Posts Tagged ‘scottishness’

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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My All-Time, Top Ten Movies of 2012

Monday, December 24th, 2012

…in chronological order, are as follows:

The Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Kool Place
Actually a 2011 movie, but it didn’t get to the Filmhouse til January 2012. It was amazing to see so much film footage of the mystical Neal Cassady who stars in so much of my most beloved Beat Literature.

Margin Call
Incredible cast, incredible script, incredible everything. Watch this trailer and see if you don’t instantly want to go and buy the DVD.

Apart Together
I saw this amazing movie as part of the Take One Action Festival at Filmhouse. Unfortunately I can’t find a trailer with English subtitles, but hopefully you can get an idea of how beautiful and poignant the film is from this video. The story follows an exiled nationalist soldier who fled mainland China in 1949. He returns an old man to see if he can find his then-girlfriend, who was pregnant when he left. It was made with support from the Chinese government, which is really quite something given its strong political message. I loved it.

The Muppets
Again, a 2011 movie that didn’t get to The Cameo til 2012. Do I need to go into why I loved this, really? Jim Parsons’ cameo was my favourite moment, for sure.

The Artist
Another 2011 movie, but I put off seeing it for such a long time because I was so afraid it would disappoint me. It didn’t. All the hype is totally deserved. I’m now just kicking myself for not allowing more time to see it over and over on the big screen!

The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists
I’d have enjoyed this film much more had I not been sitting with my odd sister, who kept squealing throughout about how much the little dodo totally looked like me. THANKS.

Moonrise Kingdom
This is the first Wes Anderson movie I’ve seen, and this, I’m told, is a very important moment in a young girl’s life. It has so much stuff in it I love. Bruce Willis! Frances McDormand! SWINTON! A cute dog! Whimsy! And so I loved it very much indeed.

Leave It On The Track
Easily the BEST MOVIE EXPERIENCE I have ever had. I was at the world premiere of this movie at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the audience was about 90% derby girls. The film was hilarious, poignant and super, super empowering, and being in such a passionate, loopy audience was just fantastic! This is a low budget movie about roller derby made by one guy for his Film Studies thesis. See this instead of Whip It… or if you loved Whip It.

Before I went to see this I made the mistake of reading a comment thread on a blog I normally like, where folks were talking about all the various ways this movie was “problematic.” These were mostly “Scots-American” commenters (as in, my great-great-great-great aunty Mavis lived in Galashiels for a bit and I went there once for half an hour on a coach trip), who were taking umbrage about the film’s portrayal of Scotland and Scottish people. They’d all seen it, so I was led to believe that Brave was an hour and a half of mocking stereotypes and Celtic twilight twee-ness. Turns out, that was bullshit. It was actually GREAT to see a huge Hollywood film that starred so many Scottish actors, actually speaking with their actual accents. As a proud Scot, I loved it, and so did all the Scots I know who saw it.
PS: Er yes, I go and see a lot of kid movies.

My favourite movie of the year. I love Rian Johnson’s work, especially Brick, and I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis and Paul Dano, so I was extra-super-excited to see this. It was the only movie I saw twice and I’ll fight anyone who thinks it’s anything less than freaking excellent. Top class sci-fi actiontastic fiery explosive goodness.

What were your favourite movies of 2012?


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] I reply as swiftly as I can!

Dear Poetry Newbies: writing rules revisited

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Rules for the Teacher
^Because I just love these.

So, lately I’ve taken to digging up some old articles I wrote in the early days of One Night Stanzas and re-posting them here for your reading pleasure (mostly because I have a ton of new readers now who might not have the patience to trawl the archives. Also because — forgive the arrogance — I’ve found myself pleasantly surprised by the quality of some of the stuff I’ve got stowed back there, and reckon it deserves another look). (I’m calling this initiative “Dear Poetry Newbies” — click for all the series so far!) The other day, I went right back to the start and found this post from September 2008. In it, I wrote what my writing rules were… and was pretty shocked at myself, I must say! Some of them I still totally agree with, but others? Let’s just say I’ve learned a lot in four years!

3: No centre-justification, weird indents or funny formatting.
Centre-justification’s fine if it’s what you do, if you like it and reckon there’s a reason for it; I just don’t do it - no idea why. I have been known to use indents, but really not very often. Basically, I think I don’t use funny formatting for two reasons… one, because sometimes other people use it and ruin lovely poems by filling them with white spaces and making them impossible to read (this makes me sad). And two: because I’m too lazy - working out where an indent might ‘work’ is just too much effort, frankly!

OK… I am ashamed. I can’t quite believe I used to be One Of Those People. I’m fairly sure that much of what I meant by “funny formatting” might be better termed “concrete poetry,” a genre of which I am now a massive fan. Reading more widely — and also living with a concrete poet for two years — has taught me that actually, the white space of the page is there to be used. It isn’t just a passive background on which to hang a poem — if you want it to, the negative space around your words can be just as vital to their meaning as the words themselves. I think this “rule” was actually fatigue in disguise — running a tiny magazine, I was sick to death of reading poems where the space was used in all manner of weird ways, just not for any reason or to any particular effect. But note to self: your magazine’s slush pile does not the entire poetry world represent. Cheer up, emo kid!

4: Always ‘finish’ a poem in one sitting.
Obviously I don’t mean finish it - I edit and redraft afterwards. But I like to get the skeleton of a poem down all in one go… I’ve tried writing in ‘bits’ before, and the poems always sound disjointed. I probably should learn how to drop a poem and go back to it, it would save me a lot of anguish!

Nothing shameful about this rule, I’ve just stopped abiding by it. It used to be the only way I could work, but now — happily, I think — I’m getting much more chilled about allowing a piece of writing to shape itself at its own pace. I think that’s been one of the most important things I’ve learned in putting together the creative part of my PhD actually — poems are like people. They all have different personalities, wants, needs, and I should to respect those things.

7: No writing in dialects other than my own.
I wrote a short story not so long ago that was in Scots. I live in Scotland and have done for almost all of my life - I think of myself as Scottish, but I’ve never actually picked up the accent. The story was apparently convincing enough to win quite a big prize, but when I thought I’d have to read it aloud at the prize-giving, I realised that writing in Scots had been a big mistake! Fortunately, I got out of reading it, but I have now learned, and will never write another piece using someone else’s accent!

I’ve come a long way in four years in terms of my attitude towards my own national identity. At the point where I wrote this “rule”, I desperately wanted to call myself a Scot, but felt like a fraud — people were still telling me I was English, I sounded English, I was born in England, shut up you’re English. I felt like I had a big red ‘E’ pinned to me, and I didn’t want it, it didn’t fit me. I hated my stupid turncoat accent. I was in a place where, if people asked me where I was from, I’d say “it’s complicated, don’t ask.”
Now, when people ask me where I’m from I say, Edinburgh (true). When people tell me I sound English, I say I lived down there as a small child and picked up the accent (true). When they point out I was born in England, I tell them that my great-grandmother was Amy Armstrong of theLiddesdale Armstrongs, directly related to Johnie and to Kinmont Willie. I tell them the Scottish/English border was, almost literally, drawn with my ancestors’ blood and entrails. And if that doesn’t work, I say f*ck you, I’m Scottish.
I’m still not sure I’d be 100% happy reading a short story in Teri to a roomful of people, but I feel a long way away from the frightened little poet who wrote this “rule” four years ago. Finding where you belong is no small thing, and re-reading this was a really amazing sign of how far I’ve come in that regard.

10: Do not participate in petty competition or snobbery.
I know a lot poetry-involved people, and I read a lot of the opinions of poetry-involved people, and sadly, some poetry-involved people aren’t very nice. There are a lot of individuals out there who like to bitch about other writers, put down certain types of poets (often young, inexperienced ones, which is horribly unfair), deliberately try to wreck other people’s chances of success and tout their own opinions of what’s “good” and “bad” as the last word in what poetry ought to be. My final - and biggest - rule is this: ignore these people. In fact, don’t just ignore them - boycott them. Don’t read their blogs, don’t buy their books, don’t listen to their rubbish. Don’t let them put you down, and don’t retaliate to them. Often they’re people whose own successes have disappointed them, so just move on and up, and concentrate on your own writing. Don’t fall into the trap of being like this yourself. Don’t speak or write ill of others — help them instead. Turn the poetry community back into a community!

I think I’ve become more chilled and accepting about this stuff — cronyism, snottiness towards newcomers, etc — and I’m now in a literary circle that I’ve carefully cultivated and consciously edited so I don’t have to deal with this sort of shit anymore. I still know of a lot of people in the poetry community who like to curate other people’s responses to poetry, who demand that others explain their opinions and choices to them, who dismiss certain ideas/styles/genres/types of people, who engage in obvious nepotism. I know of them, but I make it my business to not know them. I’ve learned that there’s no such thing as being A Big Cheese In The Poetry Community. People who think they are this, or who aspire to be this, are just kind of funny. I still agree with what I said in this “rule,” but I might re-write it now to put the emphasis less on raging against these people and more on just ignoring them (and maybe giggling at them behind your hands) and getting on with more important business: namely, putting words onto a page. And I mean the page of your personal notebook, not the page of some prestigious journal. It’s the writing that’s the most important thing, not what happens to it after. That stuff’s all just window-dressing.

What are YOUR unwritten poetry rules?


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] I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

Are young poets losing their sense of literary identity?

Monday, September 20th, 2010

For the month of August this year, while the rest of you were living it up at the Edinburgh Fringe, I was fortunate enough to be teaching at the University of Edinburgh’s International Summer School — my class was Creative Writing, and most of my students were poets. The majority were also English Literature undergrads, and hailed from a variety of countries.

One of the seminars I devised for the class was entitled “The Importance of Reading vs the Anxiety of Influence: Entering the Literary Canon and ‘Making New’”. In this seminar, I spoke about ideas of literary tradition, literary identity and essentially “knowing where you come from” as a writer. Dr Alan Gillis gave a lecture on the Modern Irish literary tradition on the same morning as my seminar, and I asked the students to talk about their own literary identities — how they felt they fit into their national literature as well as the wider literary canon, what tradition they felt they might be working in, or a tradition they might aspire to fitting into. I found their responses pretty surprising.

The students did not believe in literary tradition. Unanimously, they said they felt that tradition — and the idea of fitting into the canon in any specific place — no longer existed for contemporary writers. “It’s just not something I ever think about,” said one American literature undergrad. Indeed, the group seemed to think that if anything, identifying with a particular literary tradition or attempting to emulate literary predecessors was a bad idea. “Isn’t it just copying?” was a question that arose again and again. We talked about the Whitmanic tradition, and the influence of other literary heavyweights on contemporary writing. “It’s just riding on the coat tails of someone very respected,” was one response. The students also dismissed the idea of being part of a national literature. Only one student, who hailed from India, said she felt ties to her country’s literary identity, but said she also felt that embracing her role as “an Indian writer” — and more importantly, as “an Indian woman writing in English” — might actually be potentially damaging, or at least limiting, for her. “I prefer to just be a writer,” she said, and the others agreed. “If you’re a good writer,” said one of the American students, “why does it matter where you’re from?” The general feeling was that where you’re from, who you’ve read and who you admire is — or should be — irrelevant.

This provided real food for thought for me. I’d expected that such a diverse range of young people — hailing from universities all over the world — would have radically different opinions about literary identity and tradition. The fact that they stood united and totally dismissed the ideas about tradition and canon in TS Eliot’s Tradition and the Individual Talent really surprised me. I was also surprised by the fact that, when I asked the question “so, do you feel like you have a literary identity at all?”, the answer was a resounding “no”.

This made me think about my own literary identity, which is apparently a bit of a sore topic. Who I am as a writer — and indeed, who I am as a human being — is something that other people seem determined to have a say in. A while ago, after the now-legendary “where are all the young Scottish poets?” panel debate at StAnza 2009, a comment thread popped up online somewhere, and among a list of young Scottish poets, my name was dropped. I was unaware of this thread at the time, but when I was tipped off about it (I’ve just spent a good while Googling to try and find it again, but to no avail), I found that people were lining up to talk about my national — and therefore, literary — identity. To set the record straight, I had to point out that I was born in England (North Yorkshire, to be more specific), but moved to Scotland at the age of 8. I’ve received about 90% of my education north of the border, and I never wrote a word of poetry while I lived on English soil. Surely, therefore, I am a Scottish poet. Am I a Scot? This is a bit tricker. I have two Scottish grandparents (one on each side, as it happens), but both my parents were born and raised in Cumbria and speak with strong Cumbrian accents. I was born in North Yorkshire and between the ages of 2 and 7 my family lived in the Midlands. Apparently, these were my formative years, because in spite of my sixteen years on Scottish soil, I’ve never shaken my accent — which is a weird southern mongrel with northern vowels, but unmistakably English.
It’s tricky. Apparently, I’m Scottish enough to play rugby for Scotland — if, you know, I was a bloke, and any good at rugby, and even vaguely interested. But because of The Accent Thing I get asked to read at events called things like “Sassenachs in Scotland!”, which I’m not 100% comfortable with. During the festival I was very flattered to be asked to read at Utter!’s “Utter! The Brave” event, which was ‘Scots Only’. I accepted (and a damn fine event it was too), but as it turned out, I didn’t feel very comfortable with that, either.
So my feeling of literary identity is a confused one, but the urge to belong as a writer and to fathom out whose traditions I belong to and where I am accepted is a really strong one. To be faced with a diverse group of young writers (none of them that much younger than me) and told that literary identity “doesn’t exist”, or at least, “isn’t relevant” to writers of our generation was rather shocking. Am I weird? Are they weird? I can see that ideas about literary and national identity change over time, obviously they do — but do they really cease to matter? Have they ceased to matter? Am I the only person under 30 still worrying about this stuff?

Of course, the issue might be my Scottishness (or, my status as a Scottish resident, depending on your outlook). Dr Gillis’ lecture was all about Irish literary traditions and the Irish literary identity, so the Scots aren’t alone — but is it an inherently Scottish thing to constantly think about and debate one’s national and literary background? Is it just us? In the seminar group, there were students from all over the world — Americans, Canadians, Scandinavians, Europeans, etc — but I was the only Scot(tish resident). According to the students, the Americans, Scandinavians, Europeans and — dare I say it — maybe even the English, are just getting on with it. Even my Canadian students reckoned that questions about national and literary identity in their country had mainly been answered (”we just need to get over the fact that America’s right there, really”, said one). It’s just us Scots who are devoting hundreds of hours, blogs and column inches to the issue of what tradition, what nationality, and (apparently) where our new generation of writers are. Is this true? Are the Scots just “very into navel-gazing”, as one student put it? Or is this as much of an issue elsewhere? I don’t feel qualified to comment, but would love to hear others’ thoughts.

Something else that must surely have contributed to this general feeling of rootlessness and the apparent break from literary tradition is the rise of University education. These days, if you’re under 30 and want to be a writer, you’re probably at University, and probably studying something in the Humanities bracket. All of the students in my group were majoring or had majored in Literature. Most of them had moved on or were planning to move on to MA courses. Several of them stated that their MA course was or would eventually be Creative Writing.
I’m not going to debate the usefulness or value of Creative Writing at University level, don’t worry. What I’m left wondering about is the influence of all this literary study on the mentalities of young writers. With so many young writers picking up Literature degrees, is it possible that this study has contributed to their lack of interest in their personal and national literary traditions? As students of Literature, these young writers have access to libraries full of works by authors from across the world and down the ages; they are bombarded with option-courses on everything from Classics In Translation to the contemporary slam movement of Def Poetry Jam fame. Gone are the days where if you grew up in or attended University in New England you’d be expected to name Frost, Lowell or Dickinson as your primary poetic influence — or so my students seemed to think. One of them was, in fact, from New England, and his view was: I have a world canon full of amazing writers at my fingertips. Why should I read Frost just because he was from the same state as me? I can choose to read anything I like.

Obviously, the option to read anything you like — or at least, anything you can gain access to — has always been there for writers. But is access a key factor? More young writers are attending University and therefore getting the opportunity to visit incredible, sprawling libraries full of weird and wonderful works. Most University campuses grant access to inter-library loans across the world, as well as offering online services like LiOn and JSTOR for free. The internet has also, naturally, revolutionised the way we all read — but the current crop of writers under 30 are the first writers of “the web generation.” Does this all add up to explain this apparent disinterest in tradition and sense of place?

The short answer is, I don’t know. I’m still really surprised by the unanimous and unswerving response my students gave me. This post is mainly just the overspill of the seminar and its lengthy discussions. But I’d love to hear what other people think about these ideas… so no matter what your age, leave a comment!

(Photo by paper.lilies)

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