Coming home to visit family in Austin, Texas every Christmas is like hitting the reset button. I catch up with childhood friends, eat lots of breakfast tacos, watch films at Alamo Drafthouse and take this time away from my writing, teaching, performing in Scotland to really reconnect and reflect on what happened last year. And what I want to happen in the next.
This year has, like most, been a mixed bag. Some great things have happened. I’ve had the opportunity to perform at some amazing events, to travel and to have my work published. Yet I’ve also struggled on and off with mental health issues and this autumn my anxiety was very high, which made work challenging. I wanted to mention this because it can be so hard looking at the lives of others, the curated successes they chose to share on the internet, and think that their lives are amazing, PERFECT even, and that your own life pales in comparison. I’ve definitely felt like that in the past. And while perhaps their lives ARE amazing, it’s also important to remember that we’re all struggling with certain things, we’re all figuring stuff out. I loved this recent blog post from 404 INK in which they spoke candidly about the behind the scenes realities of this very successful press.
So let’s celebrate the good, but not sweep the bad under the rug. It’s been a hard year for many. Over the holidays, I’ve tried to celebrate and congratulate myself for what I’ve achieved this year, no matter how small, and also to focus on sleep, relaxation and self-care, so I can ring in 2018 with renewed energy and excitement.
While I’ve been stepping back a little from performing poetry, in order to focus on completing my novel and PhD, I’ve still had the opportunity to perform at some great events. In February, I performed at the Loud Poets Birthday Shows in Glasgow AND Edinburgh (That was really special considering that I performed at their very first event, way back in 2014). I was also invited to read at the Translantic Literary Women Creative Writing showcase, where I read an essay about my experience of homesickness on both sides of the Atlantic and my time as a research fellow at the International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello.
Then summer was full of performances! In May, I read another non-fiction essay, How to Be Cold, at the 10th Anniversary of From Glasgow to Saturn magazine and some poetry at the fabulous Glasgow Women’s Library‘s Program Launch. In June, I once again joined The Transatlantic Literary Women series to give a spoken word performance at their symposium (you can listen to the whole of my performance here on their podcast). In June, I read some historical fiction at the West End Festival (the piece has subsequently been published on The Copperfield Review) and, for the second time, performed poetry at the launch of Quotidian Literary Magazine in Glasgow.
When August rolled around, I joined Loud Poets for the third time at their annual Fringe Show at the Scottish Storytelling Center, as well as at their Appetite for Destruction show in September. In September I was also delighted to join fellow poets and Glasgow Uni Creative Writing graduates, Mairi Murphy and Cameo Marlatt, at Glasgow Women’s Library’s Story Cafe when we spoke about the poetry collection we created and edited, showcasing women’s voices in Glasgow – Glasgow Women Poets: An Anthology.
My final performance of the year was at the Write to Be Counted launch in Cumbria. Write to be Counted is an anthology in support of human rights and available now if you’d like to order one. All profits go to Pen International. I was thrilled to be part of this amazing project and to read my poem, Texas, I Can’t Bring You to Parties Anymore, at the launch.
In addition to working on my historical novel, I’ve been working on short fiction and poetry this year. For poetry: An extract from ‘Texas, I Can’t Bring You to Parties Anymore’ was published in Write to be Counted anthology, my poem ‘Running into your ex by the Cereal Aisle in Tesco’ (based on a true story) was published in Glasgow-based magazine Gilded Dirt Zine Issue 2: Supermarket Verse and my election-response poem ‘This Morning (November 9, 2016)’ was published in The Stoneslide Corrective’s issue No. 5: Aftermath.
For short fiction: My flash fiction piece ‘Homestead’ was published in Glasgow University Magazine’s print edition, my short story ‘The Silverware Club’ was published in Jersey Devil Press, my historical short story ‘Climbing Boys’ (about Victorian chimney sweeps) was published in historical fiction journal The Copperfield Review and my story, ‘Our Father is a Fisherman’, a flash fiction inspired by the painting A Dutch River Scene by Edmund Thornton Crawford RSA, was published in Seen/Unseen, a collection of responses to Edinburgh City Art Center’s Hidden Gems exhibition.
For awards, my poem ‘Fisherman Knit’ was Commended in the Alastair Buchan Poetry Prize and my flash fiction piece ‘The Stag’ was awarded Honorable Mention in the University of Aberdeen’s Flash Fiction Contest. (You can read the entire story here).
I also joined the Broadway Baby team once more as a Features writer during the Edinburgh Fringe and the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I interviewed some amazing poets and authors like Geek Girl author Holly Smale and Booker Prize shortlisted Graeme Macrae Burnet, author of His Bloody Project.
In addition to teaching Creative Writing to undergraduates at the University of Strathclyde in the Spring and Autumn terms, I also led a few workshops in the wider community. In April, I visited the lovely students at Kilgraston School to lead writing workshops with them and to read aloud from my children’s picture book: I Love St Andrews.
In March, myself and poet Daisy LaFarge co-led a poetry walk through the Glasgow Botanical Gardens with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as part of Spaces of Belonging. I also led two performance poetry writing workshops for women at Glasgow Women’s Library and Edinburgh Central Library, and then hosted GWL’s All-Women Poetry Slam.
I was also excited to join the The Young Walter Scott Prize team once more, co-leading a historical fiction writing workshop for teenagers at the gorgeous location of Bowhill House in the Scottish Borders.
Speaking of historical fiction, this was the year that I completed (more or less) a draft of my historical fiction novel manuscript! This will be the bulk of my final submission for my Doctorate of Fine Arts (my submission date is autumn 2018) and I’m excited to be editing, redrafting and perfecting the novel to send out to agents by next summer. Completing this manuscript has been a long process and by far the most challenging creative project I’ve ever undertaken. I’ve held a research fellowship at Monticello, travelled to Charleston South Carolina and spent countless hours reading about food, clothes, transportation in Colonial America to make this period come to life in the book. I don’t like talking too much about it until it’s done, but the book is about an English woman during America’s Revolutionary War. I’m so proud of the work I’ve done thus far and excited to hopefully share it soon.
In addition to The Novel, I’ve also been working on a new collection of poems and my first short story collection. Slowly but surely! Stay tuned…
In addition to traveling around the U.K to some of my favorite places like York and new places for me like Cumbria, I also had the opportunity to go to Greece, for my cousins’ wedding, and to Transylvania in Romania (yes, insert vampire joke here) to visit one of my partner’s best friends.
We also made our way to South by Southwest Festival in my hometown of Austin Texas in the Spring. My partner was covering the film festival and I got to relax, watch a ton of movies and see my family. Edinburgh and Glasgow also offer up tons of festivals all year round and in addition to the Edinburgh Fringe, International Festival and Book Festival, I also made it to the Glasgow Coffee Festival and the Borders Book Festival (among others).
Wishing everyone a Happy New Year and a creative, healthy and peaceful start to 2018!