Posts Tagged ‘publishing’

Procrastination Station #128

Friday, July 4th, 2014

Shine On

OK, before we get started…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19 Dilemmas Every Book Lover Has Faced At Least Once

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t wait to read this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going through some old bookmarks I found this great poem.

And this one.

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

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

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

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

HIPPOS ARE BETTER THAN HUMANS. The end.


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

All by myself from Richard Dunn on Vimeo.

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


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

Have a great weekend!

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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!

(Photo credit)

Seven pieces of writing advice from the speakers of The Business

Monday, May 26th, 2014

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (1)

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

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

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (4)

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

“Don’t write to trends.”

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

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (6)

2. Chris Hamilton-Emery of Salt, publisher:

“We need more narrative non-fiction.”

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

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (8)

3. Francis Bickmore of Canongate, publisher:

“The hair shines with brushing.”

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

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (9)

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

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

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

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (10)

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

“Perform your work in public.”

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

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (11)

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

“Embrace the improbable.”

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

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (12)

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

“Pace yourself… and get off Facebook.”

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

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

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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!

Procrastination Station #127

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

take it easy

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

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

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

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

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

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

The habits of highly sensitive people. aka, writers.

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

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

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

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

And here’s a nice poem I liked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So is the brilliant Saving Room For Cats.

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

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

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

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

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

Tori Amos? Total badass.

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

Have a great weekend!

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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!

(Photo credit)

Procrastination Station #126

Friday, May 9th, 2014

scrap vomit, close up of quilting

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

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

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

Brand new zine! Seeking submissions! Get on it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes & Yes is looking for travel writers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gabourey Sidibe is so freaking great. So great.

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

I’m obsessed with peeking inside these tiny apartments.

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

So screw you, carcass-eaters.

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

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

& finally…

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

(Photo credit)

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

Have a great weekend!

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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!

Featured Magazines #17: The Bugle

Monday, May 5th, 2014

The Bugle

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

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

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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!

Dear poetry newbies: you need a mentor!

Monday, April 28th, 2014

from "Asphodel" by WIlliam Carlos WIlliams

My advice to new and aspiring writers has always been: read, read, and then read some more. Wanting to be a writer without first being a reader is like wanting to be a Formula 1 driver without ever having sat in a car. And yet, time and time again I’ve heard new writers – my students; the people who used to submit to Read This, the magazine I edited – say that they don’t read because they don’t want to be too heavily influenced. They don’t want to feel like they’re “copying.”

This is garbage, of course – you sit down and try to write like Allen Ginsberg, or Emily Dickinson, or Sapphire, or any other writer with a distinctive style that might creep into your writing. You’ll always end up with a pale facsimile. Whatever you write will always contain more of you and your voice (however much that voice still needs to develop) than anyone else’s. And believe me, it’s much better if your voice sounds authoritative and well-read than if it sounds green and uncertain – which it will, if you don’t study other people’s good writing.

However, I do know what it’s like to feel afraid of “being influenced.” Almost exactly two years ago, I was lucky enough to win a 2012 Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award – a prize that offers a full year of creative mentoring along with its nice wedge of cash. Obviously, I was hugely grateful that my work had been selected, and very glad of the money, which I used to fund a brilliant writing retreat on the island of Hydra, Greece (to this day, I have never been so productive). However, I’ll admit: I was uncertain about the mentoring. Having had creative writing tutors in the past whose style of critique I totally disagreed with (no one learns anything from soul-destroyingly negative notes), I was worried I might not get on with whoever was picked to mentor me. And just like those new writers whose refusal to read had exasperated me in the past, I started to realise I was also worried about influence. What if this mentor was also a poet? What if they had their own ideas about what poetry ought to be like? What if they were an amazing writer, and I found myself changing my own writing in order to impress them? Reader, I was worried.

However, that was nuts. It turns out? Creative mentoring is utterly amazing, and everyone – I mean literally every creative person – should do it, if they get the chance. I mean sure, you have to find a mentor you can get along with as a person, but I’d like to believe that most people who are willing to take on the role of mentor are probably pretty nice. (There are roughly a dozen SBT New Writers Awardees every year – I have now met many of them, and so far none of the various alumni have had a bad word to say about their mentor.) Otherwise, all you need to do is find someone who’s an expert in your field, and who – of course –wants to take on the job.

I hadn’t actually thought about it this way, but I’ve had a writing mentor of sorts for the past eight years. In 2006, I hit the third year of my degree in English Literature, and one of the Honours courses on offer was Creative Writing (Poetry), taught by Alan, contemporary poetry specialist, writer-editor of huge academic tomes, and established poet. Turns out my first Creative Writing seminar was the first class Alan taught in his new post at the University of Edinburgh, and from that class until I finished my PhD a few months ago, I was the one pesky student who just refused to go away. When I finished my MA (Hons) and went straight on to the Masters in Creative Writing (Poetry), Alan was my course tutor. When I leapt straight from the Masters into my PhD, he was my first and most obvious choice for a supervisor. Alan has seen more of my creative work than anyone else (more even than Lovely Boyfriend, who’s only been around a measly four years; more than my parents, who only see the poems that don’t have swears in them). If Alan isn’t a creative mentor, I don’t know who is – he has shaped the way I write more than any writer I’ve read or workshop I’ve attended. And I mean that in a really good way.

(NB: Do I write like him? Absolutely not. I mean obviously, he’s a billion times better than me – and in both form and content we’re kinda like chalk and cheese. Again, I tell you, folks: the whole “fear of influence” thing is total garbage.)

Then last year, I was assigned my SBT Award mentor. Although it’s taken me until now to realise that I already had one in the form of Alan, I was a bit worried that the two might contradict one another. I was still under Alan’s supervision for the PhD, after all. However, I needn’t have worried. Apparently, the only thing better than one creative mentor is two creative mentors.

I was assigned to a lovely freelance editor named Sarah – a poetry specialist who’d mentored many a new poet before I came along. It became apparent pretty quickly that Sarah wasn’t interested in doing the same job as Alan was doing. I’d spent the last three years writing poems and having Alan help me to make them better. Sarah’s job was to take the huge pile of largely-finished material I had lying around as a result, and turn it from a random stack into that truly mystical and terrifying beast: a manuscript.

The best thing about working with Sarah? She totally got what I was trying to do. In fact, she “got it” far better than I did. She told me that in order to tie my manuscript together, I needed to think about the major themes that ran through my poems. I panicked, telling her I hadn’t really written the poems with any larger themes in mind – I just wrote what wanted to be written. “Oh, there are themes in there,” she assured me. “Print out all your poems, spread them on the floor, and start putting them into piles – put the ones that speak to each other together.”
Sarah said she’d do the same thing, and then we’d compare results. I found the exercise hard-going. I had a lot of poems about women and written in women’s voices (my PhD thesis is about contemporary female poets using the confessional mode, so this was a no-brainer), but it turns out, that’s not a theme. Seeing the poems Sarah had put into piles, however, was genuinely eye-opening. “Your main theme is place and space,” she told me, as my jaw hit the floor. “Look how many of your poems take place in domestic spaces. Look how many of them are liminal, travelling poems. This is a collection about trying to find your place in the world.”

It is. Loads of my poems are about ghosts – about the hours and days immediately after death, as they try to find out where they belong now. Loads of my poems are about travel, but never fun travel – they’re about being lost or getting robbed or generally being a clueless white middle-class person who doesn’t really know where they are. And so many of my poems are about women in houses – but scary houses, houses that are “wrong,” in some way. All my poems are about trying to find a place or space to belong, and I had never even noticed that. That’s the epic power of the mentor: when they’re really good, like Sarah is, they can make you see your own work objectively – a thing I always thought was impossible.

Other great things about working with Sarah? I wanted to make a book, I didn’t know how to do that, and she taught me. She taught me how to put my poems into an order that both showcased each one nicely on its own, but also created an arc across the manuscript for the reader to follow. Like Alan before her, she pulled no punches when it came to making me edit – she explained clearly why I needed to lose that line, switch those stanzas around, come up with a better title or even ditch that poem from the manuscript entirely. Perhaps most importantly, she made me write. She recognised early on that I’d come to the end of the creative section of my PhD, that I was focussing on slogging through the last part of a thesis I’d long since grown weary of, and that I was using this as an excuse (a good one, I’d thought!) not to write new poems. She set me a deadline, created a public Google Doc and then made me post in it every day to show her what I’d written. It turns out, she didn’t check it every day – but I didn’t know that. It sounds cruel, but it was so utterly what I needed. Like I say, she just really “got” my writing.

What I have to show for all this mentoring is a manuscript that I am happy to send out to publishers. It’s out there somewhere, right now – hopefully not in a bin or on a slush pile, but I really have no way of knowing. It may well be that it gets nowhere, that no one else thinks it’s all that good. But that doesn’t really matter. When the lovely folks at Scottish Book Trust (now my colleagues!) asked me what I’d like to have achieved at the end of my mentoring year, I said, “a manuscript that I feel proud of.” Thanks to Sarah – and to Alan – that’s exactly what I’ve got.

My first full length poetry collection manuscript is entitled “This changes things,” and is currently out on submission. If you would like to find out more about it, you can email me via claire [at] onenightstanzas.com

(Image 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!

Procrastination Station #124

Friday, April 25th, 2014

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“Leave the TV alone, don’t get on the Internet too much because there’s a lot of crap there — it’s mainly male, macho crap. We men like to play with toys. You get yourself a good typewriter, go to the library —live there. Live in the library.”

Thanks, Ray Bradbury via Flavorwire. I may get this tattooed on myself, so badly do I need to remember it.

The secret to self-publishing? Do whatever a publisher would do, but do it better.

Did you know Scottish Book Trust are seeking Readers in Residence? This may be the coolest job ever, so apply now!

…and speaking of Scottish Book Trust, in response to a recent study indicating that men don’t exactly love to read, our very own Danny wrote this great piece on why reading is super, super manly.

It is exhausting that we are still trying to convince a certain segment of the population that women are equal to men, that women deserve respect and fair consideration in all professional and creative and personal realms. It is especially frustrating in the literary community, because I am part of this community. These are my people, or at least, that’s what I would hope.

I cannot believe we need to count and point out worthy women writers like we’re begging for scraps at the table of due respect and consideration.

Roxane Gay being right on, as usual.

Do you live in Scotland? Are you committed to our nation’s “common wealth”? Then YOU should apply to be a speaker at TEDxGlasgow!

And speaking of exciting events — if you’re in the North of England this weekend, you should head to the Scarborough Flare festival. Especially this event, happening tomorrow – you’ll hear one of my poems included among “the finest British Poetry written by authors of the last century”! How chuffed am I? Pretty chuffed.

Cosmo are talking about poetry! & it’s not bad!

Want a private library but think your house is too small? THINK AGAIN!

How to feel better about travelling alone as a woman, from Bust.

Can you be a feminist and wear makeup? Can you be a feminist and eat creamcakes? Can you be a feminist and unicycle to work every day wearing a teacosy on your head and singing the entire Guns ‘n’ Roses back-catalogue? YES YOU CAN NOW SHUT UP ABOUT IT, says Stavvers. Only more eloquently than that.

Thought Catalog have once again proved themselves to be a shower of assholes. Happily, xoJane’s internet superhero Marianne is around to school them.

Why hello there, every single time I try to talk about gender on the internet!

The Mary Sue has a good selection of these hilarious movie posters featuring snotty Amazon reviews (I apologise for the ableist wording in TMS’s headline). Warning: if you click through to the original Tumblr, prepare to lose a lot of your Friday.

& finally, here’s a mellow tune to start your weekend, from ONS favourite Simon Herron:

Have a great weekend!

(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!

Dear poetry newbies: “why is my work always rejected?”

Monday, January 20th, 2014

A version of this post first appeared at One Night Stanzas in November 2008.

1. The standard isn’t high enough.
And by this I just mean that your poems aren’t “fit” for publication yet… but not that they never will be! If you’re sending out first drafts, poems that have only been hastily redrafted or edited, or poems that even you don’t think are all that amazing, then it might well be that you haven’t done quite enough to catch the eye of an editor. It’s easy to write a poem and then be overcome by a fervent desire to get it sent out immediately, but resist! Never send first drafts, and always devote a good chunk of time to redrafting and editing your chosen pieces. If possible, put them away for a while (a week, two weeks…) and then come back to them. And never send anything you’re not sure about. Work on it til you ARE sure about it, or send something else.
(NB: One of the best ways to get your poetry up to publication standard is to read the stuff that poetry magazines actually do publish - and if you can get hold of a copy of the specific magazines you want to submit to, even better!)

2. You’re not following the submission guidelines properly.
Some editors are happy to chuck a submission onto the slush pile for the slightest thing, so it’s always important to read and follow the submission guidelines carefully. Make sure you do everything according to the guidelines wherever you can; it can be a total pain, but it can also make the difference between acceptance and rejection. And don’t assume that one magazine’s guidelines apply to all! Read everyone’s guidelines, and follow them every time!

3. You commit minor - but deadly! - submission crimes.
A lot of poets reckon they can get away with sending the same four poems in the same email round to a whole load of editors at the same time - don’t do it! This suggests to editors that you don’t really care who picks up your poems or whether they’re published simultaneously. You also shouldn’t send “speculative” emails out before sending a submission. It may seem like politeness, but if an editor receives an email saying “check out my website and then maybe I’ll submit later”, they’re going to think a) you’re arrogant and b) you haven’t read their guidelines. Just put your submission together and send it! And don’t send snotty or pushy emails to editors until at least three months (yes, really, I’m afraid!) after the date you sent your submission. If you haven’t had a reply, there’s probably a reason, and going “oi, what are you messing about at?” after only a week or so is not going to make you any friends. Basically, when it comes to submissions, put in the work, follow the rules and be patient - that’s all there is to it!

4. Your cover letter needs a rewrite.
Have a good look at your cover letter (if you have one! If you don’t - write one!) and see if there are any of these common mistakes in it: heaps of biographical information (3 - 4 lines should do it); anything that could be interpreted as dishonest or boastful (”my work has appeared in 300 journals worldwide,” or the like); excessive negativity (”you’ll probably just reject me, but…”) anything that criticises or questions the publication or editor you’re writing to (”I found your website really hard to navigate” — keep it to yourself for now!); and of course, typos, grammatical errors or any unnecessary rambling! Exorcise all these things! It may leave your cover letter very short, but a couple of lines is all you need.

5. You’re submitting to the wrong magazines.
There are a lot of creative writing magazines out there and most of them are open for submissions for at least part of each year… so technically, you can submit to any of them. However, if you’re new to the whole submitting thing (or even if you aren’t!), it can be hard to know which are the best to choose. The sad fact is that a lot of editors are wary of publishing people who have never been published before, but fortunately, there are more and more magazines out there whose mission-statement is to provide as many writers as they can with their first publication opportunity. Many others specify that they welcome “unknown” or “emerging” writers, and you’re probably better off submitting to these if you can. You do get “unknown” writers in, say, Poetry Review, but if you want to give yourself the best chance of being accepted, it’s better to walk before you run, as they say!

6. You’re not ready to publish yet.
Only you can really know whether or not you’re ready to publish, but if you’re trying to get your work out there and the rejections are getting you down in a big way, then maybe you’re not 100% ready for the submission process. This might be hard to accept, but it’s better to wait until you’re better prepared than to make yourself suffer every time one of those pesky rejection letters lands in your mailbox. Give yourself six months, even a year. Spend that time writing - and more importantly, reading! - and then try getting back on the horse. You might find you still feel the same and need more time… if so, no worries. Or you might suddenly find that there’s the odd acceptance letter among those rejections; or that the rejections don’t bother you so much. Either way, the “time off” will have been well spent!

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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!

(Photo credit)

You don’t choose your literary heroes: they choose you.

Monday, January 13th, 2014

A version of this post first appeared at One Night Stanzas in November 2008.

I’ve just revisited this article on the Guardian Books Blog, in which Stuart Evers talks about his seemingly rather misguided admiration for the protagonist of George Orwell’s Keep The Aspidistra Flying, Gordon Comstock. He notes that Comstock is really not a nice guy… and the fact that he truly admired this man when he first read the novel makes him feel rather uneasy. Evers admits that upon finishing the novel for the first time, he actually started to emulate Comstock - he started smoking the same cigarettes, spending his money on the same things, and getting interested in the same politics. He ends bitterly, sending out a “thank you so bloody much” to Orwell and Comstock, as though realising with hindsight that, by getting so “involved” with this not-actually-real person, he has somehow done something wrong.

Has he done something wrong? Are we only supposed to like, admire and emulate the “good guys” in literature? Sure, there are a lot of admirable goodies out there - I’d be the first to stand up and say that I truly love and admire Atticus Finch, for example. But surely, as normal human beings, it’s OK for us to be drawn to the “bad guys” - the flawed characters, the dishonest characters, the downright nasty characters… right? Hamlet, for example - arrogant, selfish, murderous and slightly insane, and yet he’s a big favourite. I personally rather like Milton’s Satan, and perhaps even worse, Alex DeLarge. I know for a fact that the normally sugary-sweet Gala Darling has a dark side - she’s forever in love with Patrick Bateman. It’s not necessarily logical - you don’t choose your literary heroes: they choose you. They reach out to something within your personal being and speak to you. Just because they happen to be a “baddie,” that doesn’t necessarily make you one too!

At the end of Evers’ article, I felt like standing up and cheering, because the other day I experienced exactly the same discomfort that Evers feels, talking with some friends about Beat-Generation-era literature.
As many of you will know, I am a huge Allen Ginsberg fan. I first encountered Ginsberg about halfway through my four-year Masters degree, when I had to read “Howl” for class. My first reaction was “what is this absolute rubbish?”, and when I read some background information about Ginsberg, I was even less impressed. Loud, arrogant, misogynistic… he did not seem like a nice guy at all. Who does he think he is, I thought, this man who wrote this epic, spiralling, meaningless poem that everyone seems to love? It’s garbage!
But then I had an epiphany - I heard a recording of dear old Allen reading “America.” I loved the poem, and his reading - with all its humour and seriousness and liveliness and weariness all at once - and decided to give him another chance. I read about Ginsberg’s life, I read his annotations on “Howl” and discovered what every cryptic line really meant (and every line really does have some correlation to his life, things he experienced, or things that were going on at the time), and probably most importantly, I read “Kaddish.” I bought an album of readings which included all these poems, and more, and listened to it from beginning to end, which exhausted but thrilled me. By now, the poems had turned on me, and they’d convinced me that this man - who I’ll freely admit was still loud, arrogant and misogynistic - was one of the greatest American writers of all time. He was not always nice, he was not always fair, and he wasn’t even always all that good. But he was brilliant, and in spite of myself, I will love him forever and ever.

So imagine my horror when, at a party a few years ago, a friend of mine came out with this:
“I don’t get it with Ginsberg. I’ve read ‘Howl,’ which was… ridiculous, and then everything else just looks like a poor imitation of ‘Howl.’”
I won’t lie to you - I felt like I’d been slapped. I couldn’t believe the enormous feeling that welled up in me. This was my friend, and I found myself wanting to grab him and shake him and scream, “why don’t you read ‘Howl’ properly and then you’ll see it’s not ridiculous, like I did?! How can you say everything else is a poor imitation of ‘Howl’?! Have you even read anything else?! Have you read ‘Kaddish’?! And how can you say that anyway?! The man wrote for 50+ years in a million different style on a million different subjects! Saying you don’t like Ginsberg because of ‘Howl’ is like saying you don’t like the Beatles because of ‘Hey Jude.’ Aaaargh!”
Obviously, I did not do this. I tried to express myself in a quieter way, and just said that actually, Ginsberg was my all-time favourite writer and I loved him very much. All I got was (quote), “well, good for you,” which didn’t make me feel much better.

My desire to shake my friend and scream in his face rather troubled me. After all, I knew all this stuff, and I’d thought it and said it myself once upon a time. But it also brought home to me the fact that you really can’t choose your idols - and when they choose you, they can really cling on, dig in. I’m sure the friend in question has literary heroes he’d gladly defend by shaking and screaming at me, if I were to criticise them. I know one guy who deeply loves Iago, and gets the same strange rage when people try to tell him “but Iago’s a really bad guy.” I know someone else who is a big fan of William Carlos Williams, and nearly had to walk out of a seminar recently when one woman in the group said “but it’s all just rubbish really, isn’t it? The Red Wheelbarrow - my children could write poetry like that!”
The fact is, Stuart Evers seems to be worried about admiring Gordon Comstock. Why? Because he’s worried that he’s going to be judged, probably. But I’d be interested to know what his reaction would be if anyone were to actually turn around and say “Comstock’s the worst character I ever came across,” or “that book’s crap, Orwell couldn’t write to save his life”. Personally, I am not worried about admiring Ginsberg for fear of judgement. It’s the defensive rage that’s the truly worrying thing…

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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!

(Photo credit)

Procrastination Station #122: Christmas edition!

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

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I haven’t done a PS post in ages, but I have still been saving up cool and interesting links to share with all of you. So this one goes out to all the folks who’re stuck in work on Christmas Eve. Have a cheeky gander at this stuff and the time will fly by! Merry Christmas!

The conversation about money (or privilege) is the one we never have. Why? I think it’s the Marie Antoinette syndrome: those with privilege and luck don’t want the riffraff knowing the details. After all, if ‘those people” understood the differences in our lives, they might revolt. Or, God forbid, not see us as somehow more special, talented and/or deserving than them.

If you read nothing else in this post, read this: on writers, money and lies.

Buildings inspired by books.

You pick one store. Make it an indie. Maybe the one closest to your house. Make sure they have a website. Make sure your book is available on their website. Make sure the store is willing to ship books to customers. Link to your book through the store’s page. Tell the store you are doing this. If you have a big enough following and sales result, they will surely notice in a hurry anyhow. Even if not a single customer finds them through you, they will be happy. They will be happy with you.

from There Are Exactly Zero Defensible Reasons For Authors To Link To Amazon. Teaching you how — and why, though you probably already know — your should team up with indies and save bookselling!

An old train transformed into a bookshop. Yep.

Intellectual Lisa, with her penchant for museums and libraries, is an outlier in her family, in her whole town. But her basic brain power could easily have come from Marge. Although, unlike her mother, Lisa would never put her dreams aside. (Oh, Marge, your life of quite desperation depresses me so. How could you throw so much away, no matter how hot that Mr Plow jacket is?) How did Lisa manage to escape the domestic trap that ensnared her bright, brittle mother?

I am Lisa Simpson. You are Lisa Simpson. We are all Lisa Simpson.

Why we abandon books.

As a child, the island seemed so vast and full of wondrous possibility. Today, it’s just another beautiful, yet remote location. I know there are no mythical beasts tromping through its forests. The people living across the bay on Sandy Hook Drive are just normal folk with lives that are probably as mundane as mine. There is no more mystery, and very few days dedicated to discovery.

On wonder and creativity: There’s Bigfoot in Them Woods

This gorgeous e-book is beautifully illustrated with portraits of, and full of facts about, amazing women who’ve changed how we look at the world.

The images on this page would be unsatisfying to most horror fans, as the hallmark of modern zombie films is now life-like, over-the-top gore. It will serve us better, though, to first explore the origins of this time-honored creature that began as an obscure Haitian folk myth but is now one of our most revisited horror archetypes. It may first seem that history has little connection to our fictional flesh-eating friends, but they have complex origins, too little discussed and too often ignored by historians and horror fans alike: here we hope to provide the first step in the exploration of the phenomenon.

Find out where the shuffling, blood-spattered Walking Dead zombie really came from in Haiti & the Truth about Zombies.

The twenty most spell-binding university libraries in the world.

I find it interesting that the two male heroes of The Hunger Games are so different from one another, and that they embody such different ways of being men. While Gale is the character we might typically think of in a story like this one—a story with plenty of violence, high stakes, and sacrifice—Peeta is not.

This article has uber-spoilers, so if you haven’t yet finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy, steer away. But if you have, read this piece, for it is amazing: Gale, Peeta and Masculinity in The Hunger Games.

Courageous people expose their insecurities for the camera: the What I Be Project is some amazing photographic storytelling.

Atwood is a polymath. She has ideas about how to fix almost everything and takes pride in her rugged resourcefulness – unlike so many namby-pamby authors who wouldn’t have a clue what to do if the lights went out. When she walks down a street, for example, she likes to point out to whomever she’s with what, in the natural world, they could eat, should the need arise. “I just want them to be prepared.”

If you still haven’t read the Maddaddam trilogy, you need to do so right now. (If you have no plans to read it, we can never be friends.) Check out this interview with the sublime Margaret Atwood, and see if you’re not convinced.

You want to read this new poem by Freesia McKee. Trust me.

“My investigation file expanded from one inch to four inches and then to eight inches. The contents included personal data about Moore and his associates, printouts from his website, copies of relevant articles and reams of information on other involuntary porn stars who were featured on his site. I’d found others, and I knew it would be difficult for law enforcement to ignore folks from all over the country.”
Charlotte Laws took on the infamous internet predator Hunter Moore, and, well… she’s a total badass.

Here’s a map of London’s independent bookstores. You’re welcome.

I suspect the vehement dislike of tattoos is really a fear of women’s skin. When a woman makes her own mark on it, she isn’t quite as available to receive whatever fantasies you might want to project on to her. If skin is a screen, and a woman writes on it, she is telling the world (or even just herself) that her own standards of attractiveness are more important to her than the standards of anyone else.

I am violently in love with this Guardian article on women and tattoos. I mean really.

You’ve seen these amazing mother-daughter artistic collaborations, right?

[Beyonce] a work in progress, as are we all. In 2010, she gave an interview saying she was a “feminist in a way,” because she valued her female friendships deeply. Earlier this year, she claimed she was a “modern-day feminist.” Now she is straight up embracing the term in her music and claiming her right to tell women to both bowdown and encouraging them to be self-confident from the moment they step out of bed… in the same damn song! I rock with that because her feminism is complicated, and ours is too. Tell the truth.

I’ve loved reading the various voices rising above the wall of stupid that went up in response to Beyonce’s new record. This might be my favourite.

Life advice from Amy Poehler. Worth passing on!
Speaking of Beyonce: I FREAKING LOVE THIS RECORD SO MUCH.
OMG Watsky. You may have jumped off a lighting rig at a gig like an IDIOT, but I can’t help but still love you.
Cool.

Merry Christmas everybody!!!

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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!