Opportunities for writers! Come and work with me!

September 4th, 2015

Hey! Are you a writer, or would you like to be one? Are you looking for any of the following: guidance, community, self-confidence, advice, resources, mentoring, fun? This post is for you. I’m doing lots of exciting stuff at the moment and I would love for YOU to be part of it. Come along…?

Alison Gibson reading at Storyshop

Write Like A Grrrl!: the new semester
6-week all-female fiction writing course — starts 21st September

See that gorgeous woman in that photo? That’s Alison Gibson, an alumna of Write Like A Grrrl! March. Way back in March, I nagged a somewhat-uncertain Alison into submitting one of her short stories to Edinburgh International Book Festival’s prestigious StoryShop programme. Six months later, I sat among a gaggle of Write Like A Grrrl! alumni watching Alison read that story to a rapt crowd in the EIBF’s Spiegeltent theatre. I don’t mean to take all the credit, obviously. But I’m pretty sure that my nagging — and the support she received from the rest of the WLAG! group — was a big factor in Alison getting onto that stage!

Seriously, Write Like A Grrrl! is magical — I’m biased, yes, but I’m also pretty sure that I aint wrong about this! The course is open to women writers of all stripes, no matter where they are in their writing journey. Some folk start WLAG! with half a novel under their belt… they just need to get it finished. Some folk start having done absolutely no writing, ever… they just want to check it out. And many of the women I meet on WLAG! have had their confidence knocked in one way or another — they want to write but they just can’t find the strength.

Write Like A Grrrl! lunch outing
^ A meeting of just some of the WLAG! alumni — from January, March and May — last month.

WLAG! is all about strength. It’s strength in numbers — you’ll meet eleven other like-minded women writers and trust me, you’ll soon end up down the pub together, geeking out about writing! It’s also about strengthening your routine — making writing a natural part of your life and never a chore — and strengthening the words themselves, making them really sing. To date, women who’ve completed Write Like A Grrrl! Edinburgh have gone on to do things like writing for the Huffington Post, writing for the F Word, winning a major new short story writing prize, and hooking up with a top agent!

You can read some testimonals from the January group (aka ‘the Edinburgh guinea pigs’ — first ever course!) by clicking here. You can read some from the March group by clicking here. And there are some from the May group on this page here.

If all of this sounds good, and you want to find out more, head over to the Write Like A Grrrl! Edinburgh page. The course runs over six consecutive Monday evenings, and costs £72 in total… what’s that? The price of a pair of party shoes? Put on your scruffy old ones and come do some writing instead!

Edinburgh Aug 14

Creatrix Women’s Poetries for the 21st Century: an online Poetry School course
10-week online poetry writing course, open to everyone — goes live 16th September

Just as there are many ways to be a woman, so are there many ways women have written about the female experience. On this course, you’ll look at the ways in which writing by women and about their lives has been traditionally categorised, and find ways to explore and subvert those categorisations in your own writing, exploring within and beyond the dominant narratives and common grounds. You’ll look at feminism, poems that might be called confessional, domesticity, poems about the physical body, the natural world, family, love and relationships. The course will also have an intersectional bent, examining women’s experiences which deal with race, class, sexuality, disability and masculinity. Oh, it’s also taught by me!

‘So, is this women only too?’, you’re thinking? It is not! The course is, in fact, open to all women, all men, and all non-binary people. I’d really like to get a diverse bunch of students onto this course, in fact… men ought to read women, too, after all!

The Book Week Scotland/Inky Fingers Dead Poet Slam: the scary judges, Edith Sitwell, Aphra Behn and Vita Sackville-West
^ Me, Alice Tarbuck and Jane McKie, dressed as great female poets of the past (can you guess which ones?) for the Inky Fingers Dead Poets Slam in 2013

You can read more about the course by clicking through to this interview I did with the Poetry School blog… also contains witches and oversharing about my second collection!

Come along, be inspired by amazing contemporary women poets, find new favourite female writers, meet fellow poets online, and produce new writing of your own that — I hope — moves you out of your comfort zone. The course costs are detailed on the right hand side of this page and the whole thing runs for ten weeks.

Morden Tower
^ Me with one of my own mentors, Kevin Cadwallender, at Morden Tower in 2010

Get mentored by me no matter where you live!: my very own Patreon
Ongoing!

OK… with much trepidation, I finally joined the Patreon crowd. However, I’m not asking you to fund me to write poems. Instead, I thought I could use Patreon to extend my ability to teach and mentor new and stuck creative writers. How?, I hear you cry…

Well, I was thinking: if folk are pledging to pay me a little something every month, then why can’t they be buying some of my teaching time with that money? I have a fair few writers from Edinburgh and the surrounding area who I help with line-by-line edits and feedback on their written work. I then meet them for a coffee, or we have a Skype chat, about how they’re doing. This is work I really, really like and the writers seem to get a lot from it. So, I thought, why not extend that to THE WHOLE WORLD? Patreon has helped me do that!

It works like this: you pledge a little bit each month ($5, or the price of a coffee), and I come to your inbox once per month and give you a swift kick up the butt, writing-wise. You’ll receive a pack of electronic goodies from me that will include writing prompts, exercises, useful articles, pointers and words of wisdom, submission calls, job opportunities, commissions… anything I think might help your writing get started, get good, get published. Pledge a bit more, and each month I’ll give you line-by-line edits on one of the pieces you’re working on… top up your pledge and I’ll look at two or three pieces per month. Pledge a little more, and we can have regular Skype chats to see how you’re doing and discuss how you can grow and improve. And so on. It’s a pay-what-you-can mentoring scheme, basically!

I only just set it up, and I haven’t entirely got the hang of it yet, and because I’m British it’s all a bit too much like marching up to people and asking them for money for my liking. So even if you’re not interested in pledging right now, I’d super appreciate it if you’d help me promote it by sharing my Patreon link on Twitter, Facebook, your blog… wherever, really! Thank you!

I hope some of you will join me on these adventures! As always, if you have any questions just drop me a line to claire@onenightstanzas.com or head over to @onenightstanzas on Twitter!

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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!

Where is Claire? Readings & events for Summer 2015

June 1st, 2015

Poet Claire Askew
^ Yeah, that’s me! From a photoshoot for the Herald Newspaper, photo by Julie Howden!

Still not sick of me after my various Spring 2015 outings? No? In which case…

The Dark Horse: 20th Anniversary Issue Launch
Thursday 4th June, 7pm, The Voodoo Rooms (Edinburgh)
I am so excited to have poetry featured in The Dark Horse once again, and this time in the sure-to-be-amazing 20th Anniversary issue! I’ll be reading alongside literary GIANTS Alasdair Gray (yes, really), Douglas Dunn (OMG) and Vicki Feaver (I am not worthy) at the Edinburgh launch.
UPDATE: sorry, it’s now SOLD OUT!

10Red (or TenRed… I am never quite sure!) July
Wednesday 1st July, 8pm, Persevere Function Rooms (Edinburgh)
UPDATE: After a bit of a last-minute diary reshuffle, I am no longer reading at 10Red June, but 10Red July! My feelings about 10Red, below, have of course not changed in the slightest!
I am always happy to be invited to read at 10Red, one of Edinburgh’s most reliably excellent live literature nights. I don’t yet know who else is on the bill, but please do come along to see me, and doubtless 9 other bloody excellent people. There’s also the increasingly famous mega book raffle, and entry is a very reasonable three quid.

Launching “Shoreline of Infinity“, a brand new Scottish sci-fi magazine
Thursday 2nd July, time + venue TBC (Edinburgh)
Remember the brilliant science fiction anthology Where Rockets Burn Through: Contemporary Science Fiction Poems from the UK? I had a couple of silly poems in it, and wrote about the launch here? Well, the editor of that publication, the esteemed Dr Russell Jones, has set up his own science fiction journal, Shoreline Of Infinity, and is holding a summer shindig to introduce it to the world! I’ll be reading at it, alongside Ryan Van Winkle, and probably Russell himself, as well as some other fine folks TBC. More information when I get it, but for now, put the date in your diaries!

Just Festival: contemporary women’s writing event (chaired by me!)
Thursday 20th August, 4pm, St John’s Church
This is all very TBC… I can’t tell you yet which women writers are going to be involved but, like anything that’s part of Just Festival, it’s going to be good. And I am going to be chairing it! Make sure you reserve this particular Thursday afternoon because you’ll want to be at this event, I promise!

My appearances at these events were in part 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!

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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!

More reasons to Write Like A Grrrl!: spaces on the May course

April 27th, 2015


(Photo credit)

You must have been living on the moon (with no wifi, obv) if you haven’t noticed that I am running a(n amazingly fun) all-female writing course in Edinburgh at the moment! It’s called Write Like A Grrrl!, the Edinburgh version started in January, and I have already posted some responses to the course from the women who bravely signed up for the first round.

I’ve just finished the second Edinburgh Write Like A Grrrl! course and I don’t think it’s at all an exaggeration to say that it’s going from strength to strength. I have loved teaching both ‘blocks’ and meeting the wonderful women who signed up — and I am now booking for a third course, starting on 12th May.

Here’s what some of the March/April ladies had to say about Write Like A Grrrl! Edinburgh:

Talking things through and getting different perspectives is so helpful. Meeting other really cool writers has been amazing… if you are serious about getting serious about writing, it’ll kick you into shape. I’ve written more in six weeks than I had in the previous six years. I don’t want it to end.

The chance to speak informally with like-minded people and be reminded that the first draft won’t be perfect but it’s important to keep going… I’d wholeheartedly recommend it. Even if I never write another word (which won’t happen!), I wouldn’t regret taking the course.

It’s been a great kick-start for me and I’ve enjoyed forming our group and sharing the experience with others. Getting the basics has also been so helpful as I’ve not done creative writing since school, and found the idea of other creative writing courses intimidating. This felt relaxed and accessible. Thanks, Claire, it’s been ace!

Do it! It cures all self doubt. It stops you from being your own worst critic.

I would say that it stops you from procrastinating and makes you get on with it. It’s not a passive course – don’t expect to be spoon-fed. There is work! But it’s excellent. And I doubt there is anyone who actually manages to finish it and not feel that [writing] is something they can do, and even enjoy doing!

I always found it hard to even start anything. I’m now looking at things differently and finding inspiration in the oddest places. I would say that it’s a great way of getting started on the road of writing… if you’re stuck, this will pull you out.

You can’t procrastinate forever. Just do it – this course will make you do it, but you have to do the course!

Hearing that other people have similar blocks was so reassuring… Absolutely do this course! You’ll learn so much, not only about writing, but about yourself as a writer (and you are!) in a supportive, accessible format. There’s nothing to be afraid of, and everything to gain.

Sound good to you? The new May/June course is booking up fast, but there are a couple of spaces left. If you fancy grabbing one of them, just click here and scroll down for instructions!

Not in Edinburgh? Write Like A Grrrl! can also be found in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol — just check out the right hand sidebar at this page!

See you there, grrrls?

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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!

UPDATED! Where is Claire? Readings and events for Spring 2015!

April 19th, 2015

I’m going to be reading words at people from stages across Edinburgh and Glasgow this Spring! Come and find me…

Inky Fingers Open Mic Night: April
Tuesday 7th April, 8pm, Forest Cafe (Edinburgh)
Inky Fingers say:

We want to hear from YOU. We want your poems, your rants, your ballads, your short stories, your diaries, your experimental texts, your heart, your mind, your body. We want the essay on your summer holidays you wrote when you were four, your adolescent haiku, and extracts from your eventually-to-be-completed epic fantasy quadrilogy. We want to hear your best new work as well. And we want people to care about the way words are performed.

Aaaaand you’ll get to read with me, ’cause I’m the booked headliner person for the night!

Best Scottish Poems launch, Aye Write! 2015
Sunday 19th April, 7pm, Mitchell Library (Glasgow)
So as you’ll know if you follow my Twitter, I was PRETTY DARNED HAPPY to have my poem Bad Moon selected for the SPL’s Best Scottish Poems anthology (this is the third time I’ve been picked! 2008 and 2009 too, baby!). I’ll be reading that poem at this event, alongside some brilliant other folks including JL Williams and Richie McCaffery.

Shore Poets: APRIL (the open mic night!)
Sunday 26th April, 7.15pm, Henderson’s at St John’s (Edinburgh)
Every year Shore Poets hosts an open mic night in April — this one is already full, I’m afraid, as we had people signing up as early as September last year! However, I’ve seen the list of performers and can tell you, you’re in for a treat. I’ll be the Shore Poet on the night, which means I’ll also be reading a set!

Illicit Ink: The SEX Show!
Sunday 3rd May, 8pm, The Bongo Club (Edinburgh)
OMG CN LESTER IS PART OF THIS! Is that not all you need to know? In case you need more (wtf), there’ll also be readings from the holy trinity of hip young everywhere-at-the-moment Glasgow writers Alan Bissett, Kirsten Innes and Kirsty Logan. I’ll be reading ranty feminist poems about things like witchcraft, burying bodies and setting things on fire. Yay? Here’s Illicit Ink’s website, and here’s the Facebook event in which I am billed last because I am OBVIOUSLY the least interesting performer.

Hot Tub Astronaut: Launch!
Thursday 7th May, 7pm, Sneaky Pete’s (Edinburgh)
Hot Tub Astronaut say: “Please come to help us launch the beginnings of Hot Tub Astronaut and its project to foster a creative community and to facilitate all kinds of innovative making. Hot Tub Astronaut publishes contemporary words, images, sounds.” They do indeed! In December, they published one of my poems as their first ever creative output (woo!) and they’ve since published many a fine writer on their e-zine. Now, they want to spread the word to more folks and a launch is the way they’re doing it! Not all the acts are announced yet, but I know you’ll be able to come and hear me and the Great Colin McGuire for sure. Entry is a bargainous £2 and you can buy your ticket on the door, or here at Eventbrite.

My appearances at these events were in part 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!

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

You should read this! Mixing The Colours: Women Speaking About Sectarianism anthology

April 6th, 2015

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to Glasgow Women’s Library’s brilliant Mixing The Colours Conference 2015. Mixing The Colours: Women Speaking About Sectarianism is a groundbreaking project, which has been running for about two years now, funded by the Scottish Government and designed to get women talking about one of Scotland’s most taboo subjects. The conference was an amazing day of discussion, performance and ideas, but importantly, it was also the launch-day of the project’s amazing anthology of women’s writing.

I’ve also been working on a project designed to tackle sectarianism: until just a few days ago, when the project reached completion, I was the Project Co-Ordinator for Scottish Book Trust’s graphic novel project Walk The Walk. I worked reasonably closely with staff from Mixing The Colours throughout that project, and so came to see clearly the various ways in which women’s voices have traditionally been erased from discussions about sectarianism.

Think about it for a second. When you read a newspaper article about a story relating to sectarianism, what is the accompanying photo usually of? Chances are, a stand full of male football fans. Perhaps a line of police personnel in their yellow jackets. There might be the odd female face or two if you squint closely, but traditionally, sectarianism in Scotland is considered a “men’s issue,” and all too often, seen as synonymous with football. I’m sure you’ll agree that this hurts men as well as women.

Thankfully, we now have the truly amazing Mixing The Colours: Women Speaking About Sectarianism anthology to add to the conversation. It features poetry, memoir, fiction and drama, all exploring individual women’s responses to their experiences of sectarianism. My favourite story is ‘Paddy,’ written by Ethyl Smith — a bittersweet tale of a young girl who is unwittingly caught up in the sectarianism that exists between two of her adult neighbours, all because she wants to be friends with a wee dog. But every piece in the book is brilliant, and important, and merits reading, re-reading and sharing.

You can get a look at the book by heading over to Glasgow Women’s Library’s stunning new(ish) home in Bridgeton, Glasgow. GWL is located in what was once the Bridgeton Men’s Reading Room, which I find rather delicious. The Mixing The Colours team have also been steadily gathering a collection of other resources that examine women’s reactions to sectarianism, so while you’re there, you can browse the whole lot.

Finally, the Mixing The Colours film gives a taster of what’s inside the book, and as you can see from my conference notes above, gives plenty of food for thought! Here’s a trailer:

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

You should read this: Hallelujah for 50ft Women

March 31st, 2015

Content note: discussion of sex essentialism.

If you know me at all, then you know I like a good women-only space. I’m currently teaching on the brilliant all-female fiction writing course Write Like A Grrrl!; Making It Home was an almost entirely all-female endeavour; and although I love working with folks of all genders, there’s something a bit special about getting a room full of self-identifying women together and seeing what they can achieve.

For that reason, I am pretty excited to have a poem in the brand new Bloodaxe anthology Hallelujah for 50ft Women, which is edited by the [in]famous female performance troupe Raving Beauties. It’s a pretty stunning looking book, as I’m sure you’ll agree — I’m loving the purple colour, and the typefaces!

The theme of the book is ‘women talking about their relationship(s) with their bodies,’ and my poem, ‘High School,’ is kind of about body dysmorphia, kind of about female competition, but also kind of about the fact that I knew a bunch of really bitchy girls when I was a teenager. I was pretty gobsmacked that it got picked, and even more gobsmacked when I saw it included alongside such truly legendary poets as Lucille Clifton, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Sharon Olds and Grace Nichols. Also in there are Warsan Shire, who’s everywhere at the moment and seemingly exceptionally cool, and Patricia Lockwood, of the brilliant — and mega-viral — poem Rape Joke.

I’d really encourage you to buy this book for the truly wide-ranging variety of poetic voices therein. The poets in here are some talented women and their work deserves reading. However, I feel I must apologise to my trans, genderqueer and non-binary friends for some of the content from the introduction. I’m sure it wasn’t intended to be read as essentialism, but I did feel a bit queasy about the “all women have c*nts” overtones in there. I mean, yay for female bodies, and yay let’s not be squeamish about them! But had it been my introduction to write? I’d've been underlining the important fact that not all women’s bodies look or behave in the same ways, or have the same bits.

Happily, I believe the poems themselves make it only too clear that women’s bodies are all different, and all awesome — in fact, they’re awesome in their differentness to one another. Have a read! You might well discover a new favourite female poet!

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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!

Reasons to Write Like A Grrrl!

March 3rd, 2015

@ the Indiana State Museum // 60s/70s feminist badge
(Photo credit)

Hey, remember that all-female writing course I was banging on about before Christmas? Well, my first bunch of students have just graduated — look out world, thirteen newly-confident ladywriters are COMING FOR YOU!

That means that I am now taking bookings for the second round of Write Like A Grrrl! Edinburgh, which starts on the evening of Thursday 19th March at Sandeman House. In fact, I am almost fully booked already, with only one space remaining!

If you’re a female writer who’s struggling to stay on track with a novel, or if you fancy trying some short stories, or you need to beat writer’s block, or if you just want to get involved with a group of lovely, like-minded women, here are some reasons why you should click over here and book up that final place!

All of these comments are verbatim feedback from graduates from the first ever Write Like A Grrrl! Edinburgh course:

“Great content and brilliant to get the chance to meet other aspiring writers. Claire, the tutor delivering the Edinburgh course is fantastic, very knowledgeable, a great teacher: includes and makes everyone feel involved and valuable.”

“It’s well-structured, practical, the materials are excellent and it’s a supportive environment in which to develop your writing. Well worth the money.”

“Needs to be longer please, 12 weeks would be wonderful!”

“Do it! It helps you to open up and understand that your writing worries are shared by other people.”

“Speaking to everyone on the course, it’s great to be in a group you can talk to about aspects of your writing. I wish the course was longer. I have already recommended it to several friends. The handouts each week are a fantastic reference. The course has a nice pace.”

“It was really the best decision in terms of writing but also meeting people with similar interests. Turned up quiet and unsure about talking about writing, now have like a little circle for advice and encouragement, and look forward to seeing where everyone goes from here!”

“Great - fun, friendly, informative. Whatever issue or goal you have in writing, this will definitely help. Twelve hours of classes has gotten my writing further than years of thinking I was trying.”

That all-important sign-up link again: Write Like A Grrrl! Edinburgh.
Hope to see you there!

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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!

Five lost Edinburgh bookstores that I wish still existed.

March 2nd, 2015

Dangerous Ladders
(Photo credit)

OK, so I was reading this post on Buzzfeed about Edinburgh’s great array of charming bookstores (and newsflash: this aint even all of them!), and although the post is really lovely, it got me thinking wistfully of the Edinburgh bookstores of yesteryear that are no more. I thought that they merited a photoblog of their own and so, here are five. If you have more to add, please do let me know!

the Haynes Nano Stage 01
(Photo credit)

Jim Haynes’ Paperback Bookshop
Did you know that Edinburgh had its own (small) Beat movement? It’s a true fact: and it’s largely down to Jim Haynes and his iconic Paperback Bookshop. The shop was opened in 1959 in Bristo Square, next to the University, and it famously had a rhino head mounted on the wall outside (here’s a gorgeous photo of a wee girl posing next to it!). Haynes claims to this day that his was the UK’s first ever paperback-only bookshop. It was also a mecca for Beat enthusiasts… and trouble. In 1960, a woman famously staged a protest outside the shop by burning one of its copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Sadly, the University decided to redevelop Bristo Square in 1966, and rather shortsightedly kicked the Paperback Bookshop out of its premises. They’ve since realised the error of their ways and created a memorial — which includes the book sculpture pictured above, and a brand new rhino head — to this lost cultural site.

Student reading in the Hub, Main Library.
(Photo credit)

Pickerings Books
Sad fact: I cannot find a single photograph of Pickerings Books online, and yet it was a gorgeous bookstore that sat right on the corner of Buccleuch Place, only yards from where the aforementioned Paperback Bookshop once stood. Were it still in existence, it would have been just about visible behind the totes cool dude in the photo above. Pickerings was a wee place, but it was full of gems. As an English Literature undergraduate/not-yet-fully-formed-human, I used to spend hours in there digging through the badly-organised shelves and random piles of second hand books. One day, I found what I thought was a scruffy old book of Edwin Morgan poems for two quid. It turned out to be a first edition of The Second Life that was signed in the front by Angus Calder. ONLY IN PICKERINGS could such treasure be unearthed.

The new town paperback
(Photo credit)

The New Town Paperback
I’ll admit: this place always seemed a little creepy… but in a good way, if that makes sense? I don’t think I ever met anyone else in it, I was always the lone browser, and I never saw anyone else go in or out. The books in the window display all had really sun-faded covers, like they’d been there decades. And yet, I took huge comfort from seeing this place was still there, in spite of everything, whenever I passed on the bus. It’s now a trendy wine shop, where I will never shop, simply because they covered up that amazingly retro shopfront. Sorry not sorry! (PS: here’s a photo of me, posing horribly, outside the New Town Paperback when it was still a going concern…)

Pulp Fiction
(Photo credit)

Pulp Fiction
Tollcross is my favourite area of Edinburgh, and I loved the couple of years that I spent living in a fifth-floor walk up right on Tollcross Junction (noisy as it was). Pulp Fiction was my local bookstore then, as it was only yards from my front door. It was a sci fi/fantasy specialist store and seemed to have literally every sci fi title in the world, no matter how obscure… plus seriously dedicated and knowledgable staff. It was also a really cool literary events venue. I still have no idea why it closed down and my heart is sad whenever I pass by the shopfront it once occupied. RIP, Pulp Fiction!

Happy Birthday, Allen Ginsberg!
(Photo credit)

Old Hat Books at the Old Forest
I know that the Forest Cafe still lives, and I am super pleased that it moved to its New Forest location in Tollcross (see above). However, I miss EVERYTHING about the Old Forest on Bristo Place. It was just the perfect space for a burgeoning DIY arts co-operative, with little nooks and crannies containing everything from a hairdressers to a darkroom, from the amazing Free Shop to a recording studio. And there was also Old Hat Books! A kind of independent bookstore/library/book club mash-up. Like everything about Forest, there was and is really nothing else like Old Hat Books in Edinburgh, if not the world. Hopefully it will eventually make a comeback at New Forest, and maybe become New Hat Books…?

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

You should read this: The Naming Of Cancer by Tracey S Rosenberg

January 19th, 2015

Hospital

The Naming of Cancer by Tracey S Rosenberg
Neon Books, 2014

I’m going to do a Dave Poems style disclaimer here and say that Tracey is someone I know well – she’s a fellow SBT New Writers Awards alumna and a fellow Shore Poet! I have also been following her work for a good few years now, since her novel, The Girl In The Bunker, was published by Cargo in 2011. Since then, she’s also published a debut poetry collection with Stewed Rhubarb, who specialise in giving performance poets a space on the page (that collection was called Lipstick Is Always A Plus – it was published in 2012 and comes highly recommended by me). She and I see each other pretty regularly at poetry events – usually, Tracey is kicking butt onstage and I am in the rapt audience. But I promise I did try to read The Naming Of Cancer (a slim pamphlet published in November last year by Neon) with an open mind and a critical eye.

This is a skinny wee collection weighing in at just fourteen poems, none of which go over a page – but they’re poems that really pack a punch. The book follows the myriad journeys that people go on when their lives are affected by cancer – I say affected, because there are poems in here from the point of view of partners, offspring, friends and doctors as well as poems more directly about the patient herself. This is one of the pamphlet’s great strengths. By looking at this devastating subject from many different angles, it avoids many of the potential pitfalls that come with writing about sickness and human mortality: it avoids melodrama and sentimentality, and steers also steers clear of motivational, life-is-short cliché. It’s a poetry collection that says it like it is.

Take, for example, ‘The Oncologist’s Nightmare,’ a poem that pops up to mess with your expectations just as you’re feeling “settled in.” This poem – in which the oncologist replays all of the frightened and angry questions that have been thrown at them that day – is a stark reminder that doctors’ lives are also affected by exposure to terrible illness, albeit in a slightly different way.

A couple of pages later, ‘Touch’ examines the strange and intimate relationship between doctor and patient. This small poem of only seventeen lines pulls into its clever web the doctor, who must work with extreme care as he invades the patient’s privacy; the patient’s lover, recalling his own worries that “she might find him intrusive” when he touches her; and finally the patient herself, waiting for “the blade: it will remove her.”

Several of these poems deal with the more mundane aspects of living with and alongside cancer: the fearful boredom of waiting around in hospitals is captured beautifully by repeated references to hospital trappings: “a six-bed ward,” vending machines and posters in faceless corridors. This sense of constant and perhaps doomed repetition is also captured in the form of several of the poems: the opening poem is a villanelle in which “needles plunge” in almost every stanza, and elsewhere, echoes and refrains abound.

The book opens with a snippet from TS Eliot’s Four Quartets (“East Coker,” to be precise), and there’s something rather Eliotean about the whole thing – I don’t think it’s a coincidence that “Cancer Vilanelle,” the opening poem, comes hot on the heels of that epigraph with its refrain, “consultants come and go.” Certainly, many of these poems exist in a space of isolation, fear and decay that calls to mind the anguish of Prufrock.

The Naming Of Cancer is not a cheery read, but it is by no means depressing or hopeless. Rather, this is a collection in which hope is faint and distant, but not gone. For example, in the final poem, “Bait,” the scraps of a dead body are used as bait on a fisherman’s hook. It’s a stark and violent image, but there is the promise of goodness in it: the body is not only still useful, not only luring a new, live catch. It is also being “restore[d] to the ravenous sea” – a thought that, after the long, grey corridor of illness, seems truly comforting.

The Naming Of Cancer is available from neonbooks.org.uk for the bargainous price of just £4.

(Photo credit)

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Need a writer? Book a writer! (& pick me!)

January 5th, 2015

StAnza 2011 Preview
Photo by Chris Scott.

Yep, it’s that time once again… time to get your application in to the Live Literature Fund! What, I hear you cry? Well…

Have you ever fancied:

- organising a poetry reading?
- organising a reading of fiction?
- inviting a writer to come and speak at your community group?
- getting your youth group involved with creative writing?
- organising a talk about writing?
- having an author come and visit your book club?
- finding a really good judge for your slam?
- hiring a professional writer for just about anything at all?

Scottish Book Trust can help!
Right now, SBT is open for applications to its Live Literature Fund. This amazing, one-of-a-kind fund enables individuals and organisations to source a poet, author, storyteller or illustrator to take part in an event or events, and helps to pay them a proper fee. The Live Literature Fund has its own database of vetted writers and artists, each of them bringing a different skillset to the fore.

Applications for the latest round of Live Literature Funding close on 16th February, so if you fancy doing any of the above, get in there quick!

…and, if you’re stuck for a writer to invite, you could always pick me!

To date, I have:

- visited high schools and talked to students about all aspects of poetry, reading and writing
- worked with vulnerable adults (in settings like women’s support groups, homeless and vulnerably housed groups, and groups for intravenous drug-users), using poetry as a way to voice, share or move on from traumatic stories or experiences
- worked extensively with adult literacy groups to engage those who struggle with reading
- worked extensively with ‘reluctant readers,’ especially young men
- worked with refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to help them tell stories of home and homecoming
- judged many a poetry competition, and many a slam
- competed in many a slam, and won a few!
- taken part in panel discussions on all manner of things
- given talks on all sorts of stuff, from my PhD research into contemporary women’s poetry, to the strategies we need to adopt to get vulnerable individuals more involved in Scottish culture and the arts
- given hundreds of poetry readings to audiences ranging from four people in a field to an Edinburgh International Book Festival crowd!

I’m always up for a challenge, too, so if what you fancy doing doesn’t sound like anything you see listed there, that doesn’t mean I won’t be up for trying it. So if you successfully secure LLF funding (or even if you don’t, and find the funds from elsewhere!), feel free to drop me a line via claire [at] onenightstanzas.com, or you can follow my antics on Twitter. You can also read my profile on the Live Literature Database itself.

Good luck!

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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!