Jessica Stevenson

Currently racking my brain for something witty to start this introduction and failing miserably. The truth is writing under strict time restraints is not my forte, but it is my hope that this blog will shake things up from my usual academic essay writing as part of the English Studies masters and help me evolve into a more varied writer, here’s hoping.

My literary journey began at a very young age, writing stories about princesses and ponies. This cringeworthy start to my oeuvre is thankfully contained to a box of old belongings stashed away in my parents attic to be forgotten until such a time as they feel fit to embarrass me at family gatherings.

Thankfully my writing has evolved since then, and my preferred topics now cover contemporary British literature, culture and visual art. My research often explores the function of literature as a means of social or cultural activism. My hope is that these research interests will blend with topical content to create an interesting addition to this blog!

Maria Sjöstrand

I don’t remember a time where fiction wasn’t part of my life. I used to swallow books like Johnny Fox would swallow swords. Except, you know, metaphorically rather than literally. I read Jane Austen and Neil Gaiman and everything in between, and writing was a natural extension of this.

I set off to write fantasy, but I quickly discovered that fantasy was only a way to get to my actual goal – humour. Sure, it’d be nice if I could make people think about life’s big questions, and it would be lovely if I could make them fall in love or even shed a tear or two.

But ultimately, I just want to make them laugh. A slight snicker. A full-blown seizure.

And that’s why I’m here, I guess. I’ve figured out what I want to do.

Now, I just need to learn how to do it.

Mhari Aitchison

I started to miss studying creative writing the moment I finished my undergraduate course. I have always loved reading what someone else is thinking and feeling – the moment you find someone else is describing perfectly how you feel in that given moment.

I grew up in London, moved briefly to Scotland, then to Switzerland. I was happy to return to Scotland for my undergraduate studies, and definitely don’t plan on leaving Scotland anytime soon.

My writing is usually inspired by the people around me. I am fascinated by the human experience and the relationships we form with one another. I always aim to write with wit and sensitive observation. I find short stories work well for what I have to say. I love reading poetry but have never had much luck with writing it.

Spider in a Glass

I have caught many spiders with a glass. Usually one of my husband’s pint glasses.  The spiders have meant no harm, they’ve just come from the nowhere of their world and into the somewhere of my world, suddenly appearing and scaring the life out of me. I trap them in a glass, slide a piece of paper underneath, go outside and set each one free.

It’s a great way to have a good look at a spider. Their bodies are covered in tiny hairs and I think they use these hairs to perceive their environment; they have a lot of eyes but I think their vision is blurry and used only to pick up the movements of their prey.

The spider becomes still and is probably wondering what’s happened to it; one minute it is meandering along and the next it can’t progress, it can’t get moving. It seems to just sit and accept its fate, until it gets bored or frustrated with the inability to fulfil its purpose. It starts to use its feelers and gently taps the glass. It tries to get some leverage to climb up the glass but the surface is too smooth and it slides back down again. I wonder if it feels cheated? Disoriented? This barrier has just come down out of nowhere and stopped it in its tracks. It can still see everything that is familiar to it until it finds itself dumped outside in an alien landscape.

I’ve never really given much thought to how it survives once I have “rescued” the poor arachnid, but I have wondered if spiders are introverts. I think they probably are.

I’m an introvert and so is my husband, although I am further up the continuum/spectrum towards extroversion than he is. I can behave like an extrovert when the mood takes me, but I need to spend a lot of time on my own to recharge my batteries and think; I am someone who reflects, and I take a lot of time to reflect, but I have struggled with reflecting during this lockdown, and about this lockdown; trying to think clearly, I’m finding, is a challenge.

The other week my husband pointed out that the lockdown was having a greater impact on me than I realised (he felt). I asked him to explain:

“Well, you gave up your job to do the MLitt and you were anxious but excited about it. You were throwing caution to the wind and taking a leap into the unknown. You said you wanted to immerse yourself in the whole experience. And that is exactly what you were doing. You were going to classes, you were taking part in different projects, you were churning out creative work like I have never seen you do before; you, have never seen you do before. You made new friends, you were meeting them for coffee’s and lunches and chats about each other’s work, you were spending time in the library reading books you didn’t know existed. Your whole world had opened up…”

And all of a sudden it ground to a halt. Everything as I knew it, stopped. Everything as everyone knew it, stopped.

We are unable to immerse ourselves in the experience of university. It’s all still there but we can only access it in certain ways. The world has become virtual; Email, Facetime, Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook, Microsoft Teams: faces framed in technology, tinny voices and frozen screens.

I’d give anything to meet friends for a coffee and a chat

volunteer to discuss a poem with a class of art students

spend an hour figuring out what a gerund actually is

participate in an excerpt of a stage play at Livewire

attend a masterclass or the launch of an exhibition

give feedback on a piece of prose or a poem

have a round table discussion

book a room in the library

help out at a book launch

meet my writing buddies

eat a burger

eat chips

 

But I can’t do any of that.

 

All I can do is empathise with a spider in a glass.

 

 

 

 

Finding Words

It’s only a matter of weeks before I’m required to upload several pieces of important coursework for my MLitt degree. I was hoping to breathe a sigh of relief after submission, to take a well-deserved break from academic work before embarking on the mighty dissertation that’s due in August. But the universe will not allow me that relief or relaxation. For now, the universe has decided that no-one should rest easy, the entire human species forced into high alert.

Coronavirus has not only distracted me from my studies, it has entirely stripped me of my ability to concentrate on anything other than the rapidly unfolding news. I cannot write, I cannot think; the world as we know it has been hurled into a spinning frenzy of infection fighting, every one of us affected. The life my children enjoy will effectively stop on Friday as schools close, social distancing measures become more stringent and the fixed routine they rely on grinds to a halt. Despite our best efforts to remain rational we can’t prevent the inevitable nervous adrenaline that is slowly consuming our families and communities, anxiety rising each day, as we wait to see how this drama will develop. Many small businesses that have recently thrived in our local community will soon face ruin. Elderly relatives are frightened and locked away in isolation. Our brave NHS friends, game faces on, are eerily poised for war.

These are strange and startling times and I’m unsure if the tightness in my chest is viral or worry. Struggling to concentrate on my coursework, I thought I’d write some words in an attempt, at the very least, to expel some thoughts, creating a little more room in my head. But the truth is, I have no words. There is nothing eloquent to say at this moment. I am not a writer today; like most others, I am unable to articulate the enormity of a global crisis that promises to disrupt and devastate.  Your words are as good as mine.

As in any crisis, people always find opportunities to laugh. If we didn’t we’d lose our minds entirely. I chuckled today at the prospect of, three to four weeks into isolation, discovering what my true hair colour might be after years of dying it. And coming to terms with there being no toilet roll to be found in the shops of Dundee. And also the fact that my introversion has been secretly waiting for intervention that instructs no socialising for weeks. We will, of course, when all this goes away, begin to recover, albeit wounded and weary but hopefully stronger and united. Positivity can make all the difference in times like these.

I implore my fellow students to be gentle with themselves. If your essays don’t go according to plan, don’t fret. If you can’t get to the library, not to worry. These are unprecedented times and we can only do our best. Every one of us troubled by what’s occurring, we can only take each day as it comes. Keep your distance. Wash your hands, often. Don’t forget to breathe. One day soon, our minds will be less consumed with crisis and ready to document our experiences into words. Hopefully with a little more eloquence than I’ve shown here. Words don’t come easy in times like these.

Stay safe.

Learning at Luath – Day One.

I’m not long back from a saunter down the very busy Royal Mile following my first day at Luath Press. What a change from grassy hills, sheep and cows; and the wonderful aromas I had to walk through–coffee, food, waffles! But I managed to resist.

My first day was busy in a way I’m not used to being busy. After a friendly welcome from Laura and a steep climb up the many stairs, I was introduced to Gavin and encouraged to read the Luath website to familiarise myself with the current projects first. I had already had a good scan, but it was good to have a re-cap. I was informed they were waiting for Ella, another intern who would also be learning at Luath this week. The views from the small, stappet fu office are immense

When Laura arrived, Gavin gave us an overview of all things publishing. We were handed a list of all the learning opportunities available and asked to highlight what interested us the most. I sat with my yellow pen highlighting various tasks such as “book blurb” and “assess manuscript” and “interview author”. It was a bit nerve wracking, but I didn’t get the opportunity to worry.

Next it was over to Laura to allocate us work for the day. I spent the day proofreading my first manuscript. Later in the day, Gavin called us over and gave us a run-down of other projects and suggested work that might be beneficial to us in terms of the courses we are doing, as well as personal/writing interests.

I have to say, I was slow to get going and a bit frightened to put red pen marks on the white paper but by 5pm I had tackled my fear. I was also worried that I was reading too slow but a quick chat with Gavin soon fixed that. He explained that there are many aspects that effect how fast a manuscript is read; people read at different speeds, the type of reading that is required i.e. proofreading, editing, as well as the type of manuscript–factual or fiction-are but a few that he mentioned.

So, what have I learned?

Publishing is a multifaceted process that requires patience, skill, a keen eye as well as bucket loads of creativity. The manuscript I was reading was dense with factual information and not the type of thing I would normally read. I was aware that I was trying to rush and had to actively slow myself down. I had to check names, dates, and place names to ensure they were correct which slows the process.

Before I knew it, it was 5pm and time to come back to the hotel. I packed up and descended to street level and into the throng that is Edinburgh. I can tell that this week will fly past!

Sleeping with the Imposter

So, here I am, cosied up in my aparthotel room in Edinburgh listening tae storm Dennis blawin a hoolie at the windae. I was pleasantly surprised with the budget room, it has all the mod-cons that I need, even a dishwasher! I decided to stay for the week rather than commute because I live semi-rural and thought a week in the big smoke would be a novelty–the long lie was also a no brainer.

I’m prepared to start my  internship at Luath, but I have to admit, the imposter syndrome is clagging in. It fills me with doubt about my abilities and, if not managed, impedes creative flow.

I first learned about imposter syndrome during staff training when I was a community psychiatric nurse. The facilitator discussed the syndrome, “we all experience it” he said, “it’s that feeling when you’re saying your piece at the team meeting, at the same time thinking that you’re talking rubbish, you don’t have a clue and your colleagues know that you’re at it.” I was stunned. I knew exactly what he was talking about and thought it was just me being me. Well, it was me being me, but I was comforted to know that I was not alone.

And… there are five different types of imposter syndrome–who knew?

This is something I have chatted about with my lovely classmates, writing buddies, even published authors. It doesn’t seem to matter how much positive feedback, constructive criticism, success or general comments of loveliness we receive about our writing, Imposter Syndrome sucks the self-belief right out of us and makes us terrified, makes us run away from our exhibited pieces–I cringed as my esteemed fellow student and Imposter Syndrome compadre shrunk into the shadows as my mother-in-law ordered me to stand by my piece at the River Deep Mountain High exhibition, so she could take a photograph to show her friends–just as Victoria Lothian writes.

I don’t think the issue will magically disappear as our confidence grows, but I do think the voice might fade or, we might feel strong enough to tell it to hud it’s weesht!

I wonder if I’ll be exposed tomorrow… I’ll sleep on it.

Highs and Lows of the Writing Life

River Deep Mountain High pretty much sums up how I feel from day to day whilst navigating through the MLitt Writing Practice and Study course. I can go from feeling complete deflation at momentary lack of creativity or inability to respond intelligently in tutorials, to feeling on top of the world when that once tricky poem begins to flow or that short story finally gets a decent ending.

So the University Archives exhibition that myself and my fellow students recently contributed to was aptly named, River Deep Mountain High, as although we were all thrilled to be included in an actual exhibition, that people would actually see, that would even have its own *gasp* launch night, we were all also feeling rather apprehensive and weird about the prospect of our work being on display for everyone to see. At the end of last year, we had been invited to view some of the University Archives that related to the natural landscape- bridge models, mountaineering photographs, botanical artefacts etc- and to produce a creative response to any that gave us inspiration. The exhibition is currently running in the University’s Tower Building and it is a stunning collection of super interesting archives on display alongside the hugely varied creative responses of writers and artists. Such a diverse mix of poetry, prose, essays, sculpting, jewellery, paintings and drawings that offer something for everyone. Go see it!

In the exhibition you’ll see a poem I wrote, ‘The Bothy’, inspired by the visitor book from the Scottish Highlands’ Corrour Bothy. I was feeling rather chuffed and excited before the exhibition launch, my first one, but when I got there and saw my poem on a large board at the far side of the room a strange sensation of vulnerability made me want to turn on my heels and run away before anyone could figure out that it was my poem. I still can’t figure out what I was feeling; nerves, self-doubt, a wish that I’d spent more time on it? I did stay for the duration of the launch, and gulped down a glass of red wine to calm the jitters, and I did actually make it close enough to my poem to check for typos (too late anyway but luckily there were none). When asked if I wanted my photo taken beside my piece I politely declined and edged away (all the while inside I was screaming, ‘Nooooooo, never, don’t you know how mortified I am that people are reading my poem??’). Hmmm. What was going on there then?

Writers are funny folk. We write to express but some of us shy away from the sharing of our expressions. Perhaps some of us feel imposter syndrome more than others? More of that in my next blog in which I will pretend I am a blogger and blog about pretending.

Pipe Dream

Organisation is key to managing a busy workload and all things stationary are required to facilitate organisation–as all stationary fetishists will understand. Yesterday, after accepting delivery of the eight hexagonal cork boards I ordered a few days ago, I ran upstairs to my writing snug like a kid with a new toy at Christmas, peeled off the sticky backs and stuck them to the wall beside my desk.

I sat for around thirty minutes thinking about how to organise the information that I need to organise my busy writing and studying schedule. As I deliberated it dawned on me that I was procrastinating and I don’t have time for that!

Semester two of the course is proving to be exhilarating. I was fortunate to be involved with the University Archive’s River Deep Mountain High exhibition, and I am currently collaborating with my wonderfully talented and creative peers–both writers and artists– on a project with the V&A Museum in Dundee.

On Sunday I’ll be packing my suitcase and heading down to Edinburgh for a week-long internship at one of Scotland’s leading independent publishers: Luath Press. My nerves are jingling in response to this but I’m excited by the prospect of learning a few things about the publishing process.

Funnily enough, on this day 17 years ago I was already a few weeks into my first placement as a student mental health nurse. I simply put my dream of writing down to being nothing more than a whim, a fantasy…

Ellie Julings

Stories change the world, right? They certainly change my world regularly. It’s why I’ve always loved reading, and why I decided a few years ago to focus on what I really loved and learn to write. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done willingly and it’s infinitely rewarding.

I grew up in Leeds and more recently spent several years living on Larrakia country (Darwin) on Australia’s tropical north coast. I now live in Dundee and work part time in  the charity sector.

My writing primarily revolves around my personal experiences of environmental and anti-capitalist activism; where some of my most emotionally charged and interesting stories lurk. I’m preoccupied with stories that bear witness to, or inspire change in people and society. But I also adore those easier reads that feel like being gently wrapped up inside a familar world. Isn’t it wonderful that stories can do both?