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.

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child! And other things…

 

So quite a bit has happened since my last foray into blogging, the main event being that my beloved friend Michelle came to stay! She came to Europe for about three weeks and arrived in Edinburgh to visit us first. It was the best thing in the world to see her (and an excuse to revisit Edinburgh and Craigmillar Castles, as well as eat lots of cake and take a very jet-lagged guest to the final night of Harry Potter trivia)

She traipsed off to Austria and Slovenia to go paragliding(!) and other fun things and Sean and I got our tourist on again and went to several events that were fundamentally Scottish:

Neu! Reekie! Celts! – Neu! Reekie! Is a monthly showcase of music and poetry and film (all very avant-garde and interesting) and this one took place in the National Museum of Scotland to mark the end of the Celts exhibition. Highlights included Liz-freaking-Lochhead, fast becoming my favourite poet of all time; Charlotte Church – yes, that Charlotte Church – and her 10-piece electro-pop orchestra; free whisky tastings; and free entry into the exhibition, which we’ve seen before but did again because it’s amazing.

Doors Open Day – similar to Open Doors Day in Melbourne – we went to the Canongate Kirk and the John Knox House. I’d been to the John Knox House before but Sean had not, and it was interesting to see it again because I had the audio guide this time that told me a bit more. We had been to the Canongate Kirkyard before – it holds several people of note, including the poet Robert Fergusson and what is rumoured to be the body of Mary, Queen of Scots’ murdered secretary, David Rizzio. But the actual church I had not seen inside, and it is, surprisingly, strikingly modern inside. It actually felt a bit nautical with the colour scheme and the various insignia adorning the interior.

McGonagall nite – a night of bad poetry, music, and speeches celebrating the life of William McGonagall, fondly remembered as Scotland’s worst poet. It began in Greyfriars Kirkyard where he is buried (interestingly, it is his gravestone that J K Rowling was supposedly inspired by to name Hogwarts’ Transfiguration Professor and general all-round badass, Minerva McGonagall). The bagpipes played a lament, and then we followed the piper through the streets to the Captain’s Bar, a FANTASTIC little pub that sits below the flat he died in. There, we were treated to more bagpipes, many poetry readings of severely awful poetry, and speeches about his life. We were instructed to stand and toast everytime his name was mentioned, reciting the phrase ‘Sir William Topaz McGonagall, poet and tragedian, Knight of the White Elephant of Burma’ – the way he styled himself. What an unapologetic sweetheart. Loved every moment!

The Palace of Holyroodhouse – I finally went to see this palace with my friend Sophie. We wanted to catch the end of an exhibition of the Queen’s outfits, currently being shown around the UK to celebrate her 90th birthday. It was a smaller exhibition than I expected (the bulk of the collection being in Buckingham Palace), but the garments on display were incredible. They were accompanied with photos of Her Majesty wearing them, as well as information about the design and designers. The Holyrood Palace segment of the exhibition obviously included all the royal tartans and the robes she wears as head of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle – Scotland’s order of chivalry. But of course, we got to see the rest of the Palace itself. It is the Queen’s official residence in Scotland, so still a working palace, but you can go through the historic State Apartments when they are not in use and even see the apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots (including the rooms where her secretary was attacked and murdered in front of a heavily pregnant Mary). Intense and amazing experience. I have a yearly ticket now, so will go back another time and do it again. There was so much to take in at once, so, like Edinburgh Castle, if you can manage a second visit or multiple visits, it is worth it. There are also the ruins of Holyrood Abbey to see and the beautiful Palace grounds, overlooking Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags.

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Other things I have done that warrant a mention:

  • Bridget Jones’s Baby! Loved it! Was worried it would not live up to the first two, but I was happily reassured. Renee Zellweger is luminous. I laughed loudly. A perfect success!
  • Went to a launch of a literary journal, edited by a friend of mine. The theme of this edition was poetry in translation, so the launch included some beautiful performances of multi-lingual music and spoken word.
  • Went to Stockbridge with a friend and visited Golden Hare Books, potentially my new favourite bookstore in Edinburgh. A beautiful oasis of calm and quiet. Dangerous for the bank account.
  • Had a corporate induction at work! Not particularly exciting, but important nonetheless.

However, the main purpose of this blog was to tell you about London. I’ve had this trip booked for months, but only found out when Michelle arrived a couple of weeks ago that she would be here too! So I’ve spent the last couple of days with Michelle again! We have continued our tourism-and-cake escapades, doing a walking tour of the Old City of London and finding the most charming little bakery (Primrose Bakery) to treat ourselves to some delicious cake-ventures. The walking tour included all kinds of historic information about the actual City of London (as opposed to Greater London) that boggle the mind, and finished by part of the Roman Wall. Definitely a solid recommendation from me! I also nerded out and went to get my one-year Reader Pass from the British Library – now I have no excuse! I have to return for study. I stayed at a hostel near to Kings Cross – six-bed dorm, free and simple breakfast, and GOOD SHOWERS for about 20 pounds a night. If you’re not afraid of roughing it in a hostel, I would recommend it (ask for a bottom bunk as the top bunks can’t reach the power points to charge your phone…)

But. But. The reason for my visit. A Facebook contact in Melbourne had mentioned months ago that she had a ticket to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child going begging. I had written off this experience, convinced when the tickets went on sale that I didn’t have the money or even the knowledge I would be in the UK when the play was on. I knew we were going to Edinburgh, but I didn’t know if it was going to work out, if I’d be in a position to get to London over six months after we had arranged to leave Australia. What if we had to come home and my money was wasted? But now, settled in Edinburgh, knowing this was happening for the long haul, I was able to seize the opportunity. I went to the launch of the play script earlier this year, got my copy, and DIDN’T TOUCH IT. I wanted the proper experience, seeing it onstage without knowing anything about the story and allowing myself to be surprised by the spectacle. I know this sounds smug – I’m sorry, I don’t mean to – and it frustrates me that this is such an exclusive experience. It’s a financial and geographical privilege that I don’t think should be associated with a story this popular. I appreciate that the script was released worldwide to allow readers everywhere to know what happens, but scripts are not written to be read, they are written to be performed. And that means that unless you have the means to get to London and pay for a ticket, you are excluded from seeing this story the way it was conceived to be seen. There are stage directions in the script that are just that – stage directions. They can’t possibly compare with the awesome and intense experience that actors, music, sets, costume, special effects, and the feeling of being part of an enraptured audience brings to the table. And enraptured we were. Spontaneous applause, laughter, audible gasping and (in some cases) swearing were all heard throughout the show from the spectators, and there was a standing ovation at the end.

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show like it. It is in two parts – you are supposed to see Part One as a matinee and Part Two in the evening, OR Part One and Part Two on consecutive evenings. Both parts are just over two and a half hours long including a twenty minute interval in each, which leaves us with a show more-or-less four and a half hours long. The actors must be absolutely knackered at the end of every day. I don’t want to spoil anything, so this review won’t, but I am more than happy to discuss in private with people that have read or seen it, or people that don’t mind being spoiled. All I will say is this: the storyline was 100% not what I expected. I don’t exactly know what I expected, but it wasn’t that. I am so glad I stayed away from the script! But it was 100% more wonderful than anything I expected as well. The magic onstage was an interesting mix – half of it seemed to be more stylized – you could see how the magic had been created and carried off, but it worked as part of the show. The other half was just baffling. We were sitting five rows from the front in the stalls with a perfect view, and I was completely stumped by how some of it was done and I was looking very carefully. The casting – utterly perfect. Ron, Harry, Hermione, Ginny, Draco and all the other characters we know were up there on stage and I might have even shed a tear or two watching them deal with the crazy shit J. K. Rowling and the two dudes she wrote the show with put them through. It probably took me about ten or fifteen minutes to get used to seeing the actors as the characters – they are all very different from the portrayals we are used to for obvious reasons – they’ve aged. But the characterisation was nearly perfect. I suppose if I had one criticism it would be that Ginny was too similar to movie-Ginny rather than book-Ginny…but it is a small criticism indeed.

The ‘new’ characters (ie the ones we didn’t meet properly in the book or film series) were wonderful, the sets were a masterpiece, and the music by Imogen Heap put it on another level entirely. Most of all, it was entertaining. It’s without a doubt the longest show I have seen and I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want this journey to be finished again.

I know some people have been disappointed with parts of it and that is understandable – this series and this world means so much to so many people. It is impossible to please everyone and to take the story in a direction that all the billions of fans would agree with. I feel very lucky that I was one of the ones who loved it, who will treasure the memory of seeing it onstage forever. I’m sure it will tour, and I’m sure it will end up on screen in some sort of format at some stage. I hope everyone who wants to see it gets the chance. I would thoroughly, heartily recommend it.

So yeah, I didn’t really sleep after seeing it. Was too excited, with it all running through my head. I should also mention that the two girls I saw the show with were lovely. They were obviously friends of the girl back in Melbourne that I had bought the ticket from, so I didn’t meet them in person until I was at the theatre. But they were great, and took me to see the House of Minalima between shows, which is the shop set up by the graphic designers of the film series. It’s like a kooky little museum of all the different designs used in the Potter franchise, from the textbook covers, to the letters, the ‘Wanted’ posters, and the Marauders Map. It is insanely expensive so I didn’t buy anything, but you are permitted to take photos! We went for Spanish for dinner, briefly saw Michelle who brought me hazelnut and carrot cake because she is brilliant, and I stopped on my walk back home to help two tourists whose phones weren’t working and apartment wasn’t open. I should have slept really well! But I was too busy thinking of Harry.

I checked out after breakfast the next morning and met Michelle at Kings Cross where we stored our luggage and browsed the Harry Potter shop (of course). Then we had a cup of tea and visited the Treasures of the Collection exhibition at the British Library. This exhibition is one of the best in London (says me, a librarian, of course) and includes original books and documents that pretty much shaped society as we know it. I think the earliest item I saw was an 8th century Qu’ran, but there may have been something(s) older. Obviously the main attractions for myself were Jane Austen’s writing desk, a draft of Persuasion, letters from Mary, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I, and the Brontë material, which include a mini-exhibition on Jean Rhys and Wide Sargasso Sea.

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There is so much else in there though – the Magna Carta! Gutenberg’s Bible! Handwritten documents from The Beatles! Beowulf! DaVinci’s notebooks! I would definitely see it if you have an interest in history. And it’s free! After we left the library, there was time for one final cake date at Kings Cross before I had to say goodbye to Michelle. I will miss her so much! But seeing her and spending the time with her that I did was good for my soul.

The train ride home went fairly quickly – I was devouring the Cursed Child script, finally, with the memories of the night before playing through my head as I read. Back to reality now, but a pleasant reality it is. I really doubt my next blog is going to be this exciting….

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.

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.

My birthday and more

I’ve been away from Australia for Easter and Christmas before, but 2016 is the first year I’ve been away for my birthday. I had a lovely day, starting at midnight with a call from my friend Flick and her kids back in Melbourne. Being serenaded by two toddlers is the cutest thing in the world! Lovely Sean is giving me Edinburgh Book Festival tickets for my birthday, but also presented me with this:

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It’s a Matilda cushion!!! I Skyped with my lovely parents and grandmother, who posted me some Peter Pan pencils and a beautiful notebook, as well as a voucher for dinner at Roseleaf, a restaurant in Leith. Then we Skyped with Sean’s sister, Claire, and went for an utterly delicious breakfast of French toast at Mimi’s Bakehouse. I had my favourite – the savoury bacon toast – but this time it was drenched in maple syrup and I was BUZZING all day from the sugar. Yolo, it’s my birthday.

Sean had to work in the afternoon and I spent my day on the couch watching television, which is more or less exactly what I felt like doing! It was my only day off for the week, and though I adore my new jobs, it is somewhat tiring after being a tourist for half a year…

In the evening I went to Boda Bar, just down the street from our place, and met up with mates from Edinburgh. Such a relief to have friends here! It’s so strange to move to a different country and have to build your friendship circle from scratch. I’ve never changed schools or moved to a new city or anything, so my friendships in Australia evolved pretty organically in school and jobs and theatre. Here, I’ve had to arrange friend dates with people specifically to get to know them and, after being initially daunted, I have loved it. This place is full of lovely people. I had gin and tonic after gin and tonic purchased for me, and the staff gave me a birthday shot and I had a really fantastic night in general. We headed home at midnight and Sean made me delicious cheese and toast and the next morning when I woke up for work, I felt surprisingly good!

Apart from my birthday, I’ve had a good month so far. Working for the Scottish Poetry Library has inspired me immensely, and I’ve been reading lots of Scottish poets. I’m currently in the middle of a collection by the new Makar, Jackie Kay, and it’s such a pleasure to read. I’ve been to an event with the previous Makar, Liz Lochhead, and two nights ago a group of us went to the final Edinburgh performance of Rally & Broad, a literary cabaret evening that’s been running for the past four years. It was BRILLIANT, and I’m so disappointed that I’ve only just discovered this as it’s ending!

We also had the opportunity to indulge in some serious culinary nostalgia. One of our Australian friends here went on a trip home and brought back Tim Tams, Twisties, Caramello Koalas, and Cherry Ripes! This, clearly, necessitated a group catch up where we made the token Scottish attendee sample everything. The Tim Tams came out on top, obviously.

And finally, it’s the Edinburgh International Film Festival!! Yesterday I saw two films (for freeeeeee), both documentaries followed by a Q & A with the directors. The first was The Lovers and the Despot, which is a true story that seems almost impossible. A South Korean director and the actress he was once married to kidnapped by Kim Jong-il and forced to make films for North Korea. I first heard of the story when I visited South Korea, but this documentary has interviews with Choi Eun-Hee, the actress involved. It was utterly compelling. The second film was Bolesno, a Croatian film about Ana Dragicevic who was imprisoned in a psychiatric ward in order to cure her of homosexuality. After she was finally released, she became obsessed with justice, trying to get the doctor who ‘treated’ her imprisoned. This was a really bleak film, constructed to emulate the crippling depression Ana was experiencing. The ending was incredibly moving. Ana begins to embark on a journey of healing, seeking peace instead of vengeance, and it’s beautiful to witness.

And tonight, Harry Potter trivia! I have to spend the day revising Goblet of Fire.

Until then xx

 

 

 

An update on #Edinburghlyf

So much has happened since Denmark! I’ve tried to summarise the high points below, though I will undoubtedly forget something. I’m loving Edinburgh. I’m loving its people and its places and its character, charming and rough-round-the-edges as it is.

I have a job! An actual paying job in a LIBRARY! It’s at Queen Margaret University and it’s wonderful. I started my career in an academic library that was far bigger than this one – working for a smaller university with a smaller team is a breath of fresh air. It’s very quiet at the moment because it’s summer holidays, but that gives me plenty of time to get used to how things run before the crazy September new year madness. We went on a work outing to the National Library of Scotland the other day to do a behind-the-scenes tour (a fascinating place!) and went for a cream tea afterwards. The team is lovely, and the job is two days a week, giving me plenty of time for sightseeing. Obviously I’ll need to find something else to supplement my income, and I am 99% sure I’ve obtained a casual job, but I have to wait a couple of weeks to find out, so we’ll see how that goes.

We are making some good friends over here, and have been catching up for dinners and gatherings and book clubs and Eurovision nights. (Walking home from Eurovision we saw an actual hedgehog, which is perhaps the highlight of my life). I’ve also been a bit lax with Skyping home due to starting so many new things and suddenly being (somewhat) busy again, but the other day I Skyped with my bosom chum Alfie and it made my day! There is a pub about a one-minute walk from our place and they run Harry Potter themed trivia nights. I went to the last one (Prisoner of Azkaban) and these quizzes are HARD. I have to reread Goblet of Fire properly before the next one (which is handy, as Stephen Fry has been rereading them to me over the last few weeks). They do a mean boozy milkshake as well.

I went to my first Jane Austen Society Scottish Branch event and met a whole lot of lovely people, including the speaker, a brilliant scholar named Nora Bartlett. We bonded over children’s literature and libraries and creative writing, and I want her to adopt me (no offence Mum and Dad, but she could give me UK citizenship that way). I’ve also finished the first draft of a new manuscript I’ve been working on. It’s nearly 76,000 words, and it the fifth novel-length manuscript I’ve finished in my life. One of these was the greatest masterpiece to ever grace an exercise book (80,000 words of piratical adventures I wrote with my bestie in high school), one of these came close to being represented by a literary agency last year, one of them is utter shite, and one of them was 50,000 words spewed out over Nanowrimo. This latest one is…not awful. It needs a good polish, but it’s not awful. Anyway, I am thoroughly sick to the back teeth of it and need to put it away and not look at it for a year. This week I’m planning to start work on one of the many half-finished things I have floating around my hard drive. Unemployment and having no friends is a great way to get stuck into those creative projects! Now I have gained a job and friends, so hopefully I can keep the practice up…

We’ve also been doing important things like watching Parks and Recreation. I’ve seen it before but Sean hasn’t and it is a joy to rewatch. Amy Poehler is a perfect human. We also experienced the absolute mania that overtakes people when their football team wins. We live not far from the stadium where there was some sort of important sporting event, and walking through Leith that night was like walking through the end of the world. People EVERYWHERE. Most of them very drunk and joyous and singing at the top of their lungs. They held up the traffic until the police arrived, and used the actual entire weekend to carry on celebrating. It was pretty amazing.

When Sean left his job in Australia, they gave him a ghost tour as a gift! We used the voucher last week and went on a tour of the historic vaults beneath the South Bridge. It was fun to be down there, but there was so much emphasis on ghosts (go figure) and not enough on the actual history of the vaults. They are fantastic, and I wanted to know more about why they were there! Speaking of Sean, he’s a good egg. I’ve had a couple of down days, anxiety being a heartless horror that strikes when I really don’t want or need it, and he has been patient and lovely as always, and I’m feeling much better now. So relearning a few keys aspects of self-care has been important as well!

 

Finally, I’ve just come home from my third volunteer shift at the Scottish Poetry Library. This. Place. Is. Amazing. As a volunteer, I help out at events (setting up chairs, serving drinks and the like) and also take Saturday shifts to make up staff numbers so the library can be open. On Saturdays there is lots of shelving and working at the front desk and ad hoc jobs like labelling books. It’s a peaceful job in a beautiful building, and the events are always vibrant and fun to watch/take part in. I initially wanted to sign up as a volunteer to keep my foot in the library industry door, but I have found it to be such a welcoming and comfortable place as well as an interesting library. Last night I went to the retirement event for Robyn Marsack, who has been Director of the library for sixteen years. The place was full to bursting, crowded with brilliant and creative minds. Hearing about Robyn’s career was inspiring and had made me want to jump back into studying (alas, money). I’m looking forward to many more hours of work there.

Hopefully I’ll blog again soon! It’s one more thing that has fallen by the wayside now that my life is marginally busier, but I don’t plan to neglect it too much. xx

Beltane! And other news

You will never guess what I have just done. I, Emily Prince, self-professed sleepyhead and lover of beds, gave myself just three hours of sleep last night, WILLINGLY. The reason, was Beltane. The Beltane Fire Festival held on Calton Hill in Edinburgh is world-renowned, and I did not want to be missing out. The gates open at 8pm and the festival officially closes at 1.30am, but plenty of revellers continue on into the night. This morning, as part of Tradfest (festival of traditional Scottish culture involving music, dance, storytelling, and film, which includes Beltane), a Dawn Rising walk was held at 5am up Arthur’s Seat, the traditional location of ancient Beltane. Which to choose? I decided to choose both.

The festival was INSANE. First of all, the queues were horrific, but I was somewhat prepared for that. I have also been schooled in the art of racing all over the hill to get the best vantage point, a skill I will put to use next year. I spent a lot of the festival looking at the backs of people’s heads, but for those moments where I could get a half-decent view, it was entirely worth it. There’s fire – lots of fire – and amazing costumes and make-up. The procession starts on the National Monument where the May Queen is revealed before it roams all over the hill, taking a couple of hours in total, before culminating in the death and rebirth of the Green Man. Then the bonfire is lit and everyone dances the night away. Luckily, there are plenty of roving performers and things to see when the procession is not in view, though the perils of being a bit of a shorty are still apparent when watching the smaller performances. I left the festival just after midnight, when the bonfire had been lit. I could hear the drums and shouts all the way home as I walked back to my apartment. I got into bed at 12.45 and set the alarm for 4am, wondering if I would make it. I totally did. I got up, ate an apple, dressed up warmly and walked down to Arthur’s Seat just in time to meet up with the group. There was only six of us, but we met many revellers along the way who had pulled an all-nighter, lots of them still in costume and full make-up. Along the way, our guide told us stories about the hill and about the mythology of Beltane. Unfortunately, the sunrise was obscured by cloud, but we did get a beautiful view all the same. We reached the summit in our little group, with three other people present. We stood and listened to more words and poetry, before our guide gave us seeds to sow for the new summer. Completely spontaneously, a woman we met at the top sang a song, her voice quavering in the wind and we saw she was crying. It was quite magical. We made our way down the hill, stopping at the ancient well of St Anthony to anoint ourselves with Beltane dew – thought to bring beauty and maintain youthfulness. I was kindly given a lift home by two of my fellow climbers and walked in my door at 6.45am.

Sean is currently in Abu Dhabi for work, so he missed the fun (but I know he’ll be having a good time over there). At the time of writing, I am not yet comatose, but I can feel myself flagging. I think a nap may be in order later today…

But that is not all I have been up to! There is so much to update you on. Some of it is relevant even to the above. On Friday night I went to a monthly storytelling event, Guid Crack, and the host for the evening was the same gentleman who guided the Dawn Rising walk this morning. It was a night of music and stories and poetry, based around the theme of ‘Bloody Edinburgh’, and I saw some renowned storytellers in action, including Mara Menzies and Ana Lines. It was Mara and Ana who came on the walk this morning and gave me a lift home, so it was lovely to meet them in person and here about their storytelling experiences.

I have been keeping busy with a bit of market research temping work that I picked up. It involved standing in the freezing cold asking people exiting shops if they would do a survey about their shopping experiences, so it wasn’t the most fulfilling of jobs, but it earned me a bit of money. I have also signed up as a volunteer to the Scottish Poetry Library and helped out at my first event – a reading and talk by the poet and translator Sasha Dugdale, which was a real treat. I have also been studying – I signed up to do a free, six-week online course on the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, so for the past two weeks I have been elbow deep in actantial models and Propp’s Morphology, which has proved extremely challenging and very interesting. And I’ve been plugging way at my own creative writing, currently writing 1000 words a day which is quite manageable on days I don’t have work.

I have been making new friends – a surprisingly strange experience in your mid-twenties when you’ve up and left all your own back home. This has meant lots of coffees and walks and chats with new people and it’s been really pleasant actually. We had a small group round to our place to watch the new Game of Thrones season premiere and had lots of pizza and drinks. Excellent topic of conversation to utilise! And I’ve joined a book club, a lovely bunch of ladies who like to read and have a drink and a chat. My second meeting is this week and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve also just started my annual Harry Potter reread, once more using the audiobooks because Stephen Fry is just so damn good at it, and this way I can listen while wandering the streets of the city where the story first came to life. Yes.

We’ve had some epic Skype sessions with family back home (and Mitch in Japan!) and its always nice to hear news from Australia. I miss everyone so much, but it really helps having the internet, as well as gifts from brilliant mates like Alfie and Cara who sent me packing with a whole bunch of mystery envelopes containing various tasks and presents that have been entertaining me for weeks. The final thing I will say in this blog is that I’ve been watching a brilliant TV show called ‘Flowers’, and I recommend you look it up and watch it. It’s the best writing I have seen in a long time, and made me laugh, cry, and shiver with its utter relatibility. It’s a very black comedy, quite dark and twisty, but so, so touching.

Happy Beltane!