Posts Tagged ‘work’

In 2015, I…

Friday, January 1st, 2016

Happy New Year !
(Photo credit)

This is my eighth consecutive year of creating a year-end round-up post, which is fairly amazing stuff! You can see my previous years’ escapades here: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Not the easiest year, I will admit: my much-beloved grandfather (better known as Gampy) died in January. (My poetry collection is dedicated to his memory: he was the best and gentlest man who has ever lived.) The sequel project to Making It Home, which I was just starting to get excited about at the end of last year, was put on hold, as every member of our team suffered either a bereavement or a spell of serious illness during 2015 (it sucked!). And I spent most of the summer being very impoverished (but having lots of free time!) due to all the freelance work in the world apparently going dormant! I am including these details because I don’t want to give the impression that I lead some kind of charmed life where absolutely everything is rosy. THAT SAID, some freaking amazing things happened to me this year, and I am so grateful for every single one. Here’s the round up: in 2015, I…

* booked, and delivered, the first ever Write Like A Grrrl!: Edinburgh course. It sold out super fast, as did the March course, and the May course, and the September course. I’m now booking for a brand new January semester, and places are already being filled. Oh, there have also been two ‘Next Step’ courses to date, for WLAG! alumni who want to come back for more! Running WLAG! has been absolutely mind-blowing for me… I have met so many smart, talented women and felt privileged to be able to read their emerging fiction. At Christmas, we had a get-together where women from all four 2015 courses met up to drink prosecco and plot world domination. Rarely in my life have I felt such a warm glow as being at the centre of that room! Ladies, I love all of you. Thank you for a fantastic year.

* secured a small grant from Creative Scotland’s Open Project Fund to allow me to work on my second poetry collection. At the moment, it has the working title of How To Burn A Woman, and it’s shaping up to have two themes: eco poems, and poems about witches.

* delivered a poetry performance seminar as a Visiting Writer for the University of Edinburgh’s MSc in Creative Writing (Poetry). It was pretty great, five years after graduating from this course, to be back… teaching on it!

* went to see Frantic Assembly’s amazing physical-theatre-meets-dance mash-up of Othello in London. They re-imagined the play, chopping a load of it out (controversial!) and setting it in a contemporary Working Men’s Club in Yorkshire. It worked so well.

* went to see the Mark Lanegan Band play in Glasgow. I was chaperoning a friend and had heard not a note of his music before walking through the doors… yet I loved it.

* completed the “go on holiday with my brother” part of my 30 before 30 list, by spending a very lovely long weekend in our mutually beloved York… wandering around, thrifting, bookshopping, and drinking buckets of Yorkshire tea.

* went to see Stewart Lee at the Festival Theatre for Lovely Boyfriend’s 30th and my 29th birthdays. Laughed — and felt mildly uncomfortable — a lot.

* finished up my 18-month post as Adult Learning Project Co-Ordinator at Scottish Book Trust. This project absolutely flew by. Working with adults who struggle to read and write is incredibly humbling, very inspiring and really makes you check your own privilege. So many of the adult learners and tutors I met were an absolute riot, too! And I got to spend lots of my time creating bespoke educational resources from scratch… a thing I still miss from my FE college teaching days.

* was immediately taken on again at SBT as a freelance contractor! This year I travelled all over Scotland delivering bespoke training to adult literacy professionals, teaching them how to use a suite of adult literacy reading support materials which I designed. That was pretty damn cool. I went to — among other places — Ayr, Oban, Glasgow, Greenock, Dumfries, Stranraer, Aberdeen, and delivered a special session for folk who work with d/Deaf service users at Deaf Connections.

* went for posh afternoon tea at the legendary Midland Hotel twice in one year… one of the times was for my dad’s 60th birthday! Felt like an unwashed oik both times, but loved it all anyway.

* headlined the Inky Fingers Open Mic in April. Discovered the poetry of Oban-based Jamie Livingstone, who was also on the bill. That’s a name to look out for, trust me.

* had my poem ‘Bad Moon’ featured on the Scottish Poetry Library’s front page! I can now cross that one off the bucket list!!!

* performed at Aye Write! Festival for the second time. Those folks are so lovely. I got a goodie bag with beer and books in it, and I got to eat snacks a-plenty in the green room! (You can see where my priorities lie.)

* delivered an Open Workshop for the Poetry School entitled “Make New and Mend.” We read the poems of two of my all-time faves, Patricia Young and Dorianne Laux

* …and got hired as a proper tutor by the Poetry School, following that success! I was invited to create my own ten-week course from scratch, which I loved doing. It was called Creatrix: Women’s Poetries for the 21st Century, and it went so well. I worked with twelve inspiring and brilliant emerging female poets and felt awed that they allowed me to read and comment on their work.

* got a second half-sleeve tattooed — this time on my upper left arm. It’s a tattoo to remember my Gampy: as a young man, he was a Spitfire mechanic, and later did up and raced Aston Martins. He once raced against Jackie Stewart, no less! So the half-sleeve incorporated all those elements (you can see a photo later on in this post). As always, I went to my fav, Jim at Red Hot + Blue, and as always he did a bloody great job.

* demolished the crappy old shed in my back garden and erected a brand new potting shed, which I painted powder blue and white, like a beach hut. You may be wondering why the heck this is on this list, but let me tell you, my potting shed was one of the major highlights of my year. I grew so much tasty stuff… and I have big plans for 2016 shed activity!

* read at the official launch night of Hot Tub Astronaut on Election Night… to a wonderful, very disgruntled crowd of lefties.

* had a brand-spanking-new author portrait taken by the amazing Sally Jubb of Sally Jubb Photography. I hate having my photo taken but Sally really put me at ease, and I was so happy with the end result. If you’re a writer and you need one of these pesky photos of yourself, hire Sally!

* read at the launch of the Dark Horse: 20th Anniversary Edition, alongside Alasdair Gray, Vicki Feaver and Douglas Dunn. I sat next to Alasdair Gray all evening, which felt like sitting next to a massive rock-star (he was very sweet to me in my star-struck-ness!). Vicki and Douglas were also LOVELY people and really helped soothe my epic nerves. It was a night I think I’ll remember til I die.

* delivered a writing workshop with adult literacy learners at Crisis Skylight and reminded myself how much I love doing this sort of work!

* made a pilgrimage to Millom, home of one of my all-time favourite poets, Norman Nicholson. If you haven’t heard of Norman, seek him out. He’s great. He was writing eco poetry in the 1940s, way before Silent Spring. Check him out!

* spent a scorchingly hot summer week-or-so in Cornwall, where I have never been before, but which I loved… this was the cottage we stayed in, this was ten minutes’ walk from our front door, and the highlight of my trip was the utterly amazing Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft, which you should all visit.

* chaired the event ‘Women Writers Breaking Into Scottish Literature’ at Just Festival. Thank you to Theresa Munoz, Lucy Ribchester and Jenny Lindsay for being such excellent speakers… they made my job very easy!

* went to all sorts of amazing events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, but by far the best was Mark Doty & Naomi Shihab Nye. I met Mark Doty after the event, and he asked me if I was a poet. When I said yes, he asked if I had a book, and I told him my first one was coming shortly and I was terrified. Without hesitation, he immediately went into Wise Elder mode, telling me to take comfort, be brave and celebrate. We talked about how scary it is showing your confessional poems to the world, but he urged me to take heart and said all sorts of nice things about how I must be a good poet if Bloodaxe took me on, and I was in good hands. He was so nice to me (and I had been so nervous about meeting him as he is such a hero of mine) that afterwards I had to go and have a wee cry! Shoutout to my excellent friend Esa for being with me in that moment, getting it, and not judging me!

* recorded a special podcast for Scottish PEN: in conversation with Iranian poet in exile, Sepideh Jodeyri.

* went on holiday with my brother again, this time to this absolutely magical off-grid 16th century fieldhouse on the North Yorkshire moors. We spent a lot of time wandering, paddling in the sea, and doing off-grid things like collecting eggs and getting up at 6am to light our stove so we could take showers… and not much time writing, which is what the holiday was supposed to be for.

* I celebrated five years with my gorgeous bloke, and nearly three years in the house we bought together and are (still) slowly doing up. Steve was the best thing this year — he’s the best thing any year.

* was hired as the brand new Creative Writing Fellow at Tyne & Esk Writers! T&E is an organisation that exists to champion reading and writing across Mid- and East Lothian, especially in the more rural areas. My job is basically to be a peripatetic Writer in Residence, working with eight (soon to be nine — welcome to the fold, Pathhead!) rural T&E groups to support reading and writing, to critique and encourage the work of local writers, and to produce creative work of my own. I absolutely love driving around, meeting lots of new folk, and getting to work in a different library each day. Plus: two groups in Haddington! So I’ve been able to spend a lot of time in the excellent charity shops there!

* was also selected to become Edinburgh’s very first Reading Champion! I don’t start til March 2016, but I’m including it here as I spent a really enjoyable time at the end of 2015 working with librarian Susannah Leake, who works at the gorgeous Craigmillar Library (where I’ll be based). Susannah helped me to write the proposal that eventually landed me the gig, and I can’t wait to become her official partner in crime!

* set up a Patreon, to support the various bits and bats of work that I do now that I am 100% freelance. Did I mention that 2015 was the year I became A FULL TIME WRITER? It’s so amazing being your own boss and getting to land gigs like the two above… but you also don’t get a pension, so it’s not all rosy. The Patreon is designed to just be a little bit extra that I can squirrel away for hard times. If you fancy supporting me, incidentally, you can pledge $5 (about three quid) a month and get all sorts of support for your writing. Have a look!

* absolutely SMASHED my goal for Edinburgh Vintage, my wee side-business! I wanted to make it to 1,500 sales by my 30th birthday in March 2016, and I’m already at over 1,600. It’s been my best year yet… best of all, I can afford to hire an accountant to do all my EV taxes! O happy day!

* secured funding to host Grrrl Con!Write Like A Grrrl!’s summer festival of women’s writing! It’s coming to the Scottish Storytelling Centre on 11th and 12th June, and will feature amazing women writers like Lucy Ribchester, Jackie Kay and Kirsty Logan. You could also be on the bill! We’re looking for workshop leaders right now, so send us your pitch!

* spent most of December in Cumbria, being rained on a great deal and trying to help out flood-stricken neighbours. If you can, please donate a bit to the Cumbria flood relief crowdfunder and help out — especially for those folks who can’t afford insurance. They need you!

* AND FINALLY!!!! I took delivery of 200 copies of my brand spanking new debut poetry collection!!!!!!!!!!! In case you’ve been living under a rock and I haven’t already yelled this at you, ‘This changes things’ is published by Bloodaxe Books and will be officially available shortly. You can pre-order your copy right here!

A few final highlights…

York March 15 (10)
Hanging out in beautiful York.

Write Like A Grrrl! lunch outing
Just a few of my Write Like A Grrrl! alumni, enjoying a quick lunch before going to see Alison, one of our number, read at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, no less!

I had a poem in Gutter!
I was published in Gutter and they called me “very hotly tipped”!

& yet more foragings... brambles and wild raspberries
I foraged tons and tons of tasty stuff this year.

Edinburgh Vintage at the Lou Lou's Vintage Fair, Sept 15, Edinburgh
Edinburgh Vintage had a great year.

Sepideh Jodeyri at Shore Poets October (9)Sepideh Jodeyri at Shore Poets October (9)
Sepideh Jodeyri read at Shore Poets and was wonderful.

Autumn memories from 2015
Living off-grid on the Yorkshire Moors…

Autumn memories from 2015
…with my brilliant brother Nick, who I love a million.

October adventures (12)
Another Write Like A Grrrl! highlight: a bespoke seminar on writing and publishing from the wonderful Helen Sedgwick!

My new tattoo!
The new tattoo! It looks less wonky in person, when my arm’s not bent!

October adventures (39)
With my handsome man <3

Christmas 2015!
I spent a lot of time with this handsome man in 2015, too!

My book!!!
First look at my book! I admit, I cried.

You can see all the books I read in 2015 here, and you can click here to see the various places where I had work published in 2015 (and read some poems!). You can also check out my To Read list for 2016!

What did YOU get up to this year?


I wrote a book of poems! It’s called This changes things, and you can order it here!

You can now get more content from me — and help me pay the bills! — by supporting my Patreon. Get a monthly writing support pack for just $5 a month! It’s like buying me a pint.
You can also support me by checking out the many sweet and sparkly things at Edinburgh Vintage, my Etsy-based store for jewellery and small antiques.
If you just want to say hi, you can find me on Twitter, or email me via claire[at] You’ll get a fairly good sense of the kind of person I am by checking out my Tumblr.

30 before 30.

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014


Hello everyone. Sorry for the post drought lately. I’ve been busy doing a lot of exciting things… including turning 28!

Yes, that means I have been privileged to live on this planet for 28 full years… but it also means that in two years I’ll be 30. This isn’t a bad thing… in fact, if you ask me, it’s a handy deadline. I love a good to-do list, and frankly, 30 is a nice milestone to Achive Some Stuff by. Therefore, I am taking inspiration from a variety of bloggers, including Yes & Yes and Lion & Sloth, and creating a 30 before 30 list. 30 things I want to achieve in the next two years. And…go!

1. Graduate from my PhD.
OK, full disclosure: I am starting with the ones that are most likely to happen, and — hopefully I’m not jinxing anything by saying this — this one’s pretty much in the bag. I’ve passed the viva, I’ve submitted the corrections within my alloted three months, now all I need to do is print the fancy hardback version and order my graduation gown. Nevertheless, this has to go on the list, given that, you know, it’s probably going to be one of the bigger milestones in my life!

^ Getting my MSc in November 2009. More of this, please.

2. Find a publisher for my poetry manuscript.
Thanks to the aforementioned PhD, I now have a huge stack of finished, polished poems. You’ll remember that in early 2013 I was starting to turn that huge stack into something that looked more like a manuscript? Well, it took longer than I expected, but 14 months and two brilliant mentors later, said manuscript is now sitting somewhere in the office of the first publisher on my wish list. (I say “somewhere” — I’m really hoping it’s on someone’s desk, not, you know, in a bin.) I’m happy to acknowledge that the person who eventually publishes this manuscript might well be me, or it might be someone else. I want to find that out in the next two years.

3. Knit a cardigan.
I started working at Scottish Book Trust in October last year, and quickly realised that I was surrounded not only by fellow book geeks and delicious cake, but by a rather impressive bunch of knitters! After I made wistful noises about how I’d always wanted to be a knitter, Lovely Boyfriend took the initiative and bought be a starter kit of yarn and needles for Christmas. Since then, I have become well and truly addicted, and have exhausted all my easy-peasy square (blanket), rectangular (hoop scarf) and triangular (cosy shawl) options. It’s time for a proper project, and since “I could knit my own cardigans!” was one of my main reasons for starting to knit, I need to put my money where my mouth is.

4. Do more community work.
Making it Home, which I’ve written loads about here already, was my first proper introduction to community work — that is, putting my writing and teaching skills to good use as part of a community outreach arts project. Getting involved in MiH was one of the best things I have ever, ever done — and since then, I’ve dipped my toe into a few other, smaller community arts projects and become properly addicted to this kind of work. In the next two years, I hope to find other cool grassroots and outreach activities to get involved in. Gone are my days of sitting hunched over my laptop in my flat! I want my writing to be part of something bigger.

^ Some of the wonderful women of Making it Home, at our brilliant farewell party. More of this, too.

5. Finish doing up my house.
Remember this? Well, early ten months on, our little house is looking really quite different. We have: removed every single scrap of flecked wallpaper from every single room and re-decorated most; re-wired everything; sanded nearly every floor using a terrifying belt-sander; had a brand new kitchen fitted; tiled that brand new kitchen; had a wood-burning stove fitted and used it all winter (OMG) and collected enough furniture from Freecycle and friends to furnish the entire house for free (all except our dining table, which is IKEA’s finest. But still!). However, we still need to: tile the kitchen floor; get new front and back doors fitted (gah, draughts!); carpet the staircase; sort out some plumbing in the loft; re-do the ancient and rather grim bathroom, and most importantly, find somewhere for all our books to live! Ten months since we moved in and there are still boxes of them in the bottom of the wardrobe. This must be fixed!

6. Get out more…
I don’t have a car, and some months I also don’t have much cash. These things — added to my general prediliction for being as warm as possible and as close to tea-making facilities as possible at all times where possible — often result in me scuffing around all the same old places I always go. Problem is, I know full well that when I get out more, I write more, and I write better and more interesting stuff. Therefore, it’s time for me to stop saying “I need to come to Glasgow more, it’s only an hour away!” and actually do it. 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 [back] to them “some day.” Over the next couple of years, I want to get better at snapping up Advance train tickets and going places.

7. …and travel more.
For me, visiting places in the UK isn’t really “travelling.” I’ve been to a lot of England, Wales and Scotland before, so I know what to expect. Most people speak the same language as me. I can get everywhere within a day.
“Travelling” means outside the UK… and I want to do more of that, too. My last trip abroad was Munich last October, and I also did Barcelona and Oslo in 2013. I’ll happily go back to any of those places, but I’d also happily explore pastures new, too. At present I have no firm plans, but I look forward to seeing where I end up over the next two years!

^ Paddling in the Pacific off Vancouver Island in 2007. And yes, more of this.

8. Hit 1,000 sales on Edinburgh Vintage.
Since last September, when I turned Edinburgh Vintage into a jewellery shop and moved away from the clothing, my sales have sky-rocketed (my orders went from 4 in September 2013 to 36 in November 2013!). EV is now a nice little pocket-money-earner and I really love hunting for new trinkets to list. Over the past six months or so I have developed a brilliant relationship with an amazing supplier, S, who helps me source cool stuff from all over the UK. I recently broke 500 sales, so 1,000 is the next obvious milestone — wish me luck!

9. Enter more poetry contests and Submit More Poems To Things Generally.
I am so bad at this. Last year, I let every single deadline whiz past me — the Eric Gregory, the Mslexia, loads and loads of smaller ones — all except the Bridport Prize, which is rather random. I am rather better at submitting to magazines and journals, but I could still try harder! Over the next two years, I need to pull my socks up and pay attention to deadlines. I may not get anywhere, but at least I will have tried!

10. Eat something I grew myself.
See No. 5 up there? All that house stuff? That’s before you even get to the garden, which currently consists of two scrubby bits of grass on either side of the house, and some paving slabs. By the time my 30th birthday rolls around, I want to have turned these scrappy patches into [the start of] an edible garden, and I want to have eaten at least one thing that’s grown there. It might be a sprinkling of thyme to put on my takeaway pizza, or it might be a whole salad. Anything, as long as it’s tasty!

11. Learn more about, and do more, foraging.
Last autumn I took advantage of a) moving to suburbia and b) acquiring this book, and grabbed myself a pretty impressive haul of autumn berries — including wild raspberries, elderberries and of course, brambles. But berries are easy to spot, easy to harvest, and easy to cook with. I want more of a challenge! I’d like to find out more about edible wild plants, find some, and eat them!

^ Tasty.

12. Adopt a dog.
Once that house stuff is done, Lovely Boyfriend and I are going to adopt a pup. I’m already so excited about this that I can barely contain myself! Look out for lots of excited posts and tweets about visiting cute staffies, greyhounds and Border terriers (my top three!) at rescue centres!

13 Build a book nook.
This should maybe come under the general banner of finishing my house-flip, except my desire for a book nook is something that way pre-dates any notion of owning my own house. There are loads of amazing book nook ideas out there, but this is the one that really got me thinking about the totally pointless cupboard that my house just happens to have… watch this space!

14. Commit to the next Next Big Thing, writing-wise.
OK, so the PhD’s in the bag (terrible unexpected things permitting), and the poetry MS is off visiting publishers. I have no massive project to work on WHAT IS MY LIFE?! Seriously, you’re looking at the girl who did her MA, MSc and PhD back-to-back while working full time and writing as much as spare time (ha!) allowed. Being busy is how I roll, and I especially like having something big and scary to chip away at. I don’t know yet what that will be. It might be a second poetry collection, or I’m even — whisper it — having ideas about a novel. Whatever emerges, I want to put the next two years towards making a good start.

15. Create a space I love writing in.
At my last rented flat before the house-flip began, I had a spare room that I sort of turned into a writing room. I was shocked to find that creating this space for writing was really effective in changing my thinking about writing. At this new house, the spare room is currently a storage facility for all the things we can’t yet unpack because we still need to do building work and DIY. However, I have my eye on it as a potential zen-like space for writing. It’ll be a communal space — Lovely Boyfriend is halfway through a novel, you guys (!!) — but I’m keen to also make it light and bright and productive and full of exciting books. Yipee!

16. Develop a proper regular writing routine…
…a thing I am putting off because I don’t have No. 15 yet (which, I know, is basically BS). I just finished a life-changing (not hyperbole) year of mentoring with the brilliant Sarah Ream, and one of the things she forced me to do was write regularly, to deadlines, and send her what I’d done. She says this is something I must keep up… especially now I’ve also finished my PhD and have total free reign and no deadlines at all (OMG first time in nine years!). So by the time I hit the big 3-0, I want to have sorted out Writing Time from Work Time and Housework Time and Dicking Around On The Internet Time. Eek.

17. Go on holiday with my brother.
My brother Nick (more commonly known as “Mole”) and I used to go off on adventures all the time when we were teenagers. Then we both went off to Uni and ended up living in different cities, and although we still see each other a lot and get on famously, our Megabus-ing, Youth Hostel-ing, campfire-building, countryside-stomping opportunities have diminished somewhat. However! I am determined to do something about this! We’re in the process of plotting a mega-exciting trip even as I type, so… hooray!

^ This was taken on Granton beach. Clearly we need to have better adventures.

18. Read for fun!
When I started my PhD, everyone was like, “OMG, you’ll have so much time to read books! You’ll be living in the library! I am so jealous!” However, the reality of writing a thesis — even a thesis on a subject you really like — is that quite quickly, reading becomes work. I mean, I absolutely love this textbook and it was my bible throughout the process, but re-reading the same essay for the sixth time trying to find that perfect quote that you keep forgetting to highlight is not exactly “reading for fun.” Over the next two years, I want to do as much fun reading as I can… and report back. Recommendations of great fiction, non-fiction and (of course) poetry are welcome!

19. Build a blog for Edinburgh Vintage
Ugh, OK. This one seems like a huge chore, but I have decided to put it on this list in order to make myself do it. I mean, the business is ticking along quite nicely, and I have both a Twitter and a Facebook page for EV, but I know from observing other vintage traders who sell almost solely online that having a blog makes a big difference. I know I’d enjoy it once I got it up and running… I’m just very busy, and it always drops to the bottom of the to-do pile. Time to get it done!

20. …and get better at doing my books.
This is another one I’m putting here to make myself do it. I’m terrible for selling an item, and then going to pack it up for dispatch and having no idea where it is. I’m also terrible for not filling in my tax return until two days before the deadline, and having to do all my year’s books in one sitting. These things are not fun, why do I do them?! It’s not exactly a sexy, exciting goal… but it’s a good one, and I am pretty sure my business will benefit!

^ I sell shiny things.

21. Discover new vegan eats.
As you can see, going to vegan restaurants and raving about the amazing food is one of my hobbies. And as you can see, I’ve been to a fair few cities in order to do so. I guess this item shouldn’t really be on my “goals” list, as it’s something I am sure to continue to do, likely forever. But let’s see how many exciting new eateries I can discover in the next two years!

22. Throw a kick-ass housewarming party.
I know. We’ve been in our “new” house for ten months. However, it’s been a building site for most of that time, and also… our next door neighbours are a lovely sweet old couple who totally wouldn’t want to put up with my friends and I quaffing wine and playing records into the wee hours. Therefore, the housewarming, when it comes, is going to have to be strategically planned (my sweet neighbours go on a big overseas holiday once a year). And if our partying opportunities are few and far between, we’d better make it a really, really good one… right?

23. Celebrate big time when Lovely Boyfriend finishes his novel.
OK, this is totally not my goal to be getting. But it matters to me so much that LB, currently 40,000 words in, finishes his novel… not least because I desperately want to know what happens! I don’t mean to suggest that I’m going to bully him into it, or anything. But something I’ve learned from watching him write what he’s written so far is: it’s hard. It’s really hard. Lots of times you don’t want to go near it, and then other times you’re really anxious to start but you get to the keyboard and there’s just nothing there. Being the partner of another writer means respecting their process, but it does also mean cajoling (/nagging), praising (/offering crit) and generally providing whatever support they need to get the words out of their brain and onto the page/screen/whatever. It also means holding a freaking parade for them when they’re done. I can’t wait for that bit!

24. Get tattooed.
This is pretty much always at the top of my mental to-do list. I now have seven tattoos and about five million potential designs worked out “to maybe get next.” I wanted to put “get tattooed into double figures” — i.e. be the proud wearer of at least ten bits of ink by the time I turn 30. But that’s too dependent on factors I can’t always control (like, you know, having cash handy), so I’ll keep it modest. Oh! I’m also interested to hear about cool new tattooists. My current favourite, Gentleman Jim, has moved to Sheffield, so… who’s brilliant and in Edinburgh/Glasgow? Tell me, tell me!

^ This was my last tattoo and it was OVER A YEAR AGO. That’s way, way too long.

25. Bring home my first big project at work.
I’m currently taking the lead on a very exciting, very complex project at work — and I am amazingly grateful to my utterly wonderful boss, Koren, for trusting me with it (also helping me with it when I need help!). It’s all still a work in progress and I’m still not sure what the end product will look like, but I know I have a brilliant creative team gathered round me, and I am super excited to see what we can cook up together. I wish I could say more right now, but you’ll have to read on for the next few months to see if I can pull it off! Watch this space!

26. Get into lotus.
OK… I am still a baby yogi (in fact, calling myself a ‘yogi’ at all seems completely ridiculous… but so do all the alternatives. A baby yoga-er?!). I’m still trying to work out which poses/routines set off a problem with my neck that only doing yoga taught me that I have. Heck, I’m still trying to make myself do yoga regularly instead of being lazy. However, even at my beginner level, I’m frustrated that I can’t get into lotus. I know this is vanity and vanity is kind of the opposite of yoga, but it’d feel like a real mark of yogaish achievement if I could get flexible enough to do it! I can get into half lotus, so I feel like it’s do-able.

27. Learn to cook more things.
I’m sure you’ve all noticed that I like to bake. However, since I moved in with Lovely Boyfriend three years ago, I’ve got really lazy about cooking… because he’s basically my personal chef. However, that means that whenever he’s not around, I end up eating boring pasta. It also means that I’m totally intimidated when it comes to LB’s birthday, or our anniversary, and I feel like I ought to cook him something. I just can’t keep up with his mad skillz! So in the next couple of years, I’d like to learn how to cook a few easy but reasonably impressive dishes that I’d feel OK to feed to other people!

28. Have an amazing 89th birthday!
My birthday is the day before my dad’s, and most years we have some kind of joint celebration. Next year is his big 6-0, so I’ll need to plan something extra, extra special. Obviously I can’t mention much here, but let’s just say… plans are in the works!

29. Set up a pension.
OK, boring life admin this may be, but it’s pretty important. I can’t really claim to be a proper adult if I turn 30 and still don’t have a pension, if you ask me. The whole idea is Greek to me at the moment, but I’ve given myself two years to translate it all and get it done. Again… advice would be appreciated!

30. Have a great two years.
Look out for my “in 2016, I…” annual year-end round up. I hope it’s going to be major.

Dear poetry newbies: writing in the face of adversity.

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Walk away

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

Here are a few phrases you’ll probably encounter a lot if you decide to tell people that you want to be / are a writer. Perhaps you’ve already heard some of them…

“Don’t be ridiculous. How are you going to support yourself?!”
“I used to say that when I was your age… you’ll see.”
“But writing’s just a hobby, isn’t it? ”
“Great. But what’s your real job?”

Sound familiar? I’ve had responses like these countless times from people who genuinely can’t understand why anyone would want to even try to make their living from writing. I think you can apply them to just about any other creative endeavour, too — try telling people you want to be a painter, fashion designer, musician, sculptor or actor, and you’ll probably hear similar things. This kind of response can be incredibly demoralising, particularly if it comes from a trusted friend, family member or personal hero. Often you’ll hear things like this from people who are older and supposedly wiser than you, which can also leave you questioning yourself. But no matter how often you hear these phrases, please, please don’t allow yourself to be disheartened by them. Many people can’t understand the possibility of an equation like writing + hard work = paying the bills. But that doesn’t make it a scientific impossibility!

Great. But what’s your real job?
OK, so the person who asks this question is probably assuming that your writing doesn’t make you much money, and as a result, you probably have another job which helps keep a roof over your head. This is a reasonable assumption to make - many writers do have a second source of income, either out of financial necessity or because it directly facilitates their writing. This is particularly true of poetry, I’m afraid. Poetry is an integral part of our everyday lives - it’s in the nursery rhymes we sing to our kids, it’s in greetings cards, advertising, and jingles on the radio. But despite this, not many people actually make the conscious effort to read poetry - to buy poetry collections, attend poetry readings or seek out new and exciting poets locally or online. Poetry just doesn’t sell well, which means that it does not generate too much income - and as a result, most poets do “real” jobs throughout their lives. William Carlos Williams worked as a doctor his whole life (he wrote short bursts of poetry in the few spare minutes between appointments), and Philip Larkin kept up his career in librarianship in spite of his rise to poetic fame. Most of the poets I know work in literature-related environments - some are English teachers, some University tutors, some work in bookstores or write copy for medical journals. Lots of poets support themselves by setting up or working for small publishing firms, which not only helps them survive - it helps poetry survive, too. But yes, I’m afraid it’s true - 99% of poets have to work at something other than their writing, which means you will probably have to, too - at least for a while.

Don’t be ridiculous. How are you going to support yourself?!
So you probably are going to have to get a “real” job, and therefore - although this isn’t very nicely worded - it is a fair question. When you’re not frantically scribbling, what are you going to do?
Well, you’re a creative person, and so I’m guessing that the thought of a 9-5 office post or a low-paid table-waiting job probably makes you want to scream. But you can relax, because you do not need to do those jobs! Teaching is a popular one. You don’t necessarily have to do a teaching degree and end up in charge of a class of thirty kids - just think about what you’re good at; what skills do you have that other people might want to learn? You write, so I’m guessing your language skills are pretty good; or perhaps you play flute, or whizz through long division? Pick a skill, work out a step-by-step teaching strategy, and then make bright, bold posters and advertise yourself (“Want to learn French? Get lessons from a native speaker!”). Alternatively, you could look around for private tutoring agencies and firms in your area, and see if they could take you on. That’s how I ended up working as an English tutor and lecturer; that’s how I paid my bills and supported my writing for over five years.
There are other ways, of course, if teaching doesn’t float your boat. Working in a bookstore may just sound like another dull retail job, but give it a try. Chances are, the people who work there are into words in the same way you are - particularly if the store is an independent one. A good poet friend of mine worked for the huge chain bookstore Waterstones, and surprisingly, loved every second. He got to work in the poetry department, and he went through there like a dose of salts, insisting that they order in more books by Charles Bukowski and other hip writers, writing enthusiastic reviews for poetry books to make people buy them, and making suggestions for cool literary events for the store. He also took the time to chat with the customers about the books they were buying, and had a great time meeting loads of like-minded people!
Basically, your “real” job should always be something you don’t totally hate. Creative people can wither in soul-crushing corporate workplaces, so make sure your day-job isn’t affecting your writing in a negative way. If it is: quit. Go work in a cool café, deliver leaflets or posters, become a carer for the elderly (old people are amazing, and good, caring people are always needed), walk your neighbours’ dogs, drive a pizza van. Do something you like, and when you’re not doing it, write. Don’t let anyone else tell you how you should support yourself.

But writing’s just a hobby, isn’t it?
So, you mainly need the “real” job because writing does not tend to generate a regular income - if you go through a bad patch with your writing and have no financial back-up, you could end up with no rent-money at the end of the month. However, writing is not just a hobby - it can make you money, if you know how to work it!
Poetry’s tricky to sell, as we’ve already discovered. However, some magazines do pay for poems. It’s not generally a lot, but it’s something - and the day of your first paid magazine gig is a momentous occasion! You can also get paid for reading your poetry to an audience, so try and get yourself on the bill of a local poetry reading. Many of these events charge a small entry fee, and more often than not, that goes to the poets. If your scruples allow, you can also try touting your poetic wares to greetings card companies or other product manufacturers… obviously you won’t be writing your best or most complex work, but you’ll be writing and making some cash!
Other forms of writing are more lucrative than poetry, thank goodness! You can make cash-per-word writing freelance magazine articles, reviews etc, and there are heaps of websites out there with advice on this kind of thing - just type “freelancing for beginners” into Google (but watch out for scams… don’t part with any cash for online writing courses or the like - you should be able to get all the info you need for free). You can also write for a specific market - as I said earlier, medical writing can generate income, as can travel writing and writing for other specialist areas.
If you’re feeling courageous, you can also send your work off to poetry contests with cash prizes (though with most of these you have to pay an entry fee… make sure it’s worth paying to enter!) or read up on grants and other funding for writers.

I used to say that when I was your age… you’ll see.
Whatever you do, do NOT be discouraged by negative responses from other people! This “you’ll see” response is particularly nasty, because it implies that you’ll fail, or that you’ll regret pursuing your writing at a later stage of your life. Yes, you should be sure that writing is really what you want to do, but chances are if you do decide to follow that path, and if you stay smart and true to yourself, you’ll have no regrets whatsoever. As for the “don’t be ridiculous” comment - writing and creating are not ridiculous exercises. If you ask me, slaving away at a PC or photocopier for eight full hours of your waking day is much more ridiculous than creating something really cool and unique and sending it out into the world for people to enjoy. And if someone asks you what your “real” job is, tell them it’s writing - you just happen to have another job on the side.


Budding writer? Creative person in need of a fun job? Check out the various resources and services at Bookworm Tutors. 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!

Procrastination Station #98: a little slice of my work life

Friday, January 20th, 2012

The Hub Space, Edinburgh's Telford College
^^My lovely work canteen!

So, normally for my not-really-weekly Procrastination Stations, I give you a big list of links I’ve liked over the past week or so. These usually come from the absolutely EPIC list of bookmarks I keep on my little pink netbook at home. However, this week I was looking for inspirational articles (and posts, videos, etc) to discuss with my students and realised that, although a little different to the usual, my bookmarks folder at work is also pretty shit hot. So here’s a slightly different list of links for you, all from my ‘work’ folder… see what you think.

“Don’t talk about how, as a child, you loved to read and write. Everyone says that. For perhaps the first time in your life, you’ll be with your kind of people! I know that it’s important to YOU that your journey started when you were a kid, but it is not as important to me as what happened to you from that point on.”

Making a personal statement for a MFA programme: some excellent DOs and DON’Ts.

“Dinosaurs rule our house.”

Poet Ian McMillan talks to the Guardian for Pieces of Me.

“When I am sitting with a writer friend at dinner and he tells a story about running a porno magazine rental service as a child, I acknowledge that he might use this for a story at a later date and thus, I should not take it for my own work. I could view it as fair game and try to get to it first, but that would just be kind of a dick move.”

What happens when all your friends are writers.

Are YOU a geek when it comes to pie charts and bar graphs?
This site is so for you.

“She has perfect hair, she wears great dresses, and who cares if she has thick ankles? Certainly not her paramour, Kermit, who would sleep on railroad tracks if she asked.”

Miss Piggy: Style Icon

Natural disasters, protests, Steve Jobs and Snowpocalypse: The 45 Most Powerful Photos of 2011
(Trigger warning for police brutality and violent scenes)

“As a conventional dad, hunter, and former Republican, it took me longer to understand that I never had two sons.”

The remarkable story of a young woman who always knew she was inside the wrong body.

Miss Representation Trailer

Miss Representation 8 min. Trailer 8/23/11 from Miss Representation on Vimeo.

Carlsberg stunt: assumption and inclusion

Geoff Trenchard prose-poem: The Long Holidays At Denney’s

How you start a movement

Have a great weekend!


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