Posts Tagged ‘scotland’

My Top 10 Independent Bookstores of 2014: a northward bookish road trip!

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

PhD grad weekend adventures (12)

Withnail Books, Penrith

Range of books? Excellent for such a small place.
Specialism? Lake District related, and all things Withnail & I.
Prices? About right (all the books are second hand).
Easy to find? Not really. A bit off the beaten track and hidden away in an antiques/restoration salvage yard! You’d be better off looking for Booths supermarket… it’s across the road from there!
Accessible? Accessible-ish… it’s ground level but in the middle of a salvage yard so there may be obstacles.
Cafe? No.
Best bit? There’s a vintage clothing store upstairs, and this aforementioned antiques salvage yard right outside which is also brilliant for a poke about in!

Beckside Books, Penrith

Beckside Books, Penrith

Range of books? Again, excellent for such a wee place.
Specialism? Lake District.
Prices? About right (all the books are second hand).
Easy to find? Yes, it’s in the centre of Penrith and well signposted.
Accessible? Partly — it’s on two floors with stairs to the first floor.
Cafe? No.
Best bit? It’s a place to find hidden gems… and it’s a very, very cute building.

Bookcase Books in Carlisle.  Place of dreams.

Bookcase, Carlisle

Range of books? Massive. This place is absolutely huge. You want it? They have it.
Specialism? Being unapologetically huge and maze-like.
Prices? Cheap (all the books are second hand).
Easy to find? Yes, although not signposted it’s two minutes from Carlisle’s market square and any local could direct you there.
Accessible? No.
Cafe? No, but there’s a tea and coffee machine and lots of posters encouraging you to make use of it!
Best bit? I have been four times and still not seen it all. It’s that big.

Word Power Books

Word Power Books, Edinburgh

Range of books? Great. If I can’t find a book anywhere else, I can usually find it here.
Specialism? Politics, and Scottish writers.
Prices? Almost all the books are new, so RRP or above.
Easy to find? Yes.
Accessible? No.
Cafe? No.
Best bit? Marshall, the friendly Rottweiler-cross who follows you around as you browse and appreciates a good scratch behind the ears!

Looking Glass Books, Edinburgh

Looking Glass Books, Edinburgh

Range of books? Modest, but carefully hand-picked. (I do sometimes find them hard to browse, though… there’s a funny categorising/display system going on!)
Specialism? Scottish writers.
Prices? All the books are new, so RRP.
Easy to find? Yes. Well signposted from Middle Meadow Walk!
Accessible? Fully! Go LGB!
Cafe? Yes.
Best bit? Vegan flapjack. Sorry not sorry!

Glasgow Aug 14

Alba Musick, Glasgow

Range of books? Surprisingly wide for a bookshop that calls itself a music shop!
Specialism? Music.
Prices? About right (all the books are second hand).
Easy to find? Nope. It’s in a yard behind some flats. Although if you know where the similarly-weirdly-placed Glasgow legend Tchai Ovna is, start there… it’s one yard over.
Accessible? Yes… although the yard outside is cobbled and sometimes cars park across the doorway.
Cafe? No.
Best bit? Surprisingly excellent poetry section!

Glasgow Aug 14

Voltaire & Rousseau, Glasgow

Range of books? Very wide… but this bookstore is famous for having absolutely no logical cataloguing system whatsoever. If you’re looking for something specific, be prepared to rummage. For a long, long time.
Specialism? Intimidating, haphazard piles of books!
Prices? Cheap (all the books are second hand).
Easy to find? See above. This one’s in the same yard as Tchai Ovna. Get off the Subway at Kelvinbridge and then ask someone!
Accessible? Theoretically, yes. Realistically, no.
Cafe? No, but the aforementioned Tchai Ovna is a couple of doors down.
Best bit? Rummaging.

Inverness 2014 (8)

Leakey’s, Inverness

Range of books? Huge! Although surprisingly little fiction and poetry in comparison to other stuff.
Specialism? Scottish travel/antiquarian.
Prices? A bit on the dear side (all the books are second hand).
Easy to find? Yes.
Accessible? No.
Cafe? Yes.
Best bit? Just hanging out in this place is really cool. It’s a converted church and every surface is covered with books. There’s also a woodburning stove!

Gairloch 2014 (2)

Hillbillies Bookstore and Trading Post, Gairloch

Range of books? Amazingly great, considering this place is down a 60-mile-long, single-track cul-de-sac in the Highlands.
Specialism? Politics / social science, book-related geeky gifts, and really, really good coffee.
Prices? All the books are new, so RRP.
Easy to find? Once you’re in Gairloch, yes. But first you must gird your loins and drive to Gairloch!
Accessible? Yes — although it’s split-level with stairs, both levels are accessible via their own outside doors.
Cafe? Oh hell yes.
Best bit? The place is papered with political slogan posters, and the cafe’s coffee is great. This place is basically like a little piece of North Beach, San Francisco… in Gairloch.

Thurso 2014

Tall Tales, Thurso

Range of books? Modest. It’s a wee place!
Specialism? None… but lots of Scottish titles.
Prices? Super cheap.
Easy to find? Yes, it’s in the middle of Thurso and Thurso is, well, pretty tiny.
Accessible? No.
Cafe? No.
Best bit? Tall Tales is the best thing about Thurso (although Thurso also has a surprisingly cosmopolitan health food store). Hooray!

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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!

Attention women writers! Brand new writing opportunity in Edinburgh!

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Writing ♥
(Photo credit)

Hello, friends!

I am very excited to announce that from January 2015, I will be delivering the innovative all-female fiction writing class Write Like A Grrrl.

Write Like A Grrrl is already established in London, and a Manchester class is starting up shortly. But I thought it would be very sad if all the brilliant female writers north of the border were unable to take part, so I pitched myself to the lovely people at For Books’ Sake as a potential Scotland-based tutor. After some very excitable chats — and some training in the ins and outs of the course, natch — they signed me up! Now all I need is for YOU to come and join me!

Write Like A Grrrl is open to any self-identifying woman who writes fiction, or would like to write fiction. As well as helping you make your writing as brilliant as it can be — focussing on the essential stuff like characterisation and dialogue — the course also empowers women writers to beat procrastination and create that precious thing, productive writing time!

The Edinburgh course begins on 24th January and runs for six weeks — so if you’re planning to make “do more writing” one of your New Year’s Resolutions for 2015, then Write Like A Grrrl might just be perfect for you!

The venue is the cozy back room at Boda, which — for those of you have never been there before — is full of comfy couches, and a perfect space for chatting about writing and sharing ideas. The course is six weeks long and runs for six consecutive Saturdays, from 24th January 2015, between 12.30pm and 2.30pm.

The Write Like A Grrrl: Edinburgh website has all the info you need, and you can book your place using the drop-down menu, too!

Please do join me! I’d love to see you there!

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

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!

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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 #137

Friday, November 14th, 2014

87/365: The Hippest
(Photo credit)

If you click nothing else in this post, click this: as you already know, the legendary Amelia’s Magazine is trying to get back into print for their 10th anniversary. Please please please please please help by backing the Kickstarter!

“You can only do so much in a short-form poetry review, and it’s hard enough to identify a book’s aesthetic ambitions at all, let alone in 400 words. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest this might create a feedback loop in which more experienced poets learn exactly what kind of poetry wins prizes, swooning Guardian reviews and another book deal. Slam poetry in North America has such rigid means of understanding creative success it actively stifles work that doesn’t fit the template, and mainstream UK poetry seems to be doing likewise.”

My ol’ mate Dave Coates was interviewed by Sabotage and talked SO MUCH SENSE.

…and if you liked that, you’ll like this:

Despite the handful of decent collections nominated for the TS Eliot prize this year, it is a deeply conservative shortlist, and Connolly is right to point out the ludicrous situation in which John Burnside can step out as a PBS selector long enough to be selected then step right back in. It would be laughable if it wasn’t a ticket to a 1 in 10 chance at twenty grand in a notoriously unlucrative genre.

Dave again, this time at his own blog, reflecting on his reviewing work so far.

“A (now former) friend of mine who was a bookie and rather the drinker was convinced I’d based the main character in a short story of mine (‘Pocket’) on him—to the point that we got into a bit of a drunken shouting match, most of it him repeatedly demanding that I give him (in cash, right then) at least half of my ’royalties.’ To which I replied, ‘Fine, bro. They gave me two contributor copies—take one of them off that shelf’.”

I loved this: You’re So Vain, You Probably Think This [Work of Fiction] Is About You.

Want to see inside the world’s smallest at-home library? Of course you do.

Barack Obama’s second inaugural poet, Richard Blanco, is basically the coolest guy ever.

Whether or not you are conscious of it, you are always looking for an excuse to stop reading a poem and move on to another poem or to do something else entirely. Resist this urge as much as possible. Think of it as a Buddhist regards a pesky mosquito. The mosquito, like the poem, may be irritating, but it’s not going to kill you to brave it for a little while longer.

Twenty strategies for reading poems.

What’s your favourite movie? There’s a book for that.

I also like to finish a book once I’ve started but hey, no need to be a dick about it.

It’s hard to talk in a clear-headed way about genre. Almost everyone can agree that, over the past few years, the rise of the young-adult genre has highlighted a big change in book culture. For reasons that aren’t fully explicable (Netflix? Tumblr? Kindles? Postmodernism?), it’s no longer taken for granted that important novels must be, in some sense, above, beyond, or “meta” about their genre. A process of genrefication is occurring.

This in-depth article on ‘genre’ vs ‘literary’ is really worth reading.

Meanwhile, this guy is a fluff-piece-writing jerk who wants to tell you where you can and cannot read books. Go and pour your pint over him in the comments.

Fancy-ass book editors being forced to give up their corner offices? It’s a hard life, eh?

I know, you’re sick of celebrity memoirs, you’re sick of female celebrities talking about feminism, blah blah blah. Well, that’s just fine because Poehler’s book is so much more than that. Poehler is the only person in the world other than Nora Ephron who can be funny about divorce (and she is so funny about divorce), and she is definitely the only person in the world from whom I will accept sex tips (and her sex tips are great). But most of all, she’s super smart about what she calls “women-on-women violence” (when women are mean to one another), which is always an expression of female self-loathing. Poehler knows that she’s good at what she does, but she’s also an insecure human being, and what she does in this book is show how to balance those insecurities with self-respect. When Poehler self-deprecates, she doesn’t do it in a charming, cutesy-wootsy way, but rather an honest way, and then counters it with some self-pride and self-awareness.

Just your regular reminder: Amy Poehler is a total badass.

Who out there thinks that NaNoWriMo never results in any good writing? Well, here are a bunch of NaNoWriMo novels that got published!

Some of these tips on entering writing contests surprised me — have a look!

Joyce and Woolf were writers who transformed the quicksilver of consciousness into paper and ink. To accomplish this, they sent characters on walks about town. As Mrs. Dalloway walks, she does not merely perceive the city around her. Rather, she dips in and out of her past, remolding London into a highly textured mental landscape, “making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh.”

Walking & writing, writing & walking.

Looking through old bookmarks I found this cool book-like dress!

Is Mary Oliver not perfect? Mary Oliver is perfect.

Or consider the way that Kelman uses the word “but”: “One thing I’m finding but it makes it a wee bit easier getting a turn.” The man is saying that, although he dislikes having a dog tag along with him, he has found that it helps to bring in money. So the sentence, written out formally, would be something like: “One thing I’m finding is that it makes it a little easier to get a turn.” In the formal version, though, the musical pitching of “but” and “bit” disappears, as does the sentence’s weird, hopping rhythm, where the unexpected incursion of “but” forces a caesura.

This man a) has clearly never heard anyone speaking Scots b) does not know what the heck he’s on about and c) is a member of the very literary elite Kelman rails against. All very entertaining!

Authors who got their first big break after age 50. So don’t panic!

Typewriters and their humans. Thank you to the zillion people who brought this to my attention!

The cornerstone of my comedy is to make people laugh and examine social issues with the goal of improvement. Change doesn’t happen overnight. We all know this. There is a dialogue that needs to continue amongst both men and women on how to improve how we interact with each other in this day and age. What this video going viral did is it opened up that conversation to the heart of the issue, “Why do men still feel that women are to be the proud receptors of their advances/greetings/compliments at all times?”

Amanda Seales: my new hero.


Here’s Twinkle Baroo the greyhound enjoying the first frost of the year. You’re welcome!


Haha, Lovely Boyfriend thought this was real! (Worth watching the Making Of, btw.)


What it’s like to work with cats. (Related: proof that cats are master thieves.)

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!

Things I Love Thursday #96: The Secret Herb Garden

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

My dear friend Martyna just moved back to Edinburgh, and it seems she has an uncanny ability to make me feel like the 18 year old undergrad I was when the two of us first met and started having adventures! Martyna has a great ability for sniffing out cool new places to discover, even in good old Edinburgh, where I was convinced I knew about all the cool stuff! Turns out, I’m wrong — I had no idea about The Secret Herb Garden, which is only short bus ride out of the city and a really, really great place to visit!

They have:

Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh

Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh

Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh

Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh

A huge, tangled, fragrant greenhouse where you’re free to wander, smell flowers, follow twisty paths and discover hidden clearings.

Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh

Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh

Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh

A coffee shop full of tasty treats (including all-gluten-free cakes and dairy free options… and we’re told vegan options are coming soon!), where you’re encouraged to take your drinks and snacks and wander off to find a pleasant place to sit!

Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh

Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh

Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh

A lovely shop where you can buy restored vintage furniture; ethical soaps, candles and smellies; useful gardening paraphernalia; pottery and glassware, and some clothing and homeware. All lovely unique and largely local stuff!

Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh

Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh

Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh

Bees! Inside the stripy bee observatory, you can get a close up look at the transparent bee-hive and see the bees going about their business. Very cool.

Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh

Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh

Chickens! Who very much like having their photo taken…

Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh

Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh

Pigs! Who like a friendly chat… although they may only have chatted with us because we expressly told them we were vegan.

Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh

All in all, a really rather excellent day out… and all for the cost of a bus ticket! We got to the herb garden by hopping on a number 15 bus at Tollcross. The 15 stops at Old Pentland Road, and you need to walk about ten minutes up that road to get there. The walk is fairly easy, with pavement (albeit narrow) all the way, and Martyna and I were able to stop and pick brambles and elderberries on the way!

Highly, highly, highly recommended!

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

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

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

StAnza 2011 Preview
Photo by Chris Scott.

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 30th September, so if you fancy doing any of the above, get in there quick!

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

To date, I have:

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

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

Good luck!

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

30 before 30: the first six months! 6. Get out more

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

You may remember that #6 on my 30-before-30 epic ‘to do’ list was Get Out More. I said: “I need to start actually going to all the cool places in the UK that I love — or am curious about — instead of just daydreaming about going…”

Well, this one is by no means “done,” as I hope to have lots more adventures before 10th March 2016, but in order to get this goal properly kick-started, Lovely Boyfriend and I decided to do a truly epic tour of Scotland. Here’s where we “got out” to!

Faskally Tay Forest 2014 (3)

Faskally Tay Forest 2014 (5)

Faskally Tay Forest 2014 (6)

Faskally Tay Forest 2014 (7)

We started ^ here, at the Tay Forest Park, which is quite huge, and amazing. This part of it is at Faskally, and has lots of sedate walks or demanding hikes, depending on what you fancy. LB and did a bit of both… including some straying from the path and ending up crashing through trees, which was quite fun. We also met ducklings!

Highland Wildlife Park 2014 (2)

Highland Wildlife Park 2014 (21)

Highland Wildlife Park 2014 (8)

Highland Wildlife Park 2014 (12)

Highland Wildlife Park 2014 (11)

Highland Wildlife Park 2014 (16)

Highland Wildlife Park 2014 (17)

On the way from Faskally to Inverness, our next stop, we took a break at the Highland Wildlife Park. I’ll be honest, I was not looking forward to this place — I hate zoos and find them really, really depressing. But LB convinced me that this was different. I started out hating it, but after a while I realised that the vast majority of the critters actually had a pretty charmed life… even the polar bears, who I didn’t photograph but who we saw playing and play-fighting and eating tons of steak, which I am guessing they wouldn’t do if they hated living there. The worst thing about it was the terrible array of human behaviour we saw. That sign? Totally ignored by most. LB had to drag me away from the wolves as I was about to throw someone’s child to them!

Inverness 2014 (3)

Inverness 2014 (1)

Inverness 2014 (6)

I didn’t take many photos of Inverness, but I really liked it. I spent rather a lot of time in the many excellent charity shops there! It’s a weird place — they have poems in their pavements and tractors in their carparks, and it’s a funny mix of cosmopolitan (loads of tourists) and parochial. Inverness also has a massive second hand bookstore inside a converted church, but that was so good that it’s getting its own post… watch this space!

Caithness 2014 (8)

Caithness 2014 (4)

Caithness 2014 (1)

Caithness 2014 (12)

From Inverness, we drove for what seemed like ages to get to our little cabin in Caithness — seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but between Wick and Castletown if you want some idea. I loved Caithness very much — amazing bleak landscapes, huge skies and barely any tourists at all. Our little cabin was basic but cozy and had everything… including a little secluded ‘garden’ at the back where I got my first taste for outdoor yoga. The third photo there is the view from the cabin, and we saw three amazing sunsets while we were there… which LB greatly enjoyed, as you can see!

Duncansby 2014 (3)

Duncansby 2014 (4)

Duncansby 2014 (5)

Duncansby 2014 (7)

Duncansby 2014 (10)

Duncansby 2014 (9)

Caithness is all about the cool geological stuff. This is Duncansby, which is a famous site for nesting birds. Although you can’t see in the photos, that scar is an inlet that was packed with terns, shags, puffins and several types of gull, all feeding their chicks and making a truly amazing noise! The pointy witch-hat-like things are the Stacks of Duncansby, which are apparently super famous, and very spectacular IRL.

Dunnet Beach 2014 (3)

Dunnet Beach 2014 (2)

Dunnet Beach 2014 (4)

Caithness is also all about amazingly clean sandy beaches — and this one, which runs between Castletown and Dunnet, was really near to our cabin. We had it pretty much to ourselves and I got some very successful beach-combing done, finding huge shells, a whole sea urchin shell, and an amazingly delicate gull’s skull… morbid but cool!

Dunnet Head 2014 (3)

Dunnet Head 2014 (4)

Dunnet Head 2014 (5)

Dunnet Head 2014 (11)

Dunnet Head 2014 (13)

Dunnet Head 2014 (15)

On one of our Caithness days, we hiked along and around Dunnet Head, which is the northernmost point on the UK mainland. It was bleak, but incredible — as well as cool views there are also lots of creepy ruins there, and a Stevenson lighthouse (I met a few of the Stevenson lighthouses on this trip… and photographed not a one. Oops).

Sinclair Girnigoe 2014 (2)

Sinclair Girnigoe 2014 (15)

Sinclair Girnigoe 2014 (6)

Sinclair Girnigoe 2014 (13)

Sinclair Girnigoe

Just outside Wick is Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, this cool ruin that’s basically sticking out into the sea. Although (as you can see) it was a stunning day, there was no one else there with us so we were able to stomp around pretending to be seeing off the Vikings to our heart’s content. This was something I loved about Caithness: all the ‘tourist attractions’ were unmanned and free to enter, most of them down random dirt tracks with no visitor centre, no real car park to speak of… very cool.

Orkney 2014 (2)

Orkney 2014 (3)

Orkney 2014 (4)

Orkney 2014 (5)

Next stop, Orkney! The first Scottish island I have ever been to, though I have lived in Scotland 20 years next year. This is a weird selection of photos, but I was very, very preoccupied by Kirkwall’s incredible thrift shops. What can I say? I love a bargain more than just about anything else, and you’d be hard pressed to find anything in any of the charity shops of Kirkwall that’s more than a pound. Not kidding: I bought a ton of jewellery because everything was 20p! But I did have to stop and photograph that labrador. I got to scratch his ears, too!

Smoo Cave 2014 (13)

Smoo Cave 2014 (3)

Smoo Cave 2014 (5)

Smoo Cave 2014 (6)

Smoo Cave 2014 (9)

Smoo Cave 2014 (11)

Smoo Cave 2014 (12)

Back to the mainland, and next stop Smoo! (Real actual name.) The Smoo Cave is a cave the Vikings discovered, and it’s so big that they were able to hide, store and repair their longships inside. It was pretty incredible, and like the Caithness tourist attractions, surprisingly un-busy!

Tongue 2014 (2)

Tongue 2014 (1)

Gairloch 2014 (1)

Gairloch 2014 (3)

Gairloch 2014 (4)

After hours and hours of driving on tiny single-track, passing-place roads (and lots of playing dodge-the-outsize-camper-van!), we arrived in the West, at Tongue and then Gairloch. That third photo was the real-life, honest-to-god view from our Gairloch hostel window. This felt like proper shortbread-tin Scotland… and it had the tourists to match. Very quaint and cool, but personally, I preferred Caithness!

North Berwick 2014 (1)

North Berwick 2014 (2)

North Berwick 2014 (5)

North Berwick 2014 (6)

North Berwick 2014 (9)

…and last but not least, a very local East Lothian spot. We got a scorching sunny day at one end of our trip so we decided to get on the train and go to North Berwick for paddling, yet more thrift stores (not Kirkwall standard, but still pretty good!) and the compulsory seaside poke-y-chips. Thanks, Summer 2014! You were awesome.

Where should I go next…?

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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!

Internet, I need your help: plan my holiday for me!

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Isle of Lewis

Hello everyone! Exciting news: I am headed to the Isle of Lewis next week!

Lovely Boyfriend are going to go and stay in a wooden hut next to the sea, with no internet connection or phone signal — and we’re hoping this will translate into writing, writing and more writing!

We’ll be very close to the Callanish standing stones (That’s them up there, in a stunning photo by the lovely and excellent Ms Julie Howden), on the other side of the island to Stornoway.

Just needs a roof! Northen Lights, Aurora Borealis, Great Bernera, Isle of Lewis, Scotland
(Photo credit)

Basically, I would like to know from you: what should I do with my holiday?

We’ll be spending two or three days driving from Edinburgh up to the crossing to Lewis, so first of all — what should we stop and see on the way? Is there anywhere amazing we can stay over to break our journey? We’ll have a car and all our camping gear, but we’d also be open to hotels, B&Bs, hostels, tree houses, hobbit holes — whatever!

Isle of Lewis
(Photo credit)

Secondly — what should we do while we’re on Lewis? What should we see? What time of day should we see it?

And thirdly — with Lewis as our basecamp, where else can we go? Which islands should we explore? Where can we see seabirds and ocean-dwelling critters?

Importantly: what can we do when it’s raining? What should we do if, by some miracle, it is fine? What will we need our wee car for, and what can we go and do on foot?

Stornoway Harbour at Dusk
(Photo credit)

Please do share your thoughts, ideas, recommendations, fangirlings, warnings and personal stories here in the comments box (NB: there is a mod queue), on Twitter, or by emailing claire[at]onenightstanzas.com

Thank you a million!

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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!

Things I Love Thursday #93

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

I’ve been pretty sick the past couple of weeks, with an absolute beast of a chest infection. However, some good stuff has been happening of late which has made me feel a little better. Check it out…

#whatveganseat

Vegan blueberry pancakes!

Vegan eats.
Lovely Boyfriend, aka my personal chef, really pulled out the stops while I was ill. Although I have no photo of it, the main thing I ate while I was at my most hoarse and stuffed up was an amazing vegan chilli full of delicious veggies and with tofu, beans and rice. LB made a massive pan of it so he could go to work and leave me with plenty of good healthy eats. It was totally wholesome and totally what I needed to feel better. As I started to feel more alive again, he celebrated the fact by making me the delicious stir fry in the top photo, with udon noodles (my favourite) and tofu and shiitake mushroom pot-sticker dumplings. AS AMAZING AS THEY LOOK. Then last weekend, my dear friend Lucy Florence — who’s been living in California these past few years — swung by for a whirlwind stop-over visit. That also needed celebrating, so LB cooked up some super tasty wholemeal and blueberry vegan pancakes for breakfast. He literally is the greatest.

Wildflowers in my window

Laburnum

Summertime.
Although the weather hasn’t been so stunning, I’ve been trying to keep in mind that it’s summer, hooray! The Warriston Path is absolutely brimming with gorgeous wildflowers at the moment: an absolute sea of cow parsley, plus plenty of buttercups, forget-me-nots and Jack-by-the-Hedge… which is what’s in my little bouquet above. There’s also ragged robin and even the odd cowslip, but obviously I only picked the most ubiquitous things, and did so carefully. And although there’s been a lot of rain, I am trying to think positively, and look up at the trees. They’re all so luminously green and lush, which means they’re enjoying the current weather. Given that trees are way more important than humans, I am trying to think of rain as “good” weather, instead of moaning about it. I mean… look at that laburnum, which I passed on a visit to Greyfriars Kirkyard. It’s clearly loving what the weather’s doing!

Presenting Scottish Book Trust's "john Muir: Earth-Planet, Universe" at the 2014 International John Muir Conference!

Presenting Scottish Book Trust's "john Muir: Earth-Planet, Universe" at the 2014 International John Muir Conference!

John Muir!  A lovely present for our team from the John Muir Trust :)

John Muir.
Look, it’s the Scottish Book Trust’s John Muir graphic novel, in the flesh!!! Although I only did a very little work on this project, I am still incredibly proud of it. It’s a graphic novel for 13-15 year olds that tells the story of John Muir’s (amazing) life, and promotes environmental responsibility and conservation. The top two photos are from the 2014 John Muir Conference, which I attended with my boss, Koren. We ran a stand, chatted to delegates, handed out copies of the book for free, and got to hear all the talks, which were incredible (keynote speaker George Monbiot, OMG!!!). You can find out more about what went down at the conference by checking out the Twitter hashtag #JM100Perth. And although all the physical books are spoken for (a class set has been sent, for free, to every secondary school in Scotland), you can read the entire thing in PDF format at our website… and if you’re a teacher or youth worker, you can also access our support materials!
The third photo is of a lovely gift given to Scottish Book Trust by our friends and colleagues at the John Muir Trust, who worked closely with us on the book. It now hangs in our office, right next to my desk. If ever I am feeling starved of inspiration, I look over at it and think of John Muir. He was a truly amazing man who produced so many inspirational writings and teachings, but my favourite quote of his (everyone who knows about him has one!) is:

The world is big, and I want to get a good look at it before it gets dark.

Given the oncoming “darkness” and uncertainty of climate change, I find this one spookily foreboding as well as encouraging. We’d all do well to live by this mantra, I think.

Word Power Books

JK Rowling never wrote here

Edinburgh.
Every so often, I get itchy feet. I like to think about what it might be like to live in one of my “dream locations”: in the UK, these are places like Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay or Ambleside; further afield, they’re places like Victoria (Canada), the San Juan Islands or Portland (Oregon). However, I think one of the reasons I’ve never quite made it to the suitcase-packing stage is… Edinburgh always calls me back. However chilly the winds, however lousy the trams, however ignored I feel when I talk about my political beliefs (I have notes, Mr Salmond), I can’t help but fall in love with this amazing city again and again and again. I mean, look at the poster I found in Word Power Books — Edinburgh’s bookshops are like places of worship, and most folk here absolutely know it. And look at that sign, currently sitting outside the Artisan Roast pop-up on Victoria Street (they also did a great Nigel Farage one)! Edinvarians know what side our bread’s buttered, but we’re also not afraid to poke fun at the tourists. Never change, Auld Reekie.

What are YOU loving this week?

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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!

Making Scotland Home: submit your story to Scotland’s Stories of Home!

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

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Making It Home brought together many nationalities and cultures: the women hailed from places like Algeria, Kosovo, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Iraq and Ghana, as well as Scotland, England and Ireland. What could all these very different women possibly have in common? The answer soon became clear: they all wanted to tell their stories of home.

Last week I wrote a blogpost for my lovely employers, Scottish Book Trust, about the Making It Home project. Why? Well partly because — as you probably know if you read this blog — I think MiH is an incredibly exciting project and everyone ought to know about it. But also because MiH was all about telling stories about home, and specifically, what it means to call Scotland home. And that’s exactly what SBT’s public participation campaign for 2014 is all about.

It’s called Scotland’s Stories of Home, and we want to hear the story of YOUR home in Scotland, whether you’re originally from here or you just moved here recently. You can write about anything, from the four walls you live in to the food smells that automatically make you think “Scotland”; from a distant childhood memory to a funny story you just heard last week. If it means “home” to you, we want to hear it. You don’t have to be a professional writer — the complete opposite, in fact! You just have to have a cool tale to tell. If you think this sounds like you, submit your story of home here, and you could be featured in the newspaper, on our website, or even in our Stories of Home book!

The deadline for SSoH submissions is 30th June. But wait… before you run off and submit, go and read the rest of my blogpost!

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