News: February/March 2018

I’m not going to lie: February is usually one of my least favorite months of the year. By the time February rolls around, I’m sick of cold and darkness, aching for sunlight and spring. I love snuggling up indoors in the winter – don’t get me wrong – but even a cold-weather girl like me needs sunlight every now and then. This year, with all of this surprising snow here in Edinburgh, it has felt like a very long winter indeed and I was so ready for March and the beginning of spring, which it seems, has finally arrived!

I was in such a bad mood by the end of this February, having barely left my desk for the entire month – editing my novel, editing another project, applying for things. It was productive, but it was also a little glum. I bit off way more than I could chew in February and didn’t make enough time for seeing friends. I often worked straight through the cold and dreary weekends, without taking a day off. My anxiety started getting really bad towards the end of the month as I grew more and more exhausted from all the work. It wasn’t sustainable and I had to make a change. So, I sat down with myself and made a list of things that I could do to improve my general well-being, mental health and happiness, so I don’t fall easily into that rut again. These ‘happy things’ included having stricter ‘work time’ and ‘off time’ and also making more time to go to the gym, which really helps me to relax.

I think that meditation, which I do almost every day, has been really helpful for me in getting through this stressful period, as I near the end of my PhD. I use an app called Headspace and also there’s The Honest Guys YouTube channel if I want more guided meditations. Taking myself to the cinema has also been a nice way to detach from work, as well as meeting up with friends and getting out of my head a bit.

Perhaps because of these positive changes, but also because of the change in weather, March definitely proved a lot more fun than February and also I’m excited about some things that are coming up. But let’s first look back at what I got up to in these last few months.

PhD/Writing projects:

It’s a bit tricky to talk about my work at the moment because I don’t want to talk too much about things until they are done, but I can tell you that I’ve finished editing the second draft of my novel manuscript, which I’m calling (working title!): Between the Devil and the Deep Sea. I’m about to start work on the third draft. I’m also working on some essays about writing historical fiction and how I did research for this novel. These essays will form part (about 20,000 words) of my final PhD submission.

I also finished a final draft of another full-length book and sent it to a contest. I can’t say yet what that project is, but hopefully I’ll be able to tell you more about it in the upcoming months/year.

But enough of the mystery and intrigue! Here’s what I CAN tell you more about.

StAnza Poetry Festival

I was delighted to be asked to be In-house Blogger once again for StAnza (alongside poet Katie Hale). StAnza is an annual international poetry festival held in St Andrews, Scotland, where I did my undergraduate degree.

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The Byre Theatre, St Andrews, March 2018

I wrote two blogs during my time there: one reflecting on ‘The Self’ in poetry (which was one of the themes of the festival) and the other about my experience judging the StAnza Poetry Slam.

In addition to blogging and slam judging, I also helped out with participants at the festival and introduced some events. This was my seventh year at StAnza (I started as a volunteer festival photographer and have gone on to volunteer in almost every capacity possible with this festival!). For me, is a great time to catch up with old friends, who I rarely get to see in addition to listening to some wonderful poetry .

And also I love wandering around St Andrews, which, as you know, I’ve got a lot of affection for. I wrote a whole picture book called I Love St Andrews, so…I kind of like the place a little.

Publications

Excitingly, in March I was also commended in a poetry prize run by the British Army: Writing Armistice. The contest was inspired by the centenary of the armistice ending WWI and they asked for entries responding to the theme of ‘armistice’ in any way. My poem which was commended, ‘Nothing of Floods’, is very personal and looks at the idea of armistice as it concerns arguments with family members.

The poem will be published in a pamphlet with the other winning entries and I was invited to read it at the National Army Museum in London, but unfortunately I’ll be away that weekend at a close friend’s wedding in Portugal. I’m sad to miss what I’m sure will be an amazing reading event (but I’m also looking forward to celebrating with my friend, in a vineyard outside of Lisbon, no less!).

Travel

As I mentioned, I went to the lovely St Andrews for StAnza and while I was busy most of the time with the festival, I had the opportunity to go for my favorite walk, along The Scores, by the castle ruins.

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The Castle, St Andrews, 2018

While in St Andrews, I also got to sign some (well, lots!) of copies of I Love St Andrews at the beautiful Toppings and Co. bookstore. The staff there are so nice and they made me a cup of tea while I made my way through these piles! I’m so happy that so many people are enjoying the book.

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I Love St Andrews in Toppings and Co., St Andrews, March 2018

My cousin also visited me in mid-March. She’s a medieval historian and is doing some research in Belgium, so she was able to pop up to Scotland for a quick weekend trip. We ended up going to St Andrews for a day as well (it seems I can’t get enough of the place this spring!). We walked on the beach, through the rambling historic graveyard and of course paid a visit to Jannetta’s for some ice cream.

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Me (left) and my cousin (right) enjoying ice-cream at Jannetta’s in St Andrews

We also did some sightseeing here in Edinburgh too, including a walk up Calton Hill. I’ve never been before and was so impressed with the views out across the city on that bright, sunny day.

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View from Calton Hill, Edinburgh, March 2018

Upcoming Events

I’m also excited to announce that I’ve been accepted to be a panelist at a roundtable event at the annual Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture conference at the College of William and Mary in Virginia! The conference is in June and the panel discussion is called: ‘Creatively Writing about Early America and the Atlantic World: A roundtable on Fiction, Poetry and History’.

I’ll be joined on the panel by Deborah Harkness (University of Southern California), author of A Discovery of Witches, John Demos (Yale University), and my friend Chet’la Sebree. Chet’la is an incredible poet and we met when we were both fellows at the Robert H Smith International Centre for Jefferson Studies two years ago. It will be moderated by Jane Kamensky (Harvard University) and I’m incredibly thrilled to be taking part in what is sure to be a fascinating discussion about creative writing and American history.

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What did you get up to in February and March? What are you reading and watching? Any upcoming trips planned for this spring?

Here’s to finding a better ‘work/life’ balance, as they say, in the upcoming months and to more afternoons spent eating ice cream and walking in the sunshine.

 x Carly

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Flowers blooming in The Meadows, Edinburgh, March 2018

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News: January 2018

On a winter’s Sunday I go

To clear away the snow

And green the ground below.

 

April all an ocean away

Is this a better way to spend the day?

Keeping the winter at bay.

 

– from The Decemberists’ ‘January Hymn’

January is named after Janus, the Roman god with two heads facing in opposite directions. He looks towards the past, but also towards the future. He’s the god of doors, bridges, gates – those liminal spaces and funny, in-between places where we’re transitioning between one place, thing, activity, and into the next. Like many people, I usually spend January looking back, but also planning, gathering and gearing up for what’s to come. Looking ahead also helps combat those January Blues that I always feel after returning from my holidays in sunny Austin Texas, to the quiet, cold, gray-blue Scottish winter.

And there is a lot coming up this year…

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The Meadows, Edinburgh

Travel plans

2018 will be, for me, a year of travel, and of endings/new beginnings. Socially, I’ve got two weddings of two very close friends to attend this year – one in the spring in Portugal and one in the autumn in Texas. I was delighted to be asked to be the Maid of Honor for the latter and I’m really looking forward to both. These weddings are amazing opportunities to reunite with friends and family in beautiful places (with plenty of cake and wine!) and to celebrate the next chapter in my friends’ lives.

Other trips I’ve got planned include a visit to Colonial Williamsburg and the College of William and Mary in Virginia USA in June for a very exciting conference I’ll be taking part in (I’ll tell you more about that soon!). On top of that, I’m planning a Scandinavian trip for a couple of days to see another close friend in the Spring. So there are lots of journeys coming up!

PhD

Academically, this is the year that I will be submitting my Doctorate of Fine Arts (in the autumn) and hopefully sending my finished novel manuscript off to agents before that (in the spring/summer). At the moment, I’m in the middle of revising my historical novel, using the comments that my supervisor (an Early American historian) gave me about the first draft. I must say that while revision poses its own challenges, it’s nice to be working with a full manuscript and to see the structure of the story more clearly in my head. In building terms: I have the house already and now I’m just adding on to the kitchen, changing out carpet for hardwood floors, redecorating the living room, etc.

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My novel manuscript, Draft 1

Performances

I did one performance this month at the wonderful Scottish Poetry Library (where I am also an Ambassador – follow us on Twitter!) at the God Damn Debut Slam. This is a unique slam where you have to perform something brand new! I was a featured poet and I went on after the slam itself, but I really loved seeing the competition and all of the poets performing their new material aloud – which takes a lot of courage! I’d highly recommend attending if you get the opportunity. It’s an excellent night.

Speaking of slams, the Scottish National Slam Championships 2018 happened this month in Glasgow at the Tron Theatre. This slam – which I won back in 2013 – invites any poets who have won slams throughout Scotland that year to compete and the winner gets to represent Scotland at the World Series of Slam Poetry in Paris. This competition was my entry into spoken word in Scotland and, until I won it, I had no idea about the whole Paris thing! Needless to say, it’s a life-changing opportunity for whoever wins and, as always, the competition was fierce. Everyone shone and the final round – featuring Kevin McLean, Sarah Grant, Leyla Josephine and Sam Small – was one of the strongest I’ve ever seen. At any slam. Ever. Sam Small emerged as the winner and I’ve loved his work for years. At times surreal, visceral, biting and hopeful. He’ll do us proud in Paris. Good luck, Sam!

Recommendations

I’m going to start ending these monthly posts with a few recommendations of stuff I enjoyed that month. This month, I’d like to recommend Matilda (the 90’s kids film) which I saw at the Edinburgh Filmhouse as part of their Growing Pains series. I had not seen it since I was a kid and it’s worth a rewatch. Zany and dark but still full of joy. It was an important movie for me (and I imagine many 90’s kids) that showed us a strong, brainy, independent female heroine and taught us that reading is magic.

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That’s all for now, folks. I’ll leave you with that Decemberists song I quoted in the beginning, if you’d like to have a listen. Until next time!

Xx Carly

2017: Favorite Books, Films and Podcasts

Between working on my PhD, writing, grading, performing, traveling, I haven’t read or seen as much as I would have liked this past year. Nevertheless, I managed to read around 30 books and catch around 60 or so films in 2017. These were my favorites and the ones that really stuck with me from this year. I also tried to pick a mixture of bigger and smaller titles, larger and more indie film, to get a good range. I’ve also included a few recommendations for great podcasts too. Enjoy!

Books

I read lots of different genres but, this year, I mainly read short stories (especially those with hints of magic and strangeness), YA (especially contemporary), and historical fiction. I also tend to pick up novels with young women as the protagonists, which I think all of my recommendations, except His Bloody Project, fit into, as well.

Anna and the French Kiss (YA novel) – delightful and reminded me of my first experiences studying abroad in high school (sadly minus the dreamy French boy!). Perfect breezy read.
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere (short stories) – beautifully constructed short stories with mostly first-person narrators, often young African American women, my personal favorite being Brownies, but I also liked the title story Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, which you can read here in The New Yorker. For short stories, you just can’t get better than Z.Z. Packer.
The Lesser Bohemians (literary novel) – I vow to read everything Eimear McBride writes. In this, a young actress falls for an older guy while at drama school. Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, her debut, still haunts me and I love the way we’re completely emersed in the main character’s thoughts and the way she writes about sex and relationships is astounding. As an actor, I love reading books about theatre and there aren’t enough of them! If you like modernist writers like Joyce or Woolf, you might like this!
His Bloody Project (historical fiction novel) – I’ll call this a ‘post-modern murder mystery’, not exactly a WHO done it but a WHY done it. Set in the Scottish Highlands, it’s full of conflicting narratives and layers of text. I had the pleasure of interviewing Graeme about this book too.

the lesser bohemians

Films

I’ve always been a big movie watcher and I love an evening at the cinema. My partner is a film critic and I went with him to SXSW in my hometown of Austin, Texas, where I got to see lots of great stuff. My favorite places to catch films in Glasgow and Edinburgh are The Glasgow Film Theatre, The Filmhouse and The Cameo. Intelligent comedies are a personal favorite to watch.

Toni Eardmann – touching but restrained comedy of a father who impersonates a business man in an attempt to connect with his distant, work-focused daughter. The film is in German and set in Romania, but hilarious and often heartbreaking family dynamics are super universal.
War Games – 80’s kids adventure film about a kid who accidentally almost starts a nuclear war. Hugely suspenseful and fun, but also an important message.
Silvio – Saw this at SXSW and it’s hard to explain but it follows a gentle gorilla/human in pink sunglasses (watch the trailer!) called Silvio who has a show on daytime TV. It’s surprisingly poignant and looks at the compromises we make to achieve recognition and fame.
The Big Sick – Also caught this one at SXSW and I haven’t heard an audience laugh so hard in forever! They were laughing so hard I couldn’t hear some of the jokes. Follows the romance of a young Pakistani-American stand-up comic with a white girl called Emily (with a similar feeling to something like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, where his traditional family doesn’t want him dating outside his culture etc.). Sweet and hilarious.
Lunadigas – Italian documentary about women who don’t want to have children. I’d love to see something like this made in the US or the UK too, because it’s an important subject.

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Also shout out to Netflix’s The Good Place which was my favorite TV show of 2017. A whimsical and unpredictable show about the afterlife.

Podcasts

My Dad Wrote a Porno (obviously! so hilarious!) – for when you want to laugh

The Flop House – for when you want to laugh some more

Houston We Have a Podcast – for when you want to learn about space/all the cool stuff NASA is doing

Lore – for when you want to learn about dark historical stories and folklore

Anna Faris is Unqualified – for when you want to be delighted and entertained by relationship advice from celebrities

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Have you seen or read any of these things? What were your favorite books, TV, films and podcasts you read, watched or saw in 2017? I’m always open for recommendations!

2017: My Year in Review

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.

Performances

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.

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At Quotidian Issue 3 Launch – Photo Credit Quotidian Magazine

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.

Glasgow Women's Library

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.

Publications

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.

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Media Pass for the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe. I’m rocking that pale, slightly startled look.

Teaching

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.

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.

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Me and Jo Gilbert, winner of the 2017 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.

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Bowhill House, site of the Young Walter Scott Prize Historical Fiction Writing Workshops

Writing-in-Progress

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…

Travel

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).

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Wishing everyone a Happy New Year and a creative, healthy and peaceful start to 2018!

Writing Reflections: How to Stay Motivated

I’m at the point in a writing project, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, where I’m sick of it, questioning the inspiration, etc. And while some days the words flow and I’m excited about what I’m doing, some days making myself sit at the desk and edit is like pulling teeth. I remember hearing Rachel Bloom (writer and creator of the hilarious and smart show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) say in an interview that the hardest part of writing is writing. Simple but true.

The fun part is coming up with ideas, listening to inspirational music, sharpening pencils, making the Pinterest boards etc. The hard part is sitting down and planting your butt in the chair and editing that scene another time. It’s especially tricky for me when I know that the holidays are right around the corner and what I REALLY want to be doing is: a) be drinking mulled wine b) watching a Christmas film in bed c) be drinking mulled wine while watching a Christmas film in bed.

So here are some tips and ways that I’ve used in the past month to actually get myself to write, even when I don’t initially want to. Because if you want writing to be your job, or part of your job, you have to treat it like a job and show up and do it even when it’s not super duper fun. This is something I’ve always known, but it’s also easier said than done.

Much like how I don’t usually feel like going to the gym, but I always feel better after I do, I always feel better once I’ve done a bit of writing or editing that day. I think these tips will be helpful for others who are doing longer creative writing projects, or longer projects of any kind, like PhDs. I was speaking to a friend in the States recently who is doing a PhD in neuropsychology and she uses a lot of similar tricks so I know they are applicable across the board, not just for poets and fiction writers.

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My desk (on a good day)

1- Break it up into smaller chunks

This could be word counts or time limits, depending on where you are in the project. In my case, I’ve been editing a couple of scenes per day for my novel draft. I also try to work for about an hour and then take a break and make a tea etc. However, when I was trying to just get the rough draft out there, I had a word count that I tried to meet each day. So it depends on where you are in the project, but breaking up the larger whole into bite sized chunks (whatever that entails for you) is classic advice, but it has helped me keep my anxiety at bay and combatted feelings of overwhelm. When a project seems too massive, I don’t want to do it at all.

2- Set the scene

I try to make my environment as cozy and nice as possible by lighting candles and making myself a cup of decaf coffee and maybe putting on some light instrumental music (my favorite YouTube channel for this is OCB Relax Music) and a blanket over my lap. I’m trying to tell my brain: See, this is fun right? We’re having fun!!

Sometimes, I also take myself to a coffee shop and grab a coffee…and maybe a scone. Once again, I’m trying to tell myself: Look how much fun we’re having? There’s a hot coffee and a scone. You love scones. Scones are delicious. Isn’t this great?

But it really does help if my environment is clean and relaxed and cozy. Again, this is very common advice but it makes a big difference.

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A beautiful cafe in Milan, sadly not where I can work everyday

3- Have designated ‘writing time’ and off time

If I set myself a clear time of the day when I always (or typically) write. I personally keep a roughly 9:30/10 AM -5/6 PM workday, if possible, and try to get the writing done in the mornings and do other things like class prep, or research, or reading, in the afternoons. However, I almost never work in the evenings. In the evenings, I like to cook or see friends or go to the gym, which I do after my work day.

I can’t write all the time and I actually don’t even like writing every single day, so by giving myself time slots for writing helps. I get through the writing by saying: This evening, you can take a break and watch A Christmas Prince or some other ridiculous thing on Netflix. Just a few more hours…

4 – Get inspired

Get psyched about the project you’re working on once again. This might mean making a Pinterest board to give you new inspiration for the scene you’re working on. Or reading a book about a related topic. Or working on a scene that you particularly like, instead of one that is giving you problems. Or whatever it takes to try and reconnect with that spark that made you want to begin this in the first place. Or something that might help you look at the writing in a new, fresh way.

5- Take a freaking break

There are some days when I don’t feel like writing, but I make myself anyway. Then, there are some days when I’m so tired or I have too many other things going on and, on those days, I take a break and do other stuff. If I want a proper break, I go for a walk or go to a film (I love taking myself to the cinema alone these days) or get a coffee with a friend or anything to take your mind off it. You will come back with fresher eyes than when you forced yourself to slog through when you were completely drained.

I am not a robot. You are not a robot (as far as I know…). Some days I have bad mental health days, or mental health weeks, and I take a freaking break. I’m not a machine that can crank out scene after scene, day after day. I am so envious of writers who write every single day, without fail. But I can’t. Or, at least, I cannot at this point in my life. It’s not good for me and That. Is. Okay.

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An afternoon stroll outside in Oxford

6- Think about how great it will feel to be done

I think about the joy that I will feel once this manuscript is finished and I have written a full length novel, whole and complete. Edited and redrafted. I was so proud of myself when I finished the rough draft last summer and I know I’ll be so thrilled when it’s finally done. Or, at least, done enough.

7 – ‘The journey is its own reward’

On the podcast Big Magic, the comedian and author Michael Ian Black talked about how, looking back on his career, that: ‘the journey really is its own reward.’ The sentiment really resonated with me because, as cheesy as it sounds, we will spend SO MUCH more of our times actually writing, in our rooms or attics, or local coffee shops or deserted islands, than we will ever spend accepting awards or signing a bazillion copies or having any of the glamor that might (or might not) come after the work is done. Of course it would be brilliant if this novel or the next one I write, or the next one, won all the things, but that is not something I have control over.

What I do have control over is showing up and appreciating that I have the ability to express myself, that I live in a country where this is permitted, that institutions like universities and foundations have given me both monetary and pedagogical support, at various points in my career, to help me do this. What I do have control over is how I feel about it and being grateful that this is something I am able to do. That, even on the boring days, or the frustrating days, or the days when nothing seems to be cooperating and I want to bang my head agains the desk repeatedly, that I absolutely love writing.

Writing is the only thing in my life that I can do for literally hours and feel like no time has passed. Even on the challenging days. I still love it. And I hope you do too.

How do you motivate yourself to keep going? Let me know what works for you?

Happy writing!

x Carly

Flash Fiction: ‘The Stag’

Last month, I was delighted to have a flash fiction piece receive honorable mention in the University of Aberdeen Special Collections Flash Fiction contest. The contest asks you to respond to one of the images from their Special Collection. I chose one that seemed to me vaguely Elizabethan and also made me think of all of the outrageous and clever creations I’d been watching on Great British Bake Off (especially the bread lion from two years ago!). We were given no context or information about the images, but the one that I chose turned out to be printed in 1491, of a woman collecting honey. You can have a look at it, and the other images, here.

Wayne Price, the contest judge, was kind enough to describe my story as: ‘A bravely and artfully written fantasia that contains some wonderful moments of linguistic play and inventiveness.’

This story was published on the University of Aberdeen’s website here. You can read the winning story, ‘Weave’, there too, which I’d recommend. Enjoy!

The Stag

By Carly Brown
I make things they want to eat: white cakes studded with violet flowers and clotted cream in silver dishes. Pastries in the shape of swans. I knead dough for almond gingerbread until my arms go numb. I boil plums down into sweet paste. My hands are calloused from grinding fennel and nutmeg to powders. They love my roses and gillyflowers, sparkling with sugar.

When they see my work, they smile with blackened teeth, but they lose interest quickly. A visiting noblewoman nibbles at a candy flower and leaves the uneaten petals on her plate. A prince cuts the head off my swan and everyone claps like he’s killed a real thing. But soon my headless swan lies forgotten, and they are on to dancing or playing cards.

By the time the plates are carried back down to the kitchens – my shortbread with bite marks, my half-eaten cakes filled with cherries and currants – the kitchen is all smoke, steam, and dirty plates. I try not to look at the carnage they leave behind. I let the other cooks bicker over who will eat the shattered pieces of my ginger biscuits.

The stag came to me in a dream. I knew it would be the most beautiful thing that I’d ever made. His antlers would be rock candy sculpture, his eyes hunks of sugared plum. His smooth flank perfectly baked honey bread. He would stand tall as a man, taller, and smell of cinnamon and autumn forests.

I baked the stag for three days straight, instructed the other cooks on what to stir and cut. He took shape. Soon he stood as proud as any animal, muscular and oven hot. His candy antlers scraped the ceiling and he pawed at the floorboards with marzipan hoofs. The other cooks gasped as he ran around the kitchen, banging into a pot of stew and spilling it across the floor. Then I opened the door and let him loose into the house.

I ran after him as he galloped into the corridor, tearing family portraits with his antlers and hunks of breadmuscle flying off his body as he ran. I followed when he charged into the Great Hall and all the nobles screamed. He leapt straight onto the banquet table and shattered glasses beneath him. He posed atop the table like the fiercest beast in Christendom. A man nearby fainted.

I stood in the doorway clapping. The stag was still. Nobody dared touch him. All they could do was stare as he pranced out of the room, smashing their glasses underfoot and gazing back at them with sweet, purple eyes.

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News: October

Happy Halloween! I hope that everyone is having a spook-tacularfang-tastic (okay, I’ll stop) holiday today. Personally, I’ve been celebrating all throughout the month by reading creepy stories (the Ghost anthology edited by Louise Welsh is a personal favorite to dip in and out of), watching old episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? on YouTube, lighting lots of candles and even going on ghost tour here in Edinburgh which took us underground into the Blair Street vaults. On late afternoons, I’ve also been strolling through The Meadows, trying to snap photos of the autumn foliage before it disappears.

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The Meadows, Edinburgh

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As I mentioned in my last blog post, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays (second only to Christmas) and October is certainly my favorite month. It also contains my birthday, which I celebrated this year with a chill pub night with friends and with a trip down to Cumbria to read at a poetry event (more on that below!).

These seasonal and birthday celebrations provided welcomed and much needed breaks from PhD work, which has, honestly, been tough this month. I’m in my final year of my Doctorate of Fine Arts and while I’m at a good place with my work, some days it’s really a struggle to stay motivated with this project which I began two years ago. Anyone doing a PhD (or who has ever done any long project probably!) can almost certainly relate to this feeling of CAN’T I JUST BE DONE ALREADY. Or worse: WHAT POSSESSED ME TO DO THIS IN THE FIRST PLACE? INSPIRATION, WHERE HAVE YOU LED ME?!? I might write a longer post about this in the future, but finding the motivation when you’re in the middle of something, of anything, can be super challenging with all the new, shiny ideas buzzing around out there. But I’m staying the course, slowly but surely. Fellow PhD candidates at any stage of the process, you have my admiration and respect!

But enough of my grad student woes. I wanted to share with you some of the exciting literary happenings that took place this month…

Publications

This month I had a short story, Climbing Boys, published in the historical fiction magazine The Copperfield Review. It’s a macabre tale of Victorian chimney sweeps and perfect seasonal reading (if I do say so myself!). You can read it here.

I also had an extract of my performance poem, Texas, I Can’t Bring you to Parties Anymore, published in the Write to be Counted anthology for human rights, profits go to PEN International. You can get a copy of the anthology here.

Performances

I only did one poetry performance this month, but it was a fantastic one. I went down to Cumbria for the launch of the Write to Be Counted anthology and had the pleasure of staying with a friend of mine, writer and Cumbria native Katie Hale.

She showed my partner and I around this beautiful part of England and I was blown away by the landscapes.

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Cumbria, England

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Is it any wonder that so many poets are from this area?

I would definitely go back to Cumbria any time and it was a delight to perform at the launch, which took place in an old Fire Station and had a potluck buffet.

Press

The performance I did at the Transatlantic Literary Women Symposium last summer was featured on their amazing podcast here. (Doesn’t the podcast host have the most soothing voice?) I was also interviewed on their previous podcast about creativity, the role of workshops and my favorite Transatlantic Literary Woman (hint: she’s also an American poet who lived in the U.K…).

I was also interviewed by the lovely Haley Jenkins over at Selcouth Station. We talk all about performance poetry, poetry slams, tips for overcoming stage fright and more. Check out the interview here.

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That’s all folks! I hope that you have lovely and suitably spooky day. If you’re in the mood for a scary film, might I recommend Under the Shadow? It’s set in 1980’s Tehran and I was lucky enough to see it last year at the Glasgow Film Theatre with both the director and star there for a Q and A! You can read it as a traditional haunted house story, or as more of a psychological thriller, or as something in between. Either way, it continues to haunt me.

Have a wonderful Halloween night! And remember, in the immortal words of Tim Curry in The Worst Witch, ‘Anything can happen on Halloween…’

 

 

News: September

I remember reading (in Jay Parini’s book The Art of Teaching, I believe) about how interesting it is that autumn, a time of nature’s decay, is seen as a time of new beginnings and fresh starts for so many students and teachers. Yet, for me, a student and a teacher, that’s exactly what autumn means. A new chapter. September for me means new stationary, a new group of students, a brand shiny new academic year.

This whole New Beginnings feeling is probably strengthened by the fact that I’ve actually moved cities. I’ll be living in Edinburgh for the final year of my PhD. I will miss Glasgow, of course, but I’m delighted to be here amidst the winding medieval streets, quaint bookshops and unbeatable castle views. I have a fondness for so many different cities, especially not-too-big, picturesque, historic ones (see: York, Florence, Boston), but Edinburgh might just be my favorite city in the world.

In addition to moving cities and recovering from the Fringe (so much sleep!!), I’ve been busy with lots of other things too. Here’s a wee wrap up of my September literary adventures.

Readings/Performances

I performed with my pals the Loud Poets over in Glasgow in mid-September at their event Loud Poets: Appetite for Destruction at Broadcast. Always great fun to perform my poems with The Loud Band and these poets always put on a fast-paced, fun, interactive show. I love performing with them.

I also had the opportunity to read at Glasgow Women’s Library for National Poetry Day at their Story Café event. I was joined by the other editors of Glasgow Women Poets Anthology (my fellow sub-editor, Cameo Marlatt, and our editor, Mairi Murphy) and we talked a little bit about the anthology, as well as sharing our own poetry. We’re really proud of the Glasgow Women Poets anthology, which we published last year, featuring writing by women writers with a connection to the city of Glasgow. It’s really special to work on a project that celebrates and elevates women’s voices. Plus, it’s also got a fantastic cover!

Glasgow Women Poets

National Poetry Day was a big one for me because I ALSO had a reading over at the University of Glasgow where I was Commended in the Alastair Buchan Poetry Prize for my poem ‘Fisherman Knit.’ Congrats to all of the other commended poets and runners up, and congrats especially to the winner, my friend Daisy LaFarge, who has a pamphlet out now. Her winning poem knocked my socks off and I’d highly recommend having a look at her work!

Publications

My debut poetry pamphlet, GROWN UP POETRY NEEDS TO LEAVE ME ALONE, is now available to order online, with worldwide shipping, from the Loud Poets Etsy store. They’ve been selling like hotcakes so far which is amazing, so thank you to everyone who has bought a copy and I hope that you are enjoying them! Check out the listing here.

Grown Up Poetry Pic 1An extract from my poem ‘Texas, I Can’t Bring You to Parties Anymore’ will be published in Write to be Counted, a forthcoming anthology in support of human rights, with all the profits going to Pen International. They are launching on October 4th in London and Saturday October 14 in Cumbria. I might be along to read at the Cumbria launch, which is taking place in an Old Fire Station!

Teaching

I started my second year teaching undergraduates at the University of Strathclyde. It’s an introductory Creative Writing class and basically goes over the building blocks of creating characters, setting the scene, building dramatic tension, all that good stuff. As a writer, I think it’s always useful to go over those fundamentals and I’m looking forward to another semester of teaching.  

Upcoming

Next Thursday, October 5th, I’m performing at a ‘new material’ night in Partick in St Louis Cafe Bar, so will hopefully be debuting a new poem. Feel free to come along! Check out the event page here.

I’ll mainly be editing and redrafting my historical fiction novel in these next few months, which is daunting but also very exciting. For me, this entire academic year will really be about finishing up and submitting my Creative Writing PhD.

I’m also working concurrently on a short story collection…more on this later!

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As I’m writing this post, it is also the first day of October, which is my FAVORITE MONTH. October means my birthday, Halloween, pumpkins, and occasional spiders in the flat (okay, that one isn’t really something to look forward to). You can guarantee that I will be watching Halloween movies, going on haunted tours of the city and generally embarrassing myself with my exuberance for this season. Just so you have an idea of how excited I get about Halloween, this is what’s on top of my bookcase already.

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Happy October. I’m hoping that everyone is having a great start to the season.

Edinburgh Festival Reflections (Part I): Writing for a Magazine

In which I discuss my experience writing for a magazine at the Edinburgh Festivals, the reasons why journalistic writing can be helpful for your creative work and that time I drank too much coffee and power walked around Charlotte Square.

Last month, I had the opportunity to cover the Edinburgh International Festival, the Fringe AND the Book Festival for Broadway Baby magazine. This is my second year writing features for them (Only feature interviews! I didn’t write any reviews.) and it’s been a fun experience putting on my journalistic hat once again (Literally. I wore a hat which I’ve been told was very 1930’s journalist-y: see photographic evidence below).

Journalist hat

This year, I was able to interview artists across mediums about their work. I spoke with Booker Prize shortlisted author Graeme Macrae Burnett of His Bloody Project, bestselling Danish author Meik Wiking who wrote The Little Book of Hygge (which you’ve probably seen around if you’ve been in a bookshop in the past year!), and Holly Smale, author of a personal favorite feel-good and feminist book series: Geek Girl.

As primarily a writer of fiction and performance poetry, I’ve enjoyed changing gears a little and focusing on journalism for a month. Here are three ways that I think writing for a magazine can sharpen/improve your fiction and poetry:

1 – Writing to a deadline

I’ll be the first one to admit that I didn’t always make my article deadlines (a bout of Fringe Flu struck mid-festival), but having a deadline always rapidly approaching made me less precious about my writing. There is no time for perfectionism when you’ve got to get something out there into the world in a couple of days time.

While I do think it’s valuable to spend time with your work and to be a considerate editor – with a poem especially I can spend ages mulling over a single word – there’s something to be said for efficiency and for putting your work out there in a timely manner. You’d also be surprised at how much you can do in a short span of time!

Basically, if you’ve got two hours, it’ll take two hours. If you’ve got two days, it’ll take two days. I shocked myself with the amount I could write quickly. As someone who has a tendency to hold on to my short stories and poems just a little too long sometimes before sending them out into the big wide world, writing to quick deadlines forced me to just put my work out there, a skill I will try to keep up as I turn once more to my fiction and poetry.

2 – Word counts

Magazine articles have word limits and usually short ones. Writing up these feature articles also made me a sharper, more ruthless, editor. I frequently had to cut down about half the interview I’d conducted to make it fit under the word count. Even if every moment of the interview had been fascinating and relevant, sometimes things had to get cut. I had to make those editorial decisions quickly and trust my gut. Working within parameters (like word count) is a useful challenge for any writer and definitely applicable to poetry and prose. Edit out those unnecessary words!

3 – Confidence

I decided at the start of the month that if there was an artist I wanted to speak with, no matter how famous they were, I’d request an interview. That was all well and good, until some of them started agreeing…then the panic set in.

I was nervous before interviewing some of these authors and performers who I greatly respected. I’ve had more semi-awkward interactions in book signing lines than you can count. You can imagine my nerves when I found out I’d get to interview some of these incredible people. One afternoon before an interview, I was so nervous I drank tons of free coffee in the Press Tent at the Book Festival. I was then so jittery I had to power walk around Charlotte Square while listening to the Hamilton soundtrack to work off some of the excess energy. (Yes, Hamilton was the soundtrack to my festival. Also to my life).

As I power walked, there was a malicious voice in my head saying things like, ‘Who do you think that you are to interview these amazing people? Everyone will think that you’re ridiculous, a fraud, unqualified!’ I was feeling intimidated, full of self-doubt. I really had to reassure myself that I was capable of doing this. I had to remind myself that everybody feels self-doubt sometimes. Requesting and conducting those interviews, even though I was nervous, was a confidence building experience. And confidence is useful in so many areas of life.

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Afternoon Tea at the Spiegeltent at Edinburgh International Book Festival

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There are doubtless many other ways that writing journalism is can help with your creative writing (and vice versa!), but those are just a few that came to mind. When I told my partner (who is a film critic) I was writing this blog post, he suggested quite a few other ways journalism might be useful for other types of writing: gaining practice working with an editor, the ability to do background research and even (for interviewers especially) being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand where they’re coming from. Maybe you’ve got more to add?

Overall, I interviewed nine artists in August. Here’s a sample of those:

Meow Meow, singer/dancer/actress extraordinaire, in which we talk about fairy tales and her cabaret reimagining of The Little Mermaid.

Holly Smale, bestselling children’s book author of the GEEK GIRL series. We talk about travel and why teen books are so important.

Leyla Josephine, poet and performer from Glasgow whose show Hopeless was long listed for the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression award.

Meik Wiking, bestselling author and CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, about his next book, hygge and mindfulness.

Full list of my articles here.

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Stay tuned for a blog post next week about my favorite shows I saw across all the festivals.

x Carly

News: June-July

Summer is in full swing and I wanted to share with you a few things that I’ve been up to in the past few months, as well as what I’m looking forward to for the month of August. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Readings/Performances

In June, I was asked to perform my poetry at the Transatlantic Literary Women Symposium at Glasgow Women’s Library, sponsored by the British Association for American Studies and the U.S Embassy. This was a fantastic, all-day event of workshops, talks, and readings looking at transatlantic literary women. It included topics like the legacy of Sylvia Plath, UK/US Black feminisms, and much more. As a Transatlantic Literary Woman myself (from America originally, living in the U.K) I was delighted to take part and I was the final reader of the day. I shared a mixture of my ‘performance’ poems and ‘page’ poems. This fascinating project also published an essay of mine on homesickness earlier this year (the first draft of which I published on this blog!).

I also read my work at the West End Festival New Writing Showcase, held in the grand Hunterian Art Gallery on Glasgow Uni campus. I read a piece of flash fiction about Victorian chimney sweeps called ‘Climbing Boys.’ Definitely channeling Dickens.

The Quotidian Magazine Issue #3 launch also took place in June. Having performed at their Issue #2 launch, I was happy to be asked back. This is a beautifully made magazine for students at Scottish universities with the theme ‘the everyday’. Once again, it was a receptive and energetic crowd, with live music and (importantly) delicious cake.

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At Quotidian Issue 3 Launch – Photo Credit Quotidian Magazine

Teaching

I had the opportunity to teach two Performance Poetry workshops in June with Glasgow Women’s Library: one in Glasgow and one in Edinburgh. These workshops were for women only and they were geared towards those who had little experience performing their work aloud. We talked about tips and tricks for sharing work with an audience, how to build confidence onstage, and how to write with performance in mind. Both groups were lovely, enthusiastic and full of great writers. I then hosted Glasgow Women’s Library’s All Women Poetry Slam at Out of the Blue Gallery in Edinburgh and one woman who had taken part in my class actually won the slam! Congrats, Jo Gilbert!

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Me and Jo, Winner of the All Women Poetry Slam 2017

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Judges of the All Women Poetry Slam (left to right): Katherine Macfarlane, JL Williams, Kokumo Rocks

This June, I also taught a historical fiction writing workshop with The Young Walter Scott Prize. The Walter Scott Prize is a prestigious prize for historical fiction (won in previous years by the likes of Hilary Mantel) and these workshops are for kids and held at historic sites throughout Scotland. They are aimed at getting young writers writing/thinking about history and also to encourage them to enter the Young Walter Scot Prize, which is a historical fiction prize for young people. This workshop was held in a beautiful, stately home in the Borders: Bowhill. Very Downton Abbey-esque! The pupils explored the gardens, the kitchens, the ornate sitting rooms, and imagined who used to walk those halls…

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Bowhill House, Scottish Borders

Publications

I had a short story published in the awesome literary magazine Jersey Devil Press. It’s called The Silverware Club. It features martinis, a gecko called Franz Kafka, and people dressed up as spoons.

Upcoming

For those who will be around at the Edinburgh Fringe, come out and see me perform with Loud Poets at their Fringe Show! This will be my third year to join these guys for the Fringe and they always put on a great show. Live band, and accessible, funny, emotional poetry. I’ll be their Guest Act on August 26th. Get tickets here.

I’ll also be returning as Features Writer for Broadway Baby magazine at this year’s Fringe. I’ll also be covering The Edinburgh Festival and The Edinburgh International Book Festival. I won’t be writing any reviews, only doing feature interviews with artists. I love having conversations with talented poets, directors, authors (like this one I did with playwright Rona Munro) and I’m so excited for this year’s Festivals.

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So, what have you been up to? Who do you think that I should see at the Edinburgh Festival, Book Festival or the Fringe? Recommendations welcome!