Posts Tagged ‘publishing’

How Many Wrongs Make A Mr Right? Debut novelist Stella Hervey Birrell on rejection, writing, and men jumping up and down in nightclubs…

Saturday, April 16th, 2016

Hello friends! Remember me? I am indeed still alive, though my blog hardly shows it. Thankfully, I am lucky enough to know the brilliant Stella Hervey Birrell, and even luckier enough to be able to host one of the stops of her blog tour… so I am, rustily, back to blogging! (Thanks, Stella.) Stella’s debut novel is described as “chick lit with grit,” a slogan so great I wish I came up with it — and it’s called How Many Wrong Make A Mr Right? I managed to corner Stella for a small interview… you’re going to enjoy what she has to say, so grab a cuppa and get settled!

1.  I’m always interested to hear about how people started out writing.  I know that you’re also a singer-songwriter, and wonder — did that come first, then story-writing, or the other way around?  Or do you see them as being wholly unconnected?

Not wholly unconnected, no. I had to think really hard about this question: which did come first? It was terribly earnest poetry, really, as a child and then an angsty teenager. Songs have been part of the deal as an adult for a long time, and my husband normally writes the tunes, so it’s something we do together.
But when I gave up work, it wasn’t to write songs, it was so that I could write a commercial, full length novel. Songs are mostly written as gifts, or for my band, The Domestics, which isn’t a full time job.
I’d love to think that writing lyrics informs my prose, but actually I think they’re pretty different. Although it’s probably best that I don’t write in rhyming couplets!

Sam Burns Yard Domestics Pic
‘And now I will read you my full-length novel…’ Stella with her band, The Domestics. Picture by Caroline Pearson.

2.  Kind of related to that first question: what do you think, say, your sixteen-year-old self would make of the fact that you’ve published a novel? 

Oh my goodness she’d be delighted! She was so pretentious though, she’d have been super snooty about the fact that I don’t have a traditional, paper based publishing deal, or an agent.
She’d probably be more surprised that I’m a generally happy, settled person though, neither of us thought that would ever happen…

Correct cover!
Available on UK Amazon, US Amazon, Kobo, Nook and iBooks. (sorry, 16 year old Stella)

3.  What do you see as the major themes of your work?  What questions are you interested in exploring?  Not necessarily just in your novel, but in your writing in general, I mean.  I’m always nosy about the things folk want to drive at with their writing.

At root, I write for women. In my first book, the strongest theme is probably ‘loving yourself first.’
I’m also interested in writing about the female orgasm, in an educational way though – I don’t write erotica.
In other work, women’s empowerment, women’s support networks (good, bad and non-existent), and the whole parenting lark: things I’m experiencing now. For example, my youngest son started school last year, and the piece that came out of the devastation I felt was accepted by the Ropes Journal. Nothing is wasted, as they say.

Strident Feminist cropped
Melissa, How Many Wrongs Make a Mr Right?

4.  I know (*eyebrow-wiggle*) that you’re a member of at least one writer’s group.  Can you talk about the ways in which being part of writing community helps or influences your writing?  

When I started writing ‘seriously,’ my cousin advised me to join a writers group. I’m so glad she did. Being part of Tyne & Esk Writers means I have a place to read works in progress, the impetus to improve as a writer, a community of writers that I now consider friends, access to a ‘proper’ published author and mentoring from her, a beta-reader who surpasses all other beta-readers, the opportunity to read and comment on other people’s work, and somewhere I go every second Wednesday where I know I’ll have a laugh.

5.  If time, money, and lifestyle circumstances were not a factor, what would your writing career look like in 10 years’ time?

In ten years’ time I’d like a readership, not made up of my close family and friends, and a good few novels under my belt. Like about a million other people!

6.  I have to do it: what advice can you give to other writers?  What have you learned that you wished you knew before you started?

Oooh, advice. Er, no idea. Actually, there have been a few things I didn’t do, because I didn’t think to use Google. For example, I didn’t write a one-line pitch for my debut novel, and at first I didn’t write a good cover email either.
Having short works placed in journals really helps, as you have something to write about in said cover letter. All this advice is online, I wish I’d done my research before going out to agents and publishers! Or read ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King. Especially as one agent emailed me the other day saying she doesn’t accept a second pass, once you’ve been rejected, she’s not interested in looking at future works.

Rejection email table
This is part of the deal folks. I love the smell of rejection on a Monday morning…

7.  I guess we should devote at least one question to your novel…!  What’s your favourite moment in the novel?  And was that moment the most fun part to write?

I really like the scene where the ‘gang’ all go dancing. I’m too old for clubbing now, but I used to go out a lot. It was fun, trying to get across the whole club atmosphere: how you lose all your friends but you don’t care, how obvious it is when a guy wants to snog you on the dancefloor, how, when a particular type of song comes on, all the men jump up and down a lot…

8.  Finally… what’s next for your writing?  Do you have a new novel in progress, or is there something else on the cards for you?

I have a work in progress (The Perfects) which is with my aforementioned beta-reader that surpasses all beta-readers. I am really excited about this second novel, and can’t wait to share it with other people. And I’ve got a sketchy plan for a third too (Having it All). My sisters are slightly nervous about it, because my main characters are two sisters. I’m still submitting short works as and when I can, and blogging twice-weekly.
For me, it’s about keeping going. Helen Fielding said ‘there’s always someone trying to tell you you’re not really a writer,’ and for a long time that person was myself. But with the support of my writing community and the validation of a publishing deal, I’m very nearly convinced.

17.11.2015. Stella Hervey Birrell.
Trying to act normal while getting your photograph taken, there’s another lifeskill I could do with learning… (Photo: Gordon Bell)

Stella says: “please come and say ‘hi’ in one or more of these places!
My blog space is
https://atinylife140.wordpress.com/
Twitter is @atinylife140
I have a page on Facebook here.
Email me at atinylife140@gmail.com.
I can also be found wandering the streets of various East Lothian villages.”

Thanks, Stella!

*

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.

A 2016 To Read list

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

april is national poetry month

OK, so I am really bad for talking about my “To Read list,” without actually having a To Read list. A smart person will recommend a book, and I’ll say, “I’ll add it to the list!” Then I don’t. I forget about it. I wander around with this idea that there are loads of books I’d like to read… but no idea what they are. So this year, I AM ACTUALLY MAKING THE LIST. That way, when I get to my Almost All The Books I Read list, I’ll hopefully be able to cross everything off! I love the crossing-off-of-lists.

Books I’ve already bought that have been on my shelf for ages and I really should read…

Frog - Mo Yan
I bought this for Lovely Boyfriend’s birthday in 2015 and have been waiting for him to read it, as it’s only polite. But if he hasn’t read it by his birthday this year (end of January) I’m ditching the politeness and getting in there.

Yes Please - Amy Poehler
I wanted to watch some Parks & Rec before I read this, and I’ve been working through a bunch of other TV shows first. I’m now into P&R, but also less into Amy Poehler than I was when I bought the book. But I really should read it, I’m sure it’s fun.

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
This is one of those that I actually thought I had read because everyone’s talked about it so much and I basically know the whole plot. But then I realised recently that I haven’t, and probably ought to.

We Are Not Ourselves - Matthew Thomas
This was a ‘find a third one to complete the 3-for-2′ job. I wasn’t super enthused, but I was mildly interested. It’s sat on the shelf for months. Time to see if it’s any good!

Being Mortal - Atul Gawande
I was excited to read this… then my grandfather died, and I wasn’t sure if I could handle it. It’s been nearly a year now since that happened, so let’s see.

+

Books that have been out there for years, and I should have read by now…

The Shipping News - Annie Proulx (BOUGHT IT!)
Embarrassing admittance: I didn’t realise how ace Annie Proulx was until 2015, when I read Close Range. Now I need to get on with it and read through her entire back-catalogue!

The Dark Road - Ma Jian
Lovely Boyfriend has this, has read it, and really rates it. He keeps telling me to read it. I really should.

The Singer’s Gun - Emily St John Mandel
In 2015 I fell in love with ESJM via Station Eleven. Now I need to read more of her, and this one looks most ‘me’.

Miss Wyoming - Douglas Coupland
Again, I discovered DC in 2015 with Hey Nostradamus!, and I want to read more. All his novels sound ace, but this one in particular piqued my interest…

+

2015 books I didn’t get round to in 2015 because I am bad at being a proper book geek

The First Bad Man - Miranda July
When everyone’s salivating over an author, I find it hard to read them. That’s weird, isn’t it? I mean, this book looks great and everyone loves her. What’s the matter with me?

Almost Famous Women - Megan Mayhew Bergman
I want to read more short fic, and this one came recommended by The Millions.

Watch Me Go - Mark Wisniewski
I cannot remember why, but at the beginning of 2015 I made a note in my diary to seek this book out. It was in a list of a few, the rest of which follow. I must have read a review of it and thought it sounded good. I’ve only just found that note again, and now I’m quite looking forward to discovering why I wrote it down, along with these others…

Find Me - Laura Van Den Berg
I have a vague feeling it’s a post-apocalyptic novel. I love those.

The Dead Lands - Benjamin Percy
Yep, this was noted down in the diary too. Also post-apocalyptic, maybe? I’m guessing, from the title only. No memory of this one either.

Girls Will Be Girls - Emer O’Toole
And another one from the diary. Maybe it’s feminist-y?

The Book of Aron - Jim Shepard
Last mystery book from this little clump of notes.

Hammerhead: The Making of a Carpenter - Nina McLaughlin
This looks so great, and I’m annoyed I didn’t get round to it in 2015!

Undermajordomo Minor - Patrick deWitt
He was in Edinburgh this autumn, presumably promoting this, and I couldn’t go and see him. Sadface! Better read the book, ’cause I love him. (And I’m not one of these Sisters Brothers johnny-come-latelies either… I’ve loved him since I read an advance copy of Ablutions way back when I worked for the James Tait Black Prize. Proper hipster fangirl over here.)

The Well - Catherine Chanter
At the EIBF event I went to with Emily St John Mandel, Catherine Chanter was the other author. I swooned so much over ESJM at the time that I sort of forgot to go buy the other book. I really ought to though, because it sounds very interesting.

Fishnet - Kirsten Innes
Yeah, I know. I ought to read this.

A Brief History of Seven Killings - Marlon James (READ IT!)
I was given this for Christmas! Hooray!

The Heart Goes Last - Margaret Atwood
I wanted to read this in time for her event in Edinburgh this autumn. Not only did I not do that, I didn’t get to the event. It looks great though, and I always appreciate a new fix of Atwood.

+

Books coming in 2016 that I am super looking forward to…

Gold Fame Citrus - Claire Vaye Watkins
This might already be out in USA? If so, no spoilers please. It’s another post-apocalyptic novel, so just my kind of thing.

The Girls: A Novel - Emma Cline
How great does this look?

Zero K - Don Delillo
OMG HE WROTE A NEW NOVEL!!!!!!!!1!!1!!

+

Poetry books I would like to read in 2016…

Settle - Theresa Munoz
I don’t know when this is appearing or who’s publishing but I want to be at the front of the queue to buy a copy!

Wild Nights - Kim Addonizio (BOUGHT IT!)
HOW HAVE I NOT READ THIS YET WHAT AM I DOING?

Dog Songs - Mary Oliver
See above.

The Bonniest Companie - Kathleen Jamie (BOUGHT IT!)
As you may have noticed, whatever Dave rates this highly, I want to read.

The Terrible - Daniel Sluman
Did this only just come out, or did I only just hear of it?!

Hannah Lowe - Chan
It’s not out til June! No faaaaair!

Helen Farish - The Dog of Memory
‘What if everyone who ever lived here had left one thing behind?’ is the loose theme of this, apparently. SOUNDS GREAT.

Nine Arches Press’ forthcoming anthology of UK Disability Poetry / Crip Poetics
It’s a groundbreaking concept (though it shouldn’t be) and it’s edited by a trio of absolute superstars. I am really excited about this.

+

A poetry collection I am sick of looking at but which you might like to read in 2016…

My book!

This changes things - Claire Askew
Yes, it’s me! You can find out all about this particular collection, and order yourself a copy, right here. (Thanks!)

*

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.

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

Monday, 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)

*

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!)

Monday, 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!

*

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!

Almost all the books I read in 2014 and the things I thought about them.

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

So, for the first year ever, I actually kept a book journal, and wrote down in it almost every book I read throughout the year. I say almost, because towards the end I got really bogged down in — and vexed by, as you’ll see — DeLillo’s Underworld, and forgot to document some of the poetry books I read. But this is about 98% of what I read this year, along with some often-bitchy miniature reviews. Hooray, books!

#58 of 365
(Photo credit)

JANUARY

Fiction
Patrick deWitt The Sisters Brothers
(Didn’t expect to like this. Loved it. But then, I loved Ablutions, so…)
Terry Pratchett Soul Music
(Re-read for about the one millionth time. This book is like an old friend.)

Poetry
Mary Oliver West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems
Rebecca Elson A Responsibility To Awe

Gossip from The Forest - Sara Maitland
(Photo credit)

FEBRUARY

Poetry
Patricia Pogson The Holding
Patricia Pogson A Crackle From The Larder

Non fiction
Sara Maitland Gossip From The Forest
(I abandoned this halfway through. I feel guilty, but sorry, I found it a bit dull.)

93/365 American Wife
(Photo credit)

MARCH

Fiction
Curtis Sittenfeld American Wife
Christos Tsolkias The Slap
(I abandoned this because it is a book that seems to be entirely about men walking around objectifying women and getting angry erections. Literally the most misogynist book I have ever read… and the few women characters who are allowed to have any kind of meaningful narrative are so badly written it’s painful. I actually dumped this book on a train. I didn’t want the charity shop folks to even know I had read it.)

Poetry
Mary Oliver Thirst
Dorianne Laux Smoke
(Re-reading)
Kathryn Simmons The Visitations
Kerry Hardie Selected Poems
(Re-reading. I am a mega Kerry fangirl.)
Patricia Young More Watery Still
(Re-reading)

wild geese
(Photo credit)

APRIL

Poetry
Michael Conley Aquarium
(I also reviewed it!)
Mary Oliver Wild Geese
Patricia Young Summertime Swamp Love
(OK, I love this woman. I have read everything she’s ever written. I was so excited that she had a new collection out, pre-ordered it, waited impatiently to get it from Canada… and was so utterly disappointed. It’s a book where every poem is about the sex life of a different animal… and you can tell she got really caught up in the gimmicky concept and let the writing slip a bit. Or in places, a lot. Sad times!)
Karen Solie The Living Option
(Thank goodness for Karen Solie! The best poetry book I have read for years. Everyone, go out and get it and read it and marvel. She’s amazing.)

Copies of The Luminaries being prepared.
(Photo credit)

MAY

Fiction
Roxane Gay An Untamed State
(Beautifully spare, very harrowing, utterly amazing. Read it.)
Nina de la Mer Layla
(Most inventive use of second person I have ever seen, but… let’s just say I’m curious to know what real sex workers make of this book.)
Eleanor Catton The Luminaries
(Ugh. She’s so talented it’s obscene.)

#100HappyDays Day 148: Enjoyed hearing Eimear McBride talk, upon winning the Bailey Prize, about how this should be a wake-up call to publishers to take more risks after receiving years of rejections not because they didn't like it but because they didn't
(Photo credit)

JUNE

Fiction
Curtis Sittenfeld Sisterland
(Yeah, I love Curtis.)
Eimear McBride A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing
(I hated this. I’m afraid I ditched it halfway through. Am I broken?)
Hilary Mantel Beyond Black
(My first foray into the world of Mantel! I liked it! Though it could have been 150 pages shorter.)

Talye Selasi, Author of Ghana Must Go
(Photo credit. Taiye Selasi is stunning.)

JULY

Fiction
Paul Auster Man In The Dark
(Meh. Auster is Austerish.)
Taiye Selasi Ghana Must Go
(I was ready to hate on this with all the hate I could summon… this woman was helped to publication by her personal friends Toni Morrison and Andrew Wylie, but it turns out? Not nepotism. She actually deserved the hype! Mind you, I agree with the reviewers who said it didn’t really hit its stride til Part 2.)

Poetry
Mary Oliver West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems
(Yep, re-read it in the same year.)

& Sons
(Photo credit)

AUGUST

Fiction
Janet Fitch White Oleander
(Re-reading for about the fifth time, because I just love this book.)
David Gilbert & Sons
(I expected this to be really macho… and it is, but in a brilliant, self-aware way. One of my favourite novels of the year.)

Poetry
Jean Sprackland Sleeping Keys
Colin McGuire As I Sit Quietly, I Begin To Smell Burning
(I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: McGuire is Scotland’s most underrated poet. Read it. Read it now.)

Gone Fission
(Photo credit)

SEPTEMBER

Fiction
Jennifer Egan The Keep
(She is the writer I would like to be. That said, this was not quite as sublime as Look at Me or Visit from the Goon Squad.)
Don DeLillo Underworld
(Holy crap this thing is a slog. Notice how I only got round to one other novel all year after this?! And sorry not sorry: it is so not worth it. It’s like Infinite Jest. The length of it is just male posturing (as is the dudebroish waxing lyrical about how this or Infinite Jest is like the totes best evar. So you read a long, smartypants book. Big whoop). Male GANs (Great American Novelists) have an obsession with size which just isn’t healthy. Stop it DeLillo, DFW, Franzen! You’re just showing off, dammit! My advice? Skip this one and read Cosmopolis. It’s the stunning DeLillo prose without the bullshit.)

Poetry
Katherine Larson Radial Symmetry

Reading Blue Horses by Mary Oliver
(Photo credit)

OCTOBER

Poetry
Austin Smith Almanac
(A poetry collection all about farms. Shouldn’t be good. Is amazing.)
Nancy Kuhn The Wife of the Left Hand
(This was less accessible/more abstract than I usually like, but this collection actually made me think differently about poetry. Gobsmacking!)
Mary Oliver Blue Horses
(New collection! And it’s delightfully “IDGAF” in tone. Mary Oliver, be my surrogate auntie?)
Matthew Dickman Mayakovsky’s Revolver
(Hipstery poems about Portland! Read it while drinking artisan espresso and twirling your moustache!)
Dionisio Martinez Bad Alchemy
(This dude has the best name ever.)

Untitled
(Photo credit)

NOVEMBER

Fiction
Michael Chabon Wonder Boys
(If you hate the fact that male novelists dominate the world of SRS LITERATURE and are often pompous windbags, then this book is for you. It’s about one of them getting a series of hilarious come-uppances. I actually LOLed in public at this book.)

Poetry
Thomas Lux Selected Poems
Kerry Hardie The Zebra Stood In The Night
(Another new collection I waited impatiently for… but this one did not disappoint.)
Alan Gillis Scapegoat
(I second what Dave said about this one.)
Leanne O’Sullivan Waiting for my Clothes
(I did Leanne O’Sullivan wrong. I had never heard of her and read The Mining Road, liked it well enough, but didn’t know til last month that in the early 2000s she’d been this 20 year old writing prodigy genius person. Holy wow.)

Marie Howe
(Photo credit. That’s Marie Howe, btw.)

DECEMBER

Poetry
Melissa Lee-Houghton Beautiful Girls
(Once upon a time, I published Melissa in my tiny, Xeroxed poetry zine Read This. I am so chuffed to see how far she’s come since then… she deserves all the praise, her poems are great.)
Marie Howe What The Living Do
Mary Oliver Dream Work
(I am an Oliver addict.)
Tiffany Atkinson So Many Moving Parts
Helen Dunmore Recovering A Body

Non-fiction

Robert Boice How Writers Journey to Comfort and Fluency: A Psychological Adventure
(This is long-winded as hell, out of print and a hard copy will rush you at least £60. But holy wow, it’s very, very, very useful.)

A few final stats:

Total fiction: 17
Total poetry: 32
Total non-fiction: 2

Books by men: 16 (7 fiction, 8 poetry, 1 non fiction)
Books by women: 35 (10 fiction, 24 poetry, 1 non fiction)

*

What did YOU read this year?
(Related reading: my top 10 independent bookstores of 2014)

*

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!

My top 5 recommended Book Week Scotland events!

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

FREE TO USE - BOOK WEEK SCOTLAND 2014 LAUNCH
(Photo by Ann Giles)

Book Week Scotland is only DAYS AWAY, you guys! It starts on Monday 24th November and has the power to fill your whole week with exciting reading-related fun and games! Does this sound like something you want to get involved in? Why, of course it does! But in case you feel overwhelmed, here’s a handy guide to my top 5 Book Week Scotland events of 2014:

1. Waverley Care’s Inside/Out exhibition at the Traverse Theatre Bar, Edinburgh, free to access from 25th November

In a nutshell, it’s: an open exhibition of art and writing by people affected by HIV and/or Hep C. For several months, Waverley Care has been engaging its service users with photography and creative writing, and the participants have been using these to respond to the question, “what is it like to live with a blood-borne virus?” This amazingly rich, eye-opening exhibition of photographs, poems, stories and journal entries is the result!

2. Creative Skills Exchange at Scottish Refugee Council, Glasgow, 10am on 26th November, free

In a nutshell, it’s: an opportunity for people with a background in the creative industries who would like to share their skills with others. Says SRC, “whatever your specialism, we would love to welcome you to our community.” For one half of this particular session, myself and some colleagues from Scottish Book Trust will be coming in to talk about creative map-making, so if that sounds like your cup of tea, please do come and join us!

3. Christine de Luca at Taigh Chearsabhagh, North Uist, 7.30pm on 27th November, free

In a nutshell, it’s: a poet you should absolutely go and see if you possibly can. I am a huge fan of Christine’s and always love to hear her perform her own work. Don’t be put off by the fact that this reading is “in the Shetland dialect,” which, says the event listing, “is a blend of Old Scots with much Norse influence.” Christine imbues her performances with such power and emotion that you understand perfectly even if you’ve never heard a word of Shetlandic in your life!

4. Scottish PEN Banned Books Club: Edwin Morgan’s ‘Stobhill’ poems, Project Cafe, Glasgow, 5.15pm on 28th November, free but ticketed

In a nutshell, it’s: me, leading a book-club-style discussion about this famous poem sequence. The poems tell the story of a young woman who is raped, and then has a late-term abortion. In the 1990s, a group of campaigners tried to have the poems banned from schools, calling them “pornographic.” We’ll be chatting about the poems themselves (it just so happens that I read them in school in the 1990s myself), as well as about the banning of literature and censorship in general. Places are limited, so sign up quick!

5. The Shore Poets vs Be The First To Like This Quiet Slam!, at Henderson’s at St John’s, 7.15pm on 30th November, £5/£3

In a nutshell, it’s: a smackdown between a few poets who were featured in recent anthology Be The First To Like This, and a few poets from elsewhere; an epic competition for fame, glory, and book tokens! OK, not really — it’s going to be a fun, silly, slam-style event where shyness, reading off paper, speaking quietly and making mistakes are encouraged, and slam virgins are warmly welcomed. There’ll be a merch table groaning with exciting books and Book Week Scotland freebies, a raffle in which you could win books, CDs, or our infamous lemon cake, and of course our usual warm Henderson’s welcome. I’ll be resuming my erstwhile role as Scotland’s Most Socially Awkward Literary MC, and hope to see you there!

You can easily search through all the events across Book Week Scotland by clicking right here! If you can’t attend any events but fancy getting involved in some online activities, you can do thinks like make a reading pledge, write a love letter to a library, or vote for your favourite Scottish literary character! Have a great week, and be sure to share what you’re up to by using the hashtag #BookWeekScot!

*

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!

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!

*

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!

Got five minutes? Help me create a magic book! (Please.)

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

wswmih

Hey ONS-ers. I have a big, big favour to ask.

I don’t often ask you guys for stuff. I’ve never run ads here, and I even took down my tip-jar ’cause I felt bad about it. But now I’m asking for your help, because I know you’re all super-cool individuals who know a damn good cause when you see one.

I’ve spoken a bit before, here (scroll past the inevitable cake pictures!) about the totally life-changing (really!) work I’ve been doing over the past year with a thing called The Making It Home Project. I won’t say too much about it here, because I want you to go and read all the details at this link instead, but I will say: this is the sort of creative work that I deeply, passionately believe in. Forget fancy book launches, forget big anthologies, forget even the humble poetry slam. This is what poetry ought to be doing with itself: opening up amazing new creative possibilities to people who might otherwise never have read a poem in their lives.

I’m being mysterious, so go see what I’m talking about! But first, listen to the following, heartfelt plea…

You guys all know the power of books — you wouldn’t read this bookgeek blog otherwise. You know there’s something about a book: they’ve got a special sort of magic that no other object has. And a lot of you know how much more magical a book becomes if it contains something that you yourself wrote… right? Well, we want to make a really, really magical book. It’ll be a book we can give to the incredible women we’ve been working with, so they can also experience how awesome (literally) it feels to hold and read and share a book that has your words in it. It’ll also be a book we can give to all of you — for free! — to show you the amazing work these groups of women have been doing.

I’d like to ask you to do three small things.

One: watch our video.

RST Poetry Film taster from media co-op on Vimeo.

Two: click on the link in the image below, go and read more about what we’re doing, and how we plan to make our book.

Three: if you can (and only if you can), donate a pound or two to our cause. Any donation over £5 gets a reward… the more you give, the bigger and cooler your reward will be. If you can’t afford to donate, that is totally OK. But I’d be super grateful if you could spread the word around to anyone you think can help us.

These three things will take you what? Five minutes? If that. But your five minutes will make a massive difference and I promise, I will be very, very grateful to you!

Thanks guys. You rock.

*

You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. 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 Poem, ‘Song,’ by Stephen Nelson (also, a review!)

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Banjo

Song

1.

Pu oot yer banjo, boy, n strum
at yon fu moon

till ye nip the prood violet’s
wheezy reek

fae teeth n nose n mooth.

2.

Pu oot yer banjo, boy, n pluck
the fucker

till ma hert strings snap n whip
the raw rank erse ae the wirld

wi memory like the putrid seas ae Jupiter.

3.

Pu oot yer banjo, boy –

lazy bam in yer lazy bed wi yer
sweetened songs n yer honey dream rhymes.

Ah wull dance, dammit! - n let the rollin waves
spill oan the frozen shore,
till midnight wirds
ir whisperin tendrils ae shivering
ecstasy nae mair.

*

If you’ve been reading this blog for any decent amount of time, you’ll know I love the work of Stephen Nelson. One of the best and most prolific concrete/vispo poets working in Scotland today, Stephen’s been published in a wide variety of places, including the wonderful anthology The Last Vispo, which I’d highly recommend to anyone (especially if you’re not sure what all this vispo fuss is about, but you think you’d like to try it). Most recently, he’s brought out a collection with the wonderful Knives Forks and Spoons Press, who are soon to close their doors — sad times, indeed. But they’ve really gone out with a bang by publishing Lunar Poems for New Religions, a collection which, prior to publication, was shortlisted for the prestigious Crashaw Prize… and I can see why.

Lunar Poems for New Religions is a book inspired by the moon, in every sense. Its second section, Crescent, mimics the rhythm of the lunar cycle, beginning with a very simple concrete piece:

mo( )on

Thereafter, the poems wax and wane. Some are sparse, concrete pieces that use the white space of the page to great effect; interspersed among them are short, prose-style poems that seem lush and full alongside their neighbours. Stephen has arranged — I almost want to say timed — all of this to perfection, though, as it never feels jarring. Rather, it is smooth and organic. And the poems are filled with confident, powerful lines. In ‘Ask Tracey’, for example, I was struck by, “Whenever I touched you who felt the shock but us.”

The first section of the book, The Moon from my Windowless Heart, is a totally different beast. ‘Song’, the poem above, is the first to appear in the section, and it is followed by ‘LOOK UP!’, one long, two-part poem that in places is almost theatrical monologue. This section is in Scots, which I found surprising and wonderful. ‘LOOK UP!’ reminded me very much of poems from the Beat Generation — lines like:

Next mornin up tae tantric storms aboot ma heid,
dark mind clouds explodin brain sparks ae lightnin,
cartoon hero cut fae technicolour dream cloth,
rinsed oot & hung in the sky like a sinkin moon.

The whole collection pulses with a weird and brilliant energy, combining Stephen’s expert knowledge of the page’s potential as shape, as canvas, with strong, rhythmic phrasing and pin-sharp imagery. It’s only January, but I’ll be shocked if I find a more original, enjoyable collection to top it this year. I’m calling my Top Poetry Read of 2013, folks! And you can buy it right here!

(You can — and you really, really should — also visit Stephen’s great blog, afterlights, to see more of his work.)

*

Want to see YOUR poem featured on ONS? Read this post first: submission guidelines are at the bottom. Good luck!

*

You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. 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 poem, ‘Fun With Therapy’ by Heather Bell

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

self-ish

Fun With Therapy

The problem with poets is we like
to sound more interesting than we
are. The poet goes to therapy and says
she has been skinning herself

alive. How interesting! How probable and
dark! The poet writes long letters

to the therapist in which she says

her skills are in high demand, such as

tilting men, finger to head, toppling
them over. Poets like to take it too
far,

disease themselves. No one is ever truly

that lonely, the therapist tells
her. The poet

writes a list of possibilities: tomb
herself into

the house like a pharaoh, disappear. The
moon

is a supermarket, she says. The cat
refuses to come
home. How beautiful and weird! How
humble of

her to acknowledge she has gone off the
deep end,

so early in the game. Here she sees a
sky of clouds in the blot. There she
sees knuckles and a wad of flesh. The
therapist evaluates

the situation like it is a police report:
woman’s face is a tight shiny surface of
worry. Woman’s hands keep moving over
this disappointment. Woman

says she hasn’t told the truth for years
and we have to believe her.

Heather Bell’s work has been published in Rattle, Grasslimb, Barnwood, Poets/Artists, Third Wednesday and many others. She was nominated for the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Pushcart Prize from Rattle and also won the New Letters 2009 Poetry Prize. Heather has also published four books. Any more details can be found here: http://hrbell.wordpress.com

Want to see YOUR poem featured on ONS? Read this post first: submission guidelines are at the bottom. Good luck!

*

You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. 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)