Sunday, 22 April 2018

Good News poetry updates, plus tips for getting poems published.

Hello all, thought I'd share my good news with you this morning. 

First up... I've managed to get a poem into the prestigious online poetry magazine, Ink, Sweat & Tears. It's called Before the Weighing, and it's inspired by Jane Hirshfield's poem, The Weighing, which is all about the idea of weighing your soul against a feather to see if you're fit to enter heaven. I totally had the scene in American Gods (here's the clip, watch out for fruity language at the end) where that happens in my head when I was writing it, even though that was missing the lioness, can't imagine why. Anyway, the poem is there TODAY, so grab it while it's hot, HERE.

Another place I've been trying and trying to get a poem into is the fabulous Picaroon Poetry and on what was going to be my last attempt I got in! Not only did I get in but it's with a poem which I wrote at a mini poetry retreat with my late friend Rose, who gave me so much inspiration to believe in my writing. I really liked this poem back when I wrote it, but it's taken a while to find a home. You'll get to read it when it comes out in May, but in the meantime check out the back issues of Picaroon Poetry, available on their website.

I've also recently had a poem accepted for Peeking Cat magazine (September edition), which is a super cute magazine available in hard copy to buy, or for free online. It's got cats on it (rather like the kitchen table I'm working on), and some smashing poetry in it too. Check out their website because I note that submissions are now open for their 2018 anthology. 

I've been working in my local library since October, it's great fun and only part time but it's had a massive impact on the time I'm spending doing writing stuff - who knew I was getting so much done!? So I've been submitting less poems lately, but I'm still going, and I thought I'd share a few tips with you for getting your poems published:

  1. Get to know the place you're thinking of sending your poems - it'll help you find great poetry and work out what of your own work you might want to send them.
  2. Follow their submission guidelines. Pay attention to themes they're looking for and make sure your poem isn't too long or short for them. There is no point in sending what they don't want. Also there's no point in sending your work outside of the deadlines. It won't get read.
  3. If at first you don't succeed try again, but sometimes your work won't fit. That doesn't mean it's bad (although it might be - worth checking), you might just need to go somewhere else. There are so many places to go.
  4. Submit as many poems as they want. If they say 1-4, try to send 4. It gives you more chances. Also I find that it's usually the last poem of a batch of poems I send that gets chosen. I reckon that's because you've eased them into your style with the first few so that the last one totally fits with what they're thinking of as poetry. That idea may be nonsense, but honestly, the last three batches of poems I've sent out, they chose the last one. What if I'd sent one less?
  5. Try to make friends and connections. I find this so hard, but talking to other poets will make your work better, by giving you new things to try, and will help you make the connections you need to get published in other places. Join a good writing group, go to readings and talk to people, be a total fan girl/boy/person. Even if it doesn't go brilliantly, it's useful.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Making Emma's Pancakes

Spring must be just around the corner because it's pancake day!

Why do we eat pancakes on pancake day? It's a Christian tradition, to get rid of excess food so that you could fast during Lent, because Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert while the devil tempted him. Then he went back to civilisation and got killed, so don't do that...

Erm, yeah, so eating pancakes is about having a blowout before you start a diet. It's a mad time of year to be using up food supplies, but thankfully we now have tinned food, speedy transport and large scale agriculture.

I have always sucked at making thin pancakes (what my kids call 'English pancakes') so every year I would try a new recipe. Last year I'd just looked one out when my son begged me to just ask my friend Emma for her recipe. 'Emma's can't be that good.' I declared, but all my kids (even the ones that hadn't tried them), plus the neighbour's kids told me that Emma was basically a pancake goddess, so I swallowed my pride and Emma, very sweetly (and saying that she was sure my pancakes were also good) sent me possibly the simplest pancake recipe I'd come across. Here it is:

Emma's Pancake Recipe:
100g Plain Flour2 eggs300ml Milk

Easy as 1,2,3. Just mix it up and then spread thinly on a hot, oiled, frying pan and even I can make nice pancakes.

I'd take the credit myself, but Emma's pancakes are way better than any of mine - especially the year I tried buckwheat.

Monday, 5 February 2018

The new school in Largs

There's one big, huge, massive, concrete block of a story happening in Largs at the moment.

If you know the town you'll know about the rumbling (literally) of all the work that has gone into building a new campus, to bring together all our schools with brand new facilities. It's part of a programme of new school building across Scotland.

It started with some consultation (not enough apparently, but there's never enough consultation) and then the plans were put together, and models shown in the library, where everyone I know was told that the thing they were concerned about wasn't a worry, even when it seemed that actually it might be.

Anyway, the building site started off pretty modest:

Look! You can still see the hills and greenery! It's supposed to end up looking like this:

This is a mockup photo pinched from the Urban Realm website, have a look here.
The primary schools are moving in in March, the secondary in April. I don't know when exactly the nurseries and the around school care people are moving in, but it is now apparently built and being finished off.

It doesn't look like the mockup.

It looks like a weird lego creation which has had flour paste poured over it. Where Bob the Builder's friends are having a party behind some boards. 

There weren't many vehicles to start off with but getting to school has become progressively more like some weird modern version of Paperboy as big yellow vehicles and lorries compete with white vans and grubby men in hi-vis outfits wandering into the road. A road with shuttle buses, school buses, lots of parents, bicycles, pedestrians, AND the depot for the bin lorries. It's deeply unpleasant, and I can't wait until they're done (although there is a rumour that they're only making it so bad now so it will feel better when it's just horribly snarled up with four schools worth of cars), and they've fixed the holes in the road (although North Ayrshire does seem fond of holes in the road. 

On the other hand, it's created lots of jobs (check out this article in our local paper for more on that), and no doubt there will be plenty more work in whatever is built on the old school sites (more on that below).

People who live near to the new school are voicing concerns about the size of the primary playground (absolutely tiny), and the school traffic. They're being very good about losing their view of the hills.

Hamish pictured by me in the infants' library.
She's a really lovely cat.
People who live near the old schools are voicing concerns about what's going to replace them. Certainly, the local authority isn't keeping them around. The primary school my girls are in is scheduled for demolition in April. The girls are worried that Hamish the school cat will get hurt, but I'm sure her owner will lock her up and the demolition people will check the school for her. She probably won't want to hang out there while there aren't cute kids to fuss her.

There are already plans for lots of housing (which is really needed in the town) plus amenities for older people and people with disabilities in place of two of the old schools (smashing article on it here). We're not sure what will happen to the others yet (I don't think). 

As well as all this activity in the back of town, Largs has been getting her glad rags on down the front. Apparently the prom has been done (sorry, I missed that one - I'm always too busy staring out at the view - see below).

And work is underway on Gallowgate Square to make it a more useful space, perhaps for live events or for a farmers market. Tbh a farmers market in the town would make me very happy!

So it's all change around here, but I'm looking forward to the kids getting new facilities and making new friends as the primaries come together. Hopefully they'll get to do activities with the kids in the other primary that's still separate, but soon to be next door, because what we need is for kids to come together. 

And the thing my kids are most excited about? The dining plaza, partly because it's called a plaza, and partly because it's over two floors... I think they've got visions of High School Musical - Scotland style!

Friday, 2 February 2018

Ilkley and Largs: a tale of two towns

I would like to start with a disclaimer, for Abi, this is not a tale, I am sorry, the title just sounded good to me.

That done, I'm blogging one of my 50 things today (you can find more of them in the menu at the top), comparing where I grew up to where I live now.

I grew up in a largely middle class town with an older population which was just a train or bus ride away from my nearest city (actually, cities - Leeds, and Bradford). Now I live in a middle class town with an older population which is just a train or bus ride away from our nearest city. So totes different as you can see.

Ilkley is bigger than Largs, so it naturally has more going on, and it was designed as both a commuter town (the trains into Leeds and Bradford only take 30 minutes when they're working), and a tourist destination, so it has lots of places to walk and things to do. 

I have no idea what people were thinking when they built the train line to Largs, but I suspect it involved alcohol and string. It takes a whole hour to travel into Glasgow on the train and the trains are only once an hour, except for when there aren't any. I don't think this part of Scotland holds any truck with commuters.

There are places to walk in Largs too - mainly along the seafront, which is very pretty but also really cold and wet. In Ilkley you can walk along the river, but there are also lots of woods where you can stroll (there are wooded walks in Largs too, and if you avert your eyes from the hydro-electric works they're rather lovely).

Both towns have big parks by the water with lots of facilities to play. Both have ice cream kiosks by these parks and grassy areas where you can sit and picnic and where festival type events are held.

Both towns have plenty of cafes. The jewel in Largs' crown is Nardinis, while Betty's takes the title in Ilkley. They are both lovely.

Ilkley has an annual literature festival which attracts big names and has LOADS of things to do. Largs has a Viking festival which attracts hairy people and has LOADS of things to do. Both towns have a thriving live music scene.

What I miss most about Ilkley are the walks. Taking yourself off to the moors or the woods, or just keeping on going out of town, because there is always somewhere else to be in the West Yorkshire Conurbation. Largs is more out of the way, but it does have lovely Millport, and the ferry crossing. Victorian Olicanians built a dancefloor on the moors, and lovely bridges. Victorian Largsians (there must be a better word) built a grave in a field up the glen, and a cairn on the top (there's a cairn on the top of the moor in Ilkley too). Largs has an ancient burial site and Ilkley has a stone circle, but Ikley moor is a much friendlier place to walk than Largs tops, probably because of the wind here and the cold and wet. Here people walk up the hill and come down again. In Ilkley they take a picnic and stay for the day (we used to take cricket stuff too).

 This picture is taken on a wee Victorian walkway that follows the course of the brook which runs down to Ilkley's main road (called Brook Street). 50 yards away from here is the town centre, with shops and cafes and lots of traffic. Largs has the front close to the town centre, but it could do with somewhere more sheltered, like this. I love this place, and I love the similar light up by the lower tarn on the moor which I always pretended was Narnia.

This picture was taken this morning in Largs, and it is also really close to the town centre. Particularly close to Nardinis, in fact, where I was meeting some friends.

That's another thing both towns have in common, nice places to meet with friends.

I do like a town. I sometimes think I would like to be involved in the buzz of a city. I've lived in Leeds and in Edinburgh, and I really enjoyed both (apart from all the stuff getting stolen, Leeds), but I'm content to just visit on weekends for now.

Have you ended up living somewhere like where you grew up? Or do you still stay where you grew up? I can't imagine doing that, I don't think I'd be able to forgive people for stupid things they did at school! I'm glad I've missed all that nonsense in Largs!

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Poetic Inspiration: I have loved the stars too fondly

Today I'm going to share with you a really interesting and inspiring poem by Sarah Williams. I think it's pretty well known in North America, but I first heard about it when I heard the last line (above) which is just perfect for gothy types, quoted by Mistress Margot Meanie.

Here, for your delight, is the poem in full*:

The Old Astronomer to His Pupil

Reach me down my Tycho Brahe, I would know him when we meet,
When I share my later science, sitting humbly at his feet;
He may know the law of all things, yet be ignorant of how
We are working to completion, working on from then to now.

Pray remember that I leave you all my theory complete,
Lacking only certain data for your adding, as is meet,
And remember men will scorn it, 'tis original and true,
And the obloquy of newness may fall bitterly on you.

But, my pupil, as my pupil you have learned the worth of scorn,
You have laughed with me at pity, we have joyed to be forlorn,
What for us are all distractions of men's fellowship and smiles;
What for us the Goddess Pleasure with her meretricious smiles!

You may tell that German College that their honor comes too late,
But they must not waste repentance on the grizzly savant's fate.
Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

     Sarah Williams

Isn't that last line just fabulous? Anyway, I've been doing a bit of research for you and it turns out that Tycho Brahe was a Danish nobleman, astronomer and writer known for his accurate and comprehensive observations... and his metal nose (he lost he first nose in a duel!).

I also looked up obloquy which is a gorgeous word meaning strong public condemnation, which in a world with Trump, Johnson, Jeremy Hunt (James Blunt must be happy about his existence) and so many others in politics should surely be getting more use.

I love the discussion of the difficulty of bringing new things - nobody welcomes the new, and it's hard to be the person in the vanguard, but there must always be someone leading the way. I am tempted to try rewriting this from the point of view of gender politics, because there's always someone leading the change, but then a new issue to work on. 

In the poem the astronomer hopes that his reward for this work will be telling his hugely admired predecessor how he's furthered things, and I wonder how that conversation would go. Would Tycho be thankful? Would he think the astronomer's work unimportant, irrelevant even.

Some of the people who've made huge advances in women's rights, and in LGBTQI rights (and I think it likely goes for all improvements), once they've achieved what they wanted will focus on telling people what they've done, rather than learning from those who've been able to grow the seeds they've sown, and can see which way the path is to move forward, and so you get difficult situations where people like Germaine Greer condemn trans people's involvement in the feminist movement. She was part of the movement that made it possible for us to be trans people's allies, and for them to be our allies. We climb the mountain together. Climbing over each other will not get us there.

Anyhoo... it is of course easier to suffer the condemnation of others when you've got someone at your side telling you you're right, and I wonder how the pupil will get on once the astronomer has passed on. Will she get a pupil in her turn?

I do hope that she gets over the astronomer's workaholism and finds some distraction in men's fellowship and smiles and with the Goddess Pleasure (who also smiles, but there's got to be a flaw or it would be too perfect). Or takes up quilting perhaps. All work and no play make pupils dull indeed.

The last line was used as the epitaph for an astronomer couple, who were buried at an observatory, and that's just gorgeous. But we can't let them keep it all to themselves, so I've found some wonderful uses of the line in gorgeous things you can buy now on Etsy:

Amazing poster shipping from Canada.
Etsy store: hairbrainedschemes

I love this bracelet, shipping from the US
Etsy store: thewinsomewordsmith
This poster is a cheap as chips download from England
Etsy store: PeppermintFolly
Finally, because I can't go past a notebook and this is gorgeous,shipping from the US.
Etsy store: InkiAndIndigo

*poem taken from this website, taken in turn from from Best Loved Poems of the American People, Editor: Hazel Felleman, Garden City Publishing Co, Garden City NY: 1936, pp. 613-614.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Web-logging - January 2018

My irregular round up of what's going on with me and mine. Ugh. January. We are not friends. Dark, cold, wet. Again, ugh.

Right now I'm:

Sitting in a cafe I won't name because I'm going right off it. I've sat as far from the LOUD speaker as I can but it's still really loud and it's cold in here. I'm looking at people trudging past on the wet pavement outside.

I've got a tiny cappuccino which will cost me too much and isn't even good. It came with a biscuit in a plastic wrapper: nothing says we don't care about you quite like a biscuit in a plastic wrapper. I ate it mind. I'm hungry. I was going to order a scone but the waitress went away before I could order one, so I didn't. Probably for the best.

Currently reading:

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch - this is a police procedural novel with added magic. It's got a touch of the Prachett's about it. I liked it from early on when Nicholson explained that no, he wasn't a wizard like Harry Potter because he wasn't a fictional character. 😄

I've just finished reading The Stolen Child by Sanjida Kay. I didn't get on with it because I don't like thrillers, but it was set in my (kind of) home town (with liberties taken with geography) of Ilkley, and it had a Heathcliff character in it - Har(r)is, who was really interesting. He reminded me of someone who lived in Ilkley when I lived there, so I put his personality on the character, which made his crimes even harder to deal with. Obviously, with it being a crime type book it had plenty of twists and turns, and I did feel like the false leads were ladled on a bit thick at points, but I was glad that people who seemed good were repeatedly shown not to be, and that imperfect people in imperfect relationships muddled through. If you like crime fiction I'd recommend it for you. I believe Sanjida has a follow up coming out very soon.

Listening to:

Right now in the cafe the theme from Shaft is playing, so I'm out of here...

...continued later at home. I've reinstalled Spotify on my phone, so I've been listening to Anohni 💚 and CocoRosie while the various humans I live with annoy me, because I'm a grumpy horrible hormonal mess just now.

I've gone back to my lovely choir, so I've been listening to the songs we're singing, my favourite of which is White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes, even though / because it's got some weird lyrics. I had a look at what the band had to say about the lyrics on Songfacts. Robin Pecknold wrote it, and he variously said that it was entirely meaningless, and that it was about losing innocence, thinking of his friends growing up who had got involved with drugs, so that's cleared that up. I feel sorry for Michael, let's get him dancing again

I am having a Franz Ferdinand moment, which is probably why I'm thinking of dancing with beautiful boys on a beautiful dancefloor. I love their new song, Feel the Love Go.

There are links above to all the songs I've been talking about on YouTube, but I'm only sharing one video (purely because it's an awesome video):

Having fun:

I've just got my first glue gun and I'm making a Fortnite inspired costume for my son to wear to our local Comic Con.

I'm also loving using Instagram Stories, although I don't go through my Instagram feed much anymore because it's always the same things on it, while goodness knows where everything else is - the stories work much better. Here are just three of my favourite Insta Story feeds:

@father_of_daughters is funny because he's grumpy and middle class and very much involved. He also has really good engagement with his social media followers. Apparently he gets a lot of ladies making improper suggestions. Do you think it's because he's involved? See also @mother_of_daughters who is a midwife as well as a mother of four and a social media personality. How do people do all this stuff? Clemmie (that's MOD) apparently doesn't get praised for being involved in looking after her children, whereas Simon (FOD) does. She is involved though. Plus she eats baked Camembert when she's sad. I like her a lot.

@one.night.stanzas shares her interesting (to me anyway) writerly and slightly geeky/gothy life. She was at Bletchley Park today!  

@ali.horne travels around Scotland in the cold and wet taking awesome photos that remind me how beautiful it can be without me having to leave my cosy nest. His stories also capture the sound of the wind!

On Instagram

I've covered this above really, so here's one of my favourite pics so far this year:

Perving over:

Anohni. I know she'd be unmoved but I get all fluttery about her at the moment.


There is much more to be done on the cosplay front before Largs Comic Con in March. 

Other than that I'm thinking about displays for the library (I got a job in my local library - that's why I'm not here much!), and trying to find the lucky publisher who's going to get to publish my 1st poetry collection.

Also I am finally in the process of redecorating the kitchen with the help of my lovely husband-type sidekick.


As I mentioned above, I'm rediscovering the joys of Spotify.

I'm also rediscovering the joys of Big Brother (currently Celebrity Big Brother), which I'm addicted to this series even though so far anyone I vote to save has got evicted and Ann Widdecombe is still there. Hopefully Shane J/Courtney will not suffer the wrath of my curse tonight.

  • Celebrity Big Brother
  • Finally watching Feud: Bette & Joan, which is another series that makes me feel like we're making progress, but there are miles to go before we sleep. My favourite bit so far was Mamasita saying: "Keep your head up, your day is coming."


Cosplay costumes and not much else. I need more time to make poetry! 


We are learning Scots poems and it's just as painful as it always is.  WHY!!! There are so many great Scottish poets, why do we have to learn poems about headlice and vandals when we could be learning something by Jackie Kay in words that we actually understand. If no-one in the class, including the teacher understands the words of the poem how can it be argued that it's keeping Scots alive? Also, what kind of messed up language tries to keep itself alive by making children memorise really old poems? Language changes and moves on! I'm not saying that Burns shouldn't be on the curriculum, but he should be there like Shakespeare is, as a really talented and interesting writer who lived long ago, not as a means to keeping our language alive. Forsooth!

Time for me to make pizza. 

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Taking time for creative writing

I was recently lucky enough to provide a poetry inspired writing workshop for a young writer's group at one of our local libraries. Some brilliant work came out of it, so I thought I'd share the workshop with you, to spread the joy of a bit of inspiration.

I was thinking about time. FYI Salomé (which is currently on hiatus due to illness) is hoping to have a theme of 'time' for its Spring issue. Check out this link to their submissions page to see when they're back up and running.

I was also thinking about our communications with ourselves at different times of our lives, the 'if I'd known then what I know now' moments. In poems, these can take the form of advice to our perhaps younger selves, statements of intent about how we will behave in the future, or observations of people at a particular stage of life to share some kind of truth about it. I shared a few poems with the young writers group to give examples, making sure we had time to chat about the poems - not to take them apart in depth with meter and rhyme and all that, but to talk about how they spoke to us, or didn't, and what we liked in them.

I had to share the wonderful, crazily well known poem by Jenny Joseph, best known by its first line, 'When I am old I shall wear purple...' - Warning. Here is its, read by the poet herself. She'll be sadly missed.

I also shared Kathleen Jamie's poem Old Women from The Bonniest Companie (Picador). It has been shared on Dave Poems here (it starts 'Thon tree', if you're scanning through for it). I love that start. The word thon - meaning far over there (a bit like yonder), is one I hardly come across any more, but it would be such a shame to lose it, plus I'm obsessed with trees, anyway, the poem is about spring and burdens and not losing hope, and it's about the carrying of life that women do, and it's really rather fantastic. The young writers didn't think so. Perhaps you need to be nearer the tree to make it out.

They did enjoy the fantastic poem Giraffe, from the new collection of the same name by Bryony Littlefair, published by Seren Books (buy it here), and the winner of this year's (2018) Myslexia poetry pamphlet prize. It first appeared in a magazine that I love called Popshot. See it here. It's an amazing poem, which Popshot describes as being about recovery from mental illness, which it is, I suppose, but to me it spoke of adolescence, a hideous experience for me which I wouldn't wish on anybody, and I feel for any poor soul going through it, as well as those they live with! I love the specificity of the poem, and the little details, like the plastic spoon, because they're important when you are able to finally look around you and get your head out of the horrible cloud.

The young writers were really nice about my poem, 'I am not yours,' which was originally published on The Fat Damsel. Find it there (first poem on the page, under the pictures). It imagines me meeting up with an ex-lover at a time after the hatred has gone and time has moved on and I haven't even thought about him until there he is, and it's weird that our time has gone. I was delighted that one of the young writers said the poem spoke to her and made her feel more optimistic about mending.

Anyway, enough reading, time for some writing. I asked the young writers to think of an epistolary (like a letter) poem for their older selves. I was thinking that I'm constantly hearing advice about enjoying this moment from older people and it can get annoying, perhaps instead young people might have some useful advice that could go the other way.

The young writers shared what they wrote in the group, but didn't want to share it externally, which is understandable, considering it's just the beginning of something, but it's a shame because their words were inspirational, intelligent and beautifully moving.

If you fancy giving it a go yourself fetch your writing gubbins and get ready to write. Use a clock or a timer and give yourself just five minutes. You can always go back to it later. For now, just GO! 

...tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock...

What you write might be brilliant. It might be rubbish, but there might be little wonders in it. If you're lucky enough to have a supportive group like the young writers, share what you've written with them, they'll help you to spot what's good. If you can't see anything good then put it away and go back to it when you're having a more positive day/week/year because you do have good stuff in you, it's just sometimes hard to spot.

If you feel brave enough, share some/all of what you've written in the comments. I'd love to see what you come up with.