Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

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

Saturday, April 16th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Stella!

*

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

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

In 2015, I…

Friday, January 1st, 2016

Happy New Year !
(Photo credit)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few final highlights…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October adventures (39)
With my handsome man <3

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

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

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

What did YOU get up to this year?

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

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

Edinburgh Vintage Christmas gift guide.. and Black Friday extended sale!

Saturday, November 28th, 2015

Hey friends!

If you haven’t noticed by now that I run a small business, then I strongly suspect you’ve been secretly living on the moon. Being a writer is great and all, but I am a firm believer that no self employed girl should be without a healthy side-business. Mine is Edinburgh Vintage, a small-but-perfectly-formed online shop that supplies vintage and antique jewellery and collectables to suit just about every taste.

I hate to tell you this, but it’s nearly December, which means that if you haven’t yet started your Christmas shopping, you should at least be planning it! And it just so happens that I am having an extended BLACK FRIDAY SALE (I know, like everyone in the world) over at Edinburgh Vintage. You get 20% off if you use the code SPARKLYTHINGS at checkout.

Here are just a few of the goodies on offer in the Edinburgh Vintage store:

Christmas gift ideas at Edinburgh Vintage
Everyone likes coffee, right? Writers certainly do. This coffee bean pendant is hallmarked sterling silver and, I reckon, a good unisex gift.

Christmas gift ideas at Edinburgh Vintage
Or, if you’re after something a little more classy, you could go for this art deco style pendant, which is also hallmarked sterling silver, and inlaid with three colours of amber, and a little triangle of Whitby jet.

Christmas gift ideas at Edinburgh Vintage
This wee daisy ring is hallmarked sterling silver too, and inlaid with faceted amethysts.

Christmas gift ideas at Edinburgh Vintage
Everyone needs a sterling silver charm bracelet: it’s a classic jewellery staple. I have a couple in the shop at the moment, but this one’s a particularly nice example.

Christmas gift ideas at Edinburgh Vintage
And of course, once you’ve got the jewellery, you need to keep it tidy! Here’s a kitty

Christmas gift ideas at Edinburgh Vintage
…or you could go for an elegant swan.

Christmas gift ideas at Edinburgh Vintage
Maybe you’re more of an earrings person?

Christmas gift ideas at Edinburgh Vintage
Or a sparkly brooch person? (Who isn’t a sparkly brooch person?)

Christmas gift ideas at Edinburgh Vintage
I’m rather in love with the selection of cross stitch pieces I have in at the moment. They include this black one

Christmas gift ideas at Edinburgh Vintage
…and this little tiny gold one.

Christmas gift ideas at Edinburgh Vintage
Or for something completely different: something to keep your mince pies in?

Christmas gift ideas at Edinburgh Vintage
Another one for the cat fans! (Sterling silver, natch!)

Christmas gift ideas at Edinburgh Vintage
…and again!

Christmas gift ideas at Edinburgh Vintage
…and again! (These are Italian hand-painted terracotta!)

Christmas gift ideas at Edinburgh Vintage
Maybe you like the whole earring thing, but you need clip-ons? I have plenty of those, too!

Christmas gift ideas at Edinburgh Vintage
Also clip ons, but with a bit more Christmas sparkle!

Christmas gift ideas at Edinburgh Vintage
Or a little something nautical? This tiny pin can also be converted into a pendant!

Christmas gift ideas at Edinburgh Vintage
I just really like this little commitment ring.

Christmas gift ideas at Edinburgh Vintage
And everyone needs a good show-stopper of a sparkly brooch at Christmas!

Happy shopping! And remember to use SPARKLYTHINGS at checkout!

In conversation with Sepideh Jodeyri

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Sepideh Jodeyri
Photo taken by Mehran Haddadi, used with permission from Sepideh Jodeyri.

A couple of weeks ago, I was very lucky to be invited to meet the Iranian poet Sepideh Jodeyri. You can read more about her remarkable life and work below, but the short version is, she’s an Iranian poet who’s been forced into exile in Europe. In order to keep writing poetry and literary criticism freely, and without censorship, she had to move to Italy, and then to Prague. Scottish PEN were able to invite her to Scotland for a brief visit at the end of October, to talk about her life in writing, and to perform at a few events, including Shore Poets October.

Sepideh Jodeyri at Shore Poets October (9)Sepideh Jodeyri at Shore Poets October (9)
Sepideh at Shore Poets.

As part of her visit, Sepideh kindly agreed to record a podcast with Scottish PEN, in which she talked about the tradition of reading and writing poetry in Iran, about her own experiences as a poet, contest judge and literary critic, and about some of the problems faced by writers living in exile. I feel privileged to have been invited to be part of this podcast, too — I spoke about the ways in which living in Scotland is a privilege for writers; but also about the ways in which we can still extend freedom of expression to include better opportunities for minority writers, especially transgender writers.

You can listen to the podcast, which was ably chaired by the brilliant Sasha de Buyl, here.

In the podcast, Sepideh mentions that very few of her poems are currently published in English. I offered to rectify this by featuring a translation of one of her pieces right here on ONS. Here’s the piece she sent me. At the bottom is a bit of biographical info, to provide just a snapshot of Sepideh’s amazing writing life so far. Enjoy… and if you want to support the work of Scottish PEN, you can start by following their Twitter, or you can become a member at their site.

*

Fire, take a step…
A poem by Sepideh Jodeyri
Translated by Sholeh Wolpe

Saturday:
The newspapers will read:
That day

you will put your letters

in front of a gun

and then,

fire; take a step.

*

Sunday:
It’s hot,

the sun

shoves us away

and we know by heart

the farthest color in the rainbow.

Fire; then a step. 

*

Wednesday:
(The newspapers will read:)
It’s hot, 

and God

shoves us away.

It’s as if your letters 

see double;

as if

fourteen colors?!

*

Saturday:
It’s hot, 

the letters 

shove us away.
Fire; then a step
towards the war!

*

Sepideh Jodeyri is an Iranian poet, literary critic, translator and journalist. She has published numerous books in Iran, including five poetry collections, a collection of short stories and an anthology of poems. Her articles and interviews have been published in Iranian newspapers and magazines as well as European ones. She has also translated poetry books by Edgar Allan Poe and Jorge Luis Borges as well as the graphic novel, Blue is the warmest color by Julie Maroh into Persian.

In 2008, Sepideh founded the Khorshid Prize, a feminist literary prize for Iranian women writers. The award included prize money equivalent to around 1,050 euros. The Khorshid Prize ran for four years until it was declared banned after Jodeyri left the country in 2011. The chairwoman who took over the prize, and one of their sponsors, were subsequently interrogated by Iran’s intelligence service agents.

In the aftermath of the highly contested 2009 presidential election in Iran, which resulted in the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2009-2013), Sepideh spoke publicly in support of the Iranian pro-democracy movement (known as Iranian Green Movement). Shortly after, her works were banned in Iran, and some of her close friends put in prison, forcing her to leave the country and move to Italy in February 2011. She stayed for two years in Italy as the guest writer of ICORN. Sepideh, her husband and her son currently live in Prague, Czech Republic.

Sepideh Jodeyri at Shore Poets October (9)
Sepideh at Shore Poets.

My involvement in this podcast was made possible by Creative Scotland’s Open Project Fund, who have allocated a small grant to allow me to develop my work during the period January 2015 to February 2016. Thank you, Creative Scotland!

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

Friday, October 30th, 2015

Vegan pumpkin pie!
This post has appeared at One Night Stanzas every Halloween since 2012. It’s now a ONS tradition!. But it’s Halloween, so you need a pumpkin pie recipe… and if it’s vegan, EVEN BETTER.

Folks, Halloween is TOMORROW, 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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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!

Guest Post by Sally Evans: “Elizabeth Burns, A Friendship.”

Monday, October 26th, 2015

Sally Evans and Elizabeth Burns
Eye to eye: Sally Evans and Elizabeth Burns, in Edinburgh in the 1990s.

I’m not sure whether I first met Lizzie Burns in Edinburgh at the First of May, Women Live, or the early School of Poets. Certainly I met her in all those milieus and whatever the circumstances we were soon good friends. It was the early 1980s.

Lizzie saw me as a feminist writer, while I saw her as one. She liked my young children and the way I tried to care for them, in addition to writing, and, I expect, my curiosity about what was going on. I was interested in her Scottish background, her poetry, and her feminist and bookselling friends. She was nearly twenty years younger than me, or I older, but that was never mentioned or indeed noticed. She was quiet and shy, quite the opposite of me, and with her quiet voice wouldn’t read her poems at events. She already had her characteristic grasp of phrase, together with a strong interest in people and their characters. We met in town and visited each other’s homes, and once I visited her parents’ home at Corstorphine. We shared new writing and gossip about our mutual friends, and went to cafes, Women Live events, School of Poets sessions in the Tweeddale Court building of the Poetry Library, etc. We were by no means exclusively friends with each other but we came to know each other very well.

The Poem for Peace was a joint project between us. Peace activists were prominent among the young people in Edinburgh and we capitalised on the number of poets one could then find lurking in Edinburgh places and pubs, by concocting a communal poem to be written by these poets on four rolls of plain wallpaper, which we lugged round from the Sandy Bells to Rose Street, the old Traverse building, and such places until we had 120 poets’ contributions, from the most eminent Edinburgh poets to the most casual, musicians, songwriters and more poets, all in holograph, scrawled on the wallpaper rolls. We laboriously typed out the MSS and submitted it to Canongate Publishers, then run by Stephanie Wolfe Murray, who kept it just long enough to send it up for a possible Arts Council grant, and then returned it, commenting that it was one of the few books of poetry that would actually sell. We considered publishing it ourselves but this was well before the days of diehard – I hadn’t met Ian then nor had Lizzie met Alan, though these events in our lives were to come very soon.

My marriage had been clearly unstable for a long time, although my children were young, and eventually my husband moved out of our house, at first into Lizzie’s old room in her flat in London Street – when she moved to her house in Tollcross.
A visit to the Lancaster area with my kids and Lizzie followed. My father, ill in old age, had vacated his house, at that point temporarily I think. We had a country holiday and Lizzie went off to visit Haworth on her own one day, coming back laden with research on the Brontës.
Changes happen fast in the cities and soon enough Ian and I had joined forces and were setting up Old Grindles Bookshop (which opened in 1987), while Lizzie’s interest the First of May, the left-wing co-operative bookshop, ran itself into the ground after ten successful years.

By 1997, when poems by Lizzie appeared in the first issues of Poetry Scotland, we were both much busier with other things and we saw less of each other, but were still in touch. Soon Lizzie and Alan Rice were calling into Grindles which was by now our Edinburgh daytime home. Lizzie next became a new mother, to her own and everyone’s delight. I went to a happy welcoming event for the baby in a hall near the Pleasance, where Hamish Henderson blessed the baby – no surprise that Alan and Lizzie knew Hamish well.

Next time I saw Lizzie, it was in Lancaster, where they had moved for Alan’s work, and where she now settled to a life of writing and bringing up her two daughters.
In 1999 we published her book The Gift of Light. (The Arts Council wanted us to call it Dragons in the Car Park, but we resisted.) Lizzie didn’t like Ian’s carefully chosen bold cover design, so we substituted a printed marbling design which filled the gap, but didn’t please anyone particularly well. Lizzie was an author who found working with publishers rather difficult. This was another effect of her retiring nature. Pamphlets, such as those she made with Galdragon Press, probably suited her better than working with any of her book publishers, Polygon, diehard, Shoestring and lastly again, Polygon
None the less, The Gift of Light showed Elizabeth’s progress, and the sustaining of her sensitive poetic style, and it undoubtedly filled its function as part of her oevre.

Alan and Elizabeth finally decided to get married and had a typically simple and happy wedding party on the beach at North Berwick, with her children in attendance and a private visit to her parents to follow. Here I met one of her potter friends, who was to play a part in her later poetry.
Because Elizabeth didn’t particularly like the internet – which fitted in with her shyness – our relationship had the old-fashioned characteristic of long intervals without being in touch at all. It was a major difference between us, that she was such a private and I such a public person. Yet determination and grit were not lacking in her make-up, for she always knew what she wanted and strove to achieve it.

We still met up after Ian and I moved on to Callander, when her family sometimes called during their trips to Scotland, and practically every year at StAnza where we both had many other friends, Elizabeth in fact being a St Andrews graduate. The first time they called at Callander, Lizzie’s daughters were joking that she couldn’t be called Elizabeth Burns Rice.

I have my own strong links with Lancaster – my family lived near there from my late teen years, my parents died there, & my brother recently bought back our home in Kirkby Lonsdale. Old memories include writing to enquire about a library job at the newly proposed Lancaster University, when the new Librarian, himself only just appointed, wrote back delighted that someone even knew he existed, though he at that time had no prospect of extra staff.

I was in Lancaster this summer when I had a phone call from my husband. Alan had telephoned to tell us of Lizzie’s death and the funeral. I was very shaken up. I had written to her a couple of months back – May or June – and had a small note in reply, which did not mention her illness. She knew I would now often be in Kirkby Lonsdale and the idea was we would meet up in Lancaster or Kirkby Lonsdale fairly soon. The occasion of my letter was her winning a prize in our Tinker’s Heart haibun competition, in which she wrote of her beloved Solway Firth. I had sent her a small card, hand printed by Gordon Chesterman, of Wordsworth’s Lucy poem. I have another copy of it in my kitchen and it’s a constant reminder of Lizzie.

It hadn’t been an active Edinburgh festival for us – the car was getting old, the traffic conditions less favourable within the city – parking had been suspended in some of my regularly used places, and we couldn’t get back to Callander without the car, particularly late at night. I knew she had an exhibition on but didn’t make it along. I did hear someone mention that Elizabeth was ill, but given my recent letter from her, I heard no alarm bells. Meanwhile her husband, daughters, sisters and mother had been supporting her through months of turmoil while she wrote, wrote and wrote.

I remember when John Cargill Thompson was very ill, I asked him, Can’t you write through it? And he replied, Don’t be silly! It struck me then, that the difference between a poet and other kinds of writers is that poets will write through experience, while other writers will not write while they are below par, though they may use their experience afterwards when they consider themselves in a fit state to write. Elizabeth wrote a whole booklet in her last months – Clay, and copies of it were available after her funeral, an event of light, garden flowers and youth, in the substantial Friends Meeting House in Lancaster.

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Sally Evans is a poet, and publisher, editor and blogger of and about poetry. She has three collections of poetry, including The Bees (diehard, 2008). As a Gaelic learner, she has done translations from the Gaelic; she is the translator of the title poem in Christopher Whyte’s Bho Leabhar-Latha Maria Malibran/From the Diary of Maria Malibran (Acair, 2009). She is the editor of Poetry Scotland broadsheet, and lives in Callander, where she hosts the annual Callander Poetry Weekend.

Having spent much of her life in Scotland, Elizabeth Burns lived in Lancaster where she taught creative writing. She published four books and several pamphlets of poetry. Her publications inlcude Held (Polygon, 2010) and The Shortest Days (Galdragon Press, 2008), which won the inaugural Michael Marks Award for Poetry Pamphlets. Elizabeth passed away on 20th August this year.

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Making a manuscript: A trip to Millom… and a poem for Norman Nicholson.

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

This post is the third of a series I’m writing about the creation of my second poetry collection (the second post is here). I am grateful to Creative Scotland for financial assistance from their Open Project Fund, which is allowing me to create this manuscript.

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I don’t usually post my own poetry on this blog*. To do so would be considered ‘publication,’ and mean that any poem I posted here would be one less for me to send out to magazines, journals or contests. That’s not me being over-protective, I promise: I just write slowly. I need all the material I can get, if I am to successfully follow the Jo Bell Method!

However, I have been aware that new folks coming to this blog will easily get a sense of things like how much I love cake, what kind of books I read and how often my writing time is interrupted by procrastination… but they might not get a sense of the sort of poet I am. I ought to give people at least a few hints. Also, this weekend I wrote something I thought might especially suit this blog, which often acts as a place to recap my adventures. This poem is partly about a recent adventure, so… here it is!

This weekend I visited Millom for the first time. Cumbria is one of the places I call ‘home,’ yet I’ve spent very little time exploring anything west of Coniston Water (partly because I often rely on public transport). But West Cumbria — although geologically very different to the lake country, and much more industrial — has many charms, and I have been particularly keen to visit Millom as a pilgrimage to one of my now-favourite poets, Norman Nicholson. Norman was a self-identified ‘provincial poet,’ who fought his entire life to be recognised by a literary establishment that scoffed at him for staying in his little Cumbrian town and writing about the concerns of the working class people — mostly iron miners — who lived there. I find his life story, as well as his poetry, extremely inspiring, so went looking for him, and wrote this. Bear in mind… it’s still new!

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A day’s work
for Norman Nicholson

I drive through villages
called The Hill and The Green,
by the prison, follow
the sandbagged, tidal river

and arrive in Millom.
From owert top in a hot
May, Black Combe was not
the Mordor you’d described.

The estuary lopped off the land
in a big V. My mother had warned,
it’s still a bit spit
and sawdust out that way.

My ancestors, the not-all-that-
long-ago Coles, lived locally
for the ironworks your poem
dismantled famously.

From the pavement, I see
the brickwork in your window’s
shot; the cafe now living
in your shopfront is shut;

your blue plaque a bit gubbed
with rust and gull shit;
the library’s Norman Nicholson Room
one shelf and a sign.

This is Cumbria, like you
always said: keep your daffs,
your Windermere, your slim
white boats and Londoners,

this is it. The women
in the churchyard say
he never did a day’s
work in his life
, when I

mention your name, their town’s
most famous son. I looked
for your grave so I could say
Norman, nothing’s changed —

the Coles all died young,
and pattern this hillside
like earthworks, stubborn
old roots — but the women

don’t know exactly where
you are. Just that you’re off
up the top somewhere,
in a plain spot, looking out.

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Some of the Nicholson-related things I saw on my Millom trip…

Norman Nicholson pilgrimage

Norman Nicholson pilgrimage

As well as being ill-received by some in the literary establishment, Norman also pissed off council officials and local hob-nobbers by writing candidly about things like the Windscale disaster and the closing of the Millom ironworks. As a result, a posthumous campaign to name the Millom Reading Rooms after him was repeatedly denied… but a compromise was reached in the form of the Norman Nicholson Room, which is inside.

Norman Nicholson pilgrimage

Iron mining was hard, horrible work that killed a lot of people. This monument in Millom’s town square recognises this fact… and includes a plaque to Norman Nicholson, too, though the townspeople do (or at least, did) think he was a layabout who needed to do a day’s work! (Probably true of most poets, right?)

Norman Nicholson pilgrimage

I really did fail to find Norman’s grave, in spite of the vague directions given to me by a gaggle of local ladies who were manning a flower display in the churchyard! However, I did get to see his memorial window, which is absolutely stunning and includes lines from his poems.

Norman Nicholson pilgrimage

Here’s the house Norman lived in from his birth until his death. He wrote all his poems in the little stick-up room at the top. The blue plaque describes him as ‘a man of Millom.’

*you can see a list of my poems in other places, though, by clicking here.

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!

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!