Sunday, 8 September 2019

Juggling it All

Where has this week gone? After the interest I'd received last week in my job hunting, I was offered two days of substitute teaching early this week and it offered insight to what working full-time will do to my writing life. 

No slow starts with tea at the kitchen table, using social media to ease myself awake before writing and editing through the morning. Instead, it was snatching handfuls of time for first drafts in the staff break room or at 9pm after I finally got all the kids to bed. It was ignoring writing on my first day off so I could take my son to the doctor, make a proper dinner for that evening, do the shopping and the laundry, catch up on admin and things for the kids. 

It wasn't until Thursday I actually had a morning to write. It made the writing I accomplished that day a tiny bit sweeter. I had worked hard, earned a small pay check, earned the time to commit to my calling. Amidst the exhaustion, there was a sense of accomplishment, I can work and single parent and write. Maybe not to the extent I would prefer on all sides, but it is possible, messy, tiring, but possible.

Fittingly, there's been a trend on Twitter at the moment, maybe it circles around regularly, but I'm a newbie remember, of writers posting about procrastination, how they are not writing. Is it guilt that makes these writers post this type of self-depreciating post, to shame themselves into writing? Or is it to gain commiseration or likes because we all get distracted by research rabbit holes or social twitterings sometimes? Both probably.

It's good to know we all have moments like this, but I want to use this week as a warning to myself that I won't always have time to do everything else but writing. I won't feel guilt or punish myself for putting other things first; kids, work, daily life-upkeep will have to be sorted first most days, but I need to make the use of the time I do have and write when I can. 

My house is a state, but I've managed to start four poems, two I like, this week, so I think I'm winning. 

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Changing Hats

This week has been more positive on the job-seeking front. I've had an interview with an international school for substitute work, I've had an offer to chat about teaching English to nursery school kids and I've been offered an interview for an intern role for writing social media travel articles. All interesting in their own ways, all leading in different directions and all not quite substantial enough to support my family.

I'm not quite sure which way to jump. I've turned down the nursery school English teacher job because it wouldn't allow me to take on substitute teaching work for several days a week for only three hours of confirmed work at the moment and the pay was rather miserable. I'll do the interview with the intern roll, but I'm very reluctant to spend too much time on it as it's unpaid, I have a feeling it won't lead me anywhere in the company and I'm worried it's just free labour without much in it for me.

I wrote an article to apply for the social media internship. It's basically what I've been doing for my other blog, giving advice about things to do in a kind of travel guide format. I enjoyed the writing to a deadline, buzzing as I typed into the wee hours, feeling like a proper journalist, but then learning the format the website required, creating links to other sites, finding stock photos and embedding maps was a right palaver and took up most of my time. I do most of that for my own blog, but it just seemed a lot of hassle when it's not for my benefit. I'm more suited to words than social, I think, but we'll see where this goes.

Back to poetry, I've gotten back into a routine of writing a rough draft of a poem daily in between job searches, attending interviews and writing the article. While I need to financially and want to mentally get back to the real working world, I know I will miss my mornings at the kitchen table scribbling in my notebook and then typing away on the laptop. I need a full-time writing job. Me and lots of other writers. 

I've seen lots of posts on Twitter where writers offer their editing services because they're despearate for work that they'll enjoy and will fit into a writer's life. I'm sure there are a bunch of other writers like myself who see these posts and think 'you and me both, mate'. I've gotten rejections from all the editing companies I've sent CVs to, of course.

So now, I'm waiting for that last minute, 'can you come in and teach today' text while I shuffle the kids off to school and trying to learn how to be a social media content writer, I think that's the term. And looking for other work opportunities. 

I've hit over 100 rejections from magazines and journals this week, the first time I've managed it. It shows in my acceptance rate as well, I've had double the amount of poems published and accepted so far this year, including my pamphlet collection which I'm pretty proud of. I've also written a lot more poems, so I have more to submit which helps. 

So I'm off to enjoy the last of my weekend, to try and write a poem and check out the job sites. The fun never ends. 

Sunday, 25 August 2019


Sorry for silence, I took a quick weekend away. It was so needed, time with friends, beautiful scenery, food and fun to recharge the batteries after the bumpy school start. But I'm back to reality, applying for jobs amidst submitting and writing poems. I forgot what a soul-destroying activity looking for work is, the silence after you apply, never quite knowing why you aren't contacted.

And there's the question of which way to jump. Because I'm limited with what kinds of jobs I can apply for due to my experience and my language skills, I'm trying to give myself as many opportunities as possible to find work, so I'm applying for a variety of editing, writing, teaching jobs in the hope that something will happen. Looking at my work experience from new angles, refresh my CV to highlight different abilities and core skills. 

In poetry news: The Poetry Village has featured my poem 'Unarmoured' on their website this week. Always nice to see my name among other poets whose work I enjoy and respect. 

Some interesting opportunities to look out for: the anthology Poetry on Planes is still open to submissions until September 1, looking for 99 poems on planes. I've been really impressed with the Editors response method: a personalised response upon receipt of your poem, but also a recent status report on their website giving information about the types of poems, the writers (established or emerging, location, job, age) and other titbits. You still have time to join the flight, but please, don't take my seat

Another call that's caught my eye is the Caithness Broch Project. They have a call out for art of any media on the subject of brochs. I was quite chuffed to find this as I had just written a poem using the structure of a broch as the foundation and it saves me having to put a footnote explaining. If you don't know what a broch is check out their website, but if you're on Twitter follow them, the person who tweets for them is quite funny and you might learn something about archaeology, history and well, brochs. Their deadline is 14 Sept, so get researching and creating.

Not much else to say, I'm plodding on. I know I'll get there. I've been here before from reading old journal entries lately has proven. This jobless, not sure what the hell my next step is, phase feels eternal, but it comes together, eventually, usually in some way I didn't expect. So keep your fingers crossed for me. 

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Taking Yourself Out of the Box

A recent essay by poet Bob Hicok in the Utne Reader has caused a minor furore in the poetry world because though he celebrates the fact that more and more poetry is being published, more jobs and awards are being won by minority writers, he feels that he, as a white, male poet, is dying, losing out on recognition and opportunities. I'm not going to pick apart his essay as there are far better writers out there doing so.

I do, however, want to examine more an idea that fellow Poetry Blogging Network writers Kelli Russell Agodon and Jeannine Hall Gailey have brought up - scarcity mentality - which hit home with me. Scarcity mentality is the idea that there is a limited supply of opportunities and if one individual or group get more that leaves less for the rest.

I know I've been worrying on here about where I'm going to find opportunities for my writing as I don't fit in a neat box, living in a country where I don't write in the language. I'm also not getting any younger and miss out on a lot of competitions and calls for younger writers such as those collected by @noentry on Twitter.

I hate to be seen as self-pitying and whining because I'm not really. I learned in publishing that there are always other chances after rejection, but you have to be resilient and stubborn to find them, to keep taking the knock-backs until you find your place. I thought I had found it, then I gave up the country I called home, a developing career to move to Finland and take care of my kids. It was my choice, but now I'm kind of stuck here and trying to get my writing/ publishing feet under me again, starting from scratch and it's scary. I sometimes use this blog as an outlet for that fear and worry.

But the truth, as I'm slowly discovering, is not being tied to one country does open some avenues I may have not considered if I was still in Scotland. Starting over with the wider scope of social media, looking beyond my local network is a benefit I didn't have before. Even though so many jobs and awards specify age, colour, gender, location, I am trying to stop thinking of myself in those terms. I know my writing is good, if I don't fit a certain grant's guidelines, I will look for ones that I do. 

I have tried to push myself forward for things that I don't exactly fit the remit for and sometimes I get accepted. I've recently had some poems accepted for a journal that was looking for essays and non-fiction writing on migration, language and identity. I usually don't get work accepted for immigration-themed issues because I am an immigrant by choice rather than through need or a refugee. As the scope of this issue was looking more at language and identity which my poems often examine, I took the risk. The staff even sent me an email saying this wasn't really what they were looking for, but would give it to their readers anyway. All six poems were accepted. I'm very excited to see the end result, not only because I had my poems translated for the issue as well. 

As writers, we are not limited by the boxes we fit into or those we don't. The pot of opportunities does not have to be finite if we're willing to push ourselves and try new things. More jobs can be created, more books published, more awards, grants and residencies offered if a greater interest is shown by poets, poetry readers and book buyers. If you don't exactly fit the brief, be brave and try anyway. Always follow the guidelines and ask if you have any uncertainties, of course, but sometimes you might be the unexpected that gets noticed because you've approached things a little differently. 

Good luck. 

Saturday, 3 August 2019


I've been lucky enough to be asked by poet Paul Brooks to take part in his poet interview series on his blog site, Wombwell Rainbow. Check it out, he's putting up new interviews every day. He's also looking for poets to interview in the future, so contact him via the website if you're interested.

His questions about the inspiration and motivation behind my reading and writing really got me thinking and were strangely echoed in my Finnish language tutorial this week where I had to discuss why reading is important and how it inspires us. Trying to verbalise this in a second language was just marginally harder than for the interview. That's when you learn you don't know the Finnish for inspire, explore and adventure (inspiroi, tutkea ja mielikuvitus). But I didn't even know the Finnish for vocabulary - sanavarasto, a stock or warehouse of words, so I still have a long way to go.

I love breaking words apart, especially words in foreign languages, and learning their etymology and usage. The idea of having a word warehouse in my head feels like the perfect analogy, the words all stored in various boxes and filing cabinents. I'm sure the organisation is an absolute mess, like most of my real-life storage, items organised by need, use and more random connections rather than some systematic method. When I lived with my parents I kept my library card in a laundry basket in the basement. If someone moved it, I could never think where it should sensibly be, but I could always find it with my way. Our own systems work.

So when I look for the word 'door' in Finnish, I know I'd be shuffling through files of Scottish Gaelic to find it. I was just watching a video of the Scottish Poet Laureate/ Makar Jackie Kay reciting her poem 'Threshold' to the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 2016. She mentioned that in Gaelic they say 'dùin an doras' for 'shut the door' and that took me back to learning Gaelic in Glasgow, so many years ago. 'Open the door' was also one of the first phrases I learned in Finnish when my son shouted it over and over at nursery when it was time for me leave. These memories pile up on top of the word 'door' in a wonderful scrapbook.

It's also how my writing works, I start with a prompt, specific or more general and I just follow it where it leads me, jumping from one image or connection to the next. I might look at crafting a poem from the idea of shutting the door in several languages just from writing that paragraph. My poems have begun to cross over into Finnish and other languages more and more as I shuffle through the collected images and memories in my brain while I write. 

My brain is a bit scattershot today. It doesn't help that we're on the last week of our ten-week summer holidays and I'm tired of having the kids home, of having to organise things for them, they're tired of all their friends being away, of having so much unstructured free time. We're sick of each other's faces, but they also want me to be involved in everything. I can't sit and write for longer than 2 minutes without someone asking me how to pour melted white chocolate into a straw to make a fake pen or for money to buy a can of spray whipped cream for the waffles they must have for dinner even though it's lunch-time.

I know I'll regret losing this time when they go back to school and we have to wake up and go to sleep and do everything to a schedule. When I have to pull out my calendar to slot everything in, even time to write. So I'm trying to enjoy these last unstructured days with them and with my writing by starting another poem-a-day course for August on the theme of summer. 

Best wishes for your summer. 

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Back to Work and to Barnhill

I've started back into writing slowly after my long break. I'm not currently doing a poem-a-day prompt, but working everyday on older poems. I'm editing those started on my last two month-long courses, focussing the language and intent. A few are ready to submit to journals, along with the pile of rejections that came in while I was away. I've noticed most American magazines seem to be on hiatus, but the British ones are still working on backlogs. 

I'm also going through some of my old journals for details of poems I've had on the back burner because I couldn't remember what actually happened. It's lovely how they have jogged my memory and taken me back to those places and times. Little details I have forgotten or placed onto different scenes brought into firm focus. Unfortunately, I didn't write about everything. Moments that seem important now often didn't get mentioned in my journals at all, either because they didn't seem of consequence at the time or life just got in the way of writing. I've never been one for writing every day which would help to rebuild moments later. 

I'm starting new poems on specific subjects that I decided I wanted to write about when I was travelling. I will start a new poetry course in August, so this seems to be a good way to get back into that more intensive work.

I finished reading Norman Bissell's Barnhill and it was a surprise as I bought it mostly on the connection with the place, rather than anything to do with George Orwell. I thought it would be more of a biography, but it's a biographical novel based on George Orwell's later years, especially those in connection with Jura and Barnhill and the writing of 1984. Less dry quoting of dates and details and more trying to capture the writer and his obsessions with writing, Jura and creating a strong family for his son.

I knew very little of Orwell's life, so learning about his connection with the Spanish Civil War, his marital and other relations and his illness were all very intruiging. Bissell also included the point of view of Orwell's second wife Sonia Brownell whose voice unexpectantly pops up and gives the reader new insight. The book also illustrates how Orwell might have drawn details from his own experiences when writing 1984.

While Barnhill tries to stick strongly to the facts of Orwell's life and there is a list at the end of known details which contribute to the story, it's the scenes where Bissell allows himself to imagine Orwell that the man really comes alive for me, spending Hogmanay in Glasgow, his worries about finishing his book when he knows he's dying and the connections he had with his friends. 

Though Bissell is a poet and director of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics he doesn't get caught up in the romanticism of Jura and life alone there which must be difficult to do as I was overawed by the place when I visited. The attention to Orwell's physical life there, taking care of the garden and fixing machinery sometimes taken from entries in Orwell's journal feels very focussed and fits in with the George Orwell drawn in the novel. I could very well remember my journey down the 'Long Road' to get to Barnhill from Ardlussa as I read Bissell's description of cars and motorbikes breaking down while trying to get along it.

I could occasionally feel a modern voice of hindsight coming in which felt as if it wanted to make sure the reader could see how spot on George Orwell was in his predictions of Big Brother and his fears of government control. When they came from George's mouth they worked, felt in character, but sometimes the narrative pushed too much. But I have to admit with the way current media and politics is going, I would have found it hard to resist pointing out the connections as well. I recently reread 1984 and was gobsmacked about how much closer we were creeping towards Orwell's nightmare vision than when I first read it in 1984 in high school in America . 

Overall, I enjoyed the book, it was informative, but it created a rounded and interesting view of Orwell's character and the time he was living in. The novel manages to illustrate the complexities of a difficult man who allowed little of his personal life to be seen by adding a greater depth to his novel masterpiece.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Holiday Break and Barnhill

I've just spent two weeks on holiday in Scotland, out of routine, barely writing. The first week I was away from my family, relaxing. I wrote in my journal about my trip and took notes of images and lines that popped into my head about what I was experiencing, but I didn't work on any poems. A lot of rejections came in, unsubmitted poems piled up. It felt weird and strangely liberating. I missed my daily routine, but enjoyed soaking up the new experiences which I will hopefully work into poems in the future.

While on the island of Jura, I took a long walk to Barnhill, George Orwell's house, where he wrote 1984. We got lucky to manage the 12 miles between the rain showers and had a beautiful view to eat our lunch just below Barnhill. Twelve miles was too much for me, I was pretty tired and sore by the end, but earned my shower and wine reward at the hotel. My friend walked all three Paps of Jura the next day, so I feel like a total weakling. 

I've ordered a copy of Barnhill by Norman Bissell to read when I get back home. It's about Orwell's time on Jura, writing the novel 1984. I had hoped it would arrive before I left for Jura, so I could read it while I was there, but it will be a nice chance to relive the place. I'm looking forward to it.

I also took a boat tour to the Corryvreckan where Orwell almost drowned saving his young son's life. One of my friend's son was planning on taking part of a yearly race across the Corryvreckan whirlpool gulf. Not for the faint of heart, but I'm told it's well-supervised. I learned it's not just one constant whirlpool but an area where the tides from the loch rush out over a sea bottom that goes from super deep to shallow in a short space, so the water becomes very rough and changes constantly, causing standing waves and whirlpools. Here's a small whirlpool on a calm day. 

One of my holiday's highlights was rescuing my childhood/ youth's diaries from the attic along with a pile of old writing journals and favourite books. The books and journals are being posted, but I carried the diaries in my carry-on back to Finland. I really feel like I've been missing a limb with them being gone. Hopefully I have all of them, but with 36 years worth it'll take a while to sort through them and check. Hopefully there will be lots of material there for me to reconsider.

Both Angela Carr and Wendy Pratt are running online courses in August. I can highly recommend both and have joined one to help me turn my experiences and old writing into new poems. 

I'm back to the grind this morning. Need to get into writing again as well as admin.