Procrastination Station #128

July 4th, 2014

Shine On

OK, before we get started…

EDINBURGH VINTAGE IS HAVING A HUGE SALE! This is for July only, so get in there and rummage! New items are being added all the time, too!

When you announce that you’re a ghost-writer, people look at you askance. Some say, “You’re writing about ghosts?” Others, with some condescension, ask you when you’re going to write your own book, the inference being that ghost-writing is for those who can’t make it up. And whilst there is a grain of truth in that, to my mind, ghost-writing is a skill and an art of its own.

I was fascinated by these confessions of a ghost writer, Sue Leonard, who does it for a living.

If you click nothing else in this post, click this fabby series of portraits: booksellers in their natural habitats. (As my collague Danny wrote when he emailed me about it “it’s a lovely series and it’s lovely.”)

This guy plants his self-published book in bookstores… and people buy it.

My loyalty to Levin in Anna Karenina is of an entirely different nature to my loyalty to, say, Paul Newman’s caesar salad dressing, which I like very much: it is not a preference but an affinity, an encounter so genuinely self-revealing that the relationship required me first to work and then to alter. My relationship with Levin cannot be improved upon or reproduced.

So I just finished reading Eleanor Catton’s “The Luminaries” [SPOILER: it is amazing, read it], and I am just as enchanted by this excellent essay she wrote about literature and capitalism. (Side note: I cannot believe this woman is only one year older than me. She is a total genius and makes me feel like a failure at life.)

As someone who works a lot with literacy learners, I loved this video of just a few learners describing their literacy journeys.

19 Dilemmas Every Book Lover Has Faced At Least Once

Not buying from Amazon is less a tactic of starving Amazon of a sale, they’re hardly going to miss it. Not buying from Amazon is taking those missed sales to other venues; Waterstones and independents. I’ve had people say to me off-handedly that they don’t expect Waterstones to be around in 5 years. That thought upsets me. So I’ll happily impulsively buy a nice hardback, a slightly overpriced cup of tea and cake as an investment. Please don’t squander my investment, Waterstones.

One woman’s vow to boycott Amazon: her end of year review!

And speaking of which… got a problem with Amazon? No matter what it is, here’s the cure.

Have you checked out Scottish Book Trust’s Opportunities for Writers page lately? Loads of good stuff there at the moment!

I drew plans of my protagonist’s house, her daughter’s house, her brother in law’s, and her friend’s houses. I also printed out, cut up and glued together images from Google maps to create my own picture of her local area.

Also at Scottish Book Trust this week: Novelist Emma Healy lists five practical ways to get to grips with writing your novel.

I can’t wait to read this.

Are you writing a book — fiction or non fiction — that’s somehow about medicine or health? The Wellcome Prize is now accepting entries!

I realise now that I am neither normal nor ordinary, and I become less and less ordinary as time passes. I don’t want to be told that I’m not allowed to react negatively to Paxman’s demand that I speak to everyone except people like me; people who have been historically excluded from poetry events by definition, by default; and who, when they raise that issue, get lumped in with a “pellety nest” by those who refuse to see their privilege

That’s the excellent Mark Burnhope, responding excellently to recently-retired, flailing-against-his-own-irrelevance Jeremy Paxman. (Buy Mark’s new book!)

Have you been to Looking Glass Books? You should go!

Poetry prize culture rewards “competent but unambitious verse lauded as the best our art-form has to offer”? Interesting reading in Poetry Review (via).

And speaking of poetry prize culture… the always-brilliant Dave Coates reviews John Burnside and Hugo Williams and, refreshingly, finds them wanting.

Going through some old bookmarks I found this great poem.

And this one.

There is an oversupply of PhDs. Although a doctorate is designed as training for a job in academia, the number of PhD positions is unrelated to the number of job openings. Meanwhile, business leaders complain about shortages of high-level skills, suggesting PhDs are not teaching the right things. The fiercest critics compare research doctorates to Ponzi or pyramid schemes.

I first read this just as I was starting out on my PhD. Yesterday I graduated. Turns out, the Economist was kinda right.

Have you, like me, ever wanted to escape the tyranny that is hair care? Check this out!

Aaaand while trawling old bookmarks I also discovered this My Mad Fat Diary gif, which may be the best gif ever. (SHARON I LOVE YOU.)

HIPPOS ARE BETTER THAN HUMANS. The end.


…and people say animals have no feelings. (Look how when she falls, he’s like, ADULTS, ARE YOU DOING SOMETHING ABOUT THIS?!)

All by myself from Richard Dunn on Vimeo.

You guys saw this, right? A dude got stuck overnight in an airport in Vegas… so he single handedly shot an epic music video on his phone.


Finally, I kinda want to be friends with these weird guys. (Apparently, so do all the MRAs in the world, because they’re hanging out in the video’s comments. Weeeird!)

Have a great weekend!

*

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)

Things I Love Thursday #93

May 29th, 2014

I’ve been pretty sick the past couple of weeks, with an absolute beast of a chest infection. However, some good stuff has been happening of late which has made me feel a little better. Check it out…

#whatveganseat

Vegan blueberry pancakes!

Vegan eats.
Lovely Boyfriend, aka my personal chef, really pulled out the stops while I was ill. Although I have no photo of it, the main thing I ate while I was at my most hoarse and stuffed up was an amazing vegan chilli full of delicious veggies and with tofu, beans and rice. LB made a massive pan of it so he could go to work and leave me with plenty of good healthy eats. It was totally wholesome and totally what I needed to feel better. As I started to feel more alive again, he celebrated the fact by making me the delicious stir fry in the top photo, with udon noodles (my favourite) and tofu and shiitake mushroom pot-sticker dumplings. AS AMAZING AS THEY LOOK. Then last weekend, my dear friend Lucy Florence — who’s been living in California these past few years — swung by for a whirlwind stop-over visit. That also needed celebrating, so LB cooked up some super tasty wholemeal and blueberry vegan pancakes for breakfast. He literally is the greatest.

Wildflowers in my window

Laburnum

Summertime.
Although the weather hasn’t been so stunning, I’ve been trying to keep in mind that it’s summer, hooray! The Warriston Path is absolutely brimming with gorgeous wildflowers at the moment: an absolute sea of cow parsley, plus plenty of buttercups, forget-me-nots and Jack-by-the-Hedge… which is what’s in my little bouquet above. There’s also ragged robin and even the odd cowslip, but obviously I only picked the most ubiquitous things, and did so carefully. And although there’s been a lot of rain, I am trying to think positively, and look up at the trees. They’re all so luminously green and lush, which means they’re enjoying the current weather. Given that trees are way more important than humans, I am trying to think of rain as “good” weather, instead of moaning about it. I mean… look at that laburnum, which I passed on a visit to Greyfriars Kirkyard. It’s clearly loving what the weather’s doing!

Presenting Scottish Book Trust's "john Muir: Earth-Planet, Universe" at the 2014 International John Muir Conference!

Presenting Scottish Book Trust's "john Muir: Earth-Planet, Universe" at the 2014 International John Muir Conference!

John Muir!  A lovely present for our team from the John Muir Trust :)

John Muir.
Look, it’s the Scottish Book Trust’s John Muir graphic novel, in the flesh!!! Although I only did a very little work on this project, I am still incredibly proud of it. It’s a graphic novel for 13-15 year olds that tells the story of John Muir’s (amazing) life, and promotes environmental responsibility and conservation. The top two photos are from the 2014 John Muir Conference, which I attended with my boss, Koren. We ran a stand, chatted to delegates, handed out copies of the book for free, and got to hear all the talks, which were incredible (keynote speaker George Monbiot, OMG!!!). You can find out more about what went down at the conference by checking out the Twitter hashtag #JM100Perth. And although all the physical books are spoken for (a class set has been sent, for free, to every secondary school in Scotland), you can read the entire thing in PDF format at our website… and if you’re a teacher or youth worker, you can also access our support materials!
The third photo is of a lovely gift given to Scottish Book Trust by our friends and colleagues at the John Muir Trust, who worked closely with us on the book. It now hangs in our office, right next to my desk. If ever I am feeling starved of inspiration, I look over at it and think of John Muir. He was a truly amazing man who produced so many inspirational writings and teachings, but my favourite quote of his (everyone who knows about him has one!) is:

The world is big, and I want to get a good look at it before it gets dark.

Given the oncoming “darkness” and uncertainty of climate change, I find this one spookily foreboding as well as encouraging. We’d all do well to live by this mantra, I think.

Word Power Books

JK Rowling never wrote here

Edinburgh.
Every so often, I get itchy feet. I like to think about what it might be like to live in one of my “dream locations”: in the UK, these are places like Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay or Ambleside; further afield, they’re places like Victoria (Canada), the San Juan Islands or Portland (Oregon). However, I think one of the reasons I’ve never quite made it to the suitcase-packing stage is… Edinburgh always calls me back. However chilly the winds, however lousy the trams, however ignored I feel when I talk about my political beliefs (I have notes, Mr Salmond), I can’t help but fall in love with this amazing city again and again and again. I mean, look at the poster I found in Word Power Books — Edinburgh’s bookshops are like places of worship, and most folk here absolutely know it. And look at that sign, currently sitting outside the Artisan Roast pop-up on Victoria Street (they also did a great Nigel Farage one)! Edinvarians know what side our bread’s buttered, but we’re also not afraid to poke fun at the tourists. Never change, Auld Reekie.

What are YOU loving this week?

*

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!

Making Scotland Home: submit your story to Scotland’s Stories of Home!

May 27th, 2014

253017

Making It Home brought together many nationalities and cultures: the women hailed from places like Algeria, Kosovo, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Iraq and Ghana, as well as Scotland, England and Ireland. What could all these very different women possibly have in common? The answer soon became clear: they all wanted to tell their stories of home.

Last week I wrote a blogpost for my lovely employers, Scottish Book Trust, about the Making It Home project. Why? Well partly because — as you probably know if you read this blog — I think MiH is an incredibly exciting project and everyone ought to know about it. But also because MiH was all about telling stories about home, and specifically, what it means to call Scotland home. And that’s exactly what SBT’s public participation campaign for 2014 is all about.

It’s called Scotland’s Stories of Home, and we want to hear the story of YOUR home in Scotland, whether you’re originally from here or you just moved here recently. You can write about anything, from the four walls you live in to the food smells that automatically make you think “Scotland”; from a distant childhood memory to a funny story you just heard last week. If it means “home” to you, we want to hear it. You don’t have to be a professional writer — the complete opposite, in fact! You just have to have a cool tale to tell. If you think this sounds like you, submit your story of home here, and you could be featured in the newspaper, on our website, or even in our Stories of Home book!

The deadline for SSoH submissions is 30th June. But wait… before you run off and submit, go and read the rest of my blogpost!

252993

Seven pieces of writing advice from the speakers of The Business

May 26th, 2014

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (1)

Last week, I was extremely flattered to be invited to speak at The Business, an event run by the University of Edinburgh and hosted by their Writer in Residence Jenni Fagan. The event was designed for budding writers who were keen to know more about the ‘business’ side of being a writer. I was asked to speak alongside publishing megastars like Francis Bickmore and Jenny Brown (!!!), and my topic was, essentially “is a Creative Writing PhD right for you?”

I think my talk went OK: the best part about it was definitely making my supervisor, Alan — who was hiding at the back of the room — blush quite a lot as I talked about what a brilliant mentor he’d been. But much better than my barely coherent ramblings were the talks of the other speakers. I hand-picked some useful advice from each of them for your reading pleasure…

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (4)

1. Jenny Brown of Jenny Brown Associates, literary agent:

“Don’t write to trends.”

I’ve seen Jenny Brown speak on many occasions, and she always manages to make her advice to writers fresh and relevant to what’s going on in the book world at that very moment. However, this piece of advice is always in there and I think it’s something a lot of young novelists (in particular) need to hear. “You can never get on top of a trend,” she says, “because by the time you get your novel out there, you’ll have just missed it.” Instead, she advises, you should concentrate on writing a great novel that you love, and that your agent will love. “I don’t pick books based on genre, or based on whether or not I think they will be commercially successful,” Jenny said. “I mean, those things are factors, but at the end of the day if I love your book, that’s the main thing. All the books I’ve picked to represent, I have loved.”

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (6)

2. Chris Hamilton-Emery of Salt, publisher:

“We need more narrative non-fiction.”

Did you know that the market for non-fiction is far larger than the market for fiction? “Fiction is declining,” Chris revealed, and he picked up on a point that Jenny had made about her love of nature writing. “Jenny said she was disappointed not to see more nature books. I agree. I wish more young writers would break into non-fiction earlier.” He said that for every fifty novels that landed on his desk, he’d see only one non-fiction work. (He also mentioned poetry’s market share: less than 1% of the entire book market. But then, we knew that, right?)

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (8)

3. Francis Bickmore of Canongate, publisher:

“The hair shines with brushing.”

Francis gave his own seven rules for writers, all of which were great, but this was by far my favourite. He said it came from a friend of his, another publisher, who’d been listening to one of their writers moaning about how many edits they were needing to do on their novel. “The guy’s response was, ah yes, but the hair shines with brushing. The hair shines with brushing. I think it’s Flaubert or something, and it’s so true.” In other words, edit, edit, polish, edit, polish and then edit some more. Make your writing shine.

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (9)

4. Stuart Kelly of The Guardian and many other places, critic:

“If you’re not interested in writing a novel that changes what the novel is capable of, get out of the business.”

This was probably my favourite piece of advice from the entire event. It’s something I might nick, except I’d replace the word ‘novel’ with ‘poem.’ What Stuart was saying is that the best novels are the ones that really push the boundaries of the form: one of the audience members gave the example of Jennifer Egan’s Visit from the Goon Squad, which happens to be my favourite novel ever, and really does do what Stuart’s talking about. “It’s not enough to just mention Twitter here and there,” Stuart said. “I’m talking about really experimenting with what this form can do.”

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (10)

5. Peggy Hughes, of Dundee Book Festival, promoter:

“Perform your work in public.”

Peggy, aka the most-loved person in Scottish arts administration (no joke, she’s awesome) was in attendance to talk about the role of literary festivals in the writing business. She revealed that she routinely attends poetry readings, open mics and other literary events in order to scout for potential talent to book for her festival. “Go and read at these things,” she said. “You never know when someone like me might be sitting in the audience thinking, I should book this person.”

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (11)

6. Kevin Williamson of Neu! Reekie!, promoter:

“Embrace the improbable.”

Kevin’s talk was mostly about his whirlwind experience at the helm of the Creative Scotland-funded cabaret sensation that is Neu! Reekie! He talked about having his face put on a new whisky brand’s label, meeting Richard Hell and somehow managing to get Primal Scream to play at one of his gigs. But it wasn’t just half an hour of how cool Kevin Williamson’s life is: he also talked about how rewarding community work can be for writers, talking a bit about his experiences teaching the poetry of Robert Burns in Scottish prisons. “All the things that have happened to me have been pretty improbable,” he said. “When Neu! Reekie! started we had no idea where it was going to go. So just embrace it, just go with whatever comes to you.”

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (12)

7. Jenni Fagan of the University of Edinburgh, writer:

“Pace yourself… and get off Facebook.”

Jenni is in the middle of developing her novel The Panopticon (which is good and you should read it, by the way) into a film script, so she fielded a lot of questions from the audience about that side of things. However, she warned that “98% of all films never get made,” and pushed the importance of focussing on the writing first and foremost. “I got off Facebook because I found that I was looking at things like the best way to peel a banana, and then from that I clicked on to a really cute photo of a koala bear… and then before I knew it I’d spent a whole hour and all I’d done was surf a bunch of crap.” She says writers ought to focus on removing anything from their lives “that takes you away from words,” but she also noted the value of pacing yourself, and knowing that everything does not happen at once. “I have this idea for another novel,” she said, “but I am pretty sure I won’t start writing it for maybe another five or ten years. You just have to let things take their course.”

Incidentally, if you have any questions about Creative Writing PhDs, keep an eye out for a post on the topic in the next little while!

*

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!

Procrastination Station #127

May 23rd, 2014

take it easy

Average earnings in the UK were around £26,500 in 2012. To make this amount on a book contract for a paperback edition selling at £7.99 that pays 10% a writer would need to sell 33,166 copies a year. And that’s if the book isn’t discounted as part of a 3 for 2 promotion, for example. That is a lot of books! To put it in perspective to get to number one in the UK paperback chart last month you’d have needed to sell almost 20,000 copies a week. This means that going to number 1 doesn’t even earn you the national average wage (and that book may have taken the writer months or even years to produce). The odds of making a mint are very long - writing is a risky profession. And like most jobs in the UK there is a glass ceiling. Female writers on average earn only 77.5% as much as their male counterparts. Their books are also less likely to get reviewed in the traditional press or for that matter win awards.

Can’t believe I forgot to link this in my last PS. If you read nothing else from this post, read this: Sara Sheridan being real about what writers earn.

Nic Cage wants you to READ, and other hilarious and shocking moments in literary history.

OMG Julianne Moore has been cast as President Coin in the Mockingjay movies and look, she’s perfect.

[Paterson] is counselling against navel-gazing, against writing for the precious few, but his notion of the poor, undoted-upon general reader is a vision of himself in the throne room of every individual’s brain.

Jon Stone of Sidekick Books called out Don Paterson on what can only be described as some major bullshit. And it’s amazing.

The habits of highly sensitive people. aka, writers.

Muriel Rukeyser had some extremely smart things to say about poetry.

I’m only a year or so into an MFA. I stop by the office of a friend, an older white poet in my department. Publication to me feels impossible then, and the friend means to be encouraging when he says, “With a name like Jaswinder Bolina, you could publish plenty of poems right now if you wrote about the first-generation, minority stuff. What I admire is that you don’t write that kind of poetry.” He’s right. I don’t write “that kind” of poetry. To him, this is upstanding, correct, what a poet ought to do. It’s indicative of a vigor exceeding that of other minority poets come calling. It turns out I’m a hard worker too. I should be offended—if not for myself, then on behalf of writers who do take on the difficult subject of minority experience in their poetry—but I understand that my friend means no ill by it. To his mind, embracing my difference would open editorial inboxes, but knowing that I tend to eschew/exclude/deny “that kind” of subject in my poetry, he adds, “This’ll make it harder for you.”

Freesia sends me all the best links. This essay is called Writing Like A White Guy, and it is brilliant.

Here’s a big list of feminist literary resources. You’re welcome.

And here’s a nice poem I liked.

THAT THIS IS WHAT BEING A TEENAGE GIRL IS MEANT TO FEEL LIKE. I wanted to make them write out those words a hundred times each day. Embroider them on cushions. Have them printed on a t-shirt. Instead I started writing YA novels.

YA author Sarra Manning, defending “difficult” teenage girls in fiction.

Ever been ’splained at? 10 simple words all girls (& if you ask me, women) should learn.

Terrible real estate photos: one of the most fun parts of house hunting, I thought.

Aaron wrote me a very lovely email saying that Toby is one of his favorite characters he’s ever written, and he talked about our relationship building that character. He said, “I’ve heard what’s happening to your character [Toby was fired and faced years in prison during season seven but ultimately was pardoned] and I’m so sorry.” And that’s how I felt: very sorry that they had chose to do what they did. They didn’t tell me in advance like Aaron and Tommy would have. Clearly they didn’t want to tell me because they were scared of my reaction to it. I would have talked them out of it because it was not in line with the six years of work that I built with that character. I was very, very hurt by it.

^ That’s Richard Schiff talking about his role as Toby in The West Wing (my all-time fav TV show). It comes from this amazing TWW retrospective which only makes me love the show (& oddly, hate Aaron Sorkin) all the more.

The 100 Most Important Dog Pictures of All Time is a Friday must-see.

So is the brilliant Saving Room For Cats.

Calling Beyoncé a terrorist in a moment when 300 Black girls from Nigeria are being raped and otherwise terrorized daily and can’t nobody seem to come up with a strategy to get them back is not only intellectually and politically irresponsible – it’s ill. bell hooks knows Beyoncé isn’t a terrorist.

bell hooks is a heroine of mine, so I was pretty disappointed by her recent comments on Beyoncé. Thankfully, Dr Brittney Cooper created this brilliant response.

Here are some photos taken by daredevil Russian dudes who climb skyscrapers for fun. Beautiful and terrifying.

Last week I went to visit the lovely Jill Calder at her studio, and she made me these. AS AMAZING AS THEY SOUND, folks.

I find women fascinating. I adore men, however, I really sometimes try to observe particularly how, when women talk to me about something, we both begin to hear the whole story. There are layers and levels operating in any conversation: protection mechanisms, what she does say, what she doesn’t say, to a lover, friend or boss. All these things become part of the story. How she responds and doesn’t respond. How she tells me. She might have started talking about one song, but now she’s part of an emotional relay, a baton-passing. It’s a circular giving. There’s the woman in a song, which tells a story, which touches someone, which becomes another song. It’s so powerful—a woman finding the strength to confront her situation because of another woman’s story.

Tori Amos? Total badass.

& finally, here are three amazing animations of Charles Bukowski poems:

Have a great weekend!

*

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)

Things I Love Thursday #92: a guide to North Cumbria & Eden. & a kitty.

May 22nd, 2014

So, I’ve actually been really sick this week (sadface), so I have little other than snotty tissues and sad violins to share with you from the past seven days. However, a couple of weeks ago I did take a trip to lovely Wetheral… here’s some stuff I loved from then!

A Trip to Wetheral (1)

A Trip to Wetheral (29)

A Trip to Wetheral (45)

A Trip to Wetheral (44)

This is Benny, also known as Bennyboy and Benningtons and Bennington Ponsonby-Smythe and BennyandtheJets and lots of other utterly silly names. He is my parents’ cat — they adopted him just before Christmas and now he basically owns the place, and they are his awestuck humanslaves. Benny likes eating treats from your hand, coming in through his catflap and YELLING so you know he is back, and cuddles. Lots and lots of cuddles. He and my sister are totes BFFs.

A Trip to Wetheral (7)

A Trip to Wetheral (9)

A Trip to Wetheral (16)

Remember the friendly pig I mentioned in my last TiLT? Well, she had piglets… they just wouldn’t allow me to photograph them the first time. We went back to see how they’re getting on, and they were much keener to stay still this time! These cuties live at Askham Hall, which is a cool place to go and visit if you like mooching around posh gardens. They also have a cafe that is totally amaze. Look at what they cook their pizzas and bread in!:

A Trip to Wetheral (18)

Why yes, that is a hand-built walk-in log-fired outdoor oven. May I have one for my garden, please?

A Trip to Wetheral (10)

A Trip to Wetheral (12)

A Trip to Wetheral (4)

A Trip to Wetheral (15)

A Trip to Wetheral (17)

A Trip to Wetheral (32)

A Trip to Wetheral (34)

OK, let me explain. Every year, Wetheral and the surrounding villages hold a scarecrow contest. This year the theme was “celebrities” — and I think I recognise all of these, except the dodgy looking lady in the red fishnets, who was by far the creepiest offering. Although I completely loved Boris Johnson on his zipwire — and Captain Hook and his croc — the prize must surely have gone to the Star Wars mad household, no? It actually was May 4th, too!

A Trip to Wetheral (5)

A Trip to Wetheral (6)

A Trip to Wetheral (8)

A Trip to Wetheral (23)

A Trip to Wetheral (35)

A Trip to Wetheral (25)

A Trip to Wetheral (13)

May is one of my favourite months of the year. It’s what Mary Oliver calls “the quick wrist of early summer,” when every single plant seems just desperate to grow, and grow huge! Cumbria is one of the wettest places in the UK… but that means it’s also one of the lushest and greenest. Everything just seems to be a little more zingy and brightly coloured in the Eden Valley.

A Trip to Wetheral (20)

A Trip to Wetheral (22)

A Trip to Wetheral (24)

A Trip to Wetheral (26)

A Trip to Wetheral (28)

A Trip to Wetheral (33)

When I’m in the area, I love visiting Lowther. The “model village,” or estate village, is incredibly beautiful, as is the churchyard, where I took these photos. Lots of my relatives were in service at Lowther Castle or on the Lowther Estate — I’ve written about the castle and its gardens a little bit here. I’m a big fan of these little tucked-away Cumbrian towns… as much as I love the Lake District and especially South Lakes, I’m also really happy that I know about these little places further north where the tourists rarely venture!

A Trip to Wetheral (36)

A Trip to Wetheral (37)

A Trip to Wetheral (39)

A Trip to Wetheral (40)

A Trip to Wetheral (43)

Larch Cottage at Melkinthorpe is another place I have written about here before… but whenever I go, I can’t help but take photos of how totally cool it is! This time, my sister and I made friends with a majestic cast-iron stag, made faces at some terrible artwork in their art gallery (sorry folks), I wanted to steal those forlorn greyhounds, and I brought home a sorrel plant (named Cyril the Sorrel, natch) for my garden.

A Trip to Wetheral (19)

…apparently there’s not all that much to do in Wetheral.

What are YOU loving this week?

*

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 come to this: Shore Poets MAY with Jacob Polley

May 14th, 2014

Jacob Polley, headline poet at Shore Poets MAY!

So, as you’ve probably noticed, I don’t promote literature events all that much on this blog. That’s mainly because I am bad at keeping up with when they are… for this reason, I also miss a lot of literature events and end up kicking myself. But this right here is one I am absolutely not going to forget to go to.

I am a massive, massive fan of the Cumbrian-born, Scotland-dwelling poet Jacob Polley. I first discovered his work with his second collection, Little Gods, which I loved so much that I immediately went out and bought his first, The Brink, which was just as good. Though it was still amazing, I wasn’t quite so enamoured with his most recent book, 2012’s The Havocs — but what do I know? This one was shortlisted for a bunch of prizes and won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Award that year.

Now, Jacob is coming to read at Shore Poets, and I am super excited to hear him perform his work. As The Havocs happened two years ago now, I’m hoping the lovely SP audience will get a sneak peek at some new work. He’ll be reading alongside the lovely, lovely Pippa Goldschmidt — best known in these parts as a novelist but also a secretly great poet — and SP’s very own Hamish Whyte, who runs Mariscat Press and has edited many a fine anthology, too. Hamish’s band, The Whole Shebang (cool name) will also be providing some live music. It’s going to be excellent, I tell you.

So in short… you should come along. Shore Poets: MAY with Jacob Polley happens on Sunday 25th May at Henderson’s at St John’s (word to the wise: they have vegan cake). Doors open at 7.15pm and seats disappear rapidly! It’s £5 to enter (£3 for all the usual concessions), but trust me when I say it is worth every penny.

But this time
he took a book, broke its spine
and slung that on instead:

his diaries,
year by year,
purred as their pages burned…

In case you’re not convinced, here’s a poem of Jacob’s, ‘Smoke,’ from the Poetry Archive. You can read, and listen to his performances of, some others, too: The North-South Divide, The Weasel, Decree, and The Prescription.

I hope to see you there!

Scottish Book Trust

(Photo from jacobpolley.com)

*

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!

30 before 30: learn to cook more things

May 12th, 2014

You remember that one of the things in my 30 before 30 post was learning to cook things? Because as awesome as having a great cook for a boyfriend really is (and it really, really is), sometimes, you know, he goes out… and I end up eating a veggie burger from the back of the freezer. I’m not saying women ought to be 1950s-style domestic goddesses or anything, but I really don’t think Carrie Bradshaw’s whole “I keep sweaters in my stove” [read: and only ever eat take-out] thing is very adult. I need to be able to fend for myself, dammit!

So, I asked my aforementioned unpaid personal chef Lovely Boyfriend to teach me one of his classics: Thai tofu peanut satay and noodles. Turns out, it’s relatively straightforward… and extremely delicious! Here’s a rough idea of how to do it:

Cooking lesson!
So, Lovely Boyfriend’s holy trinity of flavours is garlic, ginger and chilli — which is what this is, with some lemongrass and lime zest to make it extra Thai-ish. In the mug is some tamarind, softening in water. Apparently this is optional.

Cooking lesson!
Next step: soften all those things, finely chopped or grated, in a small saucepan. (When it comes to amounts, it’s all down to your taste. This is 5 small garlic cloves, one stick of lemongrass, about a thumb-sized blob of ginger, one small chilli and the zest of one lime.) Once the tamarind has broken up in the water, seive the fluid into the saucepan too, and ditch the pulp.

Cooking lesson!

Cooking lesson!

Cooking lesson!
Now for the veg! We did red bell pepper, carrot, broccoli, cabbage, mushrooms and white onion — we also added deep-fried tofu (which is amazing and can be bought from Asian supermarkets) and cashews for protein, ’cause we’re vegan. You could put in chicken or some other dead creature if you’re that way inclined. But I do encourage you to try the tofu!

(While the veg chopping is going on, your garlic, ginger etc will have softened and the fluid from the tamarind will have reduced. Once that happens, add one can of tinned coconut milk to your wee saucepan, along with as much smooth peanut butter as you fancy — we put in about four tablespoons full. Stir til the peanut butter softens and mixes in, then leave to simmer.)

Cooking lesson!
Here’s Lovely Boyfriend showing me how to wok out. Chuck all the veggies etc into your pre-heated and greased wok. You’ll see there’s also some water boiling, ready for the noodles to start cooking! With Thai noodles, you only need to put them on as things start to come together, ’cause they cook pretty fast.

Cooking lesson!
Last part: final flavours! As your veggies start to look done, splash some sesame oil (not too much!) and soy sauce into the mix, and tear a bit of coriander into your now-smooth and simmering sauce! You can also add some extra lime to the sauce if you like.

Cooking lesson!
Wok action shot! Once our noodles were cooked, we added them into the wok with the veggies and chucked the sauce over everything, and wok-ed it all for a short while to mix everything into the sauce. If you want, you can just add the sauce to the veggies alone and serve over virgin noodles.

Cooking lesson!
Serve in a noodle-bowl with a wedge of lime for squeezing! Are my noodle-bowls not lovely? They were handmade by Caractacus Pots of Etsyville. All her stuff is handmade, OOAK, reasonably priced and lovely! I’m keeping an eye on her yarn bowl section for my next purchase!

Needless to say, the satay was freaking delicious, and provided 6 of our 7-a-day portions of veg. (You can substitute the coconut milk for water or some other kind of unsweetened plant milk to cut down on the fat content, too, health lovers.) Next challenge: to make it without Lovely Boyfriend’s help!

*

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!

Procrastination Station #126

May 9th, 2014

scrap vomit, close up of quilting

In my workshop the default subject position of reading and writing—of Literature with a capital L—was white, straight and male. This white straight male default was of course not biased in any way by its white straight maleness—no way! Race was the unfortunate condition of nonwhite people that had nothing to do with white people and as such was not a natural part of the Universal of Literature, and anyone that tried to introduce racial consciousness to the Great (White) Universal of Literature would be seen as politicizing the Pure Art and betraying the (White) Universal (no race) ideal of True Literature.

Junot Diaz on the race problem in creative writing M[F]As, in The New Yorker. (Thanks, Freesia.)

This poem by a small child is amazing. What a last line!

Brand new zine! Seeking submissions! Get on it!

I remember one situation, when we lived in a village, when a woman asked me what I did in the prison and when I said I was a teacher she patronisingly asked what was the purpose if they were criminals. This view holds in general, sadly.

Prisoners — and those who work with prisoners — respond to Chris Grayling’s disgusting and utterly absurd ban on books behind bars.

Here’s Marina Warner being super smart and fascinating. You know, as always.

My book was the No. 6 bestselling title in America for a while, right behind all the different “50 Shades of Grey” and “Gone Girl.” It was selling more copies than “Hunger Games” and “Bossypants.” So, I can sort of see why people thought I was going to start wearing monogrammed silk pajamas and smoking a pipe.
But the truth is, there’s a reason most well-known writers still teach English. There’s a reason most authors drive dented cars. There’s a reason most writers have bad teeth. It’s not because we’ve chosen a life of poverty. It’s that poverty has chosen our profession.
Even when there’s money in writing, there’s not much money.

How much money an Amazon bestseller really makes. (Spoiler: not a lot.)

Hey, are you a teacher of literature, at any level? Scottish Book Trust has made you some reading resources that fit with almost any book imaginable! You’re welcome.

Edinburgh realised you can never have too many libraries: it now has a Library of Mistakes.

The literary novel as an art work and a narrative art form central to our culture is indeed dying before our eyes. Let me refine my terms: I do not mean narrative prose fiction tout court is dying – the kidult boywizardsroman and the soft sadomasochistic porn fantasy are clearly in rude good health. And nor do I mean that serious novels will either cease to be written or read. But what is already no longer the case is the situation that obtained when I was a young man.

Will Self: the novel isn’t dead, but it might be undead.

Yes & Yes is looking for travel writers!

I’m speaking at this event (& billed as “Scottish Book Trust’s Claire Askew”!) next week, and all are welcome. It’s free, too!

My writing devices are a laptop and a green Princess Standard typewriter and a variety of notebooks, each filled less than a third and then jettisoned in favour of new notebooks that will be The Perfect Notebook—the one that will inspire all the words to come.

Jane Flett feels the same way about notebooks that I do.

I just completed a day-long public speaking training with these folks, and I love this advice from them on fielding hostile questions.

Haven’t found yourself a typewriter yet? You can use this typewriter text editor in the meantime!

“How are you so confident?” “I’m an asshole!” Okay? It’s my good time, and my good life, despite what you think of me. I live my life, because I dare. I dare to show up when everyone else might hide their faces and hide their bodies in shame. I show up because I’m an asshole, and I want to have a good time.

Gabourey Sidibe is so freaking great. So great.

I loved these photos of Whitby Goth Fest 2014. Going there is definitely on my bucket list.

I’m obsessed with peeking inside these tiny apartments.

Universal veganism would reduce agriculture-related carbon emissions by 17 percent, methane emissions by 24 percent, and nitrous oxide emissions by 21 percent by 2050. Universal vegetarianism would result in similarly impressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. What’s more, the Dutch researchers found that worldwide vegetarianism or veganism would achieve these gains at a much lower cost than a purely energy-focused intervention involving carbon taxes and renewable energy technology. The upshot: Universal eschewal of meat wouldn’t single-handedly stave off global warming, but it would go a long way toward mitigating climate change.

So screw you, carcass-eaters.

Destroyed UKIP billboards… is what UKIP billboards were made for.

DID YOU SEE WHAT JANELLE MONAE WORE TO THE MET GALA?? So going to my high school reunion in this outfit.

& finally…

I hadn’t watched this for years, and I thought that was a damn shame:

(Photo credit)

I never really paid much attention to Adele… not because I didn’t like her or anything, I just sort of never got round to it. Then Sonia shared this with me the other day and wow, Adele is awesome!

Have a great weekend!

*

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!

Featured Magazines #17: The Bugle

May 5th, 2014

The Bugle

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

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

*

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!