Not the easiest year, I will admit: my much-beloved grandfather (better known as Gampy) died in January. (My poetry collection is dedicated to his memory: he was the best and gentlest man who has ever lived.) The sequel project to Making It Home, which I was just starting to get excited about at the end of last year, was put on hold, as every member of our team suffered either a bereavement or a spell of serious illness during 2015 (it sucked!). And I spent most of the summer being very impoverished (but having lots of free time!) due to all the freelance work in the world apparently going dormant! I am including these details because I don’t want to give the impression that I lead some kind of charmed life where absolutely everything is rosy. THAT SAID, some freaking amazing things happened to me this year, and I am so grateful for every single one. Here’s the round up: in 2015, I…
* booked, and delivered, the first ever Write Like A Grrrl!: Edinburgh course. It sold out super fast, as did the March course, and the May course, and the September course. I’m now booking for a brand new January semester, and places are already being filled. Oh, there have also been two ‘Next Step’ courses to date, for WLAG! alumni who want to come back for more! Running WLAG! has been absolutely mind-blowing for me… I have met so many smart, talented women and felt privileged to be able to read their emerging fiction. At Christmas, we had a get-together where women from all four 2015 courses met up to drink prosecco and plot world domination. Rarely in my life have I felt such a warm glow as being at the centre of that room! Ladies, I love all of you. Thank you for a fantastic year.
* secured a small grant from Creative Scotland’s Open Project Fund to allow me to work on my second poetry collection. At the moment, it has the working title of How To Burn A Woman, and it’s shaping up to have two themes: eco poems, and poems about witches.
* delivered a poetry performance seminar as a Visiting Writer for the University of Edinburgh’s MSc in Creative Writing (Poetry). It was pretty great, five years after graduating from this course, to be back… teaching on it!
* went to see Frantic Assembly’s amazing physical-theatre-meets-dance mash-up of Othello in London. They re-imagined the play, chopping a load of it out (controversial!) and setting it in a contemporary Working Men’s Club in Yorkshire. It worked so well.
* went to see the Mark Lanegan Band play in Glasgow. I was chaperoning a friend and had heard not a note of his music before walking through the doors… yet I loved it.
* completed the “go on holiday with my brother” part of my 30 before 30 list, by spending a very lovely long weekend in our mutually beloved York… wandering around, thrifting, bookshopping, and drinking buckets of Yorkshire tea.
* went to see Stewart Lee at the Festival Theatre for Lovely Boyfriend’s 30th and my 29th birthdays. Laughed — and felt mildly uncomfortable — a lot.
* finished up my 18-month post as Adult Learning Project Co-Ordinator at Scottish Book Trust. This project absolutely flew by. Working with adults who struggle to read and write is incredibly humbling, very inspiring and really makes you check your own privilege. So many of the adult learners and tutors I met were an absolute riot, too! And I got to spend lots of my time creating bespoke educational resources from scratch… a thing I still miss from my FE college teaching days.
* was immediately taken on again at SBT as a freelance contractor! This year I travelled all over Scotland delivering bespoke training to adult literacy professionals, teaching them how to use a suite of adult literacy reading support materials which I designed. That was pretty damn cool. I went to — among other places — Ayr, Oban, Glasgow, Greenock, Dumfries, Stranraer, Aberdeen, and delivered a special session for folk who work with d/Deaf service users at Deaf Connections.
* went for posh afternoon tea at the legendary Midland Hotel twice in one year… one of the times was for my dad’s 60th birthday! Felt like an unwashed oik both times, but loved it all anyway.
* performed at Aye Write! Festival for the second time. Those folks are so lovely. I got a goodie bag with beer and books in it, and I got to eat snacks a-plenty in the green room! (You can see where my priorities lie.)
* …and got hired as a proper tutor by the Poetry School, following that success! I was invited to create my own ten-week course from scratch, which I loved doing. It was called Creatrix: Women’s Poetries for the 21st Century, and it went so well. I worked with twelve inspiring and brilliant emerging female poets and felt awed that they allowed me to read and comment on their work.
* got a second half-sleeve tattooed — this time on my upper left arm. It’s a tattoo to remember my Gampy: as a young man, he was a Spitfire mechanic, and later did up and raced Aston Martins. He once raced against Jackie Stewart, no less! So the half-sleeve incorporated all those elements (you can see a photo later on in this post). As always, I went to my fav, Jim at Red Hot + Blue, and as always he did a bloody great job.
* demolished the crappy old shed in my back garden and erected a brand new potting shed, which I painted powder blue and white, like a beach hut. You may be wondering why the heck this is on this list, but let me tell you, my potting shed was one of the major highlights of my year. I grew so much tasty stuff… and I have big plans for 2016 shed activity!
* read at the official launch night of Hot Tub Astronaut on Election Night… to a wonderful, very disgruntled crowd of lefties.
* had a brand-spanking-new author portrait taken by the amazing Sally Jubb of Sally Jubb Photography. I hate having my photo taken but Sally really put me at ease, and I was so happy with the end result. If you’re a writer and you need one of these pesky photos of yourself, hire Sally!
* read at the launch of the Dark Horse: 20th Anniversary Edition, alongside Alasdair Gray, Vicki Feaver and Douglas Dunn. I sat next to Alasdair Gray all evening, which felt like sitting next to a massive rock-star (he was very sweet to me in my star-struck-ness!). Vicki and Douglas were also LOVELY people and really helped soothe my epic nerves. It was a night I think I’ll remember til I die.
* delivered a writing workshop with adult literacy learners at Crisis Skylight… and reminded myself how much I love doing this sort of work!
* made a pilgrimage to Millom, home of one of my all-time favourite poets, Norman Nicholson. If you haven’t heard of Norman, seek him out. He’s great. He was writing eco poetry in the 1940s, way before Silent Spring. Check him out!
* spent a scorchingly hot summer week-or-so in Cornwall, where I have never been before, but which I loved… this was the cottage we stayed in, this was ten minutes’ walk from our front door, and the highlight of my trip was the utterly amazing Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft, which you should all visit.
* chaired the event ‘Women Writers Breaking Into Scottish Literature’ at Just Festival. Thank you to Theresa Munoz, Lucy Ribchester and Jenny Lindsay for being such excellent speakers… they made my job very easy!
* went to all sorts of amazing events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, but by far the best was Mark Doty & Naomi Shihab Nye. I met Mark Doty after the event, and he asked me if I was a poet. When I said yes, he asked if I had a book, and I told him my first one was coming shortly and I was terrified. Without hesitation, he immediately went into Wise Elder mode, telling me to take comfort, be brave and celebrate. We talked about how scary it is showing your confessional poems to the world, but he urged me to take heart and said all sorts of nice things about how I must be a good poet if Bloodaxe took me on, and I was in good hands. He was so nice to me (and I had been so nervous about meeting him as he is such a hero of mine) that afterwards I had to go and have a wee cry! Shoutout to my excellent friend Esa for being with me in that moment, getting it, and not judging me!
* recorded a special podcast for Scottish PEN: in conversation with Iranian poet in exile, Sepideh Jodeyri.
* went on holiday with my brother again, this time to this absolutely magical off-grid 16th century fieldhouse on the North Yorkshire moors. We spent a lot of time wandering, paddling in the sea, and doing off-grid things like collecting eggs and getting up at 6am to light our stove so we could take showers… and not much time writing, which is what the holiday was supposed to be for.
* I celebrated five years with my gorgeous bloke, and nearly three years in the house we bought together and are (still) slowly doing up. Steve was the best thing this year — he’s the best thing any year.
* was hired as the brand new Creative Writing Fellow at Tyne & Esk Writers! T&E is an organisation that exists to champion reading and writing across Mid- and East Lothian, especially in the more rural areas. My job is basically to be a peripatetic Writer in Residence, working with eight (soon to be nine — welcome to the fold, Pathhead!) rural T&E groups to support reading and writing, to critique and encourage the work of local writers, and to produce creative work of my own. I absolutely love driving around, meeting lots of new folk, and getting to work in a different library each day. Plus: two groups in Haddington! So I’ve been able to spend a lot of time in the excellent charity shops there!
* was also selected to become Edinburgh’s very first Reading Champion! I don’t start til March 2016, but I’m including it here as I spent a really enjoyable time at the end of 2015 working with librarian Susannah Leake, who works at the gorgeous Craigmillar Library (where I’ll be based). Susannah helped me to write the proposal that eventually landed me the gig, and I can’t wait to become her official partner in crime!
* set up a Patreon, to support the various bits and bats of work that I do now that I am 100% freelance. Did I mention that 2015 was the year I became A FULL TIME WRITER? It’s so amazing being your own boss and getting to land gigs like the two above… but you also don’t get a pension, so it’s not all rosy. The Patreon is designed to just be a little bit extra that I can squirrel away for hard times. If you fancy supporting me, incidentally, you can pledge $5 (about three quid) a month and get all sorts of support for your writing. Have a look!
* absolutely SMASHED my goal for Edinburgh Vintage, my wee side-business! I wanted to make it to 1,500 sales by my 30th birthday in March 2016, and I’m already at over 1,600. It’s been my best year yet… best of all, I can afford to hire an accountant to do all my EV taxes! O happy day!
* secured funding to host Grrrl Con! — Write Like A Grrrl!’s summer festival of women’s writing! It’s coming to the Scottish Storytelling Centre on 11th and 12th June, and will feature amazing women writers like Lucy Ribchester, Jackie Kay and Kirsty Logan. You could also be on the bill! We’re looking for workshop leaders right now, so send us your pitch!
* spent most of December in Cumbria, being rained on a great deal and trying to help out flood-stricken neighbours. If you can, please donate a bit to the Cumbria flood relief crowdfunder and help out — especially for those folks who can’t afford insurance. They need you!
* AND FINALLY!!!! I took delivery of 200 copies of my brand spanking new debut poetry collection!!!!!!!!!!! In case you’ve been living under a rock and I haven’t already yelled this at you, ‘This changes things’ is published by Bloodaxe Books and will be officially available shortly. You can pre-order your copy right here!
A few final highlights…
Just a few of my Write Like A Grrrl! alumni, enjoying a quick lunch before going to see Alison, one of our number, read at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, no less!
Edinburgh Vintage had a great year.
…with my brilliant brother Nick, who I love a million.
You can see all the books I read in 2015 here, and you can click here to see the various places where I had work published in 2015 (and read some poems!). You can also check out my To Read list for 2016!
What did YOU get up to this year?
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.