Saturday, 28 December 2019

A Messy End to 2019

I should do an end of year review, but it's a big job and as much as I had hoped to have lots of time to get things done over the holiday, having the kids around means I don't focus as much as I would like. 

I'm still trying to edit my collection, I have a pile of forms I need to fill out for my son's therapy support and I need to go over my numbers for my submissions and publications as I sometimes log things wrong, have to chase up long-held submissions or miss publications like my two poems recently published at Nine Muses Poetry. There's more application forms waiting in the wings.

I started on the forms this morning, but because they're in Finnish they take so much more attention that I can give with the kids hovering about, so I took them swimming and nothing's been done since. It doesn't help I'm in that post-Christmas fog where I don't know what day it is. I don't want to go out, but don't want the kids to stay in all day. I'm fitting in bits here and there, but lots of things are slipping through the cracks, I really just need a whole day on my own to sort through things and finish something or at least get on top of the constant slipping pile. It will all get done somehow, bit by bit, but it won't be pretty or organised or run smoothly. 

Every year for Christmas I make a photo book of favourite pictures of the kids and our year, so I can be reminded of the good things, the fun we had. As soon as I click print, I come across another memory I want to add or I take photos that should be there. I will add them to next year's book, but it's a nice reminder that things keep moving on and that there will always be something more. 

The end of the year, a messy, difficult year. I'm already looking forward to 2020, so many things I want to do, need to do, challenges to face and pleasures to grasp. 

I can't wait to get out of 2019 and say, I've survived it.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Going Home

First day of holiday and the kids and I have started the gingerbread house, made our annual Christmas decorations and I've lost my patience with their fighting, but I haven't written a line of poetry or done any editing on my collection. I've done none of my poetry reading either, so no review this week. This impossible balancing act of life and art. Even when work is taken out of the mix, I can't keep on top of it all. Tomorrow, we need to get out of the house, so I need to try and fit in some work in the morning or afterwards. I must get back into the habit.

When my babies were little and we were struggling with their sleep habits I read somewhere that it takes six times as long to break a habit than to make it. It's so easy to not write a poem a day, not squeeze in the time to write or edit around work, but to build up that habit again is more of a struggle. It requires force of willpower to not take the easy route and turn on the telly after the kids go to bed, to not stare at a screen without writing something useful on it. 

So I've cracked open the collection tonight, stepping into the cold Scottish rain again of my poems, the hard gray stone and cups of tea. The images I draw together for the cover. Wool and sand, loch and Glasgow streets. Touching the words I've written again. It's like going home.

I'm looking forward to seeing this chapbook, but there's a sense of regret to finish it, to close the book on things I've been working on for almost two decades. Also to not be publishing the whole collection, though these are my favourite poems from it. And the poems I'm not publishing are more difficult to face just now, stepping back into the muddied waters of my old relationship which I'm happy not to ford just now.

I'm moving slowly back into the words, to find my way through them again. 

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Getting Through the December Slog

I've been substituting most of the week for a class of first graders with a couple of high need kids and even though it's only half days compared to working with middle school, it's much more exhausting physically and mentally, so you can imagine that I haven't had much chance to write or think poetry.

I did spend some time on the free stock photos sites, trying to come up with images that could be used for my poetry book cover or at least inspire my editor to find a cover. It's strange, I don't have any clear ideas for a cover image, but I do have a mood board type of thing with images I conjure up when I think of my Finnish collection. It has actually been a bit of a time suck, but requires less mental energy that doing a final read through/edit of the collection. I hope to get everything pretty much sorted to send to the editor during the Christmas break.

Except maybe the author photo, I'm chickening out on contacting the photographer who offered to do it, in the hope that she contacts me. I'm out of spoons for that particular endeavour. But it might be easier to organise in the new year after the kids go back to school or so I'm telling myself as an excuse.

My hard copy of Abridged: Kassandra has arrived and it's more beautiful than the virtual copy, each image really accentuates it's accompanying poem and the paper quality really feels good in my hands. It's a pleasure to flip through and read the poetry selected. Definitely worth supporting this venture. 

And this week I've read Melissa Fu's Falling Outside Eden by Hedgehog Press. It's a lovely, gentle collection, a conversation sometimes urgent, sometimes full of acceptance or regret at untenable situations. I founds myself totally lost in those moments, in small beauties of eating watermelon or watching snow fall, the deeper well of watching a relationship fail. The collection allows us to enter Eden, knowing from the beginning it will eventually fall apart. Subtly crafted and weighty with beautiful language, another smashing collection from the Hedgehog.

The last week before Christmas, so much to do and no energy to accomplish most of it. I hope this time of year is not being too tough on you. 

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Edging Towards a New Year

Though I dread Christmas for various reasons, I'm looking forward to this year being over. It's been long and tough and I'd like to start with a clean slate without everything negative it contains hanging over me. I'm not big on making resolutions, but this year feels like a good chance to start fresh.

A few years ago some friends set up 'A new year, a new you', a group where we were accountable to each other for our drives to improve our health. We reported weekly and encouraged each other when we felt ourself lagging. It wasn't just healthy eating and exercise, but also kept track of our mental health, sleep routines, special projects and time for ourselves. I feel like I need to do something like that again, to make an attempt to focus my energy and limited time in the best way. I may need to dig out that old spread sheet and start a new challenge. I'd like to get back into yoga, keep up my as often as possible daily prompts for poetry, get back on my gluten free, low-card diet as it's the only way I keep control of my weight. 

I'll also keep trying to get published as much as possible. I took Robin Houghton's great submission list and figured out where I had been accepted before and where I was currently awaiting decisions until I came up with a bunch of magazines I could send to before the end of the year. I fired off a few and got a rejection after three days, followed by an acceptance also submitted on the same day. Feels slightly unreal compared to the magazines that take six months or more. Or don't bother to respond at all.  I've had an accept or two this week and my poem 'Signs' recently published in the magazine London Grip.

A new thing I'm going to try here. As part of the Hedgehog Press 'Cult' subscription, I get free copies of their publications and we're encouraged to write reviews of them. I've fallen behind, just because of life, but I'm going to try to include one or two in my blogs as often as I can. 

The first collection I read was Saudade by Nigel Kent. His poems flicker between a multitude characters, mothers of lost children, a disappointed father and son, a recovering stroke patient, the young, the old, male and female, each carefully crafted and individual. Their voices resonate, sometimes desperate, edging towards hysteria, sometimes having given up, all burrowing into the reader's mind. I found myself immersed in each character. So impressive how he managed to step into so many shoes and give us such a strong sense of their desires and frustrations. The book is beautifully done.  

And onto another week. 

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Short, but Sweet Steps into Winter

With a snap of an icy finger, we have a sprinkling of snow which is enough to lift the mood by brightening the scene. The dark, rainy days of winter are always tough as we come to this end of the year. The sun has set in Northern Finland for the next five weeks or so and even down south we feel the oppressive weight of the days getting shorter and shorter. So as much as I hate snow and, yes, I realise I'm living in the wrong place for that attitude, it does help allieviate the darkness. So far we have enough for the kids to go sledging and it's melted off the paths and drive, so I don't have to shovel, so that's enough for me. 

What's that to do with poetry? It puts me in a more wintery mood, than the damp leafless scenes we've had the past few weeks. Wendy Pratt is running a one-week winter poetry course, if anyone is looking for a short, but sweet exploration of winter. And it costs only a tenner. I'd do it, but I'm behind with the previous course, so want to focus on that. Her daily prompts whether visual, other poet's work or just short suggestions and ideas are great jump starts for the poetic brain. 

And if you're looking for a wee Christmas gift, grab a copy of the Hedgehog Press' poetry calendar, including my poem 'The Last Drops of September'. Pre-orders being taken here and you can also take advantage of poetry bundles, the calendar with a selection of new pamphlets or collections from the press. The calendar is really lovely, a great mix of images and poetry, and I can't wait to see it for real. 

I doubt I'll get much poetry done today though. There's a wee hangover hanging over me from last night's St Andrew's Day Ceilidh. I'm happy just to chill and enjoy the sunshine with the cat, so this will also be short, but sweet. Enjoy. 




Saturday, 23 November 2019

Targets and Black Holes


I've been teaching almost every day this week, adding a new school to my list, so that has been keeping me busy. My bank account says, 'long may that continue', but my writing mind wishes for more slow days.

I've managed a few poems written in staff rooms and had a few acceptances as well as a few rejections, some of which have come a few days after submission which feels a bit weird. It's a relief not to have to wait almost a year like some magazines. 

I've hit my 100 rejection target and I can see the positive results in the numbers. I've submitted about twice as many so far this year and have had about a 12% acceptance rate which of course I'm very happy with. The daily writing I've done most of the year has helped as I have a good amount of poems to submit, but it has been hard work. 

I no longer edit a poem every time I submit it, though I do proof it for errors. I maybe cast a more serious eye of them every few submissions, longer if they've had a quick turnaround. I still research the magazines as much as I can, via guidelines, masthead blurbs and looking at old issues if I can, but I am more open to online magazines. I currently have a big backlog of unsubmitted poems, just because I don't have the time or energy to do tons of submissions. 

I'm putting a tender in for a big editing job which I'm looking forward to. It's copyediting, bringing the text up to the publishers standards of formatting and layout, so requires more repetition (looking at how references are noted, standardising to British English) and less tidying up the language. 

I'm trying to get myself ready for the end of year madness, but really just want to skip to spring. I hate going to work and coming home in darkness, the struggle to get outside when its dreich, the stress of getting the kids to accept they need proper outdoor clothing. 

The writing course I'm on has been a nice distraction, it's focus is works found in several museums, art and artefacts. So I've been losing myself in research black holes about photograms, gum diggers, curiosity cabinents and other unexpected subjects. I try not to spend too much time researching, but sometimes jumping from one subject to another is how I find the sweet spot from which a poem can spring. 


Sunday, 17 November 2019

The Ups and Downs of Writing Life

I'm feeling grateful this week. It's welcome when a few positives start to balance the difficulties. October is usually my month, but by the end of it was getting decidedly hard to face yet more problems and rejections. 

My very new poem 'A Bird You Must Not Miss' has been published https://www.abridged.one/abridged-0-58-kassandra/ The whole issue looks amazing. The image by Meryl McMaster paired with my poem is just so spot on. Thanks so much, Abridged. 

I've also had a guest blog spot on The Wild Word, https://thewildword.com/guest-column-gerry-stewart/ My post looks at the struggle to balance parenthood with raising children, the sacrifices and the unexpected benefits. The Wild Word has other blog's, but also poetry, flash fiction and other creative writing from around the world. It's a fascinating place to explore, thanks to Kusi and the rest of the staff for this opportunity.

I've had a pamphlet and my Finnish collection both rejected this weekend. It's frustrating because I've just missed a deadline to submit to another publisher. I'm never sure what to do about simultaneous submissions when publishers hold on to collections for consideration sometimes up to a year. Missed opportunities, delays.


The rejections keep coming, difficulties pop up when you're least expecting them, but I'm trying to keep focused on the occasional acceptance or bit of good news. I wait for the days when the rain stops, so I can rake the carpet of leaves that still covers the lawn. I remind myself that I have a pamphlet coming out next year. I'm getting more teaching jobs, adding a new school this week. I try to make things to look forward to, I'm planning a short holiday with some friends. I keep on writing poems whenever I can. Forward momentum. 


And on the pamphlet, I've been looking at artwork for my cover. I have no firm ideas, I have feelings and themes, but staring at Pixabay isn't getting me anywhere. I've also contacted a photographer about getting my author photo done. Ahh, too real. 

Sunday, 10 November 2019

An Adventure Begins

I got my wish, even in the midst of a bumpy week with accident, injury, horrible language tests and difficult classes I've managed to get back into the swing of writing, by sticking to a rough routine. Not daily, but when I sit down something comes out. I'm not keeping up with my course's daily prompts, but I have managed most of them. 

We've turned our Halloween pumpkin into a bird feeder and the kids, cats and I are loving it. We've even had a woodpecker come to visit among the normal songbirds. It was cold and snowy for the first part of the week, just a dusting, too much for my liking. Now it's rainy, silver drops hanging off the rowan berries. More my idea of autumn. I'm glad to have a few mornings to scribble at my kitchen table and watch the birds with the cat trying to sleep on my computer. 

My publisher (how great is it to say that!!) Hedgehog Poetry Press sent out my Author's Pack this week to prepare for the publication of my chapbook. So now I'm equal measures terrified and excited to begin work. So much to do, finalising the collection, writing my blurbs and biography, even finding a photographer to take an author photo. We're looking at a summer publication date and I hope to get to the UK to do some readings, so that all needs to be sorted as well. I'm not even sure where to start, but will start whittling down the jobs one by one. 

And we're off.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Creeping into Winter

I have to admit that without the structure of a daily prompt I'm struggling to keep up any momentum with my writing. Even on days I have no outside work, I can't focus. I've been sending out submissions, but new poems haven't been happening and I've barely looked at the ones that need finalising.

I've started a new online daily prompt course this month, but so far the prompts haven't been able to kick me from this doldrum. I'm taking notes and trying to form ideas, but they just don't have any momentum or inspiration behind them. 

It doesn't help that the weather has turned here. The beautiful colours of autumn have been replaced by wet, brown mud and dark skies. We had a couple days of bright frost, but that just reminds me of what is coming. After ten years I still dread the coming cold darkness. It makes everything difficult. I'm at that stage of just wanting to wrap up in wool and hibernate for the next 4 months. So that's what I'm doing tonight, sketching notes on the couch with my cats and a blanket, chocolate and red wine, the rain blashing against the windows. 

I do believe that writing a poem draft a day is an exercise that you have to keep up or it does become a struggle to get back into the rhythm. I sit down currently and my writing feels stiff and lethargic, but I'm continuing to push myself, writing in small silences like this. Hopefully it will loosen up soon.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Pondering Literary Magazine Submissions

I'm not sure where this week went or what I've actually accomplished, so might list it here to get this started as I've come to my blog with a huge blank. I only worked one day, but I secured teaching work for several sessions dotted over the next few weeks, even added a new school to my list. I got my computer back which seems like a huge deal, so I had to spend time sorting that, transferring files, finding things I couldn't do when it was away. 

Writing-wise, I finished a poem I was trying to write for the Book of Kells writing and art competition, the deadline is 30/10. This makes me wonder if I should have links to calls for submissions, etc on this blog, but that requires a lot of research, so probably won't happen. I did enjoy researching the Book of Kells and its art and got a poem out of it, so that was a bit of fun work. 

I also submitted a bunch of poems to magazines I've been trying to get in for donkeys' years, as they say in Scotland. Solid UK magazines like Envoi, Acumen, Agenda that I've been sending poems to since the late 90s. It's frustrating, but I always maintain there's hope that someday I will write a poem or two they like. But I have to admit, I do submit to them much less often than I did in the early days, partially because that sense of hope is small, but also because there are so many more magazines to submit to now. I've gotten over my fear of internet magazines and submit to them as much as I do print journals though I do like print publication more, holding an issue in my hands, over seeing it on a screen. 

I'd be interested to see what the rise of internet publishing opportunities has done to the subscription and submission rates of these long-standing print magazines. There are a few that still refuse to take electronic submissions, only posted ones, which frankly because of the costs of posting from Finland I can no longer submit to even though I'd like to be published by them. 

That will have dropped their submission rates a bit, I'm sure, but from having worked for a literary magazine, reading submissions, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I constantly get rejection letters saying 'we received over 500 submission for this issue, but could only accept 50 authors'. Weeding that down through charging for electronic submissions as one magazine I used to submit to started doing or by accepting only posted submissions will mean it's only the die-hards, who have money to spare, who love the magazine and still hold them in high regard in this faster paced modern publishing culture or those who know they have a good chance to be published through previous publications or connections will still submit. Am I a cynic? Probably, but I'm probably not far wrong. 

This year I've submitted to over twice as many magazines than previous years and this has mostly to do with the increase in online journals. They often have a higher accept rate, due to publishing more often for less money and often have a quicker turn around time. 

I don't know how much being published in online magazines is helping me, but it's all I can do in my current position. Some days I'm not sure if any of this is worth it, some days I feel I can conquer the world with just the right break. Most days I just keep ploughing on. 

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Sodden Catch-Up

I'm not sure where the week has gone. I have managed to get some writing done, but with my computer in the shop and learning to use my son's with Google Docs instead of Word which is so, so slow and having the kids around half the week, I've not done as much as I would have liked. But I've written a few poems, submitted to a few mags, had three poems accepted by a magazine and an anthology. So a good week from that perspective.

It's rained most of the week, so even with the beautiful colours going on just now, it hasn't been a get outdoors type of week, though we've picked a lot of apples, have been eating lots of apple crumble and I got most of my garden jobs done. I spent some time sorting and cleaning out the kids' stuff, their over-flowing baskets, drawers and boxes and I painted a few things that have needed it for months or years. 

None of which really have much to do with writing, but it was a week for gathering and tidying, doing the little jobs that I don't have time for while working and doing the rounds of hobbies and appointments. For sitting still and writing, for reading curled on the couch. So hopefully I can go into next week with a slightly clearer mind and a bit more energy for the long, dark slog to the winter holidays. 

I had a poem published on the Caithness Broch Project's website. They had a call for artists to submit work on brochs for an upcoming exhibition. The call wasn't clear exactly what they were looking for, but I had just written a poem based around the double defensive wall of a broch, so I submitted it. As I mentioned previously, this 'don't ask, don't get' type of submission has gotten me residencies before, so I thought I'd risk assuming that a writer is an artist too. 

They sent a receipt for my submission, but didn't mention the call was for an art auction to raise money for the project. You can't really auction a poem, especially when it's just print on white, but the organiser offered to put the poem up on the website anyway which is really nice. So please go and check out their auction, maybe bid on something. There's about seven days left. The ones I'd like are all out of my price range already, but my previous bid counts towards what they earned, so I feel a bit better. I might still put in a last minute bid, just the same. 

One more day to enjoy the autumn holiday, hopefully it'll stop raining tomorrow. 

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Half-Term Wallow

I'm still struggling with the transition to working while being a writer, but I've had a good week of work and some small chunks of time to write. I've also had a weird twist that may make things even more interesting, but I'm holding judgement until I see what the results are.

Autumn is in full swing in Finland. I do like that we have four distinct seasons here, even if three of them are very, very short. I've always considered autumn my new year, Samhain, my birthday, the desire to get things done before I want to hibernate through winter, so I'm in a contemplative, taking stock mood. It's also our half-term holiday this next week, so it's my time to catch up on things that have been sliding while I'm settling into a new routine.

I was out this morning picking up windfall apples. I still need to get the kids into the last tree to pick the hanging ones. I'll spend this week ignoring my phone as I'm not waiting on work calls, cleaning up the garden, cooking the apples, putting away the trampoline and summer furniture, sleeping and writing as much as I can.

This weekend I've tried to catch up on some of the prompts I didn't finish in my last course. This morning I stared out the window and wrote a poem based on what I saw, one of the prompts I regularly suggest to my students. I'm mulling over a prompt on conkers I've had in my head for the past two weeks, lots of images but nothing to tie them together yet. And I'm sure there's a poem stuck to the burr that came back inside with me today. 

I will wallow in autumn, in autumn writing full of spice and warmth, damp and earthy. 

See you on the other side. 

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Paid or Unpaid, Can it Even Be a Question?

I mentioned last week I gave up on an opportunity to take an unpaid internship but decided to write an unpaid blog post instead. I thought I'd look more into unpaid work and how I balance my decisions.

After years off for raising kids, I've had to go back to work. Not that I haven't been working in the time before this. Putting aside the years of caring for my four kids, coping with my son's special needs and all the extra appointments and stresses connected with that and the one editing client I've kept on, I've been a writer. I've been writing two novels, finishing two poetry collections and working on building a publishing record as a poet.

I've maybe been paid twenty-five euros in the past five years from a magazine that accepted a poem. I've won one award, but have yet to see the prize or any profit from it. Untold hours of writing, editing, compiling, researching and sending out submissions, writing up applications for grants and competitions. And I have nothing financially to show for it. 

Outside of hobbies, I can't imagine many things where we would accept that, except for the creative arts. Bands are often expected to do gigs for free to gain exposure, editors often go unpaid at small journals, writers and musicians do unpaid events to punt their books or albums.There has to be true devotion to one's art if you want to follow this route.

So when I was thinking of how I was going to go back to work, being a writer was pretty far down my list of possible careers. While I will always write and will continue to try and get my work published, I cannot support myself much less my children with this sort of writer job. 

Most writers need day jobs. The UK's Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society surveyed 50,000 writers last year to discover on average a writer will earn around £10,000 a year from their writing. This was overshadowed by the fact that their average mean household earning was nearer £80,000. This means that writers either take on another non-writing job, or they have a second individual in the house who earns the difference from a non-writing career. 

So I've had to consider other paths. The Content Writer internship seemed a possibility, but balancing six months of unpaid work, writing at least 3 articles a week, while trying to earn money now didn't seem realistic, especially when research into the company seemed to show that moving into paid roles within their framework was unlikely and it wasn't a job I was particularly interested in. So I chose the part-time job as a substitute teacher that, while currently not a reliable cash-flow, had the most potential with some future training to becoming a solid job. I am also taking on editing clients, though there are a lot of English editors in Finland looking for the same

But I still want to be a writer and will need to put in unpaid work towards my goal, in terms of writing time, but I also want to increase my exposure. I probably will not be published much here in Finland, so I need to have a presence online to find a publisher in the UK. So writing a one-off unpaid blog article connected to writing seemed a sensible choice. And I'll continue to look at some other blog-type work, some maybe that will even pay

As much as I like this casual format of blogs, it's not the type of writing I really enjoy. I want to be a poet, maybe a novelist, but that goal becomes more difficult when I have to do 'real work'. I've maybe written two draft poems this week because the flu season has started and I'm getting more subbing workI'm scribbling in the staff room on my breaks, but it's hard to focus as it's a chatty, busy place and I haven't found a routine there yet. As a substitute, I don't have a routine. I rarely know what I'm doing each day until I'm thrown in the deep end. 

This is my current normal. I really enjoyed the daily prompts and writing time, but I can't maintain that anymore. I've had two days off this week and they've been filled with doctor's appointments because flu season and catching up with admin and other things-to-do. I can't spend all my hours doing unpaid writing work, I will have to cherry pick what I do with my time, write when I can.

It's a shame how much writers are expected to do for free, but it is a trickle down affect. Small arts events, literary magazines and small publishers struggle to get funding, so cannot pay the writers who work for them a decent rate, if they can pay at all. Bigger publishers, large arts festivals, universities with creative writing departments have more money, but get it by using big name writers, so the pool of writers earning more than average money from writing is quite small and the competition for the small paying jobs and publishing spots is fierce. It's a depressing circle and rules out really ever making proper money as a writer without having a safety net of other income.

I, of course, don't write to make money, but it would be nice to be able to work and earn in my chosen field. If I want to continue, I will have to take on unpaid work, spend time on keeping up a presence as well as writing. I will keep on writing. 

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Roller Coastering

It should be a verb, shouldn't it? It's been one of those weeks where I feel like I'm going to be sick from the ups and downs of my new work career.

Last Tuesday I had a Skype interview for an internship for a start-up social media company. It was for a position as a Content Writer, writing articles about travel and expat life, two things I am interested in. I was offered the post, but in the end turned it down because a) I wasn't happy working for 6 months for no pay, especially after I read a review of the company that suggested that they only took on a stream of unpaid interns rather than paid staff and b) I didn't enjoy the technology side enough to really want to use up time I could be getting other work churning out articles that used less of my writing skills and more of my ability to link to other sites. It may be a choice I regret, but I feel like I've been true to who I want to be.

A nice affirmation that I've maybe made the right decsion for me was that on the same day I turned down the offer an editor rejected some poems I had sent in for their online journal, but suggested, having seen my link to this page, that I might like to write a guest blog instead. Unpaid again, there's a blog post in the future about working for free, but it's a single article on a subject I'm more interested in and in a style that's more comfortable to me. Details to follow when the blog goes live.

I've also been working for my first editing client here in Finland. So hopefully things are going more in the direction I prefer. Small steps.

As a break from the less creative work, I've decided to take some of the extra poems I have rattling about and create another collection. My Scottish and Finnish books are still sitting at various publishers and could be for ages yet and I felt like I was missing out on good opportunities that were floating by. This collection moves beyond culture and place and looks more at the individual's attempts to come to define themselves as they come to terms with their struggles.

I find something really satisfying and almost meditative about putting together a collection, sorting through poems to find ones that fit my theme, figuring out an order, editing and then trying to write a synopsis to bring the whole idea together. I love carrying the rough draft manuscript around, editing each poem and shuffling through the pages. Holding close the warm knowledge that I made this, each word knitted together as a poem and then each poem layered to make a book. Hopefully they build upon each other to create a strong whole. The chance that it will get accepted is slim, but I enjoy the process in a different way to writing. 

It's good to have a break from the slog of reality with something you love. 

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

Recharging

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

Scattershot

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.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Writing Your Life

I used to run a memoir/ autobiographical writing class called 'Writing from your Life'. I loved reading the stories my students wanted to share, a 90 year-old writing for his family, a woman coping with chronic pain, a man involved with the quest to prove life on Mars to name a few. They learned to open up and share their passions through words, real bravery. 

My own poetry is rooted in my life stories; joy and pain, discovery and regret. But when my tutor asks me to focus on myself with her prompts; to examine ourselves in a mirror, to label my personality, to greet myself as a friend head on, I find it immensely difficult. I can write about aspects of my life, pick them apart, but looking at myself clearly, recognising who I have become is painful. Not even because of the pain of recent events, just that up-close scrutiny. It is easier to treat myself as a character in my poems, to allow that distance before facing difficult moments. Am I who I want to be, am I a good person, a good friend, do people want to be with me? That microscopic analysis of my personality, of my self is uncomfortable. It may only be my weary view, others will see me differently, but we never like ourselves when we examine too closely.

Not sure where I'm going with this. While I'm comfortable writing about my life, I'm not comfortable with opening my self to being explored in my writing. Cracking open a nut to find the insides too bitter. I'm trying not to shy away from the challenge these prompts are placing before me, but I can feel myself resisting. My writing is too pat, contrite lines trying to sum things up when there's no exact answer. 

It all depends on my mood, what's happening around me, a multitude of things that can tip my attitude one way or the other. Writing daily on a variety of subjects can capture this, the wildly swinging up and down of my moods, my opinion of my self.

I've been meeting online a few writers who write a daily haiku or short poem and post them as a kind of diary. My daily writing works in the same way, I guess, though I don't always share them. It's interesting to see the ebb and flow of my thoughts. This blog written over the last weeks also shows that flitting. 


I've been talking on here about struggling to find outlets and my support for my work. I find sometimes when you complain about something out-loud, verbalise the frustration or pain, the knot eases in some unexpected way. I started this blog originally to lay out some of the issues I was having with conceiving my last child, the guilt and grief, but shortly after starting, I conceived after years of trying. So the blog eventually changed to be about writing.

I thought writing here and speaking to other writers at the Lahti conference would help me in practical ways to find out about resources I was unaware of. It was kind of helpful, but the group I was pointed towards is aimed at supporting writers working in languages other than Finnish and Swedish, the two national languages of Finland, but the group is primarily focussed on languages that aren't English as they feel languages such as Arabic, Russian, Spanish, etc, have less support than English here. While again, I understand and agree to some extent, it does leave writers such as myself out of the loop. I'm going to meet up with one of the organisers after my holidays and see what they can offer or suggest. 

But after the slight disappointment of contacting this organisation, I woke to an email from Hedgehog Poetry with the results of the 'Neglected or Selected Competition' I entered. I had won, a total surprise. I don't usually enter competitions, especially ones that require a fee, but the Press has intruiged me for a while. I was hoping to join their Cult which gives members special challenges, but also allows them to enter competitions for free once I had some money, a great deal, but now it looks like my collection Totems, which is a smaller version of my huge Scottish collection, is coming out with Hedgehog Poetry in 2020. I can't wait to begin the whole process. 

So it's worth plodding on, seeking out new opportunities, pushing past your reservations and speaking out even in small ways.