Archive for November, 2011

Do you want feedback on your writing?

Friday, November 11th, 2011

So yet again, I missed my own bloggiversary. One Night Stanzas turned a truly astonishing three years old in August this year — I really can’t believe I’ve had the staying power to keep it going all this time. Although posts have got scarcer as my work, writing and studies have got more demanding, I still receive emails all the time from writers of all walks of life. They all want, in some form, the same thing from me: help with, and feedback on, their writing.

Until now, I’ve generally only had the time to scribble a few lines of general encouragement back at most of these people, but as time has gone on I’ve come to feel more and more guilty about doing that.

Therefore, I have decided to start up a proper service for reading, editing and critiquing creative writing. Interested? Read on!

Poets: I can offer you help with everything from line-by-line workshop-style feedback on a single poem to an all-out manuscript service, and anything that falls between the two. If you need to put together a portfolio to apply to a creative writing course, if you want to get a book together, or if you just have some poems you fancy some responses to, drop me a line. I’ll give line-by-line notes, a written overview and concentrate on any particular elements you’d most like to work on.
You can email me at or Feel free to send an initial tentative email with questions and whatnot first if you like.
You can find out more about the poetry service right here.

Prose writers: I can help you with the arduous task of proofreading — as an eagle-eyed college lecturer, this is a big part of my day job, and as my students would doubtless tell you I am pretty darned thorough! I can also offer a wider reading of your work and offer line-by-line feedback and a written overview. I can also help you seek out additional resources to help you progress with your project. I am happy to look at everything from flash fiction to novels, essays to academic theses.
Again, drop me a line to or and feel free to prod me with questions, random thoughts, whatever!
You can find out more about the prose service here.

Who the heck does this woman think she is?! I hear (some of) you cry… if you want to check out my credentials then please do have a read of this, or you can click ‘About’ here at ONS.

Want a custom service that doesn’t really fit what’s written here? Want to meet in person and chat (I’m in Edinburgh)? Please do drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.

I’d love to hear from you!

(Photo by truck stop tea party)

Procrastination Station #96

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Light Trails

Cup of tea + toast and nutella + Friday + these lovely links = procrastination perfection.

“If a customer tells me she’s looking for a book by a man and there’s a girl in it but she can’t remember the author or the title, I give her Lolita. If she’s looking for “that popular book about the animals”: Animal Farm. “That controversial book my book club is reading”: The Autobiography of Malcolm X. “The book with a red cover and the word ‘the’ in the title”: The Joy of Sex. I’m a bookseller, not a magician. My dark-framed glasses and skinny jeans possess only so much magic.” If you read nothing else today, read Bookseller I Would Like To F***.

Huge congrats to Jen Campbell for successfully completing her 100 Poem Challenge in aid of EEC Syndrome sufferers. You can read all 100 poems, and donate, here. I think my favourite of the bunch might have been this one, number 52.

New poetry from ONS favourite Kerri Ni Dochartaigh.

“He left me with a copy of Kerouac’s The Subterraneans. Inside the front cover he has inscribed, ‘to Pocahontas , living in a clusterfuck’.”
Readers remember their loves, lost and found, through books.

I loved this new(ish) concrete piece from Stephen Nelson.

A new, feminist, indie bookstore/publisher? Yay for Emily Books!

The world needs more graffiti like this.

“The length of a network TV drama (usually 44 minutes of actual show, once you count out the commercials) makes me wonder if poetry readings are somehow timed by television or other popular forms.” Jake Adam York on timing your poetry readings.

Thanks Mandy, graphic designer extraordinaire for sending me in the direction of this hot typewriter tattoo!

One of my superheroines, Michelle Obama, is publishing a book next year!
“This book is Mrs. Obama’s first, and her goal is to use the story of the White House kitchen garden. She will continue her quest for Americans to understand how increased access to healthy, affordable food can promote better eating habits and improve health of families and communities across America.”

Were YOUR parents ever this cool about Halloween?

Thanks to Julian, I discovered that my name is also a Google Easter Egg! (May not work in IE, sorry…)

I’ve always wanted to go to Vegas… to visit the neon boneyard.

This massive Mucha mural is bloody gorgeous!

This look at glossy celebrity photoshoots before and after Photoshop is fascinating and disturbing.

This is a baby aardwolf. You’re welcome.

Have a great weekend!

(Photo by ewanmcdowall)

Things I’m Reading Thursday #30

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Portnoy’s Complaint

Those of you who follow my feminangst blog, GirlPoems, will know that earlier this year I got a bit hot under the collar about the whole Philip-Roth-winning-the-International-Booker thing. Not particularly because Roth won it — rather, because of the treatment of Carmen Callil by a lot of asshole (male) journos after the final decision caused her to walk off the judging panel.

Robert McCrum (one of the journos in question) advocates that Roth is one of the greatest writers the world has ever seen… or at least, that he should win the Nobel Prize for Literature, which is essentially the same thing. Callil counters that essentially, if you’ve read one Roth novel, you’ve read ‘em all. Roth has his pet issues — Americanness, Jewishness, and the collision between the two; family, especially Jewish family, and of course, heterosexual sex and plenty of it — and he returns to these themes again and again and again in his many, many, many novels. Seriously, this guy is prolific. 27 novels, three short story collections and a dabbling of non-fiction to his name, all published in the last 53 years… that’s an average of 1.6 books a year, for goodness’ sakes. If there was a Nobel Prize for Dogged Literary Persistence, then yes, hands down, it was made for Roth and no one else.

But when the International Booker news broke, I found I could only side with Callil from a feminist, this-is-blatant-sexism-and-the-nastiest-kind-at-that point of view… because I’d never read a Philip Roth book. I’d heard plenty of folk, and not just ladies, say that his books tended in the direction of the coarse and misogynist (”no, no,” cry his fanboys, “he’s not a misogynist! He just writes about them! It just so happens that his protagonists in every single book are misogynists!”), but I couldn’t just take their word for it. I decided: if this guy is big enough and special enough to win all these awards; if he’s a big enough deal for a top hack like Robert McCrum to get all cave-dweller on people’s asses about, well then, I had better read one of his books and see for myself what the deal was.

I’d heard that Portnoy’s Complaint was the biggest, the best, and the most Roth-ish of them all… so when I found it in an Oxfam for three quid, it seemed like fate.

Warning: here be spoilers.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed the book. It’s formally very clever — delivered as the rambling monologue of protagonist Alex Portnoy to his therapist, the narrative is free to get up close and personal with the kind of psychological turmoil that is never normally spoken of. As Roth has noted himself, the therapist-patient set-up allowed him to write freely and filthily about topics like incest-fantasies and masturbation, providing a handy get-out-of-criticism-free card. After all, how could you believe in a character who held back information from his therapist for fear of being offensive?

And Alex Portnoy is offensive — self-serving, self-pitying and arrogant throughout, he wishes violent death upon his parents, waxes lyrical on the stupidity of Christians and all other non-Jews (whilst at the same time trumpeting, “I happen to believe in the rights of man, rights such as are extended in the Soviet Union to all people, regardless of race, religion or color”), and repeatedly uses and abuses women (seriously, avoid this book at all costs if you’re offended by the word “woman” being used interchangably with the words “c*nt” or “tw*t”). He is totally blind to his own despicable behaviour and the repurcussions it causes, as he moves through the world despising and blaming everyone else in it for his supposedly-all-encompassing, actually-rather-trivial personal problems. A teenage boy who worried that he’d given himself cancer from masturbating too much or panicked that he’d go blind when he accidentally ejaculated into his own eye, Portnoy grows up into a man who endlessly curses himself for being sexually attracted to a girl who doesn’t read books and cannot spell; a man who attempts to rape a woman he meets in Israel because she is Jewish, looks like his mother and tells him once and for all that he’s a pathetic, self-aggrandising moron. In short, this book is the garbled autobiography of an absolute and utter w**ker (and I mean that both literally and figuratively: I have never before read a book whose pages are so lovingly devoted to the act of masturbation).

However, Roth is kidding. I now realise that a lot of the THESE BOOKS ARE MISOGYNIST FILTH! brigade are a bit too quick to jump on the Roth’s-fiction-is-obviously-autobiographical bandwagon. It’s utterly, utterly clear from the obvious holes, double-backs and endless revisions Alex makes as he progresses through his own narrative that we’re supposed to think that he’s a dishonest, self-pitying, woman-hating shit. And it’s the fact that we’re laughing at him, not with him, that makes the book so riotously funny.
Come at it from the angle of yes, it’s obvious that this guy is a hateful little so-and-so, rather than someone we ought to be rooting for. Then, it’s possible to giggle at Alex’s total horror when, halfway through the book, he pauses in his jumbled recollections to announce to the therapist that he’s got it: he’s found the root of all his problems with women! The root, it turns out, is the fact that his mother — his own mother! I mean, ew! — touched his penis while potty-training him. From then on, Alex is convinced. He ditches his first serious girlfriend because she says that, in the event of their entirely hypothetical engagement, she would refuse to convert to Judaism on account of the fact that Alex himself is an atheist. He ditches his second serious girlfriend because she refuses to give him head and then, when she finally does after months of bullying on his part, she’s a bit rubbish at it. And he leaves his all-time fantasy woman threatening to commit suicide mid-holiday in Europe because after their menage-a-trois with a prostitute, she felt a bit seedy and used. Of course, all these romantic disasters are nothing to do with him — they’re because of his hideous Oedipal potty-training! It all makes sense!

So yep, it’s a funny book. It’s a fun read, too — written in a messy stream-of-conciousness that appears random and arbitrary, it reflects the jangled nature of human thought and memory while at the same time reading smoothly and effortlessly, a stylistic sleight-of-hand that does give me a glimpse into the reasoning behind the OMG! I Heart Philip Roth 4EvAR! brigade. Most fun of all was reading it on the bus: my favourite moment was the realisation that I was sitting next to an elderly Scottish wifey, blithely making my way down a page that had the words WHACKING OFF written in large block capitals in a big empty space near the bottom. Apparently, the book caused outrage when it was published in 1969. I can tell you, it still has the power to move a Scottish wifey from her seat nearly half a century later.

However — and this is where I’ll make myself super unpopular — I don’t think Roth deserves to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Sure, I should probably read some more of his gazillion books before I say for sure, and that’s why I’m being a bit tentative. BUT: this is widely spoken of as His Very Best Book, and if this is the best he can do then no, he aint no Nobel Laureate. I have only read one Don DeLillo book, too (so far), and that was Cosmopolis, which a lot of the DeLillo fanclub don’t really rate that much. And yet, Cosmopolis had me thinking,”wow, OK… I can totally see why people are rabid about this guy. I can totally see why people say he should win the Nobel.” Perhaps most importantly, I came away from my first ever DeLillo experience thinking, “I have got to read more of this guy’s books!” With Roth, I’m thinking, “that was better than I expected,” and also “hey, some people have got him really wrong.” But I’m also thinking, “I kind of don’t really get where the rabid fanboys are coming from,” and also, “I can see why women really hate his stuff”, and also, “yeah, not so fussed about reading any more of Roth’s work any time soon.”
All of which leads me to conclude: give the Nobel (and the International Booker, for that matter) to some of the far more deserving North American writers (DeLillo, Atwood, McCarthy) first… then maybe we’ll talk.

What are you reading this week?

(Photo via Bloomsbury Auctions)

Signal boost: Jen Campbell’s 100 Poem Challenge!

Saturday, November 5th, 2011

Ripping Yarns

OK, all those of you currently slaving away at NaNoWriMo; all you stalwart “I’ve done NaPoWriMo every year SINCE IT STARTED!” types; you smug fictionistas who claim that you leap out of bed at 4am every morning so you can have two hours of uninterrupted writing time before you go to work… HOW ABOUT THIS?

Jen Campbell, aka @aeroplanegirl, aka the super awesome bookshop wizard at Ripping Yarns books, is writing one hundred poems OVER ONE WEEKEND. This weekend.

She’s doing it to raise money for EEC International, after she recently discovered that she has EEC Syndrome.

If you do nothing else this weekend — even if it means letting your NaNoWriMo word count slip a little bit — please clickety-click your way over here. Watch Jen’s great video and read what she has to say. Then when you’re finished, take the time to give a few pennies (or, preferably, a lot of pennies) to this very worthy cause.

Yes, Jen has already tripled her desired goal of $1000, but folk have kept on giving. @StephenFry and @NeilHimself (that’s the man-god that is NEIL GAIMAN, for all you non-Twitfolk) have joined in, as have loads of other lovely literary folk. And so should you. Make a donation, spread the word, send some traffic in Jen’s direction.

GOOD LUCK JEN! Can’t wait to see the 100 Poems!

(Photo by RachelH_)