Wednesday, 4 May 2022

May Days: On Strike, Out of Breath

The schools in Helsinki are on strike, so the kids and I are at home. It feels strange to be in a union and on strike after 30 plus years of working freelance or low wage jobs. Schools in Finland only had the first 6-week lockdown due to Covid, but have stayed open since, so it feels weird to shut them for this. But necessary. 

I'm not sure how long the strike will last, a week at most at least to begin with. I can't do school work and can't do much of my research project beside go through literature, but I have so much I want to do, I need to read for my course tomorrow, plant potatoes and onions, tidy the garden after cutting down a tree, clean the house (ok, I don't want to do that, but it needs doing) and write, of course. 

Vappu (May Day or Beltane) was cold as usual. We tried a picnic with our Scottish Society friends, but it was short-lived. 

The birch trees are massing to kill me with their pollen. My eyes itch so much, so the outside work I need to do will have its negative outcomes, but I need to get on. But the days are long, it's 9.30pm and the sun is just thinking about setting, so I feel invigorated, even if I don't really have the energy. A few new poems are trickling out as well, partially due to this, but also due to the kick of Global Poetry Writing Month in April.

I'll try to use this time the best I can between also having the kids home and loads of uni work to do. 

Publication update: I've had a poem 'Lokakuu, Mud-Month' published in Poetry Scotland. I've also been chosen to be part of the Fevers of the Mind's Wolfpack, a special month feature spot on the site. I'm very grateful for having this opportunity. Last Leaves has published my poem 'Finding Family' for the latest issue. Thanks to all the magazines and websites for including my work, it's lovely to feel a part of the writing community. 

A post-script: It has felt non-stop with worries these days. Climate change, Covid, Brexit, Ukraine and Finland wondering whether to join NATO and now the possible repeal of Roe vs Wade. I tend to keep away from the political here as it's so overwhelming and I need a respite, but it feels like we're sliding towards something dark and omnipresent that's slowly consuming us.

I started a list poem about the time the Amazon and Australian fires were happening, a list of 'I can't breathe' lines, each a body blow of breath-stopping events from across the world, from George Floyd to the streets of Bucha. It keeps growing, saddeningly. I see no signs of being able to stop writing it, but I need to speak up in my small way.

Saturday, 9 April 2022

Global Poetry Writing Month - Spring Will Come

The snow and ice are hanging on in Finland. Another teacher and I celebrated seeing mud at the edges of the park yesterday at recess when the rest of the world seems to be enjoying bluebells and planting out in their gardens. My back garden is still under half a meter of compacted snow, but the sun is slowly working on the front flower beds. Spring will properly come, later than I hoped, just like almost every year here. 

Amidst the uni deadlines, full-time work and kids, worries of war and whatever else feels like crawling on my plate at the moment, I'm writing. It's Global Poetry Writing Month and every day I'm scribbling a few lines that might or might not become a poem when it's grown up. I haven't been able to do much as I've been so overwhelmed and so, so tired so this is a relief. 

But there's good news. I've secured a short summer job that will take me abroad, so that's something to look forward to. I've finally had a few acceptances after a long dry couple of months. The Scottish publisher Crowvus has included my poem 'Ariadne's Thread' in the first issue of their journal Hooded.  And Dear Damsels has published my poem 'What We Inherit' in their recent batch. So things are looking up after a long winter. 

I'm writing whatever small thoughts come into my head: old memories, new hopes, nonsense lines, noticing the landscape change, my mood brighten, the days until summer release getting closer. I am writing and that makes it all good. 

Saturday, 12 March 2022

A Way to Help Ukraine: Poetry Anthology

One of my poems has been included in the Hope Rage Sunflowers anthology to raise money for Ukraine. Like many I am shocked and saddened and have been doom scrolling the past two weeks, so it feels good to have a way to help, even in a small way. 

From the editor: Hope Rage Sunflowers, the FFS Fundraiser bookje (PDF) is out now! Please donate directly at Send a screenshot of your donation to or in my DMs with your email and you will receive this beautiful anthology of poems and artwork.

Please RT and share wide and far, we are looking to make as much money for this Berlin based charity as possible.Donations are pay-as-you-can, every donation helps. You’re helping and you get an amazing bookje of poems and artwork at the same time. What’s not to love?

Monday, 10 January 2022

2021 Writing Review

2022 isn't starting on the best foot. I'm in quarantine with my four kids, two have tested positive and we're just waiting to see if any of the rest of it get it. Some of us will already miss one day of school/work when we go back next week, so I'm hoping we can hold out and not miss any more. 

I've gotten lots of little home projects done but missed the chance to catch up on things like buying new clothes for my constantly growing kids, picking up a few replacement items for the home. We've cleaned, played Uno, sledged, listened to music, read lots and spent too much time on screens. But we haven't killed each other yet. Two years of social distancing has helped to prep us for proper quarantine, though I'm desperate to get back into the world.

But this post is to look back. 2021 was a good year for my writing. I've had more work accepted than ever before, some for magazines I've been trying to get into for ages or for projects that actually paid or offered wider exposure than previous I've been involved in. 

I'm not writing every day, but I have learned to focus the little time I have on writing. Saturday is currently my writing day, though that will happen less as my course starts up. I write, edit and submit to magazines on that day, totally immersing myself in writing. I will miss having that much time for just my writing, so I don't expect to see such great numbers next year.

I will still take Friday evening for my writing group and maybe do my writing work then. Hopefully, we will find a wee project or two to work on together. 


61 new poems
144 submissions to journals or other opportunities
3 book submissions

108 rejections 
5 book rejections

38 acceptances 
68 poems were published in 39 publications
21 blog posts
Acceptance rate: 26%

Compared to 2020

55 new poems
131 submissions to magazines
3 to book publishers

106 magazine rejections
4 book rejections

29 acceptances
50 poems were published in 29 publications
33 blog posts
Acceptance rate: 21%

I'm very happy with those numbers and hope I can maintain I little of this momentum with my upcoming course. 

An added note of books I've read in 2021 that have really touched me. I have run out of time to do proper reviews, but I covered these poetry collections in my Sealey Challenge posts.

Jen Hadfield The Stone Age

A few fiction titles I have enjoyed: 

Graeme Armstrong The Young Team - this book surprised me. It's about youth gangs around Glasgow in the 1990s. It's written totally in Scots which I enjoyed, but I also liked seeing into a group I was aware of when I lived in some of the less affluent areas of Glasgow, but had no understanding of. To see these boys as something other than a threat was inspiring. The writing was fast-paced and exciting, but also really well done to keep up the Scots in a way that was accessible but also really gave a sense of time and place.  

Margot MacCuaig Almost Then is an elegantly written book about twins who struggle to come to terms with their past and the path it has set them on. Margot sculpts her prose and characters with such attention to detail and feeling, that I can see every moment. Again, it has a strong use of Scots to create a connection to place. I did put some effort into finding more Scots to read this year and really enjoyed it.

Elizabeth Reeder An Archive of Happiness is a novel that brings a complicated family together in the North of Scotland, weaving different family members' resentments, memories and hopes until they come together in an agonising crescendo. I enjoyed the format of one day broken into segments so that I needed to stitch them together to follow the timeline. Beautifully crafted. 

My course starts today and I already have an assignment and bunch of worry. So I don't expect to do anything with this blog until the next holiday, which will hopefully run smoother. 

Take care. 

Tuesday, 28 December 2021

The End of 2021 Draws Nigh

The end of the year rolls near and I am just lifting my head towards my blog. It's been forgotten in the shuffle of working life and as that end-of-year-in-review feeling rolls in I have to be honest with myself about several things. 

Where I am at geographically, career-wise, with a view to my family and my energy levels means I cannot place much focus on my writing. And 2022 will be even more difficult. I'm starting my teacher training course in January while working full-time at a school and raising my kids. I'm currently fitting writing in at the weekends, but soon that will be taken over by my course. I will continue to try and do a bit of writing, but compromises will be made. 

And it hurts to think I will have to put it aside or squeeze it into the cracks. I would love to be working as a writer even part-time, but I need to focus on a career that I know will give some financial security. I'm finishing off a commission for some poetry this week and coming to the end of an editing job. I hope other small opportunities present themselves, but I will have to protect what little time I have to study and spend with my kids as much as I can.

My book will obviously not be published in 2021. I knew this was the case from early summer as nothing seemed to be moving forward, including communication. Maybe something will happen next year, but I no longer hold out much hope. My book was accepted about the time my decades-long relationship fell apart, so it felt a positive part of my renewal, a reason to look forward and celebrate my hard work. Then Covid and Brexit and Time bulldozed on through and here I am, still waiting, trying to be patient. 

It's not all negative, I have earned more money for my actual poems than ever before with a few commissions and projects I've had on my own and through the Helsinki Writers Group. My group is so uplifting and fun. I'm glad we've managed to find things we could do together and to keep things going in the uncertainty of the last two years. 

I've also had lots of work accepted. I'll do a proper numbers and thank yous post later, but here are a few that I've missed posting about. Sorry for no personal shout-outs. 

Fahmidan Journal, in their language issue.

Fevers of the Mind Poetry Showcase.

Haar, a Scottish poetry zine. 

Hecate, the 'Decay' issue, is available for digital download. 

Product, a Scottish arts journal.

The Poetry Archive, a video of my poem included in their World View exhibit.

The Wild Word, their education issue. 


Thanks to all the editors and staff who have worked hard in difficult times to get these issues out. I am in awe of their dedication and thankful to be included in their publications. 

So 2022 awaits and should be an interesting year. 

Saturday, 6 November 2021

Scotstober: Days 27-31, The End

Last of my #Scotstober round-ups. It's late due to me starting a new role at work and just being so tired every evening. But I managed to keep up, though I missed mervaill as I did neep and tumshie separately. 

Word of the Day 27: 'sklent' which means meaning things to do with slanted or sideways, including a sideways glint of light or look, or to move sideways. Willie Hershaw is a contemporary poet, musician and playwright working in Scots. His poem captures the action of a night sky with the verb use of sklent perfectly. 

Starry Nicht

Stars sae heich
abuin the muin
cauld and changeless
sklentan doun.

Stars o frost
bruckle as braith
kyth like howp
melt like faith.

Word of the Day 28: 'bauchle' - an old shoe or slipper. This poem by Sir Alexander Gray is not what I expected from an economist, but his poem 'Scotland' rings beautifully to this poet missing her adopted home. 

This is my country,
The land that begat me.
These windy spaces
Are surely my own.

A contemporary of MacDiarmid, Gray also translated many European poems into Scots. His poem 'Grief' is a touching elegy. 


What ails you, you puir auld body?
What gars you greet sae sair?
Hae you tint the man that’s been kind to you
This forty year and mair?
O, I didna greet when I tint him,
Nor yet on the burrel-day;
But though I saw to the hoose and the byre,
God kens that my hert was wae.
But this mornin’ I cam on his bauchles;
What cud I dae but greet?
For I mindit hoo hard he had wrocht for me,
Trauchlin’ wi’ sair, sair feet.

Day 29 'skreich' usually used as shriek, but there are also the phrases 'skreich o lavrocks' or 'skriech o day' meaning daybreak. I've found it in 'Mornin' a translation of Du Fu's poem in Chinese by Brian Holton a Scots translator and poet. Originally published in The Scores Journal.


translated from the classical Chinese


Skreich o day at the sunnyside o the Southron Palace,
Rimie air keps a thousan rigs an bens;
Nou a kintra bodie is traivellin his lane,
Trees an haar convoyin him i the dawin.
A braw merlin passes seilintlike owreheid,
A hungert corbie comes eident doun ti feed;
A’m that dwaiblie A’ll niver muve nae mair,
A leaf tremmles, faas on the river puil.


A sail on the watterfit sets oot i the grey dawin,
Ma outlan yett’s steikit conter the cauld;
In tuim shaws, yalla leafs dounfaa,
In this lown kintra, an oncome o white sea-maas.
The pedisters is weit, but gey droukit nae mair,
The lift fairs, the clouds gae hauf-roads awa;
On Carlin Braes whit an unco winter it’s been,
Yestreen on a suddentie, hurls an hurls o thunner!

Day 30 Word of the Day 'mervaill' was difficult because it's an old word, not really used after the 1700s. It means a miracle or to wonder at something. To be honest, I'm too tired to scour old Scots texts trying to find it. So we'll move on to easier beasts. 

Day 31 'tumshie or neep' which means turnip. Scots used to carve turnips for lanterns for Halloween. I've tried it once and it was really difficult because they are so hard. 

For neep I found a sweet poem by Gerry Cambridge 'Field Days', not all in Scots, but it has a great sense of character with the use of Scots. Gerry edits the great The Dark Horse Magazine which has promoted many Scottish poets over the years.

Field Days

Old Davie still did much farm work by hand.
Tae thin neeps, ye gae up an doon thae rows.
Leave jist yin each six inches, sae it grows.
The thought of lunch was a breeze-fanned island,
What is the time? our common famous question.
The shrinking patch of field still to be weeded
was joy and thought we’d be no longer needed.
He’d blow through his lips: Gerad, ye’re the best yin
O thae young uns that come here!
                                                        Or biggest fool
I sometimes thought, those languid days
After the last exams, when I skipped school.

But no jam pieces nor hot tea’s tasted more
Significant than that field’s, and strongest praise
The two green pounds each day’s end, my limbs sore.

And for tumshie, which can also mean a foolish person, I used a quote from a poem by Janet Paisley "tushie waled tae dree the weird, / poued frae a cauld yirth." It's about a girl digging up turnips. I couldn't find the whole poem though it was printed in The Hunterian Poems, poems written on items in Glasgow Unviersity's Hunterian Gallery. 

Janet Paisley was another poet I worked with in my time in Scottish publishing. She sadly passed recently, but her work and her approach to writing was important when I first started out. 

And done. I have to admit, I'm relieved as it was hard keeping up with the challenge. I learned so much about Scots and about Scottish literature, names I'd never come across, poems and poets that touched and inspired me. Thanks to Dr Michael Dempster for organising #Scotstober and to all the writers, artists, translators, academics and everyone interested in Scots who took part. 

Saturday, 30 October 2021

Scotstober: Words of the Day 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25

I hope you've no tired of my Scotstober catch-up. Too bad if you are, I'm loving discovering all these new words, poets and poems. Definitions of the Words of the Day and more examples can be found in the Dictionary of the Scots Leid.

Annoyingly I've gotten myself out of order on Twitter, so I will be keeping these posts in order. 

Word of the Day 21: 'weird' meaning fate or to do with destiny. It can also be used as verb, to be assigned a destiny or to be fated. 

I've chosen an extract from Sydney Goodsir Smith epic elegy Under the Eildon Tree. Published in 1948 the collection of 24 elegies about the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is out of print now, but even this short extract shows how Smith strived to give Scots a chance to shine again like the earlier translations of classic works. 

I know Smith mostly through his artwork as I worked on a book based around his drawings in the late 1990s, but his own work and his editing of collections of Scots writing was influential during the Scots Renaissance. It's inspirational to non-native learners such as myself that he only came to Scotland and started learning Scots as a teen.

XII. Orpheus


Wi sang aa birds and beasts could I owrecome,
Aa men and wemen o’ the mapamound subdue;
The flouers o’ the fields,
Rocks and trees, boued doun to hear my leid;
Gurlie waters rase upon the land to mak
A throwgang for my feet.
I was the potent prince o’ ballatrie,
My lyre opened portes whareer I thocht to gang,
My fleean sangs mair ramsh nor wine
At Beltane, Yule or Hogmanay
Made wud the clans o’ men –
There wasna my maik upon the yerth
(Why should I no admit the fack?)
A hero, demi-god, my kingrik was the hert,
The passions and the saul –
Sic was my pouer.
– Anerlie my ain sel I couldna bend.
“He was his ain worst enemie,”
As the auld untentit bodachs say –
My hert, a leopard, ruthless, breme,
Gilravaged far and near
Seekan sensatiouns, passions that wad wauken
My Muse whan she was lollish.
No seenil the hert was kinnelt like a forest-bleeze …
I was nae maister o’ my ain but thirlit
Serf til his ramskeerie wants
– And yet I hained but ane in the hert’s deepest hert.

She, maist leefou, leesome leddy
– Ochone, ochone, Euridicie –
Was aye the queen of Orpheus’ hert, as I kent weill,
And wantan her my life was feckless drinkin,
Weirdless, thieveless dancin,
Singin, gangrellin.
– And nou she’s gane.

Day 22: 'aye'. Of course, it means yes, but aye or ay can also mean always or still. Here's a poem by Liz Lochhead with a poem called 'Fetch on the First of January'. Liz Lochhead was Scotland's second Makar. I love and am so proud that of Scotland's four Makars we've had three woman, one person of colour and two LGB. Starting off right.

Fetch on the First of January

Nae time eftir the Bells, an the
New Year new in wi the
usual crowd, wi whisky, cheers and kisses –
Ah’d aboot manage the windaes shut
some clown had thrown wide
hopin tae hear the hooters on the Clyde
when the door went
                               Well, well,
who’d’ve thought Ah’d be staunin there
tae first foot masel?
This some kinnuf Huntigowk for Hogmanay?
Hell-mend-ye, ye’re
a bad penny, Jimmy -
Mr. Ne’erdy Ne’re-do-Weel
sae chitterin ill-clad for the caul
sae drawn and pale
oh, wi the black bun burnin a hole
in yir pocket and the coal
a Live Coal.

‘Gawn git’ – Ah should shout it,
should shake a stick or ma fist,
oh, but Ah should fight ye by Christ,
the wey ye chased that big black tyke
that dogged ye once, mind?
aw the wey fae Hope Street hame.

Ah’ll no let ye near me
don’t make me laugh,
got a much better,
Better Half.
Och, aye tae glower at each other
was tae keek in a gey distortin mirror,
yet ye’ve the neck tae come back again
wi yir bare face, Jack Fetch,
the image o my ain.

Ice roon yir mouth when ye kiss me
the caul plumes o yir breath
Ah’m lukin daggers
Yer lukin like Death.
Ah’m damned if ye’ll get past ma door,
nae fear.

Come away in, stranger, Happy New Year.

Scotstober Word of the Day 23: 'skelp' meaning to hit or slap someone or the slap itself. I'm well familiar with the word, but my poet of the day Gregor Steele is a new-to-me.

Gregor Steele

Mrs Nae Offence

We cry her Mrs Nae Offence –
That’s whit she likes tae say,
Afore sayin somethin awfie,
Then heidin on her way.
“Nae offence, but see yon skirt ye bocht,
It maks ye look gey fat.”

“Nae offence, ye’re like a standard lamp
When ye wear yir new blue hat.”
“Nae offence, but see yir perfume,”
She whitters like a doo,
“It minds me o thae yellae cubes
Ye get in a laddies’ loo.”
“Nae offence, but see yir hairdo,
Ye must hae been a mug
Tae fork oot twenty quid for that –
Ye look like a Pekingese dug.”
It fell upon ma granny
Tae pit her in her place.
Gran skelped her wi a brolly, sayin, “
Nae offence, but shut yir face.”

Word of the Day 24: 'bogle' - a ghost or a scarecrow as in 'tattie-bogle'. W D Cocker uses it in his poem 'The Bogle' who was a contemporary of Hugh MacDiarmid and involved in the debate of plastic (Lallans) vs natural Scots.

The Bogle

There’s a bogle by the bour-tree at the lang loan heid,
I canna thole the thocht o’ him, he fills ma he’rt wi’ dreid;
He skirls like a hoolet, an’ he rattles a’ his banes,
An’ gi’es himsel’ an unco fash to fricht wee weans.

He’s never there by daylicht, but ance the gloamin’ fa’s,
He creeps alang the heid-rig, an’ through the tattie-shaws,
Syne splairges through the burn, an’ comes sprachlin’ ower the stanes,
Then coories doun ahint the dyke to fricht wee weans.

I canna say I’ve seen him, an’ it’s no’ that I am blin’,
But, whene’er I pass the bour-tree, I steek ma een an’ rin;
An’ though I get a tum’le whiles I’d raither thole sic pains,
Than look upon the likes o’ yon that frichts wee weans.

I daurna gang that gait ma lane by munelicht or by mirk,
Oor Tam’s no feart, but then he’s big, an’ strang as ony stirk;
He says the bogle’s juist the win’ that through the bour-tree maens.
The muckle gowk! It’s no the win’ that frichts wee weans.

Word of the Day 25: 'glisk' which means a glance, a peek or a glimmer or gleam.  Here's a beautiful poem 'Solway Tide' by Dorothy Margaret Paulin.

Solway Tide

An unco sough i’ the gloamin’
An’ a flaff o’ risin’ win’,
A glisk o’ stoundin’ waters
By the weirdly licht o’ the mune,
An’ the fell dark tide o’ Solway
Comes breengin’, whummlin’ in.

Whaur glistenin’ sands lay streikit
Ablow the sunset sky
Noo a wan wide sea is reestin’
An’ the yammerin’ sea-birds cry,
An’ a wheengin’ win’ rings eerily
I’ the salmon nets oot-by.