2018 has been mad and wonderful

I’m aware it’s not the end of the year yet, but I did realise how long it has been since an update, so I feel as though I should document it all before it grows even more unwieldy. I’ve thrown chronology out the window – it’s all already happened, so the order is not important (and I’m pretty sure about three people read this blog apart from myself, so it matters even less!)

New places I have seen in Scotland (and some I have revisited) include: North Berwick, Dunbar (and the fabulous CoastWord festival), my beloved Scottish Borders (especially Scott’s View and Dryburgh Abbey), my even more beloved Loch Ness and Glencoe, and the utterly fabulous Moniack Mhor writers retreat. We have also bought a CAR (huzzah!) which means we can take leisurely drives to lovely places (such as Dalgety Bay) whenever we fancy it. We have also had visitors, which has made some of this travel even better! The Moniack Mhor writers retreat has been long-awaited, and was even better than I imagined – brilliant people, feedback for my novel, interesting stories, wonderful food, and the most beautiful surroundings to write in. I must go back as soon as I am able!

Edinburgh has continued to delight us. We have moved house yet again, but hopefully for the last time in a decent while. Our new flat is gorgeous and very spacious, but I do miss living right by the Water of Leith (especially after brand new baby cygnets were born in May that we have watched grow up!). I was lucky enough to do more cat sitting, to see the beehives that my friend helps to looks after in Polwarth, and to take advantage of the enormous range of events taking place on a daily basis in Edinburgh – including a night with Caitlin Moran, the launch of my friend’s translation of German spoken word poetry, and the many glories of the Edinburgh International Book Festival! This year I saw Ruth Jones, Greg Wise, Alison Weir, the launch of the SPL’s new poetry anthology for teachers, and I was also lucky enough to run a Nothing But The Poem session on the poetry of Charles Hamilton Sorley.

Professional development has been a joy for me this year – I was accepted into the Knowledge Exchange Week 2018 run by the University of Edinburgh in June. This conference runs for a week, and I was one of two delegates from Scotland (the rest of the delegates were from Europe or Argentina). This also included my first ever conference presentation (just a wee one) and I presented on poetry indexing. I met some amazing people and saw some truly brilliant libraries in Edinburgh that I had not had the chance to see before. I have also tried to attend as many events as possible run by ELISA and CILIPS, including the Librarians Uncorked sessions, visits to local libraries and archives (again, several I have not seen before), and have enrolled in chartership. Exciting times!

Finally, I have had two brief but enjoyable jaunts down south. In June, Sean and I went down to Hampshire to meet up with some beloved colleagues (and special guests) from the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation. Seeing Chawton House through the eyes of the family that once lived there was a brilliant experience, and I even got to meet Simon Langton and Susannah Harker (the director of the 1995 BBC production of Pride & Prejudice, and the brilliant actress who played Jane Bennet in said production!) It was also a pleasure to meet my fellow JALF volunteers in person – wonderful women who I have corresponded with for months, but was not able to meet until now! Can’t wait to do it all again next year.

I also had a weekend in York, though did not get to see any of the city this time – because I was in a hotel all weekend taking part in the Bronte Society’s 2018 conference celebrating Emily’s bicentenary! What a treat – to hear some brilliant academics and speakers discuss Wuthering Heights, Emily’s poetry, and the various representations of Emily herself was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it was lovely to reconnect with some delegates I had met two years previously for Charlotte’s bicentenary conference, as well as meet new people.

Well, thats’s all for now. I am currently in the midst of a fabulous holiday with my parents and grandmother which involves traipsing all about the Highlands and other places in Scotland, but I wanted that to be its own post – hence my tardy update to bring this blog up-to-date for the rest of the year so far.

Until then!

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A very late update

August has been such a bizarre, wonderful month. The Edinburgh International Book Festival was such a great experience last year, and this year I got to be part of it! I was part of Story Shop 2017, which involved reading my work in the Speigeltent one afternoon. I met the nicest people while doing this – the lovely staff at the City of Literature, my fellow Storyshoppers (all 17 of us!), and previous participants who came to support us. It was even live streamed on Periscope so my parents could watch it from Melbourne. I even met one of the judges of The Emerging Writer Award – the award I was lucky enough to win second place in earlier this year. She was watching my reading totally by chance!

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I also was lucky enough to chair an event. The brilliant poets J.L. Williams and Rachael Boast were appearing together and I was privileged to introduce them and ask them a few questions after their reading. We had a small, appreciative audience, and the poets signed some books afterwards.

I went to so many events! It was wonderful to see such a wide variety of writers, and I can’t possibly list them all here, but a selection of the people I got to watch/meet/chat to includes: Geraldine McCaughrean, Katherine Rundell, Amy Liptrot, Donald Smith, Beth Underdown, Kirsty Logan, the contributors to the Nasty Women anthology, Jo Baker and the nominees and winners of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Polly Clark, Annalena McAfee, Meg Rosoff, Zadie Smith, Graeme Macrae Burnet, Brian Bilston, Daniel Piper, Hera Lindsay Bird, Vanessa Kisuule, Ali Smith, Sarah Dunant, Jenny Lindsay, Rachael McCrum, Sara Hirsch, Jo Whitby, A New International, Chris McQueer, Claire Askew, Marjorie Lotfi Gill, Russell Jones, Harry Giles, Jane Yolen, and Finola Scott.

Other festival-type fringey bits:

Edinburgh International Film Festival – we went to a screening of Final Portrait, Stanley Tucci’s directorial debut starring Geoffrey Rush, Clemence Poesy, and Armie Hammer. Stanley Tucci himself was there to introduce it! We also went to a screening of Born in Flames, the 1983 dystopian film written and directed by Lizzie Borden, who was also there to answer questions afterwards!

Edinburgh Festival Fringe – I saw Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market, a one-woman show that resets the poem in the American South. I wasn’t sure how well it would work, but I was pleasantly surprised. Jennifer Jewell is a wonderful performer. We also went to Lilith: The Jungle Girl at the Traverse, and it was like watching a socially-conscious episode of The Mighty Boosh onstage. Loved every weird minute of it!

Golden Hare bookshop – I went to the Hear Hare Hear event with Christine De Luca, Katie Ailes, and Iain Morrison reading. These three poets are always interesting, and it was a pleasure to chat to them afterwards (and win a prize in the raffle!). I was also a guest on Bibliophile, the podcast produced by Golden Hare, where we discussed the modernization of classic texts. It was great fun to be involved!

Travel wise, we’ve had a wee day trip to St Andrews…

…and a few days in London. It was a pleasure to go with Sean’s sister, it being her first trip there, and I spent most of it wandering around the Brick Lane market or in the National Portrait Gallery, getting acquainted with history and saying hi to the Bronte’s.

We stayed in a hostel in Swiss Cottage for a couple of nights and saw Tim Burton buying breakfast in a delicatessen, then I stayed in Soho with a lovely couple I met at the Bronte conference last year. I saw Eddie Izzard walking down Carnaby St. I finished my trip with a visit to the delightful Persephone Books.

Brace yourself for a level of nerdiness that surpasses even my own past efforts: I’ve managed to join two book clubs, three societies (Jane Austen, Bronte, and Richard III), and am looking forward to the festival finishing so I can get back into the walking group as well. The 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death was marked with a church service and another meeting involved Dr Cheryl Kinney from the USA lecturing on Persuasion and Austen’s use of illness and injury in her novels.

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I have also been hard at work editing Pride & Possibilities and have been loving the contributions I get to work with! I’ve done two online courses – one that tied into the book festival and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize called How to read a novel and one on the life and times of Richard III – and have been working on my professional development for the scheme I am enrolled in, including attending a seminar at the National Library of Scotland on the RDA update and a workshop at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Glasgow on libraries, social inequality, and activism. I’m also about to embark on another online course focused on Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites, and this can be claimed for my professional development as well, thank goodness!

And amongst all this, I have been attempting to take care of the everyday business of life, and prepare for a longer stay in Edinburgh. I had a haircut – bless the lovely hairdresser and her poker face when I told her it hadn’t been cut in almost two years.

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I’m going to run out of time to get my wisdom teeth out this year, but next year it will happen, mark my words! We are moving to a larger, more comfortable flat and we have booked flights back to Aus to take care of our visa requirements. I have been treasuring the Skypes and the correspondence from Australia, as well as the groups of friends I have made here – dinners, afternoon teas, and drinks have been some of the most enjoyable times in the last couple of months! We have had numerous visitors from Australia and from other parts of the UK and Europe and it’s been brilliant to revisit those friendships. Also, I am now a cat-sitter – spent a weekend last month with the handsome fellow below, and looking forward to next month when I get to sit for two kitties at once.

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Well, if you’ve got to the bottom of this blog post, congratulations. You must be my parents – hi, Mum and Dad! I’m off to rest my sore typing fingers in ice and to prepare for a hopefully quiet few months before we skip back to Melbourne for a visit.

September in Edinburgh

I forgot to say in my last blog post that we watched FIREWORKS to round off the festival. This is NOT my photo – I took it from the Edinburgh Spotlight website and the photographer was Dave Stewart of Studio 2 Photography (www.studio2photography.co.uk) – and our view was nothing like this. We were cheapskates and stood on North Bridge, so we could only see a bit of the light on Castle Rock and none of the stage, but we had a lovely view of the fireworks themselves.

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Since then, my plan has pretty much been to keep my head down and save money. Haven’t had too much luck – the lure of dinners out with friends, book club, and after work drinks is strong! We had some lovely visitors from Aus who shouted us to a beautiful meal in Roseleaf, and Sean got his Historic Scotland pass so we have revisited the Castle too. I’ve worked a few extra shifts which will pay off handsomely when it’s time to do some more traveling – current plans include Glasgow, the Lake District, Iceland, and Brussels – and I’ve FINALLY been concentrating properly on my writing. I’m researching Scottish Lowlands life during World War Two and writing drafts of short stories and poems linked by a similar idea that I am still figuring out. So, not much of interest this month for everyone who isn’t myself. But, savings aside, I feel like I’m kicking goals.

Farewell to the festival

Just a wee post to summarise the last few events of August that I have attended. I am exhausted, but exhilarated, and I can’t wait for next year! I’ve still managed to fit in work and recover from a cold this week, so I’m feeling pretty accomplished.

Meg Rosoff – so great to finally see this author in person!! I am a huge fan of her work and she was so warm and friendly and funny and took the time to have a good chat with everyone in the signing queue. She has recently won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, placing her alongside the likes of Sonya Hartnett and Shaun Tan, two Australians who are previous recipients.

Jane Austen Society Scottish Branch meeting – okay, so not a festival event, but an important one nonetheless. This was unfortunately accompanied by some awful news – Nora Bartlett, the American academic who spoke at the meeting in May, has very recently passed away after a short, fierce battle with cancer. She was immensely kind to me when I met her in May and was still finding my feet in a new city. She was really welcoming and spoke to me a lot about St Andrews where she lived and her work and career, and was very encouraging when we chatted about my own career and literary aspirations. By all accounts, she was a popular and well-loved person, and her loss was quite a shock for a lot of people. After this news was imparted to us though, we were treated to a wonderful talk from another American academic, Dr Sheryl Craig, who spoke to us about William Wickham. He was the real-life head of the British secret service and Jane Austen named Pride and Prejudice’s infamous cad after him. He was a colourful character, to say the least. He laundered millions of pounds over the course of his career and ran a large network of spies that included the actual, real-life Scarlet Pimpernel. Naming a character after him was a very politically charged literary device of Jane’s – it’s sort of the 19th century equivalent of naming a character ‘George Trump’.

Claire Harman – I saw her speak only a week ago at the Brontë conference, but I couldn’t resist a ticket to her event at the Book Festival. She did not disappoint, and even after being steeped in Brontë information last weekend, I still learned new things about Charlotte and her family after hearing this talk. I finally got to meet her in the signing queue and got to tell her how much I had enjoyed her talk at the conference as well.

Joanne Harris – I have been reading Joanne Harris’s books since I was about thirteen years old – over half my life. I have read every book she has ever published except the cookbooks and she was the first author who I remember going to an event for and getting my book signed. I told her all this in the signing queue today of course, because I can’t shut up when I get near writers who I admire. Her newest book, Different Class, is a sort of sister book to Gentlemen & Players, which is perhaps my favourite book of hers (after Chocolat).

We’ve said farewell to some Australian friends that we met over here who are moving back to Australia, and welcomed some friends of ours from Melbourne who are here on holidays (with more coming later this week). I do plan on having a much quieter month though, sleeping and saving money and reading all my new books!

August in Edinburgh

I have had a very busy month. It’s been wonderful, because I have also done my best to prioritise sleep and getting enough rest in between enormous amounts of running around, so I haven’t become ill or crazy. In my previous blog post I mentioned the things I’ve done this month thus far, and I’ve done even more since. So, in-between work and even some social events, here is what I have been up to since…

Night at the Museum – went to this with a British lass I met in Paris at the start of the year! She had popped up to Edinburgh for the fringe with some mates and we had a quick drink before seeing several comedians pretend to be experts in artefacts found throughout the National Museum of Scotland’s collections. Pretty nice improv, I must say.

Dr Neil’s Garden – not a fringe show, but a nice visit nonetheless with an Edinburgh friend of ours. This is a beautiful little oasis in the middle of Edinburgh, situated in a corner of the enormous Holyrood Park, just near Duddingston Loch. Beautiful garden, peaceful environment – definitely a place to go back to!

Best of the Bohemians – a variety show by a local theatre group. A friend from work was performing in this and it brought me right back to being involved with theatre back in Melbourne. Very nostalgic, and some beautiful voices on display.

Northanger Abbey – with puppets!! This little company is brilliant, with the two actors adapting the material, performing, and making all the puppets themselves. It was entertaining and polished and showcased immense talent as the performers moved between their own characters and the puppets they were using.

Austentatious – this is a fringe favourite for a lot of people and had been recommended to me multiple times. It definitely lived up to the hype, mainly due to the mad improv skills of the ensemble cast. They are obviously well-matched and have worked together enough to achieve a really seamless style of performance, despite improvising an entirely new show from scratch, every performance, being prompted by a title suggestion from the audience.

Eimear McBride – My first ever Edinburgh International Book Festival event! A Girl is a Half-formed Thing remains one of the most interesting (and devastating) books I have ever read, and Eimear was at the festival to talk about her newest book, The Lesser Bohemians. Hearing her read her work, and talk about the process of writing it – such an honour. And I met her in the signing queue afterwards!

Half Blood Prince trivia – our monthly Harry Potter pub quiz and we won! A 30 pound bar tab to spend 😀 These questions are HARD WORK and I am very proud of us!

Philippa Gregory – The way this woman talks about feminism and women in history makes me so happy. She is so knowledgable and witty, and a really passionate defender all of kinds of women that history has deemed either unimportant, stupid, evil, sluttish, or prudish. She spoke about what she calls the ‘she-wolf/dolt’ complex and pointed out the many double standards that exist in the reporting and interpretation of the personalities and actions of historic men and women. A wonderful experience (and I met her in the signing queue!)

Alison Weir – a historian and novelist that tortures me with the amount of work she has written that I haven’t had the chance to read yet. Her latest book is about Katherine of Aragon and the breadth of her knowledge and research is staggering. She also has some interesting things to say about the age-old question of the legitimacy of Katherine and Henry VIII’s doomed marriage and whether her marriage to Arthur was consummated or not, but more importantly, whether or not it actually mattered in a scriptural sense. And I met her in the signing queue 😀

Tracy Chevalier – the problem with going to these events to see authors you admire speaking, is that you leave them with an urge to buy every book of theirs and that is an expensive impulse. I resisted – just – but as I don’t yet own Tracy’s new novel At the Edge of the Orchard, I will need to save my pennies in order to get my mitts on it asap. It sounds amazing. I asked her to sign my copy of Reader, I Married Him, an anthology that she edited of stories inspired by Jane Eyre.

This afternoon I am off back to the book festival to see Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke, and then first thing tomorrow I am off to Manchester for a weekend with The Bronte Society for their annual conference, this year celebrating Charlotte’s bicentenary. This month has been one of the best of my life.

Fringe!

Okay, now for something a little cheerier than my last post.

It’s August! Which means if you live in Edinburgh, it’s the most expensive time of year! (But also the best time of year.) It’s the FESTIVAL. And when I say “the festival”, I mean it’s actually a whole bunch of festivals including but not limited to: The Edinburgh International Festival, The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and The Edinburgh International Book Festival. And I have spend hundreds of pounds on tickets. I tried to save some money in July to prepare, but I still managed to catch up with some good pals from Aus (Picks, Amy, Alison, Tim, and Helen), go to the Real Mary King’s Close (finally! A super cool underground Edinburgh tour), and go to the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child launch party at Waterstones (insanely fun. Totally worth the $ and nerd points).

But now August has begun, and with it, the Fringe! So far I’ve seen eight shows. I’m going to summarise them super briefly because I aim to do the same for every event I go to this month and it’s going to get real lengthy real quickly if I’m not careful.

Paper Hearts: The Musical – really sweet musical set in a bookshop, jumping between today’s world and the world of the novel that the protagonist is writing (war-torn Russia). The music was outstanding, and the cast doubled as the orchestra, a bit like in Once.

S’Pun – pretty much an hour-long stream of puns. Look, it was great. We sat in the front row and got roped into lots of good bits, and I didn’t want to throw myself out a window when it finished which is how I usually feel about puns, so well done Darren Walsh.

Jane Eyre: An Autobiography – a one-woman version of Jane Eyre by a truly consummate actress. Her energy amazed me. I often find it a little awkward when so many characters are being crammed into one space, but she pulled this off with aplomb.

Rhapsodes – saw these guys in Bath earlier this year and fell in love, so I took Sean along with me this time and they were just as brilliant. They improvise a new “Shakespearean” play, making sure they stick to all sorts of complicated rhyme schemes and using material suggested by the audience. Sean and I became characters in the play (represented by masks) in a segment on Brexit…

Dolly Wants to Die – with Helen Monks aka Germaine from Raised by Wolves!! She plays a doll who is suicidal but can’t kill herself because…she’s a doll…actually had some poignant things to say about the state of the world today and the poverty and anxiety currently bulldozing our generation.

The Bookbinder – creepy, Gaiman-esque fairytale about an apprentice bookbinder and his adventures, with some truly beautiful props to help tell the tale. So nice to hear a New Zealand accent as well! Done by Trick of the Light theatre.

Nzinga, Warrior Queen – Mara Menzies is an amazing performer and I was sitting next to her mum in the audience! This is a true story about a seventeenth century African queen who defended her people from the invading Portuguese forces.

Leaf by Niggle – this was recommended to me by a dear friend because she has read the short story it is based on. It’s by Tolkien! One man tells the story to us, but before he does, he shows us all the beautiful props and artefacts that he’s going to use and tells us their real history, all from his family attic. Just gorgeous.

So that was a full weekend, and it’s back to work tomorrow. There are plenty more events to fit in over the next few weeks though…