Almost all the books I read in 2015 and the things I thought about them

December 28th, 2015

Yep, I’m doing this again! Gird your loins…

JUST finished reading "Life After Life" by Kate Atkinson. Holy Cow...it was incredible! 5 out of 5.
(Photo credit)

JANUARY FICTION
MR Carey: The Girl With All The Gifts

This book is like crack. I read it really, really fast and couldn’t stop! Then I heard that the main character (a badass middle aged black woman) is being played by Gemma Arterton in the movie adaptation, and now I feel angry whenever I think about it.

Kate Atkinson: Life After Life
This woman’s books really don’t deserve the soppy covers they get. I was put off reading her for years because the covers of all her books made me think they’d be saccharine. Then I finally read this and loved it and wished I’d thought of the idea (a really smart take on “what if you could go back in time and kill Hitler?”, essentially) first. It’s great.

Amber Benson: The Witches of Echo Park
I seem to remember that this author is also an actress who was in Buffy, or something. I didn’t know that when I bought it. I bought it because the idea sounded awesome (a coven of witches in contemporary LA, HELLO). I ditched it about thirty pages in because the writing was about the worst I’d ever seen in a published book. Seriously, it was like having my fingernails pulled out. I now show it to my Write Like A Grrrl! students as an example of How Not To Write Sentences.

JANUARY POETRY
Chris Banks: Bonfires

Things I can remember about this book: I think the poet is Canadian. I think I thought it was OK at the time. I seem to remember it has a weird cover. Make of all that what you will.

Tracey S Rosenberg: The Naming of Cancer
Ooh, this one’s easy! I reviewed it here!

JANUARY NON-FICTION
Francine Prose: Reading Like A Writer
She’s quite pompous: there are some fairly rude retorts written at her in the margins of my copy. BUT her advice is genuinely really useful. The Dialogue and Sentence chapters are especially good.

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Norman Nicholson pilgrimage

FEBRUARY FICTION
Sandra Newman: The Country of Ice Cream Star

I absolutely loved this when I read it, because I thought that the writer was a woman of colour. Then I found out that she’s white, and she’s said some mildly clueless things about the book’s approach to race. Now I just have all the feels about it. All of them.

Beauty Tips for Girls by Margaret Montgomery
This author is an absolutely lovely lady — I have it on good authority from many people who have met her. The book is not my personal cup of tea, but I was happy for her when it was published, and when so many other folk seemed to like it.

FEBRUARY POETRY
Marie Howe: The Kingdom of Ordinary Time

I didn’t like it quite as much as What The Living Do, but that book is actually perfect. This one’s still pretty freaking amazing. I want to be Marie Howe when I grow up, including having her amazing hair.

Kayla Czaga: For Your Safety, Please Hold On
I am getting harder and harder to please when it comes to poetry. I liked this fine, but it didn’t set me on fire. Nice cover design, is the main thing I remember about this ten months on.

FEBRUARY NON-FICTION
Kathleen Jones: Norman Nicholson, The Whispering Poet

I absolutely love Norman Nicholson and I absolutely love Kathleen Jones’ books, so this was a no brainer. It was great. It made me go on a NN pilgrimage, it was so great!

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Mixing The Colours from Glasgow Women's Library

MARCH FICTION
Annie Proulx: Close Range

Short fiction! I keep telling myself I need to read more short fic. God Annie Proulx is horribly talented. Every sentence is bloody perfect. Every story is totally gripping. I love her and hate her in equal measure, the talented cow.

Mixing The Colours: Women Speaking About Sectarianism, ed. Rachel Thain Gray
I followed the fortunes of this project all year, went to its launch, and met many of the cool ladies who contributed to this anthology. It’s thought-provoking, handmade, and gorgeous. Well done, GWL and Rachel!

MARCH POETRY
The Collected Poems of Norman Nicholson

How to be inspired to write poetry: wait til spring, then go to Cumbria, stay there, and read nothing but Norman Nicholson for the best part of the month. I feel like I wrote the best part of my second-collection-in-progress in March, thanks to Norman!

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Hallelujah for 50ft Women

APRIL POETRY
Mary Oliver: Dream Work

Yes, again. Springtime means Mary Oliver. You just can’t get through spring without reaching for her.

Frances Leviston: Disinformation
Another effortlessly talented smartypants. I basically agree with the entirety of Dave’s review. Reading this made my brain hurt, but in a good way.

Hallelujah for 50ft Women: poems about women’s relationships with their bodies, ed. The Raving Beauties
Great poems, slightly cissexist introduction.

Mark Doty: Deep Lane
OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD. Just when you thought he couldn’t get any better, he went and got better. This book is perfect. PERFECT I TELL YOU. I wanted to eat it. I wanted to swim in it. I read it about once a week for six months… but the first time was the best. Buy it, read it, do it now.

Mark Doty: My Alexandria
Mark Doty: Sweet Machine

After I finished Deep Lane I was just in the grip of Doty fever. Addicted, I tell you! PS: Hey look! In April I read only poetry! Nice.

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goverments should fear thir people and support literacy
(Photo credit. I love this pic of Jo Bell!)

MAY FICTION
Laura McBride: We Are Called To Rise

I got this ’cause I had two ‘three for two’ books in Waterstones and needed a third. It was a punt, but it turned out to be great. Holy crap it was good. Just good, strong, confident storytelling. And gripping. A little predictable at the end but I really didn’t care. Bonus: its structure helped me figure out how I wanted to structure my own novel. Yay!

MAY POETRY
Sophie Cabot Black: The Descent

This is a book with two (or three? I forget) sections, the poems in each of which seem to be lots of variations on the same theme. The first section, with poems all about travelling through wildernesses, is bloody great. It was weird how much I liked that section, only to massively dislike the section that was all love poems. It felt like two massively different poetry collections in one. But hey, it won a ton of awards, so what the hell do I know?

Patricia Young: Here Come The Moonbathers
Re-reading this for about the millionth time. Whenever I read this book I wish I was back where I was when I first read it: on the deck of the Vancouver-Victoria ferry with a beer, sailing towards a month-long Canadian roadtrip. Sigh.

Polly Clark: Kiss
I can remember absolutely nothing about this collection, six-or-so-months on, except that there was a naked lady on the cover. That’s not good, but I think the fault lies with me, not the book.

Jo Bell: Kith
I read this at the same time as the book above, and enjoyed the similarity of their titles. I remember lots about this one, though: mainly, the poems are all very short and a good number of them made me snort-laugh. I read them on a sunny long weekend in my aunty’s little Lake District cottage and they were perfect for that time and that place. There’s one amazing poem that really stuck with me, about Jo waking up in her narrowboat and realising that the canal had frozen overnight. Simple and gorgeous.

MAY NON-FICTION
Helen Macdonald: H is for Hawk

Bored the pants off me. Got about… sixty pages in? If that? Then thought… next.

Malcolm Gladwell: Outliers
I was on holiday (see above) and wanted something totally un-taxing. This was a re-read, and I possibly enjoyed it even more second time around. It reinforced my opinion that people who hate on Malcolm Gladwell are suuuuper dull and rather joyless individuals.

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Well hello there beautiful. Next on deck, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons From The Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. "She breathes life into death."
(Photo credit)

JUNE FICTION
Rufi Thorpe: The Girls of Corona Del Mar

Self-absorbed, messily written, totally unconvincing, and somehow also pretty dull. In my line of work, I meet young women who have real actual problems in their lives. This asshole narrator needed to get a grip, frankly. (Maybe she was supposed to be annoying and eventually got her comeuppance, but I’m afraid I ditched out early.)

Peter Carey: Amnesia
What an utterly odd book. It was totally not about what its blurb said it was about. But it was really rather funny (and much funnier, I’m sure, if you’re Australian and get all the in-jokes) and I enjoyed it. May seek out more Carey in future (recommendations of particular titles welcomed!).

JUNE POETRY
The Dark Horse: 20th Anniversary Edition

I can’t say too much about this ’cause I’m featured in it (!!!) but I can say it also features folk like Alasdair Gray, Douglas Dunn and Vicki Feaver, so yaknow, that gives you a sense of things. (Also, it’s not just poetry, it’s a mix of genres, but I put it under poetry ’cause the poetry section includes Little Old Me!)

JUNE NON-FICTION
Caitlin Doughty: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, and Other Lessons from the Crematorium
This is a memoir/rumination on death by a female funeral director, and it’s absolutely bloody brilliant. Very funny, very poignant — I read it on a very wet two-day work trip to Oban and it made my seven hours of train travel fly by. My only criticism would be, occasionally some of her controversial-y, non-PC-y humour felt like it was punching down, not up. See what you think.

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Untitled
(Photo credit)

JULY FICTION
Jennifer Egan: Look at Me

BRING OUT ANOTHER NOVEL ALREADY PLEASE JENNIFER. In order to worship at the altar of your absolutely perfect writing, I am having to re-re-re-re-re-read all your novels, and there aren’t enough of them. GET ON IT.

John Updike: The Witches of Eastwick
I decided to have a summer of re-reading some faves, hence the one above. You may be surprised to learn that a ranty intersectional feminist like myself counts an Updike novel among her all-time top ten, but I do. I mean, it’s HILARIOUS that whenever a person with breasts walks into a room, he needs to tell us (or indeed, remind us, if they’re a main character) exactly what size, shape, and colour that person’s breasts are (often with flower-related similes). But once you get used to just chortling at that and moving on, it’s all fine.

JULY POETRY
Karen Solie: The Living Option, New and Selected Poems

Oi Karen! You could also do with bringing out another book, please. You’re another one I keep having to re-re-re-re-read ’cause I want more of your writing magic! Get it together, ladies!

Mark Doty: Deep Lane
I wrote down in my book-reading diary that I’d re-read this one in July… but basically I never stopped reading it. I’ve dipped back into it so many times this year. But I think this re-read was to prepare me for MD’s reading at the EIBF, and for meeting him afterwards (!!!! he was so kind. So kind. I shall post more about our meeting in my year-end round-up post shortly!).

JULY NON-FICTION
R. Swinburne Clymer: Nature’s Healing Agents
Michael Howard: The Witches Herbal

I bought these two books at the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft, and they have proven totally invaluable… I’m writing a bunch of poems about witches and witchcraft to go in my second collection, you see. The Herbal book is particularly great, and surprisingly, I’ve been able to make use of it when foraging, too. I was sad to hear that its author died this year. He was very involved in the Museum of Witchcraft, aka one of my favourite places in the world.

Katherine Howe: The Penguin Book of Witches
See above. This is probably the most useful reference book you could ask for when writing about witches. So many original sources, presented and explained with handy notes. Also, it was fun reading it on the bus… no one wanted to sit next to me.

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Act 1
(Photo credit)

AUGUST NON-FICTION
Blake Snyder: Save The Cat

It turns out everyone knew about this amazingly useful little book except me, ’cause I try to recommend it to writers now and they’re all like, “yeah, beat sheets. Use ‘em all the time!” Why did no one ever tell me about this oh-so-handy guide to plotting?! It says it’s for screenplays but it applies pretty well to novels. Helped me loads.

Michael O’Byrne: The Crime Writer’s Guide to Police Practice and Procedure
I am writing a crime novel. Or actually, I prefer Emily St John Mandel’s version, which she referred to when I saw her at the EIBF this year (more on that later): “a novel with a crime in it.” Therefore, I felt this book was worth its weight in gold… and it came at a very good time for me, when I was getting tons of writing done and (as you can see) not reading much else.

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie © Beowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center
(Photo credit)

SEPTEMBER FICTION
Susan Hill: The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper To Read

Did you know that the lady who wrote The Woman In Black, and other terrifying creepy things, also writes lovely, whimsical short fiction? It’s true. I bought this collection waaaay back when I was about fifteen and the brilliant writing blew my tiny mind. I needed to teach a seminar on Modes of Narration in September and immediately reached for this book (and the title story in particular) ’cause she’s so brilliant at Free Indirect Speech.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The Thing Round Your Neck
This was for the same Modes of Narration seminar. Best use of second person since Italo Calvino.


SEPTEMBER POETRY
Naomi Shihab Nye: Tender Spot

I saw her at EIBF, reading alongside Mark Doty (can I just say DREAM TEAM?), and then bought the book from her afterwards. I’ve been reading it super slowly ever since (still not done), trying to savour it like a really expensive box of chocolates. Needless to say, it’s great.

NB: I should say that from here on in, things get very sparse. The reason is, I got my job as Creative Writing Fellow for Tyne and Esk Writers. I work 17.5 hours a week in that job, and on some weeks, as many as ten of those hours are reserved for reading the writing of T&E members in order to offer critique. So I’ve been reading loads this winter! Loads and loads of exciting, as-yet-unpublished novel manuscripts and poetry collections and single poems and short stories… I just can’t write about them here. Yet! Wait for it! Some of them are coming soon to a bookstore shelf near you!

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Thanks to everyone who attended the #litsyndicate's heated discussion of Philip Hoare's THE SEA INSIDE! Our next meeting will take place on Tuesday, July 28th, when we'll be discussing the mother of all #smartsummerreads, Emily St. John Mandel's STATION E
(Photo credit)

OCTOBER POETRY
Greta Stoddart: Salvation Jane

I picked this up in a second hand bookstore in Whitby, to have a quick flick through. Ten minutes later my brother came searching for me to find out what I’d got so engrossed in.

Claudia Rankine: Citizen
Again… what Dave said.

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NOVEMBER FICTION
Douglas Coupland: Hey Nostradamus!

Someone told me a while back that I ought to read this book, because elements of it are similar to the novel I am currently writing. I can’t remember who that person was, but THANK YOU SO MUCH. You totally get my taste in books! This was my fiction discovery of the year, though it faced strong competition, especially from Station Eleven (see below). It was just gob-smackingly brilliant. I thought I knew what I was getting into when I started reading, and it just kept surprising me and surprising me and surprising me, right down to the absolutely stunning, beautiful, gorgeous, poignant, heart-stopping ending, which had me weeping buckets. I read this in two sittings: it was one of those books where you just go screw it, I’m not doing anything else today, I just have to read this til I am done. Douglas Coupland, where have you been all my life?! Miss Wyoming next…

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DECEMBER FICTION
Emily St John Mandel: Station Eleven

Yes, I fiiiiinally got around to reading it. I bought it way back in the year: remember me saying I was buying 3-for-2 books back in May? It was one of those three. In June I booked a ticket to go and see ESJM at EIBF and told myself that’d spur me on to read it. Then the event, which was ace, came and went in August. I find it hard sometimes to get myself psyched up to read the book everyone’s raving about, you know? And then usually I kick myself when I finally do read it, as I did with this one. Holy wow. It’s every bit as good as everyone says, and more. Just don’t do what I did and read it when you’re feeling flu-y. Oh, and if you get chance to go and see ESJM speak/read? Go. Her EIBF event was so great. She’s very eloquent, whip-smart, very funny, and I could listen to her lovely Canadian accent all day. But don’t do what I did… read the book before you go.

A few final stats:

Total books read: 45 (down on last year’s 51. OMG SO LOW RIGHT? Meh. You know how every book blogger is telling you they read three books a week for the whole year right now? Unless they sat on the panel for a major book prize, or worked as a reviewer for a big publication, it’s likely they’re fibbing. PS: if you’re measuring the worth of your life by how many books you’re reading per year, you need to get a grip, and also remember that the ability to read at all is a massive privilege and bragging is vulgar. Here endeth the lesson.)

Total fiction: 16 (down on last year’s 17)
Total poetry: 19 (20 if you count reading Deep Lane twice. Waaaay down on last year’s 32)
Total non-fiction: 10 (way up on last year’s 2! Hooray!)

Books by men: 13 (down on last year’s 16)
Books by women: 30 (down on last year’s 35)
Books by multiple authors, or by an author whose gender I don’t know: 2

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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.

Things I Love Thursday 105: ALL OF AUTUMN edition

December 3rd, 2015

So it looks like TiLT has become seasonal, as the last one of these I did was summer! Oh well. Here are some things I’ve loved over the past few months…

Foraging!
This was in my 30-before-30 list, and I think I’ve done pretty well this autumn on the Free Food front!

Foraged hazelnuts

Foraged hazelnuts

^ Hazelnuts from Canonmills!

Foraged salmonberries, raspberries and brambles

& yet more foragings... brambles and wild raspberries

First bramble haul of the foraging season!  Plus a few hazelnuts I found.

October adventures (52)

^ Salmonberries from Canonmills, brambles from all manner of places (so many brambles this year!)

Vegan eats

Another one from my 30-before-30 list

October adventures (2)

October adventures (3)

^ Have you been to Henderson’s Vegan yet? Go!

October adventures (53)

^ Lovely Boyfriend’s very best autumn stew.

Vegan breakfast nachos

^ Vegan breakfast nachos (yes, yes you read that right), also made by Lovely Boyfriend, aka personal chef.

Halloween 2015 (5)

^ Here’s this year’s pumpkin pie. (Yes, this one.)

October adventures (51)

^ Best present I ever bought my man? Possibly the waffle iron. OK, definitely the waffle iron.

Vegan peanut butter blondies (1)

^ He also made me peanut butter blondies this autumn. Yeah… I’ll never be thin.

October adventures (6)

^ …especially not since Sugar Daddy’s Bakery has opened only about four blocks from my house!

Edinburgh

a.k.a the most excellent city ever.

October adventures (19)

October adventures (20)

October adventures (43)

October adventures (46)

^ The shops in my neighbourhood got well into Halloween!

October adventures (27)

October adventures (29)

October adventures (37)

October adventures (44)

October adventures (47)

October adventures (48)

October adventures (49)

^ I went for many a good autumnal walk in Edinburgh and its environs…

Botanic Lights (39)

Botanic Lights (36)

Botanic Lights (34)

Botanic Lights (24)

Botanic Lights (11)

^ …and that included the beautifully illuminated Botanics!

Cumbria

OK, I already spend tons of time there but you guys, I just want to live there. I’m sorry, Edinburgh… I’m starting to cheat on you! I mean, just look at the Gelt Woods (near Brampton):

Gelt Woods (2)

Gelt Woods (1)

Gelt Woods (3)

Gelt Woods (4)

Gelt Woods (7)

Gelt Woods (8)

^ IT’S LIKE LIVING INSIDE TUMBLR.

What have YOU been up to this autumn?

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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.

Yet more reasons to Write Like A Grrrl!: January 2016 semester now booking…

December 2nd, 2015

Audre Lorde
(Photo credit)

You all know by now that I teach on the innovative and exciting all-female writing course Write Like A Grrrl!, right? We had such a good year in 2015… up here in Edinburgh I ran four semesters and every single one sold out, and things were much the same in London and Manchester, too. This summer we also cooked up our Next Step course, for women who’ve completed ‘original’ WLAG! and fancy a new challenge. (That has also gone pretty excellently.) A lot of words have been read and written and a lot of barriers-to-writing have been overcome; a lot of tea has been drunk and a lot of cake (I mean a lot) has been eaten. And now I’m ready to start all over again in 2016!

WLAG! Edinburgh begins its new semester on Monday 18th January, and places are already getting booked up. There’s only space for twelve women on each course, so I suggest you get moving! If you click through to the booking site, you’ll see that you have the option to pay a deposit now and the rest later. Or you can also buy a space on WLAG! Edinburgh for a friend for Christmas.

Now convinced yet? Here are some (honest-to-god totally real and undoctored — really!) very nice testimonials from women who completed the most recent WLAG! course in September 2015:

What was most useful? Checking in every week even if [our writing] didn’t go well. That block-by-block approach is really good. And I like that you don’t have to share work yet.

Do it! Amazing value for money, really great to have a space for writing every week in your life, and a brilliant support network. Claire is a great tutor. Plus, I like that it’s variable: it can work for you whether you have small or big goals for [your writing].

I would highly recommend WLAG! It’s a very friendly environment and a great motivation to just start writing. Before, I’d started losing focus with my writing, but now I feel confident to keep going!

It’s amazing being able to talk and share stuff with other women who have a lot of the same experiences, it’s been so productive. Definitely do it! I was totally new to creative writing before, and I had a bit of anxiety about being a bit of a fraud. But I’ve found everything to be so inclusive, totally without judgement, and so as a result I’ve been able to learn and develop — and most importantly, to actually start a writing habit. Also: Claire! Best ever.

It was useful hearing about what everyone is doing and that everyone faces common challenges — [writing] doesn’t come totally naturally to everyone and there is comfort in that. I feel optimistic, energised, and more knowledgeable now.

Join! I think it’s a great course, and unique in its approach to creative writing. There’s loads of practical and very helpful advice to apply to existing work, as well as helping to generate new ideas.

Absolutely do it! Claire is a brilliant, inspiring, encouraging tutor. In only 6 weeks, I feel that my confidence has really increased. The things I’ve learned have made me feel excited about taking on my next project(s)!

What more do you need? Get over there and book already! All women — and I mean all women — are welcome!

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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!

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

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.

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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.

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Sunday:
It’s hot,

the sun

shoves us away

and we know by heart

the farthest color in the rainbow.

Fire; then a step. 

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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?!

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Saturday:
It’s hot, 

the letters 

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

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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!

Making a manuscript: seasonal affective poetics

November 1st, 2015

This post is the fifth (and maybe last?) of a series I’m writing about the creation of my second poetry collection (the second post is here, the third is here, and the fourth 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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Cornwall Summer 2015 (34)
A photo from my summer holiday to Cornwall earlier this year… feels like a long time ago, now!

I love autumn… but every year when it gets to this time of year, I feel myself starting to hunker down for winter. An Edinburgh winter is hard to thole (I know — Shetlanders are rolling their eyes at me right now!), and although every year I try to start out with optimism, by February I’m desperate for an end to the darkness and sideways precipitation. Writing this poetry collection, I’ve realised how much I am — and by extension, my poetry is — influenced by the seasons. In fact, I think this might be something I’ve learned from poetry — to try and pay more attention to the details of what’s happening in the natural world around me.

During my PhD, which I completed at the end of 2013, I read a lot of Kerry Hardie’s poetry. I mean a lot: I read and re-read and re-read and re-read. I wrote a chapter on Hardie’s work that was eventually cut from my thesis — but I think Hardie ended up being my favourite of all the poets whose writing I analysed and wrote about.

Hardie’s poems are intimately connected to the changing of the seasons. She seems to write most in the autumn and winter — or perhaps she just prefers the poems she writes during those seasons, because there are more of them in her collections. She also writes a lot about being ill, or being ill-at-ease — and in many poems, the seasonal weather is foregrounded and the illness or unease is the subtext underneath it.

I’m realising with this new collection that I’ve pinched that idea — or tapped into it, or emulated it, if you want a kinder version. It wasn’t a conscious thing, but as I come towards the end of this collection-making process, I’m realising: I’ve written a book full of weather. Lots of ominous clouds. But underneath the weather is the unease the weather makes — specifically, the feeling that something’s coming. The way I feel about winter in Scotland, as we get into November. It’s coming. Brace yourself.

It was always my intention to write eco poems in this collection. In fact, I hoped I might write a whole collection of eco poems, and it’s actually turned out to be more of a mixed bag than that. But what I definitely have written is a bunch of poems in which, lurking underneath the (often freak) weather, is the sense that this is just the start. The something that’s coming in these poems is climate change, and coming it is.

Here, have some poems. They won’t help, but have them anyway.

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Procrastination Station #147: Halloween edition

October 31st, 2015

Lake District bank holiday '15

Happy Halloween!

To accuse intelligent, independent or pleasure-seeking women of immorality and corruption is as old as Eve herself, of course. To prey on the vulnerable to assert your own authority is just as ancient. To smear your own fears about female sexuality, sin, and insubordination across the women around you is just an extension of this two-pronged attack.

This candid article about our traditional image of the broomstick-riding witch is just brilliant. Thanks to Alice for sharing.

Woman convicted of witchcraft gets a retrial, 300 years after the fact (thanks, Russell!).

These old names for herbs are such good poem-fodder.

Old women villains are especially scary because, historically, the most powerful person in a child’s life was the mother. “Children do have a way of splitting the mother figure into … the evil mother — who’s always making rules and regulations, policing your behavior, getting angry at you — and then the benevolent nurturer — the one who is giving and protects you, makes sure that you survive.”

Why are witches always old?

A few witchy rituals and omens for your Halloween night!

You know that garbage people spout about how humans are superior to animals because only we know about death? That’s cobblers, and crows prove it.

The first Halloween at Dad’s house was the closest I’ve come in my life to having a wish come true. Everything my brother and I talked about was there, made real, in Dad’s yard. The stuff ran up the tree, across the porch, nearly encroaching into his neighbor’s yard. There was Dracula, sitting up in his coffin, his eyes flicking open and shut. Frankenstein froze mid-step on the corner of the porch supported by fishing wire. Bats and cats and pumpkins adorned the mailbox, the flagpole, the base of the tree. My brother and I were blown away.

This touching story about one kid’s relationship with his dad, as told through Halloween decorations, is absolutely lovely.

I would like to go and live at the Bealtaine Cottage, please. Or better, build my own.


Required reading for Halloween: Anne Sexton.


THE ORIGINAL SKELETON ARMY


Just a damn fine Halloween tune.

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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.

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

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.”

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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Procrastination Station #146

October 16th, 2015

Kendal sunset

First thing’s first: are you wondering why this PS post is shorter than the usual? The answer is, I have moved some of my blog content over to Patreon, which means it’s now behind a (fairly tiny) paywall. Fear not! I will still be posting free content here, but I also need to pay the bills… and you can help. For just $5 per month (around £3!) you can access my monthly writing support pack, read poems and stories of mine that are FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, and download free assignments and resources to help you to write. Sound good? Sign up here!

Alright, now for the good stuff…

Accept the fact that you must change your program. Accept that you have not done enough to support writers of color. Accept that it will take time to rebrand and rebuild trust. Accept that you may not be ready for us. Accept that the passion, fire, and talent of writers of color might burn your program down. Accept that only we can help you rebuild this broken system.

This by Craig Santos Perez, on the white-and-male-ness of MFAs and how they can be fixed, is bloody great.

Here’s a lovely essay by Marlon James, written pre-Booker-Prize-win (yay!), on how writing factored into his decision to keep on living in spite of everything.

As you may already know, I am not usually a huge McSweeney’s fan. However, their Interactive Guide to Ambiguous Grammar is important and excellent and must be read to the end.

There’s a miniature silver ball, a black button, a blue paper clip, a yellow bead, a faded black piece of foam, a blue Lego piece, and the list goes on. Many of them are scuffed and dirty. It is an odd assortment of objects for a little girl to treasure, but to Gabi these things are more valuable than gold.

The girl who gets gifts from birds is a beautiful true story, and I may have to turn it into a poem.

11 things you probably didn’t know about the Brontes.

Incredible literary jack-o-lanterns. Are these even real?! The Hunger Games one. I just. OK.

The next day, I noticed a scratch. Surely we have the technology to fix this. Maybe some buffing process? 1 week later, it looks like it’s been scraped on the ground. Observing friend’s wedding rings, they don’t look perfect and shiny at all. They look like they’ve been through some small war.
Just for curiosity, I enquired how much one might be able to sell a slightly used, but well loved Platinum wedding ring on the open market. From my limited search, I may be able to recoup as much as 20% of what I paid. If I melt it down, I could sell it for $130.
If the ring isn’t worth much in the first place, why is it important to spend tons of money to some company for a token piece of rareish metal that wraps around a particular finger? It’s stupid.

As the CEO of an (infinitely affordable) online jewellery store, I approve this message.

The brilliant PANK are closing their doors, which is super sad. BUT they are still open for submissions for a short time!

The great Amy Key wrote a response to the BBC’s “Poetry Season” — well, it’s more a list of demands, really. And it’s great.


I love the Tales of Mere Existence, and “Procrastination” just went to the top of my list.


The Dark Horse turned 20 this year! Warning: this video features my stupid face.


I may be just a tad obsessed with this ethereal cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide.’

Have a great weekend!

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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!