, for example. Maybe there are others that aren’t so vital — you’d really like to get your poetry published in a certain place, for example, but if it doesn’t happen you won’t be totally devasted. And maybe you just have some odd little whims that you can take or leave but might try out at some point…
A good idea might be to write three separate lists, or divide your list into three ’sections’ according to your priorities. Don’t sweat the small stuff — but at the same time, don’t forget it either. Put the biggest want for 2013 at the very top of the list in big letters, and keep the airy whims for the end.

Be realistic: Don’t clutter up your To Do List with things that you know aren’t achieveable in the next year. If you start too big you’ll end up disappointed with yourself at the end of the year when you find you haven’t reached you goal — remember, as I said, a year isn’t as long as it seems! If you have a big goal like saving up for a house or writing and publishing an epic six-part novel, you might want to make a separate list for the next five years, ten years or whatever. You can also put slightly silly goals like “note to self: win the lottery” on a fantasy To Do List if you like… just keep them off the serious list!

Expand: If you have a goal but aren’t sure how you’re going to achieve it, you can turn your list into more of a plan. If your goal is to travel for six months, for example, you can note down the steps you think you’ll need to take to get there… “get job / open savings account / save up and stop buying notebooks obsessively (confession!) / book flights in advance” etc. A great big goal can seem a bit scary and unrealistic, but break it down into smaller steps and it will seem less intimidating and easier to achieve.

Share: You might not want to let other people in on your cunning plan for world domination, but showing your To Do List to someone else can make you more likely to get where you want to be. Proving to someone else that you can do it gives you added incentive, and having someone to talk to if the going gets rough is always useful. If you’re feeling shy, just show your best friend or a family member who won’t snigger at the fact that your ambition for the year is to become a professional Cliff Richard impersonator or whatever… or if you’re more confident, get thee to your blog, or better still, spread the To Do List idea around your friends. If they also draw one up you can compare notes and keep one another going!

Display: Once you’ve written your To Do List, don’t just stuff it in a drawer or squirrel it away in a dusty old file on your computer desktop. Put it somewhere you’ll see it often, and make sure you check back every so often to see how you’re doing. It may sound daft, but crossing another thing off your list brings a real sense of achievement, AND if you get to the end of the year with everything crossed off, how awesome is it going to feel?? If your To Do List is out in the open you can also update it as more ideas and ambitions hit you during the year… and this humble piece of paper will serve as a cool memento of the fabulous 12 months you’ve finally put behind you once you get to New Year 2010!

What should I put on my To Do List?

Anything you want. The important thing is that, if you think you can achieve it in a year, you should put it down, regardless of how daft it might seem. If you’re worried about other people thinking you’re nuts, you don’t have to show the list to anyone… and if you end up not achieving the big goal for the year, you can transfer it to next year’s list instead. Nothing is too small for the list, and nothing is too vague. “Finish reading the last Harry Potter” is just as acceptable as “Conquer Finnegan’s Wake,” and “be more confident,” might seem very general, but putting it down on paper is the first step towards getting it done.

Note! The To Do List you make is there to be scribbled all over, torn to bits and stuck together again or chucked on the fire if you so wish. Don’t write it and then assume it’s set in stone. You can add things at a later date, remove things if you change your mind, and tear it up and start again in August if you find your priorities shifting massively. You’re not writing a personal Bible or anything, you’re just visualising goals, which is the first step on the road to achieving them. If, halfway down that road, those goals don’t seem as appealing anymore, no worries. The whole point of the To Do List is that it can — and probably should — evolve. Happy listing!

What’s on YOUR To Do List for 2013?

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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. 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)

In 2012, I…

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

2012 journal... nearly done!

You may remember my admission here, in January, that 2011 had not been a very good year. I wrote here — and in my paper journal — that I wanted to reclaim my life from work-related stress and insomnia. I also wrote in my paper journal that I wanted to extricate myself from the politics and cliques of the poetry community (locally and online), and just write. It took a while — nearly all year, with the latter — but I feel like I can now say I managed to do those things. 2012 was a good year, all told. Here’s some of the stuff that happened.

In 2012, I…

* worked as a reader for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for the fourth year running.

* won a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award, and am about to begin — quite belatedly, which was my choice — my programme of creative mentoring.

* spent two great weekends in York early in the year, and remembered how much I loved it. Going back soon!

* moved from a 0.7PTE contract at work to a 0.5PTE contract, as part of my “reclaim my life!” challenge. Less teaching hours, less office politics, more free time, less stress (also less money, obv, but that’s OK).

* moved into the third year of studying for my PhD in Creative Writing. Switched to a brand new thesis topic for the third time. Probably drove my supervisor crazy.

* delivered a lecture, “Making Poems, Writing Histories, Excavating Myths”, to the Melrose Literary Society.

* went vegan, and I love it.

* scored an amazing haul of SEVENTEEN antique typewriters on Freegle! (Still haven’t got round to starting restoration/reclamation work on most of them…)

* organised an all-female poetry slam to celebrate International Women’s Day 2012. It went really well!

* celebrated my 26th birthday with not one but TWO birthday parties: one a nom-tastic vegan dinner at Zeffirelli’s with my family, the other a fabulous few rounds of cocktails at The Dome with friends. Yay!

* attended the Scottish Women’s Aid Feminist Day School at the University of Edinburgh, and was inspired.

* was shortlisted for an Eric Gregory Award for a second time (first time was 2010. I forgot to enter in 2011).

* competed in Literary Death Match (Edinburgh, ep 4) AND FREAKING WELL WON!

* spent a week in beautiful Barcelona, and totally fell in love with the place.

* spent a weekend training to become a Scottish Women’s Aid Community Champion. Possibly the most empowering weekend of my life so far!

* performed in “Dear Glasgow,” directed by David Grieg, at the Traverse Theatre.

* read poems in a magical launderette in Durham!

* spent a long weekend in gorgeous Whitby — surely the most literary seaside resort there is? — with Lovely Boyfriend.

* was introduced to The West Wing, fell in love, and watched all seven series in the space of a few weeks.

* spent ten days in Greece while One Night Stanzas was on hiatus. Visited Athens, and spent a week in a one-room cold-water whitewashed cottage on the tiny island of Hydra. Here’s the view from our room! We went swimming at daybreak, befriended donkeys, made lots of delicious vegan food, and spent tons of time writing, writing, writing. It was great.

* taught Creative Writing at the Scottish Universities International Summer School for the third consecutive year. My wonderful students were Dan, Linda, Sarah, Joanna, Daniel and Jill. You guys were fab!

* had a poem shortlisted in the Mslexia Women’s Poetry Contest.

* went to see George Watsky on the London leg of his Nothing Like The First Time tour. Also spent a fabby weekend hanging out in London!

* organised and hosted One Night Stanzas presents Watskyx2 — definitely my biggest and scariest moment as a poetry promoter! But it went SO WELL, yay!

* went to a ton of great stuff at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, including Louise Welsh, Andrew Keen, Alice Oswald’s Memorial event (OMG!), Daniel Franklin launching Megachange, Billy Letford & Sean Borodale and Marina Warner (who I also saw at the International Festival, ’cause I’m a fangirl).

* read poems at Blackwells: Writers at the Fringe.

* attended a discussion that included the amazing Jean Kilbourne, personal superheroine of mine, and met her afterwards! Swoon!

* was employed as a creative facilitator with a local women’s community support group (details redacted!), and I am loving working with these amazing women as they read poems, share stories and unlock their creativity!

* joined the Shore Poets committee and became their blogging/tweeting/Facebooking person, among other things!

* survived root canal surgery!

* got tattooed (again).

* went to beautiful Paris for the weekend with Lovely Boyfriend to celebrate our two-year anniversary!

* helped run Scottish Women’s Aid’s I GET IT campaign, spreading positive messages about healthy relationships to young people aged between 16 and 25.

* wrote articles and reviews for The Skinny, xoJane (two, in fact), the Edinburgh Review (again, two! One’s online here) and The Scottish Review of Books.

* had three poems included in Where Rockets Burn Through: Contemporary Science Fiction Poetry from the UK

* spent an amazing day at the Maryhill Integration Network in Glasgow, meeting incredible, inspiring women, and being treated to a crash-course in filmmaking, a fashion show, a dance recital and a ton of delicious food!

Favourite photos from this year:

Vegan Noms (1)
Just one of the many millions of photos I took of delicious vegan breakfast/brunch food. I obtained this book upon becoming vegan and it changed my world!

Lovely Boyfriend
Lovely Boyfriend being lovely.

Hooping in the Meadows
I will remember summer 2012 as the summer of hooping in the park with my sister!

Rainbows over Tollcross
I love living in Tollcross — and my top floor, bay-window view! — so, so much.

My SUISS class of 2012
My fantabulous SUISS Class of 2012!

Watsky x2 performers
All the lovely performers from One Night Stanzas presents Watskyx2! Such talent!

Lit 101 students' work
Just when I’m feeling down and crap, along come my amazing students to make me feel inspired again.

Parisian adventures
♡ ♡ ♡

Insane family portrait...
A loopy family portrait.

Poetree
Visiting the jaw-droppingly gorgeous GiftED sculptures.

Glitterowl
& Christmas comes to ONS Towers!

It’s been a great year. I feel I am a million miles away from the place I was in this time last year — phew! I am also extremely excited about 2013 and all that it holds for me. I plan to finish my PhD, put together my first full-length poetry collection (at last!), get more tattoos (yeah!), and start work on a ton of exciting new projects. Wish me luck!

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

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You can also visit Read This Press for poetry and typewriter paraphernalia! Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. 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!

Monday, December 24th, 2012